A Practical Guide to Protection in Magic

Kevin Sugihara • February 7, 2023

Mother of Runes by Magali Villeneuve

Protection is an ability that I think is the most misunderstood evergreen abilities in the game, especially for new players. I can't tell you the number of times I've had a player in my pods confused that Toxic Deluge killed their Winota, Joiner of Forces even though Mother of Runes gave her protection. Or even more common, the difference between "target" and "choose". Why does one work through protection and the other doesn't?

In this week's article, I'm going to give you some tools to help you sort out what protection is and how it works in your games.


As always, we're going to kick this off with some common vocabulary to help make sure we're all speaking the same game language.

Target - A target of a spell or ability is declared as the spell or ability is put onto the stack. I won't go into all the details about placing spells and abilities on the stack, but just know this is one step. A player chooses all targets of a spell or ability as it is put onto the stack.

Choose - When you see the word "choose" in card text, this means that a choice is made as the spell or ability resolves.

Choose Target - If you ever see "choose target" in card text, treat it like "target". Sometimes card text is phrased this way to help improve the flow of the text, or to cut down on the number of words on a card (crazy idea in 2023, right?!) I can't think of any example of a card whose oracle text says "choose target" and is not treated like the card just says "target", but let me know if I'm wrong.

Quality - The quality of a source is an attribute, such as color, type, etc. This is an important word to understand because when an object or players receives protection, it is protected from a specified quality (such as protection from green)

Protection TL;DR

I wanted to start this article off with what I believe will be the most sought after information: I wanted to give all readers an easy to read shortcut to understand protection at a glance.

D The protected object can't be Damaged by sources with the specified quality.
E The protected object can't be Equipped or Enchanted by permanents with the specified quality.
B The creature can't be Blocked by creatures with the specified quality.
T The protected object can't be Targeted by spells or abilities with the specified quality.

Alright, we all know what protection grants now! We have our easy acronym: DEBT. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember DEBT.

Notable Interactions and Confusing Exceptions

But if you remember two things from this article, maybe try to remember these often confused protection interactions that don't quite work the way a lot of players think they do.

Destroy/State-Based Actions

Protected objects can still....

Protection vs. Damage Prevention

Though it's very unlikely to come up in cEDH, there are some weird situations where damage can't be prevented.

As an example:

Will Player A gain 1 life from Kor Firewalker's ability?

Will Kor Firewalker live or die?

Give it some thought, then scroll down to see the answers!

Yes, Player A will gain 1 life from Kor Firewalker's ability because the ability will resolve before Skullcrack resolves, so life will be able to be gained.

Kor Firewalker will also die because Skullcrack says that "damage can't be prevented this turn". A good rule of thumb to know is that if one effect says something happen, and another effect says that same thing can't happen, the effect that says 'can't' takes precedence.

Teferi's Protection

I'll close this out with one last weird interaction for you:

Teferi's Protection is a great protection card, but it has a strange cause within the text: "Your life total can't change." Usually, protection already protects against Damage (the D in DEBT), but "your life total can't change" is called out specifically because of the interaction above, where "Damage can't be prevented" overrides protection. The way this interaction works is that damage would not be prevented; any effects which occur on damage, such as lifelink, or damage replacement effects, such as Infect, will happen. But the line "Your life total can't change" means exactly that: in this specific instance, any damage you receive does not cause your life total to change.

Platinum Emperion would work the same way.

Clean Up Phase

That's it everyone! That's protection in a nutshell. I strongly urge you to always remember DEBT when you are thinking of protection.

If you want to deep dive into all the nitty-gritty of priority (which I recommend, it's super fun!), you can check out the Comprehensive Rules (CR), section 702.16.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more rules articles!

Kevin is a Husband, father of 2, and Magic Judge from Phoenix, Arizona. When he's not writing, he can be found running the Budget Magic Bounty contest over at r/BudgetBrews or playing cEDH over at the r/CompetitiveEDH discord server.