Last updated on September 22, 2023
Champion of Rhonas | Illustration by Winona Nelson
The plane of Amonkhet was marked and shaped by Nicol Bolas’s influence. Everything about the plane’s society was modified and altered to follow the dragon’s schemes. All of society was rebuilt to serve as a way (unknowingly) to create a massive army, so physical prowess and ability were celebrated and sought after.
Warriors and heroes in Amonkhet would be pushed beyond their limits to achieve feats of greatness that would gain them a place amongst the eternals. The influence of Bolas’s manipulation and schemes were represented through the exert mechanic.
This keyword ability represents your potential to exert your influence and power over your creatures, pushing them past their limit to achieve certain feats. But we all know that once you’ve crossed your limit, you need some time to rest and recover, which is also represented in this mechanic.
Gust Walker | Illustration by Jason Rainville
When a creature with the exert keyword is exerted, the creature won’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.
Exert underwent some changes between Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation. In the original Amonkhet set, creatures could only become exerted when they attacked, which essentially meant they had abilities that were strongly focused on combat. This changed in Hour of Devastation, with several creatures having activated abilities that allow them to exert for some additional effects. This change also represented a change in the mindsets of Amonkhet’s inhabitants, going from them being exerted by an outside influence to them being able to exert themselves, mirroring their willpower and strength to resist the apocalyptic events of Hours of Devastation.
Hooded Brawler | Illustration by Daarken
Exert was designed as an improvement of an unreleased mechanic called reckless, which was designed for the Gruul guild during Gatecrash. This ability gave creatures some kind of combat advantage at the cost of them being sacrificed at the end of turn. The drawback for this ability was deemed too steep, so it was abandoned, only to serve as the eventual base for exert. Exert worked the same as what reckless would’ve been but with a less extreme drawback.
There were 17 cards with exert in Amonkhet, all with the ability only able to activate during combat. Exert showed up again immediately after in Hour of Devastation, where it now appeared as an additional cost of activated abilities. Most of these cards had two activated abilities: one had exert and one didn’t. The one with exert had the same effect as the other but doubled or otherwise improved. For example, Oasis Ritualist can fix a single colored mana each turn, but if you need an extra mana in a pinch, you can use its exert ability to get another extra mana at the cost of keeping it tapped for an extra turn.
There are a total of 29 cards with exert. Of those 29, there are nine white, ten red, eight green, and two multicolored cards.
You can exert a creature more than once if you have ways to do so. For creatures with activated abilities that allow you to exert them, you can reuse their ability if you have ways of untapping them.
In the case of creatures that can only be exerted during the attack phase, you can use cards like Seize the Day to untap them and the next time you attack you can exert them again.
If a creature was exerted more than once before its controller’s next untap step, all the exertions will resolve during the same untap phase.
If you give vigilance to a creature with exert, you can exert it when it attacks without suffering its drawback. Exert specifically states that an exerted creature won’t untap during its controller’s next untap step, but if the creature never taps in the first place, it simply won’t affect it at all.
Exert only states that an exerted creature won’t untap during its controller’s next untap step, but it doesn’t prevent it from untapping through other means. You can absolutely untap an exerted creature through means other than the untap step.
Exert isn’t a triggered ability, but rather a keyword action. While in some cases you can only activate exert under certain conditions, that doesn’t mean it triggers but rather that you need certain conditions to activate it. However, exerting a creature can (and does) activate triggered abilities.
To explain it through an example: when you attack with Ahn-Crop Crasher you may exert it; that’s an activated ability that can only be activated under specific conditions. However, if you do exert it, that triggers the card’s “target creature can’t block” ability; that part is a triggered ability.
It’s a bit confusing but TL;DR: exert itself isn’t a triggered ability but it’s usually followed by a triggered ability that triggers when exert is activated.
While you could technically exert a creature with summoning sickness, you can’t really get to the point where you can activate it in the first place: creatures with summoning sickness can’t attack, and they can’t tap themselves to activate abilities, so neither of the two types of instances where exert can be activated can be reached.
Isshin, Two Heavens as One doesn’t work with exert because exert itself isn’t a triggered ability, and the abilities that are triggered by it are triggered by exert and not because of attacking.
- Angel of Condemnation
- Devoted Crop-Mate
- Glory-Bound Initiate
- Gust Walker
- Oketra's Avenger
- Rhet-Crop Spearmaster
- Steward of Solidarity
- Tah-Crop Elite
- Vizier of the True
- Ahn-Crop Crasher
- Battlefield Scavenger
- Combat Celebrant
- Emberhorn Minotaur
- Fervent Paincaster
- Khenra Scrapper
- Nef-Crop Entangler
- Trueheart Twins
- Bitterblade Warrior
- Champion of Rhonas
- Hooded Brawler
- Hope Tender
- Oasis Ritualist
- Pride Sovereign
- Rhonas's Stalwart
- Watchful Naga
- Ahn-Crop Champion
- Resolute Survivors
When used right, exert can be a pretty great ability. The first (and probably most popular) example of this I can think of is Combat Celebrant. Of course, this card can be broken relatively easily for infinite combats, but even beyond that, it remains a great card. Being able to exert it for an additional combat phase can very much be a game-ending move, especially in aggro decks.
Champion of Rhonas is also pretty good since it allows you to cheat a creature into the field when you exert it. It may not be the best card that can do this, but it’s far from a bad card if you need a budget option in one of your decks.
Samut, Voice of Dissent | Illustration by Aleksi Briclot
Angel of Condemnation
Champion of Rhonas
Herald of Dromoka
Marisi, Breaker of the Coil
Moraug, Fury of Akoum
Saryth, the Viper's Fang
Steward of Solidarity
Vizier of the True
Boseiju, Who Endures
Kessig Wolf Run
Temple of Abandon
Temple of Plenty
Temple of Triumph
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
While this deck isn't the most competitive option out there, that means two things. First, you have lots of room to tweak, upgrade, and adjust this list as you see fit. Second, exert, even though it may not have as much support as other abilities, is relatively easy to build around.
It’s an aggro deck with plenty of ways to untap your creatures or grant them vigilance so you can use exert while avoiding the drawback.
I chose Samut, Voice of Dissent as the commander for this deck because it’s a pretty decent commander for Naya aggro decks and it has an ability that lets you untap your creatures, which is good to have at hand. Other possible commanders (which I included in the 99) are Johan, which’ll allow your creatures to attack without tapping, or Marisi, Breaker of the Coil, which is less useful but has a nice combat payoff.
Glorybringer | Illustration by Sam Burley
I personally like exert as an ability. It’s definitely useful (Combat Celebrant is a great example) and it feels super flavorful, especially the way it’s been changed mechanically to fit the way the plane it featured has changed. It’s a fun mechanic that’s engaging and allows for some fun or interesting combat interactions.
But enough about what I think. What’s your opinion on exert? Do you like it or do you find it unfun to play with? What’s your favorite exert card? Feel free to leave a comment letting me know! While you’re at it, make sure to pay our Discord server a visit! There you’ll find an amazing community of MTG fans and players.
That’s all from me for now! Have a good one and I’ll see you next time.Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: