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Ward in MTG – Rules, Best Cards, and Decks!

Ward is an evergreen ability keyword in Magic: The Gathering. Whenever an opponent targets a card with ward with a spell or ability, the spell or ability is countered unless that player pays its ward cost. This article looks at the ward MTG rules, how ward works with gameplay examples, the best ward cards, ward decks, how to play ward and common ward questions.

Hamlet Vanguard mtg card with ward. Image copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Art by Pindurski.
Hamlet Vanguard mtg card with ward. Image copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Art by Pindurski.

MTG Ward Rules

Ward was introduced as an evergreen keyword in Strixhaven: School of Mages in April 2021, and brought with it a new mechanic.

In case you haven’t seen a card with ward yet (or you forgot), the ward rule reads:

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Ward [COST] (Whenever this permanent 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”.

So, let’s set a few things straight. First of all, ward is a triggered ability. This means any player may respond to ward. In fact, a player can even counter it with Stifle or something similar the same way a player can counter a counterspell.

You can think of ward as a mini counterspell that gets cast every time one of your opponent’s spells or abilities targets the permanent with ward. If your creature has ward 1, then it’s like casting a free Mana Tithe every time your opponent targets it.

Fun fact: If you’re playing on MTG Arena, the game will actually show you a message like this whenever you target a creature with ward:

mtga ward warning pop up

This helps avoid accidental mis-clicks and conveniently reminds you that a creature has ward. Don’t ignore this message whenever it pops up, because it has saved me in quite a few games!

Why Does Ward Exist?

You may be wondering why a keyword like ward even exists if we already have hexproof. If you compare the two keywords, you’ll realize that ward is basically just a worse version of hexproof. The answer is quite simple: hexproof is too strong of an ability and ward lets you protect your creatures from removal while keeping the game balanced.

Ward Example

Let’s look at a real-life example, shall we? (And by real-life, I actually mean in-game.)

mtg cards waterfall aerialist and crushing canopy

Imagine a scenario where your opponent attacks you with Waterfall Aerialist. You have five mana available and a copy of Crushing Canopy in hand. As it turns out, that’s just enough mana to get rid of that pesky creature.

First, you target Waterfall Aerialist with Crushing Canopy. Crushing Canopy goes on the stack, but before it resolves, Waterfall Aerialist’s ward {2} ability goes on the stack targeting Crushing Canopy. The ward ability resolves (assuming no player responds to it with yet another spell or ability), and you must either pay the extra mana cost {2} or let Crushing Canopy be countered.

And that’s it! If you’re already familiar enough with how counterspells work, then you’ll have no trouble at all dealing with ward.

 

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Ward and Stacking

Okay, but what if you target the same ward creature twice (or more times)? Well, for each new spell that targets a ward creature, you’ll have to pay the ward cost an additional time. For example, if a ward creature has 6 health and you want to remove it using two Lightning Bolts, you’ll have to pay the ward cost twice (once for each Lightning Bolt).

Ward vs Board Wipes

Simply put, ward has no effect on board wipes. Since board wipes don’t target any creatures, they do not cause ward to trigger.

Ward vs Multi-Target Spells

Multi-target spells like Electrolyze can get a bit tricky, not just when it comes to ward. However, if you continue to think of ward abilities like counterspells, it shouldn’t be too difficult to follow.

For each ward creature that your multi-target spell targets, you’ll have to pay its additional mana ward cost. If so much as one ward cost goes unpaid, the entire spell doesn’t resolve!

Ward vs Deathtouch

This is another one of those cases where ward doesn’t apply at all. For one thing, deathtouch is a keyword, not an ability, and ward only gets triggered by spells or abilities. Plus, deathtouch doesn’t target creatures anyways, so ward wouldn’t apply even if deathtouch was an ability.

Ward and Sacrifice

The relationship between ward and sacrifice effects differs on a case-by-case basis, so this will take a little bit of explaining.

diabolic edict mtg card

Ward only cares if the creature itself is being targeted. For example, ward can’t stop Diabolic Edict because Diabolic Edict targets a player, not a creature. Whether that player decides to sacrifice a ward creature to Diabolic Edict is up to them, but the ward ability will not apply.

However, I’d be lying if I said that ward never applies to sacrifice effects. Sarkhan the Mad’s abilities contain a sacrifice ability, but it also targets a specific creature. In that case, ward would go on the stack and potentially counter it. Targeted sacrifice effects are quite rare though, so if you’re ever in doubt, ward probably doesn’t apply to the situation.

Ward vs Uncounterable Spells

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well, in this case, the unstoppable force (Abrupt Decay, or any other spell that can’t be countered) beats the unstoppable force (creature with ward).

mtg cards abrupt decay and force spike

Imagine if I tried to target Abrupt Decay with Force Spike. It obviously wouldn’t work since Abrupt Decay is uncounterable. Now, replace Force Spike with a ward trigger and you’ll see that it won’t do anything to stop Abrupt Decay either, even if the ward cost goes unpaid.

heated debate mtg card

I would also suggest that you check out the card Heated Debate. It’s an uncounterable spell from Strixhaven with a bit of reminder text explaining that the ward ability can’t counter it. Since it’s reminder text (all text in parentheses is reminder text), this clause applies to all spells that can’t be countered, not just Heated Debate.

Best Ward Cards

Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute

mtg card Brutal Cathar // Moonrage brute

Technically, Brutal Cathar doesn’t have Ward, but its reverse side, Moonrage Brute, does. If you manage to flip Brutal Cathar several times in a single game, you’ll really do a number on your opponent’s battlefield. The built-in ward protection on Moonrage Brute will make sure that those creatures you exiled with Brutal Cathar stay exiled for a while.

Hamlet Vanguard

mtg card Hamlet Vanguard

The problem with most big creatures is that they die too easily to removal. Enter Hamlet Vanguard, a great addition to your deck if you’re running lots of Humans. It may not be all that great if you play it onto an empty board, but on a board full of Humans, it becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Sedgemoor Witch

mtg card Sedgemoor Witch

Obviously, you’ll want to play Sedgemoor Witch in a deck full of instants and sorceries. While its ward cost isn’t too difficult to pay since it costs life instead of mana, it’s still a good bonus feature to add to what’s already a good card.

Varis, Silverymoon Ranger

varis, silverymoon ranger mtg card

One of my favorite mechanics in the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set is the dungeon mechanic. You can click here if you aren’t already familiar with it. Anyways, Varis, Silverymoon Ranger has a bit of everything: good stats for a good cost, built-in protection with ward, and the ability to venture further into the dungeon every turn. What’s there not to like?

Chaplain of Alms

chaplain of alms mtg card

What’s better than giving your creature ward? Giving all of your creatures ward, of course! Chaplain of Alms starts out as a small one-mana creature, but you can cast it again from your graveyard for its disturb cost. It will then enter the battlefield as a pesky little flyer that protects not just itself, but all your other creatures too.

Octavia, Living Thesis

mtg card Octavia, Living Thesis

If you set up your graveyard right, Octavia, Living Thesis can be an 8/8 creature for only two mana! Getting eight spells into your graveyard is no easy feat, but it’ll all be worth it once this giant octopus hits the battlefield. Plus, it has Ward {8}, which is absolutely ridiculous. At that point, it may as well have hexproof.

MTG Ward Decks

Currently, the most popular deck in competitive Standard right now is Mono-White Aggro, and it features two creatures with ward: Chaplain of Alms and Brutal Cathar.

Notice that this deck only has a few cards with ward. That’s because its goal is to be aggressive as possible, and the ward abilities complement the deck’s strategy rather than overpower it. I find that ward works best as a support mechanic and not as a core mechanic.

Creatures (33)

  • 3 Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
  • 4 Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute
  • 4 Chaplain of Alms
  • 4 Clarion Spirit
  • 4 Elite Spellbinder
  • 4 Intrepid Adversary
  • 4 Luminarch Aspirant
  • 2 Skyclave Apparition
  • 4 Usher of the Fallen

Spells (5)

  • 2 Portable Hole
  • 3 Fateful Absence

Lands (22)

  • 2 Cave of the Frost Dragon
  • 4 Faceless Haven
  • 16 Snow-Covered Plains

Playing Against Ward

When building a deck, I wouldn’t worry too much about ward creatures. Sure, paying ward costs can be a tad annoying, but ward isn’t an overpowered mechanic that’s impossible to play against.

I would recommend playing removal spells with cheap mana costs and take ward into account when planning your future turns. Notice that these are general deckbuilding/gameplay tips that apply to Magic in general and not just ward in particular.

Is Ward Replacing Hexproof?

If you’ve been playing Magic for a long time, you may have noticed that fewer and fewer cards with hexproof seem to be coming out. If you’re a fan of hexproof though, don’t worry. In Magic’s official article about ward, the authors wrote:

Moving forward, we are not taking hexproof out of Magic. There are a lot of cards where hexproof has more merit than ward. A common case being on combat tricks like Ranger’s Guile and Snakeskin Veil, and sometimes those big creatures that are hard to interact with are positive additions to their environments (looking at you, Carnage Tyrant). At the end of the day, we’ve added another tool in the toolbox and will try to use it when it best suits a card.

Introducing Ward, magic.wizards.com, March 25, 2021

Simply put, you should expect to see more ward cards and more hexproof cards in the future. Hooray!

Conclusion – Ward in MTG

Hopefully, this article has given you a more complete understanding of the ward mechanic. It kind of works like hexproof, but it’s slightly less powerful. That being said, many cards with ward are still very powerful.

If you’re always worried about your creatures being removed by your opponent’s spells, go ahead and add some ward creatures to your deck!

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Emily
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