Pattern Recognition #163 - Provoke and Goad

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


13 August 2020


Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition! This is's longest running article series. In it, I aim to bring to you each week a new article about some piece of Magic, be it a card, a mechanic, a deck, or something more fundamental or abstract. I am something of an Old Fogey and part-time Smart Ass , so I sometimes talk out my ass. Feel free to dissent or just plain old correct me! I also have a Patreon if you feel like helping out.

Hey everyone! So, this week, I'm going to be talking about two mechanics and how they are opposite sides of the same allegorical coin. Now, I've actually talked a bit about Provoke in the past, when I talked about Fighting in a few months ago. Provoke being a precursor to Fight, and supplanted by it. And how this was a good thing. But I didn't really talk about Provoke itself, and I certainly didn't take the opportunity to address another mechanic that is a successor to Provoke, which I shall be doing today as you may have noticed from the title of the article.

So let's start with Provoke. Only ever printed in the Legions set, this triggered ability appeared on 9 cards, centered on , but sharing space with and equally. No, I'm not counting Greater Morphling as that's Silver Border. This ability triggers when a creature with Provoke attacks, and it forces target creature (so nothing with Shroud or Hexproof) to untap if it is tapped and block that creature.

Provoke was, well, I won't say that it was a bad mechanic. It's certainly not in the bottom of all mechanics, unlike, say Horsemanship or Spilce. Just my opinions you all, there's no need to defend Splice in the comments below! :)

As a mechanic on paper, Provoke played to the idea that these three colours could cause damage to a creature in order to remove it from the battlefield. with cards that dealt damage to attacking or blocking creatures, sneezes and something takes damage, while depended on effects from cards like Lure or Provoke .

Yes, Provoke is a mechanic like Vigilance that shares its name with a card that had that ability before it got turned into a mechanic. Game Lore!

And again, on paper, this was a good mechanic. You could swing and attack with a creature, and with that creature you could pick and choose a creature to block it, regardless of it was tapped or not - so long as the block would otherwise be legal.

This caveat is the reason why Sweeping Talon has the ability to lose flying, and not because of the flavor of a flying getting so close to the ground that they might as well be walking, or to avoid an errant Hurricane . It's to allow the block to happen in the first place. It also affects Krosan Vorine , and how Provoke, when combined with the effect of Familiar Ground means that you can pick and choose which creature does the blocking without risk of additional creatures being added into the block to kill the attacker.

Now, while this is all great on paper, remember that we're dealing with what is technically cardboard and so once on the table, this mechanic didn't exactly play out as intended, much like many things.

You see, Legions was the "Everything is a Creature!" set, and because of that, effects that would normally go onto Instants or Sorceries - including removal wound up on creatures instead. And Provoke was a way to put creature removal into the set, and in a way that involved creatures.

Crested Craghorn for example, is a slightly overcosted Bombard , or more closer in time, Lightning Blast , but this extra cost is the benefit, however ephemeral, to having this effect on a creature, and one that might even survive if it doesn't Provoke anything it can't handle (which it probably won't given the Toughness of 1).

So again, from multiple angles, Provoke was a way to meld removal with creatures in a way that wasn't as absolutely hilarious as Flametongue Kavu .

Of course, once we get to practice, Provoke quickly showed its true colours as a negative interaction and a 'feel bad' mechanic.

I need to explain that, don't I?

OK, so there are some things that cause players to be excited when they see it, they can look at a thing and go 'oh, neat!' even as it's being used against them. And there are some things that when they arrive, cause players to groan in annoyance, or to feel dejected that that thing is now in play. Take, for a real life example, I finally went to tabletop Commander for the first time in months last night. I'm playing my Ghalta, Primal Hunger deck because it's casual night, and here I am sitting with three lands and two mana dorks due to a bad draw, when the player across from me with his Chulane, Teller of Tales deck drops Roil Elemental with a giggle. I looked at him and scooped right then and there, because if you people think that Agent of Treachery is bad/wrong/horrible, Roil Elemental is worse.

That's a 'feel bad' mechanic, something that can cause players to want to stop playing the game.

Now you may be wondering how this is a 'feel bad' mechanic. Well, for starters, it's persistent. Creatures that have Provoke, but don't die in the exchange, can be used again and again, each time forcing the removal of a creature. As I mentioned with Amplify, Feral Throwback was particularly bad for this, but Brontotherium had the same issues with Trample, Krosan Vorine prevented any additional blockers to make the Provoke into a full trade, while Lowland Tracker had First Strike, making it able to take out creatures that should have killed it in exchange.

Provoke worked, and on one hand it worked too well, but on the other hand it was poorly balanced in execution with the creatures it was put on. It being replaced with Fight is a good thing, even as Provoke as a triggered ability in combat gives it some advantages that Fight doesn't have. By placing it in the combat step, it gets around effects like Blessed Sanctuary or The Wanderer , but making it vulnerable to Fog effects like Darkness or Holy Day . Whereas the opposite is true for Fight, being prevented by Fog , but not by Mark of Asylum .

The other mechanic I want to talk about, something that is the thematic opposite, is Goad. Predominantly in , but splattered about in all other colours thanks to Commander 2020 (which is why I'm talking about this now).

Goad is a keyword that, when the ability resolves, target creature (or in the case of Disrupt Decorum , all creatures) then must attack on its controllers next combat step if possible, and it has to attack a player (or a Planeswalker) other than you, the player who Goaded the creature in the first place. Yes, this means that a Goaded creature can attack a Planeswalker you control and not you.

In a normal duel, Goad as a mechanic isn't as effective as you might think, as you're getting the opponent to swing at you, and with creatures that can attack. So tapped creatures, or those that have defender or are sick from summoning can escape the attack if they've been Goaded.

You may think I've made an error there, but that's not quite true. You see, Goad was originally a mechanic in Cospiracy, a set designed exclusively for multiplayer, where a one on one match was the endgame, not the default start. When you Goaded a creature, you were forcing it to attack someone else if possible. Now, the effects of this on multiplayer politics is well worth looking into at some point, but for today, it's outside the scope of this article. No, the only time a Goaded creature will attack the player that Goaded it is when they are the only two players left at the table.

Now, aside from Disrupt Decorum and Marisi, Breaker of the Coil , goading happens on a singular basis, and this means that it's only one creature at risk - assuming that the player doesn't do something like tap it down for a Convoke spell or for an inbuilt ability, or flickers it or something. Goading works, but it's such a slow effect to take place that there is plenty of opportunity to get around it.

I don't feel I'm doing Goad enough justice here, but for my part, I haven't played with it as much as I have with Provoke. So let me skip a bit to the point I want to make.

Goad is an aggressive mechanic, in that it forces attacks from players in a manner that helps break stalemates and not just as a really weird and prolonged method of creature removal. Goad, and by extension, cards like Thantis, the Warweaver , encourage or require the breaking of defensive minded decks and those that would simply out wait their opponents, opening up new avenues of attack - sometimes literally.

Goad is something that Wizards likes in the multiplayer format as it encourages action, rather than Stasis in a game. A slow game between two people can have turns go by quickly, but when its slow with four people, the whole thing becomes more untenable.

Provoke, on the other hand, is a mechanic that is much more ... surgical in nature, allowing you to extract an enemy creature at the risk of one of yours. No, not a Surgical Extraction , what where you thinking?

Goad forces an attack, while Goad forces a block, and one of the subtle strengths to the defender in combat is that they can control their blocks and respond as best to the nature of the attackers. Goading doesn't change this, for the attacker is still attacking and can throw more creatures into the pile. But to force a block, you take away the control and initiative of the defender, swinging the balance of combat a little toward the attacker.

Provoke is something I would like to see again, but I know that it tends to be more along the lines of Treeshaker Chimera , or other Lure effects, where everything has to block if possible, rather than just a single thing. A way for to clear the board by focusing every defender onto one sacrificial creature and allowing everything else to get through. And even then, it's been replaced by Fight and Bite effects. There are just better ways to do the same effect.

And Goad? Goad is a thing that we'll see more of, in Conspiracy and in Commander where its multiplayer focus will allow it to shine. And that's something I don't mind at all seeing, and I know Wizards doesn't mind either.

So, join me next week when I propose a fix to a bad mechanic!

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!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #162 - Commanding Beast The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #164 - A Replacement Mechanic

Flooremoji says... #1

Small error: Fog and Mark of Asylum need to be switched when refering to what prevents fighting :)

Interesting article!

August 13, 2020 8:54 p.m.

Angrily Defends Splice in Comments

August 13, 2020 9:08 p.m.

mostly just fond memories of the block, but Hana Kami and Death Denied was a solid rock base back then, recurring all your threats endlessly, and triggering arcane / spirit triggers each time.

the other fun one was with ravnica, Izzet Guildmage + Lava Spike + Desperate Ritual goes infinite on 6 mana. (cast lava spike for , splice for , copy for , use copy's to copy original, rinse / repeat)

copying spells was the most fun bit for me - nuking out a Paladin en-Vec with Reach Through Mists spicing Glacial Ray was priceless. Spice's big edge over kicker was that it wasn't an additional cost, and therefore not reflected in the CMC of the spell. with it, you can bypass Gaddock Teeg's decree and dump all mana into a single spell, and still be able to cast it

August 15, 2020 5:28 p.m.

So your big complaint with Provoke is... creatures stick around for more than one turn? Maybe try some removal of your own, ha ha.

August 17, 2020 3:59 p.m.

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