Last updated on January 30, 2024

Sidisi, Undead Vizier - Illustration by Min Yum

Sidisi, Undead Vizier | Illustration by Min Yum

Throughout Magic’s history, keywords and mechanics will appear in a set and then fade away for a few years. In Crimson Vow we saw the main-set return of a mechanic originally seen in 2015’s Dragons of Tarkir set, and it's come up on rare occasions since: exploit.

But what is this mechanic, and how does it work? Let’s talk about that.

What Is Exploit and How Does It Work?

Gurmag Drowner - Illustration by Lake Hurwitz

Gurmag Drowner | Illustration by Lake Hurwitz

Exploit is a simple mechanic without a lot of complexity outside of the initial decision to use the ability or not. When a creature with exploit enters the battlefield, you may choose to sacrifice a creature. If you do, a second triggered ability happens, usually granting some form of advantage.

You can sacrifice the creature with exploit or any other creature you control. The second ability only triggers if the creature with exploit is on the battlefield after sacrificing a creature, or if it sacrificed itself to the first trigger.

A Step-By-Step Example

Exploit can seem confusing at first, but it plays out intuitively in practice.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

If you cast Sidisi, Undead Vizier, it enters the battlefield. The exploit ability triggers. Once that resolves, you can choose to sacrifice a creature. If you choose not to then the ability resolves and you continue the game. If you choose to sacrifice a creature, that creature goes to the graveyard and Sidisi’s second ability triggers along with any other death triggers. When this second trigger resolves, you can search your library for a card and put it into your hand.

This example works for all cards with exploit, you just swap the second ability with whatever the card with exploit does if you choose to sacrifice a creature.

Which Sets Have Exploit?

Dragons of Tarkir, Innistrad: Crimson Vow, are the main sets that have cards with exploit. In non Standard sets like Modern Horizons, Modern Horizons 2, and Jurassic World Collection with only one or two cards that have exploit.

The History of Exploit

The mechanic only appears on a couple dozen cards in Magic’s history. Exploits cards are all blue, black, or Dimir ().

Exploit is one of those kicker-variants, and similar to bargain. I expect that we’ll see it again another time in the future. The mechanic’s power level directly correlates to the second trigger’s text. It also gives the format a sacrifice payoff subtheme without overtly pushing power level since exploit cards have limited ability to be over tuned.

Really only Sidisi, Undead Vizier saw play during the Tarkir block’s time in Standard thanks to this lack of high power level. Even then, the Whip of Erebos decks played one copy as a Demonic Tutor with buyback.

Is Exploit a Triggered Ability?

Exploit is two triggered abilities. The first happens when the creature enters the battlefield, and the second triggers only after choosing to sacrifice a creature and if the creature with exploit is still on the battlefield or was the creature sacrificed.

In simpler terms, the creature with exploit must see the sacrifice happen to garner the second trigger. While it seems unintuitive, if a creature with exploit sacrifices itself, it still counts as having seen the sacrifice. This means you can self-sacrifice creatures for the ability.

Is Exploit a Death Trigger?

While exploit is a triggered ability, it doesn’t trigger on death. This means that exploit still functions if a card like Rest in Peace is in play. Exploit only cares if you sacrificed a creature, not where it ended up after that.

What Happens if You Choose Not to Exploit?

If you choose not to sacrifice a creature to exploit then the exploit trigger resolves and you continue the game without the second trigger happening.

Can a Creature Exploit itself?

Yes, a creature can exploit itself. You still trigger the card’s second ability if you choose to sacrifice the exploit creature.

Can You Respond to Exploit?

Opponents can respond to the first exploit trigger by removing the creature with exploit. While you can still sacrifice a creature when the trigger resolves, you won’t get the second ability from having exploited a creature. Opponents can also respond to the second trigger after you’ve exploited a creature, but the ability still resolves even if they remove the creature with exploit at that point.

Can You Kill the Creature with Exploit in Response?

Yes. Killing the creature with exploit with the first trigger on the stack effectively stops the ability from having any meaningful effect.

Can You Kill the Creature Being Exploited in Response?

No. Once the trigger for exploit resolves there are no targets or passes of priority. The player with the exploit creature chooses a creature to sacrifice or chooses not to sacrifice a creature, but no one can respond.

When Do You Choose Targets for Exploit?

The first exploit trigger doesn’t use any form of targeting. Once the ability begins resolving, neither player can respond or interact with the board. The player controlling the exploit trigger chooses a creature to sacrifice or chooses not to sacrifice any creatures.

The second exploit ability triggers if you sacrifice a creature and the exploit creature saw it. Depending on the ability, you select targets like any normal triggered ability. For instance, Graf Reaver would target a planeswalker when putting the second trigger onto the stack. A card like Minister of Pain never targets, so the ability immediately goes onto the stack and priority passes between the players before it resolves as usual.

Can You Exploit Multiple Creatures at Once?

Exploit has a specific limitation in the mechanic’s wording; you may sacrifice a creature. You can only sacrifice one creature to exploit because of this wording and the second ability only triggers once. Cards like Panharmonicon act as an exception to this rule, but without other cards exploit only works to sacrifice a single creature.

Best Exploit Cards

Graf Reaver / Overcharged Amalgam

Graf Reaver Overcharged Amalgam

There could be some key roles to be played from sideboards in the current Standard environment with Graf Reaver and Overcharged Amalgam from Crimson Vow, or in Commander of course. Until something can really scale up exploit, it’s hard to foresee cards with exploit radically shifting the meta.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

For most formats, the best exploit card would be Sidisi, Undead Vizier. With deathtouch, a strong set of stats, and the ability to Demonic Tutor for any card at the cost of one creature, Sidisi works well from ahead, behind, or at parity.

Henry Wu, InGen Geneticist

Henry Wu, InGen Geneticist

One of the issues with rare mechanics like exploit are that simply fewer cards have it printed in their text box. Henry Wu, InGen Geneticist does a great job making up for this by turning all your humans into exploitative characters and turning innocent rats, beasts, or dinos (non-humans) into cards and treasure.

There are plenty of humans in Sultai, and if you want to play one side of the Jurassic Park story, put Henry in your command zone. You have nearly a complete engine with your commander's ability to draw into creatures and the means to pay for them. You could think of deckbuilding for this as the dark side to the Forbidden Friendship human and non-human decks from Ikoria since you need to balance your creature count for having humans entering the battlefield and non-humans you want to kill off.

Wrap Up

Rakshasa Gravecaller - Illustration by Jakub Kasper

Rakshasa Gravecaller | Illustration by Jakub Kasper

I enjoyed exploit in both Limited and Constructed during Dragons of Tarkir, and Crimson Vow‘s time as the current set. Exploit is on the simple side and I don’t mind a few mechanics that have a smaller range of decision making considering the continued complexity creep found in Magic.

I wouldn’t want effects like exploit too often, but I have no issue seeing it again down the road. I’d especially love to see a card that pushes the limits of what exploit can do. I feel like there’s design space left on the table without fully pushing the mechanic. But once WotC explores that I’m not sure there’s enough designs to make exploit a main set mechanic again.

Let me know on Twitter or in the comments down below what you think of the exploit mechanic. Do you want to see it in future sets? How excited would you be if it returned in the next set? And don’t forget to check out all our mechanic deep dives over on the Draftsim blog.

That’s all from me for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you next time!

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