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Always Use Protection

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This article was originally published on playunplugged.com and forms part of the Blackborder.com / Playunplugged.com partnership.

Always Use Protection

by Mike Eaton, Play Unplugged

The first Magic: the Gathering cards I saw were from two sets: Portal and Tempest. At the time, I was really into the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and I was just starting to appreciate the rougher side of rock music; I was drawn to the complicated darkness of Magic’s imagery. That’s what got me interested in the game.

I built a few decks, here and there, but they weren’t very good, and they were mostly based off the tip cards from Portal. I did buy a few preconstructed decks, though — one from each set in the Tempest block, as they came out. I bought The Slivers, Call of the Kor (which you might remember), and White Heat. I ended up trading most of the Slivers, but I learned something awesome about the other two decks when I smashed them together and added a few more cards. I learned that I loved Protection. Protection was the most complicated ability still in Magic (they had just chucked out Banding for good), and once I learned what it did, I snapped up every card I could find and afford with the word printed on it.

For the sake of a refresher, here’s what protection does, in the convenient shorthand provided by the MTG Salvation Wiki.

The permanent or player can’t be:

  • Damaged by sources with the given quality (all such damage is prevented)
  • Enchanted or equipped by permanents with the given quality
  • Blocked by creatures with the given quality (if it’s a creature)
  • Targeted by spells of the given quality, or abilities with sources of the given quality

Back in 1997, my first favorite card in the whole world was Flickering Ward, a card I still try to cram into any EDH (Commander) deck that will have it. As the Call of the Kor deck intended, I would cast it onto one of my creatures and call Black, and then cast Evincar's Justice, then redirect all the damage from my Kor to the Warded creature. When, inevitably, she got blown up, I could pull the Ward back to my hand, and cast it again. I could not believe this card didn’t cost fifty dollars.

Pick a color, any color!

Care to guess at my next favorite card? The block after Tempest had a pretty prominent protection card. I’m running a playset right now in a Legacy deck. Here’s your hint: She’s drinking tea.

Mother of Runes

Mother of Runes rocks because she offers instant-speed protection. That means you don’t have to commit to one creature; your opponent is going to need two targeted kill spells at once to take you out, because Mother’s ability goes on the stack before the first one!

My personal favorite combo, once Urza’s Destiny came out, was with Wall of Glare. As you may remember, the first big deck that swept my first playgroup was all goblins and burn. With Wall of Glare backed up by Mother of Runes, suddenly I could block forever with two creatures and attack with Shadow for the win! Liberating, I assure you.

When the Mercadian Masques block hit, there were a few interesting subthemes going on that Wizards of the Coast tried, to retain the feeling of the Urza block’s power level, without actually breaking open and destroying the game as we know it. Though the more powerful mechanic was the “free” spell archetype derived from Alliances (i.e. Misdirection and Land Grant), but there was also a set of flash-Instants that made my day. One of those is perhaps still my favorite combat trick: Cho-Manno's Blessing.

Cho-Manno, the leader of the Mercadian rebellion, is highly protective. His Blessing, the “fixed” version of Mirage’s Ward of Lights, can flash in for two white mana and protect a creature from any color — including white! So, someone tries to burn your attacker? Protection. Need to chump block and then attack the next turn, to eke out a win? Protection! And who sees a flash-enchantment coming, anyway? None of my opponents, I can tell you. And later in that same block, in Prophecy, they managed to give us Avatar of Hope, which is a Wall of Glare that can attack and fly. Casual heaven, ladies and germs.

But it’s not all just fun and games!

Protection has had its share of tournament applications, like all great abilities. Let’s take a gander at some of the more famous and terrifyingly protected folks (Besides Mother of Runes) through the ages.

Akroma, Angel of Wrath was famously built to have every ability, and they gave her (and later, her memorial) Protection from Black and from Red. She’s already a 6/6; how much more unkillable can we make her? . . . Oh, that much.

An angel watching your back.

Auriok Champion is also protected from both the big colors, and you can find her anywhere tokens or a ton of creatures happen. Delicious, hard-to-kill lifegain to keep your midrange strategy around until you stabilize.

Baneslayer Angel had Protection for flavor reasons; it was really her low cost for a 5/5 with Flying and Lifelink that made her the powerhouse she was. But in a world where reanimating Griselbrand is a big to-do, have we really seen the last of the Baneslayer for good?

Chameleon Colossus was in a similar boat, being a cheap body that just gets bigger, but Protection from Black keeps a lot of the removal away. Though I still think the coolest application is being a very good creature with Changeling — so he can go into any tribal deck that uses green!

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. What to say? Protection from colored spells? Can’t be countered? It’s like they took Scragnoth and decided it had to get huge, mean, and win. Any deck that cheats in a creature is going to run Emrakul’s ray-shielded self. And if not, it’ll run Progenitus, who literally has Protection from everything. Actually, sometimes, they do both.

Etched Champion gets protection from all colors when you have Metalcraft. Add an equipment like Cranial Plating, and your opponent will be hard-pressed to find enough things that can take care of it — or even to block it. Often an unsung hero who can still be picked up for less than the price of a pack, Etched Champion is truly one of the cards that lets Protection make its mark.

Until I wrote our Market article, I had never heard of Goblin Piledriver. But in a world that now contains Krenko, I suddenly find myself wanting the playset. He’s still way expensive, even a few dollars more than when that article hit, but he’s also still a nigh-unbounceable nightmare in the hearts of blue mages. Perhaps not as good on the tournament scene as he used to be, Piledriver could well be the best goblin ever printed.

Oh, Great Sable Stag, how the mighty have fallen! When the only thing we wanted was an answer to Faeries, the Stag was our hero, and he was trading at a decent level. Now, for less than a dollar, you can have the young buck who set Lorwyn afire, with his protection from black and blue, and uncounterable self. He was coming; he was resolving; he wasn’t being blocked, to the tune of three damage or more. Great Sable Stag, we remember ye.

The Angriest Angel, Iridescent Angel looks like all she wants to do is punch someone in the face. Luckily, since she can only be blocked by colorless creatures with flying or reach, she probably can! A classic reanimation target, the angel has been outclassed by some newcomers, but she’s still a classic example of built-in protection.

Mirran Crusader was a Standard nightmare a short while ago, with his anti-Infect and Double Strike, but I don’t see him making waves, soon. His bizarro twin the Phyrexian, though, has Protection from White and from Red. Add that to his already being a black creature, and there’s a lot of spot removal out there that just isn’t going to wipe our guy away. He had a tiny amount of Legacy success; will he come back as a force? And of course, both of these folks owe a huge debt to my main man from Exodus, the Paladin en-Vec. In his day, when most decks were still just slugfests, he could take out almost anyone his size, without breaking a sweat.

A trailblazing paladin.

Tower of the Magistrate is instrumental in Legacy and Vintage because it can grant Protection from Artifacts. That’s cool for attacking through Affinity and blocking some of Phyrexian Dreadnought and all, but the most fun application is probably to force opposing creatures to drop their weapons now, please.

(Note that all of those scary swords have something in common: They grant Protection!)

And, finally, a personal favorite, and the card that saved me from a grisly Infect death at Grand Prix Columbus: Runed Halo. All you have to do is name a card, and you get Protection from it. You don’t even have to target the thing. So, worried about Bonfire to the face? It can’t target you. The Curse of your nightmares can’t target or enchant you. And all damage dealt to you by the Hexproof Unblockable Unkillable 99/99 EDH Commander of your choice is reduced to Zero.

By now, hopefully you’ve gathered why Protection is my best buddy in Magic: the Gathering. Any of you have a favorite ability you’d like to share? Let us know on the forums! And next time you build a deck, don’t be afraid to build into it a lovely canopy of Protection, under which to safely Play Unplugged.

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