Last updated on September 2, 2022
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Sure! Proliferate works for every kind of counter, and you could definitely proliferate stun counters on enemy creatures so they’re “extra-locked.”
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.
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.
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.
There are only three cards with stun counters, all from Dominaria United:
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.
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.
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.
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!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: