Step By Step: Declaring Attackers

Instructing your minions to savagely maul your opponent is a surprisingly complicated process. The comprehensive rules divides it into 12 steps, several of which are surprisingly involved. The steps in the CR are not the best way to present the process, so for the purposes of this article I'll reorganize and simplify them down to 7 steps.There's no functional difference between the CR's process and mine, it's just an alternative way of explaining the same actions. These steps are as follows:

  1. Choose our attackers.
  2. Check for restrictions.
  3. Check for requirements.
  4. Tap the creatures.
  5. Determine the total cost to attack.
  6. Activate mana abilities.
  7. Pay all costs to attack.

As usual when a single game process is broken down into multiple steps, we just take each step on its own one at a time, and if it ever turns out that one of the steps can't be legally followed, the whole process is illegal and we treat it as though it never happened.You're probably more used to seeing that process used for casting spells, but it functions exactly the same here.

A brief note: This is a more advanced article intended for people who already have a strong grasp of the rules around the combat phase, paying costs, and mana abilities. If you find it overwhelming, it may help to read a primer on those first.

Step 1: Choose our attackers

Here we select which creatures are going to attack. We also specify what they're going to be attacking (either an opponent or an opponent's planeswalker), and whether they're in any bands. The creatures have to be untapped and we must have controlled them since the turn began. Creatures in a band have to all be attacking the same player or planeswalker.Note that whenever this article mentions multiplayer, I'm going to be assuming that you're playing with the "attack multiple players" option. Technically the default rules for multiplayer only allow you to attack one player, but I have yet to come across a playgroup that plays that way. Also, for most other portions of the article, I'm going to assume we're talking about a two-player game with no planeswalkers. Technically every time I talk about a "set of attackers" I should be talking about a "set of attack declarations", since there could be multiple choices for what a single creature is attacking. But it's simpler to avoid that while explaining the concepts, since they can all be easily generalized to multiplayer.

Step 2: Check for restrictions

Next we need to make sure that our set of attackers doesn't violate any restrictions. A restriction is any effect that could directly prevent a creature from attacking. For example, defender, "this creature can't attack alone", or "no more than one creature can attack each combat".

All restrictions must be satisfied in order for a set of attackers to be legal; we can never have a creature attacking in violation of any restriction. If your chosen set of attackers violates any restrictions, it's illegal.

Restrictions can also come from costs, like "this creature can't attack unless you sacrifice a land", or "Creatures can’t attack you unless their controller pays {2} for each creature they control that’s attacking you." For any costs that you're planning on paying, you ignore their restrictions.I'll elaborate on this down in step 5.

Step 3: Check for requirements

We also have to look at any requirements that apply to our creatures. A requirement is any effect that directly requires a creature to attack, perhaps only under certain conditions. For example, "this creature attacks each combat if able", "at least 1 creature attacks each combat if able", or "if any creature attacks, all creatures attack if able".In almost all situations, all restrictions are always satisfied if nothing attacks, and all requirements are always satisfied if everything attacks. The only exception so far is Nacatl War-Pride.

Sometimes it won't be possible to satisfy all requirements without violating any restrictions, so we only have to satisfy as many as we can. In other words, out of all possible sets of attackers that don't violate any restrictions, you have to attack with a set that satisfies the maximum possible number of requirements.

Let's look at an example. You control Crazed Goblin, Avatar of Slaughter, Bear Cub, and Wall of Roots. Your opponent controls Crawlspace. Ignoring all requirements and restrictions, there are 16 possible sets of attackers:Each creature can either attack or not attack, meaning that there are 2 options for each creature. So the total number of options is 2^N, where N is the number of creatures you control.

Attacking with Wall of Roots violates its restriction, and attacking with any more than 2 creatures violates Crawlspace's restriction. It's never legal to violate restrictions, so we can remove all those options from consideration. We're left with 7 sets of attackers that comply with all restrictions:

Next we count up how many requirements are satisfied by each option:

The greatest number of requirements that can be satisfied is 3, so we must pick either of those two options. We must attack with Crazed Goblin and 1 other creature; either Avatar of Slaughter or Bear Cub.

Seems simple enough, right? Well, there are a few complications.

Complication #1

The astute among you may have noticed that the previous few paragraphs contradicted each other. I said that a combat requirement is a type of effect. Avatar of Slaughter creates one continuous effect. Therefore it creates one requirement. That requirement is satisfied if all creatures attack, and is not satisfied otherwise. This would mean that in the example scenario above, you'd be able to attack with only Crazed Goblin and no other creatures.

This is indeed what's written in the CR508.1d tells us that a requirement is "an effect that says a creature attacks if able, or that it attacks if some condition is met"., but it's an error. Wizards of the Coast apparently forgot their own definition of the term "effect" when they were writing the rule on combat requirements, and assumed that the number of effects Avatar of Slaughter creates is dependent on the number of creatures on the battlefield. (Or perhaps they just forgot that cards like Avatar of Slaughter existed.) Extrapolating from various official rulings they've issued over the years, and the fact that treating it any other way would lead to some very unintuitive results, I'm confident that their intention is that Avatar of Slaughter creates a separate requirement for each creature on the battlefield.Slightly concerningly, this Cranial Insertion article claims that War's Toll only creates a single requirement, and that if you're unable to attack with all of your creatures it isn't satisfied at all. Cranial Insertion is usually a pretty reliable source, but considering that their explanation would mean that an opponent simply controlling a Wall of Roots would render War's Toll's effect useless, I think it's safe to say that Cranial Insertion just got this one wrong. The rest of this article will operate under that modification of the rules.

Complication #2

Aren't we ignoring some important words here? Avatar of Slaughter says "if able", and a creature with defender isn't able to attack. Avatar of Slaughter's requirement should be satisfied even if some creatures don't attack, as long as they weren't able to attack.

But this only helps if we can determine whether each creature is "able to attack" without knowing what requirements need to be followed, which we can't do.

The simplest definition would be to define "ableness" to mean something like "has been on the battlefield since the beginning of the turn and doesn't have defender". But by calling out defender in particular, it would get treated differently from some other restriction. Clearly if you control Scarred Puma and no black or green creatures, it shouldn't work differently from controlling a Wall of Roots. So that's no good.

Ok, how about we expand the definition to include any creature with any restriction that renders it unable to attack? But now that's ambiguous. If you control Silent Arbiter and Bear Cub, which creature is "able to attack"? Both? Neither? It's unclear. The problem isn't limited to non-local restrictions like Silent Arbiter; if you control two Master of Cruelties, we have the same problem.

We can resolve that ambiguity by saying that a creature is "able to attack" if there's any set of attackers that is legal after step 2 and includes that creature. But now we can end up with a set of creatures that are each individually "able to attack", but they can't all attack! If you control Silent Arbiter and Avatar of Slaughter, they're both "able to attack" under this definition, yet you can't choose both as attackers, so we're right back where we started: Avatar of Slaughter's requirement cannot be satisfied no matter what you do, so it's legal to attack with no creatures. This interpretation is no good.

It would be tempting to say that a creature is "able to attack" if there are any legal (after taking requirements into account) sets of attackers that include it, but now our definition is circular! In order to know what the legal sets of attacks are, we'd have to know which creatures are able to attack. But in order to know which creatures are able to attack, we'd have to know all the legal sets of attackers. This is obviously unhelpful.

Any comprehensive and unambiguous definition of "ableness" would have to rely on a process similar to what we're already doing, where we compare multiple sets of potential attackers in order to determine which creatures are "able" to attack under certain conditions. This means that pointing at the phrase "if able" doesn't add any explanatory power, and since every attack requirement has the "if able" disclaimerSome use slightly different wording, like Prized Unicorn, but it's the same concept., we may as well ignore it entirely.

This is also something that Wizards forgot to put in the CR, but again I'm confident that this is their intention; after all, if we were supposed to figure out which creatures are able to attack and requirements only applied to those creatures, then there would be no need for the rule that talks about maximizing the number of requirements fulfilled, because you could always fulfill all requirements! So it's pretty clear that we're supposed to just ignore anything that talks about whether a creature is "able" to attack.This ruling on Judgeapps also backs that up, as does CR 506.6"Some abilities check to see whether or not a creature “had to attack” during a particular combat phase. A creature had to attack if one or more effects were requiring that creature to attack at the time attackers were declared in that combat. A creature did not “have to attack” if there were no such effects that required it to attack, even if there were no other legal attacks that could have been declared." by implication.Since if requirements didn't apply to creatures that weren't able to attack, it wouldn't make much sense to say they "had to attack" either.Notably, a lot of judge resources get this wrong, such as this rules tip. Some even contradict themselves in confusion, such as this rules tip and this Judge Academy, by claiming that we are following the "if able" disclaimer yet still violating the requirement, somehow?

