Last updated on September 22, 2023
Abzan Battle Priest | Illustration by Chris Rahn
“Outlast has the problem where the cards look worse than they actually are,” wrote Mark Rosewater of the unpopular Khans of Tarkir mechanic. Maybe these 11 cards are more useful than you remember?
Of course they are.
In a world where Luminarch Aspirant anchors Standard mono white builds, it’s easy to look at outlast creatures as too slow and too limited. But the Selesnya () +1/+1 counters theme continues with outrageous support in creatures like Kyler, Sigardian Emissary and Hamza, Guardian of Arashin. Not to mention that outlast offers Commander players access to placing counters as a mana sink and special abilities that they can grant to every creature with +1/+1 counters on them.
Intrigued? Let’s find out whether some of these cards should be shuffled into your 99!
Tuskguard Captain | Illustration by Aaron Miller
Outlast is a keyword ability that requires the creature with outlast to tap, which adds a +1/+1 counter to it. It that appeared in Khans of Tarkir, was left out of the follow up in the Fate Reforged block because design “didn’t believe [they] could make enough cards for a second set.” So only nine were printed until the two Modern Horizons sets, each of which had one.
The idea, according to Matt Tabak, is “The creature ducks out of action for a while and trains, and when it's big enough, you can go on the offensive.” That means that the ability needs to be at sorcery speed flavor-wise.
But that limitation makes the creatures seem weak. Especially in contrast to one of the more popular abilities from the Khans block, prowess, which can be activated by one of your own instant spells on an opponent’s turn. All of that added up to a mechanic that never made it into good decks in any 60-card format.
And so it seems likely that newer players may not know about these cards for their EDH decks, while older players mostly remember these cards as Draft chaff. But are any of these cards worth a second look?
Is this the nonsense the skeptical among you were expecting? Underpowered, overcosted cards that can’t possibly be in any serious deck?
Salt Road Patrol is like getting socks for Christmas back when that was the worst thing you could get as a kid. This is the kind of common that felt like it lurked in every single Khans pack, mocking you as you kept cracking to get that playset of Monastery Swiftspears.
Okay, wait. I feel like I’m losing you. Disowned Ancestor is more unplayable cardboard, right?
Yes, mostly, but it does see fringe play in Iname, Death Aspect black spirits and Doran, the Siege Tower big butts decks. I’m convinced that this only gets played because the art is pretty cool and it’s a 1-drop.
We need better cards, right? Well, let’s go!
There’s no way this crowds out another 2-drop in sliver decks, and it only exists because Modern Horizons dug up like 45 keywords for 1-offs. Cool concept, but we needed a better card here.
What differentiates the middle portion of this list is the value of the extra keyword abilities granted by the outlast creature to every other creature you control with a +1/+1 counter. The value of that depends on the game plan for the counters deck and the importance of the keyword in that plan relative to the cost of the creature.
So what about outlast for everybody? This is useful in Selesnya counters decks as a pretty low opportunity cost resource for board stalls. How well does outlast scale?
You might be thinking that Arcus Acolyte allows you to play around with Battle Cry-type effects, but it loses the granted outlast ability once you put counters on something. The best you can do is make everything have a counter in a counter matters deck. But how many creatures are you playing that don’t affect counters on their own in those decks that would need the Acolyte’s help?
This is most useful in coven decks to mash up two underpowered mechanics. If you’re going through the trouble of building a Sigarda, Champion of Light or Leinore, Autumn Sovereign deck, this is probably a helpful grease to the wheels. But you’d still rather have Mikaeus, the Lunarch or Ivy Lane Denizen or any number of other cards that grant the team +1/+1 counters in this spot.
In Khans Draft, well, sure. And this seems like the most secret of all the secret reaches in Draft history. But in Commander? I mean, this is a fun gotcha in the Yeva, Nature's Herald deck I once built. And it wrecked someone to drop this with flash. But that deck isn’t good aside from that one moment, now appropriately celebrated, so we should move on.
If you’re blocking with reach creatures in Selesnya counters decks you’re just losing. Your job is to attack, and although folks sometimes jam this in Daghatar the Adamant decks, there seems no other use unless your local meta has a lot of Azorius () fliers decks flitting around. But even then.
And that’s kind of the trouble with outlast at large. It makes you wait on attacking, which is bad for these creature decks in these colors. But reach is even worse. I can’t use the two keywords on this card in the same turn, and that’s like the ultimate frustration.
How about deathtouch? Is that worth it? That seems to be of value in an aggressive deck.
The answer is a tentative yes for the only playable black card on this list. The black gives access to all sorts of other commanders that do different tricks with +1/+1 counters, including varied options like Reyhan, Last of the Abzan, Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, and Felisa, Fang of Silverquill.
Ainok Bond-Kin is the 2-drop you played in Draft because curve is a thing, but you never liked it. You could do worse for two mana, and you won’t hate giving everything first strike in a counters deck.
Herald of Anafenza is too unheralded!
Outlast to make a token? This is a repeatable 3-mana way to sink mana and make a token. It would probably be welcome in black, but the uses are fewer as a white card.
I use this in my Teysa, Orzhov Scion deck. But I might be tempted by new New Capenna Commander card Bennie Bracks, Zoologist, where this card is now “pay three to get a counter, a token, and draw a card.” Okay. I’ll bite.
Tuskguard Captain comes with a body for one more mana than Primal Rage. This has to be a consideration in a green deck that wants trample effects and might be packing tutors for creatures with anything from Green Sun's Zenith to Birthing Pod.
This is a lot of lifelink in a big board counters strategy. Dropping Abzan Battle Priest before a big attack can really stem the bleeding if you’re taking hits, which is exactly the kind of effect a go-wide deck wants. You’re circling the drain for an aggro deck when you stop turning creatures sideways to defend.
The Battle Priest especially likes to hang with Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn and other commanders that combine counters and lifelink. It’s also pretty good in a gain and drain Orzhov () clerics deck with cards like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose as finishers.
Abzan Falconer is the most played outlast card on EDHREC because granting flying to your board is powerful, especially in aggressive Selesnya tokens decks that want to push damage. I’m surprised that a card like Geralf, Visionary Stitcher, which does the same for zombies decks, doesn’t see more play for this reason. This card is like having a Wonder in your graveyard!
But Abzan Falconer has been around long enough that players know the drill. Most decks with counters themes have white in there somewhere, whether that’s a card with a black pip that gets partnered with Alharu, Solemn Ritualist, a Selesnya leader like Torens, Fist of the Angels, or even dark horse Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper. Doing lethal damage with a flock of flying Islands is on my EDH bucket list.
None of the outlast effects are fast enough for 60-card formats. Even the 1-drops don’t really see play. In Khans Limited, outlast cards contributed to a durable Abzan () deck that could stall the board and then slowly build to a Abzan Falconer or Mer-Ek Nightblade finish.
But the real payoffs here are in Commander.
Usually of the Selesnya variety, these cards are useful for their granting of keyword abilities to creatures with +1/+1 counters, not for their outlast ability specifically. That said it’s often useful in long stalled games, like when two creature decks are the last standing at the EDH table and dozens of creatures are just staring at each other. Flying or trample or deathtouch can really put a clock on the game.
There’s going to be white in there for lifegain, either in mono white or in Selesnya with something like Trelasarra, Moon Dancer. Especially with Heliod, Sun-Crowned, where you can toss counters around pretty easily.
There are deathtouch decks, but as a strategy it’s definitely much lower tier. A lot of the focus is on green, which should be obvious when reading Fynn, the Fangbearer’s rules text. But there are a lot of Golgari commanders in this space, like Glissa, the Traitor.
But most of the spells or abilities that grant deathtouch to creatures that don’t already have it are in green. And the ones in black (and there are less than a dozen) tend to be 6-drops, the adventure side of Topaz Dragon notwithstanding. The Nightblade is cheaper than most of those, and effects that grant deathtouch are needed in decks that don’t have access to green.
A creature can outlast multiple times in a turn if you have a way to untap it.
No, you can’t outlast a creature that has summoning sickness. The outlast ability requires you to tap the creature to use it, and summoning sickness prevents a creature from being tapped.
Tapping the creature is part of the cost of the outlast ability itself, so you do have to tap it.
Arcus Acolyte | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Outlast was never very supported, even in its original Khans block. And the power creep that’s given us The Great Henge and Luminarch Aspirant makes cards that add a counter at sorcery speed by tapping and with an additional mana cost seem awfully quaint.
But the global abilities that these cards add to your team are also a product of that less powerful time in Magic. They were ways to make up for the slow and clunky vibe of outlasting a creature. They were the payoffs you’d need to run and outlast the cards.
Those payoffs are still relevant in Commander, and I’d argue that these cards are largely unknown to newer players and underutilized. Not to mention that not one of these cards is over a dollar, and most are under 50 cents! There’s very little risk in adding one or two of these to your next singles order for budget players if you’ve never played one.
But what do you think? Have you played with outlast before, or are you going to give it a try now? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.
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