Last updated on October 12, 2022
Ohran Frostfang | Illustration by Torstein Nordstrand
There are some keywords in Magic that those of us who’ve been playing for years can hardly remember ever not knowing how they work, while newer players may get confused in the details.
Trample is a great example of this, and today I’m going to give you an overview of what it is, how it works, and talk about some of the edge cases that might catch out even the most seasoned of players. I’m also going to look at some funky stuff we can do with trample creatures.
Let’s get ready to rumble!
How Does Trample Work?
Craterhoof Behemoth | Illustration by Chris Rahn
The actual rules for this mechanic are deceptively simple. The modern trample reminder text you get on beginner sets reads, “This creature can deal excess combat damage to the player or planeswalker it’s attacking.”
“Excess combat damage” means the damage that would be dealt to the blocking creature beyond what’s required to destroy it.
The History of Trample in MTG
Trample is one of the oldest keywords in Magic and has been around since the very first set, Alpha, in 1993, appearing on five cards there. It has since been in virtually all sets ever printed, taking a small break from core sets between Sixth Edition and Eighth Edition because designers worried it was too complex for beginners sets.
It was reintroduced in Ninth Edition with new reminder text and has been a staple, and an evergreen mechanic, ever since!
What is Trample Damage?
Trample damage is the damage dealt to the player by an attacking creature after lethal damage has been dealt to all creatures blocking it.
How Much Damage Does Trample Do?
When you’re calculating trample damage, you have to look at the power of the attacking creature and the toughness of the blocking creature.
If you attack with a 4/4 creature with trample and your opponent blocks with a vanilla 1/1, you deal one damage to the blocking creature to destroy it and three to the opponent. If they block with a 2/2, you’d have to deal two damage to the blocking creature and then there’s only two excess damage left over for the opponent. Similarly, if you were instead blocked by a 1/1 and a 2/2, you’d have to deal one damage to the 1/1, two to the 2/2 and you would be left with one damage for the defending player.
Can You Choose Not to Trample?
Trample only says that you have to assign lethal damage to the blocking creature as a minimum in the combat damage step, but you could assign all the damage to the blocking creatures if you want to.
What if the Creature Blocking Trample Dies?
If you attack with a trample creature and your opponent blocks with a creature that’s removed before the combat damage step through something like a kill spell or a bounce effect, then that creature doesn’t require any damage to be dealt to be considered lethal. This means you just deal all of the attacking creature’s combat damage to the player instead.
Does Trample Work When Blocking?
Trample has no effect when blocking, it’s only relevant when the trample creature is attacking.
Can You Block Trample with Multiple Creatures?
Yes, you can block an attacking trample creature with multiple of your own creatures. If you block their 5/5 trampler with a 1/1 and a 2/2, they’ll need to assign lethal damage to both creatures before they can trample you.
Does Trample Stack?
Trample does not stack, and multiple instances of it are redundant. Sometimes you can give a creature multiple instances of trample, like if you cast Crash the Ramparts on Colossal Dreadmaw. But, like I said, this is redundant and would have no effect on the damage calculations.
How Does Deathtouch Work with Trample?
Deathtouch has a very interesting interaction with trample. Since trample requires you to deal lethal damage to the creature before dealing trample damage to the opponent, a creature with both keywords means that you only have to deal one point of damage to the defending creature to destroy it before dealing the rest of the deathtouch/trample creature’s damage to the defending creature.
Because of this combination, R&D seem to avoid printing creatures with both trample and deathtouch naturally. But that doesn’t mean you can’t manage to get this keyword combination with other effects.
Does Trample Beat Indestructible?
Yes, at least in the sense that the additional damage does successfully trample over a blocking creature. An indestructible creature can’t be destroyed by combat damage, but you only need to assign lethal-equivalent damage to that creature and then the excess damage can be assigned to the blocking player.
How Do Protection and Trample Work?
If a creature has protection from an attacking trample creature, then the trample creature won’t be able to destroy it or deal excess damage to the player or planeswalker. You still need to assign damage to the creature equal to its toughness before assigning the excess to the player or planeswalker.
It’s probably worth mentioning that their creature can still block your creature in this situation, even though your creature couldn’t block theirs if they were attacking thanks to the protection.
How Does First Strike with Trample Work?
Well, this depends on which creature has first strike!
If your attacking trample creature has first strike, it deals damage to your opponent’s creature before they deal damage to yours, you assign lethal damage to your opponent’s creature, and you deal any excess damage to the opponent. And if you dealt lethal damage then the blocking creature is destroyed and it can’t deal damage back.
If your opponent has a blocker with first strike and your attacking trample creature doesn’t, their creature deals damage first and has the opportunity to destroy yours before it even gets a chance to deal regular or trample damage.
If both have first strike, they both deal damage in the first strike step and it resolves in pretty much the same was as if neither did.
Does Trample Apply to Double Strike?
