MTG Defender – Cards, Decks & Tips

What does it mean when a creature possesses the ability Defender? And what exactly is defender in MTG?

If you were on the hunt to find an answer to these questions, you’ve come to the right place as today I’m going to talk about the MTG Defender keyword.

In this article I’ll go over the official rules, I’ll share what I consider the best cards with the Defender ability, the most useful cards that could help you raise your chances of victory, how to play against Defender 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!


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What does Defender mean in MTG?

A creature with Defender, simply put, can’t attack.
Let’s not be fooled by that, there are some decks and some cards that can be very strong when combined together, but I will go into that later.

The defender ability is a static skill and it means that a creature with defender can’t attack.
It was firstly seen in the alpha edition of the game and this mechanic was initially associated with walls, creatures capable of defending due to good toughness but unable to attack.
Until the release of Champions of Kamigawa expansion, the wall type creature had implied the defender ability, but with this expansion the Defender ability became retroactive and added to all walls.
The Ninth Edition was the first base set to change this, adding the defender keyword to other non-wall creatures as well.

Every colour in Magic boasts creatures with defender; initially, it was white, the colour of defence, that had the most creatures, while now blue is the colour with the most creatures having the defender ability.
Many creatures with defender make high toughness their main characteristic, but in some cases they can also attack, becoming difficult-to-manage threats.

MTG Defender Rules

I have briefly described what Defender means but let’s have a look at what the official rules state:

702.3a Defender is a static ability.
702.3b A creature with defender can’t attack.
702.3c Multiple instances of defender on the same creature are redundant.

MTG Defender Best Cards

Let’s quickly go over some of the best creatures that have the Defender ability.

Faithbound Judge

MTG Faithbound Judge – image: Wizards of the Coast

Guys, at the cost of 3 mana (1 colourless + 2 white mana) we basically cast a Serra Angel.
It has Defender, therefore it can’t attack, but 3 turns after it enters the battlefield our opponent has to worry about dealing with this threat, which he can attack, and possibly return from the graveyard to make the opponent lose the game within 3 turns.

Wall of Omens | Wall of Blossoms

MTG Wall of Omens – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Wall of Blossoms – image: Wizards of the Coast

I’m including them together because this is the classic card referred to as a “functional reprint.”
Look closely, they are actually the same card, 0/4 with defender, white or green, which upon entering the battlefield allows us to draw a card. Very useful.

Sylvan Caryatid

MTG Sylvan Caryatid – image: Wizards of the Coast

Popularly played in its time in the standard format.
The hexproof ability allows him to be immune to our opponent’s spells or abilities that can target him. In addition, it allows us to make mana advantage with its ability by adding 1 mana of any colour to our reserve.

Tree of Redemption & Tree of Perdition

Tree of Redemption - MTG Defender
MTG Tree of Redemption – image: Wizards of the Coast
Tree of Perdition - MTG Defender
MTG Tree of Perdition – image: Wizards of the Coast

Redemption or perdition? Your choice.
Two creatures with Defender that are quite similar; they are both creatures 0/13, one black and the other green with both very interesting abilities.
In one case we can trade our life points for the creature’s toughness, or, in the other case, the opponent’s life points.

Concealing Curtains

MTG Concealing Curtains – image: Wizards of the Coast

It is a nice blocker in the early stages of the game, potentially entering the field on turn 1 and allowing us to take no damage from our opponent’s attacking creatures.
We can then transform it into a 3/4 attacker with menace, look at our opponent’s hand, choose a nonland card and make him discard it.

Wakestone Gargoyle

MTG Wakestone Gargoyle – image: Wizards of the Coast

It is a flying creature and it is a 3/4. It’s a gargoyle it’s right to stay there defending the walls.
But it has an essential ability if we want to play a deck with lots of “defenders” creatures: we can make them all attack until the end of the turn as if they didn’t have it.

Thing in the Ice

MTG Thing in the Ice – image: Wizards of the Coast

A creature extensively used in almost every format of magic. It costs 1 colourless mana as well as 1 blue mana. This creature can be transformed by casting instants/sorceries to remove counters on it.
Once transformed, we have a powerful 7/6 with no more defender, ready to attack and that can return every other non-horror creature to the owners’ hand.

MTG Defender deck examples

Let’s have a look at an example of a deck that revolves around the Defender keyword ability.
This is a deck that I often use also on Magic Arena, Historic format. It is a lot of fun and if it starts off strong it can hardly be countered.

Full Defender deck (Historic format)

As we can clearly note, the creatures are almost all with the defender ability or very high toughness.
Thanks to several cards we can attack with our defenders, assigning combat damage based on toughness and not strength, doing countless damage either to defending creatures or to the opponent himself.

Full Defender deck analysis:

Let’s try to understand what is the real functional strategy behind this deck example or creatures with defender in general.
These creatures are not of much use if simply left to defend, they must be exploited in some way in the attack as well.

Arcades, the Strategist

Arcades the Strategist - MTG Defender
MTG Arcades, the Strategist – image: Wizards of the Coast

This dragon is the essence of any deck, used in the format we like best, that does what we need it to do.
Our creatures with defender, which are usually characterized by high toughness, assign damage equal to it and can attack every turn. In addition, whenever one of our creatures with defender enters the battlefield, we draw a card.

High Alert

High Alert - MTG Defender
MTG High Alert – image: Wizards of the Coast

Arcades, in the enchantment version. This card assigns damage equal to the creature’s toughness and we can attack using creatures with defender ability.
In this case, we don’t draw cards but have a chance to untap a target creature.

Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive

MTG Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive – image: Wizards of the Coast

Our winning condition. This is the card that allows us to be unblockable and deal massive damage to our opponent.
With him on our battlefield, our creatures cannot be blocked, allowing us to win the game.

Resolute Watchdog

MTG Resolute Watchdog – image: Wizards of the Coast

Another essential creature with defender in our deck. It enters the battlefield immediately, thanks to its converted mana cost of 1 plain.
It is a simple 0/3 but its ability, with its consequent sacrifice, allows us to protect one of our most important cards so that the deck can bring home the victory.

Saruli Caretaker & Overgrown Battlement

MTG Saruli Caretaker – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Overgrown Battlement – image: Wizards of the Coast

These two creatures with defender serve us mainly in the early stages of the game, allowing us to get mana advantage by greatly accelerating our game.
They will be voted to attack along with our other creatures when the game progresses.

Useful cards with Defender in MTG

After having analyzed that very particular deck, let me focus on other cards in the Magic: the Gathering universe that interact with creatures with defender.
These spells I’m about to show you are very useful in bringing our “walls” to attack, so we don’t just leave them in defence of our life points:

  • Rolling Stones
  • Assault Formation
  • Animate Wall
  • Fortified Area

Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones - MTG Defender
MTG Rolling Stones – image: Wizards of the Coast

An excellent spell at cost 2. Our creatures with defender can attack as if they didn’t have it.
Of course, they will deal damage equal to their strength, but by using this spell we can include in our deck creatures with defender that favour strength over toughness.

Assault Formation

MTG Assault Formation – image: Wizards of the Coast

This other spell, green precisely, allows us to attack with our creatures with defender, making them assign damage equal to toughness, but spending 1 green mana for each creature we want to “animate.”
Nice and versatile card, until they printed High Alert in my opinion.

Animate Wall

Animate Wall - MTG Defender
MTG Animate Wall – image: Wizards of the Coast

I love vintage, and I always like to quote it. Introduced with alpha, this was the card that allowed our white walls to attack.
After 30 years of the game’s evolution, we have much better, however, I find it appropriate to remember where it all began. Nostalgia.

Fortified Area

Fortified Area - MTG Defender
MTG Fortified Area – image: Wizards of the Coast

We have seen how to exploit our creatures with defender, voting them to attack.
We can also unite our walls, enhancing them and even giving them the banding ability. It sounds strange, doesn’t it, but we have in magic a card that combines our hypothetical towers and defending creatures into a band, ready to defend or attack. If played at the right timing it could lead to very positive outcomes.

How to deal with MTG Defender

How can we defend against decks based on this mechanic and ability?

Otarian Juggernaut & Juggernaut

MTG Otarian Juggernaut – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Juggernaut – image: Wizards of the Coast

These creatures are our solution.
They can’t be blocked by creatures with defender. Our opponent will be forced to suffer every attack we strike.

Goblin Digging Team

MTG Goblin Digging Team – image: Wizards of the Coast

Goblin that costs 1 mana to be played.
We can sacrifice it to destroy a creature with defender. A faithful help against these types of decks.

Dwarven Demolition Team

MTG Dwarven Demolition Team – image: Wizards of the Coast

Unlike the aforementioned goblin, these dwarves definitely have a higher converted mana cost, but they can destroy a creature with defender per turn.
Not super fast but still very effective.

Clear a Path & Deface

Clear a Path - MTG Defender
MTG Clear a Path – image: Wizards of the Coast
Deface - MTG Defender
MTG Deface – image: Wizards of the Coast

Spells dedicated to destroying creatures with defender. Very useful cards for removing the opponent’s threats.

In addition to these cards specifically dedicated to creatures with defender, you can use classic creature removals, or in the case of spells that allow creatures with defender to attack, use common spell destroyers.