Hero of Iroas | Illustration by Willian Murai
Not all heroes are created equal. Achilles was an impressive warrior, but that ankle tho. Hercules, strong as can be, was also a haughty son of a gun. His Twelve Labors were mostly to purge the blood poison from *checks notes* committing a bunch of murders.
It’s this flavor of hero from the Greek epics that inspired the heroic mechanic. Imagine Poseidon, or Athena, or Ares nudging this fighter’s shield or that one’s spear in a large-scale battle like the Iliad. Heroes have both natural abilities and the gods’ favor, after all.
Strap into your armor and crank the Bonnie Tyler; we’re getting heroic in this house!
What Are Heroic Cards in MTG?
Setessan Battle Priest | Illustration by Wesley Burt
Heroic is a creature ability that triggers when the creature is targeted by a spell its controller casts. The heroic trigger usually gives the creature or the controlling player a benefit, like a token or a +1/+1 counter.
Instants and sorceries are the main sources of triggers, but auras also target thanks to their enchant ability. Equip and other activated abilities don’t trigger heroic. Your opponents’ spells also don’t trigger heroic.
Notably, bolster and proliferate effects don’t target, so they don’t trigger heroic abilities. Heroic Intervention doesn’t target either, but I thought I’d bring it up given its name. Goldspan Dragon has a heroic-esque trigger, although it’s an ETB/target combo, and any player targeting this dragon triggers that ability.
Zada, Hedron Grinder has an ability that’s like heroic, but the copies it creates won’t trigger heroic. Heroic is a casting trigger, but Zada’s copies enter the stack without being cast.
Heroic appears on 43 cards in a keyworded fashion, mostly from Theros and the rest of its block. Theros: Beyond Death features five cards that have a heroic-like ability that isn’t keyworded, and they’re included here for posterity.
Honorable Mention: Weird Angel Flame
Weird Angel Flame is a sticker sheet from Unfinity and includes a 2-ticket sticker that grants a heroic ability that grows the creature by two +1/+1 counters a pop. I personally like this sheet more for the “Weird” and “Angel” names it gives you.
Best White Heroic Cards
#15. Elite Skirmisher
It dies to a pinger, so is this guy really that elite?
Regardless, Elite Skirmisher’s heroic ability gives you optional tapping. This is going to be a theme of some of the worse heroic abilities, but I’d rather just tap the creature with something else than rely on triggering this ability. Heroic makes the effect more repeatable in theory, but it’s also more work.
If Elite Skirmisher goes up against a minotaur (like in the flavor text), my money’s on the minotaur.
#14. Setessan Battle Priest
I’d rather have lifelink. Or a tap ability. Setessan Battle Priest wants you to trigger its heroic to gain life, and that’s just plain inefficient.
#13. Leonin Iconoclast
I want to smack my head against my desk. Enchantment creature-specific hate on a heroic, huh? Leonin Iconoclast has no claws. I think that’s the worst insult I can give it.
#12. Hero of the Winds
Theros: Beyond Death may have mildly revisited heroic in a non-keyword form, but I think its implementation isn’t that great. Every creature with the ability is a Hero- or Heroes-named card, and the ability is the same across the board: trigger it to give your creatures +1/+0 until end of turn. No variety, all the same.
Hero of the Winds has an underwhelming stats/cost/ability package to boot.
#11. Hero of the Pride
Hero of the Pride is a common cat with a common cat cost and common cat-level abilities and stats. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of these have gone stray since release.
#10. Wingsteed Rider
Mono-white heroic was the first 60-card deck I ever built, the first deck I ever had and playtested. This whole section is memory lane for me. They’re the first cards I pulled from a deckbuilder toolkit, and the cards I later found to replace them…. Oh, to be young and innocent.
Wingsteed Rider was one of those later cards I found, and looking back I could have probably left it behind.
#9. Dawnbringer Charioteers
I could have bundled Wingsteed Rider with Dawnbringer Charioteers. They’re nearly the same cost and stats, separated only by the lifelink on the Charioteers. But I haven’t bundled any other entries and I want to keep this one clean.
Given its rarity and mana cost, I think I’d want just a little more out of Dawnbringer Charioteers’ heroic ability. I know, I’m asking for a lot. I’ve already got a flying lifelinker and I want more.
#8. Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
I find this 1-drop centaur scout so much better than the costlier green guys you’ll meet later. It won’t pack much of a punch to start, but it’ll serve as a solid early game blocker.
Lagonna-Band Trailblazer sells for more than most commons, which suggests to me that it’s probably still useful in some formats I’m less familiar with. Pauper players, lemme know in the comments!
#7. Akroan Skyguard
Akroan Skyguard is a 2-drop flier with a heroic ability that lets it grow with +1/+1 counters. It’s a decent early game creature, fit to enchant or target with other spells.
#6. Favored Hoplite
Favored Hoplite is a little more evasive with its heroic ability that prevents damage on top of giving it a counter. It’s a neat little 1-drop, almost like a Savannah Lions with extra stuff.
#5. Tethmos High Priest
I definitely had this in my first deck, but looking at it now I’d almost expect Tethmos High Priest to be black? Or at least have some black in it.
Regardless, returning up to 2-mana value creatures to the field is useful, though far from broken. This usually isn’t going to return your commander, but it’ll get a lot of the creatures that are lower on your curve.
#4. Fabled Hero
Whip in the card art. Double strike. Flavor text that reads like Chris Hemsworth Thor.
It’s precisely the double strike that elevates Fabled Hero above many of the other similar heroic abilities. Growing its stats grows its damage potential that much more quickly, all on a 3-mana creature.
#3. Phalanx Leader
Two white pips and a lot of creature buffing. Phalanx Leader gives all your creatures +1/+1 counters when its heroic ability triggers. It doesn’t trigger heroic again, which is either a shame or incredibly balanced.
#2. Vanguard of Brimaz
I get a profound sense of satisfaction any time I read a card that’s a 2/2 for two. I dunno, it’s a Zen moment or something. Vanguard of Brimaz was my, er, “mane” man in the early iterations of my first deck.
This cat is still relevant for its vigilant kittens. Eep! The Vanguard and its tokens are hissing at me in unison.
#1. Hero of Iroas
Hero of Iroas is still plenty useful in aura decks. It gets counters like many basic white heroic abilities, but its aura cost-reduction is why you want to run this soldier.
Almost half the Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice decks on EDHRec use it.
Best Blue Heroic Cards
Let’s get this out of the way: Mindreaver’s activated ability is useless in a singleton format. It’s not as though you’re going to be exiling your own cards on the off-chance someone else casts it so you can counter it, right? That’s just convoluted and inefficient.
Mindreaver’s heroic ability exiles cards and leaves them inaccessible to their owner, which is basically milling’s cousin.
#9. Chorus of the Tides
Don’t let these sirens tempt you. Chorus of the Tides gives you scrying when you trigger its heroic. You can get that plus a +1/+1 counter on a cheaper creature’s heroic, so you can afford to pass over this.
#8. War-Wing Siren
It’s not bad design overall. There are just better ways to spend three mana than War-Wing Siren.
That card art though… nope, focus. The counters are fine, but we’ll see a better card that gives you something to do with those counters.
#7. Wavecrash Triton
Wavecrash Triton is unique in that it taps a creature when its heroic is triggered. The tapped creature doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step either.
Unique doesn’t mean good. Twiddle is literally right there.
#6. Triton Cavalry
Oh, Theros block and its enchantments.
Triton Calvary gives you enchantment-hate heroism in return-to-hand form, which… look, I’d rather have destruction or exiling, but that would probably need another color splashed onto this. The body is fine but expensive as-is. It’s more of a situational ability, a two-step process that you’d often rather be streamlined.
#5. Meletis Astronomer
There are definitely worse heroic abilities available. You only get to look through the top three cards of your library with Meletis Astronomer, and you’re forced to put anything you don’t reveal on the bottom of your library. I’d be willing to pay one or two more mana to search my entire library.
Hey, it’s restricted to enchantments at least. Although, this block had its fair share of enchantment creatures… uh-oh.
#4. Artisan of Forms
It doesn’t have shapeshifter typing, but Artisan of Forms sure acts like one. You can have it turn into a copy of a creature when you trigger its heroic, and it doesn’t lose the heroic by becoming something else.
#3. Battlefield Thaumaturge
Battlefield Thaumaturge gives you some cost reduction on a wizard body, a combination that screams blue. Its heroic ability makes it hexproof for the turn, which is a nice deviation from what we’ve seen.
#2. Triton Fortune Hunter
Triton Fortune Hunter indeed. This merfolk gives you a card draw engine on its heroic. So blue, so good. Since you have to cast something to trigger heroic, this should leave your hand card-neutral.
#1. Sage of Hours
This is probably one of the more relevant heroic abilities in the current meta-game. Sage of Hours lets you trade in five +1/+1 counters for an extra turn, which is just plain powerful.
You don’t have to use heroic to give it counters either: its stats are great for an Ezuri, Claw of Progress deck, and that commander’s experience counters give another avenue to pump up your Sage. ONE also brought us a swath of proliferation effects to consider.
Best Black Heroic Cards
#4. Tormented Hero
Even as 1-drops go, I’d have to pass on this. It enters tapped, which is just gross (derogatory). Its heroic ability is a lifedrain/gain play, but you have to, you know, target Tormented Hero with a spell to get it.
There are better heroic and non-heroic targets to be pumping your spells into. Although… “destroy target creature” spells trigger heroic, right?
#3. Bloodcrazed Hoplite
Bloodcrazed Hoplite gains counters when you target it, which is something rather unexpected for black. What’s more expected is how it steals your opponents’ +1/+1 counters.
If they have them.
#2. Ashiok’s Adept
If I were to redesign Ashiok's Adept, I’d make it a 1/2 rather than a 1/3 and trim its mana value down to two. As is, this wizard forces all your opponents to discard when you target it, but you’d probably rather just run an instant or sorcery that does the same thing.
#1. Agent of the Fates
I’m going to call this one “thread-cutter.” Bone up on your Greek myths if you don’t get it.
Agent of the Fates gives you a lot of punch on a 3-drop creature. It also has deathtouch on top of its heroic ability that forces your opponents to sacrifice creatures. This fella just doesn’t want to play nice.
Best Red Heroic Cards
#9. Akroan Line Breaker
Personally, I’m not a fan. Akroan Line Breaker is a total glass cannon.
Gaining +2/+0 and becoming more evasive is good aggression, especially when this card’s flavor is breaking through defenses. Still, it dies to a non-morbid Tragic Slip, and I can’t really overlook that.
#8. Arena Athlete
Enjoy the spotlight while you can, buddy. You’re miles away from Olympic Gold. And I don’t think Iroas is visiting you soon either.
Arena Athlete’s heroic ability prevents an opponent’s creature from blocking this turn. You’re supposed to pole-vault over the bar, not under.
#7. Hero of the Games
Hero of the Games is a human soldier with the Theros: Beyond Death non-keyworded heroic ability.
There isn’t much to say here; a common 3/2 that costs three is fine, but I generally prefer permanent buffing from my heroic abilities. I want the effect to last if I’m wasting another card to trigger it, you know?
#6. Heroes of the Revel
One of the non-keyworded Hero cards from Theros: Beyond Death, Heroes of the Revel is fine. No more, no less. I wish it gave you satyrs when any satyr ETBs, not just this one. Its heroic-adjacent ability is standard for the set, but I’d look elsewhere before sleeving this up.
#5. Labyrinth Champion
Red sure has some diversity in its heroic effects, and Labyrinth Champion gives you some burn when you target it. For the same mana cost you’d probably rather sleeve up a creature with burn as an activated ability, or perhaps firebreathing.
#4. Satyr Hoplite
Satyr Hoplite is one of the cheaper creatures available to your Gallia of the Endless Dance deck. It’s cheap and grows when you target it with spells, but there’s not much else going on.
It’s a solid little role-player.
#3. Rosnakht, Heir of Rohgahh
Rosnakht, Heir of Rohgahh is one of the newer heroic cards, coming to us from Dominaria United Commander. It pumps out tokens when it’s targeted, but its Kobolds are rather toothless offensively on their own. Rosnakht’s battle cry should help with that, but kobolds aren’t as supported as, say, wizards, soldiers, or warriors.
