The nickname is derived from the creatures having to sneak behind enemy lines to generate an effect unfavorable for the opponent. Prolific subsets of this mechanic include Specters who cause the opponent to discard cards from their hand as well as Ninja with various saboteur effects but the ability Ninjutsu to make it easier for them to deal damage to the opponent.
Another high-profile use of this mechanic are Ophidian-like creatures that draw additional cards when damaging the opponent, such as Shadowmage Infiltrator and Ohran Viper. Ophidian itself does only nominally qualify. While the same condition of the creature being unblocked has to be met, Ophidian does not need to deal damage to the opponent to draw a card - the ability actually triggers during the Declare blockers step. This variant of saboteur abilities (attacks and isn't blocked) has various design implications and applications.
- Mark Rosewater (November 7, 2016). "A Few More Words from R&D". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (June 22, 2012). "Rather than keywording the Ophidian ability, what about ...?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (January 24, 2019). "Can white have saboteur-like effects?". Blogatog. Tumblr.