Counterspells



  • I have asked about discard and the graveyard, now it is time to wade into probably the most contentious area of Magic - Counterspells. Counterspells, in my opinion, define Vintage. More than card draw or fast mana, Vintage is the format with the most counterspells played. If you are running any "fair" deck you probably have 10 to 12 counterspells in your deck and if you are running blue based combo you have at least 4 counters and access to 2 to 4 more.

    The first question would be why are counterspells everywhere? The obvious answer is because they are free or very cheap. The next answer is that they are required to survive an unfair format. Both answers are right but they are also both wrong.

    If you include a spell, even if it is free you are losing a slot to another spell that could do something else. Every "free" spell has a cost even if we think it is small or negligible.

    I play blue decks, and I would never call them "fair" even though that is what they are often called. Let's view counterspells from the opposing lens. I invest in casting a spell and you get to say no to that spell. To many players, this feels unfair. It feels so unfair that they got rid of counterspell in 8th edition and it is not in Modern.

    This type of play is often called "interactive", but if you are playing against a deck that does not have counterspells it feels one sided and often dumb.

    Even if you are playing with counterspells the counter wars feel arbitrary. I know I will get all kinds of feedback arguing about skill and how to play these spells but that is not the point of this thread.

    The point and the question is that they are everywhere in Vintage and often overwhelming. Again, I play these spells, and I'm part of this institution.

    My question, is this good for Vintage? Are counterspells making Vintage less innovative? Are we too reliant on them? Do players from other formats look at Vintage and think that looks dumb why bother?

    There are many benefits to playing counterspells. Especially, with super fast mana available and Vintage has several decks that can just win turn one or turn 2. Do we have too many counterspells in our decks?



  • Just tossing this old wikipedia chestnut in here for reference if it helps at all in making operational definitions and discussing fair vs unfair and interactive vs non-interactive deck types. Seems like it still obtains but wiser minds than mine might have a better image or explanation:

    alt text



  • @moorebrother1 so four questions and here are four answers (in the order of the questions): yes, it's good for vintage since it keeps the broken spells in check. Yes, it's probably hampering innovation by taking up a lot of slots in most decks. No, we are not too reliant on them imo, and no, I don't think counterspells would be something that would make players from other formats not want to play vintage. There are far more actually broken things in vintage to drive people away than counterspells.



  • With out counter magic, Vintage becomes a drag race. No interaction, just who can execute their strategy first.

    Honestly, I feel like this is the problem with Modern. The counter magic is awful each player is can just do what they want to do.



  • @moorebrother1 This is a little off topic, but I just want to say that I think all of these threads you're posting are awesome 🙂 raising some really important fundamental questions and starting some super interesting discussions. Keep it up 🙂



  • I believe countermagic in general is safe and fair, however some of the anti-counter stuff starts to become borderline uninteractive, cards like cavern of souls and abrupt decay.



  • @brass-man Thanks. I have gotten so much feedback from friends that Vintage is stale and/or awful right now. I really want to get to the bottom of it, if that's possible.

    These posts may not help anyone get excited about the game but for me they are answering some big questions on why things are the way that they are and maybe people will either change things up or reconcile with the way things are now.



  • @tittliewinks22 These cards were printed in response to the number of counterspells. It is interesting that you feel that they border on the unfair. Most players I know want more cards like those not less.



  • "Can't be countered" is the epitome of "uninteractive."

    Normal Progression: Player A casts a spell, Player B chooses to counter or not= Interaction

    Can't Be Countered Progression: Player A casts a can't be countered spell, Player B... = No Interaction.



  • @xxhazardxx Why is interaction defined as "response", you can remove things. I was one of those people that got super annoyed when someone would say mono-black control and I would say that it's not control if you cannot say no.

    Is countering a spell interactive? I can assure you that the person who had their spell countered does not feel like it was an interaction especially if they have no way to counter back.

    I'm not saying that I disagree you, I just want both sides of the argument here.



  • @moorebrother1

    Scenario 1
    Player A casts a spell (did something), Player B counters the spell (did something)

    In this case, both players did something. There was an interaction.

