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MtG Fear Explained | Rules, Best Cards & Decks

Fear is an ability keyword in Magic: The Gathering. When a card has fear, it can only be blocked by artifact creatures and black creatures. In this article, I look at what fear means in MtG with rules and examples, why it was retired as a keyword, the best fear cards, fear decks, and how to play against fear. I go over the frequently asked questions for fear in MtG too.

Gluttonous Zombie MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Thomas M. Baxa.
Gluttonous Zombie MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Thomas M. Baxa.

MtG Fear Rules

Here’s what the MtG card reminder text says for fear.

This creature can’t be blocked except by artifact creatures and/or black creatures.

See Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules 702.36. “Fear” for more information.

Essentially, this means you can’t block an attacking creature with fear unless the blocking creature is black or an artifact. As such, fear is classed as an evasion keyword.


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Shadowmage Infiltrator, Demon of Loathing, Palladium Myr, and Thorn Mammoth MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shadowmage Infiltrator, Demon of Loathing, Palladium Myr, and Thorn Mammoth MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

For example, suppose Shadowmage Infiltrator, a 1/3 creature with fear, attacks me, the defending player. I control the black creature Demon of Loathing, the artifact creature Palladium Myr, and nonblack nonartifact creature Thorn Mammoth. I can block Shadowmage Infiltrator with Demon of Loathing and/or Palladium Myr. However, I cannot block it with Thorn Mammoth.

Fear is a retired keyword, so it is highly unlikely to appear in any new sets. However, some cards with fear still see play today.

Fear was retired because it was considered overly restrictive by the MtG designers. It was replaced by the intimidate keyword in the Magic 2010 core set and no new fear cards have been printed since.

Fear, Intimidate and Menace

Why Did Intimidate Replace Fear?

Intimidate replaced fear for both a gameplay and a thematic reason. It felt out of place for nonblack creatures to have fear and R&D also wanted to apply the same evasion ability coherently to other colours, namely red and green. This meant that nonblack colours also had the chance to counter a fear-like ability.

Is Intimidate Better than Fear?

Neither keyword is better in a gameplay sense. Granted, there are more fear cards than intimidate cards. Due to power creep, however, intimidate cards are more powerful. For their day, though, many fear cards were perfectly decent.

Intimidate was preferred by players, despite the keyword’s relatively short lifespan. This newer keyword was more versatile and it fit the style of the cards better.

Intimidate also made more sense from a story perspective. For instance, creatures with flying or trample do those things, in the same way that a creature with intimidate, intimidates things. Reading ‘fear’ in the same way, saying a creature has ‘fear’ could be misunderstood as that creature being fearful themselves rather than applying fear to another creature.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Nowadays, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is the most popular and expensive intimidate card, but that’s not where the appeal lies. In addition to hosing Humans as a tribe, Mikaeus has some excellent synergies and can set up game-ending combos.

What About Menace?

Menace is the keyword that replaced intimidate. It is still in evergreen usage today, for both black and red. This is because R&D decided that intimidate was too difficult to counter or play against after colour-changing stopped being a common card effect.

As such, menace was introduced. Menace is also an evasion keyword, but it works differently to the closely-related fear and intimidate. A creature with menace can only be blocked by two or more creatures, regardless of their colour or whether or not they’re also artifacts.

Will Fear Ever Come Back?

Although we can’t be perfectly sure, the answer is essentially no. It is doubtful more fear cards will be printed in future. Fear is one of the few mechanics to be rated 10 on the Storm Scale, which means that MtG R&D will never add fear cards to a standard-legal set again.

This is because fear was effectively replaced by intimidate, which itself was replaced later on by menace. As such, R&D is more likely to bring back intimidate than fear, but even that is still very unlikely.

Fear Examples

Shadowmage Infiltrator, and Numot, the Devastator MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shadowmage Infiltrator, and Numot, the Devastator MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

For the first example, I attack with Shadowmage Infiltrator, a 1/3 fear creature. My opponent only controls Numot, the Devastator. Numot can do a lot of nifty stuff, but it is neither black nor an artifact creature. As such, it can’t block the Shadowmage Infiltrator, which now deals direct combat damage to the opponent.

 

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Shadowmage Infiltrator and Hope of Ghirapur MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shadowmage Infiltrator and Hope of Ghirapur MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Now let’s imagine I attack with Shadowmage Infiltrator a second time, because I really like its card-draw effect. However, my opponent now has Hope of Ghirapur out on the field. As an artifact creature, it can successfully block and prevent my opponent taking damage. Fortunately, Hope of Ghirapur is only 1/1, so my wizard survives.

Shadowmage Infiltrator and Thorn of the Black Rose MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shadowmage Infiltrator and Thorn of the Black Rose MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Thirdly, I attack again with Shadowmage Infiltrator. This time, my opponent has something slightly more defensive in play, namely Thorn of the Black Rose. Fitting the name, it’s a black creature. As such, my opponent chooses it to block. And, because it has deathtouch, it destroys my mage too. Oh well. He’ll be back.

Fear vs Intimidate

Even though fear is a retired ability, cards with fear may still be played by some players. What happens when a card with fear faces a card with intimidate?

Shadowmage Infiltrator and Immerwolf MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shadowmage Infiltrator and Immerwolf MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Say I attack with my Shadow Mage Infiltrator, a blue black 1/3 with fear. My opponent controls Immerwolf, a red green 2/2 with intimidate. Because creatures with fear can only be blocked by artifacts or black creatures, Immerwolf can’t block it and 1 damage is dealt directly to my opponent.

In the opposite situation, my opponent sends Immerwolf my way and I only have Shadow Mage Infiltrator on the field. Creatures with intimidate can only be blocked by artifact creatures and creatures that share a colour with it. So in this case, my Shadowmage Infiltrator can’t block the Immerwolf and I’d take the 2 damage directly.

Fear vs Menace

What happens when a creature with fear faces a creature with menace?

Shadowmage Infiltrator and Belle of the Brawl cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shadowmage Infiltrator and Belle of the Brawl cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

In this example, if I attack with my Shadowmage Infiltrator that has fear, my opponent can block with Belle of Brawl because it is a black creature.

If my opponent sends Belle of the Braw towards me and I only control Shadowmage Infiltrator I can’t block it because creatures with menace can only be blocked by two or more creatures. So I’d have to take the 3 damage.

Best MtG Fear Cards

Shizo, Death’s Storehouse – Black Mana Land

Shizo, Death's Storehouse MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Arguably the most played fear card today, Shizo, Death’s Storehouse is a land with some serious capability and notable pedigree. Not only does Shizo grant your Legendary creatures fear, which can be hugely effective in Commander, it also enters untapped to immediately provide coloured mana.

Profane Command – Black Sorcery

Profane Command MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Profane Command MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Profane Command’s power lies in its versatility. This card can easily turn a game around by making all your creatures effectively unblockable for a turn if you’re playing against any colour other than black or colourless artifacts. Additionally, it can burn, revive a creature, or take out a threat in a way that gets around indestructible too.

Wort, Boggart Auntie – Legendary Black/Red Creature

Wort, Boggart Auntie MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Wort, Boggart Auntie MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

I don’t know about your family, but I’m happy my aunts aren’t as bad as Wort over here! This lord gets extra value out of your Goblin cards, returning one from the graveyard to your hand each of your turns. Additionally, as it’s a 3/3 your opponents probably can’t block due to its fear ability. It’s commonly seen in Commander.

Cover of Darkness – Black Enchantment

Cover of Darkness MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Cover of Darkness MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Cheap and devastating describes this enchantment. Cover of Darkness gives all creatures of a chosen type fear for just two mana. Yes, if you’re playing tribal against a nonblack deck, this is what we call totally broken. Enjoy not having friends if you run a playset of this!

Marrow-Gnawer – Legendary Black Creature

Marrow-Gnawer MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Marrow-Gnawer MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Do you like Rats? Do you really like Rats? Should these Rats you like so much all have fear, and multiply each turn? If the answer to these questions is yes, play Marrow-Gnawer. Not only that, this guy has some pretty gnarly flavour text too.

Dread – Black Creature

Dread MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Dread MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

This is what you play if you don’t like taking damage head-on. Indeed, Dread even counters fear creatures by destroying any of them successful enough to damage you, the player. It’s also a massive creature with evasion, which gets out of hand quickly.

MtG Fear Decks 

Fear has the best deck representation in Commander. There, unlike Standard or Modern, all the fear cards are legal to play. Plus, the longer multiplayer format allows many of them to shine due to their abilities working better for massed creatures or in specific circumstances.

Shizo, Death’s Storehouse works particularly well in Commander, since the actual commander only needs to deal a player 21 damage to knock them out of the game. Giving your commander an evasion ability like fear helps dramatically with this.

Avatar of Woe MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Avatar of Woe MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Another Commander standout, Avatar of Woe is an impressive 6/5 with fear and the ability to destroy a creature once per turn. You can also cast it cheaply with over ten creatures collectively in all graveyards. In Commander, graveyards pile up quickly.

Both Wort, Boggart Auntie and Marrow-Gnawer are legendary creatures, and thus can work as commanders themselves. They do this remarkably well. If you’re running Rat tribal with the latter, make sure to add Ratcatcher for another fear creature with good Rat-searching abilities. Similarly, both synergize fantastically with Cover of Darkness.

Otherwise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find fear cards that are still played competitively. Shadowmage Infiltrator used to see some play due to its card-draw ability but that’s no longer the case. Instead, it has been surpassed by cheaper, more powerful options.

How to Play Against Fear

Block with Black and/or Artifact Creatures

Now that we know what fear is, the first way of dealing with it should be obvious. Just block with your black or artifact creatures if you have any. Then, make sure to kill the fear creature doing so. Although it might feel expensive to do so, fear creatures are rare, so you usually won’t need to do this more than once a game.

Fear Creatures are Destroyed to Removal

Of course, fear creatures lack inherent protection abilities. They are destroyed to removal. So, why waste your black or artifact creatures blocking when you can simply destroy it? Instead, use your burn, counterspells or killspells to handle the fear creature.

MtG is a game all about counterplay. A clever opponent might try and bait out your removal with an effectively unblockable fear creature to play a more significant threat later on. So prioritize your plays, especially if the fear creature isn’t actually that impactful.

Take the Damage

The last option is to just take the damage head-on if you can’t block the fear creature or otherwise disable it. You, the player, can just let the damage go through. This is often a good strategy if you want to play aggressively or have life to spare. Remember, you have 20 life or 40 in Commander, and you can keep going until it is at 0.

Sideboard Properly

Even if you lost the first game, there’s still a chance that you can win the whole match. Remember that fear creatures are weak against black and/or artifact creatures. If you have them, add them. 

Similarly, add additional creature control too, such as counterspells, hand attacks, and burn. If you’re playing green, think about adding fogs too to prevent combat damage from creatures with fear. Keep in mind that the sideboard is a chance to adapt to other issues, so sideboard for the other strategies your opponent might have.

Fear FAQs 

What Happens if a Nonblack Creature Has Fear?

Fear works exactly the same no matter what colour creature it’s on. The defending player can only block a fear creature with a black or artifact creature, regardless of what colour the fear creature is.

Scornful Aether-Lich MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Scornful Aether-Lich MtG card. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

For instance, the blue Scornful Aether-Lich can still only be blocked by black creatures or artifact creatures, even though it’s blue itself.

How Does Fear Work with Blocking?

Apart from restricting which creatures can block, the fear keyword doesn’t give additional rules for blocking. The defending player can assign blockers normally as long as they are black and/or artifact creatures. Likewise, the attacking player assigns the fear creatures’ combat damage to the blockers as they so see fit.

What if the Blocker Itself Has Fear Too?

If a blocking creature has fear, this means nothing unless it is also black or an artifact creature. Fear only applies for attacking creatures because it discusses explicitly how they should be blocked. 

A nonblack, nonartifact creature with fear can’t block other creatures with fear.

Dust Elemental and Scornful Aether-Lich MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Dust Elemental and Scornful Aether-Lich MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

The white Dust Elemental is an example of such a creature. It has fear, but it cannot block other creatures with fear because it is a white creature, not a black creature or an artifact creature.

In another example, the Scornful Aether-Lich has fear and can block other fear creatures. Not because it has fear itself, but because it is an artififact creature.

Can Colourless Creatures Block Fear?

When fear was invented as a mechanic, there were no colourless creatures that weren’t also artifacts. However, fear’s rules are clear. Even your Eldrazi titans can’t block creatures with fear as they are neither black nor artifact creatures. (They are better on the offensive anyway!)

What if the Blocker is Both Black and an Artifact Creature?

Then you’re in luck! The fear ability reads ‘black creatures and/or artifact creatures’ not either or. As such, a black artifact creature can absolutely block a fear creature.

Shadowmage Infiltrator and Noxious Gearhulk MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.
Shadowmage Infiltrator and Noxious Gearhulk MtG cards. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

For example, if I attack with our friend, Shadowmage Infiltrator, and my opponent controls a Noxious Gearhulk, they can block it because it is a black artifact creature. It’ll survive too. Although, that’s it for the Shadowmage Infiltrator, I’m afraid. He’s not 6/6, alas.

How Can I Give My Creatures Fear?

It’s possible to give your creatures fear. If you do, your opponent certainly won’t see it coming! All card types except planeswalkers have at least one card which can give fear. Fear, Aphotic Whisps, and Mask of Riddles, are examples of some of these. No point doing this against monoblack or artifact-heavy decks though!

A note: Fear MtG

To conclude, fear is an evasion keyword ability. Creatures with fear can only be blocked by artifact creatures and black creatures. Fear is almost exclusively found in black and was replaced by the more versatile keyword, intimidate.

Even though most creatures with fear are no longer competitively viable due to power creep, there are some exceptions. Plus, nobody expects you to play fear cards anymore! So surprise them by putting one in your deck today!

More Magic: The Gathering Keyword articles

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Emily
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