Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
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 instant-speed cards.
But not all counters are created equal. Many offer lower prices or added benefits, both hindering threats 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 different tools—which reign supreme? These are the 30 best counterspells in Magic: The Gathering!
Exclude only works on creatures, but not only do you counter the spell, you also get to draw, mixing a counter with a cantrip. Perfect for commander format, where you know you'll be facing some legendary creatures.
Complicate's a versatile card; you can cast it for three to counter a spell unless its controller spends an extra three mana, resources they usually won't have. But you can also cycle Complicate for three, drawing a card and countering a spell unless one extra mana is paid.
So cycle when they're already tapped out for a bonus draw, but cast regularly if they have a few leftover lands.
28. Swan Song
For a single mana, Swan Song counters any enchantment, instant, or sorcery, hitting a wide range of targets for very few mana. To compensate, the spell's controller gets a 2/2 flying bird token, but it's still an excellent way to thwart a big threat.
Simple and cheap, Annul counters an artifact or enchantment. Honestly, that's some impressive range for a one-cost spell, and it's a great way to deny a "Sol Ring" in EDH.
26. Mystical Dispute
Like Complicate, Mystical Dispute counters a spell unless its owner pays three extra mana. However, Dispute's cost decreases by two if it targets a blue spell, potentially countering for one! And you'll still get the discount on multicolor spells as long as they're partially blue.
25. Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast
Virtually identical, these spells let you pick between countering a blue spell or destroying a blue permanent. Powerful instant-speed effects for one mana, but useless against non-blue decks—should you face one, use these as discard fodder for other spells.
24. Mana Leak
Mana Leak counters a spell unless three extra mana is paid; rarely will foes have both the resources and desire to do so. And having a colorless slot helps with cards like "Baral, Chief of Compliace", who can discount instants/sorceries by one mana (if they have at least one colorless symbol in their cost).
Miscalculation counters a spell unless its caster pays two more mana. But you can also cycle Miscalculation for two, discarding it and drawing a new card. Since you can cycle at instant speed, wait to see what your opponent does; if they play a threatening card, counter it; if not, consider cycling into a better spell for your situation.
22. Tale's End
Dangerous as counterspells are, not many can negate abilities—that's where Tale's End comes in. For just two, you can counter an activated ability (paid with a cost), triggered ability (resolves when a condition is met), or legendary spell. Useful anywhere, this is especially powerful in EDH since commanders are always legendary.
Disrupt counters an instant or sorcery unless its owner pays one extra mana; either way, you get to draw a card. So, limited range and power, but the cantrip and low price more than compensate.
If you happen to face a rare deck that doesn't use these card types, you can even cast Disrupt on your own instant/sorcery when you have extra mana, effectively cycling it for two (one to cast and one to let your other spell resolve).
20. Rune Snag
Rune Snag counters a spell unless two extra resources are spent, just like "Quench". However, this toll increases by two for all Rune Snags in all graveyards (including opposing ones). This makes Snag a good fit for non-singleton formats, where multiple copies will empower each other and crank the added fee to ridiculous proportions.
19. Suffocating Blast
Suffocating Blast needs four mana, including at least two blue and one red. However, not only do you counter any spell, you also hit a creature for three damage! Talk about adding insult to injury; this one spell can both negate an incoming play and kill a pre-existing creature.
Just note the damage isn't optional, so be careful not to hit your own troops if your opponents don't control any.
Rewind counters any spell for four, but then you untap up to four lands! That basically means the spell pays for itself, giving you free reign to play other spells or abilities before your next turn.
Unwind is the smaller version of Rewind, spending three mana and untapping three lands. This time, you have to target a non-creature spell, so it's more limited; however, the lower entry fee and lesser blue devotion (only one symbol needed) compensate.
Desertion counters for five, and if you target a creature or artifact spell, you get to play it to your field! Those are both common card types, making it easy to pilfer enemy plays, and you can still target other spell types, you just won't steal them for yourself.
15. Pact of Negation
CMC: 0 (kinda)
Pact of Negation is, well, free, but it makes you pay five mana during your next upkeep or lose the game. That's pretty expensive for a vanilla counterspell, sure, but it provides an excellent last resort defense against game-winning combos or infinites. It's also easy to surprise opponents with, misleading foes into thinking their plays are safe when you're out of mana.
Like "Cancel", Forbid simply counters a spell for three. But its optional buyback lets you discard two cards to place Forbid back into your hand instead of your graveyard after it resolves.
That's a lot of card advantage to forfeit, but when you're already set on draws (using blue cards like "The Magic Mirror" and such), you've now got as many counterspells as you need, stockpiling your graveyard along the way.
Dismiss costs one more mana than Exclude, but can cancel any spell type and still draws you a card along the way. You and your Dismissed opponent are both down mana, but you've replaced your card in hand while they haven't, giving you a critical advantage.
