Sylvan Caryatid - Illustration by Chase Stone

Sylvan Caryatid | Illustration by Chase Stone

You’re likely looking for ways to attack your opponent ruthlessly and with no quarter when building a deck. But have you ever thought about not attacking? Weird, right?

Some cards are like that. They have restrictions placed on them in their text that prevent them from attacking, but still allow them to defend you or use their abilities. That’s what we call the defender mechanic, and that’s what today is all about.

So, let’s take a look at it!

How Does Defender Work?

Pramikon, Sky Rampart - Illustration by Richard Wright

Pramikon, Sky Rampart | Illustration by Richard Wright

Put simply, defender is a static keyword ability that says that the creature with defender can’t attack. The creature in question can still block or use its abilities, but it can’t go on the offensive.

The History of Defender in MTG

Defender was first introduced as an evergreen keyword when Champions of Kamigawa released in October 2004, acting to summarize the mechanic that had been around since Alpha. While the keyword was introduced here, it was only retroactively applied to all walls since they all have the “walls cannot attack” rules text.

The first cards with defender actually in their text were printed when Betrayers of Kamigawa came around in February 2005. These cards were Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo, Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch, and Traproot Kami.

There are now tons of cards printed with defender in their text, whether they actually have the ability or just interact with it. There are 264 cards that have the mechanic including the walls that were given defender when the keyword was created. It’s easily been reprinted in most, if not all, sets since its conception.

Can You Attack with a Defender Creature?

Defender specifically says that the defender creature can’t attack.

Is Wall the Same as Defender?

While all walls have defender since the cards were errata’d to have the keyword, “wall” is a creature type so it’s not technically the same as defender. All walls have defender, but wall refers to a creature type, not the keyword.

Do Walls Have Defender?

Defender is a keyword summarizing text that was already on walls, so they’ve always had the defender effect even before the keyword was added to the game.

Can a Defender Fight?

Defenders can’t attack, but that’s not going to stop them from throwing hands. Fighting has nothing to do with the combat phase or combat rules at all. Defender only prevents the creature from being declared as an attacker, which doesn’t happen with fight effects like Ancient Animus.

Can a Defender Block Flying Creatures?

If the defender has flying or reach or any other text stating that it can block creatures with flying then it can block flying creatures.

Do Defender Creatures Have to Block?

Defender doesn’t force you to block with the creature that has it. You can opt not to block with defender creatures the same as any other.

Can Defenders Crew?

Defenders can still crew and use their abilities since those don’t count as being declared as an attacker.

Can You Ninjutsu a Creature with Defender?

You’d think not since defenders can’t usually attack, but there are cards like Arcades, the Strategist that circumvent a defender’s restrictions and allow them to attack like a normal creature. In the event that you manage to get a defender to attack, then you can absolutely use them to ninjutsu something in.

Best Defender Cards

For Commander

Defender is a mechanic seldom seen outside of the Commander format. But that’s where you’ll find it does best.

Cards like Arcades, the Strategist and Pramikon, Sky Rampart serve as really fun commanders to build your deck around, with Arcades truly changing how defenders play to allow for a super interesting game plan that’s sure to wow your foes.

You’ll also notice cards like Tuktuk Rubblefort and Crashing Drawbridge being played to help speed up decks that need strong creatures to come out of the gates swinging.

For Other Formats

Thermo-Alchemist

In other formats like Pauper, you’ll see Thermo-Alchemist in storm decks since its strength comes from its ability rather than its stats.

Sylvan Caryatid

Sylvan Caryatid is used in Pioneer and Penny Dreadful formats as a safe means to ramp up to big mana.

In Defense of Defender

Arcades, the Strategist - Illustration by Even Amundsen

Arcades, the Strategist | Illustration by Even Amundsen

Defender is a bit silly as a mechanic, but nowhere near a bad one. Sure, it’s not popularly used outside of formats with high creative freedom or hard restrictions like Commander or Pauper (respectively), but it has a huge design space thanks to how much it limits a card.

Defender helps create cards that players don’t quite like so that the cooler cards in a set shine brighter. And you get some really cool ways to play when given a way to circumvent defender with cards like Arcades!

I hope defender never rotates out of being evergreen. We’re always going to see more of it, and it should stay that way. It has a very specific place in Magic’s design space and the game somehow wouldn’t feel the same without it.

So now it’s your turn. Do you have any favorite defender cards? Maybe you play Arcades or Pramikon in Commander and want to share a story? Or you might just have more questions about the mechanic in general. Whatever the case, the comments along with Draftsim’s Discord are open for you to discuss, so get to it.

It’s been fun having you today so stay safe, and I’ll see you all next time!

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