Too-Specific Top 10 - Count Your Blessings
What Is Normal, Anyhow?
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know thatis the only creature that allows you to exchange -0/-1 counters for mana?)
To answer my own question, normal is +1/+1 counters, to the point where if you're talking about counters and have made it clear you aren't talking about, they are the next assumption down. There's good reason for that, too, as the phrase "+1/+1 counter" is included in 1326 out of the 19737 cards that are legal in Commander. With some quick math, that's almost 7% of the total cards available.
Which means that it's about time that we ignored them entirely and got a bit more specific, don't you think?
Top 10 Irregular Counters
If you want to get above the 10% threshold, there are 2749 cards in the game of Magic: The Gathering that include the word "counter" on them. Granted, some of that population is spells that are talking about countering spells, but what if you eliminate those, the too-popular +1/+1 counters, and all of our new planeswalker friends and their loyalty counters? What's left? What is the best and most popular counter type outside of "Counter target spell", planeswalkers, and the ever-present +1/+1 counters?
To find out, we'll have to dig a little deeper. But first, what are the problems?
Well first off, how do we determine what the best or most popular counter types are? You might have a particular type in your head right now, and it would be easy enough to check how many of that type of counter is featured on various cards, but does that really tell us that it's good or popular? So rather than looking at every card, let's just cut off an arbitrary "Top" amount of cards featuring irregular counters and count how many of what kind of counter are there. As for how many, let's do the math. 2749 cards referencing counters, minus the 1326 that are +1/+1 counters, equals 1423. Let's call that 1500, and we'll just look at the top third. In other words, the Top 500 cards featuring or referencing weird counters.
Criteria: Type of counter with the most cards in the top 500 cards that reference counters. +1/+1 and Loyalty counters do not count, although cards that reference +1/+1 counters or Loyalty counters and also have a reference to a different type of counter will be counted. Ties will be broken by the EDHREC score of the top ranked card featuring that counter type.
10. Age Counters
(12 Inclusions in Top 500, 88 Total Cards)
Probably the most-oft-forgotten counter type of them all, yet still one of the most common in the game of Magic, Age counters are exclusively found on cards featuring the Ice Age mechanic of Cumulative Upkeep. The reason I say it is the most-forgotten counter type is that many people aren't actually aware that a counter is involved in the Cumulative Upkeep trigger, which adds on itself at the beginning of each upkeep. It's not at all uncommon to see players attempting to keep track of alife gain in their heads rather than using a dice, while it's even more common for a 's upkeep trigger to be forgotten completely as it sits in the same stack as a pile of s.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Age Counters
Memory and execution issues aside, however, Cumulative Upkeep is an old mechanic that has seen fit to return time and again in the game, and as such has had plenty of time both to have diamonds in the rough found from ancient history and to have more well-known cards outpowered by the format at large. Lookin' at you,! Regardless, there are currently 88 cards in Magic's history with the Cumulative Upkeep mechanic, making Age counters one of the most prevalent in the game as a whole. Unfortunately, many of the fine examples from back in the 90s are no longer up to snuff, as seen in some of these fine examples:
Whether it be a 5/4 for four that you have to pay for every upkeep, an Aura that buffs a single creature that's already not worth paying for on the very first upkeep, or a narrow Snow-hate card that might actually be seeing play in the constructed formats being overtaken by looking through the lower contenders featuring Cumulative Upkeep makes that very clear. That said, all you folks building those new wheel decks around and the like... You might take a look at moving a little further up this list.if it weren't for the fact that it costs three up front with an ever-increasing two each upkeep... There are lots of examples of cards that used to cut the mustard in the old days that just don't anymore. is far from the only victim of power creep, and
9. Spore Counters
(14 Inclusions in Top 500, 19 Total Cards)
I would have put the total amount of Fungus decks are the thirty-eighth most popular tribe on EDHREC, which isn't even necessarily the bulk of representation due to the sheer amount of Token decks that also feature these Fungi.'s in the world a bit higher than nineteen, but apparently some shout-outs in Time Spiral block combined with the initial run in Fallen Empires is really all that's been done with the original Saproling Kings! Despite the rather low total numbers, however, it isn't really that surprising to see the sheer amount of playable examples. That's because
Top 10 Cards Featuring Spore Counters
The original Spore commander just barely got cut out of this list, but we shouldn't be discussing the popularity ofs and Saprolings without going over the reason they were first playable in Commander, .
