Pithing Needle Question

14 posts / 0 new
Last post
I just want to be perfectly clear about Pithing Needle, since my friend uses it in his deck and I believe he's been using it wrong. It is only activated abilities that are effected by it (i.e. Tapping, paying mana, removing loyalty counters), so in essence it can only affect permanents that are on the battlefield, right? It can't affect something like say Counterspell or Diabolic Tutor that is being cast.

activated abilities are written in the form of {cost}:{effect} (look for the colon)

everything else are not activated abilities
proud member of the 2011 community team
It wouldn't be able to be used on spells being cast, but it could still stop activated abilities on cards that aren't  permanents. For example, unless I'm mistaken (and the rules gurus will be quick to point out if I am), the Needle would prevent someone from Scavenging their [C]Deadbridge Goliath[/C] if that was the named card.

EDIT: I already see that I'm wrong in this particular example since Scavenge isn't an AA. The [C]Reassembling Skeleton[/C] would've been a better example of what I meant. 
activated abilities are written in the form of {cost}:{effect} (look for the colon)

everything else are not activated abilities

Loyalty abilities are activated abilities.

Keyword abilities ("Equip ") can represent activated abilities.

Sometimes, you have to look "hard" for the colon.
Pithing Needle stops all activated abilities of the named card, whereever that card may be. It stops everything with the template [cost]:[effect]. This includes Reassembling Skeleton in the graveyard, Ninja of the Deep Hours' ninjutsu, cycling, forecast, equip, planeswalkers' loyalty abilities, ... It doesn't stop normal spell effects or triggered abilities.
activated abilities are written in the form of {cost}:{effect} (look for the colon)


everything else are not activated abilities


Loyalty abilities are activated abilities.


And these do follow the format. Jace Beleren's first ability has a : between the {+2} cost and the "Each player draws a card" effect


Keyword abilities ("Equip ") can represent activated abilities.


For these, looking for the reminder text, if any, helps.

[<o>]
so in essence it can only affect permanents that are on the battlefield, right?

No. While far from the norm, many cards have activated abilities that can be activated from somewhere other than the battlefield.


  • [C]Barkhide Mauler[/C] has an activated ability that can only be activated from a hand.
    (", Discard this card: Draw a card.")

  • [C]Reassembling Skeleton[/C] has an activated ability that can only be activated from a graveyard.
    (": Return Reassembling Skeleton from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped.")

  • [C]Greater Gargadon[/C] has an activated ability that can only be activated from exile.
    ("Sacrifice an artifact, creature, or land: ... Activate this ability only if Greater Gargadon is suspended.")

  • [C]Lightning Storm[/C] has an activated ability that can only be activated from the stack. (!!!)
    ("Discard a land card: ... Any player may activate this ability but only if Lightning Storm is on the stack.")

  • etc


I don't think there are any activated abilities that function only while the card is in a Library, Ante or Command zone, but there's nothing in the rules preventing their existance.

Upd: One that functions on the stack was found.
Upd: One that functions in exile was found.

It wouldn't be able to be used on spells being cast, but it could still stop activated abilities on cards that aren't  permanents. For example, unless I'm mistaken (and the rules gurus will be quick to point out if I am), the Needle would prevent someone from Scavenging their [C]Deadbridge Goliath[/C] if that was the named card.

EDIT: I already see that I'm wrong in this particular example since Scavenge isn't an AA. The [C]Reassembling Skeleton[/C] would've been a better example of what I meant. 



Actually you were correct, the scavenge ability is an activated ability.  Pithing needle would indeed stop it if the card it named had scavenge.

DCI Level 2 Judge

Rockford, Illinois

It wouldn't be able to be used on spells being cast, but it could still stop activated abilities on cards that aren't  permanents. For example, unless I'm mistaken (and the rules gurus will be quick to point out if I am), the Needle would prevent someone from Scavenging their [C]Deadbridge Goliath[/C] if that was the named card.

EDIT: I already see that I'm wrong in this particular example since Scavenge isn't an AA. The [C]Reassembling Skeleton[/C] would've been a better example of what I meant. 

You were right the first time.
702.95a Scavenge is an activated ability that functions only while the card with scavenge is in a graveyard. “Scavenge [cost]” means “[Cost], Exile this card from your graveyard: Put a number of +1/+1 counters equal to the power of the card you exiled on target creature. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.”

there is even this crazy card, a spell with an activated ability
proud member of the 2011 community team
aha! I knew there was one! I stopped looking after I found [C]Chain Lightning[/C], thinking I had misremembered.

So we have a full set for the stack!

  • [C]Lightning Bolt[/C] has a spell ability that only functions on the stack.

  • [C]Lightning Storm[/C] has an activated ability that only functions on the stack.

  • [C]Torrent of Lava[/C] has a static ability that only functions on the stack.

  • [C]Surging Flame[/C] has a triggered ability that only functions on the stack.

To directly address some of the examples in the original post (though this should be obvious by now), Counterspell and Diabolic Tutor have no activated abilties and for that reason are totally unaffected by Pithing Needle. He can name them if he wants, but this will have no effect. Possibly he has Pithing Needle confused with something like Meddling Mage, a mistake I must say I've been known to make myself (but not, I hasten to add, during a game with the actual cards in front of me).
Jeff Heikkinen DCI Rules Advisor since Dec 25, 2011
I don't think there are any activated abilities that function only while the card is in a Library, Exile, Ante or Command zone, but there's nothing in the rules preventing their existance.



Greater Gargadon has an activated ability that only functions from exile.

This was very helpful actually. Thank you!