Love ’em or hate ’em – and I suspect for many it will be hate ’em – counterspells are a huge part of Magic. Blue has often been touted as the best color in Magic due to its unparalleled access to card draw, but having counterspells also contributes to blue’s historical dominance of competitive Magic. Being able to control the stack, cancel out your opponents’ cards before they even have an effect and dictate the pace of the game by bottlenecking which cards actually get to resolve all combine to give blue decks a massive lift in overall power level – and all this is enabled by the simple counterspell. Here are some of the very best counterspells from throughout Magic’s history.
10. Cryptic Command
Iconic Masters, Rare
You might call me a boomer for finding a way to squeeze Cryptic Command onto this list, even at number 10, and… well, you’d probably be right. But still, you’ve got to respect the classics, and there was a time, young one, where Cryptic Command was the scariest counterspell you were likely to come across. This card is one of the most flexible and versatile cards ever printed, being exceptionally useful no matter whether you’re ahead or behind. Now, four mana might as well be a billion in formats like Modern, and a card like Cryptic Command is embarrassing when your opponent is attacking you with Ragavan, but I’m still determined to pay tribute to one of Magic’s all-time greats.
9. Spell Pierce
Double Masters 2022, Common
Spell Pierce is a lot better than it looks. In a vacuum, it seems pretty mediocre – after all, even a card like Mana Leak has been completely eclipsed in recent times, and Spell Pierce is a lot more conditional than that. However, Spell Pierce costs just a single mana, and for that reason alone it’s right up there with the best counterspells ever printed. Being able to defend your threats and spells for a single mana is huge – compared to something like Mana Leak (or even actual factual Counterspell) – halves the number of turns you have to wait before committing a threat to the board without backup. Formats like Modern are won and lost on razor-thin margins and ruthless mana efficiency, and Spell Pierce punches well above its weight in having an impact that outstrips its cost.
8. Archmage’s Charm
Modern Horizons, Rare
Cut from the same cloth as Cryptic Commander, Archmage’s Charm offers one of the greatest attributes of all to the control aficionado: flexibility. Archmage’s Charm removes the dreadful possibility of leaving your mana up for a turn cycle in order to counter whatever your opponent plays, only to have that mana wasted if they, too, pass without any action. A Counterspell/Divination split card is ridiculous (particularly with the Divination being at instant speed), even if it doesn’t look it, as it means Archmage’s Charm is never dead, rotting away in your hand while you wait for your opponent to stop playing around counterspells. Plus, the mini-Mind Control is always useful, especially in formats dominated by one-drops.
7. Mystical Dispute
Throne of Eldraine, Uncommon
Despite Mana Leak falling off completely, this three-mana version of the same effect is a multiformat staple. Why? A combination of unbeatable efficiency plus terrific versatility. While Mystical Dispute is obviously at its best in counterspell wars, where it more or less acts as a one-mana Gainsay, its fail-case is a three-mana Mana Leak, which is… fine. It’s not great, but it means that an otherwise extremely conditional counterspell becomes almost like a modal card: to put it in other words, if Archmage’s Charm is a Counterspell/Divination split card, Mystical Dispute is a Gainsay/Convolute split card, greater than the sum of its parts.
6. Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast
Not all counterspells are blue, just most of them, and some non-blue counterspells rank amongst the best ever printed. Even today, both Red Elemental Blast and the near-identical Pyroblast play a very important role in older formats dominated by blue-based decks. Legacy decks of all kinds benefit from playing Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast as a way to fight through opposing countermagic as well as destroying key blue threats like Delver of Secrets and Murktide Regent. Both these cards are amongst the most commonly played in Legacy, which says a lot about just how good blue decks and their counterspells are.
5. Dovin’s Veto
War of the Spark, Uncommon
Counterspells aren’t enormously popular in Commander. People play them, sure, but they’re not as common as things like mana rocks, sweepers and tutors. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a good counterspell to round out your EDH deck, Dovin’s Veto is one of the best. The fact that it will almost always give you the final say in which noncreature spells resolve is difficult to beat as a way to stave off huge plays like Cyclonic Rift, Smothering Tithe and other iconic EDH spells. It’s worth noting, however, that Dovin’s Veto is not as good at defending your own spells, as if you counter their counter with Veto, they can use a second counter to target the original spell, rendering the uncounterability of Dovin’s Veto irrelevant.
Commander Masters, Common
Counterspell is the original, well, counterspell. Since Alpha, this card has been ruining people’s plans and dashing their hopes and dreams, and long may it continue. Its relatively recent addition to the Modern card pool has seen Counterspell flourish as the most-played piece of two-mana countermagic, and for good reason. While other counterspells trade power for flexibility, Counterspell makes no such concession. Two mana, your spell doesn’t resolve. No questions asked, no conditions, no alternate casting costs, no modes, nothing – just a classic Magic card with a simple, straightforward ability.
3. Force of Negation
Double Masters 2022, Rare
A relative newcomer, it didn’t take Force of Negation long to rise through the ranks and entrench itself as one of the best counterspells ever printed. Free countermagic is really, really good – who knew – and when you really need it the most, Force of Negation is just that: free countermagic. Sure, it has to be on their turn, and it can’t be a creature, but being able to counter a key noncreature threat while being tapped out can be such a massive swing, especially if your opponent doesn’t play around it. And the failcase is a three mana Negate? Sure, that’s not great, but it’s not bad, either. Force of Negation is one of best counterspells ever printed, because it’s cut from the same cloth as another one of the all-time greats, namely…
2. Force of Will
Double Masters, Mythic
Force of Negation is very much the “we have Force of Will at home” of the countermagic world. Force of Will is just so good, it – alongside cards like Brainstorm – define the Legacy format. Force of Will is a zero-mana counterspell that can target anything, at any time, assuming you have a blue card and one life to spare. In a format where degenerate, unfair one-turn combo decks would reign supreme if left unchecked, Force of Will is a very necessary pressure valve, making sure Legacy doesn’t implode on itself. Plus, you can always hard-cast it for five mana, which I actually have seen happen. Once. I think.
1. Mana Drain
Double Masters 2022, Mythic
No counterspell comes close, however, to the raw power of Mana Drain. It’s not a cheap card – although a string of reprints have certainly helped in that regard – but you get an incredible bang for your buck. If you’ve never played with or against Mana Drain, here’s how it goes – on turn three of a game of EDH (the only format you can play it in aside from Vintage) you cast your sick four-drop – amazing, this card is going to win you the game. Your opponent Mana Drains it, untaps, plays a land, then casts an eight-drop. Just like that. Mana Drain is absolutely ridiculous, it is unquestionably the most powerful counterspell ever printed, and if you feel like shelling out the $35 or so to snag a copy of this card, you too can become the reason that people answered “hate ’em” in this article’s introduction.