As the first of the Streets of New Capenna previews came across our collective transoms, excitement in the Commander community rose high. We’ve seen family leaders and foot soldiers alike, with plenty to intrigue even the most jaded players. We also got a glimpse of the five legendary creatures who will lead the New Capenna Commander decks.
Since the mechanic of shield counters had already piqued my interest, one of those five drove right into my wheelhouse. Kros, Defense Contractor combines the not-as-new-as-you-think-it-is shield counter mechanic with Magic’s coolest ability, goad, into a Cat Advisor that screams to be built around. Let’s talk about what it does and some ideas on brewing with it.
The Original Shield Counters
You have to go all the way back to Dissension for the first card with a shield counter, Palliation Accord. It’s an enchantment that costs 3WU and has the triggered ability of putting a shield counter on it whenever a creature an opponent controls becomes tapped. You can then remove a counter to prevent the next one damage that would be dealt to you this turn. All that said, It turns out that there’ll be a rules update that’s going to change the shield counters from Palliation Accord to palliation counters, so that there’s no confusion (as mentioned in Mark Rosewater’s Blogatog). Nonetheless, it’s a card worth looking at.
According to our friends over at EDHREC, it’s in only 467 of 234338 possible decks, a lusty 0% (rounded down from .12% for those of you a little more specifically-minded). The ability is pretty good, effectively neutering the attacks of any 1/1 (when vigilance isn’t involved), reducing by one anything higher, and piling up counters when opponents attack each other or use their creatures’ tap abilities. If I had to go back to the design table with the abilities locked in as they are, I’d probably cost it at 2W or 1WW. Being from original Ravnica block, I get why it’s blue and white, but to me the ability is mono-white all the way.
The New Shield Counters
Back to shield counters, the reminder text tells us that if the creature would be dealt damage or destroyed, remove a shield counter from it instead. The counter then works a little like the Umbra enchantments, such as Bear Umbra, with the added damage clause.
Replacing the destroy event with removing a counter is straightforward. Replacing the damage event means replacing all the damage that event (the resolution of an ability or combat damage) would do at one time, regardless of how much it is. Whether Kros blocks Kozilek, Butcher of Truth or Keen Duelist, we still only remove one counter. If someone attacks us with Inferno Titan and targets our shield countered-up creature with the attack trigger, we’d need to remove a total of two counters to keep it alive (assuming you have that many): one for the triggered ability and one for combat. The cool thing about the shield is that because it’s a counter, we can proliferate it to get more.
As of the time of this writing, we’ve seen four other cards with shield counters: Disciplined Duelist; Falco Spara, Pactweaver; and Perrie, the Pulverizer, all cards from the Brokers family, plus Elspeth Resplendent. All save Perrie are from the main set. Perrie, like Kros, is from the New Capenna Commander deck, which was designed by fellow Commander Rules Committee (RC) member Scott Larabee. Although I saw the cards during design, as of the moment I haven’t seen the final versions of the cards that made the main set and Commander product. I also haven’t seen the final decklist, so if I replicate any of the themes, it’s just happy coincidence. You can also check out some of Mark Rosewater’s commentary on shield counters and how they developed.
Kros and Shield Counters
Kros doesn’t get its own shield counters; it passes them out to creatures our opponents control. That’s only the smallest part of it. Whenever we put one or more counters (of any kind!) on a creature, it becomes tapped and goaded. It additionally gains trample until our next turn. This card sings to me due to its flexibility. There’s also an air of danger about it, because if we’re putting +1/+1 counters on our opponents’ creatures, we could end up getting wrecked somewhere down the road. Let’s talk about individual cards that will fit well with it and then get to ideas for brewing.
The first card that came to mind when I saw Kros was Forgotten Ancient. Mr. Babycakes gives us two ways to go, depending on the battlefield state. If we’re in offensive mode, we can spread the counters around on our other creatures or just keep them on Forgotten Ancient for big beats. If we’re in defensive mode or just want to see everyone else bash each other, we can ship counters to all the relevant creatures our opponents control.
We can do a mix as well, given that Kros’s ability taps the opponent’s creature in question, both making some of our creatures larger and clearing the way to attack. Especially since Kros’s ability gives trample, there might be a commander damage kill for someone else by putting all of Forgotten Ancient’s counters onto a single creature. As I mentioned before, we just have to be careful that the counters we dish out don’t come back to haunt us.
We can goad someone’s whole team with Contagion Engine’s enters-the-battlefield trigger. It’ll make them a little less deadly, but that’s fine. Eventually, when we start proliferating, we’re going to kill them anyway. We’re in colors that give us blink effects, like Venser, the Sojourner, so we can get someone else’s team at end of turn. Then we can sit back and watch mayhem ensue.
Nils, Discipline Enforcer
One of my favorite cards from Commander 2021, Nils does fine on its own. In a world in which there are lots of creatures with counters running around, Nils keeps other players off our face. Combined with Kros, we get an inexpensive goading of one creature for each opponent. Again, when we’re putting +1/+1 counters on other players’ creatures, we have to be careful. I’ve seen Nils defend against a Primordial Hydra that had more than 200 counters on it—and then Nils went away.
For just one mana, we can get a Kros trigger as well as potentially removing a detrimental counter from one of our creatures. The classic is Devoted Druid, moving a -1/-1 from it so that we can perform untap shenanigans. We can also move the -1/-1 counters off creatures with persist, like Woodfall Primus and Kitchen Finks. It’s nice at removing age counters from creatures with cumulative upkeep, like Jotun Grunt, Sustaining Spirit, or the big one, Glacial Chasm. We can play Crystalline Giant and move all kinds of counters around, thus opening the possibility of putting that counter on Crystalline Giant again.
