Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How Does Deathtouch Work in Magic?
Any Magic creature with the deathtouch trait kills any other creature it damages regardless of their toughness. This discourages attackers, a valued defense for the black faction, which specializes in the ability. Yet a surprising number of green and blue creatures also enjoy the trait, letting several decks access the mechanic.
Note that deathtouch also works with indirect strikes, making units with tap-damage abilities especially lethal. And since they'll kill anything they connect with, toughness is often more useful for deathtouchers than power, helping them survive their clashes. But with dozens of formidable predators available, which assassins reign supreme? These are the ten best deathtouch-possessing creatures in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 2
A 2/3 with deathtouch for just two mana? Stopping there, I'd already be sold, but legendary Ayli goes above and beyond by offering two activated traits. The first requires you to spend one mana and sacrifice a creature to gain life equal to its toughness; use this in response to a removal where you'd lose the unit anyway.
Additionally, this helps activate Ayli's next trait, which requires you have at least 10 more life than your starting total. You also need to spend three mana and sacrifice another creature, but doing so exiles a non-land card, a powerful removal for nearly any permanent that prevents graveyard recoveries.
9. Wren's Run Vanquisher
With just two mana and one color, Vanquisher offers a fantastic 3/3 with deathtouch, leagues ahead of most two-cost creatures. The only catch is you need to reveal another elf from your hand or pay three mana, but in mono-green decks, you'll likely have several forest-dwellers in hand.
Of course, since Vanquisher herself carries the elf subtype (plus warrior for good measure), she'll qualify for any of their clan effects, seen on units like "Elvish Archdruid."
8. Vengeful Pharaoh
A 5/4 with deathtouch is a fair deal for five mana, especially with the useful zombie synergy. But Pharaoh works even better in your graveyard; try moving him there with self-discards or mills (common in black).
Once buried, when you or a planeswalker you control suffers combat damage, Pharaoh automatically destroys one of the attacking creatures, then places himself on top of your deck, a reusable removal (once you relocate him to your graveyard) that requires no mana.
7. Grave Titan
One of the best giants in the game, Grave Titan requires a hefty sum of six mana, but only needs one color and allows several colorless slots, helpful in multi-color builds. His 6/6 stats are more than enough to destroy most challengers, but he wields deathtouch to ensure nothing survives his onslaught.
He's also a surprisingly-competent token generator, creating two 2/2 zombies whenever he swings or enters the battlefield. These guys make great blocking fodder, combo with black's abundant zombie effects, and help trigger any creature-entrance abilities you employ.
6. The Gitrog Monster
A popular commander in EDH format, Gitrog's frog and horror subtypes aren't particularly common, but for one less mana, he matches Grave Titan with 6/6 stats and deathtouch. However, you have to sacrifice him at the start of your upkeep unless you sacrifice a land.
But this seeming disadvantage proves surprisingly helpful, as Gitrog lets you draw whenever one or more of your lands are placed into your graveyard. This even works when you self-mill lands directly from your deck, rewarding your Golgari tactics, and since Gitrog lets you play an additional land each turn, you'll have plenty of terrains to spare.
5. Atraxa, Praetors' Voice
Another of Magic's best commanders, Atraxa offers arguably the four best EDH colors in one potent package. To compensate for her specific mana needs, this angel horror carries 4/4 stats plus flying, vigilance, deathtouch, and lifelink!
As if she needed anything else, Atraxa also proliferates at the end of your turns, letting you add a matching counter to any permanents or players that possess one. This versatile ability multiplies your own +1/+1 and energy counters, your foe's -1/-1 and poison counters (perfect for infect strategies), and even the loyalty counters on your planeswalkers.
4. Vampire Nighthawk
For a card of uncommon rarity, Nighthawk grants an astonishingly formidable mid-game powerhouse. Three mana scores a 2/3 with flying, deathtouch, and lifelink plus vampire synergies (not to mention shaman), blending with one of black's biggest families.
A mainstay for my own black commander decks, you'll find fewer top-tier cards this affordable, costing just over a single dollar!
3. Glissa, the Traitor
Though she's very mana-restrictive, Glissa enjoys both the elf and zombie subtypes, adeptly blending with black and green's most widespread factions. In addition to sturdy 3/3 stats, she wields the lethal first strike + deathtouch combo, preemptively attacking and killing most foes before they can counterattack.
Plus, Glissa's unique effect returns an artifact from your graveyard to your hand whenever an opposing creature dies, an excellent recovery that you can easily access thanks to deathtouch.
2. Wurmcoil Engine
Wurmcoil's colorless nature lets any theme access his powers, and his dual artifact/creature status qualifies for numerous supports. He justifies his considerable fee with 6/6 stats plus deathtouch and lifelink, granting a beatstick that replenishes your life as he ravages your opponents'.
And he won't go down without a fight; when Wurmcoil dies, you create a 3/3 wurm token with deathtouch and another one with lifelink, essentially dividing him into two monsters with the same combined capabilities.
1. Baleful Strix
Strix specifically needs one black and one blue mana and only arrives with a single power and toughness. However, he also carries both the artifact and creature types and wields both flying and deathtouch, able to block and kill anything your foe swings with.
Strix also automatically draws when he enters the field, meaning you're getting an aerial removal you can set ahead of time plus hand replenishment for just two mana. A versatile and inexpensive ace, he's an absolute must for any blue/black deck.
More Cards With Deathtouch in Magic
In addition to today's units, creatures like "Death Baron" and "Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons" lack deathtouch themselves but grant it to other units, turning your early-game weaklings into lethal predators. You can also catch opponents off-guard with instants that apply deathtouch like "Coat With Venom," killing foes after attackers and blockers are locked.
Remember to pair deathtouch with first strike whenever possible for a deadly combo that often lets your assassins survive their battles; auras like "Ethereal Armor" do the trick. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of monster-slaying deathbringers, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on April 09, 2020:
I made the following article with your comment in mind, specifically exploring low-cost deathtouch creatures:
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on February 12, 2020:
That's fair; deathtouch tends to be more valuable on low-cost creatures since it makes them threatening blockers. Maybe I'll do a low-cost countdown at some point dedicated to that idea; for now, hopefully cards like Ayli and Strix hold the fort.
Sebastian on February 12, 2020:
I feel like most of these cards are good, but not necessarily because of deathtouch. for instance with grave titan I am more excited to have a 6/6 zombie spawner, and deathouch on a 6/6 rarely matters. What I am trying to say is I would rather have seen more creatures on this list that were powerful because they have deathtouch, not ones that are good and then have deathtouch as an afterthought.
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on November 17, 2019:
Good suggestions, but those cards have a few drawbacks. They have low stats, high costs, and poor subtypes, but can still be powerful in commander.
My favorite of the three would be Hornet Queen, whose flying/deathtouch tokens really dissuade opponents from attacking.
Rex H on November 17, 2019:
In that last comment, I completely forgot the Hornet Queen. Gives not one, but FIVE creatures with deathtouch. Great swarm effect (pun intended).
Rex H on November 17, 2019:
Is there a reason Archtype of Finality isn’t on here? I don’t know if it’s praiseworthy or not. Same goes for Xathrid Gorgon. That ‘petrify’ ability is great against support creatures and attacking-based creatures, and a 3/6 with deathtouch is a pretty boss defender
Alexis on April 17, 2019:
Wurmcoil Engine is my personal pick. It's just too good.