Last updated on August 30, 2023
Speaker of the Heavens | Illustration by Randy Vargas
Today I'm going to cover one of Magic's first mechanics: vigilance. The mechanic's flavor evokes a sense that the creature is paying attention, on guard, or is a sentinel/protector.
Let’s talk about vigilance, the key concepts, and the best cards. I’ll even suggest a deck built with vigilance in mind to have fun at the table and mess with the opponent’s combat step.
Ready? Let's jump right in!
How Does Vigilance Work?
Intangible Virtue | Illustration by Clint Cearley
Vigilance is a static effect that allows creatures with it to attack without being tapped in the declare attackers phase. It's so simple that every set has creatures with vigilance at the common level.
The History of Vigilance in MTG
Since Alpha, Magic has had creatures with the text “Attacking does not cause card to tap” or “Does not tap when attacking.” The most iconic of these is Serra Angel.
Vigilance is now one of Magic's evergreen mechanics, and it's mainly in white and secondary in green/blue. Every MTG set has some common and uncommon vigilance creatures. Rares usually have vigilance added to improve their playability in Constructed formats.
Can You Block Twice with a Creature that Has Vigilance?
No, you can't block twice with a vigilance creature. The mechanic only prevents the creature from being tapped when attacking, but blocking happens as usual.
Can You Tap a Creature with Vigilance?
What if a Creature Has Both Exert and Vigilance?
Exert and vigilance is a case where two different mechanics work together nicely.
Exerting a permanent provides some sort of bonus effect when it attacks, but it doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step. When a creature with vigilance and exert attacks, it doesn't tap in the declare attackers step because of vigilance. In the following untap step, exert and it doesn't untap. Except the creature wasn’t tapped in the first place, so no penalty is applied and you get away with nothing but advantage!
Keep in mind that the creature with vigilance can be tapped by other effects, in which case the exert downside would be relevant.
What Is a Vigilance Counter?
Vigilance counters were introduced in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. If a creature has a vigilance counter on it, it has the vigilance ability as long as it still has the counter. It's considered a creature with vigilance for all purposes until it loses that counter.
What if a Creature Has Vigilance Twice?
It's possible for a creature with vigilance to get other instances of vigilance via spells, abilities, and enchantments that grant it. But the effect doesn’t stack, so there's no point in wasting your resources to give a vigilance creature another instance of vigilance.
Why Is Vigilance Good?
Vigilance is good because it allows a creature to play offense and defense. You usually can’t afford to attack when your life total is low because you need to keep your defenses up. But if a creature can attack and then block the following turn, that's no longer a concern.
In multiplayer formats like EDH, you're vulnerable to all of your opponents' attacks if you attack someone with a creature. But a creature with vigilance allows free attacks. This is especially relevant if your deck has incentives to attack every turn or deal combat damage.
Best Vigilance Cards
There are over 500 cards that have vigilance mentioned since the mechanic is evergreen. Most of these cards are unplayable Draft chaff, so let's dive into some important and memorable cards that have the mechanic. These are cards that were pushed at the time or that made an impact in Constructed formats.
A lot of creatures in this list are angels because Magic has a tradition of printing Constructed-playable angels (usually with flying and vigilance) from time to time since it's one of the most popular creature types. Other cards aren't creatures or don’t naturally have vigilance but they do give it to your team.
Honorable Mention: Serra Angel
Serra Angel is a beater. It attacks for four and protects you. It may not seem great because it's been power-crept by almost every other angel on this list, but it was one of the most efficient creatures in its format and the win condition of choice for Azorius () Control decks. The plan then was to protect it with counterspells so that you could remove bigger flyers like Shivan Dragon and Mahamoti Djinn.
Frondland Felidar isn't a powerhouse in any Constructed format by any means. A 4-drop has to impact the board almost immediately to see play nowadays. But this creature is almost Opposition in a dedicated vigilance deck where two or three creatures with vigilance can lock an opponent out of combat.
If you control your commander, Loyal Unicorn grants a free attack step for your team (vigilance plus damage prevention). A lot of white decks that want to get in the red zone are in the market for this.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Despite not seeing heavy Standard play, Brimaz, King of Oreskos was pushed in Born of the Gods, a set that's arguably on the weaker side when it comes to power level. Vigilance makes the most sense on this cat soldier because it makes a 1/1 Cat token every time it attacks or blocks.
It's a very nice 3-drop for Commander and Cube, and don’t forget cat tribal!
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn
Zetalpa hasn’t seen much competitive play in Standard because of its high mana value except in some fringe reanimator decks. It can be used as top-of-the-curve in Gishath, Sun’s Avatar EDH decks or as a white commander.
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Similar to Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Avacyn, Angel of Hope saw some play in Standard as a reanimation target/control win condition and still sees casual and Commander play. Avacyn is indestructible and grants other permanents indestructible on top of that, breaking the symmetry of wrath effects. An 8/8 flying vigilance can play offense and defense well.
Heliod, God of the Sun
Heliod, God of the Sun has a soft spot in my heart because I tried to make Heliod decks work in Standard, but white devotion was the only build that didn’t see play in a format dominated by mono-colored decks. It grants vigilance to all creatures although it doesn't have it.
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
The first creature to be considered a “pile of different mechanics” also called “keyword soup,” Akroma, Angel of Wrath saw a lot of play in its Standard format. It was also used in casual formats and still sees Commander play.
Akroma, Vision of Ixidor
The modern Akroma released in Commander Legends. Akroma, Vision of Ixidor buffs creatures based on their abilities, which white creatures have lots of. Add in the partner mechanic so that it can lead armies of 99 cards with other colors outside of white and you've got quite the card.
Angel of Invention
Angel of Invention was heavily played in Standard thanks to its ability to make artifacts and for being a flying anthem. Very flexible, this angel is interesting in Commander because it fits nicely in decks exploiting artifact, go-wide, and token strategies.
Kaheera, the Orphanguard
Bringing the powerful “banned in Standard” mechanic, companion, Kaheera, the Orphanguard sees play as the companion in creatureless decks like control using manlands and planeswalkers as win conditions.
Arcades, the Strategist
Arcades, the Strategist is a powerful build-around for EDH and casual decks alike. Defender creatures aren't usually worth including in your decks, but Arcades can turn a measly 0/5 into a 5/5 that replaces itself using the abilities from another popular commander in Doran, the Siege Tower, along with drawing extra cards when a defender comes into play.
The nice thing about Arcades is that it can be built for cheap, and new sets usually add new toys for the deck at common rarity.
Chulane, Teller of Tales
Chulane, Teller of Tales does what every commander player wants: draw cards and ramp. Play it alongside a lot of enter-the-battlefield creatures and a blink strategy because Chulane can return a creature to your hand to be cast again.
Just keep in mind that blinking a creature won't trigger Chulane, just the ETB effects of the creatures.
Archangel Avacyn / Avacyn, the Purifier
When Avacyn returned to Magic as one of the central points of the story from the set Shadows over Innistrad, special care was taken for it to be very powerful and playable. Former Avacyn cost eight mana making its playability low.
Archangel Avacyn was a force to be reckoned with in its Standard days and its Selesnya () beatdown deck was top-tier. Granting indestructible in a key attack or defense is very powerful, and five open mana became a warning sign. Avacyn sees play in formats like Pioneer, as a commander, or in the 99. Since its reverse side is a red card Avacyn has extra flexibility as a commander allowing red and Boros () cards in its builds.
Heart of Kiran
Heart of Kiran was one of the best ones when vehicles debuted in the Kaladesh block. Synergizing with planeswalkers like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, this mechanical Serra Angel could play attack and defense and was a key part of Mardu () Vehicles.
Its trigger also works on attack so it's also a good reanimation target. Izzet () Dragons in Standard sometimes splashes white for it.
Speaker of the Heavens
This little guy was a staple in lifegain decks and used vigilance in a creative way. Speaker of the Heavens can get you some life since it has lifelink. When your life total is at least 27 it can attack and then tap to make a 4/4 flying token on the same turn.
It's even good in multiples because more 4/4 flyers are produced the more Speakers you have. The game is pretty much over once two or more of these tokens are produced.
Questing Beast is one of the most pushed and complicated creature cards to be released in recent sets, and it's not unusual that someone at the table forgets about one of its abilities. It's said that each head of the creature is a line of text.
The beast has become a 4-drop staple in green and is played in both Historic and Pioneer.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
A reanimator staple ever since it was printed, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is the white Phyrexian praetor that sweeps the board when it enters and buffs your creatures. The -2/-2 effect alone invalidates an impressive number of strategies. It's played in eternal formats whenever reanimator strategies are viable.
A powerhouse in the last Standard and the bane of aggro decks, Elder Gargaroth is a pushed card that can quickly turn the tide of an almost lost game. Vigilance and reach block almost everything profitably and suddenly your opponent can’t attack anymore.
Gargaroth's only problem is the “dies to Doom Blade” weakness when it comes into play. The flexibility between making a 3/3, gaining life, or drawing cards is king.
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Creatures with power equal to the number of creatures you control are usually close to playable, and Adeline, Resplendent Cathar has a lot going for it. It's a 1/4 on an empty board and impacts the board in the first combat phase.
