As markers in Magic, counters never exist in a neutral space. The mere presence of a counter means that a card can provide a benefit or be the target of spells due to its “flair,” in the parlance of Office Space. Surge Node exists without a way to spend counters itself, only to distribute the ubiquitous charge counters it exists with. They can be consumed as a resource, provide an advantage on the battlefield, or cause you a great deal of pain.
Removing counters from permanents we control generally provides a benefit, but we have a finite supply of them. From Academy Elite drawing us cards in exchange for counters to Zameck Guildmage also drawing us cards in exchange for counters, we ask which resource we’d rather have. The design team has created many paths to help us make more counters, double them, and more.
But what happens when counters are a drawback? That’s what I hope we can explore with Falco Spara, Pactweaver.
There are several times we want to reduce the existing counters on permanents we control, and Falco gives us a reasonably sweet benefit for doing so in casting spells off the top of our library. Let’s dive in.
Obviously, these are awful on our creatures, so we might as well start with great big chunks of mana, right? With Devoted Druid riding first class on the hype train recently, you can blame several cards from Streets of New Capenna (SNC), but I particularly like this mana creature with Falco. First, it helps you cast your commander a turn early if it survives. Second, it can then untap itself to hold off an assassination attempt if you have a Snakeskin Veil or Veil of Summer in hand (or on the top of your library). Last, it helps you with the mana needed to take advantage of the top of your library instead of just being a value play, as many other cards we’ll address are. It’s the best of your -1/-1 counter cards.
Next up, we have persist creatures that provide a powerful benefit on entering or leaving the battlefield, and then we check to see if they have a -1/-1 counter on them before finding out if we get them back. Glen Elendra Archmage is massive here, allowing you to protect your pieces as long as you have blue mana. Woodfall Primus helps you deal with non-creature threats. A card I think will shine here is Cauldron of Souls, as giving Falco persist makes for an incredibly sticky commander.
The next tier involves much cuter ways to take advantage of Falco in cards like Phyrexian Hydra or Serrated Biskelion, which feels even better if you can slap a Sinking Feeling on it with a few mana around. These cards don’t give you massive resources to work with, but you’re happy to take advantage here.
This is just a quick shout-out to Wall of Roots, which sadly can only add one such counter each turn. It’s trying its hardest, everyone.
We love giving buffs to our creatures, so removing them seems like a terrible idea. Sometimes, though, you’re going to love the top card of your library a little more. What happens when we hit a land, and the train to free card town isn’t leaving the station?
Phyrexian Devourer is a pretty sweet way to exile your entire library as long as you don’t hit a card with a mana value six or higher. We have access to the best of the “you win” colors in blue, so Thassa’s Oracle and Laboratory Maniac represent some sweet alternative win conditions here.
You can also grow a Protean Hydra by removing a counter before each opponent’s end step, creating a potential monster quickly. Still, I think that’s in a different space entirely compared to Devourer. I’d also include something like Young Wolf here, as it makes a solid sacrifice to one of the various Altars you might include.
Here, we can cast a Chronozoa, remove time counters from it, and then get more Chronozoa. But how many Chronozoa are enough? I think that’s a question we’ll never truly have an answer to.
Thing in the Ice is your primary beneficiary, allowing you to potentially bounce all non-Horrors the turn it comes down with your commander on the battlefield. I’m never turning down a 7/8 with protection from the Evacuation it triggers for only two mana.
Where ice counters get potentially cute is with Dark Depths. Falco has a significant drawback in that we can only remove markers from creatures, so let’s use instants like Hydroform or literally Animate Land to help make this happen as a brutal combat trick. I love the flavor of a Bird Demon summoning a 20/20 black Avatar to protect it.
Who among us likes paying a cumulative upkeep? Denoted by age counters starting in Coldsnap, cumulative upkeep doesn’t give us many options in Bant, but we’re not bereft, either.
Aboroth lets us hit double duty by removing age and -1/-1 counters for a 9/9 body. Sheltering Ancient gives us a ridiculous 5/5 for two mana, or you can indeed go for it with Phyrexian Soulgorger. Sadly, a whole host of potential targets—like Vexing Sphinx—depend on having those age counters to provide bonuses, so there’s only so much mileage here.
With so many counters created throughout the game’s history, this is just scratching the surface. Could you cast Opalescence and make sure Nine Lives as a kitty creature never hits a critical mass of incarnation counters? Absolutely, and I would request you send me a picture of it happening and your opponents’ faces. In terms of getting started with Falco, I think this is a fascinating space to explore, and I can’t wait to get into a complete build that has more fun than fight.