Clearwater Goblet | Illustration by Dany Orizio
Some MTG mechanics are more popular and used more often than others. Sunburst is one of those mechanics that may not be used as often, especially because it works best in decks with more colors in them.
Since some players like the simplicity of playing a deck with one to three colors, this could be the reason why sunburst is such an underrated mechanic. However, there are some benefits and tradeoffs to having some, or all, of the 17 sunburst cards in an MTG deck.
Why not give sunburst a try when building your next deck? Let’s get into what exactly the mechanic does for you before ranking the sunburst cards against each other.
Suncrusher | Illustration by Dave Dorman
Aaron Forsythe coined the sunburst keyword when the first 16 cards were released in Fifth Dawn. Sunburst allows the card with this static ability to enter the battlefield with several specific types of counters on it based on how many colors were used to cast the spell.
The best thing about sunburst cards is that they’re all colorless spells, so you can legally put them in any Commander deck. But to get the best value, sunburst cards work better in 5-color decks to get five counters.
Suntouched Myr is a vanilla artifact creature after accounting for whatever number of +1/+1 counters it gets from its sunburst ability. However, this sunny, silvery myr can do so much despite its simplicity as a creature.
Suntouched Myr works in artifact-heavy decks to get benefits as it triggers synergistic cards. It can also help reduce the cost of Emry, Lurker of the Loch when on the battlefield. In a Galazeth Prismari Commander deck, tap Suntouched Myr for 1 mana of any color to cast an instant or sorcery spell.
Jodah, Archmage Eternal is a commander that can utilize Skyreach Manta in the 99. The Manta also works synergistically with Shalai and Hallar because it’ll deal damage to an opponent equal to the number of sunburst counters on it.
Solarion can enter the battlefield with up to five +1/+1 counters because of sunburst. This can quickly get out of hand. If left untouched by your opponents, you could easily be left with a creature too big to fail.
Suncrusher can remove up to five target creatures as long as you cast it with all five colors. It can become more of a threat in proliferation decks to constantly access removal by pilling counters on your Suncrusher. If someone tries to board wipe or use targeted removal on it, all you have to do is pay 2 mana, remove a +1/+1 counter, and return it to your hand.
Get more value by placing this card in an Urtet, Remnant of Memnarch Commander deck. Be sure that Maskwood Nexus is on the battlefield so Suncrusher is also considered a myr. Then, you can use Urtet’s ability to pay all five colors and tap it to give all myr creatures three +1/+1 counters.
Spinal Parasite is a unique sunburst card because its base power and toughness are -1/-1, so you need to cast it with at least three colors for it to become a 2/2 and get one activation of its ability. However, in a proliferate deck, you can be a threat to people running superfriends decks because you can remove loyalty counters using Spinal Parasite.
Pentad Prism is a great ramp/rock for any counters-matter or proliferate decks. Get infinite colored mana when you combo off with Pentad Prism, Vorel of the Hull Clade, and Freed from the Real. You can get the same effect by replacing Freed from the Real with Pemmin's Aura.
Etched Oracle is a great card draw opportunity for any deck. Cast Etched Oracle then Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder, which should have at least two +1/+1 counters. The angel and spike can generate infinite +1/+1 counters on Etched Oracle and all your other creatures that are already on the battlefield.
At instant speed, you can give a creature -X/-X (up to -4/-4 if you pay 4 mana on cast) until the end of that turn simply by tapping Infused Arrows. Activate it after declaring blocks and before damage to get rid of a problem creature on an opponent’s battlefield. If you're running this card in a proliferate deck, you'll get to accumulate counters and instigate targeted creature removal at your command.
Heliophial is a powerhouse in a proliferate deck. Use proliferation staples like Evolution Sage, Norn's Choirmaster, and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to increase the number of charge counters on Heliophial. If you can get the number of charge counters high enough, you can tap 2 mana, sacrifice Heliophial, and one-shot an opponent taking down their life points to 0.
Sawtooth Thresher is a versatile artifact creature card, allowing you to essentially pump it up when needed. In response to an attack, you can remove the counters on the stack to pump up Sawtooth Thresher to destroy a problem creature via combat damage.
Lunar Avenger is a great backup artifact creature that’s customized to the current conditions of the battlefield. Don’t have a flying creature? Remove a +1/+1 counter for the creature to gain flying until the end of the turn.
Is there a creature with deathtouch on the battlefield? Remove a +1/+1 counter for Lunar Avenger to gain the first strike. If your opponent has no creatures and you want to deal instant damage, remove a counter to deal direct damage!
There’s a combo that includes Lunar Avenger, Mairsil, the Pretender, Blood Vassal, and Endling. Mairsil must be on the battlefield with no +1/+1 counters and the other cards must be exiled with cage counters on them.
You get infinite black mana, infinite death triggers, and infinite sacrifice triggers by giving Mairsil undying until the end of the turn. Sacrifice Blood Vassal to add 2 black mana to your mana pool. When Mairsil dies, it comes back to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it. Use Lunar Avenger’s ability to remove a +1/+1 counter from it to trigger Mairsil’s ability.
Arcbound Wanderer is a special kind of sunburst creature because it also has the modular ability. When it dies, you can move the +1/+1 counters from it to another artifact creature in your army. It’s almost like the creature version of The Ozolith.
Baton of Courage is the only sunburst card that has flash, and it can come in with up to three charge counters if you use three colors of mana to cast it. Remove charge counters to pump up creatures to get them strong enough to block a larger creature.
This card is best for increasing the power and toughness of creatures early in the game when you may not have as many creatures as your opponent does.
Engineered Explosives shouldn’t be a sunburst card that you let stay on the battlefield for long. If you see that your opponent has cards with about the same mana values, pour however much mana you need equal to the mana cost of the permanents you want removed. Be sure to have an extra 2 mana to pay to immediately sacrifice Engineered Explosives to destroy those permanents.
Try the janky combo that includes Engineered Explosives, Emry, Lurker of the Loch, Jeskai Ascendancy, and Barrage Ogre (or Orcish Vandal or Orcish Mechanics). You get infinite damage, storm count, looting, and untap triggers. Your creatures can get as big as you want until the end of the turn.
Opaline Bracers can get lethal fast the more that you proliferate the counters on it. Cast with four colors of mana to get the four +1/+1 counters on it. Have Atraxa, Praetors' Voice to proliferate the counters on every end step.
Hardened Scales and other cards that increase counters can slowly build up the power of the creature it’s equipping. Whenever you have more creatures enter the battlefield with Tainted Observer on board, you can pay 2 to proliferate Opaline Bracers
Clearwater Goblet is a lifegain staple that can provide you with 5 life on your upkeep. While it’s best to place this sunburst card in a lifegain-themed deck, it can be used as a safeguard for any deck to keep you healthy.
Get a 2/2 white Griffin every end step because of gaining more than three life with Griffin Aerie. If you have Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose out along with Clearwater Goblet, your opponent can lose 5 life because of Vito whenever you gain life with the goblet.
Combine Clearwater Goblet, Nexus of Fate, and Maralen of the Mornsong to get infinite turns. This locks players out of the game and helps you find your win condition quickly. You can also get infinite turns if you replace Nexus of Fate and Maralen of the Mornsong with Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn and Sage of Hours.
Lux Artillery from Phyrexia: All Will Be One Commander is the best sunburst card in MTG’s arsenal. Artifact creature spells gaining sunburst because of Lux Artillery means that they getting +1/+1 counters based on how many colors of mana you use to cast the spell. Then, that many charge counters go on Lux Artillery.
Run a Jodah, Archmage Eternal deck with artifact creatures with a casting cost of 5 or more mana, so it only takes six creatures to accumulate 30 charge counters on Lux Artillery for its damage ability to trigger.
Considering sunburst cards generate +1/+1 counters on creatures and charge counters on artifacts, the best payoff cards are any that synergistically work with counters or proliferate.
A newer card from Wilds of Eldraine, Agatha's Soul Cauldron can strengthen the sunburst creatures because the artifact gives any creatures with +1/+1 counters the activated abilities of all cards exiled with it.
Tribute to the World Tree from March of the Machine can give you army-strengthening benefits if a sunburst creature enters with three or more +1/+1 counters. If one enters with two or fewer counters, Tribute to the World Tree can pump it up by another two +1/+1 counters. If you cast a sunburst creature with only colorless mana sources to where it wouldn’t come in with any counters at all, it at least comes in with two +1/+1 counters thanks to Tribute to the World Tree.
Don’t forget to include Hardened Scales in any deck featuring sunburst creatures. Even an extra +1/+1 counter on a sunburst creature from Hardened Scales can make win conditions like Simic Ascendancy easy to achieve.
Sunburst creatures can trigger Simic Ascendancy for an expedited win condition. Say that you’re running a 3-color commander deck with Simic Ascendancy already on the battlefield. As long as you use three colors to cast a sunburst creature, you get three growth counters on Simic Ascendancy. Include all nine sunburst creatures in the deck build to quickly reach 20 or more growth counters to win the game.
While we know Atraxa, Praetors' Voice Commander decks are usually built in a super friends theme with planeswalkers, you can try a different approach with sunburst creatures to allow your commander to proliferate them on your end step. Depending on the casting cost and colors used, you can get two to five +1/+1 counters on a sunburst creature when it enters. They can slowly get stronger with Atraxa’s proliferate ability.
If you do want to take the superfriends deck build route with Atraxa, Ichormoon Gauntlet would be a great addition because it gives all planeswalkers a 0 ability to proliferate. If you have five planeswalkers on the battlefield with Ichormoon Gauntlet out, you can proliferate the charge counters and +1/+1 counters on sunburst cards five times.
Extra counters from proliferation can come in handy for the abilities of sunburst creatures that require removing counters from them for a special effect. For example, Spinal Parasite can only get two instances of removing a counter from a target permanent if you use four colors to cast it since its base power and toughness is a -1/-1.
Etched Oracle can only get one activation of removing four counters for any player to draw three cards as long as it’s cast using four colors. However, as you proliferate, you have more opportunity to do these creatures’ special effects upon removing those extra counters.
One of the most popular commanders for proliferating is Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus because it allows you to spend extra time for each proliferation trigger. Pump up any creature with an extra two +1/+1 counters when they enter the battlefield using Drannith Ruins.
Engineered Explosives | Illustration by Lars Grant-West
If you didn’t know much about sunburst, I hope you’ve learned something today! Whether you decide to build a deck around this mechanic or not, it’s great to learn because you never know if Wizards will release more sunburst cards in the future.
Tell us about your experience with sunburst cards, if any, in the comments section below. Join the Draftsim Discord to discuss your favorite cards, commanders, and deck builds with fellow Magic players.
Now go forth and burst in the sunlight that shines from the excitement of building a new deck! With sunburst cards, of course!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: