Falco Spara, Pactweaver | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
Ever wanted to protect your creatures from burn spells? Doom Blade got you down?
Well you’re in luck! The new shield counters mechanic from Streets of New Capenna could provide exactly the protection you’re looking for.
Today I’ll be running you through the ins and outs of shield mechanics. How they work, specific rules for novel situations, the best cards to dole them out, and more!
Boon of Safety | Illustration by Robin Olausson
Shield counters are a new type of counter that can be placed on permanents, and it’s the signature mechanic of the Brokers family. When a permanent with a shield counter on it (usually a creature) is dealt damage or destroyed, instead a shield counter is removed and that instance of damage/destruction is prevented.
As a new mechanic straight out of New Capenna, shield counters have only been printed in two sets so far, New Capenna Commander being the second. They feature on 20 cards and are fairly evenly spread out between Bant () colors.
Regeneration vs. Shield Counters
Regeneration is a powerful mechanic that makes creatures like River Boa, Lotleth Troll, and Thrun, the Last Troll nightmarish to deal with without very specific cards. It had gameplay balance problems that necessitated printing “can’t be regenerated” on cards like Wrath of God, Incinerate, and Seal of Doom.
Shield counters have a similar gameplay purpose of protecting creatures and are also vulnerable to many of the same outs as regeneration (edicts and -X/-X effects). What shield counters do better is giving your opponents other options if they don’t have edicts, -X/-X, or “damage can’t be prevented” effects. Ping effects, chump blocking, and chump attacking are all situationally viable ways to get rid of shield counters and expose the creature to combat and removal spells.
This makes shield counters less hopeless to play against. It also lets WotC cost cards with shield counters at a less prohibitive rate, allowing shield counters to appear on some pretty efficient creatures like Disciplined Duelist and Falco Spara, Pactweaver.
Yes, creatures can get more than one shield counter. Sanctuary Warden enters the battlefield with two shield counters on it, and other creatures can gain more than one through the proliferate mechanic or cards like Boon of Safety and Agent’s Toolkit.
Any instance of damage to a creature with shield counters on it will remove one shield counter.
All damage is dealt at the same time, so only one shield counter will be used if a creature with one is blocked by more than one creature, unless first strike or double strike creatures are involved. If first strike is a factor then a shield counter will be removed after first strike damage, and then the rest of the damage will be dealt at once in the next phase and remove another shield counter (assuming the creature had more than one).
Shield counters are a damage prevention effect, so they prevent the lifelinker’s controller from gaining life because the lifelink damage was prevented.
Shield counters don’t protect against -X/-X effects because a creature with 0 toughness dies from state-based actions, not damage or being destroyed. No amount of shield counters will save your Disciplined Duelist from Ray of Enfeeblement.
Sacrifice is separate from “destroy” and isn’t an instance of damage, so shield counters won’t save a creature from being sacrificed.
How Do Shield Counters Work Against “Damage Can’t Be Prevented” Effects?
Shield counters don’t prevent any damage if “damage can’t be prevented.” Call in a Professional will cleanly kill Rhox Pummeler. If said Rhox Pummeler were to be saved by For the Family, a shield counter would still be removed because a shield counter is always removed when damage is taken.
Shield counters provide no extra protection against trample. The trampler still has to assign lethal damage to all blockers before assigning damage to the defending player, but this isn’t affected by shield counters in any way.
Shield counters work well against deathtouch because they’re a damage prevention effect. The lethal damage that would’ve been dealt from deathtouch is prevented by the shield counter.
Palliation Accord is a forgotten card from over a decade ago that seems to also generate shield counters. But as of April 29, 2022 it got an update to its Oracle text so that it gets “palliation counters” instead of shield counters. This change was likely intended to prevent rules confusion and future MTGO bugs with the mechanic.
- Agent’s Toolkit
- Boon of Safety
- Brokers Veteran
- Contractual Safeguard
- Dapper Shieldmate
- Disciplined Duelist
- Elspeth Resplendent
- Falco Spara, Pactweaver
- Family’s Favor
- Kros, Defense Contractor
- Perrie, the Pulverizer
- Rhox Pummeler
- Rigo, Streetwise Mentor
- Sanctuary Warden
- Shield Broker
- Swooping Protector
- Titan of Industry
- Undercover Operative
- Voice of the Vermin
- Wingshield Agent
Boon of Safety is the only shield combat trick in New Capenna. It’s comparable to something like Gods Willing, albeit a bit worse. Boon can win combats and save your creature from removal spells, but it doesn’t make your creature unblockable, fizzle targeted exile effects, or remove auras of the named color. It’s been a decent Limited trick and is unlikely to see play in any non-40-card format.
Contractual Safeguard is a powerful trick from the Brokers Commander precon that plays really well in counters-matter decks. This seems like a must include in Perrie, the Pulverizer and certain builds of Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice. It won’t do much without a board but can make some super sweet plays in a deck built around it or that has similar effects.
Dapper Shieldmate is pure Limited filler that shows the lower end of what shield counters are capable of. Shieldmate only getting +2/0 on your turn is a nod to how shield counters play better while blocking than attacking. The defending player assigns blockers, which lets them more efficiently line up combat to make the best use of shield counters.
The newest Elspeth is a sweet card that plays really well with counters-matter synergies, including shield counters but certainly not limited to them. Elspeth Resplendent’s -3 can put a 3-drop into play with free protection on it, but it plays best when it’s +1’ing an already-developed board.
Elspeth has already seen some Standard play and could be sweet in counters EDH as well, but I doubt it’ll see much play in any Eternal formats.
This extremely powerful angel is the only card printed to enter the battlefield with two shield counters. Sanctuary Warden basically does it all. It freely protects itself, draws cards, bashes for five in the air, and even makes some 1/1s.
The Warden plays well with planeswalkers and creatures with counters on them, but it’s also mostly self-sufficient. It’s already seen some Standard play and seems powerful enough for EDH. This card will likely be even better after Standard rotates since Vanishing Verse leaving makes this much harder to answer!
Another Limited card, Swooping Protector isn’t leaving the land of 40 cards anytime soon. I’ve been happy with this on occasion when it eats a creature or collects a two-for-one, but it’s so undersized for its cost that this is by no means guaranteed.
Great flavor text aside, Brokers Veteran is yet another Limited-only card that helps flesh out Streets of New Capenna’s Draft and Sealed environments. This is a playable 2-drop with decent upside, but Brokers decks don’t excel at sacrificing creatures which gives your opponent some control over when this dies.
Shield Broker is a really neat Mind Flayer variant that ties control of your opponent’s creature to whether or not a shield creature gets removed from it. This plays poorly with and against Wrath of God effects since the creature doesn’t die then go back to your opponent’s control. It also lets your opponent get their creature back with a simple removal spell (albeit one that’s going after their own creature), so think of this as a value card and not a reliable Mind Control.
Clones that integrate one of a new set’s signature mechanic are pretty typical (i.e., Vizier of Many Faces and Mirrorhall Mimic), so Undercover Operative carries on a long tradition of this. This is just Clone if it copies an opponent’s creature, but it comes with free upside if it targets your own. It doesn’t circumvent the legend rule like a Spark Double would so I prefer that plus other clones in EDH.
I’ve been somewhat impressed by the Operative in Limited but wouldn’t consider it a true bomb there either.
Wingshield Agent is the best card so far that seems purely aimed at Limited. A 2/3 for three isn’t good enough for , but the free shield counter and aggressive upside has made this a card I rarely cut from my blue decks.
But I still wouldn’t expect to see this anywhere else since there are a lot of better options at three these days.
This EDH card seems kind of busted to me since your creatures freely protect themselves in combat while also functioning as Scroll Thief for just . Any counters-focused and creature-heavy deck should be happy to have Family’s Favor in the 99.
Once again another Limited card, Rhox Pummeler has been reasonable high end for Sealed or green decks with a lot of extra mana sources. This is a high variance card that occasionally gets solid two-for-ones, and other times just cleanly dies to cards like Deal Gone Bad, Call in a Professional, and Witness Protection.
Titan of Industry is both a great pun and a great creature with enough power and flexibility to be a worthy payoff for both ramp and reanimator strategies in Standard. It’s also a mega bomb in Limited and one of the hardest cards to beat in the format. Keep in mind that it can not only shield itself, it can also shield its own 4/4 Rhino if you’d like since the abilities happen in the order listed.
Voice of the Vermin is another Limited only card, albeit a strong one. This attacks a 4/4 for four, protects itself, and plays great with Sky Crier and Disciplined Duelist since it pumps other creatures, not just itself. Like Wingshield Agent I rarely cut this from my green decks, but it’s still not a top uncommon in the set (just a good one).
Agent’s Toolkit is a great value card for a counters EDH deck. It can spread around quite a bit of extra counters over time and even cycles itself for two mana when you’re all done with it. This is an obvious inclusion in Perrie, the Pulverizer and Falco Spara, Pactweaver 99s.
Disciplined Duelist reads well but has played even better than it looks in Limited, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if (when) this sees some Standard play. It’s bad against cards like Ray of Enfeeblement and Whack but plays great with and against sweepers like Depopulate. It’s also a somewhat-safe creature to put counters and auras on for a voltron strategy.
This also works with all kinds of counters, which makes building around Falco less strict than it may appear. This vs Perrie in EDH is an interesting question that will come down to what kind of deck you prefer to build.
Kros, Defense Contractor is the only card so far that puts shield counters on your opponent’s creatures. It does this because you’re rewarded with free goad triggers, which keeps your opponent’s creatures right where you want them: at each other’s throats!
One thing to keep in mind with Kros is that it goads whenever you put one or more counters on a creature you don’t control, which means other ways to put counters on your opponents creatures play great with it. Support cards like Generous Patron and Skyboon Evangelist are must-includes in a Kros 99.
Perrie, the Pulverizer is the face and default commander of the Brokers precon deck. It rewards you for getting as many different types of counters as you can on creatures you control. Amassing a variety of counters will lead to your opponents being trampled to death by one very angry Rhino.
Whether or not to play Perrie or switch to Falco Spara or Kros comes down to deckbuilding preference. Spara turns extra counters into cards (rather than +X/+Xs), and Kros is more about punishing creature decks and playing politics.
Rigo, Streetwise Mentor has been a great Limited card alongside small creatures like Brokers Initiate, Sky Crier, and Fish tokens from Exotic Pets. it’s also an interesting choice for a Commander, playing like a more fair Edric, Spymaster of Trest that comes with free protection whenever it enters. This lets Rigo play more sweepers than such decks would normally get away with.
I think this card has a solid shot at seeing Standard play. It could also work as either a commander or in the 99 of some EDH decks.
The shield counter cards most likely to see play in Standard are Disciplined Duelist, Falco Spara, Pactweaver, and Rigo, Streetwise Mentor. These all cards play well with Depopulate since they’ll survive it and you draw a card from controlling a multicolored creature.
Titan of Industry is also very likely to see Standard play thanks to its great statline and utility.
Shield counters look great in EDH, with every card from the Perrie, the Pulverizer precon looking fit for purpose in any EDH deck built around counters. Shield Broker is the only card I’m lukewarm on from New Capenna Commander, but it’s possible I’m underrating it.
Kros, Defense Contractor | Illustration by Katerina Ladon
Denry Klin, Editor in Chief
Kodama of the West Tree
Nils, Discipline Enforcer
Park Heights Maverick
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Vorel of the Hull Clade
Novijen, Heart of Progress
Sea of Clouds
This is an aggregate Kros, Defense Contractor deck that shows off some of the most popular cards players are including in their Kros builds. The list includes normal EDH goodness like Cultivate, Sol Ring, and Arcane Denial while also fleshing out the full Kros theme with great ways to put counters on your opponent’s creatures like Generous Patron and Orzhov Advokist.
Sanctuary Warden | Illustration by Johannes Voss
Shield counters are a mechanic I’ve really enjoyed playing with and against in Streets of New Capenna Limited, and one I hope to see again in the future. Shield counters and ward are proof that there exists a middle ground between “everything dies to Doom Blade” and “Invisible Stalker is a fun/interactive Magic card.” I look forward to seeing more ways to protect my creatures that don’t have the toxic gameplay (or really, lack thereof) of past mechanics like hexproof.
I hope you’ve found this useful to experiment with some of these cards in your Standard and EDH decks. Most of the cards with shield counters in Limited have also played out quite well. But what do you think? What’s your favorite shield counter card? Let me know in the comments down below or over in the Draftsim Discord.
Until next time, may your creatures always survive Depopulate!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: