Last updated on April 26, 2023

Archon of Cruelty - Illustration by Andrew Mar

Archon of Cruelty | Illustration by Andrew Mar

Have you ever heard an experienced player say something like, “it’s a 6-mana card that does nothing!” I know I say that a lot when people ask me to critique cards, particularly for Limited, but we don’t often explain what that means. We mean that it doesn’t have a trigger when it enters the battlefield.

If a creature doesn’t have an immediate impact on the game, a removal spell is all it takes have effectively wasted your mana. That’s why I’ve got the best ETB creatures in the game lined up for you today. Time to make a Dramatic Entrance!

What Are ETB Creatures in MTG?

Yorion, Sky Nomad - Illustration by Steven Belledin

Yorion, Sky Nomad | Illustration by Steven Belledin

This article focuses on creatures that have abilities that trigger when they enter the battlefield, or “ETB triggers” for short. These abilities have a wide-ranging scope of effects, and many of which we cover here. The creatures on this list appear not just because they’re the best creatures with ETB triggers, but because their ETB triggers are the reason that the cards are so good. In many cases, they’re the best version of such a trigger. It’s a long list, so let’s get right to it.

Best White ETB Creatures

#7. Karmic Guide

Karmic Guide

Reanimating a creature as an ETB trigger is extremely powerful. Echo is designed to curb that power, but Karmic Guide doesn’t need to survive for more than a turn anyway. It’s been a part of many combo decks, especially for how unique its ability is.

#6. Restoration Angel

Restoration Angel

“Flicker” effects are clearly good with ETB triggers, letting you reuse them with ease. Restoration Angel does this perfectly while being an ETB trigger itself. It was a dominant Standard card and has also seen play elsewhere.

#5. Ranger-Captain of Eos

Ranger-Captain of Eos

Ranger of Eos was a good card once, but Ranger-Captain of Eos is much better. It only gets one creature, but it has a better rate of stats. Its activated ability can be the final nail in the coffin against decks that you might otherwise struggle with, which really pushes it over the top.

#4. Loran of the Third Path

Loran of the Third Path

Loran of the Third Path has done a lot in just a few months. Disenchant on a creature is a great ability and has been done before, but putting it on a white, legendary creature has made this card a real asset, and it’s seeing play in a variety of formats.

#3. Palace Jailer

Palace Jailer

We’ve seen many Banisher Priest variants, but Palace Jailer is the best by far. Being the monarch draws you several extra cards, and unlike other versions of this effect, losing the Jailer won’t give the creature back. Legacy Death and Taxes uses this very effectively, and it’s also a very strong card in Cube Draft.

#2. Solitude


The pitch elementals from Modern Horizons 2 have some of the best ETB triggers in the game. Solitude is probably the best of the lot, and not the last one to appear on this list. It’s seen a ton of play in Modern and Legacy, reinvigorating archetypes like Control and even being a standout addition to Omnath/Elemental decks.

#1. Stoneforge Mystic

Stoneforge Mystic

In combination with Batterskull and Kaldra Compleat, Stoneforge Mystic has been a dominant card in many formats for over a decade. It ended up banned in Standard and Modern until the format could eventually handle it. It doesn’t see as much play anymore, but it remains one of the best white 2-drops ever and one of the best ETB triggers in the game.

Best Blue ETB Creatures

#7. Venser, Shaper Savant

Venser, Shaper Savant

Venser, Shaper Savant is an incredibly flexible card that allows you to temporarily answer any problematic card. In this case, it’s that flexibility that makes Venser a strong card, as opposed to power level.

#6. Mulldrifter


A lot of ETB triggers let you draw a card, but very few let you draw more than that. Mulldrifter is a classic card of the game which was widely played in Limited and Standard. It’s especially potent if you evoke it and flicker it before it dies, and that makes it one of my favorite cards here.

#5. Vendilion Clique

Vendilion Clique

Vendilion Clique was once the pinnacle of blue creatures. Controlling the contents of either player’s hand was something that tempo decks wanted. It just so happened that faeries was one of the best Standard and Extended decks at the time, which made this card stand out even more.

#4. Agent of Treachery

Agent of Treachery

You normally only get to gain control of permanents temporarily, so when Agent of Treachery came along and said you can steal them permanently and do it as an ETB Trigger, it seemed ridiculous. Turns out it was; it became a dominant card in Standard and is still an incredible Commander card.

