Last updated on September 22, 2023

Wanderwine Prophets - Illustration by Alex Horley-Orlandelli

Wanderwine Prophets | Illustration by Alex Horley-Orlandelli

“Champion” is a word that has many different meanings, but two of them are the most well-known and the ones that relate to Magic. The first refers to someone who, through winning a competition, represents the greatest level of a certain physical prowess. The second, which stems from a classical medieval use, is used to refer to someone who is a paragon for a cause or person.

These two meanings were most intertwined during the late middle ages, when knighthood had a strong grip over nobility. Knights were expected to both champion causes and be examples of physical prowess. This was at its clearest in trials by combat; knights would fight in the name of a specific cause or person, thus becoming a paragon by proving their martial ability.

There are tons of characters in Magic that can be considered champions. There even are tons of cards that even have “champion” in their name. But there are only a handful of cards that have the champion ability, and that’s what we’re going to focus on today.

How Does Champion Work?

Mistbind Clique - Illustration by Ben Thompson

Mistbind Clique | Illustration by Ben Thompson

This ability essentially forces you to exile a creature (usually of a specific creature type) until the creature with champion leaves the battlefield. If you’re unable to champion a creature, the creature with the ability is sacrificed.

Champion is a keyword ability with two distinct triggered instances: the first one triggers when the card with the ability comes into play, making it exile a creature you control, while the other triggers when the card with champion leaves the battlefield, returning the exiled creature to the field.

The History of Champion in MTG

Champion is an ability meant to represent the creature with the ability taking up the cause (and the place) of the exiled creature, acting as its literal champion.

This ability first showed up in Lorwyn, where typal archetypes were considerably strong. It appeared through a cycle of five rare cards with specific typal requirements for champion, and three uncommon changeling creatures where champion had no creature type requirements. It’s worth mentioning that the rare creatures cycle didn’t have a green creature but rather two blue ones. These creatures can only champion other creatures of their type, which in this case were elemental, goblin, faerie, merfolk, and kithkin.

The three uncommon shapeshifter creatures with champion were red, green, and white. In line with their changeling nature, these can champion any creature.

The ability would appear a second and last time within the same block, in the Morningtide set. The set featured a quasi-cycle of four creatures with champion. The interesting part about these cards is that two of them (Lightning Crafter and Unstoppable Ash) could champion not only of their creature “race” but also of their creature class (so shaman and warrior respectively).

This opened up a few new possibilities for the champion mechanic by not restricting it to just a race typal but also allowing it to be included in class-based typal archetypes.

Wormfang Drake

Wormfang Drake from the Judgement set can be considered a predecessor to the champion ability before it became a keyword.

Wren's Run Packmaster

The ability hasn’t show up since the Lorwyn block, except for the occasional reprint of Wren's Run Packmaster and the cards with the mechanic showing up on The List.

Champion currently holds a 7 on the Storm Scale, so I’d think it relatively unlikely that it’ll show up again anytime soon. It’s a relatively complex mechanic that, while flavorful in its design, can feel more like a sheer downside than anything else.

Can You Champion a Creature if It Has Protection from the Creature’s Color?

You can’t champion creatures that have protection from the color (or any other characteristic) of the creature with champion. Protection makes them impossible to target with those types of effects so champion can’t even target it in the first place.

Gallery and List of Champion Cards

Best Champion Cards

Wanderwine Prophets

Wanderwine Prophets

It’s hard not to include a card that can grant extra turns (possibly infinite ones, too) to a list of best cards of its type. Wanderwine Prophets stands out among the other cards with champion thanks to its particularly strong ability.

It’s also a card where the champion ability doesn’t feel unfair (at least considering the power levels at the time. A high mana value and having to exile one of your own creatures isn’t unreasonable for a 4/4 that can arguably win you a game as long as you have enough merfolk to keep sacrificing.

Lightning Crafter

Lightning Crafter

Lightning Bolt on a body should be a good enough description of why this card is good. I think the cost for it (4 mana and championing a creature) can be a bit high, but a repeatable Lightning Bolt can make a big difference.

Lightning Crafter pairs really well with anything that’ll allow you to untap it repeatedly, either to take out a single large threat, to take out several small creatures, or just to deal absurd amounts of damage to your opponents every round.

Unstoppable Ash

Unstoppable Ash

Unstoppable Ash  is good enough in almost any deck where attacking is relatively important, but it shines the brightest in toughness-matters strategies. Decks helmed by Doran, the Siege Tower or Colfenor, the Last Yew can fit this card right in.

Unstoppable Ash probably won’t be a complete gamechanger, but it’s a good way to passively protect your attacking creatures from unnecessary risk.

Changeling Titan

Changeling Titan

Changeling Titan is a very straightforward card. Pretty large body, not-too-steep mana value, and changeling essentially makes it a decent addition to any typal strategy. Ït’s not the strongest card out there but it’s good and fun to play.

Changeling Berserker

Changeling Berserker

In most decks, Changeling Berserker can be an okay-to-not-great card. It’s not terrible but it’s definitely (almost) no one’s first choice for their deck. But this card has found a very niche use in Feldon of the Third Path decks. It essentially works as a security measure in case your commander is in lethal danger. With Feldon of the Third Path’s ability you can create a token copy of Changeling Berserker which can target Feldon (or any other card that might be at risk, honestly) as it enters the battlefield. This’ll exile the card but since the copy gets sacrificed at the end of turn, your card returns no problem, which also has the added benefit of triggering ETB effects.

Wrap Up

Supreme Exemplar - Illustration by Mark Tedin

Supreme Exemplar | Illustration by Mark Tedin

Champion, in my humble opinion, is a weird ability. It isn’t much more than a drawback at face value, and while I think there are plenty of ways to make it useful (there’s probably someone out there who’s even broken it), I understand why most players wouldn’t care too much for it or even know about it. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise that it hasn’t seen a return since the Lorwyn block. That said, I also think it opens up an interesting design space, but WotC should experiment with the ability a bit more to make it reach its real potential. There’s always hope for a return to Lorwyn, and that could bring with it an improved version of champion.

But enough about what I think. What’s your take on champion? Do you find it interesting or fun? Do you hope it’ll return or do you think it should just go to the long list of abilities that were mostly failures? Do you think we’ll see a similar keyword sometime? Be sure to leave a comment letting me know! And while you’re at it, don’t miss out on our Discord server. There you’ll find an amazing community of MTG fans to share your hobby with!

That’s all from me for now! Have a good one and I’ll see you next time.

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