Most of the time, a game of Magic: The Gathering is a race to see who can deal 20 damage to another player the fastest. You add creatures to your board and attack with them as often as you can, hoping that you’ll be the one to deal the final blow. Sometimes, your plan works out, and you overwhelm your opponent before they can mount their defense; but if your opponent is able to block with creatures of their own, they can force the game to a standstill.
But what if your opponents weren’t able to block your creatures? That would really fly in the face of their plans!
Many Magic mechanics represent aspects of our natural world, and few are as simple and elegant as the keyword flying. If a creature has flying, it can’t be blocked except by other creatures with flying or a separate keyword called reach (we’ll get to that in a moment). Your flying creature will soar into battle, and your opponents’ creatures on the ground will just have to sit and watch.
One trick to keep in mind about flying is that your creature must have or gain flying before your opponent has a chance to declare blockers in order for it to remain unblocked. For example, let’s say you’re attacking an opponent with no flying creatures, and you’d like to cast the spell Mighty Leap to give one of your attackers flying. If you cast the spell at any point before the “declare blockers” step of combat, your creature will leap-frog over your opponent’s creatures and deal damage directly to them. If you wait until after your opponent has declared blockers, it’ll be too late to send your creature into the air.
You’ll find creatures with flying in every color in Magic. White and blue have the most creatures with flying, such as birds, angels, and spirits; black and red have some, including many iconic vampires, demons, and dragons; green has the fewest flyers, but has access to the most spells that destroy flying creatures.
Flyers are extremely effective in combat, and many decks – such as tribal Spirits – are built to take advantage of them. But, if you plan on winning by dealing damage with flyers, you’ll have to look out for creatures with another important keyword: reach.
Let’s say you’re attacking your opponent with a 1/1 flying insect creature. It buzzes through the air – over the heads of the soldiers, cats, and clerics – and stings your opponent turn after turn. Eventually, your opponent gets tired of taking so much damage and summons a 2/4 spider that can reach up into the air and entrap the insect. Now what are you to do?
Creatures with reach can block creatures with flying even though they don’t have flying themselves. They also tend to have relatively high toughness, which makes them great on defense, especially against small flyers. You’re most likely to see reach on green creatures, but some red and white creatures have the ability, too.
Just as a creature must have flying before blockers are declared in order to evade blocking creatures on the ground, a creature must gain reach before blockers are declared in order to block a flying creature. So, if you want to cast Sudden Spinnerets to put a reach counter on your creature, make sure you do it after the “declare attackers” step.
Check out the rest of our keyword ability primers: