Geralf’s Messenger’s first ability is static and generates a replacement effect. This effect replaces the way Geralf’s Messenger enters the battlefield. We have seen that kind of abilities before, when looking at Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle (actually, it has the exact same ability) and Essence of the Wild (this one is a little different). Here is a simple rule to keep in mind about replacement effects:
Replacement effects that modify the way a creature enters the battlefield are applied in the following order:
- first, control-changing effects;
- then copy effects;
- then all other effects
Geralf’s Messenger enters the battlefield tapped. It doesn’t matter how exactly it gets there — as a result of resolving the creature spell, resolving its third ability, or any other effect that puts it onto the battlefield in some way from somewhere. The exception is when there are additionally control and copy effects involved, which may impact the very existence of the creature or its ability.
If you control Essence of the Wild, Geralf’s Messenger enters the battlefield under your control untapped as a copy of Essence (with a +1/+1 counter if it happens when Undying resolves).
Phantasmal Image enters the battlefield as a tapped copy of Geralf’s Messenger with an additional ability. Its second ability triggers.
Geralf’s Messenger’s second ability is triggered. It triggers when Geralf’s Messenger enters the battlefield in any way. The second ability isn’t concerned with what happens to Geralf’s Messenger after it has entered the battlefield. An ability on the stack does not depend on its source.
Unlike Geralf Messenger’s first ability, the second one goes onto the stack and may be countered by related spells and abilities.
When this ability resolves the target opponent loses 2 life. I will remind that losing life isn’t damage:
Your opponent will not be able to prevent loss of life by redirecting damage with Harm’s Way. There is no damage to be dealt.
Bloodthirst and loss of life do not go along. Furyborn Hellkite won’t get any counters.
Finally, let’s inspect Geralf’s Messenger’s third ability. It’s the most curious one.
Undying is a conditional triggered ability. That means it triggers only when a triggered ability occurs (the creature with Undying dies) AND the condition is matched (it didn’t have any +1/+1 counters on it).
Let’s consult the dictionary: “A creature “dies” if it is put into the graveyard from the battlefield”. It doesn’t matter how exactly that happens:
But what matters is the presence of +1/+1 counters. According to the rule,
704.7. If a state-based action results in a permanent leaving the battlefield at the same time other state-based actions were performed, that permanent's last known information is derived from the game state before any of those state-based actions were performed.
But not all spells and abilities that put -1/-1 counters on creatures are Undying’s enemies, quite on the contrary. Undying is also friends with effects that move or remove counters:
If the ability has triggered, then as it resolves, the object that was a creature with Undying in its last moment returns to the battlefield. It matters not whether it returns as the same creature, or if it is a creature at all. The ability tracks the object, not the fact that it is any creature.
I will remind here that an object that has changed zones is considered a new object, and has no “memory” of its past existence. Even if it is the exact same card, the permanent entering the battlefield is a new object. Geralf’s Messenger is a different creature after it re-enters the battlefield as its Undying trigger resolves. It enters the battlefield tapped through its first ability; its second ability triggers. It is subject to the “summoning sickness”.
If a permanent has multiple instances of Undying, each of them triggers separately, but only one will have effect. After the uppermost one on the stack returns the creature card to the battlefield, the following ones won’t find the object there. Even if until the second trigger resolves the creature appears in the graveyard again, the game will treat it as a new object, so the Undying trigger on the stack will not find it.
If multiple creatures with Undying with no counters on them are put into graveyards, their triggers go off, then each player puts the triggers under his or her control onto the stack in APNAP order, with each player putting his or her triggers in the order they prefer. Since triggers do not resolve all at once, the creatures return to the battlefield one by one.
Sometimes it happens so that as Undying resolves, nothing may be returned, or there is nothing to return:
Keep in mind that Undying returns the object under its owner’s control. Let’s take a look:
Finally, let’s make an honorable mention of Persist. It functions exactly the same way as Undying, except it is concerned with -1/-1 counters, and puts one of those on resolution.
If a creature has both Undying and Persist, it will return to the battlefield with one counter of your choice. But that choice needs to be made as you put your triggers onto the stack. The last one should be the one whose effect you like. It will return the creature onto the battlefield, and then the second one does nothing on resolution.
Here is some extra reading to feel the difference: Kitchen Finks vs Geralf’s Messenger.
- ⇑ When Geralf’s Messenger returns to the battlefield through Undying, it will appear with a +1/+1 counter already on it. There will be no such moment when Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite’s effect is applied but the counter isn’t, so the Messenger won’t die through Elesh Norn this second time. Read this article about the Layer system for more details.
- ⇑ That is written in the Reminder text for Undying, but the actual text for Undying in Comprehensive rules reads: “When this permanent is put into a graveyard from the battlefield…”.
- ⇑ If Phantasmal Image gets targeted in this situation, its ability will trigger, and you will sacrifice it upon resolution. Maelstrom Pulse will eventually get countered due to having lost its only target.
Translated by Witas Spasovski