Mechanically Minded - Proliferate

(Ezuri, Claw of Progress | Art by James Ryman)

A Brief History of Proliferate

Counters. Any kind. I love them. Loyalty counters, charge counters, +1/+1 counters, -1/-1 counters, credit counters... they're all great. Maybe it's the inner hoarder in me that likes to stack sums. Or maybe the inner Count von Count?

Anyway, when War of the Spark brought Proliferate back to the game, I was thrilled. Proliferate is one of the game's most fun and versatile mechanics, and it's all about counters. Since this is Mechanically Minded, the article series where we build EDH decks around mechanics using the power of EDHREC, there's one thing we must do. Let's build a deck around Proliferate!

Proliferate was first introduced in 2010 with Scars of Mirrodin. Head Designer Mark Rosewater initially intended for the mechanic to work only on the -1/-1 counters created by creatures with Infect (another mechanic we’ll probably explore in the future), but lucky for us players, he later decided to expand its applications to any kind of counter.

Afterward, it appeared on a handful of cards here and there, until finally returned in full force this year with the aforementioned War of the Spark. Proliferate has appeared in all colors, but it’s most heavily concentrated in blue, green, and white.

Who’s Our Commander?

Now that we’ve chosen our mechanic, we need our commander. Yes, yes, I know what you’re all thinking.

I know she’s got our mechanic printed on her (plus four other great ones). I know she’s the all-time most popular commander in EDHREC history. But, precisely for that last reason, I’d rather not play Atraxa. Rather, I’d prefer to focus on a commander that players don’t play quite as much.

So, without further ado, I give you our commander:

Ezuri, Claw of Progress solves Proliferate’s greatest problem. We’ve all had those games (perhaps most recently in War of the Spark Limited) where we spend several Proliferate triggers on a single creature, only to have that creature destroyed. It’s the ultimate eggs-in-one-basket conundrum; the basket’s loaded with great stuff, but vulnerable to decimation by our opponents.

Ezuri solves this problem with his experience counters. As one of only five commanders in the history of the game to give these things, he’s powerful. Notice that Proliferate allows you to choose “permanents and/or players.” That means once you get your first experience counter, you may Proliferate your own experience counters

Now that we have our commander, next comes our main deck. We’ll start with Ezuri’s commander page under his signature cards section.

The Essentials

Fathom Mage works beautifully with Ezuri because it doesn’t matter where those +1/+1 counters come from. At the beginning of combat on our turn, if we put Ezuri’s counters on the Mage, we draw cards. We do the same if we Proliferate onto her. Ixalan’s Herald of Secret Streams is another must-include, for obvious reasons.

Sage of Hours is perhaps the most degenerate of these three, so it’s up to you (and probably your playgroup) whether or not you want to include it. So long as you have the Sage, Ezuri, and at least five experience counters, you get infinite turns. Some folks might be a bit irked by a two-card infinite combo that includes your commander, so use it wisely.

Oh, and by the way, all three of these creatures give you an experience counter when Ezuri’s in play.

A few more essentials:

Champion of Lambholt is functionally a second copy of Herald of Secret Streams. Cultivator of Blades should end many games, assuming you have any kind of board presence. Hadana’s Climb is a fantastic way to turn a powered-up creature into a win condition, and it’ll flip amazingly fast in this deck.

Speaking of our signature mechanic, so far we’ve seen cards that take advantage of Proliferate. But what about the mechanic itself? Let’s get into it.

Pro Proliferators 

Since War of the Spark supports our signature mechanic, let’s scan Ezuri’s commander page for new cards. Here are a few of the best:

Remember, every time you Proliferate, don’t forget to add an experience counter (so long as you already have one). That’s one of Ezuri’s best traits.

A few others to consider include Thrummingbird, Merfolk Skydiver, and Inexorable Tide. The cool thing about these cards is that they provide multiple Proliferate triggers over multiple turns. So long as they go unanswered, you'll run away with the game.

Secret Prolifetech

Thus far we’ve been doing the obvious with Proliferate. Time for some subtle tech.

In addition to being the best-named card of 2019, Sharktocrab is also an outstanding pal to Ezuri. Though its power is too great to provide an experience counter, that’s alright. The main allure is its triggered ability. Similar to Fathom Mage, one can place counters on it every turn to lock down an opposing creature indefinitely. Also, every time you Proliferate, you lock down another creature. Why not do both every turn, and keep multiple creatures tapped? I absolutely love this card, and I believe it’s essential in this deck.

Simic Ascendancy is a gift to fans of the alternate win con. Each Proliferate trigger adds multiple growth counters because you add one counter to the Ascendency itself, then another for any other +1/+1 counters you placed on creatures.

One of the nastiest curve-outs this deck is capable of is a turn four Ezuri into a turn five Loyal Guardian. That’s likely to open up an immediate attack for your creatures. Plus, you can now Proliferate onto your entire team. Good rhino.

