MTG Proliferate: How Does it Work?

Putting counters on creatures, players, and even more has always been an important part of Magic. This means that with every new set of MTG, more cards come out that you can use with proliferate. This mechanic is useful for any deck that uses lots of counters, but how exactly does it work?

When a spell or ability lets you proliferate, you choose any number of permanents and/or players that already have counters on them and you add an additional counter of that type. They can have any type of counter, and they don’t all have to have the same counters. . You cannot choose to proliferate only some of their counters: it’s all or nothing for each choice.

yawgmoth thran physician

This process seems simple enough, but there are some nuances with this keyword that you should be aware of. It’s also important to know what the best sources of proliferate are and how to maximize their value. Thankfully, the rest of this guide will explain everything you need to know about proliferate.

Table Of Contents:

  1. MTG Proliferate: Pros and Cons
  2. What Does Proliferate Mean In MTG?
    1. Does Proliferate Work on +1/+1 Counters?
    2. Does Proliferate Double Counters?
    3. Does Proliferate Work on Infect?
    4. Does Shroud Protect from Proliferate?
    5. Can You Counter Proliferate?
  3. Is Proliferate Good in MTG?
  4. How Can You Get the Most out of Proliferate?
    1. Go Wide With Counters
    2. Extra Effects
    3. Win Conditions Based On Counters
  5. Which MTG Commanders Want to Proliferate?
    1. Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice
    2. Felisa, Fang of Silverquill
    3. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons
    4. Tayam, Luminous Enigma
  6. Conclusion

MTG Proliferate: Pros and Cons

Works with all countersAll or nothing for each choice
You can choose anythingSome counters are redundant
Often repeatableYou don’t want too much of it

What Does Proliferate Mean in MTG?

We’ve already gone over how to proliferate, but this process can lead to lots of questions. Before we look at specific answers, let’s review the official rules around proliferate:

“To proliferate means to choose any number of permanents and/or players that have a counter, then give each one additional counter of each kind that permanent or player already has” (701.27a).

MTG Wiki

No matter what questions you might have about this mechanic, using this text will be useful in clearing things up. Listed below are some of the most common questions about proliferate, as well as how it interacts with other facets of MTG.

Does Proliferate Work on +1/+1 Counters?

Yes! Proliferate can add +1/+1 counters to your creatures (or an opponent’s) as long as they already have one. Once the new counter is added, any chosen creatures will immediately gain the extra power and toughness. This means you can proliferate before a creature would take lethal damage to potentially save them from dying!

contagion engine

Does Proliferate Double Counters?

No. Proliferate only adds one counter of each type per choice. Effects such as Hardened Scales can modify how many counters get added, but proliferate will only add one on its own.

Does Proliferate Work On Infect?

Yes! A creature with infect deals damage to players in the form of poison counters, and they lose the game if they get ten or more. They don’t have to get all of those counters just from infect, though. As long as they have at least one, proliferate can give them another. This can make it really tricky for your opponents to stop your win condition.

Does Shroud Protect From Proliferate?

No. Since proliferate doesn’t target anything, shroud and hexproof won’t protect against it. This means that you can proliferate on your own shroud creatures, or add additional -1/-1 counters to an opponent’s hexproof creature.

This may seem confusing, but shroud and hexproof only protect against effects that use the word ‘target’. For more information on how shroud and hexproof work, check out our article breaking them down.

RELATED: MTG Shroud vs Hexproof: Which Is Better?

Can You Counter Proliferate?

Sort of. Proliferate is a keyword, so it isn’t an ability on its own. In order to counter it, you would have to counter the entire spell or ability that proliferate is a part of.

For example, consider Smell Fear. This spell has two effects: it proliferates, and it makes two creatures fight. You can’t use a counterspell to stop just one of the two effects, but it would still be able to stop Smell Fear as a whole.

smell fear

The important thing to remember is that proliferate isn’t always a triggered ability. It can be part of one, such as with Evolution Sage, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Other mechanics such as cascade are triggered abilities, so it can be easy to confuse how the two work. Check out my previous article to learn more about how cascade interacts with counterspells.

RELATED: MTG Cascade: How Does It Work?

Is Proliferate Good in MTG?

Now that we’ve gone over some key interactions, it’s worth asking: is proliferate even worth using? If your deck relies on counters, the answer is a resounding YES.

With the right board state, you’ll only have to proliferate once or twice to overrun your opponents. Even if it doesn’t win on the spot, proliferate can be a very efficient way to get more counters on the board.

evolution sage

There are also a fair amount of cards that proliferate over and over for no extra mana. Cards like Evolution Sage and Flux Channeler can provide you with a ton of value over the course of a game. You do have to build around their effects (and proliferate in general), but they provide you with lots of power in return.

After all, one of the most powerful commanders ever printed lets you proliferate for free. Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice is a regular, free proliferate engine, and you can read more about how powerful she is here:

RELATED: The Best Precon Commander Decks

How Can You Get the Most out of Proliferate?

While proliferate works well with any counter-based strategy, some can use it better than others. Here are some signs that your deck can get the most out of proliferate:

Go Wide With Counters

If you have lots of creatures with counters on them, proliferate would be an all-star in your deck. Each card with proliferate costs the same whether you’re getting one extra counter or ten extra counters. So why not get ten? Or even more? The more choices you have to proliferate with, the more value you’re going to get from it.

That’s not to say that you should only use proliferate if you go wide. I have a Hallar, the Firefletcher EDH deck that runs Evolution Sage, and it works very well. Getting extra counters from land drops is huge, but that’s the only proliferate card in the deck. Since I’ll usually only have one choice that I really want extra counters on, it’s not worth going too deep on proliferate.

Extra Effects

Another way to get the most out of proliferate is if you can get extra effects from it. There are plenty of cards that can use extra counters in cool ways, and these all synergize very well with proliferate.

sword of truth and justice

For example, Fathom Mage draws you cards when you put +1/+1 counters on it, and Sharktocrab freezes creatures. Getting these effects every time you proliferate can give you a strong value engine to help you win the game.

Some cards can also remove their own counters to benefit you. If you can proliferate enough to keep these effects going turn after turn, you can make another solid value engine.

For example, Fertilid can get extra lands for you. Phantom Nantuko can chump block anything and live as long as it has two counters. There are many cards with similar effects that could make a big difference in your deck.

My previous example of Hallar also fits into this category. Turning extra counters into direct damage lets me close out games. That’s a much stronger advantage than just putting another +1/+1 counter on a random creature with no effect.

Win Conditions Based on Counters

Some cards will cause you to win the game if they get enough counters. Obviously, these are all great choices for proliferate, as it will get you to your win condition even faster.

Strixhaven Stadium lets you knock players out if it has ten counters, and proliferate can get you there even quicker. This option is more for fun than a serious win condition, but even taking out one player with it would make for a great story.

Perhaps a stronger choice would be Azor’s Elocutors. You only have to get to five counters, and it wins you the game instead of making others lose.

To me, the best choice is Simic Ascendancy. This card needs the highest number of counters so far at twenty, but you’ll often get more than one off of proliferate. Because Simic Ascendancy cares about putting +1/+1 counters on your creatures, proliferate would trigger its ability for each of your creatures you choose.

simic ascendancy

If your board is wide enough, you could get to twenty from just one or two proliferates. This keyword is an all-star in any deck running Simic Ascendancy.

Which MTG Commanders Want To Proliferate?

EDH is the most popular format in MTG right now, and proliferate works with a variety of commanders. As long as your strategy is based arond counters, your deck would likely benefit from at least some proliferate cards. There are too many commanders to mention all of them, but here are some great options if you’re looking to build a deck around counters.

Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice

atraxa praetors voice

We’ve already discussed how powerful Atraxa is. Since she already has proliferate, it’s a no-brainer that you could add more to her deck. Still, you can overboard. Atraxa will let you proliferate on her own, so most of your deck should focus on getting counters out for her to work with.

This is actually a great point for any of these decks: always make sure you have plenty of ways to make counters without proliferate. You never want to draw a proliferate card and have no counters on the board.

Felisa, Fang of Silverquill

felisa fang of silverquill

Felisa can really maximize the value you get from proliferate. 2/1 flyers are no joke, and it doesn’t take too many to create a lethal army. Felisa also doesn’t care about what counters were on your creatures when they died: she just counts how many they had.

If you proliferated to add another +1/+1 counter and another flying counter to a creature, and you would get four inklings instead of two when it dies. This interaction can get out of control and make huge swarms from just one trigger.

Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons

hapatra vizier of poisons

Instead of building up your own forces, why not tear down your opponents’? Hapatra is one of my favorite commanders, and she turns proliferate into a weapon. Creating more snakes is always great, but potentially wiping the board from proliferate is even better.

Contagion Engine is an especially strong choice for this deck. Not only does it put tons of -1/-1 counters on the board, it also proliferates twice. I can’t recommend Hapatra highly enough, and proliferate puts even more venom into her deck.

RELATED: The Top 10 MTG Black Board Wipes

Tayam, Luminous Enigma

tayam luminous enigma

I wanted to mention Tayam because it has an cool use for proliferate. Normally, you don’t care about putting extra ability counters on creatures. Two first strike counters don’t give double strike (despite what a flavor judge might say), and the other ability counters are just as redundant. Tayam doesn’t care much about what counters you have, though: it just wants to remove them as part of its engine.

This means that you can use extra vigilance counters to bring back even more cards from your graveyard. This interaction is similar to Felisa, but it’s much easier to get lots of ability counters in this deck.


Proliferate is both strong and flexible. It works with any type of counter, and it even gets around some of the best defensive abilities in the game. Running even a couple of proliferate cards in a counter-based strategy can take your deck to the next level. Don’t shy away from playing this powerful mechanic: swarm your opponents as fast as you can!

Photo of author

Ashley Briggs

I’ve been playing Magic for about five years, and my favorite formats are EDH and limited. Ever since I played my first game of Magic, it has been a major part of my life. Magic has given me an outlet for my creativity, a chance to be competitive, and strengthened many of my closet friendships.