Purifying Light: The Role of Protection in Magic

Card Kingdom Design

This week, we’re kicking off our Festival of Colors here at Card Kingdom with White Mana Week: a celebration of all things fair, balanced, and orderly. In today’s article, we’ll talk about one of the quintessential White mechanics from Magic’s history – protection from other colors – and share a few exclusive preview cards from Core Set 2020. (Thanks for the preview materials, Wizards!)

Protect Your Neck

Protection is one of Magic’s oldest keyword abilities. It first appeared in Alpha on permanents such as the now-iconic White Knight, who could battle through ichor and emerge from swamps unscathed.

So, how does protection affect creatures? Here’s what the reminder text says:

A creature with protection from a color “can’t be blocked, targeted, dealt damage, enchanted, or equipped by anything” of that color.

Now that’s a mouthful! Let’s go through those cases one by one.

Can’t be Blocked: A creature with protection from X can’t be blocked by creatures with X quality. If your opponent has nothing but black creatures, your White Knight is getting through for two damage.

Can’t be Targeted: A creature with protection from X can’t be the target of spells or abilities with X quality. Lots of creatures die to Doom Blade, but not our White Knight!

Can’t be Dealt Damage: A creature with protection from X can’t be dealt damage by sources with X quality. For example, a 3/3 creature with protection from red can’t be dealt damage by a red spell that deals three damage to each creature.

Can’t be enchanted or equipped: A creature with protection from X can’t be enchanted and equipped by permanents with X quality. That includes your own enchantments and equipment!

Variations

In the last 26 years, we’ve seen tons of variations on the protection mechanic. Some permanents inherently have protection from sources of a certain quality, and some spells grant protection to permanents that don’t already have it. (New player tip: If you use a spell or ability to grant protection to a creature, your opponent can respond while that spell or ability is on the stack.)

While the protection mechanic is most commonly found on white spells, all colors (and colorless) have had access to it at some point.

For Invasion, Wizards created the first creatures with protection from specific creature types. Tsabo Tavoc, for example, is a legendary creature with protection from other legendary creatures. (That means you can’t destroy your opponent’s Tsabo Tavoc with your Tsabo Tavoc!)

Then, in Odyssey, Wizards introduced the first creatures that either have or grant protection from entire card types. Devoted Caretaker grants protection from instants and sorceries, and Beloved Chaplain has protection from all creatures (meaning it can’t be blocked by anything)!

Wizards R&D continued to explore this design space as the years went on. That exploration has given us some of the most powerful creatures in Magic’s history: Progenitus, a 10/10 with protection from everything; Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, a giant flying space monster with protection from colored spells; and True-Name Nemesis, a sly Merfolk that can gain protection from a chosen player.

Most recently, R&D had some fun pushing the limits of the protection mechanic in the silver-bordered set Unstable. Knight of the Kitchen Sink has protection from all kinds of unexpected qualities, such as odd or even collector numbers, black borders, and watermarks.

Coming Full Circle

Creatures can have protection from all kinds of things these days, but simple card designs are always effective, especially in a core set. Our first Core Set 2020 preview card is an interesting twist on the original White Knight from Alpha. Meet Apostle of Purifying Light!

Apostle is close in size to the original White Knight – a 2/1 for two mana as opposed to a 2/2. While it trades with 1/1 and 1/2 creatures in combat, it still has protection from black, which will prevent it from dying to targeted -1/-1 spells. Most importantly, Apostle has an additional line of rules text: For two generic mana, it can exile a card from a graveyard. Graveyard-exile effects are very on-theme for white, and white loves having creatures with useful abilities like this.

Our second preview card should be familiar to anyone who played during Theros block.

Gods Willing was among the best combat tricks in Theros draft, and it even saw constructed play as part of the Blue-White Heroic deck in Standard. Gods Willing’s main selling point is its efficient cost, and the additional Scry 1 to set up your next draw can be incredibly valuable, whether you’re on the back foot or looking to lock up a game.

Thanks again to Wizards for these preview cards, and we look forward to seeing more of what Core Set 2020 has to offer!