    Scenario 2
    Player A casts a can't be countered spell (did something), Player B... (did nothing)

    In this case, only one player did something. There wasn't an interaction.*

    Now that doesn't mean interaction can't come later, I was just responding to your comment that counter spells are "uninteractive".

    @moorebrother1 said in Counterspells:

    This type of play is often called "interactive", but if you are playing against a deck that does not have counterspells it feels one sided and often dumb.



  • Countermagic is needed due to the brokenness of the format and ability to lose on turn 1. I think they are widely run though because they are the BEST answer spell. Think how good assassin's trophy is at answering any permanent...now make that card 1 color and allow it to answer sorcery and instant as well....and sometimes be free to cast. It is by far the best "answer" card you can have.



  • I played during the Trinisphere era and I remember being locked of the game on turn 1 unless you had a Force of Will but you had to have a Force of Will, not a Mental Misstep or a Flusterstorm or a Pyroblast but a Force of Will plus a blue card.

    We are not anywhere close to those days but the response so far as been that we need a bunch counters to stop from losing on turn 1 when the only tried and true answer is Force of Will to that scenario.

    But, you still lose to Dredge on turn 2 or 3 even with Force of Will. Again, I play counterspells - a lot of them. My current deck choice is Blue Moon running 12 main plus 2 on the board.

    Is this really the best way to play magic in Vintage? What is the effect of this on the meta-game?



  • Decks that run a lot of counterspells already compromise a great deal to run those counterspells. To cast FoW without hardcasting it, you have to exile another blue card. To cast Mana Drain, you have to leave up two blue mana, with which you could cast ponder, brainstorm, whatever. Most counterspells are costed in such a way that, if the caster is not very discriminating in what to counter, they run out of resources very quickly. Aggro and combo players have many ways to outmaneuver, and many occasions to out-luck these control players even without uncounterable cards.

    With the introduction of uncounterable spells, lands even (not even 'legendary'), players can cast stuff with one less thing to consider about what the opponent might have in their hand. With things like Cavern of Souls, you don't really have to consider counterspells, so there's one less axis around which strategies can be made. If you're playing against blue, you'll win more often, but by having these cards in play, the game has been simplified. Turn 2 Extirpating Life from the Loam against a Lands player entails no suspense or strategy. Turn 1 drop Cavern of Souls, dump a bunch of moxen, play Glowrider/Thalia, Reality Smasher, etc., you might as well be playing solitaire if the opponent is playing combo or control.

    As a game involving chance, Magic needs to consistently sustain the feeling of 'if I had drawn this, I could've beaten that,' to make you want to shuffle your deck and play another match. With all these extreme cards without possible outs, that feeling does not take place. Instead of playing rock, paper, scissors, playing with these uncounterable spells feels like I can only play rock, and the opponent can only play scissors for the entirety of the game.



  • @moorebrother1 , @xXHazardXx

    @xxhazardxx said in Counterspells:

    @moorebrother1

    Scenario 1
    Player A casts a spell (did something), Player B counters the spell (did something)

    In this case, both players did something. There was an interaction.

    Scenario 2
    Player A casts a can't be countered spell (did something), Player B... (did nothing)

    In this case, only one player did something. There wasn't an interaction.*

    Now that doesn't mean interaction can't come later, I was just responding to your comment that counter spells are "uninteractive".

    @moorebrother1 said in Counterspells:

    This type of play is often called "interactive", but if you are playing against a deck that does not have counterspells it feels one sided and often dumb.

    @moorebrother1 said in Counterspells:

    @xxhazardxx Why is interaction defined as "response", you can remove things. I was one of those people that got super annoyed with someone would say mono-black control and I would say that it's not control if you cannot say no.

    Is countering a spell interactive? I can assure you that the person who had their spell countered does not feel like it was an interaction especially if they have no way to counter back.

    I'm not saying that I disagree you, I just want both sides of the argument here.

    So I would just like to flush that out that in a deck like "Forbidian" where you literally counter every single spell (or a similar prison deck) counterspells are probably not very interactive and more like a jace fateseal.

    I'd like to add that I think there are times when Abrupt Decay can be interactive. Say you are targeting a chalice and the workshop player eats it with a ravager (etc).

    (I hope my analysis benefits your discussion.👍 )



  • @moorebrother1 said in Counterspells:

    I played during the Trinisphere era and I remember being locked of the game on turn 1 unless you had a Force of Will but you had to have a Force of Will, not a Mental Misstep or a Flusterstorm or a Pyroblast but a Force of Will plus a blue card.

    We not anywhere close to those days but the response so far as been that we need a bunch counters to stop from losing on turn 1 when the only tried and true answer is Force of Will to that scenario.

    But, you still lose to Dredge on turn 2 or 3 even with Force of Will. Again, I play counterspells - a lot of them. My current deck of Blue Moon running 12 main plus 2 on the board.

    Is this really the best way to play magic in Vintage? What is the effect of this on the meta-game?

    Look at combo decks. If not for the need to work around counterspells combo decks just got all-in on their combo and whoever wins the die roll probably wins. I'm a big fan of bomberman. I've won on t1 occasionally. Without the need for counterspells, those extra slots (4 fow, 3 mana drain, 2 flusterstorms) probably become 2-3 more salvagers, more fast mana and another walking ballista or two along with rounding out my trinket mages. Possibly add in a lion's eye diamond for once salvagers is in play. I've now increased my chances of a t1 kill by an extremely high percentage. And its still probably too slow to beat dps or doomsday etc if they could pack their deck and not worry about counter magic. Shops is still a thing, but they mulligan hardcore for sphere effects to slow down combo.



  • The benefit of interactivity on the format cannot be found by merely analyzing the mechanics of the sequence, “player A casts spell”, “player B counters”.

    The benefits come from what lies beneath the surface of that. Before playing that spell, player A must ask herself, “Does player B have a counterspell or not?” A’s optimal line might differ based on the answer. She must compute the probability of winning with line 1 if B has a counterspell vs if he does not, and similarly for line 2, and then combine the computations into a decision. This requires skill. Hence counterspells increase the skill level of the format. And that is a good thing.

    The more dependent my optimal line is on information that is hidden from me - information which can be probabilistically deduced from data and logic - the higher the quality of gameplay.



  • @dshin I think the idea of playing around counterspells helps tremendously with a bluff mechanic.

    Spot removal use to be decent, but as most of the playable creatures today have etb/ltb effects the damage is already lasting even though the threat is removed. Countering on the stack is the only way to deal with these in favorable way (not even favorable if it's force of will).



  • I think counterspells are interactive in that both players act/react, but interactivity is NOT what most anti-blue players gripe about. What they really mean when they say "Counterspells are uninteractive" is "When my opponent plays counterspells, I don't feel like I'm even in the game." There are many games vs control that go like so:
    Player A - plays land, mox, 1cmc spell
    Player B - missteps
    Player B - plays land, ponder
    Player A - plays land, spell
    Player B - FoWs
    Player B - plays land, mox, ancestral self
    Player A - plays land, plays bigger spell
    Player B - mana drain
    Player B - plays land, Jace TMS, brainstorms
    Player A - plays land, casts spell (not a threat with Jace), resolves, casts real threat
    Player B - Gush, FoW
    Player B - mox, tinker for BSC, brainstorms with Jace, time walk.

    In that game, Player A hangs around a few turns and there's plenty of interaction. In reality, Player B was solitairing and Player A was basically draw/land/pass for all intents and purposes. Player A may well have never sat down at the table and would have been as much "in the game."



  • It is possible that Vintage suffers a little from the lack of nuances in the category of good counter/destroy spells making the strategies a little stale.

    I think one of the card with the most nuances & subtilities (ie: interactive) in that category might be Mindbreak Trap:

    • Its free-to-cast condition means it challenges both players playskills & deckbuilding
    • It exiles rather than counter, introducing another layer in a universe full of counterwars, recurring spells, delving, ...
    • It is still playable mid & late game under its full casting cost
    • It can be easily interacted with (no storm, no spilt second, ...)

    So the counterargument is probably to say that if a card has too many nuances/conditions then it has been too balanced by R&D so probably not Vintage/Powerful enough. I’m more to say that R&D doesn’t like printing too many of these cards because it makes the game complicated/hard for new players. For us, not having access to such cards make the game stale & the strategies limited


 

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