Let's face it, no matter how diplomatic you may try to be you are going to get attacked. What does it take to be a great blocker in Magic? Toughness and some cool abilities. In no particular order, here are some of the most powerful defensive creatures Magic has ever seen.
But Why Not Just Use Removal?
Overall, I am looking for unique creatures that have high degrees of endurance when faced with uniquely challenging combat situations like those that can occur at your Commander table. That means you may need to block an arbitrarily large creature with four or five abilities in order to see the next turn. While the best answer to this situation is likely something else entirely, you may be stuck with blocking as your only option.
Additionally, I wanted most of the creatures appearing in this list to have some interaction with the HUGE trampling creatures from Sig's recent article. Many of the blockers listed can take on a Polar Kraken or Phyrexian Dreadnaught without cracking a sweat. Others do get smushed into pancakes though, so tread carefully!
A tiny ball of light that costs one black mana, Will-'O flies and regenerates for the same one mana. This card has been blocking almost anything and surviving since '93. In many ways this creature was the golden standard for defense for many years. Trample is the primary weakness of this card and many of the other blockers on this list have ways of dealing with it. Still, as the oldest card on the list, the Wisp does a tremendous job even to this day of providing flying defense at a low mana cost.
I Want More Punch With My Blocks
Okay, so the Wisp is not your style. All defense and zero offense. Do you want to kill something when you block? Or anything? Here are a couple of excellent candidates.
Sworn Defender has a very unique activated ability for one generic mana to change its power and toughness to one less and one more than the creature it is blocking or blocked by. Thus, if a 4/4 was blocking or blocked by the Defender, you could pay one to make it a 3/5. This means that in pure one-on-one combat, the Defender can never lose, no matter how arbitrarily large the creature it is interacting with becomes. Furthermore if you have static buffs like Glorious Anthem, your Defender now defeats anything. I find it particularly funny that various Wall- and Defender-laden decks are out-defended by the Sworn. Does it lose to combat tricks? Not unless you have no mana. As a Knight, Sworn enjoys tons of potential buffs and synergies.
Serene Master has a similar effect, turning the tables on many large creatures for just two mana. However, Serene would NOT be able to deal with a Wall-style deck, and there are potentially many power/toughness combinations that will not result in a kill. In any case, the Master will still achieve a nice block and live to tell the tale
Blocks, Lots of Blocks
There is no shortage of things that can block many things, or even everything. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a gimmick. It's quite rare that another player has an unlimited number of things attacking in the first place. It is much more common that they have one or two things that are difficult to deal with in some special way. Of these mass blockers, Guardian of the Gateless is clearly the best, as it has "reverse rampage" and gains +1/+1 for each thing it blocks. It also flies, and has a good creature typeline in Angel.
Occasionally you might need to block a horde of tokens or copied creatures that will cease to be at the end of turn, and one of these mass blockers could buy you that turn. However, in that case, so could Blaze of Glory: the spell turns any creature into a super-blocker for that one critical turn, and for only one mana. In any situation featuring large board states, having one blocker that is effectively infinite blockers does give you a lot of flexibility, as the shields are never truly down.
All This Stuff Dies to Removal
Anyone playing during Alara likely has strong memories about Wall of Denial, be they centered around loving how great a blocker it was or decrying that same fact. Extremely durable, hard to remove, flying, and also only three mana; this is one of the best-named Walls in Magic. While it cannot defend from absolutely massive threats, it does block most of the creatures in the game. Denial makes sense, but surely the next two don't, right?
Zoetic Cavern is effectively a 2/2 morphed creature. Is someone ever, and I mean *ever* going to use removal to kill a morphed creature? I understand it could be a decent tempo play in a specific situation, but I have not seen that situation yet. So, to me, Cavern effectively dodges removal by virtue of its own badness. The next part, though, is where the fun begins. On more than one occasion, I have blocked a juiced-up super monster that would kill me with my 2/2 colorless, typeless creature and then morphed it into a Land. End result? Their guy counts as blocked and my guy is now safely a land, which won't die to lethal damage. Sometimes you just need a colorless blocker, and Cavern takes up very little "build space" in your 99 as it is a land.
Dryad Arbor is both the same and different all at once. Consider that you can get an Instant-speed blocker with a Forest-finding fetch. This is definitely good and can save you. However, there is the deceptive tactic of "hiding" your Dryad amongst your other lands and then suddenly revealing it as a blocker when it suits your needs. I'm not advocating that you do this, as it is both cheating and bad manners. On SpellTable in particular, it's very tough to differentiate stacks of cards. However, I am absolutely advocating for blocking with your Dryad Arbor when other players don't pay enough attention. Keep in mind lots of removal has a non-land clause (such as Abrupt Decay).
What About Just Stopping or Modifying Combat?
While most of the taxing cards are extremely effective at preventing mass combat, they do a poor job when one or two extra-large monsters are headed your way. Plus, when is the last time you've actually *blocked* with Propaganda? I find Crawlspace to be in a similar boat, as it does defeat mass combat but still leaves you open to those one or two large creatures.
Blazing Archon is so good, however, that it is in a class all its own. The most important part of Blazing Archon is not that no one can attack; it's that no one can attack YOU. If players want to get attack triggers, they must attack someone else. The Archon is effectively the hipster of the blocking world because it could block anything if it wanted to but it never has to.
Finally, Silent Arbiter is both a potential blocker but also an enabler to make your own super blocker really shine. The Arbiter sets up your 1v1 duel that your Sworn Defender or Serene Master won't lose and it also prevents mass combat. A great card for synergy.
While we have mostly focused on the survival angle, there is the other side of the equation. Any 1/1 with deathtouch is an expendable blocker that can trade favorably and buy you a lot of time. A card like Glissa, the Traitor packs a significantly higher punch by combining deathtouch with first strike. Then there is another extremely notable card from Magic's history, Abu Ja'far. If you take him down you are also going down, and for the low mana cost of just one white. The nice thing about Mr. Ja'Far is the ability to switch from ultimate defense with a Blaze of Glory to ultimate offense by giving him Allure of the Unknown. Turning your one-mana blocker into a one-sided Wrath of God is pretty cool.
I Like Big Blocks and I Cannot Lie
Some of the best interaction in Magic comes from combat. While it is usually more efficient to prevent combat from happening as much as possible it's not always possible. When that happens your best bet is to recruit not the A Team but the B Team.
What's your favorite blocker in Magic? Let me know in the comments.