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How Does Blocking Work in Magic: The Gathering?

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

Angelic Wall

Angelic Wall

How to Attack in Magic: The Gathering

In Magic, the most common win condition is reducing your opponent's life to zero, normally caused by repeatedly attacking them with creatures (which occurs after a turn's first main phase). Troops without haste can't swing the turn they arrive, and note that attacking taps a creature (and can only be performed by untapped soldiers). You also declare which opponents or opposing planeswalkers to target; different attackers can choose different victims.

Your opponents may now block with any untapped creatures they control. Still, despite the prominence of this mechanic, rookie players often have a poor understanding of the block step; here's a comprehensive guide on how to defend (and the best creatures to do so with) in Magic: the Gathering, which will cover the following topics:

  • If blocking taps creatures
  • How to perform a block-tap
  • How to block a single attacker using multiple creatures
  • How flying and reach affect blocking
  • How trample and vigilance work
  • Who the best blockers are
Accorder Paladin

Accorder Paladin

Does Blocking Tap Creatures?

When you're being attacked, you can (but don't have to) assign blockers. One of the most common misconceptions is that blocking taps units—this isn't true; only untapped creatures can block, but the act itself doesn't actually tap them. When you assign defenders, they engage their corresponding attackers in battle, dealing damage to each other equal to their power and killing foes if that amount meets or exceeds their toughness.

Let's say the above 3/1 "Accorder Paladin" taps to declare an attack. His special battle cry trait activates, boosting the stats of other attackers by +1/+0 for the turn. Sadly, he's attacking alone, so no one gets the benefit.

The defending player chooses to block with their 0/4 "Angelic Wall". Paladin deals his power of three as damage to Wall, but it isn't quite enough to kill it (4 - 3 = 1).

Wall simultaneously hits back, but since its power is zero, Paladin also survives the clash.

Neither unit dies, no damage gets through to Wall's owner, and both troops have their health refilled at the end of the turn (assuming they live to see it).

Druid of the Cowl

Druid of the Cowl

How to Perform a Block-Tap

Since many new players don't realize that blocking in and of itself doesn't require a monster to tap, they're often unaware of the useful block-tap technique. Let's say you have the above 1/3 "Druid of the Cowl" fielded and untapped, and you've controlled her continuously since your last turn (meaning she's allowed to tap).

Your opponent swings with Accorder Paladin, and you decide to block with Druid. However, you can simultaneously use her tap effect, which adds a green mana to your pool. Thus, she both blocks (for which she only needs to be untapped at the declare blockers step, not in the actual clash) and grants you her mana, serving as both a defender and ramp tool. In this fight, Paladin's 3/1 stats and Druid's 1/3 are high enough to kill each other, so they're both destroyed and sent to their respective graveyards.

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Wall of Shields

Wall of Shields

Can You Block a Single Attacker With Multiple Creatures?

Unless an effect states otherwise, yes, you may block a lone attacker with as many applicable creatures as you like, a useful way to gang up on beefy foes. However, note that your opponent (not you) gets to determine the way their attacker's damage is divided between your forces.

For instance, if you blocked one attacking Paladin with two Druids, your opponent will probably assign all three of Paladin's damage to a single Druid (enough to kill it). However, if your creatures had an effect like banding, you would instead be able to control your foe's damage, perhaps assigning two damage to one Druid and one to the other, letting both your units endure the encounter.

Like most dragons, Nicol Bolas has flying

Like most dragons, Nicol Bolas has flying

How Do Flying and Reach Affect Blocking?

Many creature traits affect battle; we'll cover some of the most pertinent to blocking. Creatures with flying may block both aerial and land-based troops, but creatures without flying can't block flyers unless they have reach.

Thus, flying is a great way to attack over your foe's potential guardians, as they'll be unable to defend unless they possess either flying or reach. Use this to safely bypass ground armies, especially in the green faction, which controls many powerful creatures but few who can protect against aerial assaults.

Gishath, Sun's Avatar has trample, vigilance, and haste

Gishath, Sun's Avatar has trample, vigilance, and haste

How Do Trample and Vigilance Work in Magic?

When a creature with trample swings at you or a planeswalker you control, even if you block them, any excess combat damage they deal (damage past your blockers' total toughness) still gets through, so be wary of these bulldozing forces.

However, trample doesn't have any relevance when blocking; even if your trample-bearing defender blocks and kills an attacking unit with power to spare, the leftover damage won't strike your foe. Basically, trample only assists attackers.

Vigilance is a simple trait that prevents an attacking unit from tapping, keeping them ready to later tap or be used as a blocker. However, they still have to be untapped at the declare attackers step for this work; if you've previously exhausted them to use their effects, even vigilance won't let them attack that turn.

Who Are the Best Blockers in MTG?

Of course, stronger creatures make for ideal blockers, as do those who carry flying and reach. Many of the game's best guardians belong to the wall subtype, creatures who have the defender trait (which prevents them from attacking), but have low mana costs and impressive toughness, making them sturdy shields against incoming blows.

I particularly recommend cards like "Wall of Tears", who only needs two mana, has a fierce four toughness, and bounces units it blocks back to your opponent's hand, forcing them to waste time and resources recasting them. A mainstay in my blue commander decks, Tears is a sweet bargain, costing less than two dollars!

But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of bulky defenders, vote for your favorite Magic color and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!

© 2018 Jeremy Gill

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