Evasive Maneuvers — The Synthesis

(Evasive Action | Art by Brian Snoddy)

End of the Road

Greetings sleuths, saboteurs, and skulkers! Welcome to another the last installment of Evasive Maneuvers, where we examine keywords and strategies that help get our creatures through during combat.

We've reached the end of the road. A dead end. After almost a year of evasively maneuvering through Ravinca's undercity and dodging our way through Tin Street Market, the Azorius Arresters have finally caught up with us. It's time to look back at all the evasive mechanics, keywords, and attributes we employed, and reflect.

And since the semester is literally ending for me right now and I have a mound of grading to submit, I figured what better way to reflect on the 'course' of Evasive Maneuvers than with a report card. Without further ado, lets get to grading!


As discussed in the very first article for Evasive Maneuvers, Fear/Intimidate have a pretty variable experience in terms of evasive efficacy, as their potential is determined the second your opponents reveal their commander and associated color identities. Colorless artifact creatures can be slotted into every deck (think popular ones like Solemn Simulacrum), which can be potential blockers, and your likelihood of getting through with Bellowing Tanglewurm and green friends is going to be hampered significantly if your opponent is running any multi-colored commander with green, such as Korvold, Fae-Cursed King.

The 125% increase in five-color commander options in the last five years (2016-2021), paired with their popularity (e.g., Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, Kenrith the Returned King) and the shear strength of having access to multiple colors, means Fear/Intimidate are likely to continue declining in potential. The fact they rank at Storm Scale of 10, meaning no further support or printing of the mechanic in the future, may well be the nail in the proverbial coffin.

Overall, a mechanic for the days of old, and can still put in work in the occasional Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow deck where you only need one opponent to hit, or with proper meta assessment.

Grade: C-


Flying has been around since the very beginning of Magic: The Gathering, and, like a fine Tawny Port, has just gotten better with age. It's the veteran, the old-timer, the wizened. It's seen evasive mechanics come and go, but has always remained strong, resolute, and a worthwhile consideration for evasion.

With just under a whopping 3,000 cards (at the time of writing) that have, grant, or interact with flying in some manner, options are vast. In fact, support for fliers is so widespread, you'd think it was a Wandering Albatross with that kind of wingspan. Support for fliers, particularly in Azorius colors, has seen a particular boon of late (think Kangee, Sky Warden).

Notably, its wide support and popularity means that you're more likely to encounter others who are also running flying, thus diminishing your evasive potential. Roughly 24% of the weighted commander decks have a commander with flying, and popular tribes like Dragons (6,148 decks) and Angels (2,503 decks) also tend to emphasize flying inadvertently. That said, in a four-player game, there's always likely to be at least one, if not more, players without the ability to block fliers, not to mention the various effects that outright strip your opponents' flying capabilities (e.g., Magus of the Moat, Moat, Archetype of Imagination). I think it's safe to say, flying is here to stay, and is always a great option for your evasive needs.

Grade: A


While not 'evasion' in the strictest sense, Flanking can disincentivize blockers by shrinking defending creatures, thus forcing unfavorable blocks. With a small card pool and little support on the horizon, Flanking is likely not seeing any major changes or improvements in the near future.

Despite being dated and its accompanying downsides, Flanking may well fare surprisingly alright in the future, given the general lowering of mana curves, leaner creatures, and pushed design of utility creatures over the last few years. In fact, the mean, median, and mode for the toughness of the top 200 creatures in the past week (4/25/2021) hovers around 3.2, 3, and 1 respectively. While capped in its potential, I'm willing to bet Flanking may not only force unsavory blocks, but outright remove a subset of creatures in the right circumstances.

Grade: C


Horsemanship is the hipster option, at a premium rate. The average card that has or grants Horsemanship will set you back $51.58 (based on TCG Market Price), which makes it the Whole Foods option of evasion, where you are probably overpaying for exactly the same thing you can get elsewhere, but the packaging was too good to pass up. Somehow, you still walk out of there feeling like you made the right call.

Horesmanship is incredibly effective, given the limited print run and accompanying price barrier. Chances are, if you have one or more creatures with Horsemanship, it's getting through, as your opponent isn't likely to throw down some serious coin just to meta-game for some blockers, or drop some $45 on a Borrowing the East Wind. With likely no support on the horizon and little chance for reprints, it's obsolescence is what maintains its efficacy. Great mechanic, astronomical prices.

Grade: B


While Horsemanship was the premium hipster option, Shadow is the budget option, as the average card with Shadow will set you back less than $1 ($0.64 to be exact!). Where your friend just dropped $80+ on a Barolo from Whole Foods, you picked up the exact same bottle for $5 at the local Grocery Outlet. That's a deal.

Shadow is highly effective, assuming few others in your meta or playgroup also happen to be running Shadow. Given our previous look at the prevalence of Shadow cards as scraped by EDHREC, Nether Traitor and Looter il-Kor are the biggest offenders, but it drops off pretty heavily after. Considering most Shadow creatures are also designed for attack triggers, not for blocking (since they can only block creatures with Shadow), you're likely to never run into much blocking potential for your Thalakos Seer et al.

The only downsides are their mana-value-to-body ratio, and not being able to block when needed, but those are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Its thematic tie-in with Dominaria/Rath planes colliding explains much of its higher storm scale ranking (7), and unlikelihood of being revisited outside of very specific circumstances, which hinders its overall support.

Grade: B+

Protection from...

Protection from [quality] works according to the college D.E.B.T. system, where a creature with protection from a given quality (e.g., "Protection from Red"), cannot be Damaged, Enchanted/Equipped, Blocked, or Targeted by cards with the specified quality (in this case, red).

This means protection has great potential as an evasive mechanic, on top of granting defensive measures as well, something aggressive creatures tend to struggle with. As we saw in the protection installment, commander color identities might be roughly similar, but most popular creatures tend to be green (41%), followed by black (19%), blue (13%), red (11%), white (10%), and colorless (6%). Knowing which colors your protection gives can be important, as it affects your evasive potential. Protection gets better the more layers and qualities are tacked on, as any Voltron player simultaneously wielding four different Sword of X + Ys will attest. The relatively new Commander's Plate is a particularly awesome design, rewarding you for utilizing less colors. I particularly like that it's predominately found in white (e.g., Mother of Runes, Giver of runes, Samite Elder, Eight-and-a-half-Tails), as it feels good that white's form of evasion is inherently tied to protection and defense.

Overall, a great mechanic to consider, especially if you emphasize Equipment, Auras, or white-centric strategies.

Grade: A


Serving as the replacement for Intimidate (and Fear) as black's primary form of evasion, menace is fantastically flavored and designed. Rather than creating sink/swim scenarios from the start of the game just by virtue of the colors your opponents are running (Fear/Intimidate), or just un-interactive combat steps due to some dated, niche keyword (e.g., Horsemanship, Shadow), menace actually encourages decision-making in combat. It forces opponents to decide if they want to get two-for-oned and creates scenarios similar to trample, where defending players are faced with consequences for choosing to block.

That said, with the right support, menace can become extremely effective either when paired with 'Stalking' effects (see below) such as Familiar Ground or Vorrac Battlehorns, or with the newer support cards like Labyrinth Raptor and Sonorous Howlbonder. Overall, menace is probably one of my personal favorite evasive mechanics to date, as it retains a sense of agency in combat, but can also be built around to take advantage of with increased support. Plus, evasion in Rakdos colors is a lot more fun than I originally thought, given the combat damage triggers/procs that accompany their colors.

Grade: A


The Timmy/Tammy form of evasion, where your evasive efficacy is determined by "hit bigger and harder". The bigger the creature with trample, the more effective it's likely to be as the surplus will roll over into the defending player's life total or planeswalker's loyalty count. No surprise that it's primarily found in the colors of 'Smash!' (green and red), where big creatures like Ghalta, Primal Hunger and Gishath, Sun's Avatar reign supreme.

