Provoking the Enemy

Posted in Learning Curve on January 22, 2003

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

We are less than a week away from the prerelease tournaments for Legions.

I can’t wait.

I love playing with new cards and more importantly, new mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, I am really excited about the possibilities of an all creature set. My mind is racing about ideas for new Sliver decks. I can’t wait to reanimate Akroma Angel of Wrath and I certainly can wait to reanimate Phage the Untouchable. But what really gets me going is trying to wring the most out of a new mechanic before everyone else figures it out. Which brings me to the new provoke mechanic and today’s preview card, Deftblade Elite. The Deftblade Elite is the standard-bearer for Legions’ new mechanic; rest assured that there will be bigger and badder creatures with provoke but none as subtle.

Deftblade Elite

Provoke functions like a mini-Lure. You can force one of your opponent’s creatures to block. If his creature is tapped you can untap it and make it block. Obviously if you have creatures bigger than your opponent’s, provoke is a breeze to use… but what good is a 1/1 for ?

Let’s find out…

Today's Lesson:
Using the provoke mechanic.

Have you ever played a white/green against a Wellwisher or a Sparksmith? With the exception of Wrath of God effects there are almost no ways to deal with creatures with abilities. Now you have the Deftblade Elite. Since you can play him on the first turn it is likely that he will be able to attack before your opponent can use the ability of his creature. Against a deck with annoying 1/1 creatures the Elite functions as a white Lava Dart. (Personally, I look forward to killing many Birds of Paradise with this little guy!) The secondary damage-prevention ability of the Elite is irrelevant here since you want to kill the creature. If you activate the ability, neither creature will be damaged and your opponent will untap and have an active Elf or Goblin. We will look at when the secondary ability shines a little further down in this piece.

This is not to say that damage prevention and the Elite don’t play well together. With a healer of some kind by his side, Deftblade Elite can take down 1-toughness creatures all day long. And remember if your opponent does something tricky like using a Giant Growth effect you can just negate the combat damage with the Elite’s ability.

Of course there are tricky ways to use the secondary ability in combat. Let’s say you have enchanted your Deftblade Elite with a Crown of Fury giving it +1/+0 and first strike. When you attack your opponent who controls three 2/2 creatures, you provoke the one you really want kill. Annoyed by all the trouble this meager little Soldier is causing him, he decides to try and kill your creature by blocking with everyone. Now the fun starts. Since your soldier has First Strike you get to assign that damage and have it resolve before normal combat damage, presumably killing the original target of your wrath. When it comes time for normal damage, you can activate the Elite—which has already dealt its damage—and not have it take any damage from the other creatures.

Crown of Fury

The Deftblade Elite has a natural affinity for enchantments that will make it better. Anything from local enchantments like Crown of Fury and Improvised Armor (heck, Empyrial Armor for that matter!) to global enchantments like Crusade, Divine Sacrament, and Glorious Anthem. In this case bigger is definitely better.

Regardless of how big you make it or how much damage prevention you can send to its aid the Deftblade Elite is not going to kill a creature with a tapping ability if it does not have summoning sickness. If you use the ability to untap your opponent’s Wellwisher you are just going to give him another chance to activate it before blockers are declared. So what do you do if your opponent’s annoying creature comes online before your Deftblade? Bounce is good. If you force your opponent to replay the creature, you can kill it with your Soldier while it is still woozy from the trip.

Creatures with provoke are also going to shine after you "push the button." You know, blow up the world. After a Wrath of God, Nevinyrral's Disk, Pernicious Deed, Jokulhaups, Obliterate, Rout—heck even an Upheaval. If you’re able to play a provoke creature with some way to protect it, you will eventually wear your opponent down to nothing.

All of the situations described above are early game or pseudo-early game (pushing the button) situations. What happens if you draw your Deftblade late in the game and he’s not going to kill anything and there is no reset button in sight? The Deftblade makes an excellent blocker… No, not that kind of blocker, silly. Offensive blocking! Like an NFL blocker getting creatures out of the way for your star running back. Imagine a scenario where you have an Ascending Aven in play but your opponent has a Spitting Gourna keeping it at bay. With a Deftblade Elite you can tie it up in combat for multiple turns allowing your flier to streak into the end zone. Diversionary tactics from your Elite will work well with creatures that have abilities that trigger if they deal combat damage like Skirk Commando, Cabal Executioner, Ophidian, Shadowmage Infiltrator, and so many more.

Let’s recap some of the points we covered about the Deftblade Elite.

  • He can serve as light removal in color combinations that don’t have access to much one-for-one creature kill.
  • Deftblade Elite plays well with healers and if you can make him bigger all the better.
  • If you somehow give him first strike you can resolve first strike damage and then activate his secondary ability to prevent normal damage.
  • If you untap a tapped creature with a tapping ability (preferably a woodchuck that would chuck wood…) it can use that ability again before blockers are declared, and thusly avoid conflict with your Soldier. Not a good idea!
  • Provoke will mix well with bounce or reset buttons.
  • The Deftblade Elite has a future in the NFL running interference for your other creatures.

Thank you to everyone who has written in with kind words of encouragement and to those of you that have written in with good constructive criticism. This is the last week of Legions previews and next week will be the first column that will really reflect what you can expect to find here each week. I will begin by talking about something my editor truly hates… waiting until the last possible moment! Until then I can be reached at the address below.

Brian may be reached at

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