|Use||Power and toughness alteration|
-1/-1 counters appear in all five colors, but are primarily in black and secondarily in green. Flavorwise, putting -1/-1 counters on a creature usually indicates a character being scarred or infected.
For ease of comprehension, blocks tend to focus on only a single type of counter on creatures. -1/-1 counters are used less often than +1/+1 counters because they have less available design space, due to their similarity to +1/+1 counters and their capacity to kill creatures and thereby simplify the game state.
As a further concession to mitigate complexity, +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters are the only power/toughness altering counters used in new products. Additionally, they are never used in the same block, to minimize confusion in limited play. A small handful of cards from the earliest sets still use other, obsolete counters.
At least one set between 2015 and 2022 was expected to use -1/-1 counters. That set was later revealed to be Amonkhet, which features creatures that come into play with -1/-1 counters and shed them off each turn for an effect. -1/-1 counters are currently ranked at a 2 on the Storm Scale.
Cancellation with +1/+1 counters
When both +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters are present on the same creature, they are immediately removed in matched pairs until only one or the other remains.
- 122.3. If a permanent has both a +1/+1 counter and a -1/-1 counter on it, N +1/+1 and N -1/-1 counters are removed from it as a state-based action, where N is the smaller of the number of +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters on it. See rule 704.
Because +1/+1 counters are the default creature counter, -1/-1 counters have been used by far fewer mechanics. There are currently three keyworded mechanics using -1/-1 counters, all of them from Lorwyn–Shadowmoor block or Scars of Mirrodin block:
- Mark Rosewater (February 11, 2008). "+1/+1 Size Fits All". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (August 14, 2014). "Why are -1/-1 counters so infrequent?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (November 15, 2014). "Wither and undying in the same set?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (June 9, 2015). "Wouldn't the rule...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (April 11, 2015). "When are -1/-1 counters coming back?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Dave Humpherys (April 4, 2017). "Developing Amonkhet". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (2017-02-18). "Once upon a time, you rating -1/-1 counters at 1 on the Storm Scale. Should they be ranked higher, since they're deciduous, rather than evergreen?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (September 26, 2005). "+1/+1 For the Road". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.