Last updated on May 15, 2024

Boseiju, Who Endures - Illustration by Chris Ostrowski

Boseiju, Who Endures | Illustration by Chris Ostrowski

Some things are forever. Diamonds. Death and taxes (the concept, not the deck). Death and Taxes (the deck). In Magic, we use the word “evergreen” to describe something you can expect in just about every new Magic set. No, not mana screw and a slightly tweaked Dark Confidant variant. Evergreen terminology is usually a bit simpler than that.

Here we’ll be exploring the concept of evergreen in Magic, which keywords and abilities qualify as evergreen, and which ones fall just beyond the scope of being evergreen. Shall we?

What Does Evergreen Mean in Magic?

Dryad Greenseeker - Illustration by Greg Opalinski

Dryad Greenseeker | Illustration by Greg Opalinski

“Evergreen” in Magic is used to describe something that you can expect to see in pretty much every new Magic set. These range from evergreen keyword abilities like flying and trample to evergreen keyword actions like “exile” and “shuffle.”

Most MTG sets have world-building restrictions and lore implications that might prevent certain keywords and abilities from showing up in those sets, but evergreen abilities and keywords are often generic enough that they naturally fit the context of most worlds and settings. For example, it would be a bit weird to see a mechanic like incubate or disguise on every Magic plane, but you can count on seeing menace, first strike, or even equipment in just about every set.

In case you were wondering, the word “evergreen” comes from the concept of evergreen foliage, or trees/plants that stay green and in good health throughout the entire year.

List of Evergreen Keywords

“Evergreen keywords” are abilities of cards that appear in almost every set. These are terms used to paraphrase longer rules and should be recognizable at a glance. Evergreen keywords in Magic include:

While researching for this piece, I was surprised to discover that protection and hexproof are still considered evergreen. Protection was actually demoted to deciduous at one point but became evergreen again in 2021. Even with that status, it shows up sparingly. For example, neither The Lost Caverns of Ixalan nor Murders at Karlov Manor featured any use of protection, and it appeared on a single card as a joke in Outlaws of Thunder Junction (Resilient Roadrunner).

Hexproof’s also something that’s been identified as problematic in the past, and it seemed like ward was supposed to be a permanent replacement for hexproof, but the mechanic still shows up pretty frequently in newer sets. The difference is that most newer hexproof effects are temporary (like on Snakeskin Veil) or have qualifications that make it less of a hassle to deal with.

List of Evergreen Keyword Actions

“Keyword actions” are terms used to shortcut something in the game, whether that be an actual game mechanic like “fight” or a player action like shuffling or creating a token. In other words, these keyword actions are mostly mechanical terms a player would need to know to even engage with the game in the first place. The current list of keyword actions in Magic includes:

How Does Something Become Evergreen?

Something in Magic becomes evergreen when the game designers say it’s evergreen. They’re the ones who have control over what does or doesn’t appear in their sets, so if they make the decision to upgrade something to evergreen status, that’s what it is. In some cases, they’ll start to pull back on a mechanic and demote it from evergreen status.

The more nuanced answer is that mechanics become evergreen when they’re both generic and extremely popular. If something new is introduced and after a few sets it’s clear that it’s just very intuitive and fun to play with, or that it improves most environments that it shows up in, the developers might promote it to evergreen status and start using it in every set.

For example, menace was introduced in Magic Origins as a new combat alternative to intimidate. It only appeared on three cards in that set and was used sparingly in the next few sets. However, it became clear that menace played out very well, and with the flavor of the mechanic being something that could show up in almost any context, menace became a staple addition to new Magic sets moving forward.

Some keyword actions become evergreen as a means to reduce card text. For example, “mill” is a clean alternative to “put cards from the top of a player’s library into their graveyard.” Same goes for “create a token,” which is an intuitive alternative to spelling out “put a token with characteristics X, Y, and Z onto the battlefield under your control.” Abbreviating like this means there’s more of a learning curve for newer players, but card text is shortened and easier to understand in the long run.

Do Things Stop Being Evergreen?

Absolutely. If a recurring mechanic is causing problems, either for gameplay reasons or due to complexity issues, the game developers often pull back on that mechanic, either limiting its use in further sets or obsoleting it altogether.

A perfect example is regenerate, a mechanic that existed from Alpha up until around 2016. It was a flavorful mechanic that was used frequently, but it was also considered confusing and convoluted to new players and veteran players alike. It was phased out of the game almost entirely, going from evergreen to basically nonexistent outside of reprints and tongue-in-cheek references on cards like Damn.

Shroud got a similar treatment, not because it was overly complex, but because it was a miserable mechanic from a gameplay perspective. Not only was shroud a polarizing mechanic in-game, but it wasn’t intuitive to some players that they couldn’t target their own permanents with shroud. [Arguably worse] Hexproof replaced shroud, though ward is the new preferred evergreen protection ability of choice. And if you’ve been paying attention to recent sets, you’ll know that they love slapping ward on things.

What’s the Difference Between Deciduous and Evergreen?

Deciduous is a step below evergreen. Evergreen notes something that shows up in just about every set, whereas deciduous mechanics are common, but used at the developers’ discretion. Vehicles, hybrid mana, and sagas are popular examples of deciduous tools you see quite often, but don’t expect in every set.

Plenty of popular mechanics exist in this space, and they’re usually used when they fit a developer need within the context of a given set. However, they simply don’t belong in every setting. For example, it’d be a little strange to see sagas in Outlaws of Thunder Junction, a plane that was previously uninhabited before the Omenpaths opened. But there are a lot of sagas in both Fallout and Doctor Who since the card type fits those Universes Beyond sets well.

Notably, there used to be a practice at Wizards to avoid using one-off keywords in sets. They’ve pulled back on this policy a bit, allowing a stray keyword or two to show up in sets where it makes sense. That’s why we have a one-off wither ability on Massacre Girl, Known Killer in Murders at Karlov Manor, or why flashback only appeared on one card in Phyrexia: All Will Be One. This just made way more sense than the former policy of spelling out one-off abilities in sets, as seen on cards like Glimpse the Cosmos, which could just as easily have used the flashback keyword.

Another vocabulary lesson: Unlike evergreen flora, deciduous plants lose their foliage during autumn or winter. They’re a “step below” evergreen, hence the Magic lingo.

Are Evergreen Keywords Tied to a Specific Color?

Yes, to some extent. Evergreen keywords usually exist within different parts of Magic’s color pie. Any given keyword is expected to appear more heavily in certain colors than others, possibly even being absent from certain colors altogether.

Magic takes a primary/secondary/tertiary approach to this, where different colors have different priorities over certain keywords. For example, deathtouch is a primarily black mechanic and secondary in green, which means you can expect it on tons of black creatures and slightly fewer green creatures. Deathtouch isn’t tertiary to any other color, which is why you don’t see white, blue, or red cards with deathtouch (unless they’re gold cards).

Alternatively, flying appears in all five colors to different degrees. It’s a primary mechanic in blue and white, hence the ever-present “Blue-White Fliers” theme in Limited sets. It’s secondary in black, which means it still shows up pretty frequently on black cards, just not to the same extent as white and blue. Flying’s also tertiary in red and green, used much less frequently in those colors, and often reserved for iconic rares like dragons, phoenixes, and so on.

Are Keyword Counters Evergreen?

Keyword counters themselves aren’t evergreen, but the abilities they grant usually are. For example, a flying counter isn’t likely to show up in every set, but the flying ability almost assuredly will. Keyword counters are actually used pretty sparingly, though they’ve popped up from time to time since their introduction in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths.

Which Cards Care if Something Is Evergreen?

Ability Support Lords

Fynn, the Fangbearer Hooded Blightfang

Some keywords have explicit support cards. For example, Fynn, the Fangbearer and Hooded Blightfang directly support deathtouch creatures, which in turn means these cards are further supported with every new set by virtue of deathtouch being an evergreen keyword. That’s directly contrasted by something like energy, or “the Ring tempts you,” or “venture into the dungeon,” all parasitic mechanics that are very unlikely to get new support basically ever, outside of hyper-specific set release.

