Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How Does Populate Work in Magic?
Exclusive to the green and white factions, only a few Magic cards currently bear the populate ability. But quality beats quantity, and most populate cards are pretty competitive—when a spell instructs you to populate, you create a token copy of a creature token you already control.
Populating does nothing if you don't already have a token, but it's a great way to duplicate monsters without spending much mana. So, which token-swarming spells deserve your attention?
These are the ten best populate cards in Magic: The Gathering!
- Eyes in the Skies
- Wake the Reflections
- Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
- Druid's Deliverance
- Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
- Rootborn Defenses
- Wayfaring Temple
- Growing Ranks
- Sundering Growth
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
10. Eyes in the Skies
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 4
Eyes in the Skies creates a 1/1 bird token with flying, then lets you populate. Thus, if nothing else, you'll end up with two 1/1 tokens, but that's a poor deal for four mana—try copying stronger tokens to justify the price.
While not as impressive as today's other entries, Skies does offer a flexible cost (only needing one white mana) and instant speed, letting you catch foes off guard with fresh blockers.
9. Wake the Reflections
Wake the Reflections simply populates—and that's it. You won't gain any secondary benefits, but you're only spending one white mana, making this an excellent bargain when mimicking powerful tokens (like those from "Dragonmaster Outcast"). Remember that you have to target your own token to populate; you can't imitate an opponent's.
8. Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
Scion requires more mana than today's other spells, but he arrives as a respectable 4/4 creature. Additionally, if cast from your hand, he creates a 1/1 bird token with flying, then lets you populate.
Thus, even in sub-optimal circumstances where you can't populate stronger units, you'll still get creatures totaling 6/6 stats, and you can receive much more in token-based decks. Just remember the effect only triggers when you cast Scion from your hand, so reviving him from the graveyard won't produce any tokens.
7. Druid's Deliverance
Druid's Deliverance combines the single-cost spells "Fog" and "Wake the Reflections" into one potent package. Like Fog, you prevent all combat damage you would receive that turn, stalling foes for a single round. Like Reflections, you populate, copying a creature token you already control.
Deliverance offers both abilities at low cost, instant speed, and with just a single color. Plus, unlike Fog, you only prevent the damage you receive, so opponents can still take injuries (useful when multiple players are simultaneously attacked). Just note your planeswalkers aren't protected.
6. Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
Guildmage requires two mana and carries solid 2/2 stats. By spending six mana, he can construct a 3/3 centaur token, and by spending four, he can populate. While these abilities both require large amounts of resources, they're handy when you have nothing else to play and they stack well. Create your 3/3 token for six mana, then populate duplicates for four.
You can utilize the effects at instant speed, and since Guildmage doesn't need to tap for either, you can even employ them multiple times each turn. If you manage to attain infinite mana, you can summon an infinite army of tokens!
5. Rootborn Defenses
Rootborn only needs three mana blends well in multicolor decks and triggers at instant speed. It populates, then grants your creatures (including your new token) indestructible for the turn. So in addition to replicating tokens, you can defend against field wipes (whether your own or opposing), letting your army survive a would-be nuke.
4. Wayfaring Temple
Temple adjusts his power and toughness to equal the amount of creatures you control; counting himself, that's a minimum of 1/1. And when he deals combat damage to an opponent, you populate, granting a new token and increasing Temple's stats as you swarm creatures.
You can swing at planeswalkers with Temple, but his effect won't trigger; try gunning for them with other soldiers while Temple attacks opponents directly.
3. Growing Ranks
Growing Ranks accepts two colorless mana and two that can be either green or white, adapting to suit your current production. But more than that, this enchantment automatically populates at the start of your upkeep, giving a constant supply of tokens.
Left unchecked, you can obtain scores of monsters throughout your duel, but remember the effect isn't optional, so you can't decline in the very rare cases you'd want to.
2. Sundering Growth
Like Growing Ranks, Sundering Growth accepts either white mana, green, or a mix, making it easier to cast than most spells. It's an instant that destroys an artifact or enchantment, then populates.
Creature swarming and removal combined make this a staple of my own green/white commander decks, especially since Growth is surprisingly cheap, costing well under a single dollar!
1. Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
Pairing lifegain with swarming, Trostani specifically demands two white mana and two green, making her unwieldy in decks that add other colors. Additionally, her 2/5 stats aren't great for her cost. However, when4ever another creature enters your field, she grants you life equal to its toughness, and she can tap and spend three mana to populate.
You've got a reliable and reasonably-priced token-swarmer that will simultaneously regenerate your life points, making Trostani formidable in both modern and commander formats.
Supporting Populate Decks in Magic
While populating requires white and green mana, consider partnering with blue, which offers many spells (like "Saheeli's Artistry") that create token copies of regular creatures. Use these to mimic your foe's aces, then populate to your heart's content—just remember to target non-legendary units to avoid sacrificing your twins.
But if you're sticking to the Selesnya colors, try spells like "Advent of the Wurm" and "Pulse of the Tangle" to summon excellent populate fodder. But for now, as we await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of token-imitating spells, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill