Last updated on October 25, 2023

Frostfist Strider - Illustration by Francisco Miyara

Frostfist Strider | Illustration by Francisco Miyara

One aspect of Magic that always seems to cause confusion are the so-called freeze effects. Suddenly players don’t remember that you can’t untap the creature.

WotC is trying to fix that with a new evergreen mechanic, and that’s stun counters for you. Today I’m taking a look at how this new mechanic came to be and what it's trying to fix.

Ready? Let's dive in!

How Do Stun Counters Work?

Stall for Time (Dominaria United) - Illustration by Ryan Alexander Lee

Stall for Time (Dominaria United) | Illustration by Ryan Alexander Lee

Stun counters are new evergreen counters that can be put on permanents. Each time you’d untap a permanent that has one or more stun counters, you instead remove a stun counter from that permanent. If there are no more stun counters to remove, then you untap the permanent.

So putting a stun counter on a permanent is very similar to “tap a permanent and it doesn’t untap during the next untap step,” because you trade the untap step for the stun counter. More on those differences later, because it’s not the same thing.

The History of Stun Counters in MTG

Impede Momentum

Stun counters appeared for the first time in Dominaria United, in 2022. The first card that previewed stun counters was Impede Momentum, which puts three stun counters on a creature.

There are only three cards in Dominaria United with the stun counters mechanic. But WotC has said that these counters are evergreen, so we can expect that they’ll be used in any set from now on whenever it makes sense. We’ve seen similar things with cards that fight, vehicles, and other kind of counters like flying.

Stun vs. Freeze in Magic

Frost Lynx Frost Titan

There are creatures in Magic’s history, typically in blue and flavored as frost creatures, which “freeze” a creature. Creatures like Frost Lynx and Frost Titan have this ability. Freeze is lingo created by players for “tap target creature and it doesn’t untap during the next untap step.”

Frost Lynx Frostfist Strider

This effect is very similar to stun counters, but it’s a little different. For example, let’s compare two cards that are similar: Frost Lynx which “freezes,” and Frostfist Strider, which puts a stun counter on a creature.

If a creature is frozen by Frost Lynx‘s effect, it can be untapped with untap effects coming from creatures or instants and sorceries. If it’s stunned by Frostfist Strider, any untap step takes off a stun counter and the creature can untap as normal. The main difference is that Frost Lynx only restricts the untap effect from the untap step, while the stun counter negates any untap effect at least once.

Can an Untapped Creature Have a Stun Counter on It?

Yes. The untapped creature with a stun counter can do anything, but in the next untap step you remove a stun counter instead of untapping. If another effect would untap the creature (think cards like Act of Heroism or Refocus), a stun counter is removed instead.

Can You Put Stun Counters on Something That’s Already Tapped?

Sure you can. The thing is, all the effects that put stun counters on creatures require you to tap the creature first, and this is probably done to reduce complexity.

Can Something Be Stunned for More Than One Turn?

Impede Momentum Frostfist Strider

Yes it can, though it all depends on the number of stun counters that are put on a given permanent. Impede Momentum puts three stun counters on a creature, but Frostfist Strider only puts one stun counter.

When a permanent receives more than one stun counter, it takes that many untap steps to be able to use the permanent again.

Can Noncreatures Have Stun Counters?

The rules state that any permanent can receive stun counters, — even lands — so yes, if a card is designed to do so. So far every card that put stun counters is on another creature, but since it’s an evergreen mechanic this will probably change with the next few sets.

Can You Proliferate Stun Counters?

Sure! Proliferate works for every kind of counter, and you could definitely proliferate stun counters on enemy creatures so they’re “extra-locked.”

How Do Stun Counters Work with the Untap Ability?

Clever Conjurer

Any untap ability removes a stun counter. So if I have a creature tapped with a stun counter and I also have Clever Conjurer, I can use the Conjurer to untap the other creature. The stun counter will be gone, and the creature can untap normally on the next untap step.

Stun vs. Exert

Exert is like freeze in the sense that it won’t untap during its next untap step if the creature is exerted, while stun impedes the next untap effect. If the creature exerted has vigilance, it can attack and not be tapped.

Are Stun Counters Good?

Based on the history that we have with the freeze mechanic, stun counters will mostly be a Limited thing. Unless we get powerful cards like Frost Titan and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage that can place a stun counter each turn and do powerful stuff.

I can see a powerful rare or mythic that enters the battlefield and stuns lots of permanents, but the power will come mostly from the card and not the mechanic. In my opinion it’s nice to have a counter to track this aspect of the game.

Gallery and List of Stun Counter Cards

There are only three cards with stun counters, all from Dominaria United:

Best Stun Counter Cards

#5. Stall for Time

Stall for Time

Tapping two creatures and drawing a card is great in Limited, and paying the extra kicker for the stun counters is certainly good if you can manage. Stall for Time gives you two free attacks plus an extra card.

#4. Impede Momentum

Impede Momentum

For two mana you lock a creature out of the game for three rounds, or at least two. Impede Momentum is better in aggressive decks to keep tempo. But don’t think that this is a removal spell like Claustrophobia, because it’s not.

This card is somewhat better than Stall for Time thanks to the lower mana and color requirements.

#3. Frostfist Strider

Frostfist Strider

The only uncommon from this list, and Frostfist Strider is easily the best stun counter card. A 4/4 for five mana is okay and playable, but a creature that stuns another creature when it enters is usually a very good creature in Limited. Even if it’s not playable in Constructed.

Cards like Frost Trickster, Berg Strider, and Chillbringer are among the most playable commons in a given Limited format.

#2. Sleep-Cursed Faerie

Sleep-Cursed Faerie

Sleep-Cursed Faerie seemed ab it over-valued before it was released in Wilds of Eldraine, but it's still a solid creature in slower formats. A 1-mana 3/3 flyer with ward is great, and having to pay some mana to get it online still isn't a deal breaker. If you manage to play this on turn 1, then spend your next 2-3 turns countering your opponent's plays, it comes out swinging strong.

#1. The Watcher in the Water

The Watcher in the Water

The Watcher in the Water is a total bomb from Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. A 9/9 is awesome, and you get a bunch of smaller creatures in the time leading up to it actually untapping. This card really gets strong, however, once you get a way to remove the counters/move them elsewhere.

Wrap Up

Impede Momentum (Dominaria United) - Illustration by Igor Kieryluk

Impede Momentum (Dominaria United) | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk

So there you have it, everything there is to know about stun counters! They’ll probably have an impact mainly in Dominaria United’s Limited format and blue-based decks. As we see more cards using the mechanic we’ll probably get some splashy rares and mythics with it, along with some artifacts or enchantments that hand out stun counters. We also have yet to see what Dominaria United Alchemy and Commander decks will bring us.

WotC has already said that the mechanic is evergreen so we can definitely expect that each set will have one or two cards that tap a creature and add a stun counter. What are some sweet ways to use stun counters that you’ve thought of? Let me know in the comment section below or on the Draftsim Twitter.

Stay safe folks, and keep stunning your opponent’s creatures!

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