So to sum that up, whenever you're working with attack requirements, you should pretend that the "if able" part doesn't exist. The rest of this article will make that assumption as well.

Complication #3

You control Viashino Bey. What are your legal attacks?

That's right, you have to attack with Viashino Bey! Doing so satisfies 1 requirement, whereas not doing so satisfies 0.


Yeah, so there's a specific class of requirement that doesn't work at all under the rules- any requirement that only exists for some sets of attackers and not others. I call these conditional requirements. I think Wizards didn't bother to consider them when writing the rules, because there are only 4 cards with this type of requirement: Viashino Bey, War's Toll, Ekundu Cyclops, and Magnetic Web.This is a little surprising, since War's Toll was in a Commander deck and actually sees some play.

I have been unable to find a single official ruling that even touches on how these are supposed to work, nor do any other judge resources try to explain it.Except this Cranial Insertion article from 2006, which was written back when the intended result of combat requirements and restrictions was very different, and is therefore unhelpful. So, we need to make up a system from scratch that matches our intuition of how these cards should work.

If you're someone who enjoys thinking about rules design, I'd encourage you to pause here and try to figure out a solution. You'll learn a lot more by working through it yourself than you will from just reading my description, and it's quite a fun challenge. If you'd like to get a hint or to ask a specific question without seeing the whole answer, feel free to make a comment down below, or ask me directly. Whenever you're ready, open the next section.

This was quite a challenge. I spent more than two months brainstorming on this, and every idea had some flaw; some board state where the system gave one answer and intuition gave another.If you're curious to see some of the systems that didn't work, I've compiled 28 of the attempts I could remember into this spreadsheet.

Eventually, with considerable help from Arjen Baarsma - a mathematician and Magic player I met a few years ago - we did it. We found a simple system that (as far as we know) returns the intuitive result no matter what the board state is.With one frustrating exception that can only occur with hypothetical cards. Since it's unlikely that Wizards will print any more conditional requirements, I decided to not worry about it. That said, if anyone has an idea for an even better system that solves this problem too, I'd love to hear about it. It works like this:

Conditional requirements can either be "on" or "off". If Viashino Bey isn't attacking, its conditional requirement is off, and it doesn't count towards the number of requirements that exist. If it is attacking, then it's "on", and it creates 1 requirement for each creature you control.

You start by considering what requirements currently exist, assuming you've chosen no attackers. You choose a set of attackers that satisfies the maximum number of those requirements. Then you check again to see what requirements exist for that set of attackers. Then you choose a new set of attackers that maximizes those requirements. Continue repeating this process until the new set of attackers is one you've chosen before. And while you're going through these steps, you only consider new sets of attackers that don't satisfy any fewer of the requirements from previous steps.

Let's look at some examples. First off, the simple case where there are no conditional requirements. You control Bear Cub and Crazed Goblin. How does this process work here?

You start off by considering the empty set of attackers. You check to see what requirements exist for that set and it's just one: Crazed Goblin's. Next you choose any set of attackers that satisfies the maximum number of requirements: that can be either Crazed Goblin on its own or Crazed Goblin along with Bear Cub. You now check for any new requirements and maximize them; this again lets you choose Crazed Goblin on its own or Crazed Goblin along with Bear Cub. If you pick the same one as you picked previously, then you're done, and you know that's a legal choice. Otherwise you do this one more time, and then you're guaranteed to have hit the same set of creatures again.

So this system has the nice property that in any board state with no conditional requirements, this system is completely equivalent to the CR's simpler system of "maximize total requirements".

Ok, so what happens when we do add in some conditional requirements? Let's say you control Crawlspace, Crazed Goblin, Magnetic Web, Ekundu Cyclops, and Bear Cub. Ekundu Cyclops and Bear Cub both have a magnet counter.

You begin with the empty set. 1 requirement exists: Crazed Goblin'sThis is check #1. I'm numbering them becuase I'll need to refer back to them later.. We can choose any set of attackers that satisfies 1 requirement. That means we now have the options:

Let's say you choose just the Crazed Goblin alone. That set has two requirements: Crazed Goblin's and Ekundu Cyclops's.This is check #2. So you must choose a new set that satisfies the maximum number of those requirements, while not satisfying any fewer of the ones in the last step. There is only only one option that satisfies both requirements:

We check once again to see what requirements exist, and see 4: Crazed Goblin's, Ekundu Cyclops's, and both of Magnetic Web's.Check #3. It's not possible to satisfy all 4I bet you'd forgotten about that Crawlspace by now., so the best we can do is 3, with either of these choices:

But wait! back in check #2, we had the set of requirements that consisted of just Crazed Goblin's requirement, and we were satisfying it. But attacking with Ekundu Cyclops and Bear Cub would drop that number down to 0. We're never allowed to lower the number of requirements that were being followed in a previous check, so this is not legal. This means we must choose Crazed Goblin and Ekundu Cyclops.

Since this is the same set of creatures as we had chosen previously, we're done: It is legal to attack with Crazed Goblin and Ekundu Cyclops.

If we wanted to know what all the legal sets of attackers are, we'd need to also follow the same process for each of the options we could have chosen from back after check #1. (In this example they'd all lead to the same place, but in other situations they might not.)

So this system results in a branching tree structure. You start with no attackers and then proceed down the branches according to the rules we've defined. Whenever you reach the end of a branch, you know that that set of attackers is legal. The list of all legal attacks is just the list of options that are at the end of any branch.

Here's what the tree looks like for this example:

As you can see, in this case, all roads lead to Crazed Goblin and Ekundu Cyclops. But in other situations, you may end up having more than one final option.

I know this system can be a little intimidating, so the main thing to remember is that all of this complexity is only relevant for the 4 cards with conditional requirements: Viashino Bey, Ekundu Cyclops, Magnetic Web, and War's Toll. As long as none of those cards are on the battlefield, you can use the much simpler rule of "maximize total requirements followed", and you'll arrive at the correct answer every time.

I've created a calculator that can tell you what attacks are legal given any requirements or restrictions that may exist.

Attack requirement/restriction calculator

Click on a creature or effect to remove it. Click on a piece of text in brackets to edit it. Removing a preset creature will also remove its effects, and vice versa.



Legal sets of attackers:

Code from text-encoding, base65536, Text to GZIP, and pako.

Step 4: Tap the creatures

Now that we know our attacks are legal, we tap all creatures that have been selected to attack.

Step 5: Determine the total cost to attack

Add up all the costs and see what the final total is. This is straightforward, except:

"If a creature can’t attack unless a player pays a cost, that player is not required to pay that cost, even if attacking with that creature would increase the number of requirements being obeyed."

The CR tells us that a player is never forced into paying a cost to attack that they don't want to.

How does this actually work? Costs aren't locked in until after we've already determined our set of attackers, so we somehow have to decide on a set of attackers that satisfies all costs we're going to pay without yet knowing what those costs are going to be. This leaves us in a bit of a catch-22. We have to know what costs are going to be paid in order to determine what sets of attackers are legal, but we have to know the final set of attackers in order to know what costs apply to it.

The most straightforward interpretation is that we choose a legal set of attackers, ignoring any costs, and then if it turns out later that there's a cost imposed on one of those creatures, we can remove it from the set of attackers rather than pay the cost. But that leads to some obviously wrong results, like being able to not attack with Juggernaut in multiplayer if just one opponent controls Propaganda.

Instead what we have to do is move the choice of what costs to pay back up to the point where we're determining legal attacks. While we're back up in step 2, we check what costs each creature in our chosen set of attackers is going to be subject to in step 5, and choose whether we're going to pay each of those costs. For any cost we don't plan to pay, we treat the unpaid cost as a restriction that says the creature can't attack, making that set of attackers illegal. (Any costs we do plan to pay, we just ignore for steps 2 and 3.)

This is a bit weird, as it means we have to simulate how the game state is going to progress in the future. But that's ok; the game can do that. We just say "ok, assume this set of attackers is legal, and keep going until step 5. What costs are there in that step? Ok, now rewind, and those are the costs we'll use here in step 2".This sort of future-telling is not entirely unique; Word of Command does the same when it's checking to see what mana abilities we can legally activate.Note that this would lead to problems if there were any opportunity for unknown information to enter into the processe.g. a permanent entering the battlefield from a hidden zone, an opponent making a choice, or an effect that's dependent on a coin flip., since we wouldn't be able to calculate in advance what the costs will be. But with current cards that's not possibleAs far as I know., so this works ok.

There's also the problem of individuality, same as with requirements. Propaganda as worded imposes only a single cost of 2N mana, where N is the number of creatures attacking, but this line in the CR only makes sense if we treat Propaganda as though it were creating a separate cost for each attacking creature for this determination. This is especially relevant in step 3, where we're checking every possible set of attackers to see which ones satisfy which requirements. We need to apply the same costs to each of those potential sets of attackers.

For example, let's say you have a creature with a requirement to attack your opponent Alice. If Alice and Bob each control a Propaganda, then it's legal for you to pay for Bob's and not pay for Alice's, and end up attacking Bob. But if instead a War Tax has been activated, then this isn't legal; you can choose to not pay the {2}, but if you do pay it, then the creature must attack Alice and you don't have the choice to attack Bob.

So we need to treat each effect that imposes a cost to attack as though it's creating a separate cost for each creature it applies to.Note that we aren't saying Propaganda actually is multiple costs, because that would be a functional change in the paying costs step. (We'd get to pay for separate creatures sequentially rather than simultaneously.) We're only treating it as though it were multiple costs while we're doing the restriction/requirement calculations.

What is nice about this system is that we don't need any special logic to handle the interaction of costs and requirements; we can just fit costs into the existing restriction framework we already had. We decide back in step 2 whether we're planning on paying each cost; if we are, then we pretend that cost doesn't exist for the purposes of calculating legal attacks. If we aren't planning on paying, then we treat that creature as though it has a restriction saying it can't attack the appropriate player(s)/planeswalker(s).

Step 6: Activate mana abilities

Just like any other time we need to pay a cost, we have a chance to activate mana abilities if that cost includes mana. This works exactly the same as our chance to activate mana abilities while casting a spell; if the total cost determined in step 5 includes any mana, we get a chance to activate mana abilities here. If not, this step is skipped.

Step 7: Pay the costs

Now we pay all the costs, in an order of our choice. If we can't do so, this declaration of attackers is illegal. (Again, this is just like how paying costs for a spell works.)

Wrapping up

And we're done! Attackers have finished being declared, and our creatures now qualify for anything that cares whether a creature is attacking.


That was a lot to remember, so let me go through it briefly once more.

  1. First we choose a set of creatures to evaluate for legality. They must be untapped and not have summoning sickness, but we don't take into account any restrictions, requirements, or costs yet. We also choose what they're going to be attacking, if there are multiple options, such as planeswalkers or multiple opponents.
  2. Look ahead to step 5 and figure out what costs you'll have to pay for this set of attackers, pretending that global costs like Propaganda are per-creature. Declare which of them you're going to be paying. Then check the chosen set of creatures to see if it violates any restrictions, ignoring any restrictions created by costs you've decided to pay. If so, this set of creatures is not a legal set of attackers.
  3. Check what requirements exist for this set of creatures, pretending that global requirements like Avatar of Slaughter are per-creature. Check every other set of attackers that complies with step 2 (using the same set of costs you chose to pay) and see how many of those requirements are satisfied by each other set of potential attackers. (Ignoring any part of the requirement that refers to the creature being "able" to attack.) If any of them satisfy more than the chosen set of creatures, this is not a legal set of attackers.As a shortcut, you can remember that if your chosen set of attackers violates no requirements, it will always pass this step, and you don't need to worry about checking other possible attackers.
  4. Tap the creatures.
  5. Determine the total cost to attack.
  6. If the total cost includes mana, you have a chance to activate mana abilities.
  7. Pay the costs, in any order.
  8. At this point in time, the creatures get "declared as attackers", for anything that cares about that event.


Let's take a look at some examples to reify what we've learned. For each of these questions, try to figure out the answer yourself first. If your answer was incorrect, try to figure out what part of your reasoning process was in error before moving on to the next example.I've avoided including many questions that are only about requirements and restrictions, since you can use the calculator above for practice on those. Pick a set of cards and effects, try to figure out the answer yourself, and then check the calculator results to see if you were right.

Question #1

You control Armored Galleon and Floodtide Serpent. You've enchanted one of your opponent's lands with Spreading Seas. Can you attack with both creatures?

Yes. Armored Galleon has an attack restriction, which you check in step 2, and it is satisfied at that time. Floodtide Serpent has a cost to attack, which is not paid until step 7.

Question #2

You're in a 3-player game, and you control Qal Sisma Behemoth, which has been goaded by Alice. Your other opponent Bob controls nothing. What are your legal attacks?

You can either attack Bob or not attack at all. You cannot attack Alice.

