When it comes to protecting your board state in Magic: The Gathering, you’ve got options: Hexproof, Shroud, Protection—the list goes on. But have you ever wished for something a little more, well, taxing for your opponents? Enter the Ward ability, as of 2021 a new evergreen mechanic. This new keyword ability is a form of creature protection that forces your opponent to pay a little extra if they want to mess with your game plan.
MTG Ward Rules Explained
Ward provides a creature or other permanent with a kind of protective ability. When a permanent with Ward is targeted by a spell or ability an opponent controls, that opponent must pay the specified Ward cost, or the spell or ability is countered.
The triggered ability is usually formatted as: “Ward [cost]”. It adds an additional cost, many times an additional mana cost, when a target of a spell has the Ward ability.
For example, if a creature has “Ward 2” and an opponent targets it with a spell, they would have to pay an additional 2 mana, or the spell targeting that creature would be countered.
It’s a way to make creatures or other permanents more resilient against targeted removal or other disruptive spells and abilities.
A Ward cost isn’t always additional mana. An opponent may find they need to do something like pay 3 life, or discard a card, in order to target the warded creature.
MTG Ward Examples
Ward interactions are relatively straightforward compared to other forms of protection. Lets take a look at a few examples.
What Happens When I Target a Creature with Ward with Lightning Bolt?
Lightning Bolt is one of the best early single target removal spells in Magic: the Gathering. 3 damage for a single mana is, to this day, nothing to scoff at, let alone at instant speed. So what happens when we target a creature with Ward with Lightning Bolt?
An opponent playing red lays turn 1 mountain and passes turn, leaving it untapped. You, playing white, play a plains and then tap it to play a Chaplain of Alms. Chaplain has Ward 1. What happens if the red player attempts to toss a Lightning Bolt at it before his next turn?
If the red layer attempts to hit the Chaplain before their next turn, they will not yet have the additional mana for the Ward 1. This will automatically counter the spell without the white player needing to do anything!
A more likely scenario is that the Red player will realize this and it will slow them down at least a turn in dealing with the Chaplain. They will need to lay another land to pay for the ward.
Their efficient Lightning Bolt now costs them 2 and had to wait until their turn, or even until the White player’s next turn if they wait to see what happens now. This will delay anything else they had planned for their next turn.
Aggro red doesn’t like being patient. This Ward 1 ability has significantly disrupted their lightning-fast strategy!
What Happens When a Ward Creature is Targeted By Terror?
Lets look at a scenario with a different Ward cost. Lets say we’re getting toward the end of a game and a black player is down to 2 life. You are playing white/red and have a Moonrage Brute on the board.
The black player is top decking, and they draw a Terror. Did this just save them? Or is this a useless card?
The black player may as well not even play the spell. As they don’t have enough life to pay the Ward cost on Moonrage Brute, the Terror will be countered when played.
What Happens when Multiple Targets with Ward are Chosen?
If a spell can choose multiple targets, and more than one of those targets have ward, the player pays all ward costs for the targeted creatures or the spell is countered.
As an example, lets say you’re playing merfolk. Your opponent has 4 life, and 6 open white mana. You’ve declared your attackers. These three creatures are on your board.
You’re coming with Svyelun of Sea and Sky, Caller of Gales, and Brineborn Cutthroat. Svyelun of Sea and Sky gives your other 2 merfolk Ward 1. Your opponent casts an Arrow Volley Trap. Are they toast?
Only 3 creatures are attacking, so your opponent cannot pay the alternate cost for the Trap. They will need to tap 5 of their open 6 mana to cast the spell, therefore they can only target 1 creature with Ward 1 or the spell will be countered.
If your opponent chose to target Caller of the Gales, they would need to pay that ward cost. If they also chose to target Brineborn Cutthroat, they would need to pay an additional 1 for that ward, or the spell would be countered.
If they chose both of those targets and couldn’t pay for both ward costs, the spell would be countered.
In this instance, they can’t hit Svyelun of Sea and Sky because it’s attacking with 2 other creatures and is indestructible. They have to kill both of the other creatures, or you will get through with at least 4 damage.
You’ve killed your opponent because they couldn’t pay the ward costs! Targeting both creatures with Ward made the spell cost 2 more and your opponent only had 1 mana left to pay, so it was countered.
If they had 1 more open mana for a total of 7, they would have been able to pay one additional ward cost and take out both of the targeted creatures. This would have saved them for the turn, escaping combat with 1 life.
In the current scenario, the only way the opposing player could have lived would have been to cast Arrow Volley Trap before Svyelun of Sea and Sky is declared as an attacker, target and kill it before it gains indestructible.
What Happens to a Spell that Can’t Be Countered When Targeting a Creature with Ward?
This one is a pretty simple answer. An uncounterable spell is uncounterable, even against a triggered ability like Ward. The caster does not have to pay the Ward cost, and the spell goes off as normal.
How to Beat Ward Heavy Decks in MTG Magic: the Gathering
While Ward may dissuade your opponent from making your creature a target of spells, if they have enough mana to pay the additional cost it may have no effect on gameplay.
However, paying the additional cost isn’t the only strategy you can deploy if you know your opponents may be playing powerful cards with Ward.
Similar to protection, you can get around Ward with mass removal such as Wrath of God. However, protection still stops mass removal spells that do damage if they meet the protected quality, such as color.
A creature with Ward is still susceptible to board wipes such as Pyroclasm or Starstorm, where a creature with protection from red would take no damage.
Another strategy to get around Ward would be spells that can’t be countered, or to make ALL of your cards uncounterable. For instance, Sphinx of the Final Word just destroys Ward strategies.
How to Win with Ward in MTG Magic: the Gathering
Since its introduction, a lot of cards with Ward have been added to Magic. One of the best Ward cards is Sauron, the Dark Lord, from the new Lord of the Rings set.
Sauron’s Ward ability is especially hard to deal with as it requires sacrificing a legendary artifact or legendary creature just to be able to target the card with a spell.
What Abilities are Similar to Ward in MTG Magic: the Gathering
Magic’s game designers wanted to add an ability that could easily be deployed across all colors to provide some basic level of protection to big creatures, small creatures, and everything in between. Thus Ward was born. But, what abilities similar to ward came before it?
Protection: Gives a creature, planeswalker, or player Protection from [quality] where [quality] is usually a color. Then it can’t be targeted by spells or abilities of that color, and doesn’t take damage from spells, abilities, or creatures of that color.
Hexproof: The permanent or player with Hexproof can’t be targeted by any spells or abilities their opponents control. If your creature has Hexproof it renders your opponent’s spells that target useless against that target creature.
Shroud: No players, including the owning player, can target the permanent (or player) with Shroud. Give your creature Shroud and no one can cast a targeted spell at it (not even you.)
Since Ward is an evergreen ability, it’s a good one for new players to learn. New players should also check out our write-up on the best beginner decks!
Be sure to drop your favorite Ward cards or combos in the comments! Or, if you have a specific question about how ward interacts in a situation, I’m happy to answer those questions in the comments as well.
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