Playing with Tappers

Posted in Limited Information on December 27, 2011

By Steve Sadin

One of the biggest advantages that top-level tournament players have over their opponents is that they don't have to spend a ton of time considering each and every decision. They've already played through and thought about common game-play situations enough times to intuitively understand the implications of their plays.

The fact that top-level players don't need to agonize over questions such as "Whose turn should I use my tapper on?" allows them to instead spend their time looking for unique, game-specific opportunities as they arise.

It's my hope that after reading this article, you will be able to spend a little bit more of your mental energy figuring out what combat tricks your opponents might have in their hands, and a little bit less time trying to figure when (and on what) to use your tappers.

Avacynian Priest is the latest in a long line of "tappers," a term that has been pretty much universally applied to creatures that can tap other creatures. (Some bits of Magic slang can be difficult to decipher the meaning of when you first hear them, but fortunately the term "tapper" has a fairly clear origin.)

Avacynian Priest

And while Avacynian Priest might not be as good as some of its predecessors—such as Goldmeadow Harrier, which was cheaper and faced less constraints as to what it could tap—it's still one of the best commons in the set.

But what makes tappers so good, and how do you get the most out of them?

Tappers vs. Removal

When you have a removal spell in your hand, you are often faced with choice: you can use it now to deal with a marginal creature in order to immediately get an advantage, or you can wait, and use your removal spell later to deal with your opponent's best cards.

Tappers don't require you to make that kind of choice. Every turn you can tap down your opponent's best creature.* Midway through the game you can stop that 4/4 from getting in, then later on you get to tap whatever bombs your opponent presents.

(*Yes, Avacynian Priest has some restrictions on what creatures you can use it on, and when, but so do all of white's removal spells in Innistrad: Bonds of Faith is similarly ineffective against opposing Humans (and while you should have no problem tapping a Werewolf such as Howlpack of Estwald with your Avacynian Priest, you're going to need to think twice before you put a Bonds of Faith on a creature that could easily turn back into a Human). Rebuke only works against attacking creatures, and is amongst the easiest cards to play around in the format. And Smite the Monstrous only works against the format's biggest creatures.)

Bonds of Faith

Does your opponent have a flier that's gradually pecking away at you? Tap it! Is a gigantic Werewolf snarling at you? Tap it! I know it would really suck if that Balefire Dragon managed to attack you... good thing you get to tap it!

Additionally, tappers are excellent against Equipment. Nice Demonmail Hauberk... I'll just go ahead and tap the creature you attached it to.

The downside, relative to removal spells? Avacynian Priest requires an ongoing mana commitment, and it is vulnerable to removal spells. But even if you have to take turns off from using it while you cast your spells, or if it sucks up a removal spell, you will still be getting a lot out of it. After all, that Brimstone Volley was going to kill something, so it's a good thing that it was your two-mana tapper and not your Bloodline Keeper.

Brimstone Volley

What, When, and Why?

What do you tap? When do you tap it?

If you're just using you tappers on your own turn to stop a creature from blocking, then they won't be very good for you. Sure, you'll still get some mileage out of your tappers—and they will directly contribute to quite a few wins—but they could be doing so much more for you.

In order to figure out what to tap and when to tap it, you first need to determine what you are trying to accomplish (at least in the short term).

  • Are you trying to punch damage through?
  • Are you trying to prevent your opponent from attacking you with something large, and/or difficult to block?
  • Are you trying to shut down a utility creature before it wreaks havoc?

If you are in a close race or some other type of relatively balanced game state, the contents of your opponent's hand will have a huge impact on their plan. You might not know what's more important: to tap key blocker(s), or to tap a key attacker.

Sometimes you need to see several turns into the future in order to figure out the best way to use your tapper(s), but if you don't have a clear plan yet, your default should always be to tap your opponent's best creature on his or her beginning of combat step. This will prevent your opponent from being able to attack with their best creature if they wanted to attack, or to block with it if they wanted to block.

Tapping on your opponent's turn also comes with the added bonus of allowing you to tap again on your own turn, locking down two of your opponent's would-be-blockers, and (presumably) setting up a very good attack for you.

If your opponent doesn't have a single "best" creature, then you will need to dig a bit deeper. If you have a lot of good blockers on the ground, but no fliers. then you very well might want to tap your opponent's flier... unless you think that you can set up a good attack for yourself by shutting down the biggest creature on your opponent's side of the board (so what if you take 3 from a Moon Heron if you're going to crack back for 10 damage?).


While it won't come up all that often, there are some situations where you will want to use your tapper on your opponent's upkeep. Creatures you might want to tap on your opponent's upkeep include:

  • Mana creatures.
  • Creatures with activated abilities that can't be activated yet (or that your opponent doesn't want to activate yet), such as Nightfall Predator when your opponent doesn't have any red mana.
  • Werewolves right before they transform back into Human form.
  • Creatures with mana-intensive activated abilities such as Evil Twin or Stitcher's Apprentice.

Avacyn's Pilgrim
Evil Twin

At the End of Your Opponent's Turn

If you're sufficiently ahead in the race, and/or you are reasonably certain that your opponent doesn't have any good attacks, then you might find that you don't need to tap any of your opponent's creatures during the beginning of combat step. In this case, you can wait until the end of your opponent's turn to tap his or her best would-be-blocker.

