Rhys question

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[CARD]Rhys The Exiled[/CARD] It says When ever he attacks you gain 1 life per elf you control. But is attacking when he gets declared to attack or when it start the combat damage phase? So if I have a [CARD]Royal Assassin[/CARD] out I can tap it to kill Rhys before he attacks in the combat damage phase or is it too late?
At the start of the Declare Attackers Step, the attacking player declares his attackers. Anything that triggers from attackers being declared (such as Rhys The Exiled's ability) triggers as soon as that declaration is complete, and the ability goes on the stack. You can use royal assassin in response to the triggered ability, but that will not counter the ability, it just will reduce the number of elves in play and thus reduce the amount of life gain.