I'm currently honing a white-green tokens deck for Standard tournament play. I feel like I have a good handle on my game-plan for most of the other common archetypes, but I'm really stymied playing against the counterspell-heavy blue decks.

It's not hard for a blue deck to run 4x Mana Leak, 4x Dissipate, 4x Vapor Snag, and 4x Snapcaster Mage, giving him plenty of options to counterspell or bounce literally every single spell that I try to cast. I've tried two basic options:

  1. Go aggro. Cast spells as quickly as you can, try to exhaust his supply of counterspells, and hope that one of your plays will eventually stick. (This usually doesn't work.)
  2. Play the waiting game. Wait for him to tap out on my end step and then sneak in a Midnight Haunting, or, more rarely, hope that he eventually taps out or runs out of cards on his turn and gives me a chance to play some creatures. (This works a little better, but is very inconsistent. It depends on Villain eventually giving me an opening, and every turn I wait is another turn where he gets a chance to draw his finishers.)

Is there another way to play against this deck?

  • 2
    It's not worth an entire answer, but the two things that come to mind are Surgical Extraction and Thrun. Another key here is recognizing the win condition of these decks - are they just countering until they get a Titan or something big out? If so, are you running some destruction/control (Beast Within, O-Ring, Rebuke, etc.) to take care of that? Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 15:55
  • The deck I played last night which prompted this question had Chandra's Phoenix and Delver of Secrets/Insectile Abomination as its win conditions. Not terribly impressive on their own, but effective when all of my answers get counterspelled. But Surgical Extraction looks very interesting. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 16:01
  • 1
    I think option (2) is surely a terrible route to go down? The blue deck by definition is delighted for you to "play the waiting game"... sitting around doing as little as possible, sculpting the perfect hand to win with, is the blue counter deck's dream situation. Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 10:18

7 Answers 7


Tactics in Play

Counterspells are powerful because they're a broad-brush answer to a lot of spells. Whatever spell type is central to your opponent's game plan, you can stop it on the stack. This versatility comes at a price, though: timing. If you've got a threat on the board, I can use Doom Blade to deal with it whenever is most convenient for me; with a Mana Leak, though, I have to cast my spell while yours is on the stack -- meaning I have to have the card in hand then and there, and the mana open to use my counter. Exploiting this weakness is the foundation of anti-counter tactics.

(Note that I'm assuming you're playing in a more "conventional" environment like Limited or Standard here. The dynamics of Legacy or Vintage are pretty different, but would require long digressions about a couple of particular cards.)

  1. Play an aggressive early game. Most 1-drop counters are very situational, meaning they likely won't see widespread play in a control deck. So, right off the bat, you have 1-2 turns to establish an early board presence. Rush out permanents that will help you build board position or pressure your opponent's life total.

When you do this, be mindful of sweepers (like Wrath of God). A typical control-deck strategy against aggressive starts is to use just enough counters or spot removal to survive to drop a sweeper, and then clear the board and try to "take over" with raw power and card advantage. Generally speaking, early pressure is good, but disgorging your entire hand ASAP is not necessarily an optimal plan.

  1. Exploit your opponent's limited mana in the mid-game. In the mid-game, your opponent will have enough land for counterspell mana, but you can still exploit the limitations of her mana base. Playing 1-drops and 2-drops straight into counters can put you at a mana advantage over your opponent. If you're both at 4 lands and she Dissipates a 1-drop, you still have 3 mana to pay for other spells. It helps if you have a key card that your opponent can't easily answer once it's on the battlefield: just holding enough mana open to cast your big threat creates pressure on your opponent to let your other stuff through.

Another trick is to save your instant-speed plays for your opponent's end step. This puts your opponent in a double bind: if she counters your current play, then she'll be tapped out on your turn, and you'll get to play a thing; if she doesn't, hey, you just got to play a thing!

  1. Plan for the end-game. Your opponent has to play threats of her own to win. They're likely at the top of her curve (for a pure control deck) or at the bottom (for an aggro-control deck).
  • Against control or combo-control: Your opponent is using counterspells to slow down your development while she plays out lands to pay for her big stuff. Eventually she'll drop some big finisher or set up an engine that gives her ever-increasing advantage. Having an answer for it will help you avoid defeat (or at least force your opponent to wait a few more turns to play it, so she can have counter backup), but fundamentally you'll still want to win on speed.

