One of the bugbears that we’re always raging about in the EDH community is counterspells. Love them, hate them, cull them out of your group, they are a thing and they do a job in the game of Magic.

We all hate that player who does nothing but counter everything that comes out of your hand. But we also bitch about that guy who wraths the board every turn or simply removes every permanent that hits the board. At the end of the day something was cast and something then went on to stop it.

I want to highlight the parallel here; what is the difference between an Abrupt Decayed Tarmogoyf and a Counterspelled Goyf?

Let’s think about it. Under the Decay scenario, the Goyf is cast and enters the battlefield. Along comes the Decay and ends that little bugger. Goyf ends up in the graveyard. It may have had a chance to swing, or it may have had a chance to trigger the ability of some other card by entering play, but either way, at the end of the day, Uncle Goyfey is done and dusted. With removal the goyf could end up back in hand, shuffled in the deck, in the graveyard, or sent out into the wild west of exile depending on the specific removal effect.

How does that compare to if the Goyf was countered? A Counterspell stops that Goyf from hitting play, whether that means sending it back to the library, sending it to the graveyard, flicking it back to hand, or RFG. That means no swings and no CIP (comes into play) or leaves play triggers. Like the Abrupt Decay, a counter doesn’t stop any trigger-on-casting abilities—for example an Eldrazi titan (Kozilek, Butcher of Truth or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre)—unless someone is also packing a Stifle.

cs vs terror

The parallel I am trying to draw here is that to a Tarmogoyf, Remove Soul is functionally the same as Terror.

One might contest the analogy: “But a counterspell is more flexible than just a Terror”. This is true. Counterspells do come in many shapes and sizes, with many targeting options and restrictions. Of course, removal is more than just your Swords to Plowshares, Snuff Outs, and Doomblades – widely varied though that creature removal may be. Removal including cards that can hit any kind of permanent. We have Disenchant hitting enchantments and artifacts, Stone Rain laying the smackdown on lands, and Dreadbore punching holes in our precious Planeswalkers.

I can hear you from clear across the Pacific Ocean, “But counterspells can do ALL those things in one card?”. Yup they sure can, but so can many other types of removal. Let’s list a few Vindicate, Utter End, and the CIP triggers on Woodfall Primus
Brutalizer Exarch. Functionally, the only difference is that the counter stops the damn thing it is trying to stop from ever coming into play.

What am I trying to get at here? Counterspells have a stigma.

The permission stigma

People hate to be told “no you can’t have that toy.” What I am asking you to consider is this; what is the difference between saying “no” to something before it resolves and saying “no” after it has resolved? I suggest the difference is virtually nothing.

We play in a world with more and more threats hitting the board. These threats have more and more diverse layers of removal protection. Shroud and hexproof prevent targeted effects and abilities, indestructability prevents destroy effects, things like Sigarda, Host of Herons get in the way of forced sacrifice, and uncounterability prevents countering.

In this brave new world, we need a diverse array of answers to the ever-escalating toolkits of war. Everyone should accept that the humble counterspell is an important apparatus in our counter-warfare toolkit now and into the future.

Like any tool, it can be abused and used in miserable ways. Anyone can bludgeon someone over the head with a wrench, anyone can wrath the board repeatedly until no-one wants to play, and anyone can play the 52 counter deck.

In conclusion, if your group presently does not play counterspells, whether due to a stigma against them or just because generally no-one plays them, perhaps it is time to bring up the subject. If you play in a group that has trouble removing problematic permanents, perhaps counterspells could be your solution. If you play in a group that is being driven mental by too much removal, wraths, or countermagic, perhaps you can use my thoughts today as a grain of sand for discussion. Get people thinking about other ways to assess and respond to threats using counter magic, as opposed to just worrying about blanket permission wars.