Skip to Content

MTG Evergreen Keywords List – Actions + Abilities

Evergreen keywords in Magic: The Gathering summarize game mechanics and appear in every set. There are two main types of MTG evergreen keywords – actions and abilities. This MTG evergreen keywords list takes a quick look at the current evergreen keywords and what each word does in Magic.

Timber Protector MTG card illustration. Image copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artists: Terese Nielsen & Philip Tan.
Timber Protector MTG card illustration. Image copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artists: Terese Nielsen & Philip Tan.

What are MTG Evergreen Keywords?

Evergreen keywords are used in every Magic: The Gathering set to summarize some of the most common rules you’ll find on the cards. They help you understand what a player or a card can do without spelling it all out in the text.

There are two types of evergreen keywords.

Hi! This post may contain affiliate links to online stores. If you click a link and buy something, I may get a commission at no extra cost to you. See my affiliate disclosure.

  1. Keyword Actions
  2. Keyword Abilities

Keyword Actions describe actions players can take in a game. Keyword Abilities summarize specific things individual cards can do.

MTG Evergreen keywords don’t have reminder text

Many keywords have what’s called reminder text. This is text that comes in brackets after the keyword itself and explains what it does. Not all keywords have reminder text, though.

In expert-level sets, evergreen keywords do not have reminder text. They’re used so frequently that almost all established players already know what they mean. However, the core sets intended for newer players always use reminder text.

MTG Evergreen keywords change

Keywords come and go. Since Alpha, certain keywords have remained popular and so have stayed evergreen. Others, however, have not. Keywords like shroud, fear, and intimidate have been discontinued for various reasons.

Magic will keep printing new keywords as new sets come out and the game keeps changing. There’s no shame in asking what a card does during play, but hopefully this article will help you get familiar with evergreen keywords.

MTG Evergreen Keyword Actions

Rogue's Gloves MTG card with attach illustration. Image copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Cyril Van Der Haegen.
Rogue’s Gloves MTG card with attach illustration. Image copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Cyril Van Der Haegen.

Evergreen keyword actions aren’t abilities that cards have in MTG. Instead, they describe the actions a player takes in the game.

They’re almost always verbs, which is how you can distinguish them. In the card’s text, they will tell you to do something specific.

Attach

To attach an Aura, Equipment, or Fortification to an object or player means to take it from where it currently is and put it onto that object or player.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.3. “Attach”.

To attach a permanent means to move it onto another target permanent or a player. That target then gets the effects listed in the attached card’s text. Auras and equipment both use the attach keyword action. However, neither can attach to an invalid target, one of the wrong type.

Attach was introduced as a keyword action in Mirrodin, to make the rules on aura enchantments simpler. It also then appeared on equipment, which were introduced in that same set.

Counter

To cancel a spell or ability so it doesn’t resolve and none of its effects occur.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.5. “Counter”.

Counter is a keyword action that cancels a spell or ability, so its effects do not occur. Rather, the countered spell is sent to the graveyard. A countered ability simply doesn’t happen. Nothing happens to the permanent whose ability it was. 

Cards that counter are generally called counterspells, which are divided into hard and soft. Hard counterspells counter a spell or ability no matter what, while soft counterspells only counter it if its controller can’t pay a specific cost.

This keyword action has been in the game since Alpha, and counter is effectively evergreen. Counterspells are overwhelmingly blue, but white and green occasionally get them too.

To be prepared to cancel out whatever your opponent throws at you, see our Counter article!

Exile

To exile an object is to put it into the exile zone from whatever zone it’s currently in.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 406. “Exile”.

To exile a card is to put it into the exile zone, a special zone separate from the battlefield and from the graveyard. That card is then considered exiled, and it can’t be accessed by normal game actions.

Although removing cards from the game has been a mechanic since Alpha, only in Magic 2010 was it made into the keyword action exile. Since then, certain cards also interact with the exiled zone too.

Fight

A spell or ability may instruct a creature to fight another creature or it may instruct two creatures to fight each other. Each of those creatures deals damage equal to its power to the other creature.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.12. “Fight”.

Fight is a keyword action that means two creatures deal damage equal to their power to each other simultaneously. This is caused by spells or abilities, and so fighting isn’t considered combat damage.

This keyword action was introduced in Innistrad as a way for green to have creature removal. Since then, certain older cards that use the same mechanic have gotten errata to use the fight action as well.

Mill

For a player to mill a number of cards, that player puts that many cards from the top of their library into their graveyard.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.13. “Mill”.

A player mills by putting that many cards from the top of their library into the graveyard. Mill is actually a popular deck strategy, as a player with 0 cards in their library will lose the game if they have to draw a card.

