Orzhov Pontiff | Illustration by Adam Rex
I’ve been playing the game for a while now, and I’ve got a very good idea of the archetypes I’m drawn to and those I tend to avoid. Before it was banned, my favorite archetype in Modern was Birthing Pod. I found the toolbox lookalike decks very interesting as they enabled interesting play patterns others didn’t have. One of the creatures I was thrilled to play with was Orzhov Pontiff, as it could be used as a pseudo-board wipe thanks to its haunt ability, something rare to have on a creature.
That said, haunt isn’t an ability many creatures have. More importantly, have you ever heard of it before? I sure didn’t until I bumped across Orzhov Pontiff, so let’s cover the most common questions about haunt and showcase a deck that features this mechanic as its primary engine.
Intrigued? Let's dive in!
Exhumer Thrull | Illustration by Warren Mahy
While haunt is a keyword ability that’s often seen on creatures, it can be placed on any type of card. When a permanent or a resolved spell with haunt goes to the graveyard, you exile it, targeting a creature. When this creature dies, the ability of the card with haunt triggers and the effect is put onto the stack.
Haunt was first introduced in Guildpact on 2006-02-03. According to the collection number, the first card with the ability was Benediction of Moons, a spell that lets you gain life for each player for 1 mana when it resolves and when the haunted creature dies.
According to head designer Mark Rosewater, the ability was a “mistake,” and WotC doesn’t have any plans on bringing it back. So no, it's not evergreen.
While in modern magic, many cards have the “may” or “up to” statements to give players the choice of whether to resolve certain effects, haunt is a mandatory ability that forces you to choose a target among legal ones on the battlefield. If there are no legal targets, the card with haunt goes to the graveyard instead of being exiled.
Yes. Unlike celebration from Wilds of Eldraine, which is a static ability, haunt triggers “when” the spell resolves or the permanent with it goes to the graveyard.
When you flicker a creature that was haunted, it’s exiled from the battlefield and then returned to its original state, which means that alterations to it, like counters, damage, and, in this case, the haunt ability, are lost.
If you flicker a creature with haunt, it triggers any enter the battlefield abilities it may have, but since the creature doesn’t go to the graveyard, its haunt ability isn’t triggered.
Cards with haunt only trigger when they resolve or go from the battlefield to the graveyard in the case of creatures. Discarding a card with haunt won't trigger its haunt ability.
The haunt ability is worded in a way where you can target any creature on the battlefield, meaning that you can target your creatures that remain on the battlefield.
- Benediction of Moons
- Cry of Contrition
- Orzhov Euthanist
- Orzhov Pontiff
- Absolver Thrull
- Blind Hunter
- Seize the Soul
- Belfry Spirit
- Exhumer Thrull
- Graven Dominator
Blind Hunter isn’t the most exciting, but it does a fair job of draining your opponents once it enters the battlefield and whenever the haunted creature dies, which is usually a good effect in Limited.
Graven Dominator is a good Limited and Commander card that can shrink the board when it enters the battlefield. The combo is to pair it with the likes of Curse of Death's Hold to create a two-card combo that can clean the entire board.
Usually, removal spells that leave a creature behind aren’t very good. However, the fact that you can use the creature you created to trigger the haunt ability again makes it worth destroying two problematic creatures, as the 1/1 is likely more prone to dying.
Blind Hunter | Illustration by Warren Mahy
As you may have seen, outside of Orzhov Pontiff, few haunt cards can see competitive play. The closest we have is a pseudo-competitive Pauper deck that uses a cute discard package along with the haunt mechanic to leave your opponents with no cards in hand with Cry of Contrition and drain them with Blind Hunter.
Orzhov Euthanist | Illustration by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
In my opinion, haunt is a good mechanic overall, but I can see why Maro doesn’t want it back. It's prone to a lot of confusion among new players, and its ruling may be a bit difficult to understand at first glance. Still, I think over time, cards are being printed with more and more words as sets get released, so one can only wonder where WotC draws the line in terms of what parameters they use to get mechanics back or not.
What do you think? Would you love to see more cards with haunt, or are we okay with just the handful we have? Let me know in the comments!
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