  • Against aggro-control: Your opponent is trying to win on tempo. This involves setting up an early clock and then using counters and bounce spells to keep it going. Her undercosted threats become less and less powerful as the game wears on, though. Unless you can straight-up out-race her, you need to focus your efforts on stopping her clock. If you can do this, you can often grind out a win once her deck runs out of steam.

Deckbuilding Strategy

You can make deckbuilding decisions to beat counterspell-heavy decks, too.

  1. Include counter-proof lines of attack. Even though they're highly versatile, counterspells still can't counter everything. So, just play offensive cards that are impervious to counters. Thrun, the Last Troll is a popular sideboard card for this reason, being immune to counterspells and most removal (as a regenerating 4/4 for 4, he's also awesome enough to maindeck). Cavern of Souls can make any of your creatures uncounterable. Cards like Inkmoth Nexus and Moorland Haunt allow you to play offense with your land drops even if all your spell cards are getting zapped with counters. This is probably the easiest way to deal with permission-heavy decks without spreading your deck too thin (though watch your color density).

  2. Sideboard specific hosers. When all else fails, if you're having lots of trouble with any particular matchup, it's sensible to devote some space to it in your sideboard. Cards like Defense Grid or Vexing Shusher can restrict counterspells. Cards like Summoning Trap can punish them. Note that your hosers don't have to be focused on the counterspells themselves — if your opponent's deck is light on threats, you can disrupt them with cards like Slaughter Games; if they require lots of mana, try land destruction like Molten Rain to delay them.

  3. Don't play midrange without disruption. "Midrange" is a term for archetypes that try to straddle the line between aggro and control. They try to beat aggro decks by being "a little bigger" and control decks by being "a little faster". The problem is that "a little faster" doesn't work all that well. Oftentimes you do beat aggro (by going "a little bigger"), but counterspells clobber your deck because you're playing most of your stuff in the midgame (when your opponent has mana for counters) but the spells in your deck generally aren't big enough that you can win the game just by getting one of them to stick. The most successful midrange-style decks typically use focused hand disruption (e.g. Thoughtseize) to clear an opponent's counters and removal.

  • Also, I want to add some more ideas. Over tax their counter spells: Make the person run out of counter spells before you run out of resources by playing as many must counter threats as possible (i.e. play powerful spells every turn and eventually you'll run them out of counter spells). For example, have a lot of similarly costed creatures that will end the game if unchecked or play as many different threats as possible if the opponent has conditional counter spells (i.e. play both powerful creatures and planeswalkers and force the opponent to deal with the diverse threats)
    – WPickett
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 21:19
  • Another strategy is to force the control player to play/spend mana on their turn as much a possible. You do this by playing instant speed threats such as Restoration Angel on their turn and then they won't have the mana to disrupt/counter on your turn.
    – WPickett
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 21:23

I'm a little surprised your "aggro" strategy isn't working for you. I thought that's the way a WG token deck was supposed to play… overwhelm the opponent with cheap and efficient spells.

I have a couple thoughts:

  • You do have 4x Autumn's Veil in the sideboard, right? That's a key spell to play against denial necks that can help force through a key creature. Remember that it's an instant — so you can save it to respond to a counterspell or bounce. It's your green counterspell for one mana.

  • You might want to add some hexproof creatures, or equipment and enchantments hexproof to mitigate the bounce issue.

  • Consider Creeping Renaissance. Denial decks are playing the long game. Hopefully as the game grinds on and your graveyard fills with countered spells you'll be able to play a Creeping Renaissance when you have plenty of mana and regain card advantage. If it is countered, flashback it.

  • I don't have Autumn's Veil. I think I'll need to address this oversight shortly. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 16:17
  • Also looking at this list of hexproof stuff, I'm seeing the Swiftfoot Boots as potentially playable. Its equip cost is 1, and the cheapness is more relevant than the pump effects of Mask of Avacyn for my deck. (My tokens deck is thick with ways to pump creatures, and it doesn't need one that costs 3 to pump one creature at sorcery speed.) Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 16:30
  • On the subject of flashback, Dissipate exiles the spell if it is successfully countered. Autumn's Veil is an excellent addition which I forgot entirely. On the subject of hexproof, @JSBᾶngs, I can't stress Thrun enough (4/4 uncounterable hexproof = screw you, blue). Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 16:56
  • @Ian, I'm reluctant to go with Thrun, because it's a) expensive and b) has no synergy with the rest of the deck. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 17:21
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    @JSBᾶngs I certainly see the reason not to run it, but as a sideboard anti-control card, it's hard to beat. Things like Grand Abolisher or Thrun here and (or, for example, Melira against infect when it was seeing some play in standard) may not synergize well, but if means winning instead of losing, they're still worth playing. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 18:32