Be careful not confuse the best defensive creature in the long term with the best defensive creature right now. For example: if you have a tapper, a large ground creature, and a flier and your opponent also has a large ground creature and a flier, then you will probably be best off tapping the large ground creature, then attacking with just your ground creature. If you are sufficiently close to winning and unafraid of a counterattack, instead you could tap the opposing flier on your own turn and attacking with both of your creatures.

When it's Correct to Tap on Your Own Turn

Most of the time, it's correct to use your tapper(s) on your opponent's turn. But there are some notable exceptions:

  • When doing so sets up a lethal attack (that you are reasonably certain will work).
  • When you are going to be able to sneak in a large chunk of damage and you aren't concerned about your opponent's counterattack.
  • When you have a creature with lifelink that will give you a sufficiently large life swing.
  • When you are grinding out damage by tapping a would-be-blocker on your opponent's turn, then a second would-be-blocker on your own turn.

"Declare My Attack"

When you're playing against an opponent who was a tapper, you should always take the time to declare your attack step.

Even if you aren't planning to attack, you force your opponents to make crucial decisions before they have full information about the situation at hand. When you declare your attack step, your opponent will often tap your best creature that is currently on the board (or your best offensive creatures instead of a key defender), giving you an opportunity to play an even better blocker after combat.

Avacynian Priest | Art by Greg Staples

Declaring your attack step every turn can also throw your opponent off from your true plan. You don't want to wait until the first turn where you have a profitable attack to declare your attack step, as doing so will force your opponent to pay extra attention to the situation at hand.

Eventually, when you are ready to attack, your opponent may allow you to attack without tapping any of your creatures under the assumption that you have no good attacks and are simply trying to force an action.

Your opponent's lack of respect for your offensive capabilities can allow you to win the game on the spot with that freshly drawn Rally the Peasants or Feeling of Dread.

Attacking With Your Tapper

If you know that you are going to tap all of your mana on your own turn, your opponent doesn't have any real blocks, and there's little chance that your opponent has a card in his or her hand that will punish you for your attack, then by all means get that point of damage in.

However, you do not want to walk your tapper into a trap. The upside that you get from sneaking through a point of damage early is more than offset by the downside of walking into a card such as Rebuke, Midnight Haunting, or Ambush Viper.

Midnight Haunting
Ambush Viper

The exception to this is if you have an exceptionally strong creature in your hand that you are about to tap out for that you want to protect from whatever shenanigans may or may not be afoot. In that case it will usually be worth it for you to walk your tapper into your opponent's trick (which he or she might not even have).

Maximizing Your Mana and Misleading Your Opponent

You won't always have the time to tap one of your opponent's creatures. There are plenty of situations where you need to spend all of your mana to cast a spell—be it a creature or a trick—and consequently you won't be able to tap anything for a turn.

If you are playing against a good enough opponent, you can use this to your advantage.

Sure, you want to be careful not to telegraph the contents of your hand too much. But if you have a tapper on your side of the board, you can use it to mislead your opponent as to the true contents of your hand.

If you have three untapped Plains for mana, and your opponent has an awesome creature that you can't block effectively, and you really want to get rid of (such as a Terror of Kruin Pass), then your opponent will probably assume that you have a Rebuke in your hand if you don't tap it when they declare their attack step.

"Why didn't my opponent tap my Terror of Kruin Pass? There must be a Rebuke waiting for me—I guess I won't attack."

Your opponent will then play around your Rebuke for the rest of the game (or until your opponent makes an attack that forces you to reveal that you don't actually have a Rebuke in your hand).

Is it worth it to make this bluff all the time? Certainly not—but if you have nothing in your hand, and you're way behind on the board, you may need to send these false signals to give yourself enough time to get back into the game.

Some Corner-Case Scenarios

Magic is a game with an infinite number of potential game states, so you always need to keep your eyes open for when weird things are happening and you have to deviate from your normal rules of thumb.

Here are a couple of things to keep an eye open for if you have an Avacynian Priest:

Avacynian Priest vs. Werewolves

When they are in Human form, Avacynian Priest can't touch any opposing transform creatures. But once Villagers of Estwald has turned into Howlpack of Estwald, you'll be able to tap it down at will with your Avacynian Priest. Consequently, there will be times when it will be in your best interest to let your opponent's Werewolves transform so you can tap them.

Avacynian Priest vs. Lantern Spirit

Lantern Spirit

If your opponent is on the defensive and has an abundance of mana and a Lantern Spirit, you should wait until his or her end step to tap it. If you tap the Lantern Spirit at the beginning of their combat step, your opponent will be able to calmly return it to his or her hand and recast it, allowing it to then block your biggest (non-trampling) creature and return to hand again at no real cost.

Avacynian Priest vs. Skirsdag High Priest

Skirsdag High Priest

If your opponent has a Skirsdag High Priest and exactly two other creatures on their side of the board, it will usually be in your best interest to hold off on using your Avacynian Priest until your opponent tries to kill one of your creatures (or tries to cast and sacrifice a Brain Weevil). Then you can tap one of your opponent's other creatures so the Skirsdag High Priest won't be able to make any Demons.

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