Vigean Graftmage | Illustration by Alan Pollack
Decks that focus on +1/+1 counters have a long history in Magic. Hardened Scales decks have been in multiple formats, and the proliferate general Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice has long being the most popular commander in EDH.
But as the variety of counters began to increase when Ikoria introduced counters for keyworded abilities like lifelink, interest in counters may be approaching an all-time high. Not to mention that Phyrexia: All Will Be One gave us a popular new oil counter and reintroduced cards with proliferate.
It’s a good time to reflect on one of the coolest things to do with counters, which is to move them around. There are less than a 100 of these cards, and they’re hard to search up on ScryFall since they have different kinds of templating. Consider this your guide to exploring counter moving shenanigans!
What Are Move Counter Cards?
Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp | Illustration by Jason Felix
Move counter cards allow you to move counters from one permanent to another. Sometimes this comes with language like on the keyword ability graft. Other times the cards have you remove a counter from one permanent and add it to another, as is the case with modular.
Some of the cards I’m ranking have repeatable moving abilities, some have ETBs, and some have death triggers. You might be interested in any or all of them depending on your goals for the deck.
Best White Move Counter Cards
There’s more here in this color that didn’t quite make the cut if you just need bodies, but these are the top of the heap.
#3. Arcbound Mouser
The best of a stack of mostly 1-drops in white that can drop their counters off on another creature when they die, Arcbound Mouser has lifelink, which is really nice if you’re also running a proliferate suite.
#2. Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Mikaeus, the Lunarch is a Cube staple. It moves counters from itself to others, but it kind of performs a magic trick and proliferates them as you do. Maybe not a purely move counters play, but still a must-include for +1/+1 counters decks.
#1. Resourceful Defense
Pour a beverage. This one is going to take a sec.
Resourceful Defense is a total house that most players have yet to discover. It captures all counters off destroyed permanents and also has an activated ability to move counters at will. Sure, it costs five mana, but when you can immediately ultimate a Liliana, Dreadhorde General by harvesting counters from a cheap planeswalker that ticks up two loyalty, well, who’s complaining? Besides your opponents, that is.
This should be an auto-include in EDH superfriends decks. It’s also pretty useful in a sagas deck, in case you’re looking forward to Tom Bombadil. If you can keep pulling a counter off the backside of the forthcoming Jin-Gitaxias to keep it firing off on chapter two, there are times when that’s better than moving on to the also cracked chapter three.
Best Blue Move Counter Cards
Honorable mention to Leech Bonder, which, like all the cards with the untap symbol, participates in various expensive but powerful combos.
#3. Novijen Sages
Six mana is a lot, but Novijen Sages is a lot of repeatable card draw if you’re cheating things out in a proliferate deck. Probably not worth it in most decks, but I can see an edge use case.
#2. Cytoplast Manipulator
Okay, this isn’t good. But it is!
Cytoplast Manipulator allows you to steal opposing creatures in a deck like Volrath, the Shapestealer, harvest their counters with other cards on today’s list, and then maybe sac them? That’s clearly a meme deck floating in animated GIF sauce, but come on, you know you wanna try that!
#1. Vigean Graftmage
Vigean Graftmage asks the question on all our minds in these challenging times: are you ready to make infinite mana? Well, then, step right up Incubation Druid, Bloom Tender, Faeburrow Elder, and Krosan Restorer!
Best Black Move Counter Cards
Black isn’t a central +1/+1 counter color, so the roster here is thin. But there are some gems in here!
#3. Aetherborn Marauder
Aetherborn Marauder can do some work if you can give this haste in your counters decks. That’s probably not enough for four mana in today’s EDH, but I can see it hitting hard.
#2. Spike Cannibal
No one plays this beast of a boomer card! Spike Cannibal yoinks the +1/+1 counters from all creatures on the table. That can just devastate some very popular builds, like the aforementioned Atraxa proliferate deck and Hamza, Guardian of Arashin-style decks. If you’re running black then you’re probably running tutors, and this might be a nice little beastie to grab as needed in the 99.
And you can blink this or reanimate it, especially with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. You’re just wreaking good, clean havoc if you’re packing The Ozolith!
#1. Thief of Blood
Thief of Blood enjoys being milled into the graveyard, long walks on the beach, and being reanimated, perhaps even repeatedly with Alesha. Maybe a nice flicker now and then.
It’s twice as expensive as the Cannibal, but this grabs all counters on the table. Which is like a fleet of Vampire Hexmage against planeswalker decks. And you can reset all your sagas in that Tom Bombadil deck. Good stuff!
Best Red Move Counter Cards
Three cards played in Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp modular decks. That’s a fun deck to play, even if it seems a bit underpowered. Red only has modular cards in the move counters space, so you’re going to need another color if you want counter movement on something besides death triggers.
#3. Arcbound Whelp
A Dragon Whelp upgrade for artifact and affinity decks. Sure. Okay. Arcbound Whelp it is.
#2. Arcbound Slasher
There aren’t that many ways to drop a permanent with five +1/+1 counters on it, and Arcbound Slasher is one of them. How good is that?
#1. Arcbound Tracker
Arcbound Tracker gets swole in low-to-the-ground artifacts decks. That’s good if you’re moving counters.
Best Green Move Counter Cards
There are loads of graft cards and spikes that didn’t make the cut if you really wanna go deep on this theme. Here are the best of the lot.
#9. Afiya Grove
Afiya Grove isn’t great and doesn’t have a home yet, but this is the only enchantment in this design space, so I thought I should shout it out.
#8. Simic Initiate
I don’t really think graft cards are that playable, but Simic Initiate is probably the most relevant because it’s cheap. It’s more flexible than spikes or modular creatures, so that’s something.
#7. Spike Drone
The spikes were a whole thing in Tempest and Exodus. Mostly they’re like overcosted modular cards that require you to pay two to deposit the counters. As a 1-drop, Spike Drone is probably the most flexible for a low to the ground counters deck, although it’s not really playable.
Okay, fine! You got me. It’s not good, okay! But it’s clearly a riff on the things Khan puts in Chekov’s ear in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and I can’t let that go unsaid! You’re nerds, right? You understand.
#6. Spike Tiller
Spike Tiller isn’t really worth it in these decks, but it’s one of the few cards that animates lands, which Nissa, Who Shakes the World has shown to be useful sometimes.
#5. Llanowar Reborn
Colorless, really, but with a green color identity for Commander, this is a tap land. Bummer. But Llanowar Reborn also has a counter it can ship to whoever ETBs and needs it, so that’s pretty unique.
#4. Spike Weaver
My favorite spike, Spike Weaver is pretty interesting. This is a repeatable fog on a stick in a deck where you have other ways to move counters. Its combat damage prevention ability means you can go ham turning your green beaters sideways and be safer from crackbacks.
#3. Vastwood Hydra
Vastwood Hydra is like uber-modular, but it works outside of the artifacts-only space. Kinda good.
#2. Slippery Bogbonder
The floor here is that it flashes in to stymie a removal or bounce spell. The ceiling of Slippery Bogbonder is that you can move all kinds of counters around. Sure, only onto one target, but sometimes that’s all you need.
I especially like this with things like Tayam, Luminous Enigma that give extra value for counters.
#1. Forgotten Ancient
Forgotten Ancient throws +1/+1 counters around like mad. If you can keep it alive, one turn around the table generates a huge amount of value. Be sure to pack a lunch and a Heroic Intervention for your EDH journey.
Best Multicolored Move Counter Cards
Here are most of the cards that have moving counters activated abilities. If that’s what you’re shopping for, this is the place!
#10. Agent’s Toolkit
The second best noncreature artifact in this space! Is all this worth paying two to draw a card when you’re done dishing counters? A solid maybe for Agent's Toolkit.
#9. Blaster, Combat DJ / Blaster, Morale Booster
I think this is better than it seems, and Blaster, Combat DJ should probably find its way into Chishiro, the Shattered Blade, although that precon is pretty underpowered by today’s standards.
#8. Daghatar the Adamant + Combine Guildmage + Simic Guildmage
The activation cost on these is too steep, for sure, but there aren’t that many cards that can do this at will like Daghatar the Adamant, Combine Guildmage, and Simic Guildmage, so they’re all still relevant.
#7. Arcbound Shikari
That’s a lot of counters on ETB is you’re playing the right colors for Arcbound Shikari, which probably means the Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp modular deck.
#6. Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
Reyhan, Last of the Abzan is particularly nice paired with Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker because they synergize with each other and this kind of deck. They represent all the colors you really want outside of the Zabaz decks.
#5. Marath, Will of the Wild
The flexibility to shift counters at will with a better rate than almost any other card makes Marath, Will of the Wild stand out. And it can do flexible things with those counters, so that’s pretty appealing.
The red pip makes it hard to use, though, and it might not really be strong enough as a commander.
#4. Plaxcaster Frogling
Being able to grant shroud is nuts. Plaxcaster Frogling is soooo useful for a Simic () counters deck!
Bioshift does the thing you want to do cheaply and at instant speed. It doubles as a combat trick, too. Not bad.
#2. Fate Transfer
Fate Transfer is the same, but it moves all kinds of counters for one more mana. As more sets post-Ikoria are released, this will get better than Bioshift.
#1. Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp
Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp‘s deck is fun and has gotten some meaningful upgrades with the printing of All Will Be One and Lux Artillery. Toss in a Together Forever and maybe a Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle and you can do some good stuff.
Best Colorless Move Counter Cards
There are quite a few more modular artifact creatures out there, but this list covers the must-sees.
#10. Arcbound Slith
Ah, the sloths! Boomer fun times! A modular slith is probably decent if you can force through combats, but I have my doubts about Arcbound Slith after so many years of trying to make sloths a thing.
#9. Power Conduit
No mana to move a counter? That seems okay. But Power Conduit doesn’t quite do that. It can pull off a shield counter and only give a +1/+1.
I guess when artifacts with charge counters were a thing?
This over-costed addition to the -avus family is here because it dishes out flying counters, which can matter a lot. Hexavus may be mostly for nostalgia only.
#7. Arcbound Reclaimer
Modular with a bit of clunky recursion? Sounds decent in moving counters kinds of decks! I might sleeve up Arcbound Reclaimer and give it a go.
#6. Scrapyard Recombiner
Whaddya wanna tutor up today? Maybe a Walking Ballista? A Gearhulk? Even Silent Arbiter? There are plenty of choices on Scrapyard Recombiner.
#5. Arcbound Crusher
Not as good as the next card in old affinity, Arcbound Crusher has gotten better with the rise of Treasure tokens.
#4. Arcbound Ravager
The former scourge of affinity Standard 20 years ago, Arcbound Ravager still has bite in an artifacts deck.
#3. Nesting Grounds
Okay, maybe Nesting Grounds should go lower on this list. But it’s a pretty pure play for moving counters, and I wanted to make sure you saw it!
#2. Power Depot
This is a must-include in affinity-style EDH decks, I’d say. Plus Power Depot throws off a counter if it’s destroyed. When is that going to happen? Probably never, but lands with counters on them just look cool.
I rest my case.
#1. The Ozolith
So good it’s almost broken. The only thing wrong with The Ozolith is that it has a “The” in the name but isn’t legendary.
Best Move Counter Payoffs
There will be more payoffs as more kinds of counters are made and brewers start building. For now, these are the best things.
Sagas & Superfriends
Tom Bombadil and Atraxa, Praetors' Voice are the obvious choices for sagas and superfriends, respectively. But there are plenty of others. Most of the cards on today’s list only move +1/+1 counters, but there’s a growing pile that can do the things you want to smooth things out in decks like these.
Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp
Zabaz is, for real, a fun deck to play. It likely has only a dozen or so cards in it that you just have lying around, so it could take a while to pick up. Most of the cards are on the cheap side and it’s a nice little puzzle to figure out how to win with it.
+1/+1 Counters Decks
There are many, many popular and powerful commanders in this space. There’s pretty much an option for whatever color combination you want. Temur ()? Animar, Soul of Elements or the newer Magus Lucea Kane. And on and on.
Can You Move Counters in MTG?
Why yes, you can move counters! That’s what we’ve covered in depth here today. But you can only do it with cards that specifically allow you to like these.
Does Moving Counters Count as Putting Them On?
Yes, moving counters does count as putting them on. And most of the cards indicate that specifically. But for those that don’t, there’s comprehensive rules 122.5, which says, in part “If an effect says to ‘move’ a counter, it means to remove that counter from the object it’s currently on and put it onto a second object.”
How Does Moving Counters Work with Doubling Season?
Because moving counters removes and then adds a counter, it triggers Doubling Season the way you’d want it to: the creature gaining counters gets twice as many.
Arcbound Ravager | Illustration by Chase Stone
This is still a desperate brewer’s space, but it’s getting interesting! Most of the powerful cards on today’s list were printed in the last handful of years.
As design continues down the counters matter space, we’re likely to see some stuff that breaks all this open one of these days. Until then it’s probably just better to proliferate for most of these counters decks in EDH.
What do you think? Did I miss some sweet synergy you’re rocking in your move it, move it counters deck? Let me know in the comments below, or join the discussion over in the Draftsim Discord.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe!
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