Last updated on September 22, 2023
Rafiq of the Many | Illustration by Michael Komarck
The release of Shards of Alara in 2008 brought five 3-color factions (or “shards”), each with their own core mechanics and identities. The shard known to this day as Bant () (sorry Brokers lovers) was identified by the exalted mechanic, which rewards you for attacking with only one creature at a time.
Exalted branched into black in Magic 2013 and even got its first red card in Modern Horizons. What else is there to know about this mechanic?
Let’s jump in and find out!
What Is Exalted in MTG?
Noble Hierarch (Conflux) | Illustration by Mark Zug
Your options are limited if you’re on the hunt for exalted cards. The mechanic hasn’t been used often and mostly features on cards designed for Limited, but there are some heavy hitters for Commander.
Two qualities set the best exalted cards apart from the rest: how good the card is on its own, and how good it is when it’s not attacking. The top-tier exalted cards work well in a vacuum and provide bonuses when they themselves aren’t the attacking creature.
Best White Exalted Cards
#9. Akrasan Squire
Akrasan Squire is cheap to cast so you can get it into play fast to help with stacking exalted triggers. It benefits from being played early and picking up subsequent exalted bonuses from other creatures, but games of Commander just aren’t about aggressive 1-drops.
#8. Guardians of Akrasa
Is anything truly as beautiful as a combat-focused attack trigger on a creature with defender? The design is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it can hold down the fort while still contributing to combat with exalted.
#7. Aven Squire
Aven Squire’s best use is to teach new players how Magic cards are designed. Akrasan Squire costs one mana, and flying usually costs one mana. Add them together and you get this bread-and-butter draft common.
Is it good in EDH? Absolutely not.
#6. Sigiled Paladin
#5. Knight of Glory
#4. First Sliver’s Chosen
If there’s one universal truth, it’s that sliver players love their slivers. First Sliver's Chosen mimics a stronger card, albeit for a very specific tribal archetype with a bevy of other powerful options.
#3. Angelic Benediction
Slapping exalted onto a noncreature permanent makes it likely that the effect sticks around longer. Angelic Benediction gives the usual buff to your attacker while also tapping down a blocker. It’s a fine way to get an annoying deathtouch or indestructible creature out of the way.
#2. Battlegrace Angel
Battlegrace Angel does its best Baneslayer Angel impression while sometimes passing lifelink on to a different creature. It hits hard, makes it hard to race, and sometimes buffs a different creature entirely.
#1. Sublime Archangel
Sublime Archangel is capable of dishing out huge amounts of damage. With no other creatures on board it attacks as a 4-mana 5/4 flier and hits harder for every other body you have on board.
Every exalted ability triggers separately so Sublime Archangel lets you double up on the bonuses of any exalted creature you’ve already played.
Best Blue Exalted Cards
#2. Outrider of Jhess
Outrider of Jhess is a low bar for blue exalted cards. It’s both a poor solo attacker and an over-costed way to pass exalted to another creature, so it completely misses the mark.
#1. Frontline Sage
Frontline Sage may not be an EDH staple, but it isn’t that bad. It might as well do something while it sits back if its sole purpose is to provide exalted triggers to other creatures. You could do worse than a cheap loot ability.
Some sage advice: keep this one on the backlines.
Best Black Exalted Cards
#4. Servant of Nefarox
#3. Duty-Bound Dead
#2. Duskmantle Prowler
#1. Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis
Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis represents a big jump in power level from the black commons and uncommons on this list. Nefarox has a relevant attack trigger beyond just granting the exalted bonus if you’re in the market for a big budget demon.
Best Red Exalted Card
#1. Goblin Champion
The thing about being the only red exalted card is that it’s both champ and chump. That’s so goblin.
Best Green Exalted Cards
#2. Court Archers
The concept of Court Archers is cute, but not all that good. It grants your exalted trigger to an attacking creature while sitting back on defense. Games of EDH are rarely decided by small reachers blocking small fliers, so you can do better.
#1. Rhox Charger
Exalted makes the most sense on creatures with other offensive abilities, trample included. The bad news for Rhox Charger is that you can just put a 4/4 with trample into your decks, so there are usually better options unless you’re specifically looking to stack a bunch of exalted triggers.
Best Multicolored Exalted Cards
#13. Sigiled Behemoth
The exalted attack bonus is the same no matter what creature it’s on, so you prefer it on lower cost cards to get them into play more reliably. The ability just doesn’t scale well with clunky expensive creatures like Sigiled Behemoth.
When it attacks alone you end up with a mere 6/5. It’s much too pricy to play as an enabler for other attackers.
#12. Rhox Bodyguard
#11. Sighted-Caste Sorcerer
It’s debatable whether Sighted-Caste Sorcerer is better or worse than Akrasan Squire. On one hand, it has a built-in protection ability with shroud. On the other hand, it’s more expensive and unlikely to draw a spell target from an opponent.
#10. Waveskimmer Aven
You need to consider how exalted is going to improve that creature when it attacks once you start paying five or more mana for these creatures. Waveskimmer Aven isn’t helped much because the difference between a 2/4 flier on defense and a 3/5 flier on offense is marginal.
#9. Dawnray Archer
#8. Ethercaste Knight
#7. Ardent Plea
Ardent Plea is an extremely interesting card. It gives you an exalted trigger on an enchantment that also spots you a random cheap spell thanks to cascade. You could build your deck in such a way that you always flip into powerful spells, but that strategy cares more about cascade than exalted.
#6. Giltspire Avenger
Cool concept, but it’s a little underwhelming in practice. Giltspire Avenger contributes the usual +1/+1 to combat but also dissuades your opponents from cracking back.