In step 2, you decide whether you're going to pay Qal Sisma Behemoth's cost. If you decide not to, it has a restriction saying it can't attack. If you decide you will pay the cost, then there's no restriction on it. In step 3 attacking Bob would satisfy 2 requirements, while attacking Alice would satisfy only 1, so you must attack Bob.

Question #3

You control Silent Arbiter, Avatar of Slaughter, and Crazed Goblin. What are your legal attacks?

You must attack with Crazed Goblin, since that satisfies 2 requirements. Attacking with either other creature would only satisfy 1.

Question #4

Can you attack with Floodtide Serpent and Hollow Warrior, tapping and bouncing Glory Bearers? If so, how many times does it trigger? How many times does your Quest for Renewal trigger?

This is legal, you can pay the costs in step 7 in any order. Glory Bearers doesn't trigger, since it wasn't on the battlefield at the time Floodtide Serpent and Hollow Warrior became attacking creatures. Quest for Renewal triggers 3 times, since 3 creatures became tapped.

Question #5

You control Floodtide Serpent, which is an enchantment due to Enchanted Evening. Can it attack and return itself to your hand? If so, does your Hellrider trigger?

It can bounce itself, but the Hellrider won't trigger. Floodtide Serpent is returned to your hand in the last step of declaring attacks, and there's nothing after that point that checks to make sure it's still on the battlefield.If you're going by the steps described in the CR instead of my reorganization, there is one final step in 508.1k, which is "Each chosen creature still controlled by the active player becomes an attacking creature." The word "still" is in there precisely to handle the situation where a creature that was declared as an attacker left the battlefield before this point. Since Floodtide Serpent didn't stick around to the end, it was never declared as an attacker, so Hellrider doesn't trigger.

Question #6

You control 2 Crazed Goblins, 2 Stomping Grounds, and 2 Deathrite Shamans. There are 2 lands in your graveyard. Your opponent controls Propaganda. What are your legal attacks?

You can attack with 0 or 1 Crazed Goblins. Deathrite Shaman isn't a mana ability and can't be activated during the process of declaring attackers, so you only have 2 mana available to you. If you don't want to attack at all, you can just choose to not pay the cost, and Propaganda's restriction will prevent either of the Crazed Goblins from attacking.

Question #7

You control 3 Glory Seekers and 6 Plains. Your opponent controls War's Toll and Propaganda. What are your legal attacks?

You can attack with any number of Glory Seekers, paying the necessary amount of mana to Propaganda.

Propaganda creates a restriction for each creature that doesn't have its cost paid. In step 2, you decide what costs you're going to pay, and you can ignore those restrictions.

In step 3, you check for requirements. If you're attacking with at least one Glory Seeker, there are 3 requirements, and you're satisfying one for each Glory Seeker you're attacking with. Since you can always choose to not pay for a Glory Seeker and make it unable to attack, the War's Toll ends up being irrelevant here.

Question #8

You control Bear Cub equipped by Sword of the Paruns. Your opponent controls Ensnaring Bridge and has 3 cards in hand. Can you attack?

Yes. Ensnaring Bridge is a restriction that is checked in step 2. Bear Cub doesn't become tapped until step 4.

Question #9

You control Mogg Flunkies enchanted by Bloodshed Fever, and a Glory Seeker. What are your legal attacks?

You must attack with both creatures; any other option would violate Bloodshed Fever's requirement.

Question #10

You control Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher, and your opponent controls Propaganda. Can you attack with Vhal, using it to pay for itself?

Yes. You choose a set of untapped creatures to attack in step 1, and it's untapped at that point. You would tap it to attack in step 4, but since it has vigilance, it doesn't tap. Then you tap it for mana in step 6.

Question #11

You use Illusionary Mask to cast Leviathan and Illusionary Wall face-down. Your opponent controls Avatar of Slaughter. What are your legal attacks?

You must attack with Illusionary Wall. You cannot attack with Leviathan. (Unless you control two Islands, in which case you can choose to attack and sacrifice them or not attack.)

Illusionary Wall has no restrictions in step 2, so it's legal to choose it as an attacker. (And you must do so due to the requirement imposed by Avatar of Slaughter.) Once it's turned face-up in step 4, it's too late for new restrictions to matter, so it's still a legal attacker.

Leviathan has no normal restrictions in step 2, but since we look ahead to determine costs, we see that it will have a cost once we get to step 5, and we have to decide in step 2 whether to pay it. If you choose to not pay it, then it's treated as though it has a restriction saying it can't attack.This is a bit weird, since the legality of not attacking with it is unverifiable by the opponent. (They just see a face-down creature that has no restrictions, and you don't have to tell them why it's unable to attack.) But there are other cards that do the same thing, such as Sylvan Library or anything with morph/foretell, so this isn't any weirder than those.