He may have since been overshadowed by, but up until Dominaria, there was only one way to build Saprolings, and he was it. Even today, however, many consider him the better option when it comes to s specifically, as he specifically references both Fungi and Spore Counters, along with more or less having a Proliferate stapled onto him at the low low cost of two mana and exiling a Fungus from your graveyard. However you choose to build it, though, you might want to actually pick up the Saproling tokens... You're gonna be taking up all your dice stacking them on Fungi!
8. Quest Counters
(14 Inclusions in Top 500, 19 Cards Total)
Whereas I expected there to have been more cards that care about Spore Counters, I was surprised in the other direction when it comes to Quests. I vaguely remembered there being more than one cycle of cards using Quest counters, but never would have guessed there's actually been four of them. Maybe that cycle being incomplete has something to do with it, however. While each color did get a common, uncommon, and rare version of the Quest enchantment in Zendikar, for some reason white was left out when it came to doing a rare cycle in Worldwake. Regardless of the incomplete cycle, however, there are quite a few of these step-by-step enchantments that have been good enough to see play in an EDH deck or four.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Quest Counters
While green rules the day (as usual) with a full complement of go-wide, ramp, and avariant, there are some other solid choices in here, as well. made sure that was not even an option in most token decks, is often a cheaper, more resilient, and more powerful version of , and can turn every draw spell into a . Suffice it to say that if I had gone by average ranking of each card instead of number in the Top 500 using the counter, Quest Counters would have ended up much further up this list, if not at the top.
7. Storage Counters
(16 Inclusions in Top 500, 18 Total Cards)
Rather the opposite is the case when it comes to Storage counters.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Storage Counters
While the expansion of Proliferate cards and decks has put in a lot more work for the various storage lands out there in the world, even the versions that come into play untapped only see niche play. Colorless decks are the main reason that Dragon Tribal decks, and then the allied-color dual versions take a severe drop-off to between 10-25% play in various decks that care about counters. Even much of that play appears to be a result of the printings in Commander 2011 and Commander 2016. Still, all in all, if you have a need for a bunch of late-game mana and a few extra utility land slots, you could definitely do worse than looking into the storage lands. Just... stick to the ones that come in untapped and actually make mana before you have to spend mana on them, if you can get away with it.is at the top of this list, but even in those it only sees around a 50% inclusion rate. As for actual synergy, seems like a slam dunk, but it still only sees play in 40% of those decks. 's percentages are about the same when it comes to
6. Lore Counters
(17 Inclusions in Top 500, 28 Total Cards)
Even before Richard Garfield's brief return to R&D and the awesomeness that is Sagas that resulted, Lore counters already existed in the game. Specifically, a one-off sort-of reprint of the reserved list cardI mentioned earlier in the Cumulative Upkeep section: .
That said, there are two other non-Saga cards that also utilize Lore counters, both from Khans block. Still, those are more the exceptions than the rule these days, with Sagas proving to be the most popular new card type since planeswalkers, themselves.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Lore Counters
The next thing that surprises me after the "gee whiz" factor of there being non-Saga cards that have Lore counters, however, is which Sagas made the top ten. The top three are no surprise, but after that there are several cards which do perplex me a bit. I actually play a spellslinger deck that also has a Proliferate component, and still didn't find room for Knight Tribal decks a bit more popular, but almost 2,000 of them? That was a surprise.. Five mana is just a lot in a deck that wants to constantly be building Storm count. is a bit more reasonable in an artifact deck that will most likely have some mana floating around, but I think the biggest surprise for me was making the top ten. I think I had some idea that the printing of had made
5. Time Counters
(31 Inclusions in Top 500, 79 Total Cards)
If you were like me and thought that Suspend was the only mechanic that used Time Counters, surprise! Aside from the unrelated might of, there is also Vanishing, a fixed version of the old Fading mechanic of fame.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Time Counters
If you dig a bit deeper, however,is far from alone. Throughout the history of Magic, there were quite a few cards that through design or happenstance settled on Time Counters to tick themselves onward and upward. A personal favorite of mine is , although another in a similar vein is .
If you're looking to confuse yourself to no end for a small payoff that also requires you to keep track of Time Counters every upkeep and to play Thrulls, however...has you covered!
4. Energy Counters
(32 Inclusions in Top 500, 70 Total Cards)
Apparently there is a small-yet-thriving thriving community of 301 Energy Counter decks out there. I myself have seen anbuild in the wild, and that does appear to be the most popular version. That said, the most popular cards utilizing Energy don't actually rely on a full Energy theme; rather they are good enough to be used on their own merits.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Energy Counters
All that said, the thing that surprises me even more than a parasitic mechanic that was only featured in one block making the cut here is the fact that there were seventy cards utilizing it. However you look at it, that is a lot of support for a single mechanic in a very short amount of time. I mean, Cumulative Upkeep has been around since 1995 and only has eighty-eight cards total. Energy did almost as much in less than a year, which really shows why it's this high on the list quantitatively if not qualitatively. If you are looking for quality, however, you might take a closer look at the top of this list.wipes half the board, feeds itself Energy by doing so, and then gives you three-mana recursion from any graveyard. triggers off any permanent you control entering the graveyard, then taps at no mana to cast any card from your top six. can't quite feed itself at the same rate, but, with a little Proliferate help, it can bounce the board every turn while swinging in for six. It's easy to dismiss these cards as a bit gimmicky on their face, but any look that goes a bit under the surface shows some real promise if you have any synergy with them whatsoever.
3. Poison Counters
(54 Inclusions in Top 500, 72 Total Cards)
Sure, your playgroup will razz you every time an Infect card hits the table, but all in all it's an accepted strategy that can cut games short while not being overly powerful. There are many that would disagree with that statement, but it's true. Poison will never compete with the fast combo decks of the world, and typically all it can do in slower metas is kill one player who probably would have lost to an aggro deck anyway before then folding to the table for being too dangerous. With that said, there are a few versions of the effect that can be a bit more potent, namely those that can take the table by surprise.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Poison Counters
Although I will implore, for the health of the community at large... If you are that person taking out a mana-screwed or otherwise not-a-threat player while the Archenemy is right there winning the game: Please. Stop.
2. Charge Counters
(56 Inclusions in Top 500, 95 Total Cards)
The competition between Poison counters and Charge counters was tight, but in the end I'm glad that Charge counters won, and I think the mechanic is deserving. For many years it was the go-to when it came to counters being stacked up on non-creatures, with artifacts specifically really leaning into it. There have been departures from it to lean into more thematic counter choices throughout Magic's history, and it could certainly be argued that we are in one of those time periods right now. At the end of the day, however, Charge counters also make sense thematically a large amount of the time, and are a good unifying standby for any card that is building up power.
Top 10 Cards Featuring Charge Counters
It should come as no surprise, then, to see Charge counters claim the number two spot. Indeed, for a while they were contending handily with the number one spot, until Infect got involved...
1. -1/-1 Counters
(146 Inclusions in Top 500, 240 Cards Total)
Because as is often forgotten, the Infect mechanic not only replaces regular combat damage to players with Poison counters, it also replaces damage dealt to creatures with -1/-1 counters. As such, our number one slot is being claimed in a bit of land-slide, with the aid of sixty-eight additional cards that care about -1/-1 counters from the Infect mechanic... And then another twenty-nine from the Persist mechanic.
Top 10 Cards Featuring -1/-1 Counters
Combine all that help with the fact that several of the best -1/-1 counter cards are also some of the best Proliferate cards, and it was really inevitable that -1/-1 counters claimed our top spot. On sheer quantity alone, 240 cards featuring the mechanic ensured that there would be some good ones. The extent to which that is true, however, really solidified the lead here and then kept on expanding it throughout the Top 500 cards featuring these counters. Indeed, if you are playing any kind of counter deck, the chances are high that you feature some of the -1/-1 counter cards, whether it be due to Proliferate, the interactions between +1/+1 counters and Persist, or just the general quality of the cards available. Expand that to all of EDH, and it seems like -1/-1 counters will be at the top of this roost for some time, if not forever.
Obviously some leg work went into making these lists of counters out of the Top 500, so I would be remiss if I didn't share some of that data with you. As is usually the case, however, I figure that if I'm going to share some of it, I might as well share all of it.
Counter Counts for the Entirety of the Top 500 Cards with Irregular Counters On Them
The Big Dogs:
Level: 11 Inclusions (Missed the Top Ten By One)
The Duos and Trios:
The Lonely Ones:
Here's hoping that those flying and vigilance counters stay low on this list, huh? If you haven't played againstyet, just wait.
What Do You Think?
If you've played EDH for long, the top contenders on this list probably weren't a surprise for you. You probably also have an opinion on what your favorite of those most popular weird counters is, so...
And finally, since your favorite weird counter type probably wasn't actually involved in that survey with limited questions permitted... What is your favorite counter type? Have you ever played Weird Counter Tribal?
Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you at the the table with the huge drawstring bag of spindowns plopped down in the middle.