I’ve never seen this card in play, but it’s doing something more unique than some other defensive options.
#5. Qasali Pridemage
If you’re actively seeking exalted creatures or are looking for ways to sneak in more interaction, Qasali Pridemage is a nice tech option. Juicing your combat step and serving as an out to problematic permanents is great. The cat type makes Pridemage a solid option for Arahbo, Roar of the World or Rin and Seri, Inseparable.
#4. Finest Hour
Finest Hour isn’t quite as powerful as a traditional extra combat spell, but it works wonders in decks that swing with solitary threats. Exalted triggers each combat so you can free-roll your first attack and pick up +1/+1, then untap and attack again for an extra +1/+1.
#3. Sovereigns of Lost Alara
Sovereigns of Lost Alara fits into a more specific type of deck than most exalted creatures. You can use it to fetch your most impactful aura and turn your single attacker into a game-winning threat if you’re stacking auras onto your creatures.
#2. Noble Hierarch + Ignoble Hierarch
The baseline 1-mana accelerants are already quite good without exalted, so it’s almost an afterthought.
#1. Rafiq of the Many
Rafiq of the Many was one of the premium Voltron commanders for a long time. The combination of double strike and exalted means that Rafiq hits for eight damage on its own, not counting any exalted triggers or combat buffs it might pick up.
Rafiq can grant its attack triggers to other creatures to sometimes pick off an opponent with a single attack, just like Battlegrace Angel.
Best Colorless Exalted Card
#1. Cathedral of War
Cathedral of War is the only instance of exalted on a land, which is a neat design space. If your game plan is to win with a giant attack from a single creature, consider this as an inoffensive way to make that happen.
Best Exalted Payoffs
Each exalted card has its own perks and drawbacks, but the mechanic can combine with others for some interesting payoffs.
“Voltron” is a slang way of talking about strategies that focus on building up one giant threat to take down your opponents. All your high-protein eggs are in the same basket, so the strategy can backfire if an opponent deals with your singular threat.
Voltron decks often feature glass cannons, so you want to kill opponents as quickly as possible. Exalted triggers can help stack on those extra points of damage needed to close out the game.
If you’re interested in attacking and making your creatures stronger, you’re probably interested in extra combat steps. They work especially well with exalted since each trigger carries over into the next combat phase.
Finest Hour was a great example, but there are plenty of extra combat spells in the card pool to choose from.
Infect is a divisive ability among Commander players. Some hate it, some love it (perhaps too much). Stacking 10 poison counters on a player causes them to lose the game, and infect creatures are the best way to get those counters going.
Cards like Phyrexian Crusader and Blighted Agent can take players out quickly if you can pump them up. Each instance of exalted is essentially another poison counter waiting to stack up on a player. Infect is a viable strategy in Commander, but it usually needs the help of other combat-related abilities like exalted to become a consistent wincon.
How Does Exalted Work?
Each instance of exalted on the permanents you control triggers when you declare an attack with a single creature. Each trigger goes on the stack and resolve individually. This all happens during the “declare attackers” phase of combat and before blockers are chosen.
The attacking creature doesn’t have to have exalted itself for the triggers to happen.
Is Exalted a Triggered Ability?
Exalted is a triggered ability and can be interacted with by anything that interacts with triggered abilities (like an opponent’s Stifle).
Does Exalted Stack?
Yes, exalted stacks. Each trigger is placed on the stack individually.
Can a Creature Have Multiple Instances of Exalted?
Creatures can absolutely have multiple instances of exalted, and they each trigger separately when a creature attacks alone.
This is usually only relevant with Sublime Archangel, but it’s still good to know.
How Does Exalted Work in Two-Headed Giant?
A creature is only considered “attacking alone” if it’s the only creature that declares an attack during that phase. If you attack with a single creature and your teammate also declares an attack with a single creature, neither of those creatures “attacked alone,” so no exalted abilities trigger.
Your exalted abilities won’t work on your teammate’s creatures either because those creatures are under that player’s control. Exalted only triggers when a creature that you control attacks alone.
How do You Give a Creature Exalted?
Sublime Archangel and First Sliver's Chosen are the only cards in Magic that grant the exalted keyword to other permanents. There are roundabout ways to get exalted onto other cards, but they usually involve convoluted methods.
Did Exert Replace Exalted?
Exert didn’t directly replace exalted. Even though exalted hasn’t appeared in a lot of sets, the most recent exalted cards were printed in 2019. Exert has only been seen on cards from Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, both released in 2017.
Exert and exalted both have combat implications when you attack with a creature, but they’re functionally different and could both be used in future Magic sets.
What If a Creature with Exalted Enters the Battlefield Attacking?
If a creature enters the battlefield attacking, like the trigger on Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, that creature doesn’t get the exalted triggers from other creatures or have its own exalted abilities trigger.
For exalted to trigger at all, a creature has to “attack alone,” not just be attacking. You have to declare a creature as an attacker during the declare attackers step. Anything that enters after that point misses its chance to trigger.
Exalted vs. Warrior and Samurai Attacks Alone
Cards like Imperial Subduer show how they were inspired by the exalted ability. Even though their trigger conditions are the same, exalted is a keyword ability that can go on any permanent. The “samurai” abilities are simply different attack triggers on those individual cards.
These two types of cards play well together though, so try mixing and matching exalted cards with warriors and samurai for an extra boost to your combat phase.
Exalted has only been featured in a handful of Magic sets, but it’s bound to show up again in the future. It’s a clean, easy-to-understand combat ability with some interest design space left to explore.
What’s your twist on exalted? Which cards do you find it pairs best with? Let me know in the comments below or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
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