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MTG Defender keyword guide

If you want to know how the MTG Defender keyword works, or find out what cards and strategies work in a Defender deck - you've come to the right place!

MTG artwork of a dragon looking out over their fortress

The MTG Defender keyword is found on creatures that can’t attack. At a basic level that’s what it means: a creature with Defender can block but it cannot attack. However, if you want to do a deeper dive into this mechanic, we’ll teach you all about Defenders, from the history of the mechanic to the best Defender cards and strategies.

Before we get into the weeds, though, you might be interested in some of our other Magic tutorials. Learning how to play Magic: The Gathering is a constant journey as there are so many different keywords, strategies, and rules to consider. Wargamer has everything you could need, from a guide to MTG Cascade to the Commander damage rules.

MTG Defender keyword history

The Defender keyword was created in the MTG set Champions of Kamigawa in 2004, but creatures that can’t attack have been a part of Magic from its very first release.

Previously, it was the case that the MTG creature type Wall automatically meant that the creature could not attack. This was a problem though for things like MTG Changelings, as they then needed an additional bit of rules text to explain that they could attack, despite having the Wall creature type.

So, in Champions of Kamigawa, Defender was keyworded. Now, Walls generally have the Defender keyword, and the old ones have had it stuck on with errata. But as the comprehensive MTG rules put it, Wall is “a creature type with no particular rules meaning”.

MTG Defender decks

Unless you’re playing an MTG Draft in Dominaria United, the most likely place you’ll find an MTG Defender deck is in a game of Commander.

And, you might be surprised to learn that the most common way a Defender deck wins is through combat damage. That’s because there are plenty of cards that give Defenders the ability to attack, and to deal damage with their toughness, rather than their power.

The MTG commander Arcades, the Strategist (he’s the classic) can turn all your Walls from meek utility creatures to undercosted beaters, allowing you to get surprisingly aggressive. From Assault Formation to High Alert, there are plenty of ways to get Walls moving.

While punching your opponent with walls is certainly fun, it’s not the only way an MTG Defender deck can win. You could play a truly defensive, controlling game with your Defenders. For instance, alternative wincons for Defender decks include Blight Pile, a relatively new card that lets you drain with Defenders. Or you could use Overgrown Battlement to create a ton of mana and win with a Torment of Hailfire.

That’s cute and all, but it is definitely more optimal to be attacking with your Defenders. You can even use Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive to make your whole board unblockable!

MTG art of Azorius guild guards on patrol

Best MTG Defenders

There are many great options to choose from, but these are seven of the best MTG Defenders around:

The MTG card Overgrown Battlements

Overgrown Battlement

The premier ramp card in any green Defender deck, Overgrown Battlement can produce an ungodly amount of mana if the board state is right.

The MTG card Wall of Denial

Wall of Denial

If your plan is to swing with Defenders, Wall of Denial is one of the scariest: an 8-toughness, flying Defender that can’t be targeted.

The MTG card Wall of Omens

Wall of Omens

A lovely cheap Wall that cantrips, you can’t go wrong sticking this in your deck.

The MTG card The Pride of Hull Clade

The Pride of Hull Clade

Very cheap in a Defender deck, The Pride of Hull Clade can draw you a ridiculous number of cards (15 per hit) and is a nigh-unstoppable blocker.

The MTG card Stalwart Shield-bearers

Stalwart Shield Bearers

A decent defender that buffs up your entire board.

The MTG card crashing drawbridge

Crashing Drawbridge

Crashing Drawbridge is not only handy for getting big Defenders attacking as early as possible, it can speed up cards with tap abilities like Ovegrown Battlement too.

The MTG card Shield Wall Sentinel

Shieldwall Sentinel

An MTG tutor specifically for Defenders, Shieldwall Sentinel can fetch up whatever it is you need.

For more Magic content check out the MTG release schedule and the full list of MTG Arena codes.