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I have a goblin creature that’s ability states, tap: sacrifice a goblin: Tar Pitcher deals 2 damage to target creature or player. My question: once I tap Tar Pitcher can I sacrifice multiple goblins and deal 2 damage for each creature sacrificed this way? Or can I only sacrifice one goblin and just deal 2 damage?

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You can sacrifice one and only one goblin. MTG cards are very specific in their language: it says "a goblin", so you can sacrifice a goblin, not two goblins, not three goblins. If the card was designed to let you sacrifice multiple goblins, it would say

{T}, sacrifice any number of goblins: Tar Pitcher deals 2 damage to any target for each goblin sacrificed. You may choose different targets for each one.

(it would also be overpowered given the ease of creating goblin tokens)

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    What if the activated ability did not include tapping? – LeppyR64 Sep 24 at 15:13
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    @LeppyR64 You can activate an ability multiple times as long as you can pay the cost each time. Each time you activated it you could still only sacrifice one goblin for 2 damage; the only difference is that it would be easier to activate it twice in the same turn. – GendoIkari Sep 24 at 16:23
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    @LeppyR64 For a recent example of this, see Knight of the Ebon Legion. If you've got enough mana, you can pump it multiple times in a turn and make it very large. – Philip Kendall Sep 24 at 16:30
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    @DoktorJ Yes it is repeatable. During your main phase, activate Tar Pitcher -> Let TP ability resolve -> (stack is empty now) play Hidden Strings -> let HS resolve (stack is empty again) activate TP -> let TP resolve -> play second HS -> let HS resolve -> activate TP... – Jasper Sep 26 at 0:51
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    You seem to be under the impression you cannot play more than one sorcery per main phase, which is incorrect. Technically seen (though this is never actually played out in actual play) you play a spell, then there is a round in which everyone gets priority and thus can respond. If everybody passes in succession, the top spell on the stack resolve and then passing of priority starts all over again, it's only when everybody passes in succession while the stack is empty that the current step or phase without steps ends. – Jasper Sep 26 at 0:56
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Just one

As Philip Kendall pointed out, because the ability specifies a goblin, you only sacrifice one. You can think of activated abilities like purchasing something. Everything to the left of the colon is what you pay. Everything to the right of the colon is what you get. In this case, the cost is:

{T}, Sacrifice a goblin

The thing you get in exchange is:

Tar Pitcher deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

({T} here represents the tap symbol.)

As with all activated abilities (unless they have some limit), you can repeat this transaction as much as you like, but each time you must pay the full cost. We can see that the tap symbol serves a crucial role as part of the cost, because it limits you to only using the ability once per turn (or possibly more if you find some other way to untap Tar Pitcher): if Tar Pitcher is tapped, you can't pay the cost of tapping him again.


For a more clear alternative example, take Prodigal Pyromancer. Its ability is

{T}:Prodigal Pyromancer deals one damage to any target.

(Note that the game text has been updated and is different than the text on the card. Tar Pitcher has been updated in the same way.)

Their abilities are exactly the same, except that Prodigal Pyromancer deals 1 less damage and doesn't require that you sacrifice a goblin. We can clearly see how incredibly strong it would be if Prodigal Pyromancer's ability could be repeated as long as it was tapped: it could deal an unlimited amount of damage to any target! Thankfully this isn't the case: the {T} cost must be paid each time, which usually means this ability will only happen once per turn.

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You can only sacrifice one goblin and deal 2 damage each time you activate the ability.

602.1. Activated abilities have a cost and an effect. They are written as “[Cost]: [Effect.] [Activation instructions (if any).]”

602.1a The activation cost is everything before the colon (:). An ability’s activation cost must be paid by the player who is activating it.

602.2. To activate an ability is to put it onto the stack and pay its costs, so that it will eventually resolve and have its effect.

In this case, Tar Pitcher's ability's cost has two parts; tapping Tar Pitcher and sacrificing a Goblin. Both parts of this cost must be paid each time the ability is activated. There is nothing "special" or different about tapping that limits it to being paid only once per activation; all costs are paid only once per activation. It just so happens that tapping is a cost that (normally) can only be paid once per turn.

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