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While playing a multiplayer game of commander I stumbled upon an interesting predicament. One player has a Thantis, the Warweaver out and I am forced to attack. There are three other players and one has a Propaganda so I can't attack them unless I pay {2}.

When I go to combat can I choose to target the player with Propaganda and not pay the {2} therefore not attacking, or am I forced to choose another player that I can attack and swing at them?

The rulings I glanced over said if I have to swing at someone with a Propaganda or the like, I may choose not to pay the costs and not attack, but I never saw anything dictating what to do if there are more players who I can attack.

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Attacking doesn't target. Attacking doesn't use the stack. There's no such thing as choosing to attack, and then not attacking. A creature either attacks, or it doesn't. What I'm saying is your creature can't attack the player with Propaganda without paying the cost.

You have these options:

  • Your creature can attack the player with Propaganda (which requires paying {2}), or
  • your creature can attack a player without Propaganda.
  • your creature can attack a planeswalker.

As you've said, you are free to choose not to pay the cost imposed by Propaganda[117.3c, 508.1d]. But if you declare to have your creature attack the player with Propaganda, and if you choose not to pay the cost imposed by Propaganda, the attack becomes illegal[508.1c]. Since you can't choose to take an illegal action, the action is rolled back[508.1, 721.1], and you must choose a different player or planeswalker to attack[508.1d].

Only if there are no valid choices (e.g. every opponent has a Propaganda, no opponent has a planeswalker, and you refuse to pay the cost imposed by Propaganda) can you avoid attacking[508.1d]. This is an application of second Golden Rule of Magic, popularly paraphrased as «"can't" trumps "can"»[101.2]


117.3c Activating mana abilities is not mandatory, even if paying a cost is.

508.1. [...] If at any point during the declaration of attackers, the active player is unable to comply with any of the steps listed below, the declaration is illegal; the game returns to the moment before the declaration [...]

508.1c The active player checks each creature they control to see whether it’s affected by any restrictions (effects that say a creature can’t attack, or that it can’t attack unless some condition is met). If any restrictions are being disobeyed, the declaration of attackers is illegal.

508.1d The active player checks each creature they control to see whether it’s affected by any requirements (effects that say a creature attacks if able, or that it attacks if some condition is met). If the number of requirements that are being obeyed is fewer than the maximum possible number of requirements that could be obeyed without disobeying any restrictions, the declaration of attackers is illegal. 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. If a requirement that says a creature attacks if able during a certain turn refers to a turn with multiple combat phases, the creature attacks if able during each declare attackers step in that turn.

101.2 When a rule or effect allows or directs something to happen, and another effect states that it can’t happen, the “can’t” effect takes precedence.

721.1. If a player takes an illegal action or starts to take an action but can’t legally complete it, the entire action is reversed and any payments already made are canceled. [...]

  • Thanks for the answer! But the question is only one person has a Propaganda with a few other options to attack. Must I attack the other players if I dont pay the Propaganda for the one player, or did I find a new way to get past forced attackers? – Rcodes10 Aug 12 '18 at 4:16
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    ok, so in the end i have to attack someone else unless the all have Propaganda. There was a lot there and only a small part that kinda said it, sorry. – Rcodes10 Aug 13 '18 at 4:04
  • from this answer (508.1d) and the gatherer rules it seems you can choose to attack the player with propaganda and then choose not to pay the cost. i think you two misunderstood each other there – user23545 Aug 17 '18 at 13:25
  • @user23545, You are free not to pay for Propaganda, but if you don't, the attack is illegal. (508.1c The active player checks each creature they control to see whether it’s affected by any restrictions (effects that say a creature can’t attack, or that it can’t attack unless some condition is met). If any restrictions are being disobeyed, the declaration of attackers is illegal.) You must therefore make a different choice of player or planeswalker to attack if able. I'll add this to my answer when I'm at my computer – ikegami Aug 17 '18 at 13:56
  • @user23545, I have done so – ikegami Aug 17 '18 at 17:36
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You must attack. However, I'll take a probably unpopular stance and say that the rule supporting this conclusion is slightly ambiguous.

If you attack, then you are obeying 1 requirement. If you do not attack, then you are obeying 0 requirements. Therefore, per rule 508.1d, you must attack.

508.1d [...] If the number of requirements that are being obeyed is fewer than the maximum possible number of requirements that could be obeyed without disobeying any restrictions, the declaration of attackers is illegal. [...]

To declare attackers, the player follows rules 508.1a-m in order. When the player reaches rule 508.1d, they must calculate the "maximum possible number of requirements that could be obeyed without disobeying any restrictions". "Could" in this case is ambiguous. What the rule actually means is:

What is the maximum possible number of requirements that could be obeyed without disobeying any restrictions, if the game is rolled back to step 508.1a?

That's just how the rule is meant to be interpreted.

  • Did you mean "without rolling back the game to step 508.1a" instead of "if the game is rolled back to step 508.1a?"? Or, put more clearly, did you mean "What is the maximum possible number of requirements that could be obeyed legally without disobeying any restrictions?" – ikegami Aug 17 '18 at 17:00
  • And if it's ambiguous without adding "legally", what would be the other interpretation? – ikegami Aug 17 '18 at 17:01
  • According to the metaphore, the rules check if the creature attacked. In reality, they check if its attacking ("requirements are being met" rather than "requires were met"). The rules treat attacking as an ongoing action, not a instantenous effect like eating a cookie in your metaphore. That avoids the ambiguity you claim exists. – ikegami Aug 17 '18 at 17:31
  • Yeah, already deleted. – ikegami Aug 17 '18 at 17:44
  • Could you give an example of where it would make a difference? And if you're going to claim the rules are wrong, could you provide more backing? – ikegami Aug 17 '18 at 17:51

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