#3. Palinchron


The Urza’s block gave us multiple creatures that untapped lands when they entered the battlefield. Any one of them could take this spot, be they Cloud of Faeries, Peregrine Drake, or Palinchron. They’re all broken when you factor in lands that tap for more than one mana and that interaction is all too easy to power out a combo deck.

#2. Thassa’s Oracle

Thassa's Oracle

An ETB trigger on a 2-drop that says “you win the game” is certainly something to be taken seriously. Thassa's Oracle has become a win condition in several combo decks, from Pioneer down to Legacy. All you have to do is find a way of emptying your library and you win. Simple.

#1. Snapcaster Mage

Snapcaster Mage

Tiago Chan’s invitational card, Snapcaster Mage, has been one of the best ETB triggers for a long time and also one of the best blue creatures in the game. Over the years, it’s been an important card for control decks in every format, flashing back everything from cheap cantrips to removal spells and counterspells.

Best Black ETB Creatures

#9. Champion of Dusk

Champion of Dusk

Champion of Dusk saw a great deal of play in Standard. Not many aggro decks get access to large amounts of card draw, which made this card stand out. Aggro decks tend to be beaten when they run out of cards quickly, but Champion of Dusk ensures that vampire decks never run out.

#8. Massacre Girl

Massacre Girl

Massacre Girl’s trigger is unique in how many rules headaches it has caused. In many cases, it wipes the board clean and can even be played as your Commander for repeated use. It did see some Standard play, but it’s mostly a card for casual decks.

#7. Rune-Scarred Demon

Rune-Scarred Demon

Demonic Tutor is one of the game’s best cards, so it was inevitably going to make its way onto a creature. Seven mana has priced Rune-Scarred Demon out of seeing play in constructed, but in Commander it has far-reaching applications, especially when the format values tutor effects so highly.

#6. Inverter of Truth

Inverter of Truth

Inverter of Truth was possibly one of the worst mythics ever printed. That is, until Pioneer was announced and Thassa's Oracle was printed. All of a sudden, the card was part of a two-card combo that was good enough to see Inverter banned in the format just eight months later.

#5. Grave Titan

Grave Titan

At least in Standard, Grave Titan stood out as the strongest of the new titan cycle. 10 power and toughness upfront is a big deal and a really easy way for a control deck to swing a game in their favor. Nowadays, it’s still great for zombie decks in casual formats, even though it’s no longer the best titan around.

#4. Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Good old Gary is the card that made mono-black devotion a real deck in Standard back in the mid-2010s. Even now, the fact that Gray Merchant of Asphodel hits each opponent makes it an incredibly powerful Commander card, and it’s also an all-star in Pauper black decks.

#3. Ravenous Chupacabra

Ravenous Chupacabra

Ravenous Chupacabra is one of the best Limited cards of all time as one of the easiest ways to score a two-for-one play. An improvement over the classic Nekrataal, this particular “mythic uncommon” was good enough to even see some Standard play.

#2. Archon of Cruelty

Archon of Cruelty

Archon of Cruelty quickly became one of the best possible creatures to reanimate. It currently leads Modern as the main target to hit with Indomitable Creativity because many decks can’t handle several mini-Cruel Ultimatums.

#1. Grief


Thoughtseize is one of Magic’s most impactful cards, so naturally having a version in the form of a creature that can be flickered or Reanimated is going to be strong. We’ve seen Grief do a lot in a variety of Modern and Legacy decks that can make full use of this effect in many ways.

Best Red ETB Creatures

#6. Bogardan Hellkite

Bogardan Hellkite

Bogardan Hellkite has mostly seen play as the main win condition for Dragonstorm decks when they were a dominant force in the mid-2000s. Now, it’s still a potent dragon if you have a Commander deck that could use it.

#5. Zealous Conscripts

Zealous Conscripts

Zealous Conscripts saw a good amount of Standard play in its time, though nowadays it’s mainly a staple of Cube Drafts. There, it’s a combo piece that goes along with Splinter Twin but also a strong option in its own right.

