Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How Does Exert Work in Magic?
A rare set of creatures in Magic bear the exert keyword, which activates when attacking or performing a tap ability. When a creature exerts, it doesn't untap during your next untap step, meaning it'll be not one but two turns until they can act again. However, in exchange, they'll activate a bonus ability that often justifies the delay.
Exert cards are generally red, green, or white, and many belong to the jackal and human subtypes, though you'll occasionally encounter the odd dragon or angel member. But with dozens of exhausting units available, which monsters reign supreme? These are the 10 best exert creatures in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Battlefield Scavenger
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 2
Like many exerters, you can activate Scavenger's effect when he attacks, letting you discard a card to draw a card. This trashes an unneeded unit, fills your graveyard, and hopefully draws something better.
Plus, Scavenger lets you trigger this ability whenever you fatigue any creature, meaning you can play it off other exerts for maximum hand-manipulation. And like most exert cards, Scavenger bears decent battle stats for his price, offering 2/2 (two power and two toughness).
9. Hope Tender
Good news is that Tender bears 2/2, a higher stat total than most low-cost mana-tappers. Bad news is she requires you to both tap and spend a colorless mana to use her effects: if you don't exert her, she untaps a land; if you do, she untaps two lands.
With basic terrains, spending a colorless mana to untap doesn't change your overall resource total, but if you combo Tender with lands that can tap for multiple resources, (like "Azorius Chancery" and "Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx"), she'll adeptly increase your overall mana production.
8. Resolute Survivors
Survivors enters with a fair 3/3 stats, and like Scavenger, his ability triggers whenever any unit you control exerts, simply dealing one damage to each opponent and gaining you one life.
A modest but appreciated bonus useful for exert-heavy decks and in multiplayer games, Survivors is a unit that I often find myself not exerting; let your other units (who would already fatigue themselves) activate his effect as a bonus.
7. Devoted Crop-Mate
While Crop-Mate's stats of 3/2 are only decent for his price, if you exert him when he attacks, you return a creature with CMC two or less from your graveyard to the battlefield. This handily revives your weaker units, returning them not just back to your hand but to the field itself.
Boost Crop-Mate's toughness or grant him indestructible to ensure he survives his assault and can (eventually) attack again and reactivate his effect.
6. Glory-Bound Initiate
For two mana, Glory-Bound Initiate carries a solid 3/1 stats, letting him hit hard, but he's easily killed by counterattacks. However, if you exert him when he attacks, he gains +1/+3 and lifelink for the turn, swinging as a formidable 4/4 who will gain you health as he injures your opponent. To recover even more life, further boost Initiate's power with equipment cards or white aura spells.
5. Angel of Condemnation
3/3 is low for a four-cost creature, but Angel of Condemnation compensates with both flying (letting him soar over ground blockers) and vigilance (letting him attack without tapping). Additionally, he offers two abilities that both activate by tapping and spending three mana; the first exiles a creature, then returns it to the field at the turn's end. This lets you either reactivate a field-entrance effect or prevent an enemy's attack by temporarily banishing them.
Alternatively, if you wield Condemnation's exert tap, you exile another creature until he leaves the battlefield, a superb removal that eliminates your opponent's best units until they can defeat your angel.
Glorybringer's stats are only decent at 4/4, but he carries flying and haste, letting him attack immediately. Even better, when this dragon attacks, his exert effect lets him deal four damage to an opponent's non-dragon creature, a hefty blast that should defeat nearly any early or mid-game foe.
3. Pride Sovereign
One of the game's best cats, Pride Sovereign's base stats are a dull 2/2, but he gains +1/+1 for every other feline you control, quickly boosting him to monstrous proportions in cat decks. Additionally by tapping, spending one white mana, and exerting, he can create two 1/1 cat tokens with lifelink.
Not only does this grant you two throwaway blockers (who helpfully gain life when they strike), it immediately raises Sovereign's stats thanks to his cat synergies. While the effect requires white mana (and not Sovereign's green), in dedicated cat decks, you'll already have white thanks to its feline abundance.
2. Ahn-Crop Champion
Speaking of white and green, Ahn-Crop enters as a solid 4/4 human warrior. He doesn't have any extra traits, but if you exert him when he attacks, you immediately untap all other creatures you control.
This offers an amazing ability that refreshes your other attackers (making them available to block on the next turn), your green mana-tappers, and any exerted unit. Use this to negate the downside of other exerters—not untapping during your next upkeep won't matter if they're already untapped to begin with.
1. Champion of Rhonas
A fierce alternative to free-creature spells like "Elvish Piper" and "Norwood Priestess", Rhonas's stats are medicore at 3/3, but if you exert him when he attacks, you can place any creature from your hand onto the field for free! Use this to quickly access aces like "Worldspine Wurm" or the fierce eldrazi clan.
Be sure to give Rhonas haste with equipment spells like "Lightning Greaves" and "Swiftboot Boots" to let him attack (and activate his effect) as soon as he enters the arena. A mainstay in my green commander decks, I especially appreciate that Rhonas is surprisingly cheap, costing less than a single dollar!
How to Support Exert Creatures in Magic
Remember, although exerting means your creatures won't refresh at your next untap step, it doesn't prevent them from untapping with other effects; exploit this loophole with cards like "Umbral Mantle" and "Vitalize". Additionally, units like "Trueheart Twins" reward you whenever you exert, fitting perfectly into your theme.
The risk vs reward mechanics of exertion make it an engaging keyword that I hope expands in future sets. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next assortment of creature-tapping warriors, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill