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What Other Power/Toughness Counters Exist in Magic: The Gathering?

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Counters are a popular theme in Commander. Every once in a while, I'll a seemingly random card relating to counters suddenly spike in price, and it's because of the rise in popularity of a counters-matters legendary creature.

Two popular themes are decks that care about +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters. The former theme is showcased via popular Commanders such as Hamza, Guardian of Arashin, Sovereign Okinec Ahau, and Ezuri, Claw of Progress. The latter theme favors Commanders including Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons (I remember this one in particular driving multiple buyouts), The Scorpion God, and Massacre Girl, Known Killer. These themes have been thoroughly explored by Commander players, and their decks are well documented on sites like EDH REC.

When I play Commander, I tend to deviate from the well-treaded paths, eschewing winning percentage points in favor of creativity and novelty points. Do I win less often as a result? Absolutely. Do I have more fun playing whacky, offbeat cards? You bet!

This week, I want to showcase an entertaining theme I sleeved up themed around different kinds of counters.

Did You Know...

Modern players are likely familiar with +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters; these are evergreen in nature, showing up in many recent sets.

Massacre Girl, Known Killer

Did you know that many years ago, Wizards of the Coast printed cards that added counters of different, sometimes asymmetric power and toughness augmentations? They did! There were +0/+1 counters, -1/-0 counters, +2/+2 counters, and more. Could you imagine having multiples of these counters on your creatures, and then having to do the math every time to confirm their final power and toughness? That sort of confusion is likely why Wizards of the Coast phased out these non-traditional counters many years ago.

That didn't stop me from making an entire Commander deck themed around these whacky counters! My goal was to squeeze in as many different power and toughness augmentation counters as I could in a fun, playable, kind-of-competitive deck. The final list still needs some work, but I've thoroughly enjoyed putting all sorts of counters on players' creatures in multiplayer matches. When you need four or five different colors or types of dice to keep track of the different kinds of counters I've generated (and then proliferated), I already "won" the game!

Below are some of the highlights from the deck, organized by the offbeat counters they generate.

-2/-1 Counters

Contagion

Everyone knows about Force of Will, but did you know that the most powerful Counterspell of all time was part of a five card cycle? Contagion was Black's card in the cycle. While not nearly as powerful as Force of Will, there is merit to shrinking and/or killing two creatures without having to spend mana.

For some reason, though, Wizards of the Coast didn't go with -1/-1 counters. I guess that wasn't powerful enough during testing? Instead, they went with -2/-1 counters, the only card that generates such counters and, therefore, an auto-include in my deck!

-0/-2 Counters: Spirit Shackle and Greater Werewolf

Spirit Shackle
Greater Werewolf

There are exactly two cards in Magic: The Gathering that create -0/-2 counters, and they both made my deck. Spirit Shackle is originally from Legends, and relies on a creature becoming tapped in order to apply the permanent counters. Greater Werewolf, on the other hand, applies the counters after combatting with another creature. Both are underpowered cards, but need to be included nonetheless due to their obscurity.

-0/-1 Counters: Lesser Werewolf, Essence Flare, Takklemaggot

Lesser Werewolf
Essence Flare
Takklemaggot

Before Innistrad introduced a boatload of werewolves, we had the Lesser and Greater varieties with which to play, and not much else. The original, from Legends, placed pesky -0/-1 counters on creatures it interacted with in combat. Meanwhile, Essence Flare was an aura that pumped a creature in the short-term, but slowly bled it to death via -0/-1 counters. Lastly, Takklemaggot was another aura creature with one of those text boxes where Wizards of the Coast had to reduce font size to fit in all the rules of the card. The TL;DR for that one: during upkeep, put a -0/-1 counter on enchanted creature, and when that creature dies the aura moves to another creature to repeat the process.

These are three of the six total creatures that deal in -0/-1 counters. The other three are Kjeldoran Honor Guard, Shield Sphere, and Wall of Roots. These other options put the counters on my own creatures, so I wasn't really interested in playing them. Also, I stuck with Blue and Black for the deck's color identity, so I had to make some cuts for that reason as well.

+1/+2 Counters: Armor Thrull

Armor Thrull

Here we have another unique one! There's only one card in all of Magic that generates +1/+2 counters, and that is the lowly, ugly Armor Thrull from Fallen Empires. Of course, in order to obtain that counter, you need to sacrifice the creature - it's not a very good card. Being a Black creature meant it could slot into my deck, however, so of course I had to include it! Luckily it is a thrull, meaning it at least offers minimal synergy with a couple cards in future categories.

+2/+2 Counters: Baron Sengir and Soul Exchange

Baron Sengir
Soul Exchange

Next, we have another card from Homelands and another card from Fallen Empires. It seems like 1994-1995 was the timeframe when Wizards of the Coast explored these whacky counters. These two cards could have generated two +1/+1 counters. Instead, for whatever reason, Wizards went with one +2/+2 counter. Sure, why not?

Note that Soul Exchange only creates the +2/+2 counter if the creature sacrificed was a Thrull. Hello there, Armor Thrull, welcome to the deck! Yes, I know the combo is not strong enough to be worthwhile. It's so on-theme with the deck, though, that I couldn't resist.

It's worth noting that Dwarven Armory and Fungus Elemental both also create +2/+2 counters, but they were Red and Green, respectively, so I left them out. I also left out the cycle of Chimeras from Visions - artifacts that could be sacrificed to create +2/+2 counters. There may be a future adjustment I make to my deck where I squeeze these in.

+0/+1 Counters: Necropolis

Necropolis

This Wall from The Dark can actually grow to become quite the formidable blocker late in the game. The fact that you can exile a creature from your graveyard, for zero mana and at instant speed, to place a bunch of +0/+1 counters on Necropolis makes it an interesting card if nothing else.

There are a handful of other cards that also produce +0/+1 counters, including Wall of Resistance, Sacred Boon, and Scars of the Veteran. I left most of them out since they weren't Black or Blue. I did try playing Coral Reef in the deck, but that card is so abysmally bad that I took it out for now. Maybe I'll throw it back in there eventually, we'll see.

+1/+0 Counters: Clockwork Avian

Clockwork Avian

There are multiple creatures that deal in +1/+0 counters, and I went with Clockwork Avian for its flying ability and sweet artwork. There are a couple other Clockwork creatures with similar abilities and counters, including Clockwork Beast, Clockwork Steed, and Clockwork Swarm. Other +1/+0 counters cards include Balduvian Hydra, Consuming Ferocity, and Dwarven Armorer.

Multiple Counter Types: Frankenstein's Monster and Ebon Praetor

Frankenstein's Monster
Ebon Praetor

Last, but certainly not least, I want to shout out my two favorite cards in this whacky deck: Frankenstein's Monster and Ebon Praetor.

Frankenstein's Monster is an amazing reference to Mary Shelly's 1818 novel (one of my favorite classics). I guess the monster was in public domain when The Dark came out in 1994, so there were no issues referencing the creature? I love the flavor of this card - you basically use bits and pieces of creatures in your graveyard to cobble together a massive, monstrous creature. The best part: the creature comes into play with a mixture of +2/+0, +1/+1, and +0/+2 counters on it! That's three different types of counters to keep track of with one card! Imagine the fun proliferating this thing...

Ebon Preator has the distinguished honor of being my favorite artwork in this Commander deck. Not only is there a giant bunny, but it's apparently holding hands with a merfolk? According to a post on Gatherer from 2009, "The giant bunny is a creature from the good heaven-like city on the left and the green imp is a creature from the hell-like city on the right. The blue creature in the middle is the one whose fate is being decided by the praetor(judge) at the altar. Both the bunny and imp want the creature. Where he goes is entirely up to the praetor."

I can buy that explanation! But what I buy even more is the fact that this creature deals in both -2/-2 counters (the only card in Magic to do so) and +1/+0 counters. You only get those +1/+0 counters, however, if the creature you sacrifice is a Thrull. Once again, Armor Thrull has a reason to exist in the deck!

Wrapping It Up

That sums up the strange power- and toughness-augmenting counters in my Commander deck. The rest of the deck is rounded out with more powerful cards relating to -1/-1 counters, proliferating, and the ability to remove counters from permanents. Then there are the few cards I have in the deck with cumulative upkeep, which have since been errata'd to use time counters, and you have a bevy of counters flying around!

This is exactly the kind of Magic I like to play. I love that I can bring my own, unique way of enjoying this game to a casual Commander match - it's what I love most about the format, and it's honestly a big factor that keeps me in the game, even after playing for 27 years!


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