Prowess first joined us in Khans of Tarkir, and it has stuck around as a more-or-less evergreen keyword since then. It’s an odd mechanic, as it has a level of internal tension: prowess cards want you to play lots of noncreature spells, but it itself is a creature spell, which means every prowess creature you add to your list makes all the others worse. Despite this, and the relatively low number of prowess creatures, the mechanic has done very well for itself over the years, and numerous prowess creatures regularly appear in the best decks across multiple formats – here are some of the best of ’em.
10. Abbot of Keral Keep
You might not remember Abbot of Keral Keep, but this guy was a terrific utility card back in Standard. You rarely wanted to cast it on turn two, obviously, as that would rob you of the value in its enter-the-battlefield ability, but having a two-drop that essentially draws a card made low-to-the-ground mono-red decks all the more powerful. It’s not often your two-mana red card is a good draw on turn seven or eight, but Abbot of Keral Keep helps you draw more business, and adds an extra (and sometimes decisive) point of damage to all those burn spells.
9. Niblis of Frost
In spellslinger decks that like to churn through cards with cheap cantrips, Niblis of Frost is one of the best ways to buy time on a stacked board. Locking down creatures for an entire turn cycle is huge – especially when you cast instants before opposing combat steps – and then can get in for a bunch in the air when you want to go off on your own turn. Niblis of Frost might not look like much, but it’s put to good use in decks led by commanders such as Kalamax, the Stormsire and Talrand, Sky Summoner, where it’s another great payoff card in lists that are looking to play as many instants and sorceries as possible.
8. Bedlam Reveler
It’s unusual to see a prowess creature with such a high mana value, but Bedlam Reveler goes some way in fixing that with a cost-reduction mechanism baked into the card itself, and an ability that doesn’t lend itself to being played early anyway. Bedlam Reveler offers red decks the sweetest and most elusive prize of all, card advantage, and was a Constructed staple for a very long time. It seems to have fallen off a bit – particularly in Modern, where things have gotten a lot quicker in recent years – but you’ll still see Bedlam Reveler around the traps a little bit. After all, a two-mana 3/4 prowess that draws three cards is… pretty good, I’d say.
7. Sprite Dragon
I know I’m cheating a little bit with this one, but Sprite Dragon basically has prowess, really, it’s just that the stat bonus sticks around across turns. A regular in aggressive Izzet decks across multiple formats – this card sees plenty of Modern play – Sprite Dragon quickly grows to unbelievable size, and can pile on damage the turn it’s played, as it has haste. With regular prowess creatures, sometimes a chump-block or just soaking up one turn’s worth of damage can be enough, but not so with Sprite Dragon, as it’ll be just as big if not bigger the next time your opponent attacks you.
6. Stormwing Entity
A close associate of Sprite Dragon, Stormwing Entity is the sort of card you can immediately recognize as a stupidly powerful threat. Any card with a built-in cost-reduction mechanic always has the potential to be absolutely busto, and this card doesn’t disappoint in that regard. In decks that want to cast one-mana cantrips anyway, they’re more than happy to be able to then cheat out a 3/3 flyer on turn three – especially as it’ll attack for a lot more than three next turn with prowess. Much like Sprite Dragon, you can safely expect to see Stormwing Entity in aggressive Izzet decks in a ton of different formats.
5. Elsha of the Infinite
Elsha is a very popular Jeskai commander, coming in third overall according to EDHRec. And you can immediately see why: Elsha is perfect for not just spellslinger decks, but also enables you to play at instant-speed with artifacts as well! Played alongside enough artifact cost-reduction creatures (Etherium Sculptor, Foundry Inspector, etc.), Elsha can let you spew cards into play from the top of your library for free, and with Artificer’s Assistant out, you’ve got a good shot at dodging lands. Plus, Elsha has some ridiculous combos with Sensei’s Divining Top – with Elsha, the Top and any Etherium Sculptor variant, you can draw your entire deck in one go.
4. Harmonic Prodigy
Everyone loves a good doubling effect, and Harmonic Prodigy doubles the triggers of almost 700 Wizards and Shamans. In Commander, Harmonic Prodigy is immensely popular in Krark, the Thumbless decks (Krark is a Wizard, after all), but you’ll see this card in decks led by Veyran, Voice of Duality, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist and of course Delina, Wild Mage, where it is truly and utterly ridiculous when you go to combat. More than anything else, really, this card is just a ton of fun: whether you’re doubling triggers from Snapcaster Mage or Nekusar, the Mindrazer, Harmonic Prodigy makes every game a lot more interesting.
3. Soul-Scar Mage
As far as red one-drops go, Soul-Scar Mage has done very well for itself over the years. After a successful Standard career, Soul-Scar Mage has transitioned masterfully into Modern and Pioneer, where it’s played in everything from Mono-Red Aggro to Burn to Izzet Prowess decks. Quite aside from being a one-drop that regularly attacks for three, one of the trickiest things about this card is its -1/-1 ability: you make a good block, then one Lightning Bolt later your previously untouchable 4/4 becomes a 1/1 and is now chump blocking. I don’t know how many times I’ve played against this card, but I still forget it can shrink creatures like that!
2. Monastery Mentor
You have to do something pretty special to get restricted in Vintage. The company Monastery Mentor keeps, amongst powerful free spells, absurd card draw and broken fast mana, sets it apart from most other Grey Ogres – but such is the power of this card in Vintage. Given the number of free spells in Vintage, from Moxen to Gush, untapping with Monastery Mentor in play often meant victory as you could churn through spells to make tokens, then next turn do the same to embiggen the tokens and attack for lethal. How’s this for some perspective: of the 50 cards that are restricted in Vintage, only three of them are creatures, and one of those creatures is Monastery Mentor. In a format filled with free spells this card is, to put it mildly, good.
1. Monastery Swiftspear
The most iconic and successful prowess card is also one of the most humble – a little one-mana 1/2, just like Soul-Scar Mage, but with one key difference: haste. Monastery Mentor doesn’t muck around – she gets in there quickly and often, kicking off games with a little poke for one before consistently attacking for two to three points of damage each turn thereafter. The fact that you can go turn one Swiftspear, turn two Swiftspear plus cantrip and have your opponent on 15 before they’ve played a second land is absolutely absurd, and one of the reasons why Monastery Swiftspear is right up there with the best red one-drops of all time.