Mill was made a keyword action in Core Set 2021 due to its popularity. However, it was an evergreen mechanic for years beforehand. The mechanic itself was introduced in Antiquities, with the titular Millstone.

Sacrifice

To move a permanent you control to its owner’s graveyard.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.17. “Sacrifice”.

Sacrifice means putting a permanent you control into your graveyard. You’ll sometimes have to sacrifice a permanent, usually a creature, to pay for some abilities. Other cards can force an opponent to sacrifice their own permanents.

Introduced in Alpha, sacrifice was made a keyword in the first-ever core set, Revised. It has been an evergreen mechanic ever since. However, remember that sacrifice is always different from destroying a permanent.

For more on the sacrifice keyword action, see our Sacrifice article.

Scry

To “scry N” means to look at the top N cards of your library, then put any number of them on the bottom of your library in any order and the rest on top of your library in any order.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.18. “Scry”.

Scry is a keyword action that lets you look at a specific number of cards from the top of your library, then put any number of them on the bottom of your library and the rest on top in any order. 

Originally introduced in Fifth Dawn as a keyword ability, scry was later made into an evergreen keyword action for Magic Origins. When you start the game after a mulligan with less than seven cards in your hand, you’re also allowed to scry 1 to make up for it.

Tap/Untap

Tap

To tap a permanent, turn it sideways from an upright position. Only untapped permenants can become tapped.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.21 “Tap and Untap”.

Untap

To untap a permanent, rotate it back to the upright position from a sideways position. Only tapped permanents can be untapped.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 701.21 “Tap and Untap”.

To tap a card is to turn it 90 degrees sideways, while untapping is to turn a sideways card upright. This is a fundamental mechanic of Magic that makes it distinct from all other modern collectible card games.

 

Join the My Kind of Meeple newsletter!

Exclusive email updates! New Strategies, Kickstarter Picks, What I'm Playing + Special Extras!

Thanks for joining!

Your email is only used for updates and email-based ad targetting. (Ads keep this site free!) You can view the terms & can opt-out of email-based ad targetting here.

Many cards using tapping as part of their ability costs, in addition to paying mana. Additionally, to even get mana, you have to tap your lands first. Certain cards can even tap or untap other permanents. Regardless, all your cards untap at the start of your turn.

Obviously, tapping and untapping have been in Magic since the game’s inception and have to be used in every set. Tapping is so common that a special symbol is often used in the text instead of spelling out the word.

For a closer look at Tap/Untap along with the best cards, see our article!

MTG Evergreen Keyword Abilities

Venomous Hierophant MTG card with deathtouch. Image: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Johannes Voss.
Venomous Hierophant MTG card with deathtouch. Image: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Johannes Voss.

Evergreen keyword abilities summarize specific things individual cards can do as part of their abilities.

There are currently 18 evergreen keyword abilities in MTG.

Deathtouch

Any amount of damage this deals to a creature is enough to destroy it.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.2. “Deathtouch”.

Basically, 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.

Mechanics similar to deathtouch has been in the game since Alpha itself, where it 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.

If you want to take advantage of this ability and one-shot your opponent’s creatures, check out our Deathtouch article right here!

Defender

This creature can’t attack.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.3. “Defender”.

Creatures with defender can never attack. However, they can block as normal.

Mechanics in the style of defender have been in the game since Alpha, when the Wall creature type was introduced. Originally, Walls were the only creatures that couldn’t attack. This was mentioned in their rules text.

However, the defender keyword was introduced when non-Wall creatures started having rules that prevented them from attacking. Defender became an official keyword in Champions of Kamigawa. Since then, almost all older cards that can’t attack have retroactively been given defender.

Read our Defender article for more information, including how to win the game just using these defender creatures!

Double Strike

This creature deals both first-strike and regular combat damage.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehsensive Rules, 702.4. “Double strike”.

A creature with double strike will deal combat damage twice. First, it will deal it before all other creatures, as if it had first strike. Then it will deal its damage again alongside the other creatures.

First featured on Rockshard Elemental and Ridgetop Raptor, double strike was introduced in the Legions set. It has been an evergreen keyword basically ever since, due to how cool its design is.

And if you think double strike is a cool ability too, we’ve got you covered with a full Double Strike article!

Enchant

This card can only be attached to an [object or player].

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 303 “Enchant” and 702.5. “Enchantment”.

Basically, enchant is a keyword found on enchantments with the aura subtype. The enchant quality shows you which kind of permanent or player the aura can be attached to. As long as that aura stays attached, it gives a special effect, usually to whatever its enchanting.

Enchant is one of the oldest mechanics in the game, dating back to Alpha. However, back then, it was instead shown on the card type, not in the text. So, you would have had cards with the types Enchant Creature instead of Enchantment Aura, with enchant creature as the text.

This style of ruling was very distracting and difficult to understand for newer players. Types were reworked for Ninth Edition, and auras were introduced to replace the enchant type. Now those enchantments read enchant creature in their rules text.

If this explanation has got you enchanted so far, you’ll enjoy our Enchant article as well!

Equip

Attach this permanent to target creature you control. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 301 “Artifacts” and 702.6 “Equip”.

Essentially, this means if an artifact has equip, you can attach it to a creature you control. The creature will then get the bonuses listed on the artifact card as long as it’s attached.

The equip mechanic was introduced in Mirrodin, an artifact-themed set It immediately proved to be a beloved and powerful ability and so was made evergreen. Ninth Edition marked equip’s first core set appearance.

Check out our Equip article if you’d like to equip yourself with more knowledge about this awesome ability!

First Strike

“This creature deals combat damage before creatures without first strike.”

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.7. “First strike”.

Creatures with first strike deal combat damage before all other creatures. The damage dealt this way can even kill the other creatures in combat, protecting the first strike creature from damage. 

First strike is one of the oldest keywords in the game, being used in Alpha itself. It is a primary ability in white and red, but many black creatures have it too.

Take the advantage and learn more about this useful keyword with our First Strike article here, before anyone else! 

Flash

You may cast this spell any time you could cast an instant.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.8. “Flash”.

You can cast a card with flash whenever you want. Normally you can only cast non-sorcery spells during your main phases. With flash, you can cast them at any time.

The flash mechanic was introduced Time Spiral and subsequently appeared for the first time in a core set in Tenth Edition

However, certain cards had abilities that let you cast them as instants before this, beginning with King Cheetah, in Visions. Since then, those older cards have received errata to have flash.

Our Flash article has got even more tips and tricks for this ability, so read it once you’re done here!

Flying

A creature with flying cannot be blocked except by creatures with flying and/or reach. A creature with flying can block a creature with or without flying.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.9. “Flying”.

A creature with flying is unblockable unless the defending player also controls a creature with flying or with the reach keyword. 

Flying a staple of the game, being used in almost every set since Alpha itself. In fact, it was the first keyword Richard Garfield ever designed for the game. Also, flying is an evasion keyword, so it focuses on making creatures hard to block from a design perspective.

For more information on this powerful keyword and how to play against it, look at our Flying article!

Haste

This creature can attack and tap as soon as it comes under your control.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.10 and 302.6.

You can attack with a haste creature the turn it enters the battlefield. You can also activate its tap abilities the turn it enters too. Haste is a keyword ability that lets a creature ignore summoning sickness.

The haste mechanic was introduced all the way back in Alpha. It immediately proved to be a beloved and powerful ability. However, it took until Sixth Edition when haste was made a keyword.

Now that you’ve seen how fast haste can be, you ought to blitz through the Haste article too!

Hexproof

On a permanent it means, “This permanent can’t be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control.”

On a player it means, “You can’t be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control.”

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.11 “Hexproof”.

If a creature has hexproof, your opponents can’t cast spells that target that creature. Your opponents can’t activate abilities that target your hexproof creature either.

The Hexproof mechanic was introduced all the way back in Portal Three Kingdoms. However, the mechanic was only made a keyword in the Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 video game. Subsequently, hexproof was first printed in the Commander and Magic 2012 sets.

To learn more about how to protect your creatures from your opponent’s spells and abilities, you can read our Hexproof article!

Indestructible

Damage and effects that say “destroy” don’t destroy it.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.12. “Indestructible”.

Anything with the indestructible keyword can’t be destroyed. Even if an indestructible creature takes lethal damage, it won’t die and all indestructible permanents are immune to spells or abilities that use the word “destroy” too.

Although cards that couldn’t be destroyed have been in the game since Alpha, it was only in Darksteel that indestructible was made a keyword. As such, older cards received errata to update them as well.

Our Indestructible article is just what you want if you want to know more about how to stop your cards being destroyed!

Lifelink

Damage dealt by this creature also causes you to gain that much life.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.15. “Lifelink”.

This means whenever a creature with the lifelink keyword ability deals damage, you gain life equal to the amount of damage you dealt.

Mechanics in the style of lifelink have been in the game since El-Hajjâj in the second-ever MtG expansion, Arabian Nights. However, it is still possible to find cards that cause life gain when they deal damage but don’t actually have lifelink.

However, the lifelink keyword itself was previewed in Future Sight. It was only fully introduced in the following set, Tenth Edition. Since then, many older cards with this ability have retroactively been given lifelink.

See our Lifelink article for more information, such as how to take full advantage of this powerful ability!

Menace

This creature can’t be blocked except by two or more creatures.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.111. “Menace”.

Essentially, this means whenever a creature with the menace keyword ability attacks, it can’t be blocked by only one creature. If the defending player wants to block it, they must use at least two creatures.

The menace mechanic has been in the game since Fallen Empires, appearing on Goblin War Drums. However, the menace keyword was only introduced in the Magic Origins set to replace the intimidate keyword. Since then, many older cards with this ability have retroactively had errata to give them menace.

If you’d like to learn more about menace and why it replaced intimidate, come on and check out the Menace article then!

Protection

This can’t be blocked, targeted, dealt damage, enchanted, or equipped by anything [quality].

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.16. “Protection”.

If a creature has protection from [quality], you cannot use something [quality] to block the creature. Similarly, you can’t use [quality] spells or [quality] to target that creature. It’s immune to all damage dealt by a [quality] source. A card can have protection from any card type or color in Magic and from other characteristics too.

The protection mechanic was introduced all the way back in Alpha. However, it has been a controversial ability ever since because it’s so complex. Between Sixth Edition and Ninth Edition, protection wasn’t used in core sets. After Magic Origins, it was demoted to a dedicious ability.

Protection has appeared more frequently since Modern Horizons, though. It was made an evergreen keyword in Magic 2020 and so it will appear in every set again for the time being.

If you like what you’ve been reading about protection so far, you can get the full picture with this Protection article!

Reach

This creature can block creatures with flying.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules, 702.17. “Reach”.

This means that although the creature doesn’t actually have flying, it can block creatures with flying as though it did.

The reach mechanic has been in the game since Alpha itself, where it appeared on Giant Spider. However, the reach keyword itself was only introduced in the Future Sight set. Since then, older cards with this ability have retroactively been given reach.

Check out the Reach article here for more tips on how to block flying!

Trample

This creature can deal excess combat damage to the player or planeswalker it’s attacking.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.19. “Trample”.

So, suppose your creature with trample has power greater than the toughness of the creature that’s blocking it. In that case, the excess power is dealt as damage to the defending player.

Trample is a staple of the game, being used in almost every set since Alpha itself and for a good reason. This keyword allows you to take full advantage of your creatures’ power and closeout games where otherwise you’d be bogged down with chump blockers.

For more information on trampling over blockers, read the Trample article right here!

Vigilance

Attacking doesn’t cause creatures with vigilance to tap.

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.20. “Vigilance”.

Basically, this means whenever a creature with the vigilance keyword ability attacks, it does not become tapped. Vigilance creatures don’t tap to attack.

The vigilance mechanic has been in the game since Alpha itself, where it appeared on Serra Angel. However, the vigilance keyword itself was only introduced in the Champions of Kamigawa set. Since then, older cards with this ability have retroactively been given vigilance.

If you’d like to know more about how not to tap when attacking, see the Vigilance article here!

Ward

Whenever this creature becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, counter it unless that player pays [cost].

Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.21. “Ward”.

It costs more than usual for your opponents to target ward creatures with spells or abilities. The extra cost an opponent has to pay is shown in the ward creature’s text.

Ward was introduced in Strixhaven: School of Mages as a less-powerful alternative to hexproof. Unlike hexproof, ward still allows for some interaction. Currently, ward can appear on cards of all colors, but it’s most common in blue.

MTG Deprecated and Deciduous Keywords

Shadowmage Infiltrator MTG Fear card illustration. Copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Thomasz Jedruszek.
Shadowmage Infiltrator MTG Fear card illustration. Copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Thomasz Jedruszek.

Evergreen keywords are not fixed and are continually evolving as MTG evolves. Some become overpowered, weak, or superseded by another keyword that’s less confusing to use.

The keywords in the list below used to be evergreen, however, they are now retired or deprecated meaning we won’t expect them to appear on any more sets.

Some keywords become deciduous, rather than being retired completely. Deciduous keywords are still printed on new cards but don’t appear in every set so they aren’t considered evergreen anymore.

For a closer look at each keyword and why it’s no longer evergreen, see our articles!

A note: MTG Evergreen Keywords

Evergreen keywords are used in every Magic set to summarize some of the most common rules you’ll find on the cards.

Keyword Actions describe actions players can take in a game. Keyword Abilities summarize specific things individual cards can do. Keywords that are evergreen now, may be retired or become deciduous in the future as MTG changes.

Keywords have been used since the start of the game and are a fundamental part of what makes Magic unique, distinct, and enjoyable. If you want to know more about a specific keyword and see the best cards with each ability, check out our keyword articles!

More Magic: The Gathering Keyword articles

emily sargeantson profile pic

Emily
Hi, I’m Emily, the tabletop gamer behind My Kind of Meeple. If this article helped you, I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.

Buy me a coffee at Ko-Fi button