Pattern Recognition #243 - Into Battle

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


16 June 2022


Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass, so I can take it.

And welcome back! While my plans for this week were to be to talk about one thing, I saw a custom card for Magic on another site, and well, I was too busy staring at it being all sorts of wrong and just plain not understanding the colours or the abilities in question to focus on that.

So instead, I decided to change the article to this! Which is relevant. Let's talk about what is means to force attacking and to force blocking.

Now, back in article 163, I talked about Provoke and Goad, and this is sort of a follow-up to that.

Now, what does it mean when I talk about a card that forces attacking or blocking? Well, it's just that really. Normally combat is a voluntary thing, you choose which creatures you attack with and normally, the defending player(s) choose what to block with, if anything.

There is a certain degree of the passing of initiative with such things. The Active Player can look at the board state, what is in their hand, and make conjecture about what the opponent may or may not have in reserve, and calculate what they are doing. They commit in some way, and now the defending player has to make their decisions as well.

Anyone who tell you math is (just) for blockers is an idiot.

Yes, I'm looking at you, Josh and Jimmy. As a hard-core player, respect the math. You need to keep track of a lot of moving parts in the game, yours and your opponents. So disrespecting combat by saying that it's someone else's problem is a huge disservice to the effort required to optimize the attack. Sure, they may play in a format where you're defending 3:1, but you should always be watching combat to see how things shake out.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Forced Attacks and Blocks. The first is far more common, having been Keyworded and is now a fairly regular feature in Commander-oriented products, while the latter is less seen, but is still there. It just happens to show up in Standard sets.

So let's get the former out of the way, then the latter. In which case, let's talk about Goad. This is a mechanic that is found mostly in , but has also a presence in with taking up a distant third. and only get it either in a horizontal cycle of cards, or on a multi-coloured spell with providing the ability itself.

When a creature is Goaded, it must attack if able on its controller's turn, and it must attack a player other than the one who Goaded it if possible. This means that a Goaded creature can't attack a Planeswalker (!) and it can attack the Goading player if they are the only valid target remaining.

Now, being Goaded is usually a bad thing. Goad targets can include creatures that you don't want in combat - say, an Ornithopter of Paradise being Goaded into attacking into a Baneslayer Angel for one, or makes a creature much more dangerous, such as a creature that's affected by Agitator Ant, and can already swing wildly at other people.

But because of the restriction on Goading - that it has to go for someone else, this is a Multiplayer mechanic, and won't show up in Standard. Well, that and Kardur, Doomscourge, who Goads all creatures your opponents control, even if they enter the battlefield after him. Without actually saying Goad. He's fun.

But as I was saying, Goad targets tend to be one of two primary things. First is that target which shouldn't be thrown into the fray, and the other is something that wants to be forced into the attack, but the Goading player doesn't want it aimed at them. Like a Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice that's been buffed to high heaven and not.

Not that I've been the Light-Paws in that situation. No. Not ever.

Because of this, Goading is something of a double-edged sword. Or in a way, you're firing off an out-of-turn Act of Treason to swing a creature at someone, and you don't mind if the attacker dies. But what if it doesn't? What if you just force a swing? Then what?

Well, that's where the other half of this comes into play.

The card that really draws my attention to this is Irresistible Prey, though Treeshaker Chimera is a close second. Both of these cards are in my Questing Beast deck on Arena, and they both do good work. The former card forces a creature to block this turn (if able), and the latter forces everything to block it. This is an effect that is, for the vast majority of time in , but and have also touched on it at rare times.

Actually, this goes back a lot father than just those examples. And I'm just hitting myself over the head right now because I forgot that this was something that was printed in Alpha.


OK, I'm an Old Fogey, we've established this. Lure, and effects like it, have had plenty of use and utility in the game, enough so that the card was last printed in a Standard merely 10 years ago, in M12. In fact, the first "Combo" I learned of when I was young and dumb was that of Lure and Thicket Basilisk, which would kill everything that the defending player controlled that wasn't a Wall.

But there has to be a difference made between "Must be Blocked" and "Must Block"

A Creature that Must be Blocked is an attacker, pure and simple. It's job, at it's simplest, is to throw itself at the opponent and by forcing another creature into combat, it can make a good attempt at removing that creature from the battlefield, even at the risk of being blocked by a Moss Viper.

Of course, when you have a creature that wants to be thrown into the fight, there is usually some reward for making the effort to do so. In the case of Treeshaker Chimera, while it's still an 8/5 and can handily deal with a lot of problems, the real reward for playing this card is when it dies. Namely, you draw three cards.

Oh. Wait. Card draw in mono-. Justified because it's on a Creature. Sorry about that. Bad example.

In other cases, such as with Trample, throwing a creature into combat is a case where you expect the creature to die in the process, but they will take something out in the process and deal a small degree of chip damage to the defender in the process.

But there's still the other side of this half. Going in swinging is all well and good, but where does a card like Hunt Down or Courtly Provocateur or You've Been Caught Stealing come into play?

Goad forces a creature to Attack, then there are abilities that require a block - any block - and now this forces a creature to block.

This is... Creature Removal in a very complicated manner. You force a creature to block because it puts it into combat, meaning that you need to send something into the fight that can deal with that creature in the first place. And because you've taken away the ability of the defender to decide who is attacking or with what, you take away their ability to react accordingly.

I just read what I wrote again, and I'm not sure I'm getting the point across. Forcing a block is creature removal in that you are forcing that creature to get put out where you can deal with it using your own creatures, or even with cards like Gideon's Reproach, meaning that, again, it's just creature removal with extra steps.

Something that is Goaded is a political mechanic, making people swing at other players instead of you. Requiring being blocked is unfocused removal and can be turned against you, while forcing a block is focused removal. But there's a lot of removal going on here, so why are these last two abilities mostly in ?

Yes, Goad is , but that makes sense in its own way. You're sowing chaos, sitting back and watching with a gleeful grin as everyone else around you throws punches like it's a Barroom Brawl. Mixing things up is something that does. But I just keep coming back to what is doing here, and I can't help myself.

should not have one-sided creature removal, but it does. Forcing things into combat, Rabid Bite using a Moss Viper, Blizzard Brawl and the like, I have wonder what the heck is going on over there?

But that's a problem for a different time.

Comabt is interesting in the game, and I find it fun and a nice challenging way to exercise my ability to think. I know it's not for everyone, and there are plenty of decks out there that see the combat steps as something to be avoided. But treating it as a slow form of removal seems... petty in a way. I'm not really approving of what I'm seeing, but I can understand it, even as that understanding raises more questions.

But in the end, I would rather see combat be more voluntary, rather than required of everyone. Forcing attacks and blocks can be beneficial, and can backfire as well, but is it really worth it?

I would like to hear from you all, what your opinions are about this subject. Comment below, please.

Join me next week, when I talk about something. What? I have a good idea, and I'm hoping that FNM this Friday will give me some better experience with the subject matter.

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 #242 - Special Actions The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #244 - Lands that are Also Mans

Gleeock says... #1

Love forced combat. Love dropping a Crescendo of War & pushing engine-to-endgame decks to consider a field presence midgame or watch as they realize how much life can matter again in these types of games. Forced combat is just another strategy that is opening up new avenues of playstyle, new tempo, new threat recognition. Other players that can't see the forest-for-the-trees with the strategy are the ones left complaining the most. I've seen vigilance heavy decks dominate goad games (vigilance...seriously!), lifegain decks dominate, tap/untap decks dominate. It is an easily circumvented strategy that scales well to whatever combat capabilities the opponents are fielding. It inherently brings importance back the the midgame aspect of the game & it can force chip damage to be an important factor in games, which I love because before I had this option I saw far less: midgame, chip damage matters games & more 90% alternate wincon games. I honestly couldn't give less of a crap when I "do not have a choice" on my combat, usually I planned on swinging anyway - as long as my beater isn't removed I'm happy. Even happier if I'm swinging a vigilant lifelinker - Agitator Ant that all day long.

June 16, 2022 11:10 p.m.

Ize19 says... #2

I don't mind the chaos, creatures are meant to attack after all, not simply be fragile, blinkable enchantments! And anyone who hasn't enchanted an Engulfing Slagwurm with Lure has not fully experienced the joys of being Green! Green shouldn't be good at everything, but combat is where it shines, and if it sometimes has to lure or goad its opponents into fighting, more power to it! IMHO, of course.

June 18, 2022 12:05 a.m.

SlushyJones says... #3

I think another good example of forced combat is Boros Battleshaper, and to an extreme Odric, Master Tactician

June 18, 2022 2:25 p.m.

Fuzzy003 says... #4

Let's not forget Master Warcraft. Can be used as spot removal on 2 opponents or use one to take the other out leaving the attacker open for a swing.

Both forced attacks and blocks can be used in any color thanks to things like Magnetic Web or Nemesis Mask.

Ize19 I'd forgotten that combo... may have to remind my play group of it next session :)

June 18, 2022 10:52 p.m.

plakjekaas says... #5

The "voluntary" version of forced combat is introducing the Monarch, or a Coveted Jewel to the table. Nobody has to attack, but the majority of people can't resist poking in for a few damage just to draw that extra card. That's where the fun begins, as soon as you got rid of your own Monarch, most of the tables I've played at will kill themselves over it. I just sit back and watch people voluntarily swing their team at each other, reaping the benefits when the time is right. I find that more enjoyable than actually forcing it, however Disrupt Decorum is one of my favorite fogs, which also removes blockers for my Voltron commander to swing in.

June 21, 2022 3:48 a.m.

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