#4. Dockside Extortionist

Dockside Extortionist

Dockside Extortionist is known as one of the strongest cards in Commander. Given how many artifacts and enchantments appear in the format, it often nets you a very large number of Treasure tokens, allowing you to power out several big plays at once.

#3. Goblin Recruiter

Goblin Recruiter

Stacking your entire deck is a very unique ability, and one that has earned Goblin Recruiter a ban in Legacy. There are several applications for such an ability, and we’re not likely to see it again any time soon.

#2. Seasoned Pyromancer

Seasoned Pyromancer

Seasoned Pyromancer was one of the early standouts from the original Modern Horizons and immediately took Modern by storm. While it’s seeing slightly less play now, it was recently added to Magic Arena and is a staple in the Historic format.

#1. Fury


Fury is the last of the pitch elementals on this list. Alongside Grief, Fury primarily sees play in the popular Modern deck “Rakdos Scam,” which seeks to evoke these creatures and use a card like Undying Malice to reuse their ETB triggers. Even without that, Fury has seen a lot of play in both Modern and Legacy and stands out as one of the best creatures in the game.

Best Green ETB Creatures

#8. Regal Force

Regal Force

For a long time, Regal Force saw a great amount of play in Legacy Elves as a way to refill your hand in the middle of comboing off. It ended up usurped by a creature that appears higher on this list, but it’s still a powerful effect that a number of Commander decks can take advantage of.

#7. Apex Altisaur

Apex Altisaur

Apex Altisaur essentially wipes out several creatures at once, which is something that few other creatures in the game can claim to do. If you happen to make it indestructible, it even turns into a Plague Wind.

#6. Cultivator Colossus

Cultivator Colossus

Cultivator Colossus can draw a ton of cards while also accelerating you by several lands. You may wonder why you need to accelerate further once you get to seven mana, but combo decks like Amulet Titan in Modern have many uses for a ton of extra lands. This Colossus has found a home in decks like that.

#5. Avenger of Zendikar

Avenger of Zendikar

Of all the ETB triggers that make tokens, from Cloudgoat Ranger to Hornet Queen, Avenger of Zendikar is the best of the bunch. Not only does this make an impressively large number of tokens, it also has the ability to make them much larger, leading it to become a Commander staple.

#4. Eternal Witness

Eternal Witness

Eternal Witness has seen play in virtually every format thanks to its flexibility. There are many ETB triggers out there that can recover a card from the graveyard, but they all have restrictions. The fact that Eternal Witness can get anything puts it well above the rest of the pack.

#3. Craterhoof Behemoth

Craterhoof Behemoth

The Hoof is not just one of Commander’s best green finishers but also one of the main win conditions for Legacy elves. The ETB gives you an obscene boost in power and toughness, one that makes Craterhoof Behemoth uniquely powerful.

#2. Sylvan Primordial

Sylvan Primordial

While Sylvan Primordial doesn’t look like much, this is a classic case of wording making all the difference. In Commander games, it works on each opponent, allowing you to destroy three targets while also searching up three forests. That is an explosive effect that resulted in it getting banned in the format fairly quickly.

#1. Primeval Titan

Primeval Titan

Primeval Titan has seen play in nearly every format. Thanks to being able to search for any lands, it’s a major combo enabler in the game. Amulet Titan in Modern is named for it, but it’s also been known to search Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. It’s also banned in Commander thanks to the wide range of lands it can pick up.

Best Multicolored ETB Creatures

#12. Hostage Taker

Hostage Taker

I quite enjoy stealing my opponent’s spells and using them as my own. Hostage Taker was a unique take on the usual Banisher Priest model, one which was one of Standard’s best cards while it was around.

#11. Knight of Autumn

Knight of Autumn

Knight of Autumn isn’t the splashiest of ETB triggers, but it offers a good amount of flexibility. It’s been played as a silver bullet in many decks capable of searching it up at will.

#10. Tiamat


The dragon queen of D&D didn’t disappoint fans of the game when she was introduced to Magic. Tiamat was an instant hit and a perfect fit for dragon-themed Commander decks, letting you search up basically everything you need when it’s played.

#9. Dragonlord Atarka

Dragonlord Atarka

I have a soft spot for Dragonlord Atarka, having had my best ever premier event finish with it (a GP Top 16). Ramping into Atarka as quickly as possible was a very viable Standard strategy, since casting it on turn four nearly always wiped out the opponent’s board in one shot.

