When it comes to quizzing each other on rules questions, few cards will evoke a reaction more than Humility . Often, Humility is paired with Opalescence for an in-depth look at the layers of continuous effects. This is done so often that “Opalescence and Humility questions” have become something of a boogeyman for judges learning about layers. I personally love these questions as they assist with a transition of mindset when it comes to the Magic rules; it’s a gateway to understanding some of the fundamental realities of how the game processes effects and determines characteristics.
When Opalescence and Humility are on the battlefield together, it seems like Humility’s ability would remove itself, causing something of a paradox. If you apply Humility’s continuous effect, then it loses the ability to remove abilities from creatures (since Opalescence makes Humility into a creature). But if it doesn’t have the ability, then it doesn’t remove abilities… and the circle of logic is complete. To make matters worse, this perspective seems to entirely eliminate Humility’s ability to make all creatures into 1/1s.
The key to understanding this interaction is the systematic way in which the game processes these continuous effects. Once the effect starts to apply, it will continue to apply, even if the ability is removed (CR 613.6). So, in fact, the aforementioned paradox does not exist as far as the CR is concerned. Even though Humility does remove its own ability, that doesn’t change the fact that the effect is still being applied. Consequently, even though the ability is removed in layer 6, it will still apply in layer 7b to set all creatures to 1/1. Including itself!
The next wrinkle usually added to these questions is a second Opalescence. Now both Opalescences are creatures too! But our same tech goes to work again: applying Opalescence’s type-changing effect in layer 4 before it’s removed in layer 6 means that it will continue applying anyways.
Now, if I added a Muraganda Petroglyphs to this situation, would my enchantments all be 3/3s? The answer is left as an exercise for the reader!
We’ve been talking here awhile, and we have yet to mention the card that this article is allegedly about: Dress Down . Like many cards from MH2, Dress Down has been turning heads since the set’s release last year. Its similarity to Humility is quite apparent: they’re both enchantments that remove abilities from all creatures. However, Dress Down stands out with the introduction of a single word that transforms it into a whole new rules headache on its own, one that wasn’t previously possible without adding a bunch of otherwise-irrelevant cards to the original Humility question:
With an instant-speed global Humility effect, our ability-stripping questions get a lot more streamlined. Gone are the days of shoehorning Leyline of Anticipation into rules questions! No more will we have to Quicken a Replenish just to get our Humility onto the battlefield during Declare Blockers! Now, we can ask extremely nuanced questions with just two cards: what happens when I evoke a Fury and my opponent casts Dress Down in response? Do I lose my ETB trigger? What about the Evoke trigger?? WHY ARE THESE CARDS IN THE SAME SET???
If you’re doing any sort of Modern judging, expect to see Dress Down feature prominently in your list of “most complex rules questions” from those events.
(Side note: if you’re not making note of your interesting rules questions from your events, I highly suggest you do so! They make for fun stories with other judges and are often very useful learning opportunities!)
That does it for this month’s installment of The Rulebook. I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the history and future of layers questions and that it has inspired you to seek out some more knowledge!
If you’d like to contact me, you can find me on the Judge Academy Discord server or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org