Trample works really well with double strike, especially if you can destroy your opponent’s creature in the first strike phase. Any excess damage your trample creature would deal is still dealt to the player/planeswalker it’s attacking, and this includes excess from double strike damage.
Does “Prevent All Damage” Stop Trample?
If all damage is prevented, this definitely stops any damage from trample. But if the damage is only prevented to the blocking creature, like with Blinding Fog, things work just like they do when the creature has protection (i.e., nothing).
How Does Trample Work with Damage Modifiers Like Torbran?
Unfortunately, damage modifiers don’t really help with trample all that much. This is because damage is assigned before modifiers like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell’s ability come into effect. So your trample creature assigns its damage to the creature(s) blocking it, and then Torbran’s ability doubles that damage. Torbran doesn’t help if your trample creature’s power isn’t enough to deal lethal on its own.
Does Trample Work on a Planeswalker?
Yes, trample works on planeswalkers. Excess damage is still dealt to the planeswalker if you chose to attack it instead of the player.
Does Trample Work with Fight?
The key point here is that trample cares about combat damage, and fight effects don’t count as combat damage.
Does Trample Work with Infect?
Yes, trample works with infect. Any damage dealt to blockers by the trampling infect creature is replaced with -1/-1 counters, and damage dealt to players (excess or otherwise) is replaced by poison counters.
How Do You Give Creatures Trample?
There are lots of ways to give creatures trample. You can give it temporarily with cards like Berserk, one of the first cards with trample printed on it, or Rhonas the Indomitable’s activated ability.
If you want to permanently give a creature trample you can use ability counters with Fully Grown. And if just giving one of your creatures trample isn’t enough, then you might want to look at a card like Aggressive Mammoth.
There are tons of cards that give trample since it’s an evergreen keyword, and more are printed pretty much every set.
What is a Trample Counter?
Ikoria introduced ability counters to Magic. These counters represent a permanent buff to the creature, granting a keyword to the creature based on the type of counter. If a creature has a trample counter on it, then it has trample!
What is Spell Trample?
Super-Duper Death Ray was printed in Unstable. This card deals four damage to a creature, but has trample, meaning any excess damage from the spell is dealt to the target creature’s controller similar to how regular trample works with combat damage.
This was a cute one-off until Flame Spill and Ram Through were printed in Ikoria in 2020. The former works the same as the Death Ray, while the latter creates a fight effect with a clause that lets trample work even though it’s not combat damage.
We’ve had a few other cards that either have “spell trample” since then, like Pigment Storm, and other cards that care about excess damage in other ways, like Aegar, the Freezing Flame. It’s proving to be a new area of design for WotC that’s still being explored.
Is Trample Good?
In short, yes, trample is good. It’s generally held as one of the better keywords to give a creature, maybe behind flying, lifelink, and double strike. Obviously best on larger creatures, it’s often the addition of trample to a big beefy green creature that takes it from okay to great.
Just look at how little play something like Gigantosaurus sees, mostly because of the lack of trample.
Best Trample Cards
Toski, Bearer of Secrets
One of the best newer cards with trample is Toski, Bearer of Secrets. This squirrel draws you a card for each creature you get through. And you’ll draw a card for each strike if you have double strike!
Ohran Frostfang + Saryth, the Viper’s Fang
Deathtouch goes amazingly well with trample since it means you only have to deal one damage for lethal. There are a few cards that give creatures you control deathtouch, and some of the better green ones are Ohran Frostfang and Saryth, the Viper’s Fang. These allow you to get even more damage through, likely making your opponents not want to block at all!
Decklist: Stonebrow Trample in Commander
Stonebrow, Krosan Hero | Illustration by Ron Spears
Archetype of Aggression
Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion
Soul of the Harvest
Toski, Bearer of Secrets
Wulfgar of Icewind Dale
Xenagos, God of Revels
Kessig Wolf Run
Skarrg, the Rage Pits
Temple of Abandon
The best place to play around a mechanic like trample is, obviously, in Commander. Here’s an idea of how to abuse the extra damage you can deal to your opponent.
As we know, trample is best on big creatures. Well, the good thing about this deck is that Stonebrow, Krosan Hero is the perfect card to make your big tramplers even bigger! Cards like Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion can give you effects like ramp and card selection when you hit. And it’s filled with big beaters to attack in with!
Toski, Bearer of Secrets | Illustration by Jason Rainville
Trample has been around since the start of Magic. It’s a fantastically flavorful mechanic with a bit of a “simple to learn, difficult to master” vibe to it, which is great to learn the intricacies of the game. It makes big creatures useful by not being able to chump block them while being a touch less powerful than flying, which is good when it comes to designing and balancing the design of cards.
What do you think? Where does trample rank in your keyword power levels? What’s your favorite trample payoff? Let me know in the comments down below or join the discussion in the Draftsim Discord.
I’ll catch you in the next one. May all your creatures deal excess damage!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: