Deathtouch is an ability keyword in Magic: The Gathering. Whenever a creature with deathtouch deals any amount of damage to another creature it is enough to destroy it, regardless of the other creature’s toughness.
In this article, I look at how deathtouch works in MTG with plenty of examples including how it works against other abilities. I also look at the best MTG deathtouch cards, deathtouch decks and how to play against deathtouch. Lastly, I go over the frequently asked questions for deathtouch.
MTG Deathtouch Rules
What do the deathtouch rules say?
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Any amount of damage this deals to a creature is enough to destroy it.Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.2. “Deathtouch”.
Essentially, this means that a deathtouch creature only needs to deal 1 damage to another creature to kill it, regardless of what that creature’s toughness is.
That means that a 1/1 creature with deathtouch can kill an 8/8 creature in one hit. It doesn’t matter how tough the creature is.
Mechanics similar to deathtouch have been in the game since Alpha, when a similar ability appeared on Thicket Basilisk. However, the deathtouch keyword itself was only introduced in the Future Sight set with Thornweald Archer. Since then, many older cards with this ability have retroactively been given deathtouch.
Since its introduction as a keyword, deathtouch has always been considered evergreen. You can expect it to appear in every set on at least a few creatures. Although it is most common in black, many green creatures have it too, but not at the rate they used to.
MTG Deathtouch Examples
For the first example, suppose my opponent attacked me with the 1/4 Ageless Guardian. My Oakhame Adversary has deathtouch, so I use it to block the attacker. It deals only 2 damage to Ageless Guardian. But due to deathtouch, Ageless Guardian is destroyed anyway.
Second, let’s say I attack with Oakhame Adversary, a 2/3 creature with deathtouch. My opponent blocks it with Oggyar Battle-Seer, which is 3/4. Typically, this would be a waste of an attack for me since my creature would die without trading. However, my creature has deathtouch.
In normal circumstances, Oggyar Battle-Seer would survive combat because it has greater toughness than Oakhame Aversary’s power. However, my creature has deathtouch so the 2 damage it dealt is enough to destroy its blocker regardless. As such, the creatures trade.
Lastly, I attack with Oakhame Adversary again. Now my opponent blocks it with both Acquisitions Expert, a 1/2, and Grey Merchant of Asphodel, a 2/4, and assigns blockers in that order. Here I have a choice. I can choose to deal 2 damage to Acquisitions Expert and kill it. Or I can deal 1 damage to it and then deal another 1 damage to Grey Merchant of Asphodel.
This happens because my attacking creature has to deal lethal damage to each blocker before damaging the next one. Yep, this is how blocking works. I double-checked this rule! Anyhow, because Oakhame Adversary has deathtouch, even 1 damage is lethal. As such, it can kill both creatures.
Deathtouch vs Indestructible
Indestructible is a fantastic counter to deathtouch. With the indestructible ability, a creature cannot be destroyed in the normal way with combat damage or by abilities that say ‘destroy’ on them. This disables deathtouch entirely, as even if a deathtouch creature deals damage, it’ll never be lethal to an indestructible creature.
For instance, let’s say my opponent attacks me with the 1/1 Brash Taunter. I block it with Venomous Hierophant, which is a 3/3 deathtouch creature. Even though my blocker has higher power than the attacker’s toughness and has deathtouch, Brash Taunter survives. Being indestructible, a creature with deathtouch cannot destroy it.
Deathtouch vs Hexproof
Because deathtouch does not target a creature, hexproof won’t protect a creature from deathtouch. Instead, the hexproof creature will just be dealt damage normally and be destroyed as a result. The same is true for ward and shroud, keywords with similar effects.
Suppose it’s my turn now. I attack my opponent with Venomous Hierophant. They block it with the hexproof Spined Megalodon. However, this makes no difference. Venomous Hierophant damages it when attacking, which automatically destroys Spined Megalodon without targeting it.
Deathtouch vs Trample
Even if your blocking creatures have deathtouch, you are still vulnerable to trample damage, which applies even if the creature that’s dealing it is destroyed in combat. As such, your deathtouch creature might easily kill the trample creature, but that won’t save you from taking damage yourself.
For example, my opponent attacks me with Fierce Witchstalker, a 4/4 trample creature. I block with Insatiable Hemophage, another 3/3 deathtouch creature. Even though my creature destroys Fierce Witchstalker in combat due to deathtouch, it is also destroyed. As such, I take the 1 excess damage left over from Fierce Witchstalker’s power.
Deathtouch + Trample
On the other hand, giving the same creature deathtouch and trample has serious potential. Although it still has to deal lethal damage to each of its blockers, 1 damage counts as lethal if your creature has deathtouch. This means the excess damage to the defending player will be far larger than it otherwise would be.
Imagine I cast Charge Through on the Insatiable Hemophage. This gives it trample until the end of the turn. I attack with it, and my opponent blocks it with both the 7/6 Cinderheart Giant and the 6/6 Colossal Dreadmaw.
However, as Insatiable Hemophage has deathtouch, I need only assign 1 damage to each of its blockers regardless of their toughness. The remainder I assign to the defending player. All three creatures die as a result and I do 1 damage to my opponent. Pretty good, right?
Deathtouch vs First Strike
If a first strike creature deals lethal damage to a deathtouch creature, it’ll be destroyed as normal and the first strike creature will survive. This is because first strike allows a creature to deal its combat damage before all other creatures and be safe from deathtouch.
So, my opponent attacks me with the 3/3 Radha, Heart of Keld, a creature with first strike. I choose to block with Insatiable Hemophage. However, due to first strike, Radha deals 3 damage to Insatiable Hemophage before it has a chance to deal its own damage. As such, it’s destroyed but Radha survives.
Deathtouch + First Strike
Deathtouch plus first strike on the same creature is a powerful combination. Together, these two keywords allow a creature to instantly destroy any creature it fights before it has a chance to deal damage.
For example, let’s say I attack with Ankle Shanker, a 2/2 with both first strike and deathtouch as long as it’s attacking. My opponent blocks with Colossal Dreadmaw, a 6/6 that could quickly kill Ankle Shanker in combat. However, Ankle Shanker’s first strike damages the blocker first. Due to deathtouch, Colossal Dreadmaw is destroyed before it has a chance to fight back.
Deathtouch vs Planeswalkers
Planeswalkers aren’t destroyed automatically when a deathtouch creature damages them. This is because deathtouch only destroys other creatures, not planeswalkers. As a result, the planeswalker will take damage normally. This can still kill it if its loyalty is too low though.
For example, I use Ankle Shanker to attack my opponent’s Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. However, because Ugin is a planeswalker and not a creature, Ankle Shanker only deals it 2 damage despite having deathtouch.
Best MTG Deathtouch Cards
Master of Cruelties (Deathtouch – Black/Red Creature)
Few creatures can end the game in a single turn. Master of Cruelties is one of those creatures. Not only does it have deathtouch and first strike for guaranteed victories in combat, if Master of Cruelties deals damage to an opponent, that player’s life total also becomes 1!
Yeah, that’s right. No matter what their life was at beforehand, Master of Cruelties puts any opponent at 1 life. Being in black and red means you’ll also have access to a lot of burn damage when you play this card. As such, if this card hits, you have an easy win.
Ice-Fang Coatl (Deathtouch – Green/Blue Creature)
For only two mana, Ice-Fang Coatl is a fantastic deal. You can cast it at instant speed and it draws you a card. With flying, Ice-Fang Coatl can block nearly anything too. And with at least three other snow permanents, it has deathtouch.
Ice-Fang Coatl’s strength lies in its unpredictability. It’s effectively instant-speed creature destruction for blue and green, the colors which get the least of it. Kitting out your deck with snow lands is an excellent way to ensure it’ll always have deathtouch.
Bow of Nylea (Deathtouch – Green Enchantment Artifact)
With Bow of Nylea, you can give all your attacking creatures deathtouch. And it gets even better! Each turn you have access to one of four powerful abilities. Gaining life, buffing creatures, killing fliers, emptying out the graveyard. Bow of Nylea does it all.
Bow of Nylea is spectacularly versatile, but the strength of its first ability is not to be underestimated. With each of your attacking creatures having deathtouch, blocking them becomes far more challenging.
Garruk, Apex Predator (Deathtouch – Black/Green Planeswalker)
Every turn, Garruk, Apex Predator can create a 3/3 Beast token with deathtouch. And that’s a +1 ability. The other +1 ability destroys any target planeswalker. Yeah, this is good!
Garruk, Apex Predator’s other abilities are even better. As well as making strong creatures and killing planeswalkers, Garruk can destroy a creature and gain you life. The ultimate ability, though, is astonishing! Garruk can permanently give all creatures +5/+5 and trample whenever they attack a specific opponent.
Vault of the Archangel (Deathtouch – Land with White/Black Abilty)
Most of the time, Vault of the Archangel is just a regular land. Your opponent might even forget that it’s there. Then, suddenly, all your creatures have deathtouch and lifelink! Out of nowhere, this unassuming land just swung the game in your favour!
This is the strength of Vault of the Archangel. Whenever you need it, for only four mana, you can instantly buff all of your creatures.
Virulent Swipe (Deathtouch – Black Instant)
A lot of combat tricks boost a creature’s power. A lot give your creature deathtouch. Virulent Swipe is the only one that does both. It buffs power and gives deathtouch and all for only one mana!