Question #12

You're in a 4-player commander game. You control Ruhan of the Fomori and several lands, and the randomly-selected opponent is Alice, who controls Propaganda. Bob also controls Propaganda, and Carol controls nothing. What are your legal attacks?

You can attack anyone, or not attack at all. You're never forced into paying a cost, so you can either choose to pay for one of the Propagandas and attack that player, or pay for neither and attack Carol or not attack at all.

Question #13

You control Crazed Goblin and War Tax. Can you activate War Tax for X=0 and avoid having to attack?

Yes. War Tax creates a cost to attack, and you're never required to pay costs to attack.

Question #14

You control Juniper Order Advocate and an Old Man of the Sea that's been turned green by Prismatic Lace. You use Old Man of the Sea to gain control of your opponent's Archon of Absolution. You then attack with Juniper Order Advocate. Do you have to pay {1}?

Yes. When Juniper Order Advocate becomes tapped in step 4, Archon of Absolution returns to your opponent's control. Then in step 5 you determine the total cost to attack.

Question #15

You control Qal Sisma Behemoth, Deranged Assistant, and Skill Borrower. The top card of your library is an Island. Can you attack?

It depends on the next card down. If it's a creature or artifact that will let Skill Borrower produce at least 1 mana, yes. Otherwise no.

In step 2, you choose whether you want to pay the cost. It doesn't matter whether you're able to pay it at this point, you're just saying you will pay it later. Then in step 6 you activate Deranged Assistant and find out what's on top. If it's capable of producing mana, you're all good. If not, this set of attackers is illegal.

Question #16

You control a Pili-Pala and 2 Forests, and you're at 1 life. Your opponent controls Norn's Annex. Can you attack with the Pili-Pala?

Yes. You decide that Pili-Pala will attack in step 1. In step 2, you declare that you're going to pay for Norn's Annex, so you're able to ignore that restriction. In step 4 you tap the Pili-Pala, in step 6 you untap it for {W}, and in step 7 you pay the {W}.

Question #17

You attack with Floodtide Serpent, bouncing your Temporary Lockdown, which returns your Raging Goblin to the battlefield. Can you attack with it too?

No. The choice of which creatures are going to attack is made in step 1, and Temporary Lockdown doesn't leave the battlefield until step 7.

Question #18

You control Gaea's Liege and 3 Forests. Your opponent controls Ensnaring Bridge and 6 Forests, and has 3 cards in hand. Can you attack?

Yes. Ensnaring Bridge's restriction is checked in step 2, and Gaea's Liege doesn't become an attacking creature until all the steps are complete.

Question #19

You control Ensnaring Bridge, and your only cards in hand are two Simian Spirit Guides. You opponent controls Propaganda. Can you attack with Grizzly Bears?

No. Ensnaring Bridge's restriction is checked in step 2, and you don't activate mana abilities until step 6.

Question #20

You control Flooded Woodlands, Bear Cub, and The Gitrog Monster. Your opponent controls Avatar of Slaughter. What are your legal attacks? How many cards will you draw?

Since we treat Flooded Woodland as though it created multiple separate costs in step 2, we can choose to pay or not pay for each creature individually. It's therefore legal to attack with either creature, both, or neither, sacrificing lands as necessary. If you attack with both creatures, you'll only draw 1 card, since Flooded Woodland imposes only a single cost, and it must be paid all at once.

Question #21

You're at 1 life and your opponent is at 3. You control Phyrexian Tower, Mogg Flunkies, and Takenuma Bleeder. Can you win this turn?

No. In step 1, you can choose both creatures as attackers. In step 2, you see that Mogg Flunkies's restriction is met. Step 6 is skipped because the total cost to attack doesn't include any mana payments, so Takenuma Bleeder will get declared as an attacker and you'll lose 1 life.

If your opponent had Propaganda, then you'd be able to win.

Question #22

In a 3-player game, you control Crazed Goblin and a Silent Arbiter that's been goaded by Alice. Your other opponent is Bob. What are your legal attacks?

You must attack Bob with Silent Arbiter. Doing so fulfills both of goad's requirements and only violates Crazed Goblin's. Any other possible attack would be violating at least 2 of those requirements.