Which Players Care If Something Is Evergreen?

Constructed Players

Constructed players often have to make decisions based on what the most well-known cards in a given meta are, and evergreen keywords can definitely influence decision-making. For example, The Wandering Emperor is a popular card at the time of writing, and Constructed players need to be aware of meta-defining cards with flash. Similarly, Constructed players should probably be aware of the best haste threats in a given format, so they don’t leave themselves dead to an obvious card that they could’ve otherwise played around.

Fynn, the Fangbearer Empyrean Eagle

You’ll sometimes see casual Constructed decks built around “ability lords,” or cards that reward you for playing a bunch of cards with the same keyword. I’m sure plenty of people experimented with Fynn, the Fangbearer decks while it was Standard-legal, and flying support cards like Empyrean Eagle are the backbone of entire archetypes in Constructed.

Limited Players

Limited players encounter the same evergreen keywords set after set to varying degrees. As with Constructed, it’s pretty important for a dedicated Limited player to know which cards in a set have haste and flash, since those are the two mechanics that can most easily catch you off guard. However, there are some other key factors to identify that change from set to set.

How prevalent is flying in the set? That might influence your decision to play more creatures with reach or run a maindeck Plummet effect. A great example of this was Dragons of Tarkir, which featured a large number of burly flying creatures. It was common wisdom to maindeck a copy of Pinion Feast in that set since it nearly always had a target, though that card would be low-level sideboard material in most sets.

It also helps to know how often trample, lifelink, and deathtouch show up in the set. A set with tons of large tramplers might make a strategy of chump-blocking with infinite 1/1s pretty lousy. Similarly, too many deathtouchers might make large, expensive creatures worse in that environment. And some sets are loaded with lifelinkers, which naturally makes it more difficult to run an average-quality aggro deck.

Commander Players

Evergreen keywords are important to Commander in a different way than Constructed/Limited. There are entire Commander decks built around specific keywords, often incentivized by legendary creatures that explicitly name that mechanic. Isperia the Inscrutable, Tadeas, Juniper Ascendant, and Inniaz, the Gale Force are examples of legends that reward building around a specific evergreen keyword.

There’s also a subset of legends and support cards that reward diversifying the keywords you have access to. Kathril, Aspect Warper, Indominus Rex, Alpha, Rayami, First of the Fallen, and Odric, Lunarch Marshal are all legends that pay off decks with a wide variety of evergreen abilities built into them (and sometimes skulk, but we don’t talk about that).

Evasion abilities are also huge in Commander. Evasion’s a shorthand way of referring to any ability that allows an attacking creature to push combat damage past blockers, and includes mechanics like flying, trample, menace, and so forth. These abilities are mainstays in Magic, and they’re extremely important in Commander, especially when you factor in additional mechanics like the monarch and the initiative. Decks looking to win via combat damage and attacking should do their best to include evasion on their creatures whenever possible.

Wrap Up

Green Sun's Zenith - Illustration by David Rapoza

Green Sun's Zenith | Illustration by David Rapoza

Thanks for taking this time to explore the concept of evergreen with me. Next time we’ll be discussing everwhite, everblue, and possibly even everJund.

In all seriousness though, evergreen mechanics make most Magic sets tick. Not just the obvious stuff like “shuffling” or “casting,” but the in-game abilities that drive most of the action, especially during combat. These are the things that would make us scratch our heads if they didn’t show up in a new set. Could you imagine a Limited format without flying creatures? Or worse, a set full of flying creatures but nothing with reach?

Evergreen as a concept is more of a developmental behind-the-curtains type thing that we just accept because we’re so used to seeing evergreen keywords and abilities in sets. It really becomes obvious when you start to see something relatively new show up again and again, as is the case with mechanics like goad and ward.

Hopefully if you were evergreen behind the ears on this subject, you now know what it means, or maybe you learned something new if you were already an evergreen savant. Do you have a favorite evergreen mechanic, or miss one that’s no longer considered evergreen? Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord or on Draftsim's Twitter/X.

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