One of the strongest draws to playing white-weenie strategies in Standard, Adeline makes soldiers that grows its power. And it hits like a truck combined with ways to protect it from removal like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Reidane, God of the Worthy.
Lightning Angel + Mantis Rider
One of the ways to make multicolor work when Lightning Angel was released was to combine one evergreen mechanic from each color. These two very similar creatures (separated by more than 10 years of MTG history) were beaters in their Standard decks, and Mantis Rider sees play in Modern human-tribal decks.
Reidane, God of the Worthy / Valkmira, Protector's Shield
This god is a staple of every white aggro deck in Standard. Delaying your opponent’s key expensive spell is very powerful, and Reidane, God of the Worthy is one card I never want to see on the other side as a control player. All of a sudden I can’t cast my Meathook Massacre, Doomskar , or Shadows' Verdict.
The fact that you can play multiple copies of Reidane even though it's legendary is a huge bonus since it can be deployed as Valkmira, Protector's Shield. The other side is easier on the control decks but an absolute game winner against aggro decks.
Recently banned in Standard, this manland packs a punch and asks only that you play some snow lands. A 4/3 vigilance that's all creature types is reminiscent of Mutavault, and Faceless Haven pairs well with any monocolor tribal deck. It can be played in Historic and Pioneer, or really any monocolor deck playing snow lands.
One of the best manlands ever printed, Celestial Colonnade becomes a Serra Angel for the cost of the Angel, which is of course iconic and deliberate. The fact that it has vigilance helps attack and generate mana in the same turn. A staple in every Azorius midrange/control deck.
The white titan is big and powerful, and every white deck in the market for a 6-mana card should play Sun Titan. Remember that the return “permanent to the battlefield trigger” works with lands and fetch lands, too.
Despite only buffing tokens there are a lot of token decks that benefit from this effect. Intangible Virtue was Lingering Souls’s best friend while in Standard. There's always an Orzhov () tokens deck with Bitterblossom lingering around in eternal formats.
Batterskull was a key card in Caw Blade, one of the most dominant Standard decks of all time, along with its best buddy Stoneforge Mystic. It's secretly a 4/4 vigilance lifelink that Stoneforge can tutor and cheat into play. The duo still sees play in non-rotating formats like Modern and Legacy.
Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
Atraxa, Praetors' Voice has a lot of things going on for it with four good mechanics including vigilance on an already good body. Its proliferate ability synergizes well with a lot of strategies, from planeswalkers to +1/+1 and poison counters to sagas. And yeah, Doubling Season and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider also double everything.
By the way, we've got an Atraxa-led super friends build for EDH if you want more from this legendary angel.
Decklist: Marisi, Breaker of the Coil in Commander
Marisi, Breaker of the Coil | Illustration by Rudy Siswanto
Kaheera, the Orphanguard
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Birds of Paradise
Heliod, God of the Sun
Angelic Field Marshal
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Akroma, Vision of Ixidor
Ao, the Dawn Sky
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Archangel of Tithes
Angel of Condemnation
Knight of the Reliquary
Grenzo, Havoc Raiser
Jared Carthalion, True Heir
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Baird, Steward of Argive
Kessig Wolf Run
Boseiju, Who Endures
Here are my thoughts for a vigilance-themed deck: I want my creatures to benefit from vigilance, and I want my opponents to attack anyone but me. I'm very fond of the idea of forced combat.
Marisi, Breaker of the Coil is a commander that creates chaos and fun during the combat step. The idea is to use vigilance beaters to deal damage to a player and then goad that player's creatures. This deck ideally wants to deal damage to one or two players in each combat step.
Naya () colors offer vigilance, flyers, and spot removal in white, ramp and big trample beaters in green, and goad effects in red. If the other non-goaded players want to attack you, you still have your beaters on the defense. The monarch mechanic is interesting because this deck wants to have the monarch and you also have ways to recover it if monarch is lost.
When this deck works you should force opponents to attack themselves and lower their guard so you can keep attacking them by doing so. I don’t care what my opponents decide to do as long as they keep killing each other.
This deck has a few packages:
- “It’s bad to attack you” package
- “Force opponents to attack” package
- Vigilance package
- Monarch package
Feel free to tinker with the list and raise the power level if you like, or make changes to the mana base. This is by no means a competitive EDH deck, just a fun, casual, on-theme deck.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos | Illustration by Peter Mohrbacher
Vigilance is an evergreen mechanic that doesn’t have any downsides. But there isn’t a big upside to the mechanic (that is, until Wizards prints an insane vigilance lord), and cards with vigilance normally benefit from also having other abilities.
I hope you had a good read. Let me know what you think in the comments below or over on our Twitter. Until then, stay vigilant and untapped!
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