Kristen breaks down ten great variations on Counterspell that you should be trying out in Commander. 

If you’ve been following this column for a while, or if you know me at all, you’ll know that I really dislike playing against Blue! Blue is everything a combat loving player dislikes—ways to bounce creatures, ways to avoid damage (especially if Green is involved), and the good old Counterspell. Some say that the best defense is a good offence. Obi-wan Kenobi praises anticipating rather than reacting, and ultimately countering a spell in anticipation of the damage it can do is often better than letting it resolve.

Today, I’d like to go through Ten great variations on the classic Counterspell that should make it into rotation in your EDH decks. Even I pick up Blue from time to time, and when I do, I like to be prepared. There’s simply no reason to get excited about Cancel.

Honorable Mentions

It wouldn’t be fair to have the conversation about countering spells without mentioning some of the most format defining cards. Force of Will, Mana Drain, and more recently Force of Negation are the premier efficient ways to counter spells, requiring either no mana from you, or rewarding you with a tidy portion the following turn.

These are all very playable, particular in cEDH, the faster and more interactive way to play Commander. There’s a big flaw with them, however—their price tag is out of reach for the average deckbuilder. For the set of three, you’re looking at over $200, and that’s a huge investment.

Forbid is a card I’m hesitant to recommend. It can be oppressive, especially in decks with access to large amount of draw (anything Simic, usually), and I’ve found often locks one player out of the game whilst the players with the more durdly value engines have time to set up their less attention-seeking pieces.

Luckily, we don’t always have to spring for the “best” of anything, and there are plenty of options available that can counter a spell and give us a bit of a bonus too. In no particular order, here are some cards you just have to try.

Mental Misstep

One of the reasons cards like Force of Will are popular in Legacy and cEDH is because they’re free. Mental Misstep is similarly free—all it asks is two life. Whilst this is definitely going to do more work in a competitive and high-budget metagame—one with access to Mana Vault, for example —it can still do work outside of this. If your playgroup loves Sol Ring, Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile and the like, this might still be up your street.

Pact of Negation

Pact of Negation is another “free” spell. This one asks a little more, though—you’ll need to pay five mana at the beginning of your next upkeep or you’ll lose the game. If you encounter a lot of combo decks, or decks that can quickly get out hand if they resolve a particular spell, then consider this Pact. It’ll be your get out of jail free card, as long as you have 3UU to pay next time you pass GO!

Swan Song

If you’re not smitten by either of the first two cards, then let me pique your interest once more. Swan Song is perhaps the most efficient counterspell in Commander. For a single Blue, you can counter an instant, sorcery or enchantment. A 2/2 flyer is negligible in the grand scheme of things, and holding up a single mana for interaction is incredibly easy to do. You do it all the time for removal, so why not for Swan Song? Guaranteed to infuriate your opponents.

Glen Elendra Archmage / Kheru Spellsnatcher

Speaking of infuriating your opponent, here are two creatures that can really spoil somebody’s day. Glen Elendra Archmage is probably the card responsible for the most groans at tables I sit at, because the players resolving them tend to be the ones that Persist doesn’t matter to—they’ll bounce/flicker or otherwise reset the Faerie to ensure they always have a counter open for as long as possible.

Kheru Spellsnatcher isn’t quite as pervasive as Glen Elendra Archmage, but it does give some real utility. The ability to have this on board and waiting can’t be understated, particularly in Morph decks, but the ability to take and recast that spell for free is truly the icing on the cake. What makes this more exciting than, say, Desertion, is that you aren’t limited to the type of spell you counter. Plus, you aren’t limited to taking it right there and then—you can cast it whenever is most convenient, for free, even if the Spellsnatcher leaves play.

Arcane Denial

Desertion is definitely a “feel bad” kind of spell. In the times I’ve run it, I’ve made a lot of enemies—there’s something about an opponent countering your spell and taking it right there and then that really gets people hot under the collar. Counterspells in general can feel pretty bad for the player affected, and there’s a political tension in how much “bullying” you can get away with.

I’ve lately taken to trying Arcane Denial in more of my decks. Whilst giving an opponent more cards is dangerous in cutthroat playgroups, in the more casual ones Arcane Denial can go a long way to acting as reparations for the crime you’ve committed. It also replaces itself, which is something. Sometimes a couple of cards is worth pacifying a potential mutiny.

Red Elemental Blast / Pyroblast

So far, we’ve highlighted a bunch of cards that can really put a spanner in the works of an opponent’s deck. Now, let’s switch tack a little, and talk about ways to fight back. Blue can be oppressive to fight through for Red, Boros, or Gruul decks. Whilst Gruul has access to the incredible Vexing Shusher, there’s no substitution for a good REB at your side.

Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast are a great ace up the sleeve when pushing through permission, and in a pinch can destroy a problem permanent too. One of my favourite things to do is grab this from Sunforger and await a response—most of the time, there isn’t one.

Rebuff the Wicked

Speaking of things I love to grab from Sunforger: Rebuff the Wicked. It doesn’t stop triggered or activated abilities, but for a single White mana, this thing can sometimes win games. Especially strong in decks that favor combat focused Commanders like Aurelia, the Warleader, this counterspell can save your Commander, her Sword of Feast and Famine, or the Aggravated Assault that’s terrifying the table. Give it a go sometime.

Dovin’s Veto

Dovin’s Veto is probably one of the most played Commander cards from War of the Spark. It’s cheap, efficient and can’t be countered. There’s not much more to it, really. Counterflux is a great card, and a little more taxing on the manabase, so it’s easy to see why this one would see so much play.

Summary Dismissal

Perhaps my favourite counterspell right now, Summary Dismissal is a catch-all answer. It counters un-counterable spells, stops triggers as small as Mulldrifter and as big as Emrakul, the Promised End, and can prevent the cascade of value that a player might still reap even if their spell is countered. On top of that, it can exile all spells on the stack, which is incredibly useful for stopping combos for good.

Void Shatter

Exile removal is the best kind of removal, and so getting it onto a counterspell can be equally strong. Void Shatter will exile a spell that it counters, and has extra copies in Dissipate and Faerie Trickery. If you want the tribal trigger I’d maybe try the latter, but in all other cases I’d prefer Void Shatter, as the Devoid rider means that cards like Red Elemental Blast won’t work here. It also means you can cast it from the top of your library with Mystic Forge, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Counterspells are a great tool in Commander, and including a couple of the juicier ones at least in your decks is a good idea. It’s possible to overdo it, though—if all you play is permission, you’re not advancing your own board state; and there’s no way you can keep up with all three opponents.

Recursion is certainly a way to offset this, with cards like Eternal Witness, Archaomancer and more giving you a second shot at saying “Nope!” If your playgroup is pretty casual, watch out for doing this too often though. It can really turn people off, and even if it’s a fair tactic to a certain extent, it will make you enemies. Let me know on Twitter what your favorite counterspells are!

Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. Based in the UK, she works as a software developer, and her love for the Legion is second only to her appreciation for Lord of the Rings and Mass Effect.

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