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Often, the exact results of an effect aren't clear until it resolves, as information about the target of an effect isn't "known" to the effect until then. Thus, changing the characteristics of something in response to a spell or ability can change the results of the effect.
Swords to Plowshares removes a target creature from the game and gives the creature's controller life equal to it's power. Because the creature's power isn't checked until resolution, changing it's power in response to the spell changes how much life is granted.
Effects are always applied to a permanent as it exists at that moment. In other words, if an effect needs to "know" a permanent's type, color, power, and so on, it "looks up" only the current value of the characteristic, not the value the permanent started with. For example, looking up a creature's toughness results in finding its current toughness, after any and all modifiers have been applied. This is why, in the example above, you could affect how much life you gain by changing the targeted creature's power before the Swords to Plowshares resolves.
Certain effects search for everything with a certain quality, such as a color, or type of permanent. Such effects find everything with that quality, including cards with similar or duplicate qualities (such as a second color). Conversely, effects that ignore everything with a certain quality don't care what other qualities a card or permanent might have.
Battle Frenzy gives all green creatures you control +1/+1 until end of turn, and all non-green creatures you control +1/+0 until end of turn. A creature that's both green and red will get +1/+1 until end of turn, because the first part of the effect will be applied to the creature but the second part won't.
Effects that interact with the cards in your hand, your graveyard, and so on state so explicitly; otherwise, effects interact only with permanents.
Spells and abilities that have a continuous effect don't wear off unless they specify that they last for a certain duration, most often "until end of turn." Other effects might be delayed, and typically happen "at end of turn." Effects that last until end of turn wear off during cleanup, before the end of the phase; effects that happen at end of turn happen at the end of cleanup. Effects always end when their subject leaves play.
An effect reads: "Changed the color of target creature to red." Since the duration of the color change isn't given, it lasts until the target creature leaves play.
Some effects last only until a certain condition is met. An effect that depends on its source remaining tapped is one example, as is an effect that ends if you lose control of its source. If the condition is met after the ability is played but before the effect resolves, the effect ends as soon as it begins.
To gain control of Bob's Prodigal Sorcerer, Sue plays the ability of her Rubinia Soulsinger; this effects ends if Rubinia leaves play. In response, Bob buries Rubinia with Fissure. As soon as Sue gains control of the Sorcerer, she has to give up control of it, as Rubinia will have left play already. (Note that even a change of control this brief is enough to give the Sorcerer summoning sickness.)
If a card instructs you to do something, you're forced to do it only if you have the resources available (such as mana in your mana pool, untapped creatures, and so on).
Lord of the Pit instructs you to sacrifice a creature during upkeep, or the Lord deals 7 damage to you. If you don't have any creatures available, you are not forced to acquire creatures; for example, you are not forced to use an artifact that produces a token creature. If you don't produce a creature to sacrifice, though, you are forced to take the damage.
Some effects exchange a certain type of thing, such as control of creatures. Such effects can't exchange only one of something; if a player can't provide the specified thing to exchange, you can't play the effect. It doesn't matter whether that player is you or your opponent.
An effect might direct you and your opponent to each choose a creature and then exchange control of those creatures. If either you or your opponent controls no creatures you can't play that effect.
Each new effect that resolves is applied after any existing effects. Thus, it's possible for one effect to override another. If an effect gives a creature flying and a later effect removes flying from it, for instance, the result is a creature without flying.
Two Phantasmal Terrains (which turns the enchanted land into the land type of your choice) are played on a land. The second enchantment "wins" as it's effect is applied second.
Giving a permanent an ability it already has allows use to be made of that ability again.
If a creature with rampage 2 is given rampage 3, it then effectively has rampage 5, as both instances of the ability apply; the abilities are additive.
Some abilities, however, state that certain things are true about the permanent, so giving the permanent such an ability twice doesn't accomplish anything.
The flying ability states that the creature with the ability can't be blocked by creatures without the ability; stating that again, isn't very interesting.
The exception to this rule is that all effects currently in play apply to all permanents currently in play, even if some or all of those permanents came into play after a given effect resolved. For example, if an enchantment says that all creatures lose flying, the enchantment will apply to all creatures regardless of whether they came into play before or after the enchantment appeared.
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