The word protection inside a circle

How Does Protection Work in MTG Magic: the Gathering?

Protection from red? Protection from blue? What’s ‘protection’ in Magic: The Gathering, and why should you care?

Protection is a keyword ability that represents a shield against certain elements. It typically comes in the form of “protection from [quality]”, where the quality could be a color, a card type, a subtype, a faction, or another characteristic. Protection from [specific color] is the most common form. It’s a static ability that grants protection from the stated quality.

The MTG Basic Rulebook from Wizards of the Coast lists protection as so:


A keyword ability seen on creatures. A creature with protection
will always have “protection from __.” That something is
what the creature is protected from. It might be protection from
red, for example, or protection from Goblins. Protection does
several specific things for the creature:

  • All damage those kinds of sources would deal to the creature is
  • The creature can’t be enchanted by those kinds of Auras or
    equipped by those kinds of Equipment.
  • The creature can’t be blocked by those kinds of creatures.
  • The creature can’t be targeted by those kinds of spells or by
    abilities from those kinds of cards”
Front cover of Magic; the Gathering Basic Rulebook

High-level definition aside, what does protection mean to cards, to a game, when you get down in the weeds? When did protection first appear in Magic? What cards have protection? Is it still common today? How does protection interact with other abilities? Lets take a deep dive into protection in Magic: the Gathering.

A permanent with protection from a quality cannot be:

Dealt damage by sources of that quality.

Enchanted, Equipped, or Fortified by Auras, Equipment, or Fortifications of that quality.

Blocked by creatures with that quality.

Targeted by spells or abilities of that quality.

You may see this in acronym form as DEBT.

DEBT acronym explains the question "How does protection work?"

For example, a creature with “protection from red” can’t be targeted, enchanted, equipped, fortified, blocked, or dealt damage by anything red.

It’s important to note that protection doesn’t stop everything. Effects that don’t target or deal damage can still affect something with protection.

A permanent with protection from a quality can:

Block creatures of that quality without taking damage.

Absorb infinite damage from sources of that quality.

Avoid being the target of spells or permanents of that quality.

Prevent the use of an opponent’s strategy against whatever is protected.

For example, a creature with protection from green can block a green creature and take no damage from the combat interaction.

It could be a flying creature, yet absorb all and take no damage from a Hurricane that the caster paid X=8.

MTG Hurricane card

It could attack a player with only green creatures on the board and would be considered unblockable. Those creatures are prevented from blocking it due to the protection from their color. This is also true for multi-colored creatures that have green in their color identity.

A creature with or given protection from red cannot be targeted by red’s direct damage spells like Lightning Bolt or Fireball.

It would also prevent non-targeted damage from red mass removal cards such as Blasphemous Act or Starstorm.

Give a creature with protection from blue a card like Lure and attack a mono blue player. Watch all of their blue creatures have to block your one creature they can’t do any damage to. It doesn’t die and the blue player can’t target it with bounce effects. All the rest of your creatures get through to the player.

MTG Lure card

All of these may prevent an opponent from being able to effectively deploy their strategy or win conditions.

Weaknesses of Protection in MTG Magic: the Gathering

While protection in Magic: The Gathering offers a substantial shield against certain characteristics, it’s far from an absolute defense. There are several ways that a permanent with protection can still be affected, harmed, or removed from the battlefield:

Non-Targeted Global Effects: Board wipes and other global effects that don’t target can affect or destroy permanents with protection. For example, cards like Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, or Damnation will destroy all creatures, including those with protection from white or black respectively.

Effects Outside the Protected Quality: Protection only guards against the specified attribute, such as a color or card type. Anything that falls outside that specific quality can still affect the permanent. A creature with protection from red is still vulnerable to blue spells, for example.

Lose Abilities: If a card causes the protected permanent to lose all abilities, it will also lose its protection. Humility is an example of a White card that would cause this.

MTG Humility card

Indirect Effects: Effects that don’t directly target or deal damage to the protected permanent can still influence it indirectly. For example, a spell that forces a player to sacrifice a creature can still affect a creature with protection since it doesn’t target the creature directly. Black’s Edict spells are good examples.

Any indirect spell or ability where a permanent phases is unaffected by protection. Phased-out permanents are also unaffected.

Combat Damage from Non-Protected Sources: If a creature has protection from a specific color, it can still be dealt damage in combat by creatures of different colors or by colorless creatures.

State-Based Effects: Protection won’t save a creature from being put into the graveyard due to state-based actions. For example, if an effect reduces a protected creature’s toughness to 0, it will still be put into the graveyard.

The black card Mutilate is a good example, giving all creatures -X-X and not targeting anything. Once the spell resolves and the state-based action for toughness above 0 is checked, if Mutilate caused a creature with protection from black to go to 0 toughness, it will still go to the graveyard.

MTG Mutilate card

Effects from the Same Controller: Some cards grant protection from a quality that might be under the same player’s control, such as protection from artifacts in an artifact-heavy deck. This can lead to unwanted interactions like self-blocking or unequipping your equipment.

Understanding these exceptions and interactions is crucial to utilizing protection effectively and recognizing potential vulnerabilities in both your own permanents and those of your opponents. The complexity of protection lies in knowing what it does and doesn’t shield against, and savvy players can exploit these nuances to their advantage.

Types of Protection in MTG Magic: the Gathering

There are several types of protection in Magic. Though it’s an older ability and less frequently added to new creatures’ abilities or cards, it is still common to see in decks and does come back occasionally in new MTG sets.

Protection is usually from a fairly broad category, not limited such as to a card name. Some different kinds of protection a player may encounter are:

Protection from Colors: Protection from a certain color as a characteristic value means the DEBT acronym applies to the permanent or player with protection, giving them the limited shield from that color. The White Knight and Black Knight cards are both historically early and still relevant examples of protection from a color.

Protection from Card Types: A permanent or player may be given protection from a card type, such as artifacts, or a typal/tribal family. An example is Baneslayer Angel which has protection from Demons and Dragons.

MTG Baneslayer Angel card

Protection from Players: DEBT protection extends to a particular player. An example is True-Name Nemesis which gains protection from a player of the caster’s choice.

MTG True Name Nemesis card

Protection from Planeswalkers: Grants DEBT protection from planeswalker abilities. Sparkhunter Masticore is an example.

MTG Sparkhunter Masticore card

Protection from Everything: DEBT protection from literally everything in the game. All colors, spell types, typal/tribal creatures, permanents, players. Everything. Progenitus and Hexdrinker are examples.

How do Permanents and Players Gain Protection?

We have to go back to Magic’s humble beginnings to answer this question. In the original Alpha and Beta Magic: the Gathering sets there were creatures that inherently had protection from certain colors such as White and Black Knights. There were creature enchantments that provided protection from a color to any creature it could enchant. And there were enchantments that could prevent damage to a player from sources of a color, called Circle of Protection.

White creatures are the best known for having a protection effect. Oftentimes white creatures may have protection from black or from red. Other colors generally provide protection from their nemesis color, such as something blue may have protection from red.

The enchant creature spells that bestowed protection were wards. Black Ward, Blue Ward, Green Ward, Red Ward, and White Ward could be cast on a creature to give it protection from that respective color. This is a very different ability than today’s “ward” ability you may find inherently on some creatures or bestowed through spells and other abilities. We’ll get to the ability ward shortly.

There was a Circle of Protection: Black, Blue, Green, Red, and White as well that were simple enchantments that sat on the board and did nothing until a spell or source of that color was going to damage its caster. Then the owner of the enchantment could pay 1 colorless mana to prevent the damage from one source of that color. If a player controls a CoP they could do this as many times as they could pay the mana in a turn, preserving their life total.

Circle of Protections (CoP) behave differently than the protection ability granted to permanents. They do nothing more than prevent damage when the mana cost is paid. They are not able to prevent spells or abilities from targeting that player.

Later, Circle of Protection added qualities beyond color, such as Circle of Protection: Artifacts and Circle of Protection: Shadow. Having a CoP to protect against artifact creatures and shadow creatures may come in very handy depending on your opponent. Prismatic Ward arrived, allowing the caster to simply choose a color they wished their creature to have protection from when casting it.

These Ward and CoP enchantments were all white spells, and were common in mono decks containing all white cards. They sometimes appeared in sideboards where they could be subbed in against certain colors known to be especially rough in a tournament cycle. Enchant creature spells such as these wards came to be known as auras, these would be white auras.

There have been some instants added that can quickly provide protection where needed. Artifacts and equipment may also grant protection.

Protection has become especially powerful in multiplayer games like Commander, especially when they’ll be playing multicolored cards. You only need protection from one of those colors to manipulate the effectiveness of their cards.

Eventually Wizards of the Coast pushed magic away from the protection abilities, opting for simpler abilities that attempt to still offer complex strategy.

Protection hasn’t been completely phased out of Magic: The Gathering, but its usage had been significantly reduced for many years.

Wizards has gone back and forth on considering protection an evergreen card text mechanic. it wasn’t used between 6th edition and 9th edition. The decision was partly due to the complexity of the protection ability and how it could lead to confusing interactions, especially for newer players. It returned as evergreen in the Magic 2020 core set.

An example of a more recent card with protection is the black card Phyrexian Crusader with protection from red and white.

MTG Phyrexian Crusader card

The introduction of the “ward” mechanic, as seen in the “Strixhaven: School of Mages” set released in April 2021, serves as a more controlled and specific similar effect of protection against targeting. This aligns with the game’s design direction towards simplification without losing strategic depth. We’ll take a better look at abilities like ward later.

Magic: the Gathering Strixhaven: School of Mages promo banner

Examples of Game Interactions Involving Protection in MTG Magic: the Gathering

A creature with protection from something can provide a strategic advantage in various game scenarios, guarding against specific threats and interactions. It cannot be damaged, enchanted, equipped, blocked, or targeted by anything with the quality it’s protected from, offering resilience against certain colors, card types, or other characteristics defined by the card’s text.

However, it’s essential to recognize that protection is not absolute, and the creature can still be affected by global effects, indirect influences, state-based actions, and attributes outside of the specified quality. Understanding the nuances of protection can be a valuable asset in both building decks and navigating complex gameplay situations.

Protection and Phasing:

Protection won’t stop non-targeting effects that cause a creature to phase in or out.

Protection and Trample:

If a creature with trample is blocked by a creature with protection from that color, the attacking creature must assign what would be lethal damage to the blocking creature (even though the protection will prevent that damage), and any remaining damage can be assigned to the defending player or planeswalker.

Lets look at an example where an 8/8 green creature with trample is blocked by a 2/2 white creature with protection from green.

Protection prevents damage, so in this specific scenario, the 2/2 creature with protection from green would not take any damage from the 8/8 green creature with trample. However, since the green creature has trample, the protection doesn’t stop the excess damage from being assigned to the defending player or planeswalker.

Graphic that explains the interaction between a creature with trample and a creature with protection

Here’s how the damage would be assigned:

  • The 8/8 green creature with trample must assign what would be lethal damage to the 2/2 creature, which is 2 damage. However, this damage is prevented by the protection from green, so the 2/2 creature takes no damage.
  • The remaining 6 damage (8 total minus the 2 assigned to the 2/2 creature) would be assigned to the defending player or planeswalker.

So the 2/2 creature with protection from green would survive, and the defending player or planeswalker would take 6 damage.

Protection and Double Strike/First Strike:

Protection prevents damage, so if a creature with protection is in combat with a creature that has double strike or first strike, it won’t take damage in either the first or second combat damage steps.

Lets take a look at a scenario where a 4/4 red creature with double strike is blocked by a 2/2 white creature with protection from red.

  • First Strike Combat Damage Step: The red creature would deal its first strike damage, but since the blocking creature has protection from red, this damage would be prevented, and the 2/2 creature would take no damage.
  • Normal Combat Damage Step: The red creature would deal its regular combat damage, but once again, the damage would be prevented due to the protection from red, and the 2/2 creature would take no damage. The 2/2 creature would deal its damage to the 4/4, but it’s non-lethal.
Graphic that explains the interaction between a creature with Double Strike and a creature with Protection

Since the 4/4 red creature’s damage is prevented in both combat damage steps (first strike and normal), the 2/2 creature would survive unscathed.

The 4/4 red creature with double strike would only take damage from the 2/2 during the second combat step, meaning it only takes 2 damage.

Both creatures would survive the combat, and no damage would be dealt to the defending player as the double strike creature was blocked.

Protection and Lifelink:

While protection negates all damage from a source, if that source has lifelink it also essentially negates the ability.

As an example:

  • Player A controls a 3/3 white creature with lifelink.
  • Player B controls a 2/2 creature with protection from white.
  • If the 3/3 creature with lifelink attacks and is blocked by the 2/2 creature with protection from white, no damage will be dealt to the 2/2 creature, and Player A won’t gain any life from the lifelink ability for the damage that was prevented.
Graphic that explains the interaction between a creature with Lifelink and a creature with Protection

While protection doesn’t directly affect the lifelink ability itself, it can negate the damage that would trigger lifelink, preventing the life gain that would otherwise occur.

Protection and “All” Clauses:

Cards like “All Is Dust” that affect “all” of something without targeting will still affect permanents with protection.

MTG All Is Dust card

Protection and Indestructible:

Protection prevents damage, but it doesn’t make a creature indestructible. A spell or ability that doesn’t target and says “destroy” will still destroy a creature with protection from that color or quality.

Protection and Changing Colors:

If a spell or ability changes a permanent’s color, protection abilities related to that color will interact with the permanent differently based on its new color(s).

Protection and Multi-colored Cards:

A creature with protection from a specific color has protection from each object that is at least partly of that color. So a creature with protection from red would be protected from a red and green creature, not just mono red creatures.

Graphic that explains the interaction between a multi-colored card and a card with protection from one of it's colors

Similar Abilities to Protection in MTG magic: the Gathering

There are several abilities added to Magic over the years that are similar to protection. Lets take a look at those abilities and their differences.


Hexproof is a more specific ability that simply prevents a permanent from being the target of spells or abilities controlled by opponents. Unlike protection, hexproof doesn’t specify any particular qualities or characteristics and doesn’t provide any additional abilities like preventing enchanting, blocking, or damage.

The Basic Rulebook states:


A keyword ability seen on permanents. A permanent with
hexproof can’t be the target of spells or abilities controlled by an
opponent. The player who controls the permanent with hexproof
can still target it with spells and abilities”

MTG Aegis of the Gods card

Key Differences of Protection and Hexproof

Scope of Targeting: Protection prevents targeting by specific qualities, while hexproof prevents targeting only by opponents, regardless of the source’s qualities.

Other Effects: Protection also prevents enchanting, equipping, fortifying, blocking, and damage by the specified quality, while hexproof only prevents targeting by opponents.

Player-Controlled Effects: Hexproof allows the permanent’s controller to target it with their own spells and abilities. If you control a creature with hexproof, you can still target it to give it a buff or other beneficial effects, whereas protection may prevent you from targeting it if your spell or ability has the quality it’s protected from.

Blocking and Damage: Protection can prevent a creature from being blocked by creatures with the specified quality and from being dealt damage by sources of that quality. Hexproof does not provide any such benefits.


Shroud is a simpler ability that prevents a permanent from being the target of any spells or abilities, whether they’re controlled by the permanent’s controller or an opponent. Unlike protection, shroud doesn’t have any stipulations regarding color, type, or other qualities, and it doesn’t provide any additional abilities like preventing enchanting or blocking.

MTG Algae Gharial card

Key Differences of Protection and Shroud

Scope of Targeting: Protection only prevents targeting by specific qualities, while shroud prevents all targeting, regardless of source. The thing with shroud becomes an illegal target.

Other Effects: Protection also prevents enchanting, equipping, fortifying, blocking, and damage by the specified quality, while shroud only prevents targeting.

Player-Controlled Effects: Shroud prevents the permanent’s controller from targeting it as well. For example, you can’t target your own creature with shroud to give it a buff, whereas you can target your own creature with a spell that doesn’t have the quality it’s protected from.

Blocking and Damage: Protection can prevent a creature from being blocked by creatures with the specified quality and from being dealt damage by sources of that quality. Shroud doesn’t provide any such benefits.


Ward is a more specific and controlled ability. When a permanent with ward becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, that player must pay an additional cost, or the spell or ability is countered. The cost is defined by the ward ability and can be a specific amount of mana or even other requirements.

For example, a creature with “ward {2}” would require an opponent to pay an additional two mana when targeting it with a spell or ability, or that spell or ability would be countered.

MTG Aboleth Spawn card

Protection is a more comprehensive ability, preventing various interactions with the specified quality, including targeting, enchanting, equipping, fortifying, blocking, and dealing damage.

Ward only provides a barrier against being targeted, forcing the opponent to pay an additional cost. It doesn’t prevent any other interactions.


Indestructible provides a broad shield against destruction but doesn’t prevent other interactions, including those that protection prevents.

What it does:

Prevents Destruction: A permanent with indestructible can’t be destroyed. This means it isn’t destroyed by lethal damage or effects that say “destroy.”

Not Specific to Qualities: Indestructible doesn’t relate to specific qualities like protection does. It simply prevents destruction from any source.

Doesn’t Prevent Other Interactions: Indestructible doesn’t prevent a permanent from being targeted, damaged, enchanted/equipped, or blocked. It also doesn’t shield against other forms of removal like exile, sacrifice, or having toughness reduced to 0 by non-damage means.

Protection is specific to certain qualities and prevents a range of interactions with those qualities, but doesn’t prevent destruction from non-targeting or non-damaging effects.

One of the most well known Indestructible cards is Darksteel Collosus.

MTG Darksteel Colossus card

Best Modern MTG Cards Granting Protection

The “Sword of” series is considered one of the best ways to grant creatures protection. Being equipment they’re easily used to grant most creatures protection from multiple colors at once, artifacts, or in one recent case, from Rogues and Clerics!

  1. Sword of Feast and Famine: Grants protection from black and green.
  2. Sword of Fire and Ice: Grants protection from red and blue.
  3. Sword of Light and Shadow: Grants protection from white and black.
  1. Sword of War and Peace: Grants protection from red and white.
  2. Sword of Body and Mind: Grants protection from green and blue.
  3. Sword of Sinew and Steel: Grants protection from black and from artifacts.
  1. Sword of Truth and Justice: Grants protection from white and from blue.
  2. Sword of Hearth and Home: Grants protection from green and from white.
  3. Sword of Dungeons & Dragons: Grants protection from Rogues and from Clerics. This sword is from the Unsanctioned set and not legal to play outside home games.

Final thoughts on Protection

Protection is one of the more nuanced abilities in Magic. It can cause players to have to really think about card interactions and outcomes.

As a limited effect protection can completely change the game, such as instantly playing a card like Teferi’s Protection, one of the best protection cards in the game. Protection can also be one of the most powerful continuous effects when left on the battlefield.

MTG Teferi's Protection card

What are your favorite cards with or that grant protection? Drop them in the comments!

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All cards are copyright Wizards of the Coast and many above images and symbols are copyright or trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC (now a subsidiary of Hasbro.)

Bryan - MCM
Author: Bryan - MCM

Magic player since Revised in 94. Still remember opening boosters of Revised, the Dark, and Arabian Nights as a kid. Watching it be a big deal (and then let down) when Fallen Empires dropped. Then Magic got it right again and really took off. While the current state of Wizards is debatable, I still enjoy playing with friends and my kids. I don't do tournaments much these days but I've played Draft, Sealed, Standard, Extended (not a thing anymore,) Pre-Release, Grand Prix, States Qualifiers, and Teams tournaments. Though I'm not a judge, I'm the one the friends turn to when there's a rules question, and if I don't know it, I find it. Please, ask me anything, comment on posts, and share Magic with your friends and family!

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