A Virulent Swipe surprise makes your creature into a serious threat like other combat tricks. Unlike the others though, it has rebound. This means you can cast it again for free at the start of your next turn, for another +2/+0 deathtouch creature.
MTG Deathtouch Decks
Deathtouch is most common in black and green. As such, if you want deathtouch cards, buy the appropriate theme boosters. For Strixhaven, the Witherbloom and Silverquill theme boosters are excellent choices as both factions have several deathtouch cards.
Golgari Deathtouch Tribal Aggro – Arena Standard
If you like deathtouch, you’re in luck. Not only is deathtouch tribal Standard-viable, but it’s also affordable too. Using deathtouch creatures like Nighthawk Scavenger, Mire Triton, Moss Viper, and Questing Beast, this black and green deck can consistently dominate in combat.
Adding powerful deathtouch lords like Hooded Blightfang and Fynn, the Fangbearer only enhances this deck’s strength. These cards allow the deathtouch creatures to instantly destroy planeswalkers and deal damage to players in the form of poison counters too.
How to play against Deathtouch
Kill the Deathtouch Creatures in Combat
Whenever your opponent attacks with a creature with deathtouch, make sure to block it with what will add up to lethal damage. Even though you put your creatures at serious risk, it is worth killing a threatening creature with deathtouch.
With deathtouch creatures as blockers, this is much harder. Your opponent is probably not going to waste valuable deathtouch creatures on bad blocks. Furthermore, your opponent’s untapped deathtouch creatures will always threaten your attackers as they can assuredly kill them.
Use Removal on the Deathtouch Creatures
As annoying as they are to play against, most creatures with deathtouch don’t have hexproof, ward or protection. As such, they’re vulnerable to removal. So instead of using your burn to attack your opponent directly, instead use it to kill their deathtouch creatures.
Similarly, prepare your counterspells, killspells, and hand attacks. If your opponent is using creatures with deathtouch, they’re playing black or green.
Black especially struggles against control cards while green is vulnerable to direct damage. If you have them, you can also use your own deathtouch creatures to fight back.
Destroy the Card Giving the Creature Deathtouch
Often a creature doesn’t have deathtouch inherently but is instead being given deathtouch by another card. This is often an Aura or Enchantment, but many instants can give deathtouch for a single turn as a combat trick.
If you have the chance, destroy or counter whatever is giving the creature deathtouch if you can’t kill it directly. This is particularly wise if you’re playing blue, which often struggles to permanently deal with creatures otherwise.
Can I Choose to Disable Deathtouch?
Deathtouch is a static keyword ability, which means you cannot disable it. Whenever a deathtouch creature deals damage to another creature, that creature will be destroyed. You don’t have a choice here, so be careful about putting deathtouch on any creature that can harm your side.
Does Deathtouch Kill Walls?
Because Walls are creatures, deathtouch will work on them. Many Walls also have indestructible or protection, both of which prevent deathtouch from applying.
If you have a wall with power above 0, giving it deathtouch is a great idea. Anything it blocks dies!
Can Creatures Regenerate From Deathtouch?
Creatures can regenerate from deathtouch if they have the ability. This is because deathtouch destroys a creature, which the regenerate ability prevents. There aren’t any other unique interactions.
Can Instants and Sorceries Have Deathtouch?
Instants and sorceries aren’t printed with deathtouch. They’d simply destroy the target creature instead of having that ability. However, if you want to give your spells deathtouch, play Pestilent Spirit. Not only does it have deathtouch, but all your instants and sorceries will also have it too.
A note: Deathtouch MTG
In conclusion, deathtouch is a great ability. A creature with deathtouch will always destroy another creature when it deals damage, no matter how much damage is actually dealt. Because of this, it’s an evergreen keyword that sees use in every set.
Deathtouch is most common in black and green and, despite its strength, the keyword does have some weaknesses. Often, removal or combat damage is the best way to take out a deathtouch creature.
Deathtouch is here to stay. And it deserves it too, seeing how impactful it is! So, put a creature with deathtouch in your deck today!
More Magic: The Gathering Keyword Articles
- MTG Evergreen Keywords List
- MTG Counter
- MTG Counters (markers)
- MTG Defender
- MTG Double Strike
- MTG Enchant
- MTG Equip
- MTG Fear
- MTG First Strike
- MTG Flash
- MTG Flying
- MTG Haste
- MTG Hexproof
- MTG Indestructible
- MTG Intimidate
- MTG Lifelink
- MTG Menace
- MTG Protection
- MTG Prowess
- MTG Reach
- MTG Regenerate
- MTG Sacrifice
- MTG Shroud
- MTG Tap and Untap
- MTG Trample
- MTG Vigilance