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July 19, 2016

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Commander Counterspell Strategy

In Magic‘s history, they’ve printed over 300 cards that contain the words: “Counter target spell.” I’m here to suggest that we’ve been looking at our counterspells all wrong. I think many of the best counterspells are routinely looked over.

Counterspells should be used exclusively to protect your leading board position.

I’m going to approach this generally, since certain counterspells have side-effects that synergize perfectly with certain strategies. I’ll leave it to you to discover the perfect specific counterspell not mentioned here for your specific deck.

If you’re leading on board, with an inevitable win a turn or two away, your opponents will certainly throw everything they’ve got at you while you’re making that push for victory. This is when we use our counterspells. That’s it. Not before.

If you’re not in the lead, anything bad that happens to the leader is good for you. It brings you closer to winning the game. Don’t counter that spell! Even if someone is trying to wrath the board, and you’re not in first place, let it happen.

“Wait, Sean, what if someone is Wrath-ing the board and I’m losing a bunch of good creatures!”
Do you have a leading board position? No? Don’t counter it. You’re losing less than somebody else. This is a good thing.

“Yeah, but my creatures are great!”
Do you have a leading board position? No? Don’t counter it! I’m sure all the creatures in your deck are great. You’ll draw more.

“But I wanna.”
… I have no argument for that. Go nuts.

“Yaaaaay!” [furiously taps and untaps creatures and then loses the game]

If you’ve got no real board, your opponents probably aren’t looking to send their threats your way, so there should be no reason to counter any big scary cards. Even if it’s something you have no way to deal with later. Stopping that one card now won’t take you from last to first. All you’re really doing is helping everyone else by dealing with something so that they could save their resources to deal with something else later on. Like when they’ve got a leading board position, and are making the push for victory. Sound familiar?

The worst thing that can happen if you counter a few spells early on, is that you might become the peacekeeper for the table. If someone puts a huge bomb-y card on the stack, the last thing you want is for all the players to come to you saying, “It’s so powerful! You gotta counter it! It’ll destroy us all!!!!” As the perceived peacekeeper, that other blue player can quietly hold all their counterspells for when they’re making their push to win the game, and you won’t be able to stop them because they are saving their counterspells exclusively to protect their leading board position! See what I mean?

Even if the top player is casting a huge spell that will win them the game right now, consider letting the spell resolve and shuffling up for the next game. I understand how that might seem wrong. Everyone loves a comeback story, right? True, but unless you’re about even with the leader at the table, it won’t be your comeback story.


So what do we want in a counterspell? We want it to counter a spell, hopefully with little to no restrictions, and we want it to be cheap! Before I detail some of my personal favourites, I’ll remind you again that these are to be cast while you have a leading board position.

Obviously, Counterspell proper. It costs two, and hits everything. We don’t have to sacrifice much of our turn at all by leaving up mana since it’s so cheap. If only we could run five or six of them in a deck. Well, maybe we can!

Take a look at Deprive. Same mana cost as Counterspell, but the only drawback is you have to return a land to your hand. By the time you’ve established your leading board position, you can afford to go back on one land. Who knows, you might be able to bounce a land with an ETB ability that you can use as your land for turn for extra value.

Another Counterspell clone is Familiar’s Ruse. With our board, we’ll certainly have something small and less impactful that we can return to hand for no real loss!

Logic Knot becomes classic Counterspell if we follow this logic as well! By the time we’re pushing for the win, we’ve likely got lots of cards in the graveyard. We should be able to stop anything!

Since the spells that are most likely to disrupt you at this stage are non-creature spells, we can ignore that drawback as well!

Swan Song? A single blue mana to counter most of the stuff we’d care about! Then there’ s Stubborn Denial, also one blue to counter target spell we care about. When we’re protecting a lead, we’ll always have ferocious online!

Negate is actually easier to cast than Counterspell, and it hits most things we care about!

And that’s just a few of them! We probably wouldn’t run many more than that anyway. The best part about all of these is that they’re super cheap to buy. You know me, I love budget cards! And I love countering my opponent’s spells!