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MTG Deathtouch keyword explained

MTG Deathtouch is a powerful keyword in any Magic The Gathering deck - thankfully this ability is as easy to grasp as it is deadly

MTG Deathtouch - artwork from the card damnation by Seb McKinnon. A hellish scene featuring humanoids walking into mouths and skeletal horses fighting.

There’s few worse feelings in Magic: The Gathering than looking at an enemy creature with toughness so high that you’ll never have a chance to kill it. But, luckily, abilities like MTG Deathtouch mean that even a small creature can have a huge impact on the field. A little Deathtouch critter can make your opponents scared to attack and even more scared to block out of fear of losing precious, much stronger, creatures.

Effects like MTG Deathtouch have existed since Magic the Gathering Alpha, the game’s first print run. The card Thicket Basilisk had the first version of what we’d come to know as Deathtouch, but the first time the keyword was printed on a card was in the 2007 MTG set Future Sight, where Deathtouch showed up on the card Thornweald Archer.

Deathtouch is mainly found on black and green cards, and players in these colours can reap the benefits. MTG Deathtouch is not just great at preventing attackers, it can also set up powerful combos alongside abilities like Ninjutsu, First Strike, and Trample.

We’ve written this guide so that you can easily learn how Deathtouch works, making it simpler than bringing down the 10/10 creature facing you.

MTG Deathtouch - a fur-wearing planeswalker, Garruk, wielding a giant axe.

How MTG Deathtouch works

Simply put, if a creature with MTG Deathtouch deals damage to another creature, that creature is destroyed. As long as you deal even one damage to an enemy creature, you can send it straight to the graveyard, regardless of how much toughness it has. You can dish out death with just one… touch.

This means if an opponent is foolish enough to block a Deathtouch creature with multiple creatures of their own, you can usually tear through them all, assigning one damage to each, killing a number of monsters equal to your creature’s power.

While Deathtouch may therefore seem like an extremely powerful tool to attack enemies with, it’s often more useful when used defensively. Your opponent’s desire to keep their creatures alive, and not have them killed almost immediately after they enter the battlefield, means that enemies are just as likely to not attack as they are to not block. This is generally a more effective strategy, as most cards with Deathtouch have low power, meaning even if they did hit an opponent they wouldn’t be able to do very much damage.

MTG Deathtouch - an elderly demon admiring a sceptre.

In addition, if you can plop down some creatures with either Reach or Flying as well as Deathtouch, you can create a defensive wall that any opponent would have a hard time getting through. Cards like Kura, The Boundless Sky from Kamigawa Neon Dynasty or Needlethorn Drake from Strixhaven: School of Mages make for reliable ways to keep yourself safe from larger creatures.

One MTG Deathtouch rule that’s less obvious is how the ability interacts with the Trample keyword. With Trample, you only need to assign lethal damage to an opposing creature, and the rest tramples on through to your opponent. For a Deathtouch creature, any damage is lethal, so you can kill your creature’s blocker with a single point of power, and hit your opponent hard with all the rest.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that MTG Deathtouch doesn’t only apply to combat damage – any kind of damage dealt by a creature with Deathtouch is an instant kill. Mutate a Porcuparrot onto a Deathtouch creature, and you’ve got yourself a sweet piece of repeatable removal.

MTG Deathtouch - a vampire wearing a purple cloak.

Best MTG Deathtouch cards

Here are some of the best Magic: The Gathering cards with the Deathtouch keyword.

MTG deathtouch - The MTG card Master of Cruelties

Master of Cruelties

Weighing in at five mana (one red, one black) Master of Cruelties is a creature card that can help you pull back from even the most desperate situations. With both First Strike and Deathtouch, not only is it a formidable attacker, it also carries a horrifying ability.

Whenever Master of Cruelties attacks unblocked it reduces your opponent’s health to one, but deals no damage. This can mean that even if you’re playing against a lifegain deck and losing badly, you can bring it back in a single swing.

MTG deathtouch - The MTG card Bow of Nylea.

Bow of Nylea

This legendary three-cost artifact gives all your attacking creatures Deathtouch. On top of this, it has an extremely versatile ability. For two mana you can choose to activate one of its effects, choosing between gaining life, dealing damage to flying creatures, putting a +1/+1 token on a creature, or bringing cards out of your graveyard to put them back into your library. These abilities make Bow of Nylea extremely versatile on top of making your entire board seem quite a lot scarier.

MTG deathtouch - The MTG card Baleful Strix.

Baleful Strix

At just two mana, one black and one blue, this 1/1 creature with Flying and Deathtouch may not seem too impressive, but for that cost you’re also able to draw a card. For such low mana, Baleful Strix not only gives you more board control, it also gives you more options for future turns.