Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Are Traps in Magic?
When most card players hear trap, they think of the infamous face-downs in Yu-Gi-Oh, but Magic employs a similar mechanic through its own traps, a specific subtype of instants. Traps come in many shapes and sizes across all colors, bearing high mana costs that are reduced when your opponent triggers certain conditions, letting you counter their tactics with inexpensive and turn-interrupting spells.
Traps are one of the most criminally underestimated subtypes in Magic, but with dozens of cages to imprison foes, which spells reign supreme? These are the ten best trap cards in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Refraction Trap
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 4 (1 when reduced)
Refraction offers a sweet benefit with its reduced price; the trouble is, it's a specific condition, meaning Refraction works well when you know ahead of time what kinds of decks you'll be facing.
This instant prevents the next three damage that a source of your choice would deal to you or your permanents, then lets you redirect that damage towards any target. A handy way to mix offense and defense, but accessing your reduced price requires an opponent to have cast a red instant or sorcery that turn, meaning the optimal fee relies on facing specific colors and card types.
9. Nemesis Trap
CMC: 6 (2 when reduced)
Nemesis Trap is another great removal, especially when you know you're facing a plains deck ahead of time. It exiles an attacking creature, placing a token copy of that unit onto the field under your control, exiling it at the end of the turn. Still, you get to banish an enemy (preventing graveyard recoveries) and gain a temporary blocker, possibly with effects you can exploit before it vanishes.
To utilize Nemesis's bargain price of two, you have to activate it when a white creature is attacking, a prime example of black and white's ongoing feud in Magic's lore.
8. Whiplash Trap
CMC: 5 (1 when reduced)
Whiplash offers a super discount that's rather easy to achieve. It simply bounces two creatures back to their owners' hands, a stellar removal that forces your adversary to waste time and resources recasting them.
To earn its reduced fee, you simply need to wait for a turn where your opponent has two or more creatures enter their field. Between casting their monsters and token swarming, it shouldn't take long for this condition to trigger, and you can further hasten it with the equipment "Dowsing Dagger," which grants your opponent two weak tokens in exchange for its powers!
7. Cobra Trap
CMC: 6 (1 when reduced)
Cobra Trap cuts its price by five mana with its reduction, which you'll earn by having an opponent destroy any non-creature permanent you control that turn. Use it in decks that emphasize artifacts, enchantments, planeswalkers, and other non-creatures to give your opponent plenty of valid targets.
When triggered, Cobra places four 1/1 green snake tokens onto the field. While they're weak and lack any secondary effects, they make great throwaway blockers, stalling against your opponent's biggest threats for several turns.
6. Ricochet Trap
CMC: 4 (1 when reduced)
Due to blue's prominence in commander format, Ricochet works great in EDH, as you'll access its optimal price whenever an opponent has cast a blue spell that turn. This red instant simply changes the target of a spell to another valid target, making your opponent accidentally hinder their own units instead of yours.
5. Permafrost Trap
CMC: 4 (1 when reduced)
Permafrost dulls up to two creatures, tapping them and preventing them from untapping during your opponent's next untap step, an excellent defensive tactic. To harness its minimized fee, cast it on a turn where your opponent had a green creature enter under their control.
Once again, you can combo with Dowsing Dagger, as it grants your opponents two 0/1 green plant tokens, triggering the reduced prices of both Permafrost and Whiplash. Dagger can potentially transform into the land "Lost Vale," which (similarly to the infamous "Black Lotus") taps for three mana of any color!
4. Needlebite Trap
CMC: 7 (1 when reduced)
Needlebite definitely isn't worth its insane base cost of seven mana; thankfully, it bears an easy discount, simply requiring your opponent to have gained life that round. Lifegain is a common tool many decks employ on their own, and even if not, several competitive cards ("Nature's Claim," "Swords to Plowshares," etc.) will do the job for you.
Needlebite simply has a target player lose five life while you gain as much, a vicious blow that lands considerable damage while stocking your own health reservoirs. I use Needlebite in many black decks to grant myself a solid life advantage; fortunately, it's surprisingly cheap, often costing less than a single dollar!
3. Summoning Trap
CMC: 6 (0 when reduced)
The cool thing about Summoning Trap is that it's honestly a fair effect even for its full price of six mana, offering an instant-speed alternative to one of my favorite green sorceries, "See the Unwritten." When activated, you look at the top seven cards of your library, can play a creature from among them for free, and place the rest on the bottom of your deck in any order.
Thus, you're saved the trouble of both drawing and casting your titan, an excellent-way to field expensive behemoths like the Eldrazi. Not only that, you can cast Summoning for free if your opponent previously countered one of your creature spells that turn, making it an excellent anti-blue countermeasure.
2. Archive Trap
CMC: 5 (0 when reduced)
While Archive only really helps one type of deck (mill decks), boy does it excel at what it does. For five mana, you send thirteen cards from any player's library to the graveyard, pushing them closer to a deck-out loss. But if an opponent searched their library during the turn, you can cast Archive for free!
Thirteen cards with zero mana? Yes, please. And with the abundance of tutors and other searches in commander format, it shouldn't take long for foes to trigger the discount in EDH.
1. Mindbreak Trap
CMC: 4 (0 when reduced)
This one functions similarly to a counterspell, but doesn't technically counter, letting it bypass counter-restricting shields. You get to exile any number of spells, which not only prevents them from resolving, but denies your opponent graveyard advantage! And since you can hit any number, not just one, this devastates combo plays like cascade.
On top of all that, you can cast Mindbreak for free if an opponent has played three or more spells that turn, providing not just the best trap but one of the best cards in Magic.
How to Support Traps in Magic: The Gathering
Traps make fierce allies thanks to their instant speed and potential discounts. Rather than relying on chance to obtain these, look for cards that grant your opponent certain benefits (and let you activate the lowered fees), or save traps for when you know what type of structures you're facing.
Traps remain an engaging and competitive mechanic that I hope to see expand in future sets, but for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next set of awesome pitfalls, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill