This post was last updated on February 2nd, 2023
Hi guys! Today I want to talk about the beautiful MTG Deathtouch keyword.
In this article I’ll go over the official rules, I’ll share what I consider the best cards with the Deathtouch ability, the most useful cards that could help you raise your chances of victory, how to play against Deathtouch in MTG and some general tips that you’ll find spread here and there throughout the article.
What follows are thoughts based on my personal experience of playing the game since the late ’90s, I hope you’ll find something useful!
- What does Deathtouch mean in MTG?
- MTG Deathtouch Rules
- MTG Deathtouch Best Cards
- MTG Deathtouch deck examples
- Useful cards with Deathtouch in MTG
- How to deal with MTG Deathtouch
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What does Deathtouch mean in MTG?
Deathtouch is a static ability present in Magic.
Any amount of damage dealt to a creature by anything that has deathtouch is considered lethal damage regardless of the toughness of the creature taking the damage.
The earliest example of lethal touch can be found from its origins, with the alpha set, as a description of the creature Thicket Basilisk, a beloved creature in the heart of many of us.
Far from what we are used to now, the basilisk could destroy the opposing creature by blocking or being blocked, without dealing any combat damage.
As opposed to what we use to see now, the text on a card that described deathtouch back in the days indicated a triggered ability and quoted the following: whenever this creature deals damage to a creature, destroy that creature.
The keyword deathtouch was introduced in Magic in 2007 with the Future Sight set, and specifically with the creature Thornweald Archer.
With the release of Magic: The Gathering 2010 Core Set, deathtouch experienced a major rewording that made it a static ability, moving away from what it originally was.
With the release of Ikoria: Land of the Behemoth, deathtouch counters were also introduced, which give this ability to the creatures on which they are placed.
MTG Deathtouch Rules
I have briefly described what Deathtouch means but let’s have a look at what the official rules state:
702.2a Deathtouch is a static ability. 702.2b A creature with toughness greater than 0 that’s been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch since the last time state-based actions were checked is destroyed as a state-based action. See rule 704. 702.2c Any nonzero amount of combat damage assigned to a creature by a source with deathtouch is considered to be lethal damage for the purposes of determining if a proposed combat damage assignment is valid, regardless of that creature’s toughness. See rules 510.1c–d. 702.2d The deathtouch rules function no matter what zone an object with deathtouch deals damage from. 702.2e If an object changes zones before an effect causes it to deal damage, its last known information is used to determine whether it had deathtouch. 702.2f Multiple instances of deathtouch on the same object are redundant.
MTG Deathtouch Best Cards
Let’s quickly go over some of the best creatures that have the Deathtouch ability.
Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice
Creature that is mainly used as a Commander in a commander format deck.
A very solid creature with several abilities, 4/4 with flying, vigilance, lifelink and of course deathtouch. Noteworthy is its last ability: at the beginning of our end phase, we can proliferate.
For a long time one of the most beloved cards in the legacy game.
Even mana cost converted to two, very low. Flying, deathtouch and when it enters the battlefield it allows us to draw a card accelerating our future plays.
A bug with a high mana cost, true, as many as 7 lands and a not very inviting strength and toughness.
But it is a flying creature with deathtouch, which is what we need, and a very interesting ability: when enters the battlefield it creates four 1/1 insect tokens with flying and deathtouch, which increase our small army of creatures capable of destruction by inflicting only one point of damage.
A not particularly strong creature at first glance; it’s a 1/4 with deathtouch ability, but its usefulness in a deck based solely on creatures with this ability can be very annoying for our opponent.
When each of our creatures with deathtouch attacks we gain one life point while our opponent loses one. Plus if our creature, again with deathtouch, deals damage to a planeswalker, it destroys it.
Master of Cruelties
A truly cruel creature. 1/4 with first strike and deathtouch, which can only attack if alone. This can be seen as a major malus, but it was necessary to balance the other ability that makes this creature unique: whenever this creature attacks a player, that player instantly reduces its life points to 1 if the Master of Cruelties isn’t blocked.
A nightmare every time I saw it thrown at me by my opponents.
A 4/4 Legendary creature with Haste, Vigilance and obviously Deathtouch, that challenged a wide variety of decks including my own, unfortunately.
It cannot be blocked by “small” creatures with a strength of 2 or fewer and the damage our creatures inflict can’t be prevented; and here again, can be a huge pain for some types of deck.
Finally, to give the Questing Beast another amazing skill, every time this monster deals combat damage to an opponent, the same amount of damage is dealt to the planeswalker the opponent controls.
Perhaps a creature to be put at the top of the list?
MTG Deathtouch deck examples
Below you can find my proposed deck, Golgari-style, which exploits this ability very well to try to beat our opponent.
Golgari deathtouch deck
- 4x Deadly Recluse
- 4x Gifted Aetherborn
- 3x Glissa, the Traitor
- 4x Narnam Renegade
- 2x Pharika, God of Affliction
- 2x Vengeful Pharaoh
- 4x Tragic Slip
- 2x Lure
As we can see, all creatures (excluding Pharika) have the deathtouch ability.
These are mainly low-cost creatures that, in addition to the main ability we are talking about, have other abilities such as lifelink or reach that can help us in different situations.
Golgari deathtouch deck analysis:
Here below you can find some indications regarding how the deck works, what are the best cards and what are your winning conditions:
Pharika, God of Affliction
She is our indestructible god and this card isn’t considered a creature until we reach a devotion of 7, but we can still use her activated ability.
The effect of that ability is that we can remove creatures from our graveyard to create 1/1 black and green Snake enchantment creature token with deathtouch, so we can add more creatures with deathtouch to our battlefield.
Alternatively, if the opponent has a deck with graveyard interactions, we can remove his most dangerous threats that might return to the battlefield at the cost of granting him a creature token.
We can assign this beautiful equipment to one of our creatures that has deathtouch and tap it at any time we want to make it deal 1 point of damage to an opponent’s creature. By having lethal touch, that creature will automatically be destroyed.
The interaction of this equipment with any other creature card that has deathtouch is very reminiscent of the Basilisk Collar + Walking Ballista combo seen earlier.
Viridian Claw & Sharpened Pitchfork
These other two artifacts can help us in both attack and defence.
As we know the static ability first strike on a creature causes it to deal combat damage before the opposing creature and not at the same time as the opposing creature.
If you combine that with deathtouch the game is done. We will inflict our destructive damage early, destroying the blocked or blocking creature and thus protecting our own.
Vraska the Unseen & Vraska Golgari Queen
Two Vraska planeswalkers.
They are our game-closer provided we can achieve the loyalty points needed to activate their ultimate abilities.
In the case we were able to activate them, Vraska the Unseen would allow us to have 3 assassins on the battlefield with the ability to kill our opponent with one damage if they are not blocked.
Alternatively, we always have the ability of her “colleague,” Vraska Golgari Queen.
In this case, an emblem will remain present on the battlefield, even if our planeswalker leaves the battlefield. Our creatures will instantly give us victory by inflicting any combat damage on our opponent.
Useful cards with Deathtouch in MTG
As seen from the cards listed so far, deathtouch is a predominant ability in the colour black and green, the two distinctive colours of the Golgari guild.
Nothing prohibits us from building a deck based on this ability but inserting creatures we particularly like and making them gain that ability in different ways.
You can integrate your deck with some of the following cards:
It is one of my favourite equipments. It gives both lifelink, as already seen in the MTG Lifelink article, and deathtouch.
We inflict damage, destroying opposing creatures and gaining life points at the same time. This equipment is a key part of one of the most abused combos in Magic: Basilisk Collar + Walking Ballista.
Both are played on the battlefield, we simply assign the collar to our ballista, which already has several counters on it.
Having the collar assigned to the ballista, we only need to remove a single marker from it to be able to do a single point of damage to a target creature and destroy it; we gain our life point and in doing so we slowly destroy the opponent’s defences without necessarily having to attack.
Bow of Nylea
An amazing artifact.
Our attacking creatures gain deathtouch and for our defence we can use at will one of the other activated abilities that this legendary artifact possesses. We can enhance one of our creatures, gain 3 life, deal 2 damage to a flying creature or retrieve some cards from our graveyard.
Archetype of Finality
It is an enchantment creature with immense value when it comes to buffing and debuffing the battlefield.
Our creatures gain deathtouch and the opponent’s creatures lose that ability.
If we are up against a deck that wants to use our strategy, we can make the opposing creatures lose deathtouch, and our opponent will not be able to give it to them again as long as our gorgon remains on the battlefield.
Battle-Rage Blessing & Entropic Cloud (Topaz Dragon) & Bladebrand
They are 3 black mana Instants and all give deathtouch.
The first gives a target creature deathtouch and indestructible, allowing us to block and deal destructive damage and at the same time save our creature from possible death.
The second is an instant adventure, featured in Topaz Dragon. By casting its adventure all our creatures gain deathtouch until the end of the turn.
The last instant allows us to make a target creature gain deathtouch, while also making us draw a card.
This card has also been functionally reprinted in green colour and is called Poison the Blade.
Of course, lands couldn’t be left out from this list.
- Vault of the Archangel
- Hissing Quagmire
Vault of the Archangel
We also mentioned it in the MTG lifelink article. In this case, we have the colour black together with white, and strangely not green. All our creatures get deathtouch and lifelink until the end of the turn.
It is the animated land of Golgari origin, how could it not be? It gives us green or black mana and with 1 colourless 1 green 1 black it turns into a 2/2 elemental green and black with deathtouch, indeed, until the end of the turn.
How to deal with MTG Deathtouch
Deathtouch is very strong as offensive ability, so how can we defend ourselves when we fight against a deck that revolves around that keyword ability?
Archetype of Finality
Just as it could be useful for making our creatures gain deathtouch, the gorgon we saw above comes to our rescue when we have a deathtouch-based opponent deck.
By analyzing the second ability that this creature spell possesses we can see that by using it we will make all of our opponent’s creatures lose deathtouch, not allowing them to otherwise get that particular ability as long as our gorgon remains on the battlefield.
In general, the strength of creatures with deathtouch clashes with the indestructible ability.
By blocking an attacking opponent creature with one of our own creatures with indestructibility, we are able to counter this ability. Our creature won’t suffer any lethal damage due to the ability, surviving the fight.
Deathtouch is an ability that is static or assigned to a creature via spells, permanent or not. We only need to have removals in our deck to eliminate the creature with deathtouch that is threatening us.
Another viable alternative may be combat damage prevention.