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Magic the Gathering: Arena keyword abilities explained

If you're struggling to get your head around the keyword abilities in MTG, here's a breakdown of each one


If you’re new to Magic the Gathering: Arena, you may be wondering what all the MTG keyword abilities do. You’ll find keyword abilities on certain cards – they are a little different from MTG keyword actions such as Scry or Exile, as they are a static ability, meaning they are not an action, but apply to the card.

There are 16 keyword abilities in MTG that will appear in most expansions and are evergreen to the game, meaning they won’t belong to just a certain expansion. There are some keywords that do, however, belong to a specific expansion and will be unique to that expansion. For example Ikoria Lair of Behemoths, has the keyword ability Mutate – which belongs to this expansion alone.

The 16 evergreen keywords appear through most MTG updates and before you start building a deck, it’s worth knowing what each one does. Decks can be built around some keywords and you will find that certain keywords belong to more colours than others. So, you’ll find a lot of ‘flying’ creatures are white and many ‘trample’ creatures are green.

Here are all the MTG keyword abilities:


Any amount of damage this deals to a creature is enough to destroy it

Deathtouch is effectively instant kill – if a creature on the board has deathtouch, it will kill the creature it’s attacking even if it’s power isn’t high enough – /any/ amount of damage results in death. You typically want Deathtouch on cards that can tank a lot of damage.


This creature can’t attack

Most creatures with defender are wall type creatures. They can’t attack, but they generally have a higher toughness and a lower power to block incoming attacks. So if you have a 1/6 creature with defender, it won’t be able to attack, but it can be used to block attacks.

Double Strike

This creature deals both first strike and regular combat damage

This ability is a little trickier as it involves multiple combat steps. Double strike means the creature will strike twice. It has First Strike (you can find that meaning below) then it strikes at the start of the round along with any other First Strike creatures on the board, it will then strike again during the second combat phase when all other creatures attack.


Enchant creature

As well as creature cards, there are spells to buff them. Enchant is found on aura cards and can enchant a creature.

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You need a creature on the board to be able to do this and the card’s text will tell you what you’re enchanting your creature with. You don’t, however, have to enchant your creature – you can also enchant enemy creature cards if it suits your hand.



Equip can be found on equipment artifacts. You can pay a certain cost to equip that artifact to a creature. It’s worth noting that there are two costs to equipment. The first is the play cost, which enters it onto the board, but doesn’t equip it (it will sit on the sideboard).

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The second is the equip cost, which equips it to a creature. If the creature with the equipped artifact dies, the artifact remains on the board and can be equipped for the equip cost to another creature.

First Strike

This creature deals combat before creatures without first strike

First strike can be found on creature cards. An attacking or blocking creature with first strike will deal its damage first without taking damage. So, say you have a 2/2 with first strike attacking a 4/2 without first strike. The 2/2 will kill this creature and survive, as it deals the damage first.


You can cast this spell at anytime you could cast an instant

Flash operates the same as an instant spell. Flash is found on creature cards, meaning you can cast creature spells when you usually wouldn’t be able to. This can happen when it’s the opponent’s turn, so you could cast a creature and block an incoming attack from one of your opponent’s cards.



Creatures with flying can only be blocked by other creatures with flying or reach. However, a flying creature can block all other creatures, with or without flying. Blocking is when a creature attacks and the player chooses whether to block it with a creature, or let the attack through.


This creature can attack and tap as soon as it comes under your control

As creatures usually enter the battlefield unable to attack, creatures with haste can attack straight away. You can use the haste creatures tap and untap abilities also, these are marked with symbols.


This creature can’t be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control

This creature can’t be targeted by your opponent’s spells or creature abilities, but can be targeted by your own.


Effects that say ‘destroy’ don’t destroy this

Indestructible permanents (enchantment, land, planeswalker, artifact, or creature) usually artifacts and some creatures can’t be destroyed. This applies to both the action keyword ‘destroy’ and any lethal damage inflicted on the permanent.


Damage dealt by this creature also causes you to gain that much life

Lifelink creatures that inflict damage give the owner the damage inflicted in life. So, say a 2/2 successfully attacked, the owner of the creature would get two life points back. You can exceed your overall health using Lifelink.


This creature can’t be blocked except by two or more creatures

Creatures with menace can only be blocked by two or more creatures when attacking.


This creature can block creatures with flying

Reach creatures can block creatures with flying. Typically found on green cards, especially beasts.



Attacking creatures with trample can deal excess damage to a player or planeswalker if it’s blocked, by dealing more damage than what kills the blocker.

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So, if a 6/6 creature with trample is blocked by a 4/4 creature, the 6/6 would kill that creature and do 2 excess damage to the player or planeswalker.


Attacking doesn’t cause this creature to tap

Vigilance allows a creature to attack, but not tap. So, if a creature chooses to attack, it can still block on the opponent’s turn and attacking step. Tapping is when a creature is ‘used’ – this can happen from using abilities or attacking.

If you’re interested about learning how to play Magic the Gathering, check out what we thought of the last two expansions with our Ikoria Lair of Behemoths preview and Theros Beyond Death preview. Our sister site Wargamer also has the MTG release schedule and all of the MTG sets in order, so do swing by.