Last updated on August 29, 2023

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit - Illustration by Ryan Yee

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit | Illustration by Ryan Yee

Back in the Khans of Tarkir block, each clan revered a dragon and acted according to its style. Dromoka was the tough Abzan () dragon, and the beef behind the bolster mechanic.

Abzan is the shields up clan and already has a mechanic related to +1/+1 counters in outlast, so bolster complements the clan in a very fitting way. Today it’s time to take a look at the bolster mechanic, do our best to answer all your questions, and show worthy cards to bolster your EDH decks.

Ready? Let’s go!

How Does Bolster Work?

Abzan Advantage - Illustration by Winona Nelson

Abzan Advantage | Illustration by Winona Nelson

Whenever the bolster X action happens, you put X +1/+1 counters on your creature with the least toughness. If two or more creatures are tied for the least toughness then you choose which creature receives the counters.

You can’t divide the counters between creatures so you need to apply all the counters to the same creature. Most spells with this mechanic have bolster 1, but the counter goes up to bolster 5 in the case of Steppe Mastodon.

Simple, right?

The History of Bolster in MTG

Bolster was designed as the ability for the Abzan clan in Fate Reforged, and it was later incorporated into the Dromoka clan in Dragons of Tarkir.

All bolster cards are green and white, which makes sense because Selesnya () is usually the color of creatures and +1/+1 counters. The intersection between Abzan and Dromoka is green/white, so there’s no black bolster card.

The applications of bolster is wide since it can be on both creatures and spells. It’s not impossible to see a planeswalker that bolsters creatures in the future with a + activation.

Can a Creature Bolster Itself?

Yes, a creature can bolster itself. Dromoka Captain is a 1/1 with first strike, and you bolster 1 whenever it attacks. You can put the counter on it since it’s a 1/1 and will be tied for the least toughness at least once.

The thing is, the creature isn’t bolstering itself, it’s just benefitting from its bolster ability. If Dromoka, the Eternal is the only creature you have and it attacks, you bolster 2 and it gets the counters from its own bolster ability.

Does Bolster Stack?

A creature can have more than one instance of bolster, which triggers the bolster ability that many times. In each one of those times, a counter (or more) is added to the creature with the least toughness.

Does Bolster Target?

Bolster is applied automatically to your creature with the least toughness after the trigger. Any player who wants to respond needs to do so before the trigger resolves.

If you have only one creature and it’s killed in response to a bolster trigger, you won’t have valid creatures to put the counters. If you have one or more creatures and one of them is killed in response to the bolster trigger, another creature gets the +1/+1 counters.

Gallery and List of Bolster Cards

Best Bolster Cards

#4. Dragonscale General

Dragonscale General

Dragonscale General makes any little creature much bigger in token decks. It would be better if the counters were put before the attack like Luminarch Aspirant, but it is what it is.

#3. Dromoka, the Eternal

Dromoka, the Eternal

It flies, it’s big, and it puts two counters on another creature or itself. It’s a dragon. What’s not to like?

Play Dromoka, the Eternal in +1/+1 counter or dragon decks to extend the benefit to other dragons you control.

#2. Optimus Prime, Hero / Optimus Prime, Autobot Leader

Optimus Prime, Hero is either a 4/8 with bolster 1 triggering every turn, or a 6/8 vehicle with bolster 2. Either side is excellent, it’s resistant to removal, and it can be a nice Jeskai () commander.

#1. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the synergies with persist creatures that allow for easy infinite combos. With Anafenza in play you can sacrifice a creature and it returns to play with a -1/-1 counter. The counter is removed with the bolster trigger from Anafenza, and you can do that indefinitely.

It also can help spread counters in a Selesnya EDH deck, but it’s not the main use for the card. Oh, and its exploitable with cards like Murderous Redcap and Kitchen Finks.

Wrap Up

Scale Blessing - Illustration by Matt Stewart

Scale Blessing | Illustration by Matt Stewart

Bolster is best used in decks that have synergies with +1/+1 counters from cards like Abzan Falconer and Damning Verdict. Another interesting thing to exploit with the mechanic is to convert 3/1 fliers into 4/2s (Brazen Borrower, Elite Spellbinder) since they’ll be able to get the counter with 1 toughness.

According to WotC’s Mark Rosewater, bolster is “bound to return at some point, but not as a build-around mechanic,” so we’ll see it again at some point.

What are your favorite interactions with the bolster mechanic? Let me know in the comments below or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one!

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