Editor’s Note: I accidentally titled this post way too close to Kirblar024’s post on the same subject that I read earlier. I had titled this something a bit longer and reworded it at the last moment, and this one seemed to fit. Now I know why. I highly recommend you check out his post because he argues that Hexproof is the issue where I only briefly mention it here. Cavern of Souls and the “Counterspell Problem” in Standard. Yeah, way too close, so a link here is my apology. It was a good read, highly suggest you check it out.
In the beginning Counterspell was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
Cavern of Souls is a very controversial card to say the least.
Originally created to combat the Mana Leak problem (mixed with Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets), there are some who cry out and say that it is exactly those cards that keep the scarier cards in the format in check. Matt Sperling on Channel Fireball explains that the issue is not Mana Leak, but these large creatures that create quite extensive card advantage. It’s these cards that their caster gets such a huge benefit from getting these creatures on the battlefield that Blue has to have good counterspells to help with the metagame from becoming too much of a one deck hierarchy.
Which of course that it’s funny that Delver decks are everywhere, which WotC was trying to deal with in the first place. Now Cavern of Souls will go into those decks to make Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets much more powerful because they can’t be countered.
This all begs the question: Why should we rely on Blue to help keep the metagame in check?
Throughout history Blue decks have been a staple in almost every format. Being able to out draw, counter spells, and deal with permanents at their own leisure has allowed one color to rise above the rest. However when we get a land that stops a portion of a card type, not the card type or all colors of the card type mind you, suddenly WotC is throwing the future metagame into a tizzy because the traditional “control” color can’t deal with threats.
Well, it can still bounce them.
And copy them.
And put them on top of their library.
And take control of them.
What can Black, Red, Green, or White do? Destory, deal damage, Fight, or temporary exile them. Almost one in each color. Yet Blue can do so much more combined. And it constantly gets these types of spells in each set.
At all rarities, at all card types.
This is the identity of Blue; out think, and outplay your opponent. The color is driven on card advantage. So when another color gets a hint of card advantage, everyone turns to Blue to “Fix” the metagame. If no one can, then clearly the format is broken.
Kessig Wolf Run.
Only Blue keeps getting counterspells to “keep” the format in check. And I feel this should change. How?
Give every color counterspells.
I know that some of you are going to question about Hexpoof creatures. If suddenly they are uncounterable and now untargetable by opponents, doesn’t that prove that Blue should get those counterspells anyway since no color can target those creatures anyway. Currently the most popular Hexproof creatures in Standard are Drogskol Captain; Dungrove Elder; Geist of Saint Traft; and Thrun, the Last Troll (Drogskol not itself Hexproof, but you get the point). That’s two Blue/White and Two Green creatures, with Invisible Stalker and Lord of the Unreal also seeing playing time behind the top four. Blue has another advantage over the other colors.
I’ve already gone over about how spells (especially counterspells) have decreased in power from the beginning of the game while creatures have increased, but here are the talking points for those who haven’t read it or don’t feel like clicking a link. Spells used to be really powerful, so powerful in fact that competitive decks could play with very few creatures and rely on spells to win the game. When Serra Angel was your control finisher and was considered too powerful to see print, you knew creatures were bad. So WotC started to slowly increase the impact that creatures had on the game and slowly power down spells, including counterspells. Of course the game has shifted that creatures are more powerful than spells in the newer formats.
One of the main ways that WotC accomploished this was to introduce “187” creatures. Three creatures from Visions, Man-O’-War, Nekrataal and Uktabi Orangutan, introduced the concept that creatures could have spell like abilities. From bouncing a creature, killing one, to destroying an artifact, you got the benefit of a spell by paying a little more and a creature you could beat or block with. It was that “You’ve got peanut butter in my chocolate” moment that Magic has embraced ever since.