12. Memory Lapse
Memory Lapse counters a spell, but instead of sending it to the graveyard, it places it on top of your opponent's deck. So they'll be able to recast it, but you're killing a draw and keeping their graveyard empty. Plus, Lapse's colorless slot makes it a popular low-cost choice for multicolor builds.
A staple in any blue deck, Lapse is also surprisingly cheap, costing less than a single dollar!
11. Mystic Confluence
Confluence lets you pick three triggers from its effects, and you can choose the same mode more than once:
- Counter target spell unless its controller pays three
- Return target creature to hand
- Draw a card
All are good options, and the versatility really comes in handy. You can counter a spell while bouncing two creatures to hand, a deadly three-for-one removal, but feel free to utilize the draws when needed.
The quintessential counter, Counterspell thwarts any play for two mana, no restrictions or drawbacks. My one complaint are its two blue symbols, but that's a nitpick on an excellent card.
Compared to Counterspell, Negate can only counter non-creatures, but trades a blue symbol for a colorless, making it better for multicolor decks and able to be discounted.
Remand has a flexible cost and can counter any card type, placing it back in the caster's hand instead of their graveyard. This means they can potentially recast it, but you get to draw a card, evening things out and keeping their graveyard empty.
Daze counters a spell unless an extra mana is played, so you really want to save it for when an opponent puts their eggs into one basket. However, not only does Daze have a cheap base price, you can cast it for free by returning an island to your hand! That's a great alternative casting, especially when you're out of lands in hand and have an open land drop on your next turn.
6. Force of Negation
Cast regularly, Force of Negations acts as a slightly more expensive Negate, countering any non-creature, but as a bonus, you send it to exile instead of the graveyard. Plus, if it's not your turn, you can exile a blue card from your hand instead of paying its mana cost!
Again, that's a great way to counter even when you're tapped out, and with blue's draw prowess, you've usually got some cards to spare.
5. Spell Pierce
For a single mana, Spell Pierce counters a non-creature unless its controller spends two extra mana. That's a hefty fee from such a low-cost card, making this an easy and inexpensive way to ruin an opponent's turn.
4. Muddle the Mixture
For two, Muddle thwarts an instant or sorcery, making it a more-restricted yet still capable version of Counterspell. However, its transmute lets you discard it from your hand and pay three to find another two-cost card from your deck, an excellent tutor and good way to make use of the card against decks without many one-offs.
3. Cryptic Command
While you'll need several blue mana to fuel Cryptic Command, it's an adaptable spell that lets you pick any two different effects:
- Counter target spell
- Return target permanent to its owner's hand
- Tap all creatures your opponent controls
- Draw a card
All are powerful options, and choosing the first two provides two removals in one. For similar spells only legal in casual play, check out the joke card "Very Cryptic Command".
2. Force of Will
No, silly, we're not talking about the Force of Will trading card game. Will may look 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 a counter at anything without spending resources!
Another excellent surprise counter, just remember that lands are colorless, so you can't exile islands to pay Will's price.
1. Mana Drain
An easy number one, Mana Drain offers an upgraded form of Counterspell with absolutely no drawbacks. Like before, you pay two blue mana to 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 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). But if you'd rather not spend dozens of dollars on one card, consider blue/green's alternative "Plasm Capture" instead.
Counterspell Decks in Magic
Counterspell themes often fare best in 1v1; the more players there are, the more spells will slip through your counter net. And it might help to pair blue with another color to cover for blue's lack of big creatures.
Speaking of creatures, some carry counterspell-like effects, giving you even more ways to thwart enemy plays, but watch out for anti-counter tactics on cards like "Grand Abolisher". But for now, as we await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of spell-countering instants, vote for your favorite and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on August 17, 2020:
Good for modern, less so in EDH (except maybe for Sol Ring). So it really depends on your preferred format.
Joe on August 16, 2020:
No Mental Misstep?
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on April 02, 2020:
Good suggestions, but I disagree on Mana Drain: at absolute worst, it's just as good as Counterspell, and at best, it can easily give you the win. Depends a bit on the format, though.
ben on April 02, 2020:
memory lapse is great because you counter your OWN spells with it to protect them. and its not likely to eat another counter spell.
mana drain is overrated and often doesn't lead to anything special. Remand and Memory Lapse are much better counter spells if you want something that costs 2.
Arcane Denial should be on a list like this as well. Another spell nobody knows how to play. if you aren't countering your own spell to draw 3 cards for 1U which is how it should be played, it means you are protecting a game winning play or thwarting one. another card nobody knows how to play correctly...
also, izzet charm isn't even here or Archmage's charm
TR on June 12, 2019:
Mana Drain without mana burn is a broken card.
Roger on February 26, 2019:
Any thoughts on Pact of Negation?
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on February 25, 2019:
Not currently in modern, but it's legal in commander and has been featured in several sets, so it could come back eventually.
Simon on February 24, 2019:
Is that cheap Mana Drain legal in modern?