Pattern Recognition #87 - Convoke
11 October 2018
11 October 2018
Hello everyone! My name is berryjon, and this is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.net's resident Old Fogey of an article series. I am your writer for all of these things, in which I endeavor to spread the good word about the ups and downs of Magic, peeking under the hood in order to bring long lost history to light. Or I'm just blowing smoke, and I use the platform afforded to me to prattle on.
Now, today's article isn't about the next set of cards submitted to me almost a month ago now. No, rather it is about something that has come, gone, come back, gone away, then come back a third time and probably won't be gone for long.
Let's talk about Convoke.
Originally created for the Selesnya Guild in Ravnica: City of Guilds, Convoke was Wizards first real attempt at creating a mechanic that could fit over both Green and White in the colour pie.
And what really drew my attention to this mechanic was that it keeps coming back. It made its first return in Future Sight with Kavu Primarch and Sprout Swarm as the two that really used it by combining the mechanic with Kicker and Buyback respectively.
Of couse, that's Future Sight, home of so many headaches for Wizards. No, what really set the Convoke ball rolling was M15, where it made its return as the mechanic du jour, after M13's attempt with Exalted. So here we had a Core Set where they slid Convoke in across all colours. Some to better effect than others.
But back to the mechanic at hand. Where Green and White really shared a measure of commonality was their love of creatures. Both Green and White would cheerfully flood the board with creatures and swamp the opponent with an Endless Swarm of creatures, perhaps boosted by a Glorious Anthem and the tactical use of Giant Growth to carry the day.
Well, making these two colours make even more creatures wasn't the option of choice. Yes, but doing just more of the same won't actually be interesting. And besides, how do you turn cards that just generate creature tokens into a full on Mechanic for the guild?
You can't. Not really. I mean, sure, we had Populate in Return to Ravnica, but that was just making more of your existing Tokens, not mass producing them in the first place as a Mechanic.
Oooh, that's an idea. A mechanic where if you pay the cost, you can put a token onto the battlefield that's a copy of the creature itself. Aside from horrible balance issues, I know I can't be the first to think of this, so I wonder why Wizards never went with it.
But back to Convoke.
Convoke came out of the idea that if you had all these creatures lying around, why not give them something to do? So the idea was born that you could tap a creature to help pay for the cost of a Convoke spell, either adding or one of that creature's colour identity. So, you could tap Angel of Salvation to pay for or when paying for Conclave Phalanx. Or you could tap Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest to pay for or or or or.... apparently not. Convoke doesn't care about Colour Identity like in Commander, just the symbols in the casting cost. Which means that off-color Kickers can't help either.
This effectively allowed every creature on your battlefield to become a mana source, and this became Convoke.
Now, Convoke has gone through a couple of rules twists as the game went on and the entire thing got refined to reduce complexity. Originally, Convoke was a cost reducer, in that it affected the actual casting cost of the card in question. However, this played havoc with certain other cards and effects that looked at the cost of a card, so with M15, the effect was changed to simply allow mana to be added by non-mana sources.
Confused yet? Well, don't worry, this is one game-simplification I will cheerfully stand beside. Imagine if you will that when you cast a card with convoke, while paying for that spell, every green creature you have is a Llanowar Elves. Or every White creature is a ....
So, no White creature in the game adds to your mana pool. The closest thing we have is Helionaut from Apocalypse, but that is a mana filter effect, not a mana generating one.
Odd, isn't it? But this still plays into White's doctrine of 'wait them out'. You'll have the mana later, so don't worry about it now.
That's completely the opposite of , for whom the phrase Explosive Growth is more like Rampant Growth. Green is known for accelerating out of the gate and never looking back, never stopping in gaining more and more mana.
So how does this play into Convoke?
Well, it's simple really.
Convoke is a Mechanic.
has nothing to do with it, except to provide more creatures.
Think about it. Green goes wide and goes tall, which Convoke helps enable. Green is the one that treats its creatures like mana to the point where Dryad Arbor was totally a thing.
Green is the one that gains the most from this mechanic, simply because it's a mechanic that they have internalized to the point where it is no longer a mechanic, but a core concept of the color.
White... has none of this. Rather, what brings to the mechanic isn't the mechanic itself, but rather when they generate tokens, they tend to make lots of little ones. Like Call the Cavalry or Dawn of Hope or History of Benalia or Legion's Landing Flip and you begin to get the idea, right.
So, what does this mean for Convoke itself? Not much, really. I mean, yes, it's a mechanic through and through, but that's the beauty of it. White can be a parasite on this mechanic, and it's not actually a bad thing at all because White does contribute by providing creatures to be Convoke'd.
But enough of that! Mechanics and practicality talk!
Convoke, as a mechanic, is one of those ones that requires some small degree of planning around. Because you are using your creatures as a mana source, you have to calculate when it would be a good time to cast a Convoked spell with the help of your creatures vis-a-vis actually using them for other purposes. It would do you no good to tap your Serra Angel to Convoke a Venerated Loxodon when that takes your only flyer out of the picture for combat.
The obvious solution to this, for the more aggressively minded player, is something that White brings to the table, something that makes perfect sense. They bring Vigilance. They bring Conclave Cavalier or Vernadi Shieldmate in Guilds of Ravnica alone. Vigilance allows you to attack, then Convoke in the second main phase - or past that if you're casting an Instant.
Because yes, Convoke appears on more than just other creatures. In can appear on Enchantments like Conclave's Blessing, Instants such as Chord of Calling and Sorceries like Hour of Reckoning. Convoking simply allows you to cast spells without spending all your mana on it, it's not a magical means to cast a spell for free.
OK. So, this is Magic, and you can cast spells for free. Just not with Convoke. Not anymore at least.
As a cost-reducer, Convoke works well. As long as you remember that not every creature you Convoke with will be Llanowar Elves. You may find yourself tapping a Watchwolf, which is a far more valuable creature, for a single point of mana.
This mechanic actually works best though, when you stop looking at cheap cards. Start looking at the huge ones. Feral Incarnation, Chant of the Vitu-Ghazi, or most extreme of all, Autochthon Wurm. Go ahead, try and hard-cast that one.
And it only occurs to me now, in a late edit to this article, that there is actually one firnge case where Convoke actually becomes brilliant in its accidental - or perhaps deliberate - design. Vernadi Shieldmate requires to cast, and because of that, you can spend to cast it, but you can then tap it for when you Convoke it. That's right, Hybrid Mana becomes mana fixing with Convoke. Fringe, yes, but it's still possible to utilize in some fashion or another.
Convoke increases the cost of a spell with the assumption that you will tap creatures for them, and because of that, some cards just stop being useful. Compare Ephemeral Shields to Sheltering Light or Withstand Death. The card costs more for the same effect beacuse it has a built-in cost reducer. I talked about this back when I talked about Pitch Cards such as Force of Will.
Is it really a reduction when it's assumed you'll pay it?
For Convoke, the answer is still yes. Because the reduction is a variable, and not a flat (alternate) cost. You don't convoke for a fixed amount. It's always up to you to determine what you pay, and how.
And that's why Convoke will keep coming back. Because it's flexible. And I don't mind either of those facts at all.
Thanks for joining me this week. Join me next time when I get back to those cards submitted to me. I just had to address this subject here and now while the set is fresh in my head.
Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
Convoke was one of my favorite parts of M15. Seraph of the Masses was a fun card to build around.
October 11, 2018 3:29 p.m.
I can't argue with that. I mean, White has always had fun with the * / * power and toughness creatures, and Green has dipped into it as well, so having that on a Convokable creature only makes sense in encouraging going wide for a cheap flying Beater.
October 12, 2018 7:58 a.m.
Due to "fun" at work (we're changing owners this week), and all the havoc that comes with that, there will be no PR this week (18 October).