As a mechanic dependent on excess, I can't help but have a soft spot for it. To me, Commander can still be a format where excess, wild plays, and all things 'splashy' are welcome. The large print pool for trample, paired with its "Evergreen" status and support in recent cards, like Quartzwood Crasher, means the mechanic has a giant footprint, and many more to leave in the future. It's also delectable with deathtouch.

Grade: A


Look, when the resident Nezahal, Primal Tide deck has drawn more cards this turn than there are cards with Skulk, we're off to a pretty poor start. I'll admit I find the flavor of Skulk apt, but its card pool and support are about as small as your average Skulk creature's power, which is to say, very small.

Look, I get it. I'm totally behind Behind the Scenes for your Doran the Siege Tower or even Alesha, who Smiles at Death deck. Frankly, I wish I could splash it in non-Orzhov decks (darn you, white pip!), but alas. I, too, love Skulk with Charix, the Raging Isle. But I think I can count on one hand how many times I'd choose Skulk over something else.

Getting in with small creatures is not in itself bad; think of the things you can do with Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive and one-power creatures, or the various 'tunneling' (power 2 or less) synergies (see below) throughout Magic's history. I'm all here for small creatures. The problem is, most cards with Skulk are not well-costed, and, as we saw, can be blocked by some 30-60% of the top 100 popular creatures. And at the end of the day, even if you do manage to Skulk past enemy defenses, you're Furtive Homunculus is getting in for a measly 2 damage. It just doesn't scale nearly as well as the other forms of evasive weenies we see out there, and its Storm Scale rating (7) means it isn't likely to get any help soon. I don't think it's a great sign when the best creature printed with Skulk is arguably Glenn, the Voice of Calm, which has a controversial means of acquisition.

Grade: D+


As we saw in the landwalking installment, roughly 93-98% of decks that can run a basic land do so. Considering the power of O.G. dual lands (e.g., Volcanic Island), Shocklands (e.g., Steam Vents), and Triomes (e.g., Raugrin Triome) in color-fixing, due to their multiple typings and ability to be fetched with cards like fetchlands or even a Farseek, the rampant mana fixing going on in a typical Commander game for multi-color decks actually means your landwalkers are that much more likely to get through. Again, the 125% increase in five-color commanders in the last five years (2016-2021), paired with the power of having access to multiple colors (five-color or not) means landwalking may well become more effective over time, despite its obsolescence in R&D and little support on the horizon.

Considering virtually no one is running landwalking hosers (e.g., Undertow = 1 deck, Deadfall = 3 decks, Quagmire = 2 decks, etc.), there's virtually no metagaming going on against landwalkers. The biggest impediment is simply: does your opponent have the land typings you need? Similar to Fear/Intimidate, the efficacy can sometimes be decided before the game even begins. If you're counting on your Wrexial, the Risen Deep to get through but your opponents are running mono-white, Boros, and Gruul, you might be in for a rougher time. In fact, you best be packing an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth or Blanket of Night for backup.

Overall, I find landwalking a fun puzzle to solve, especially with land-manipulation effects, like Vedalken Plotter or Reef Shaman. I'm giving it bonus points/extra credit points that it does better against multi-color powerhouses like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim.

Grade: B-

Lure and Deathtouch

Continuing with the idea that not all methods of evasion have been specifically keyworded, we bundled lure and deathtouch together to see how deathtouch disincentivizes blocks, and Lure-effects can act as distractors for your other creatures to get through. Deathtouch's efficacy is often determined by whether the defending player has expendable creatures. With a mass of token creatures, it may be easier for the defending player to throw them in harm's way, but when it's down to one or two creatures, or even just their commander, it gets a bit more heady. There's some mind games to be had with whether you, as the attacking player with deathtouch, think the defending player won't block because they don't want their commander to die. The defending player may well throw their commander in harm's way, though, under the right circumstances, making deathtouch one of the more interactive and, I would argue, more "chess-like" forms of evasion.

Lure effects, on the other hand, force the defending player's hand, and they can be used to create diversions, remove difficult creatures that otherwise wouldn't block through combat damage or deathtouch effects, or otherwise shake things up on the battlefield when things turn to a staring contest. While not having nearly as deep a card pool, nor garnering as much support as deathtouch, Lure effects crop up every now and again, like the recent Nessian Boar in Theros: Beyond Death (2020).

While Dana Roach may well have scraped the bottom of the barrel years ago to fill a Glissa, the Traitor deck entirely with deathtouch creatures, Wizards has been giving us players a steady influx of support cards, from Vraska, Swarm's Eminence, Hooded Blightfang, and even a husky-looking win condition in Fynn, the Fangbearer. Like menace or trample, we see that deathtouch can be evasive, but it ultimately retains a sense of agency within combat, and the sizeable card pool paired with continued support means it's likely to continue being just as deadly. Not to mention how good it is on defense, too!

Grade: A

'Tunneling' (and 'Daunt')

Despite not having keywords, these two mechanics deserved mention, and an entire article unto themselves. 'Tunneling' refers to straight unblockability given to creatures with power 2 or less, while 'Daunt' grants evasion to creatures so long as the defending creature has power 2 or less.

While I think its safe to say 'Daunt' is primarily a check on over-abundance of chump-blocking in a limited environment, I'd be remiss to mention Ravenous Slime and Scuttling Doom Engine were either printed for the first time or reprinted in Commander preconstructed decks. It's worth noting that most of the popular creatures hover around 2 power or less, which means 'Daunt' may well become more useful if your opponents choose to employ small creatures. I think the bigger question remains whether we'll see more cards/support printed for it, which as of now, is tentative.

'Tunneling' on the other hand is an often-overlooked mechanic, I think in part because it 1) lacks keywording and 2) requires your deck to be kind of built around it. But in the right build, like Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner, cards like Break Through the Line can pull serious work. While it has minimal support, access to cards like Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa in the command zone means you can take advantage of the small power creatures you've crafted your 99(/98) around, and I think given the recent printing of Pathmaker Initiate (2019), Goblin Smuggler (2019), Sneaking Guide (2020), and the new Access Tunnel (okay, 3 or less, but still!), more support may well be on the way!

Grade: B ('Tunneling'); C ('Daunt')


We've seen a 66.7% increase of 'Stalking' cards since 2016, the very year Mark Rosewater stated "We don't do it enough to warrant keywording". That isn't a ton when you realize it's only eight cards, but it may well point to a sporadic influx of cards in years to come.

'Stalking' on its own isn't entirely effective, other than simply denying your opponent's the ability to double-block (or more). However, when paired with menace (see above), 'Stalking' effectively becomes unblockable, as the creature can't be blocked by more than one creature ('Stalking') and can't be blocked except by two or more creatures (menace). With the right set-up (e.g., Familiar Ground and Goblin War Drums; or Vorrac Battlehorns and any creature with menace), 'Stalking' goes from "Meh" to "Oh, my!" in a hurry. The trick is getting them to line up.

Grade: B-


This is a catch all I used to look at all the random forms of hyper specific evasion, often found in your Limited or Standard environments with highly parasitized mechanics (think Temple Thief in Theros: Beyond Death, a set with lots of enchantment creatures, but which don't exist much outside of that set). Frankly, most of these showcase little evasive efficacy outside of highly niche conditions, and often have little-to-no synergies between them whatsoever, making building around them even trickier.

Look, I'm all for reliving the dream of Invisibility on your Juggernaut. I just think it ain't gonna happen all that often, especially in a singleton format. The rest of you, see me after class.

Grade: D-


Despite a brief attempt to be keyworded, R&D threw out the idea and changed 'unblockable' (the keyword) to simply 'can't be blocked' (an attribute) in 2014. And yet, it doesn't even need a keyword. By far the most effective evasive mechanic out there, there's no real conditions that prevent your Triton Shorestalker from getting through other than the occasional Fog, Choking Vines, removal, or bounce. But since these could apply to all evasive mechanics, cards that have or grant straight 'unblockability' have at least one less caveat or restriction than the aforementioned mechanics above, and as such are often in high demand.

And yet, combat with an unblockable creature often just looks highly un-interactive, as one player swings at another and there's nothing the defending player can do about it. No splashing more 'fliers' or creatures with reach to handle the Dragon player, no metagaming outside of kill, bounce, or fog. It's what makes the effect so good, especially when it grants additional protections, like Whispersilk Cloak, or is tacked onto other cards with additional upsides or minimal investments, like Aqueous Form, Rogue's Passage, or Thassa, God of the Sea.

Grade: A


Taking it all together, our report card for Evasive Maneuvers is as follows:

Final Report Card:

  • Fear/Intimidate: C-
  • Flying: A
  • Flanking: C
  • Horsemanship: B
  • Shadow: B+
  • Protection from...: A
  • Menace: A
  • Trample: A
  • Skulk: D
  • Landwalking: B-
  • Lure and Deathtouch: A
  • 'Tunneling' and 'Daunt': B; C
  • 'Stalking': B-
  • Misfits: D-
  • 'Unblockable': A

Despite this report card, I do want to emphasize that many forms of evasion are meta-dependent. What works in one meta may not work elsewhere, like a menace-themed deck constantly going up against army-in-a-can commanders like Rhys the Redeemed, Talrand, Sky Summoner, or Alela, Artful Provocateur. Take my grading with a hefty pinch of salt.

If I can say anything, it's that I came into this series as a massive proponent and fan of 'unblockable' and somewhat dismissive of other forms of evasion. In my head, I originally thought I was 'saving the best for last' by putting unblockable at the end. But as it turns out, by working through each of the other keywords and mechanics first, I've found a new appreciation for each of them, and the spaces they can shine. A large part of that is thanks to you, the readers, and all your feedback, discussion, synergies, and factoids I would have never known existed.

If anything, I'm now more interested in retaining a bit more decision-making in combat rather than having players just swing past each other. I've found, personally, that jumping through at least one hoop to get my entire menacing army unblockable with 'Stalking' feels more rewarding, especially in colors that often aren't associated with unblockability, rather than just adding/substituting blue and splashing the typical Triton Shorestalker and other usual suspects. I'm all for Triton Shorestalker, mind you. But sometimes, in true EDH fashion, it can feel good to follow Pathmaker Initiate, and make like your own path, find underappreciated cards, and raise a few eyebrows followed by 'is that how that works?!'

But that's just me. Let me know in the comments below what you think as we conclude Evasive Maneuvers. What's your favorite evasive mechanic? Do you prefer to splash it as a one-off effect, or lean hard and explore all the nooks and crannies it has to offer? Will you submit a Petition for Regrade request for any of the above grades? Sound off in the comments below!

Overall, I hope you enjoyed the course, and please enroll next series, if you're interested!


I want to thank everyone who helped this series become a reality, especially the Don himself, content manager Jason Alt, and editors Joey Schultz and Commander Jack. Special thanks to Christian Alexander for all the social media help, and Joseph Megill, DougY and all the other EDHREC writers for all the conversations, pointers, and support. An additional shoutout to my playgroup for all their support.

Finally, thank all you readers for your interest, support, comments, and criticisms. 2020/1 was a wild year, but hopefully, something as simple as some cardboard table-top games got us all through it just a bit easier.

Trent has been playing Magic since the early 2000s, when instead of exercising in a summer sports camp, he was trying to resolve a Krosan Skyscraper on the sidewalk (it always ate a removal). He saved up his allowance to buy an Akroma Angel of Wrath on eBay, only to find out it was a fraudulent post, forever dashing his hopes of ever getting a big creature to stick. He’s since “grown up” and, when he’s not working on his dissertation in Archaeology, spends too much time thinking how to put Cipher in every one of his decks and digging for obscure cards (see photo).

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