This week we continue our countdown of the top 16 blue counter spells in cube. Starting with number 7….
It may seem fairly shocking to have Actual Counterspell only ranking in at number seven on this list so allow me to justify this claim. Firstly it is more onerous on your mana base (in a two or more colour deck) to cast Counterspell on turn two than it is to cast a Cryptic Command on turn four. Despite scaling very very well into the late game Counterspell is usually weaker than Mana Leak, Remand, Memory Lapse and Arcane Denial in the early game. It is also far harder to engineer added advantage out of Counterspell than it is for all of that list except for Mana Leak. Counterspell simply trades one for one with a card of theirs, it will not draw you into your important cards nor deny them draws. It cannot be used in tricky ways to generate you card advantage or storm. The reason Counterspell is so highly regarded is that it is as cheap as you can get for a guaranteed counterspell for any target. In a very loose comparison you could say Counterspell was the Vindicate equivalent while other counterspells would represent cards like Abrupt Decay and Desert Twister. Much like Vindicate the strength of Counterspell is due to the broad range it has, however its effectiveness is entirely based on how you use it. Sometimes you are forced into a situation where you need to blow your Vindicate/Counterspell on a cheaper card that you have far more efficient alternate ways to answer, thus making them seem underwhelming. You ideally want to be a little ahead or at least have multiple ways to deal with any given problem available to you so you are never forced into trading your Counterspell for a weak card. Another thing to be wary of with counterspells in general although most notably with actual Counterspell is that you can easily fall behind if relying on them as an answer to things. You need to have mana open so as to be able to play Counterspell. If you opponent is able to use their mana for things you don’t want to or can’t Counterspell and just sit on the thing you need to counter then you will be getting further and further behind. We all know Counterspell is good but we often overlook its inherent limitations and weaknesses and thus fail to play around it or overplay it in our decks. You cannot win with counter magic alone, the deck of only counterspells beats nothing. You want the minimum number of counterspells in your deck to ensure you are safe against all the possible things that are dangerous to you. If you overplay them assuming they are a generic answer you will come unstuck in various ways over your games. It is easy to die to the one drop that resolved or the man land you couldn’t touch with a hand full of countermagic. It is also easy to die despite having equal counter magic to the cards they play just not having sufficient mana to cast all your counters when you needed them which is a depressing way to go. Counterspell is a solid card that will improve an otherwise solid deck. What it will not do is that much to carry a weak deck in any way.
6. Force Spike
This little gem is especially powerful in cube where the fast pace and high power level give Force Spike the perfect conditions to shine. There are three main reasons the Spike is such a top rate counterspell. Firstly it is a one drop that has a desirable effect against all decks in a colour lacking early plays. Secondly it has the capacity to be as effective as Actual Counterspell for half the mana. In itself this is a strong effect but also means that any time you stop a spell with Force Spike you feel like you have gained value which isn’t always the case when your actual Counterspell is baited out on a lowly one drop. God forbid you manage to hit a more costly relevant card with a Force Spike! The last reason the Force Spike is strong is the Daze effect where by your opponents damage themselves by playing around the card. It is well worth a dead card in your hand from the outset to be able to deny them a mana for any turn you can leave mana up. This means you are getting unbelievable value when you haven’t even drawn it and they chose to play around it. The only real drawback to Force Spike is that it relatively quickly becomes a dead card against most decks. Often I find this trade off is well worth the various perks Force Spike brings to the table however it is also a very easily offset downside when you have ways of putting it to alternate use. This can just as easily be pitching it to play a Force of Will as it can be discarding it to a looting effect which are effects blue has in abundance. A card such as Spell Pierce you play when you need specific solutions, however Force Spike is playable much more generally as a way to improve your early game and tempo capabilities.
Oddly Remand is about as soft a counterspell as you will find on this list, with even the likes of Force Spike fairly frequently being able to get your opponents cards in the bin. This being a list based primarily on the countering effectiveness of cards, and Remand being the least likely to ultimately stop something should go a long way to showing quite how powerful the card is overall. So frequently when cast you feel like you just got to Time Walk your opponent. It is all about the tempo that Remand offers rather than its use as an answer to something. Remand is cheap and easy to cast and has as broad a range of targets as actual Counterspell. It disrupts your opponent, yet replaces itself with another card thus advancing you towards you ultimate game plan. Like Daze it has some counteractive scaling where by it is easier to replay cards in the same turn as the game goes on however you also tend to hit higher mana cost targets as the game goes on as well thus making the gained value greater. Unlike Daze it never becomes close to a dead card due to the inbuilt cycling so even if you are Remanding a Lotus Petal you are not that behind as a result. Remand is a card that stays strong throughout the game, is never bad when it is at its worst and is one of the best things you can play when there are optimal conditions for it. Rarely do you care that much what you are countering with Remand, you care most about how much of their turns resources it took to play what you countered. There are of course occasions when you can combine Remand with some other disruption such as discard to fully deal with something but this is not what you should be trying to do with the card. Although on its own the Remand does not solve any real problems it does provide both time and information which if put to good use can enable you to negate the card in question through play rather than needing a specific answer. The information aspect of Remand is almost always overlooked yet it is a significant perk and helps push the card into the big league of blue disruption. Remand is great in both aggro and control decks as it is one of those few cards that offers tempo at no loss of card advantage. While it is a soft counter to a lot of things it is incredibly brutal Remanding flashback or suspend cards. You can even use it to generate your own storm or reuse an on-cast trigger!
Whilst Cryptic Command is only fourth on this list, it is probably the second best card overall rather than specifically as a counterspell. Most of the time when being a counterspell Cryptic is just an awkwardly costed Dismiss, a card which isn’t close to cube quality. In that sort of a role Remand is the vastly more desirable card, you want countermagic to deal with stuff cheaply and efficiently, you play card advantage spells to provide the late game inevitability and so you are just harming your own disruptive power by trying to combine the two into one overcost card. Returning to the options Cryptic Command offers, it is rare that you get to tap all their guys and usefully counter a spell. If you need to tap all their creatures you are in need of solutions to permanents. Rather than counter one of the many problem cards such as a haste creature or an equipment that is frequently cast pre-combat you are likely just going to be better off partially negating the spells effect along with the other creatures by using the tap effect and digging for a real answer for everything with the draw option. Counterspell and Boomerang combination is handy but is also a little clumsy to pull off usefully in terms of timings not working out optiamlly for it. Cryptic Command would still be a versatile and powerful card even if you always had to chose counterspell as one of the options but if that were the case you go from a card with 6 options to one with 3. The three options that include draw a card as one of the choices tend to be the three most commonly played meaning that Cryptic is used as a counterspell less than you might expect, and when it is it is usually just a Dismiss. If you can take two thirds of the best uses for a card away along with half its overall utility and still have a playable card then it suggests a lot about the power of that card in the first place. Cryptic Command is never dead and always puts you ahead of where you were before you cast it. It is an answer to most things and can often simulate that desirable Time Walk quality. As a counterspell it is reliable, versatile and powerful but at the cost of being obvious and cumbersome. As we are all too aware however it is far far more of a card than just a mere counterspell
Check back next week to see my top 3 picks! In the mean time feel free to post your thoughts about my choices below in the comments section.