Last updated on May 25, 2023
Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa | Illustration by Ryan Alexander Lee
The Mirage block brought a new mechanic to the fold, and that’s flanking. It’s likely inspired by D&D rules where you could create a combat situation where the enemy was flanked and got a penalty in defense.
This is an old mechanic from a time where creature combat wasn’t such a huge part of MTG like it is today. Today I’m taking a deep dive into the mechanic and everything you need to know. Still with me? Let’s go!
How Does Flanking Work?
Searing Spear Askari | Illustration by Richard Kane Ferguson
Flanking is a keyword ability that takes effect when a flanking creature is blocked by a non-flanking creature. A creature without flanking that blocks a creature with flanking automatically gets -1/-1.
So if I attack with a 2/2 flanking creature and you block with a normal 2/1 creature, the blocking happens but the 2/1 gets -1/-1 and dies before combat damage is dealt. In another scenario you block with a 3/3, which shrinks to a 2/2 but survives, and each creature deals combat damage to the other and both die.
The History of Flanking in MTG
The first set to ever contain flanking creatures was Mirage back in 1996. Sets from the Mirage block (Mirage, Visions, and Weatherlight) all have flanking in some way. There are 35 cards printed with the ability, 33 being creatures as well as an aura that gives the enchanted creature flanking (Agility) and an artifact that taps to give a creature flanking (Jabari's Banner). The mechanic is mainly in Boros () colors.
Flanking was reprinted in Time Spiral, including a sliver that gives all slivers flanking (Sidewinder Sliver). It was also reprinted in Commander 2016 on the legendary creature Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa in a clear nod to Mirage, since it takes place in Jamuraa.
Is Flanking Good?
Creatures with flanking are old and outdated, but the mechanic is powerful. It invalidates most 1/1, 2/1, and 3/1 creatures when it comes to blocking just by existing. It’s also a nightmare on double blocks since the penalty extends to every creature.
So yes, the mechanic itself is good, but the creatures that have it aren’t.
Does Flanking Stack?
Yes. You get a separate trigger for each flanking instance, which makes the “double flanking” creatures much more menacing to block.
Let’s say you have two Sidewinder Slivers and each sliver you have has two instances of flanking. Each sliver you have will inflict -2/-2 on the blocking creature(s).
What if the Blocking Creature Dies Because of the -1/-1?
Blocking still happens and no damage is dealt to the defending player or attacking creature. It’s like if your opponent blocks with a creature and sacrifices it before damage. Trample damage still happens though.
Does Flanking Work When the Creature Blocks?
No, flanking only works when the flanking creature is the one attacking. The ability’s reminder text is very clear in this regard: “Whenever a creature without flanking blocks this creature, the blocking creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.”
What if a Blocked Creature Gets Flanking After Blockers are Declared?
The flanking effect only applies in the moment where blockers are declared. It’s like flying in the sense that once a “non-flying” creature gets blocked, giving it flying won’t cancel the block or make it illegal. So if you want to give a creature flanking, it has to be before blocks.
Gallery and List of Flanking Cards
- Benalish Cavalry
- Cavalry Master
- Femeref Knight
- Flanking Troops
- Gustcloak Cavalier
- Knight of Sursi
- Knight of the Holy Nimbus
- Knight of Valor
- Mtenda Herder
- Outrider en-Kor
- Pentarch Paladin
- Riftmarked Knight
- Sidar Jabari
- Sidewinder Sliver
- Teferi's Honor Guard
- Zhalfirin Commander
- Zhalfirin Crusader
- Zhalfirin Knight
- Knight of the Mists
- Cadaverous Knight
- Fallen Askari
- Shadow Rider
- Skulking Knight
- Blazing Blade Askari
- Bogardan Lancer
- Burning Shield Askari
- Searing Spear Askari
- Suq'Ata Lancer
- Barbed Foliage
- Jolrael's Centaur
- Old Fogey
- Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa
- Jabari's Banner
Best Flanking Cards
#4. Zhalfirin Crusader
The best part about Zhalfirin Crusader is the damage redirection ability, something that old MTG had in spades. Given enough mana the Crusader can survive burn spells and combat, then redirect the damage to other small creatures or your opponents.
#3. Sidewinder Sliver
Sidewinder Sliver is a 1-drop that gives all your slivers a good ability. It’s nice in a sliver deck, especially in EDH with commanders like Sliver Queen and The First Sliver.
#2. Pentarch Paladin
Five mana for a 3/3 creature is steep, but you can destroy a permanent every turn once Pentarch Paladin is in play, provided that it’s in the chosen color. It’s better the more untap shenanigans you have.
#1. Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa
Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa is a 2/5 with flanking that’s hard to interact with in combat. The partner mechanic makes it a flexible commander, and you’ll have the extra bonus of evasion to your “two power or less” creatures, which includes Sidar Kondo, of course. It’s a reference to horsemanship, a more obscure ability, since Sidar is mounted.
Burning Shield Askari | Illustration by Dan Frazier
Flanking is an old mechanic that’s hard to translate to modern MTG. It’s hard to process in Limited and it complicates combat math for beginners when double blocks are involved, so Wizards probably won’t bring the mechanic back.
What are some of your experiences playing with flanking? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.
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