All I have to say about any Kobold is… oh, good Grieg.
#2. Akroan Conscriptor
Akroan Conscriptor’s heroic ability fits its name: you gain control of a target creature until end of turn. You untap it and it gains haste, so that’s all good, aggressive fun.
#1. Akroan Crusader
Hey, don’t knock the commons. Cheap 1-drops like Akroan Crusader are heckin’ useful, especially when you can get a little extra out of them.
The tokens you generate won’t have heroic; don’t be greedy.
Best Green Heroic Cards
#6. Staunch-Hearted Warrior
Staunch-Hearted Warrior is a pretty basic green heroic creature. Two +1/+1 counters is the standard, but this particular creature is a little costly overall.
#5. Pheres-Band Thunderhoof
This centaur gets two +1/+1 counters when you target it, but it’s not all that impressive to start off. Pheres-Band Thunderhoof is more of a murmuring thunder than a clap or roar.
#4. Anthousa, Setessan Hero
As land animation spells go, Anthousa, Setessan Hero isn’t all that impressive. It doesn’t even untap the lands that you’re animating, and they’re only 2/2s. The mana value and stats are right, but this grass roots recruitment ability doesn’t excite me.
#3. Centaur Battlemaster
A 3/3 that gets three +1/+1 counters when you target it is a tidy piece of business. Unfortunately Centaur Battlemaster doesn’t have trample, which feels like a slight misstep.
#2. Hero of Leina Tower
Hero of Leina Tower gives you a place to pump mana once you’ve triggered its heroic ability. Growing by X can make this huge quickly, but it’ll be pretty squishy to start.
#1. Setessan Oathsworn
Setessan Oathsworn has the same heroic ability as Staunch-Hearted Warrior except it’s cheaper and sports 1/1 base stats. Its satyr typing means it fits in with Gallia of the Endless Dance.
Best Multicolored Heroic Cards
#3. Battlewise Hoplite
Blue and white combine to give you a +1/+1 counter and a scrying opportunity when you target Battlewise Hoplite. It’s a decent little 2/2 for two.
#2. Hero of the Nyxborn
Hero of the Nyxborn makes me a little worried. The heroic ability that grants all your creatures +1/+0 until end of turn is good, as is creating a token when it enters the battlefield.
The thing is, this Hero can be killed both by creature and enchantment removal.
#1. Anax and Cymede
Anax and Cymede’s trigger gives you temporary creature buffing instead of counters. It affects all your creatures and gives them trample though, so can you really complain all that much?
Best Heroic Payoffs
A lot of white and green heroic creatures gain +1/+1 counters when their ability triggers, which is ripe for Doubling Season.
Feather, the Redeemed has an ability that effectively lets you recycle your instants and sorceries that also trigger heroic.
Ivy, Gleeful Spellthief also benefits from cards that would trigger heroic, although it won’t benefit from any of your mass targeting spells.
Orvar, the All-Form is another potential commander that rewards you when you target your creature with spells, in this case by copying one of them.
Killian, Ink Duelist can reduce the cost of the spells you use to trigger your heroic abilities.
Be careful of your rules text if you’re looking to copy heroic triggers. Copies that are directly placed on the stack don’t trigger heroic; you have to cast the copies for them to trigger heroic. Cipher causes you to cast a copy, so it’s fair game. You might be better served by trying to copy the heroic trigger itself rather than the spell with something like Harmonic Prodigy or Veyran, Voice of Duality.
Battlewise Hoplite | Illustration by Willian Murai
So ends the epic tale of heroic in Magic. It can be hit-or-miss so far; some abilities are great, but others just turn actions you’d rather do in one step into two-step actions. Why cast a spell to trigger an ability to do a thing when you can just cast a spell to do the thing?
At a five on the storm scale, it’s a mechanic that you probably won’t see all that often but could pop up here and there. Theros: Beyond Death had a non-keyworded facsimile, so I wouldn’t be surprised if any return to that plane either had heroic or heroic-like abilities.
What say you? Which heroic cards are your favorite? Do you want to see heroic make a return, and how would you like that done? Let me know in the comments below, or hop on over to the Draftsim Discord to join the discussion.
On to the next adventure!
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