#8. Ashen Rider

Ashen Rider

“Exile target permanent” is a very powerful line of text, one which has seen Ashen Rider in and out of reanimator decks since it was first printed. You can’t do much better for a big 8-mana creature in these colors.

#7. Murderous Redcap

Murderous Redcap

Murderous Redcap is a really interesting use of the persist mechanic. It saw play quite regularly in Standard and went on to be the win condition in Melira, Sylvok Outcast combo decks, where it could persist indefinitely when sacrificed with a Melira in play.

#6. Niv-Mizzet Reborn

Niv-Mizzet Reborn

Niv-Mizzet’s first foray outside of the Izzet colors resulted in an entire deck being built around him. “Niv-to-Light” is a midrange deck in Pioneer and Modern that features a variety of multicolored spells that relies on Niv-Mizzet Reborn to refill its hand. It uses Bring to Light to tutor it up when needed and a variety of silver bullet options.

#5. Atraxa, Grand Unifier

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

It’s only been around for a short while, but Atraxa, Grand Unifier has already seen play in a variety of formats. Seven mana and four colors are a very tall order, but Atraxa is most commonly cheated into play either by reanimation or some other means. Atraxa typically draws you anywhere between two and six fresh cards at that point. On top of that, it has the right combination of stats and keywords to take over a game by itself.

#4. Reflector Mage

Reflector Mage

We can’t have a list of the best ETB triggers and not have a Man-o'-War variant. It’s just a question of which one. Reflector Mage is the most impactful one ever made and ended up getting banned in Standard. Keeping your opponent from being able to recast their creature was just a step too far for this one.

#3. Spell Queller

Spell Queller

Spell Queller has long been an important piece of spirit tribal decks in Standard through to Modern. Even if you’re only temporarily countering a spell, that’s a big tempo swing that is all you need to close out a match.

#2. Yorion, Sky Nomad

Yorion, Sky Nomad

The companion mechanic was a ridiculous joke that never should have seen the light of day. Yet it did, and Yorion, Sky Nomad was one of the better ones and was recently banned in Modern. It was the easiest companion rule to satisfy and worked great with other ETB triggers.

#1. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

In the 2019/20 Standard season, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath was one of several ridiculously broken cards that wrecked the format. Uro is still banned in Pioneer, Historic, and Modern, and it’s legitimately strong in Legacy. The idea of a repeatable ETB and attack trigger that draws a card, ramps you and gains life is just absurd and more than enough to earn the number one spot on this list.

Best Colorless ETB Creatures

#1. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

WotC naturally have to be careful with colorless cards, as any deck can use them. Only one colorless card made this list as a result. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim has an absurdly powerful set of abilities that has seen it get banned in Commander, though not before it headlined one of the best Standard decks we’ve seen in years.

Best ETB Creature Payoffs

ETB triggers are one of the most popular mechanics in the game. It’s very well known that “flicker” or “blink” effects, like Ephemerate or Momentary Blink, are excellent ways of retriggering a creature’s ETB effect. Ephemerate in particular has seen a lot of play in Modern alongside creatures like Eternal Witness, Ice-Fang Coatl, and the pitch elementals.

It’s a very common strategy in Commander too. I’ve got my own Prime Speaker Vannifar deck, but other popular Commanders include Brago, King Eternal, Roon of the Hidden Realm, and of course Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines.


The other easy way of paying off your ETB triggers, particularly the bigger ones, is to find ways of cheating those creatures into play. Particularly through Reanimate and other similar spells. Big creatures from this list, like Ashen Rider and Atraxa, Grand Unifier see play in such decks that can put them onto the battlefield for far less mana than they actually cost. There are a variety of ways to pay yourself off for these cards: it’s just about picking and choosing what works best for your deck and your colors.

Wrap Up

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath - Illustration by Vincent Proce

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath | Illustration by Vincent Proce

As long as there are creatures to cast, you can bet that we’ll have some with abilities that trigger when they enter the battlefield.

Have you enjoyed this look at the best ETB creatures? Is your favorite not on this list? Let me know in the comments down below, or find us over on the official Draftsim Twitter.

Until next time, take care of yourselves!

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