I think you can tell why Kalonian Hydra is here, and don't need me to explain it. How about Experiment One? Triggers Ezuri? Check. Plays well with Proliferate? Check. Wants more counters? Check. Has a see-through torso and octopus limbs? Double check.

Proliferate is Infectious

Infect is a tricky mechanic. Since poison counters essentially replace damage, the mechanic demands that you devote your deck to it. After all, a Cystbearer and a Lorescale Coatl aren’t really working toward the same goal.

Proliferate changes that. Take a card like Blighted Agent as an example. If you cast this card on turn two and score even a single point of poison on another player, you just need nine more Proliferate triggers to defeat them. That might sound like a lot, but considering that our deck is built around the mechanic, it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Another card that fits this subtheme is Viral Drake. It’s a decent blocker as a 1/4, can chip in that single poison counter through the air, and even offers our signature mechanic. Oh, and it also gives Ezuri an experience counter.

Additionally, Triumph of the Hordes is so good that non-Infect decks play it as a finisher. In our deck, it should be even better.

Most of the time you’ll only cast Triumph when it wins you the game. However, with our deck, you might also cast it earlier in the game to get a couple poison counters on multiple opponents. You can then shift into a more defensive stance, slowly building up poison until you win.

Proliferate is Energizing

Kaladesh’s energy mechanic is strikingly similar to experience counters. It’s a cumulative, non-interactive resource that translates to on-board advantage. The key difference is that experience counters can only be used in one way (at least in this deck). Energy is a bit more versatile. For some ideas, let’s head over to EDHREC’s Energy Theme page.

Arguably the most powerful of all energy cards, Aetherworks Marvel might not look like a slam-dunk fit for our deck at first glance. Since it triggers when permanents hit the graveyard, our natural inclination might be to look for sacrifice outlets. However, we’ve already got a handful essentially for free. Evolving Wilds, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Fertilid... these cards already fit the theme of our deck and can get us that first energy counter relatively easily. Then, similar to poison counters, we simply rely on Proliferate to get us the rest of the way.

Now for some more…

Servant of the Conduit on turn two means Ezuri on turn three, which means more potential experience counter triggers. Furthermore, if we draw Servant after Ezuri, it still adds experience. If we'd like, we can even save up that energy for another card. 

Longtusk Cub is one of the snowballiest cards of all time. It interacts favorably with our commander and even better with Proliferate. Me-ow.

Proliferate is Loyal

In War of the Spark, Proliferate’s chief application is adding loyalty counters to planeswalkers. Let’s do the same here.

Another gift from the new set, Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter is perfect for our deck. Proliferate replaces any loyalty he spends to power up our creatures, so we can distribute +1/+1 counters almost indefinitely. His static ability, turning any creature with a +1/+1 counter into a mana dork, is icing on the cake.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is efficient and highly impactful. The fact that it only takes two Proliferate triggers and two +1 activations to get to her ultimate is already pretty appealing. Alternatively, her -2 can set up some wild Proliferate triggers. Finally, her baseline +1 ability makes Ezuri give us more experience counters.

Another version of Nissa, Nissa, Steward of Elements, is quite versatile, and I quite like it. She fits at any point on the curve from three upward, she fixes draws, and she can quietly ultimate out of nowhere; she's a nice addition to our deck.

The Mana Base

Nothing too special here. Since our commander’s mana cost isn’t particularly prohibitive, we’re happy to play the customary mana base to support him. The only card I’d like to highlight is this one:

Lumbering Falls is secretly one of the best cards in our deck. For the most part, it serves as a two-color land. However, when you have the mana, don't forget to animate it. Once animated, don't forget that it can hold +1/+1 counters from Ezuria. Even when it goes back to being a land, it’ll keep those counters. 

This is fantastic because its Hexproof clause makes it immune to targeted removal. Furthermore, since it goes back to being a land at the end of the turn, your opponents sorcery-speed removal can’t touch it. That leaves almost no cards that can actually kill your Falls, outside of instant-speed non-targeting kill spells or land destruction. That’s a pretty short list.

Playing the Deck

Priority number one is casting Ezuri as soon as possible. I’ve included a number of two-mana ramp options to get a turn-three Ezuri as often as possible. This gives us the best chances to get our first experience counter. Once we have that, we’re off to the races with Proliferate.

Don't be afraid to force answers from your opponents. Build up your board, Proliferate your counters, and make some noise. Some games you'll run over opponents before they can find answers. Even when they do find them, you'll have experience counters in the bank to build your next threat.

Try to engineer board states in which you pull ahead with a counterspell or two in your hand. Then only counter the spells that would disrupt your win (board wipes, for example). Efficient options like Swan Song, Counterspell, and Disdainful Stroke fit perfectly.

And Now for the List!

Here it is!

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That’s our Proliferate deck. Hope you enjoy it!

Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Titania, Gaea Incarnate. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.