Question #23

You control Floodtide Serpent enchanted by your Darksteel Mutation, and your opponent controls Propaganda. You attack with Floodtide Serpent, sacrificing the Darksteel Mutation to Krark-Clan Ironworks, which is an artifact due to Mycosynth Lattice. Do you have to bounce an enchantment to Floodtide Serpent?

No. The total cost to attack is determined in step 5, and it doesn't change afterwards.

Question #24

You control 2 Mogg Flunkies, Phyrexian Tower, and 2 Mountains. Your opponent controls Propaganda. Can you attack?

Yes. You choose both Mogg Flunkies to attack in step 1. In step 2, you declare that you're planning on paying for Propaganda, so there's no restriction from it, and the Mogg Flunkies' restrictions are both satisfied. In step 5 you determine the cost to be {4}. In step 6 you sacrifice one of the Mogg Flunkies, and in step 7 you pay the {4}.

Question #25

You've used Extraction Specialist to return Bear Cub to the battlefield. You also control Ashaya, Soul of the Wild. Can you attack with Bear Cub, sacrificing Extraction Specialist to Exalted Dragon?

No. The choice of what creatures to attack with is made in step 1. In step 2, the game sees that there's a restriction on Bear Cub, and this set of attackers is illegal. The Extraction Specialist wouldn't be sacrificed until much later, in step 7.

Question #26

You're in a three-player game. Your opponent Alice controls Propaganda. Your opponent Bob controls War's Toll. You control a Mogg Flunkies that's been goaded by Alice. You also control a Bear Cub enchanted by Brainwash. Assuming you have enough mana to pay all costs, what are your legal choices of attacks?

The potential sets of attackers that follow all restrictions are:

  1. No attacks - violates 2 requirements from goad - requires paying no costs.
  2. Bear Cub attacks Alice - satisfies 1 requirement from War's Toll, violates 2 requirements from goad and 1 from War's Toll - requires paying Propaganda for Bear Cub and Brainwash.
  3. Bear Cub attacks Bob - satisfies 1 requirement from War's Toll, violates 2 requirements from goad and 1 from War's Toll - requires paying Brainwash.
  4. Mogg Flunkies and Bear Cub both attack Alice - satisfies 2 requirements from War's Toll and 1 from goad, violates 1 requirement from goad - Requires paying Propaganda for both creatures and Brainwash.
  5. Mogg Flunkies and Bear Cub both attack Bob - satisfies 2 requirements from War's Toll and 2 from goad, violates none - requires paying Brainwash.
  6. Mogg Flunkies attacks Alice and Bear Cub attacks Bob - satisfies 2 requirements from War's Toll and 1 from goad, violates 1 requirement from goad - requires paying Propaganda for Mogg Flunkies and Brainwash.
  7. Mogg Flunkies attacks Bob and Bear Cub attacks Alice - satisfies 2 requirements from War's Toll and 2 from goad, violates none - requires paying Propaganda for Bear Cub and Brainwash.

So out of these 7 options, the legal ones are the options for which there is no other option that satisfies more of the requirements that exist for the option you're considering, and requires paying no other costs than those paid for the option you're considering.

In other words, pick an option, let's call it option A. Now look at each other option in turn; call the one you're currently looking at option B. Does option B satisfy more of option A's requirements than option A does? Does option B require paying any costs that you don't have to pay for option A? If you answered yes to the first question and no to the second, option A is illegal. Otherwise, you can proceed to the next option B. If you get through all option Bs and none of them invalidate option A, congratulation! Option A is a legal set of attackers.

Performing this process on our options here, we see that our legal options are options 1, 5, and 7.

Options 2, 3, 4, and 6 are all illegal, since option 5 satisfies more of their requirements and doesn't require paying any more costs.

It's my hope this has resolved any questions you have about the process to declare attackers. If you're still confused about anything, that means I didn't do as good a job as I could have done, and I'd like to find out about that so I can improve the article for future readers. If there are any parts of this article that you have questions about or found unhelpful, please let me know.

For more questions about declaring attackers, see here.

A huge thank-you to Arjen Baarsma for putting their mathematical expertise to work helping me solve the problem of how to handle combat requirements. Without their willingness to engage in lengthy email discussions about the subject, I may never have found a solution. Also with thanks to Laurie Cheers for further discussion of the combat requirement system, and to Joe Steet, Colton McCarthy, and Pi Fisher for proofreading and suggestions. Any errors are my own.

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