Although the situation isn’t likely to apply for our purposes with Kros, Nesting Grounds can also lead to some silly situations, since the counter doesn’t have to be meaningful to the destined permanent. We could end up with a -1/-1 counter on an enchantment or an age counter on a creature without cumulative upkeep. We can play some of the same games with Power Conduit.
Cytoplast Root-Kin is the stand-in for all the creatures with graft (which makes a nice punning reference to the activity in New Capenna). Nothing says that you have to graft onto your own creatures. The pro move with Kros is to put that counter on a large creature with haste that just entered the battlefield.
Vivien of the Arkbow
A little spendy to cast, this version of Vivien will get up to that ultimate pretty quickly when you’re goading other players’ creatures. Even if you’re not going for the super Overrun effect, triggering Kros for zero mana always means profiting.
Super high tech alongside Kros, Sheltering Ancient continues along the path of getting triggers for no mana. We can choose a different creature to put each counter on, or we can pile them all on one. What’s really cool about Sheltering Ancient is that the ability doesn’t target, so we can get counters onto creatures with shroud, hexproof, or protection from green (or any other quality Sheltering Ancient might have).
A card that can justifiably called janky, Magnetic Web puts magnet counters on creatures. Then, if a creature with a magnet counter on it attacks (and it has to if it can, since it’s goaded), all other creatures with magnet counters on them have to attack if able. Okay, maybe that’s just too janky.
There are two cards that I’d love to play with Kros but don’t work: Promise of Loyalty and Orzhov Advokist. The text of both cards is clear that the other player, not us, puts the counters on their creatures. That means we don’t get a Kros trigger. Still, both of these cards are great to play in any deck in which you want to keep opponents’ creatures off of your face. Obviously Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer doesn’t really work either, I just want to give the card some love—and if we can somehow move the bribery counters, great. And definitely play it with Angel’s Trumpet and Siren’s Call.
Proliferate Hydra Tribal
The obvious direction can still be loads of fun, especially when we take it in a different direction. We’d start with two of the cards mentioned above: Forgotten Ancient and Contagion Engine. Sheltering Agent also makes an appearance. Doubling Season and Hardened Scales go right in, with the caveat that both of them only add extra counters to permanents that we control; Kros giving them out doesn’t get the extras.
From there we move into those Hydras. In our color identity, there are 44 legal choices (plus Hydradoodle from Unstable). Primordial Hydra cast early will get large very quickly. We can draw lots of cards with Thunderous Snapper. There’s the classic rattlesnake, Phytohydra. Hydroid Krasis will gain life and draw cards at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to cascade four times off Apex Devastator? We’ll definitely want to set up a high-octane manabase in order to get top value out of those Hydras with X in their costs. Then, when we proliferate, they’ll get larger. We’ll have to go outside the tribe a little for creatures with proliferate. We can have gems like Evolution Sage, Flux Channeler, and Thrummingbird.
Early, Kros functions to keep us safe by making sure the largest of creatures set their eyes elsewhere, lowering life totals in the process. Later, we’ll use it to simply get creatures out of the way so that our Hydra army will not be opposed in combat.
This isn’t the kind of Stax that keeps opponents’ lands tapped down, just their creatures (hence the “lite” designation). In addition to Kros’s ability, we can use cards like Opposition, Sleep, and Frost Titan to tap things down. We’ll get lots of mileage out of Blind Obedience, since it catches artifacts and we can also extort with it. Then we can use Crackdown and Meekstone to make sure they stay tapped. Time of Ice becomes an under-costed mass bounce ability. Tangle is a Fog that also keeps the creatures that attacked tapped down.
We’ll probably want our creatures to have vigilance, either natively or through some external ability. Heliod, God of the Sun is nice because it creates more creatures for us to use with that Opposition. Serra’s Blessing is a simple enchantment that does it, although for the same exact cost, Brave the Sands also lets your creatures block an additional creature each combat.
If you’re disposed, you could take this idea a little further, including classic Stax elements like Drannith Magistrate, Rule of Law, Aven Mindcensor, Ethersworn Canonist, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar. These are the kinds of cards you’ll definitely want to mention in your pregame chat, since they can be polarizing and outside some folks’ comfort zones.
In this version, Kros’s ability is mostly used just to get creatures out of our path. That those creatures will potentially deal damage elsewhere is a side benefit. We’ll lean heavily into the creatures in green, like Questing Beast, and a little white – hello, Baneslayer Angel – using some white and most of the blue as support.
This version is the one that’s really built to taste. We could go the Voltron route, trying getting Kros there with some cool Equipment, backed up by Rafiq of the Many, and Sublime Archangel for the pumps. Edric, Spymaster of Trest is in our color identity, so we could go wide to draw cards while also pointing creatures at our opponents. I think the version which most appeals to me (and might be a little less raw aggro) involves Clone and its variants to let other players spend the resources to cast big creatures, and then get copies of them on the cheap.
If we’re getting our creatures into combat, that leaves us a little vulnerable to the crack-back, so cards like Crawlspace or the criminally underplayed Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist will keep us safe. When creatures do get through, we can fall back on our Fogs and retributive cards like Mirror Strike.
Kros, Defense Contractor is an outstanding first look into the kinds of things we’re going to see on the Streets of New Capenna. With its flavorful and compelling abilities, we can build any number of different and interesting decks with it. I suspect we’ll see a fair amount of it at our tables very soon.
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