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Last updated on April 1, 2022

Kitchen Finks - Illustration by Kev Walker

Kitchen Finks | Illustration by Kev Walker

Persist was introduced in 2008 with Shadowmoor. The defining mechanic in a multicolor block, persist is featured in all colors and on creatures of all sizes. Giving added value to creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities is a very popular design space, which is why persist creatures have shown up in Commander and on the kitchen table since it was first printed.

Even more than just providing added value, persist is particularly interesting in the ways it interacts with +1/+1 counters among other effects. Abusing the mechanic has been a significant strategy in a number of combo decks over the years where it’s a hallmark of Birthing Pod decks.

It doesn’t show up as much these days since creatures are a lot bigger and decks are a lot faster, not to mention that a number of other cards may have been banned. But a mechanic as enjoyable as persist will definitely show up again.

But I’ve talked enough about my love of the mechanic. Let’s get to the part where I tell you how it works!

What is Persist in Magic?

Glen Elendra Archmage - Illustration by Karl Kopinski

Glen Elendra Archmage | Illustration by Karl Kopinski

Persist is a mechanic for creatures that lets them come back from the graveyard, just slightly smaller. When a creature with persist dies it comes back with a -1/-1 counter unless it already had one on it.

Let’s take a look at the official rules:

702.79a Persist is a triggered ability. “Persist” means “When this permanent is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, if it had no -1/-1 counters on it, return it to the battlefield under its owner’s control with a -1/-1 counter on it.”

WotC

I’d like to point out that while the rules more vaguely state “permanent” and not “creature,” all of the cards that actively have the persist ability are creatures so far.

Best White Persist Cards

#2. Kithkin Spellduster

Kithkin Spellduster

Kithkin Spellduster is an overcosted flier with a very Limited sacrifice ability. There are better things to be doing with your mana than spend seven to kill an enchantment and be left with Storm Crow.

#1. Twilight Shepherd

Twilight Shepherd

Twilight Shepherd is good enough to have been reprinted a number of times. It lets you proactively regrow a bunch of things, meaning that you can gain a tremendous amount of value by picking up everything you’ve sacrificed if you have a sacrifice outlet.

Once in play the persist ability lets the Shepherd sit as insurance against wrath effects for all the non-persist creatures you might have, or any that already used their persist ability once.

Best Blue Persist Cards

#2. River Kelpie

River Kelpie

River Kelpie is a sweet card that gives you more value from your other persist creatures or if you have a recursion engine going on. The body is very unimpressive for the cost, but this is what rares with cool effects looked like.

#1. Glen Elendra Archmage

Glen Elendra Archmage

Glen Elendra Archmage is a Cube all-star. Though the body is a bit small, having two Negates sitting in play is devastating to combo and control strategies. A favorite of mine to pick early in Cube, this card has also made splashes in Constructed magic. Especially in the old days of Modern when it showed up as a one-of in Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker toolbox strategies where it could be immediately found with Chord of Calling or Birthing Pod.

Best Black Persist Cards

#3. Lingering Tormentor

Lingering Tormentor

A 4-mana 2/2 is sad and unimpressive, even for cards from 2008. Lingering Tormentor has fear but I don’t know anyone that would fear this.

#2. Putrid Goblin

Putrid Goblin

A 2-mana 2/2 is much more interesting. Putrid Goblin is almost Constructed playable by virtue of being both a goblin and a zombie with combo potential.

#1. Puppeteer Clique

Puppeteer Clique

Puppeteer Clique is a Commander all-star. Being able to Postmortem Lunge your opponent’s best dead creatures gives you a bunch of sweet ETBs and even potentially hit them for a bit of damage. Triggering the ETB ability a second time without a sacrifice outlet means you likely won’t get to attack with the reanimated creature a second time, but you get some nice value.

Best Red Persist Cards

#2. Thunderblust

Thunderblust

Thunderblust is a neat take on Ball Lightning. A huge monster that hits hard, it presumably hits once, dies, and then becomes the Lightning. Being two mana more might not always be worth it, though…

#1. Furystoke Giant

Furystoke Giant

Furystoke Giant lets you dome your opponent or shoot down a bunch of their creatures if you have a small army that couldn’t do much otherwise. The persist ability makes combat complicated for your opponent here since anything that survives on your field can pick off anything that survived on theirs.

Best Green Persist Cards

#2. Aerie Ouphes

Aerie Ouphes

Aerie Ouphes is a very elegant design as its own sacrifice outlet. I appreciate cards that can answer fliers, especially those that can do it without more mana investment at instant speed. Still, five mana is a bit much for this effect.

#1. Woodfall Primus

Woodfall Primus

Now we’re talking! Woodfall Primus is another Cube staple, where it can be cheated into play with Natural Order or any of the reanimation spells.

Being able to hit a land means this card always has a target for its ability and cheating it out to hit your opponent’s mana sources often hamstrings them enough that the next threat kills them.

I love this big guy and try to find room for it in most Cube and Commander decks I build.

Best Multicolor Persist Cards

#11. Grazing Kelpie

Grazing Kelpie

Grazing Kelpie is excellent at hosing your opponent’s persist creatures, but the size of the body and the narrowness of the ability leave me disappointed.

#10. Gravelgill Axeshark

Gravelgill Axeshark

To paraphrase a song composed by me and my friend Carlo, here’s what I think of Gravelgill Axeshark:

My creature ‘tis of thee,

Five-mana three / three

With one ability

It kinda stinks

#9. Rendclaw Trow

Rendclaw Trow

A gray ogre with not one, but two abilities. Rendclaw Trow also has the capacity to hose other persist creatures which makes it an excellent blocker, but that’s about it.

#8. Safehold Elite

Safehold Elite

Much like Putrid Goblin, Safehold Elite is just on the edge of playable. But as far as grizzly bears are concerned, this one is pretty great!

#7. Trapjaw Kelpie

Trapjaw Kelpie

Trapjaw Kelpie lets you ambush a smaller creature in combat, but this 6-mana 3/3 isn’t going to be ambushing anything that your opponent would really care about anyway.

#6. Scuzzback Marauders

Scuzzback Marauders

Another persist creature with one keyword ability, at least Scuzzback Marauders has a better rate than the rest. Having trample means it pushes through a bit of damage before dying to something much smaller.

#5. Cauldron Haze

Cauldron Haze

It’s a Cauldron of Souls ability, just once! Cauldron Haze is a cool way to foil your opponent’s mass removal in multiplayer games and lets you negotiate alliances with other players in the process.

#4. Restless Apparition

Restless Apparition

Turning into a giant monster with enough mana makes Restless Apparition a big late-game threat that requires spot removal to take care of. It pretty much precludes you from playing any land that doesn’t tap for white or black mana, though.

#3. Heartmender

Heartmender

Here’s a lord for the persist mechanic! Although Heartmender has a very small body it pretty much makes your creatures with persist unkillable through traditional means.

#2. Murderous Redcap

Murderous Redcap

Murderous Redcap is a card whose abilities I’ve triggered countless times. An accessory to one of my favorite combo strategies, Redcap lets you really abuse the persist mechanic to the greatest extent. It’s perhaps the best way to use them with all the opportunities to build degenerate combos that persist presents that potentially lets you deal infinite damage if you were able to assemble your doomsday device.

#1. Kitchen Finks

Kitchen Finks

The shining star that represents all the creatures with persist!

Kitchen Finks was a staple of competitive Magic for well over a decade. A 3-mana 3/2 was a very fair rate for a creature that stabilized boards in aggressive matchups and resisted removal against the slower matchups. Finks did it all.

It also has the same combo potential as Murderous Redcap and was frequently used in combination with Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Vizier of Remedies, and Archangel of Thune to gain infinite life.

Best Colorless Persist Cards

#5. Rattleblaze Scarecrow

Rattleblaze Scarecrow

Rattleblaze Scarecrow gets low marks for inconsistently having persist. Being overcosted and only having three toughness make this nigh-unplayable, just like with a lot of other persist commons.

#4. Antler Skulkin

Antler Skulkin

Antler Skulkin doesn’t have persist but it can save your white creatures by giving it to them. One of many scarecrows from the Shadowmoor block, this one is a little overcosted in both the mana cost and the cost of the ability.

#3. Wingrattle Scarecrow

Wingrattle Scarecrow

Wingrattle Scarecrow also only has conditional persist, but at least it’s a 3-mana 2/2 with sometimes flying which was a lot better back in the day.

#2. Lesser Masticore

Lesser Masticore

One of the rare newer cards that feature the persist ability, I haven’t seen Lesser Masticore make any splashes in Constructed but it was certainly fun to play with in a very powerful Limited environment.

#1. Cauldron of Souls

Cauldron of Souls

Cauldron of Souls is a weird card all-around. It lets you recur your creatures without persist, which means that it requires a couple extra steps to use as a combo. But this is still a sweet way to take advantage of your value creatures that might find ways to die.

Cauldron is a little clunky, but it does a lot of cool things.

Best Persist Payoffs

These are all cards that remove persist’s “downside” by stopping the -1/-1 counter from being applied. They do this by adding a +1/+1 to the creature after it persisted, giving it undying, or preventing counters from being placed on it at all.

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit bolsters onto your persisting creature as long as it’s the smallest creature when it arrives, which is easy given the smaller size of the better ones.

Solemnity

Solemnity

Solemnity is a card that can combo with a lot of interesting cards. You can add persist creatures as needed if you want to build a combo deck around it.

Melira, Sylvok Outcast

Melira, Sylvok Outcast

A card printed as a hatebear against infect creatures, Melira, Sylvok Outcast was the first that slotted into deck with Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap plus a sacrifice outlet to gain infinite life and deal infinite damage respectively.

Vizier of Remedies

Vizier of Remedies

Vizier of Remedies is mostly found alongside Devoted Druid these days. But it’s pretty much a color-shifted Melira, Sylvok Outcast for decks that might not want to deal with the legendary creature clause.

Viscera Seer

Viscera Seer

Viscera Seer is the OG sacrifice outlet for the persist combo decks where it easily could be found with Chord of Calling and Ranger of Eos. Once you assembled your engine of the Seer, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and Kitchen Finks you can gain infinite life and scry your Murderous Redcap to the top to kill your opponent the next turn.

Carrion Feeder

Carrion Feeder

Much like Viscera Seer, Carrion Feeder is a cheap creature that’s easy to find except it gets infinitely large instead of just finding another card.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

Big bad Mikaeus, the Unhallowed gives undying to all your persist creatures, letting them come back forever. Mikaeus combos with other cards just like a lot of the other cards on this list. In this case it’s with cards like Triskelion.

Does a Creature With Persist Hit the Graveyard?

Creatures with persist have to die for the ability to trigger, which means they have to hit the graveyard first as part  of this process. This means that effects like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace stop persist from working.

Does Persist Work With Tokens?

Tokens are removed from the game when they’re put into a zone beyond the battlefield, so they’re removed from the game instead of hitting the graveyard and triggering persist.

Can You Respond to Persist? Does it Go on the Stack?

Persist is a triggered ability that immediately goes onto the stack when a creature with persist dies. If you have a way to exile it from the graveyard before the persist ability resolves, say with Scavenging Ooze, you can fizzle the ability to prevent the creature from coming back.

What if a Creature with Persist has Undying?

Persist creatures with undying is a very favorable interaction. When a creature with both persist and undying dies, if it had no counters on it you decide the order in which both of the triggers resolve. This means that you can basically choose if your creature comes back with a +1/+1 counter or a -1/-1 counter.

If that creature would die again while it has both abilities one of them still triggers, meaning that a creature with persist and undying continuously loops back onto the battlefield when it’s killed.

Wrap Up

Twilight Shepherd - Illustration by Jason Chan

Twilight Shepherd | Illustration by Jason Chan

So there you have it, all the cards featuring the persist mechanic ranked! Persist is a very sweet ability that’s often looked down on because design teams avoid mixing mechanics that use +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters to minimize confusion, and mechanics that feature +1/+1 counters tend to be very popular.

But -1/-1 counters still show up now and then even though the last time we saw them was Hour of Devastation. Negative counters often tell the story of hardship and survival, which is why they show up in sets with big villains in them like the Amonkhet and Scars of Mirrodin blocks. They were a mechanical centerpiece to the Phyrexian faction in both blocks.

Who knows, maybe we’ll see a return to form the next time we see the Phyrexians in action. What do you think? Are you hoping to see a return to persist with some new Phyrexian nonsense, or are you glad we haven’t seen this mechanic in a while? Let me know in the comments down below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.

But until we do, stay warm and wash your hands!

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