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Magic's Modern format has a rather large card pool, including 90-ish counterspells with a good variety of mana costs and limitations. Assume you're playing a control deck that can fairly reliably take over the late game, but really wants early disruption to get there, as well as occasional protection for your big controlling power play (whether it's a combo, a powerful fatty, or just a wrath to buy you more time). Given the constraints on counterspell power represented by the Modern set, which of the counter cards available make the strongest inclusions for early-turn defensive play, and why?

(I scoped this question to Modern because it's an "eternal" format with many options but no access to the early-edition uber-counters like Mana Drain and Force of Will.)

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

It all depends, I suppose, on your precise definition of "early game". Most people would probably agree that the best counter in Modern is Cryptic Command, but at 4cc that's not anyone's idea of "early disruption"...

If you really want to come out of the gates countering, you'll want to be looking at 1cc and 2cc counters. At the 1-drop level, Spell Snare is probably top of the heap, because so many good, fast decks will lean heavily on good 2-drops. Spell Pierce might fit the bill if it's not fast creature swarms you're most worried about; or Mana Tithe if you want something a bit more off-the-wall (and are capable of making white mana)!

Beyond those, 2cc counters are the "classic" option. Mana Leak is better than Rune Snag in the early game, which seems to be what you're worried about; and then there's the excellent Remand, which, while it doesn't make the problem go away permanently, hopefully makes your tempo problems go away, until you can, as you say, "take control of the late game". Both Mana Leak and Remand are non-negotiable solutions to the problem of an opponent overrunning you in the first few turns of the game, and those'd definitely be my first port of call when working out a solid base for a Modern counter-heavy deck.

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Oh, and of course, at 2cc Flashfreeze is amazing... IF you can count on red and/or green decks being prevalent in the current metagame. –  thesunneversets Dec 11 '11 at 16:36
    
Isn't Remand basically a bad Mana Leak against 1- and 2- cost cards? –  Alex P Dec 12 '11 at 15:39
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I wouldn't underestimate Remand. Yes, it's a tempo card, not a removal card, but remember that it draws you a card as well as wiping out one of your opponent's early turns (because they have to spend the next turn casting the spell again). Remember an allegedly quite powerful card called Time Walk? If played at the right moment, Remand is almost as good as that. –  thesunneversets Dec 12 '11 at 16:19
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So, having tested a bunch, my conclusion is that you (and countless GP/PTQ winners, heh) are totally right about Remand. It's amazing. Double-amazing when you're Remanding a flashbacked spell or Remanding your own stuff in response to a counter. –  Alex P Apr 2 '12 at 19:11
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@ghoppe I have to disagree with that assessment - I've played Remand quite successfully in decks that had no Islands whatsoever in them. :-) –  Steven Stadnicki Apr 4 '12 at 6:47

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