Tonight we will have a surprise attack on dragons, which is, of course, dangerous (they can actually wake up…), but not entirely hopeless especially if we have an Emrakul up our sleeves. So, let us sneak some attacks!
Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus!
Sneak Attack is a red enchantment, which has only one ability. Once we see a colon in the textbox, we understand that it is an activated ability which costs a single red mana to activate. We do not see any restrictions for activation in the textbox, which means we can activate it any time we have priority and as many times as we can pay for it. Whatever happens to Sneak Attack after its ability has been activated in no way affects its existence and resolution.
Upon resolving we have the following ability effect:
You may put a creature card from your hand onto the battlefield. That creature gains haste. Sacrifice the creature at the beginning of the next end step.
I highlighted the main words in the effect text. These words guide us to most important parts:
- You can choose not to put the creature card onto the battlefield. For instance, if a cunning opponent reacted to the ability activation in a way which is now disadvantageous for you: Gather Specimens.
- That creature was never cast. This means that casting spells triggers won’t happen. If creature mana cost has variable X in it and is not defined in the card textbox, X is considered to be equal to 0. But there is a good side to it: this creature cannot be countered and countering Sneak Attack ability would require specific spells like Disallow which are not that numerous.
Now some good news: all creature EtB-triggers shall work perfectly well as they do not care how the creature happened to be there and was it played or not:
If a legendary creature enters the battlefield which already has a legendary creature with the same name controlled by the same player, first all EtB-abilities trigger, then SBA are checked, and one of these creatures goes to its owner’s graveyard, then triggers go on the stack and only after that active player receives priority and is able to do anything.
- The creature entering the battlefield gains haste. This means you can activate its abilities which have a tap symbol in its cost. You can attack with this creature (if it appeared on the battlefield before declare attackers step, of course).
- Upon Sneak Attack ability resolving a delayed triggered ability is created (the word “at” helps us) which activates only once — at the closest end step.
This kind of trigger tracks a specific object, i.e. we wouldn’t be able to save our creature turning it into a pumpkin. We would have to sacrifice our pumpkin, which is not cool.
What is cool is that delayed triggers activate, as a rule, only one time which is exactly our case. Our trigger addresses a specific moment in a game: the closest end step after the trigger is created.
Things are getting more interesting when we can somehow skip the end step:
If a creature has an ability which activates at the beginning of the end step, then it activates at the same time as the Sneak Attack delayed trigger. The controller puts those triggers on the stack in whatever order suits him or her.
If the delayed trigger is put on the stack first and then the Archwing Dragon trigger is placed on the stack, then Archwing Dragon will return to its owner’s hand and it would be impossible to sacrifice it.
Even if you sacrifice Sphinx Sovereign first, its trigger resolves and uses the latest information available on the Sphinx Sovereign state.
Upon resolving the delayed trigger you will have to sacrifice this creature.
If our cunning opponent were to steal the creature, which we put onto the battlefield via Sneak Attack ability, then we would not be able to sacrifice it as we would be no longer controlling it. The opponent does not have to sacrifice it as it is we who control the delayed trigger and who are prescribed to perform sacrifice.
Translated by SnK