Top 10 Instant Counterspells in Magic: The Gathering (MTG)
What Are Counterspells in Magic?
In Magic, counterspells bear some variation of the phrase "counter target spell", allowing you to negate cards that your opponents play! Almost all counters belong to the blue faction, so get your island lands ready to utilize these feared cards. Since they react to other cards, counters are instant speed, able to be cast at any time. Unlike most other units, this means you can add to the stack even in non-main phases or your opponent's turn!
But not all counters are created equal. Many offer lower prices or added benefits to your team, both denying your adversary their unit and gaining you supplies. In standard formats, you'll likely only need one or two different types of counters, but in blue commander decks (where only one of each card is allowed), you'll need to stock your library with a handful of separate negations. But with hundreds of variations, which counters reign supreme? These are the 10 best counterspells in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Essence Scatter/False Summoning/Preemptive Strike/Remove Soul
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 2
Here are four duplicate clones who all do the same thing for the same price. With just two mana (one of which can come from any color), you counter a creature spell. The only downside of this inexpensive negation is that you're restricted to just cancelling creatures, but almost all decks include 'em, so you shouldn't have to wait long before employing the ability. This is particularly true in EDH, where every deck will have at least one creature (their commander) available at all times.
You'll notice the above image of Preemptive Strike bears an awkward wording of the ability (due to its age), but its odd text translates to the same 2-cost creature counter as Essence Scatter, False Summoning, and Remove Soul.
When an instant counter costs a single mana, you know there's gotta be some sort of restriction or price. Luckily, in Annul's case, it's a pretty negligible one: You can only use it to counter artifacts or enchantments.
Thus, while Annul can't negate creatures, planeswalkers, or the like, it offers a bargain deal that can invalidate one of two common card types. Artifacts are particularly abundant since most are colorless, meaning you'll find them in just about any deck list.
8. Mana Tithe/Force Spike
Mana Tithe and Force Spike both wield the same ability for the same price, only differing in color. While Tithe isn't actually better than Spike, it's one of few counters white possesses, making it particularly noteworthy for its non-blue revoking prowess.
Both spells cost a single mana and counter a spell of any type—unless its controller spends an extra mana. Thus, your adversary can potentially dim your card by paying the added price, but even then you'll have drained them of additional mana. Still, try to wait for your opponent to spend all their resources on a big play, then watch them despair as they realize they lack the mana necessary to escape the penalty.
7. Cryptic Command
While you'll need to fuel Cryptic Command with more resources than our prior entries, four is still a mid-range play, and at resolution, you get to choose two of four awesome traits to apply:
- Counter target spell
- Return target permanent to its owner's hand
- Tap all creatures your opponent controls
- Draw a card
Unlike some multispells, you can't pick the same option twice, but you've got four awesome effects to select from. Often I recommend using the first to void an enemy's plat and the second to bounce a monster back to their hand (causing them to have to recast it and again deal with summoning sickness), but the army-tap and hand advantage are also worthy choices to bear in mind.
This one's as straightforward as they come. For two blue mana, you simply negate a target spell. While there aren't any added effects to further aid you, there likewise aren't any restrictions or erratas to worry about, making this an incredibly reliable and inexpensive neutralization.
Counterspell can be trickier to utilize in multicolor decks since it specifically demands blue mana for both its symbols, so you may want to choose other units when deck-building with three or more hues. Still, it's a popular staple of monoblue and two-color decks.
5. Mana Leak
Mana Leak operates very similarly to Counterspell. You're again paying two mana to counter a card of any type, but now your opponent can block your counter by spending three mana. Unless you're targeting a late-game weak spell (and you should probably save counters for the bigger threats), odds are strong your opponent won't be able to afford this price. Even if they do, you're spending two for Leak while forcing them to waste an extra three, so you still come out ahead.
To make up for its almost-negligible errata, Mana Leak allows one of its mana to stem from any source, superbly replacing Counterspell in multicolor decks.
4. Memory Lapse
Yet another Counterspell alternate, Memory Lapse likewise costs two mana and vaporizes a spell of any type at quick-play speed. Similarly to Mana Leak, it allows you to satisfy one of its symbols with any hue, blending well in multicolor builds, and its "price" can actually work to your advantage. Instead of sending the negated unit to the graveyard like most countering spells, Memory Lapse instead places the card on top of your opponent's deck.
Sure, this means they'll soon draw it and have another chance to cast it, but you're essentially killing their draw by forcing them to reclaim a unit they already had. This also helps keep your foe's graveyard empty, denying them access to graveyard-revivals and dampening graveyard-dependent plays (like delirium and spell mastery).
3. Mystic Confluence
As the most expensive of today's spells, Mystic Confluence helpfully offers several options similarly to Cryptic Command. However, not only do you get to pick three, you can choose the same mode more than once, granting unrivaled adaptability. You can:
- Counter target spell unless its controller pays three mana
- Return target creature to its owner's hand
- Draw a card
Often, your best bet is to counter a spell with the first option then bounce two creatures with the second, slamming your foe with three huge disadvantages. Being able to draw cards instead helps if your foe hasn't played many creatures, and remember that Confluence only needs two of its five mana to be blue, making it another strong choice for multicolor arrangements.
2. Force of Will
No, silly, we're not talking about the Force of Will trading card game. Rather, FoW offers one of blue's best instant spells. While it may look a bit steep at five mana, instead of paying its cost, it lets you exile a blue card from your hand and pay one life. That's right, for pinching yourself and simply banishing a card in hand, you can toss out a counter at anything without spending any resources!
This also makes it hard to predict FoW; your opponent may think it safe to access their best cards when your lands are tapped, only to lament your trickery as you throw out a Will. An impressive card, but remember that islands don't count as blue cards (despite providing blue mana), so keep another blue throwaway at the ready.
1. Mana Drain
You probably saw this one coming. Mana Drain offers an upgraded form of Counterspell (in itself a worthy negation) with absolutely no drawbacks to balance out the added powers. Like Counterspell, you pay two blue mana and thwart a spell of any type. However, at your next main phase, you also add an amount of colorless mana to your pool equal to the countered spell's CMC!
With one fierce stroke, they're down a card and you're suddenly up a bunch of mana, letting you play huge spells much earlier than normal. I'm amazed Mana Drain hasn't been banned in EDH (honestly, it belongs to the cards that probably should be), and it's an easy choice in any of my blue decks. I highly recommend Mana Drain to any competitive player, though considering its one of the best MTG cards ever produced, original copies often cost $60 or more. Thankfully, you can . buy alternate arts at much lower prices ranging around $10
Which counter do you prefer?
How to Counter Counterspells
Blue's unrivaled in countering, but consider pairing with another faction to compensate for its comparatively weaker creatures. Still, its formidable nullifying abilities hinder any deck; most counters can cancel any type of spell, meaning it's hard to defend against them. And while very much a blue specialty, counters have gradually seeped into other colors, so always stay on the lookout for potential traps even when facing nonblue camps.
A longtime meta tactic, counters are here to stay, so love 'em or hate 'em, you'll want to take them into account when constructing your deck. Watch out for tutors and other searches that can quickly pull them to your opponent's hand. Luckily, some cards offer rare protections against counters, which can help against check-happy opponents, or you could fight fire with fire by assembling your own counter build. Regardless of which route you opt for, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of awesome counterspells, vote for your favorite instant and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
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© 2018 Jeremy Gill