For those of you who don’t get why this was an important paradigm shift, it’s like this. If I have a Doom Blade and a 2/1 first striking creature, it’s two cards. To get the same effect as a Nekrataal, you have to hope that you get both of them in your hand. By having them on the same creature, you’ve opened up four possible spots in your deck that you can devote somewhere else. Even before this moment designing a creature was to make it be a creature flavorfully; there was almost no thought into making it spell-like. This also means that you get value for your creature if it gets destroyed. If someone Doom Blades your Borderland Ranger you were still able to tutor up a basic land. By having the creatures mimic spells by not only entering the battlefield, but by their activated and triggered effects, this opened up making creatures much more powerful later on. All the colors have a way with dealing with creatures after they were on the battlefield.
Only very rarely does a non-Blue color get that chance before they become a threat (Mostly Black in discarding). Blue even has milling, if you want to go there.
Which is how we eventually ended up with the Titans (Frost, Grave, Inferno, Primeval, and Sun). WotC pushed to see how far an enters the battlefield ability could go. While it’s great to see the attack trigger (from a design perspective), the caster could potentially be way up by the time of their next turn if an opponent doesn’t get rid of the Titan right away. That means several things: destroying it, exiling it, bouncing it, or countering it. Guess which one is more effective to prevent the triggers in the first place?
By looking at counterspells, you have to look at why they’re so good. Assume we both had three lands in play and a hand full of cards. It’s your turn and you cast a Mirrian Crusader. I decide to counter it with Cancel. Now it’s my turn, and I’m in a better position. Why? You just spent your turn trying to cast a spell, and I spent your turn preventing that spell which leaves me open on my turn to do something. Now, if we both had four lands in play and you cast a Black Cat. I counter it using Mana Leak (since you can’t pay the extra 3). Then at the end of your turn, I cast Think Twice.
Answers are always more powerful than threats.
This is the nature of Blue and counterspells.
There have been 14 non-Blue counterspells printed, and of those 14, four of them have been against Blue spells. Current in Standard Blue has 17 counterspells with three more coming in Avacyn Restored. If Blue is getting the only opportunity to get counterspells then of course players have come to rely on the color to help keep the format balanced (in a non-Blue way). If you’re looking at the other non-Blue way to deal with cards before they’re on the battlefield then Black has eight discard spells, and two more with Avacyn Restored.
Clearly countering spells is Blue’s thing. It’s always Blue’s thing, and it will always generate card (and mana) advantage.
What about my crazy suggestion of giving each color counterspells? Surely I can’t be serious. Oh I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that each color should have Counterspell. Each color should have a variation on a counterspell type effect that makes sense with the color. Some possible examples:
White Taxing – 1WW
Counter target spell unless its controller pays an additional 2.
Black Counter – 1BB
Counter target spell. You lose life equal to the converted mana cost of the countered spell.
Red Remand – 1RR
Counter target spell. If that spell is countered this way, put it into its owner’s hand instead of into that player’s graveyard.
Green Creature Protection – 1G
Creature – Elf Shaman
When this enters the battlefield, counter target spell that targets a creature or creature spell you control.
Obviously they are all a little bit different, but can fit within the restrictions Color Pie (which is important). White loves taxing, Black will do anything to make the game go its way, Red only cares about the short game, and Green wants to keep nature natural and is using creatures to protect itself.
No, these are not the ultimate answers and clearly they need to be thoroughly playested before they are published. Plus, spells like these shouldn’t be in every set, but maybe once a block or two. I do not want to change Magic to a counter war as I would absolutely hate to see that. But if problems of creatures and their enters the battlefield triggers are so big that we constantly have to look to Blue for answers, then something else must be done. Blue can and should still be the top color for counterspells (as each of these have a drawback).
I doubt we’re going to see less 187 creatures because they’re efficient and they keep the game interactive (a spell that can attack). But by people complaining that the game is becoming more broken because we’re removing the ability for one color to deal with one card type (and even then only of a chosen creature type) then something is broken, and it’s not the rest of the game.
You can’t give one color all the leverage in this situation. The threat of counterspells doesn’t mean that everything is fixed with the metagame. There’s a certain power with counterspells, and they’re an important part of what makes Magic special and fun. Blue’s history will always make the color good, we just have to find a way to help the other colors catch up.
And this is a starting point.