Protection is one of the more controversial keyword abilities in Magic: The Gathering. It protects a permanent from being blocked, targeted, dealt damage, enchanted or equipped by anything with a particular quality e.g. color. This article looks at how protection works in MTG, why it’s so controversial, the best protection cards, an epic protection deck, and how to play against protection!
MTG Protection Rules
What do the MTG protection rules say?
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 a particular [quality] like white or dragons, you cannot use that something 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.
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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 deciduous ability (meaning that it appears often but isn’t considered an evergreen 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.
Protection is currently a primary ability in white, but all colors can have protection if it’s thematically appropriate. Typically, other colors have it as protection from something they oppose. For example, red has protection from blue, its enemy color.
MTG Protection Examples
Let’s suppose I control Baneslayer Angel, which has protection from dragons and from demons. This means that no dragon or demon cards can block it or deal damage to it. So, if I wanted to attack with it, my opponent can’t block it with cards like Goldspan Dragon or Burning-Rune Demon.
Similarly, because Baneslayer Angel has protection from dragons and demons, those cards can’t target Baneslayer Angel with abilities. For example, it’s immune to being destroyed by Eater of Hope or being dealt damage by Leyline Tyrant.
Protection Stops DEBT
A useful acronym for thinking about what protection works against is DEBT. Protection from X (color, spell type, creature type etc.) prevents these four things from happening.
Damage – Prevents from all damage from X.
Enchant/Equip – Stops a permanent being enchanted or equipped with type X. This can be applied retroactively. As soon as protection from X is applied, if a permanent is effected, the equipment or enchantment of type X is removed.
Block – A creature with protection from X can’t be blocked by a creature of type X.
Target – A card with protection from X can’t be targetted by a spell of type X.
Protection from Colors
Archon of Absolution has protection from white, so nobody can cast a white spell that targets it. Similarly, white creatures can’t block it or target it with their abilities. No white source can deal it damage.
So if my opponent attacks me with a white creature like Arborea Pegasus, I can block it with Archon of Absolution without any problems. Even though the attacker has higher power than my blocker, protection means all its damage is prevented.
This can sometimes create issues, though, as protection works both ways. I can’t enchant Archon of Absolution with white auras like All that Glitters or equip white equipment, such as Paladin’s Shield, to it either.
Keep in mind that the list of what protection defends a card from is very clear. Even if your creature has protection, cards can still affect it in ways that don’t involve damage, enchanting, equipping, blocking, or targeting.
Protection from Planeswalkers
For instance, I control the creature Sparkhunter Masticore, which has protection from planeswalkers. Suppose my opponent activates Liliana of the Veil’s second ability, making me sacrifice a creature. Then I have to sacrifice the Sparkhunter Masticore.
This is because Liliana’s ability doesn’t actually target my creature here. Rather, because of the ability, I am forced to choose a creature to sacrifice and Sparkhunter Masticore is the only creature I control. As such, its protection ability doesn’t apply.
Protection from a Player
Protection from a player basically means that the permanent is protected from anything controlled by the other player. It can’t be blocked, targeted, dealt damage, or enchanted by anything they control.
An incredibly overpowered card, True-Name Nemesis gives its controller protection from basically anything their opponent has. For only 3 mana, you can see why it was so popular!
Protection from Everything
Remember DEBT? That’s why our little acronym for damage, enchant, equip, block and target are helpful! That’s a lot of protection!
Protection vs Trample
Trample actually works well against protection. This is because trample only cares about whether lethal damage would be dealt, not if it actually is. A trample creature can deal what would be lethal damage to a blocking protection creature and then deal the rest to the defending player.
Colossal Dreadmaw deals what would be lethal damage to its blocker, which is 1 damage. I as the defending player take the excess, which is 5 damage. However the 1 damage to Dunerider Outlaw is prevented, so it survives combat regardless.
Protection vs Board Wipes
Protection does not stop board wipes. This is because board wipes do not target creatures for removal, nor do they deal damage to creatures to destroy them.
So, for example, protection from white does not stop Wrath of God. If I cast Wrath of God, all my protection from white creatures will be destroyed. Protection from a certain quality doesn’t save a creature from destruction by that quality, only from what it specifically says it defends from.
However, suppose I cast a wrath card like Anger of the Gods instead, which does deal damage. In that case, creatures with protection from red or protection from sorceries will not be destroyed. This is because the Anger of the Gods damage is prevented.
Protection vs Deathtouch
Protection is great against deathtouch. This is because a creature with protection prevents all damage dealt to it by the deathtouch creature. As such, deathtouch won’t trigger and destroy the protection creature.
For example, let’s say my opponent attacks me with Baleful Strix, a black deathtouch creature. I can block it with Karmic Guide, which has protection from black. Now Baleful Strix can’t damage my blocker and trigger deathtouch, which survives the combat.
Protection vs Lifelink
Protection is similarly strong against lifelink. Because lifelink gives a player life equal to the damage their creature deals, protection disables it. A lifelink creature can’t damage a creature with protection from it, so its controller will not gain any life!
Suppose attack with Arcbound Mouser, a lifelink creature with mana value 1. My opponent blocks it with Haktos the Unscarred, which has protection from mana value 1. I don’t gain any life, and my creature dies because it can’t damage a creature with protection from it.
Best Protection Cards
Sword of Truth and Justice (Protection – Artifact)
An excellent addition to the two-color swords cycle, Sword of Truth and Justice gives your creature +2/+2 and protection from white and blue. This is some good evasion and removal defense, as well as a helpful stats buff.
Whenever the equipped creature deals damage, you can put a +1/+1 counter on a creature, then proliferate. This is a great combo, as it buffs up your creatures, plus as any planeswalkers you might have. You can even use it to proliferate poison counters for infect too.
Animar, Soul of Elements (Protection – Blue/Red/Green Creature)
An astonishingly good commander, Animar, Soul of Elements is what you play when you want to play creatures. Whenever you cast a creature spell, it gets a +1/+1 counter. Then your creature spells cost 1 mana less to cast for each +1/+1 counter it has.
Obviously, Animar is a great way to get high-cost high-impact creatures into play, as well as being a huge beater itself. That’s where its protection from white and black come in, letting it dodge both blockers and removal.
Teferi’s Protection (Protection – White Instant)
Teferi’s Protection allows you to skip out on playing the game until your next turn at instant speed. This great card does three things, and firstly stops your life total changing for that duration. You can’t gain life, but more importantly, you can’t lose it.
Next, Teferi’s Protection gives you protection from everything. Until your next turn, you can’t be dealt damage, enchanted, or be targeted with spells or abilities. Combined with all your permanents phasing out, Teferi’s Protection keeps you completely safe if things ever go bad.
Spirit Mantle (Protection – White Enchantment)
A simply yet deceptively powerful card, Spirit Mantle gives its enchanted creature +1/+1 and protection from creatures. Of course, it’s the latter ability that’s so important here. Spirit Mantle makes your creature unblockable, and immune to any combat damage.
In decks like Voltron or Bogles, this is incredible. For only two mana, you’ve got a guaranteed source of evasion and damage. Not only that, but Spirit Mantle saves your creature from any creature abilities too.
Phyrexian Crusader (Protection – Black Creature)
Phyrexian Crusader is one of those cards that can singlehandedly end the game. With protection from red and white, this 3-drop gets around a decent chunk of all removal spells, and first strike plus infect easily tears apart the blockers that protection doesn’t get around already.
The infect, however, really shines. Against decks whose colors it has protection from, Phyrexian Crusader can easily end the game in only a few attacks. Even against others, it’s still a powerful creature that demands a response.
Geyadrone Dihada (Protection – Blue/Black/Red Planeswalker)
Protection on non-creature permanents is always interesting and Geyadrone Dihada is no exception. This makes for a great defensive ability, with Dihada having protection from permanents with corruption counters on them. And her first two abilities put corruption counters on cards.
Fairly cheap at only 4 mana, Dihada’s first ability drains your opponent’s life and gives it to you, as well as protecting her from key threats. Her second steals a creature or planeswalker for a turn, while her ultimate permanently gains control of everything with a corruption counter.
MTG Protection Decks
Protection is most common in white. As such, if you want Standard-legal protection, buy the appropriate theme boosters. Protection is only easily found in sets after Magic 2020 or before Magic Origins, though.
Progenitus EDH – Protection From Everything Commander
Progenitus is a remarkable card, and it makes a remarkable commander too. With the protection from everything ability, Progenitus can’t be targeted, dealt damage, enchanted or equipped, or blocked at all.
This immediately suggests a Voltron-style deck where we ramp up to Progenitus and immediately begin beating down. With 10 power right out the gate, only 3 hits from Progenitus will knock a player out of the game. The deck generally tries to make that even fewer.
Of course, having access to all five colors, Progenitus decks are versatile and diverse. They do usually include a ramp package though and cards that can boost Progenitus despite its protection ability.
Cards typically found in Progenitus EDH include:
- True Conviction
- Finest Hour
- Rafiq of the Many
- Titanic Ultimatum
- Knight of New Alara
- Door to Nothingness
- Spirit of Resistance
- Ramos, Dragon Engine
- Maelstrom Nexus
How to play against Protection
Protection is one of the hardest abilities to play against as most standard forms of counterplay simply won’t work. Instead, we need to get creative if we’re going to play against protection.
Board wipes and edict effects
First of all, protection creatures are vulnerable to anything that does not target or deal damage. As such, board wipes and edict effects actually do work against protection. These cards kill creatures without doing anything protection could defend them from.
Lock down protection creatures
Furthermore, you can also lock down protection creatures. Cards like Angelic Arbiter and Propaganda can prevent creatures attacking. This slows down protection and takes away one of their strongest abilities, being unblockable.
Give attackers evasion abilities
Of course, protection creatures also make dangerous blockers as they don’t take damage from your attackers. As such, it’s necessary to give attackers evasion abilities if you want your damage to go through. Flying, trample, and menace are good choices here.
You can also try to overwhelm protection creatures when they’re blocking. Attacking with a lot of small creatures will let you damage fast protection decks, and losing one small creature in combat isn’t much of a loss.
Protection is also vulnerable to counterspells as the ability only applies while the card is in play, not on the stack. Because of this, you can counter protection cards before they resolve and cause mayhem.
Remember to prioritize though. Because they’re so powerful, protection cards actually make for great distractions. Watch out that your opponent isn’t using a different strategy to actually win the game while they’re using protection cards to stall or defend.
What are Circles of Protection?
The Circles of Protection are a mega-cycle of white enchantments that each cost two mana, 1 white and 1 generic. They all have a similar effect. For 1 mana, the circle’s controller can prevent all the damage dealt to them by a source of their choice this turn.
Nowadays, there are many more defensive abilities, some with the actual protection keyword themselves. For their time though, Circles of Protection were useful sideboard options against certain decks.
What are Runes of Protection?
Similar to the Circles, the Runes of Protection are also a cycle of white enchantments, this time dating back to Urza’s Saga. They each cost 1 white and 1 generic mana and for 1 white mana, they can prevent all damage dealt to you by a specific source this turn.
Unlike the Circles, however, Runes of Protection also have cycling for 2 mana. This gives them a lot of versatility and stops them from being dead draws against decks where their specific defensive ability isn’t relevant.
How Does Graveyard Protection Work?
Graveyard protection isn’t actually the protection keyword, but rather a way of getting around graveyard hate. As such, graveyard protection focuses on making sure your graveyard stays where it is and other players don’t interfere with it.
A note: Protection MTG
In summary, protection is keyword ability that defends a card against being damaged, enchanted or equipped, targeted or blocked by anything with a specific quality. This quality can be anything from a color to a mana value.
Protection is most common in white but all other colors can have it too. Although strong, protection cards are reliant on the opponent’s deck having their specific quality. Otherwise, the ability is dead in the water.
Regardless, protection is still a powerful and beloved keyword ability with some fantastic cards. So, add some protection to your deck today. Your opponent can’t do a thing about it!
More Magic: The Gathering Keywords Explained
- How to Build an MTG Deck
- How to Build a Commander Deck in MTG
- MTG Evergreen Keywords List
- MTG Counter
- MTG Counter (Markers)
- MTG Deathtouch
- MTG Defender
- MTG Double Strike
- MTG Enchant
- MTG Equip
- MTG Fear
- MTG Fight
- MTG First Strike
- MTG Flash
- MTG Flying
- MTG Haste
- MTG Hexproof
- MTG Indestructible
- MTG Intimidate
- MTG Lifelink
- MTG Menace
- MTG Prowess
- MTG Reach
- MTG Regenerate
- MTG Sacrifice
- MTG Shroud
- MTG Tap and Untap
- MTG Trample
- MTG Vigilance
- MTG Ward