Since I've mentioned some cards in comments that @ghoppe hasn't, I'll go ahead and mention them here:

  • Thrun, the Last Troll gives you that uncounterable hexproof big creature you'll need to punish a control deck
  • Grand Abolisher ruins their day pretty badly (and can be very useful against some non-blue control decks as well)
  • Surgical Extraction is pretty efficient at getting rid of those pesky counterspells, and lets you see their hand (but beware it being countered once they know you're playing it)

I'd also advise some destruction for taking care of their bombs - a Beast Within or Rebuke can really turn the tide if they've invested in just the one creature (via bouncing and countering). Maybe even something like Plummet if you're concerned about flyers specifically, but general removal is going to be more useful.

  • Try Extirpate for an uncounterable version of Surgical Extraction
    – Zags
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 21:38

There are a plethora of ways to beat counterspell decks. Here are some of the most generic (and most important):

  • Play at instant speed. This is easily the most effective way. For example at the end of your opponent's end step you play Nightpack Ambusher. If they don't counter, you have a powerful threat in play that you can use to force them to tap their mana to answer. If they counter, then they are tapped low, and you can resolve another threat on your turn. You can also do this when they try to do something on your end step, e.g. on the end of your turn they play Chemister's Insight. Now they are unlikely to have counterspell mana anymore, and if you respond with Nightpack Ambusher you can expect it to resolve. You don't need instant-speed spells as well: abilities, such as Seasoned Pyromancer's activated ability from the graveyard, work too.
  • Play counter-counters. Core Set 2020 introduced two of the most powerful spells in the game for this purpose, seeing play all the way to Vintage & Legacy: Veil of Summer and Mystical Dispute. Basically you play your threat, they counter, you respond with Veil/Dispute and they need to both have a second counter and the mana to cast it - something that is not trivial and potentially impossible early in the game. If these spells aren't legal in the format you're playing, there is still Negate and Spell Pierce.
  • Play discard. This is very similar to the counter-counter plan, except it's proactive. So you play a card like Thoughtseize or Duress. If they don't counter, you can take the counterspell and play something else. If they counter, you've gained a mana advantage (these discard spells are 1-mana, counters almost always cost more), they will be tapped low, and you can cast another spell. Play note: you might not want to play the discard spell the turn you draw it, instead saving it for a turn when you can force a threat through.
  • Play cheap spells. For example, at four mana, you can play two 2-mana spells on the same turn, and they will almost surely only be able to counter one.
  • Play 1-mana spells. Sort of an extension to the above, but deserves its own mention, because you can play these on turn 1 and it's highly unlikely the opponent will be able to counter (almost impossible if you are going first). Some of the best cards in this category are Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Delver of Secrets and Dragon's Rage Channeler.
  • Play uncounterable threats. Not always possible, but Cavern of Souls and Aether Vial go a long way.
  • Play cards with cast triggers. For example Bloodbraid Elf, even if countered, will still yield you value thanks to the cascade trigger. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Emrakul, the Promised End are similar.
  • Be threat-dense. The more must-counter spells you have, the better for you, and the more likely they are to run out of counterspells. "Must-counter" means a threat so strong that if opponent does not counter, they probably don't have a counterspell. An example is Stoneforge Mystic, because if she's not countered you 1) gain card advantage and 2) can put the equipment into play uncounterable next turn.

A corollary of all this is that if your deck is all expensive sorcery-speed threats, counterspells will be very effective against you, so you will need a good sideboard plan.

Aside from these generic plans, some of the most effective counterspell hosers are Teferi, Time Raveler and Defense Grid. The former is a generically good card (at worst it gains some life and replaces itself), while the latter is an artifact (i.e. all colors can play it & creature removal/sweepers cannot kill it).

See also How to build a multi-colour aggro deck to be more effective against control which deals with the broader question of how to beat control decks (which often but are not always counterspell heavy).


There is some really amazing land that can help against it.

Cavern of souls. Just remember what creature you picked (works well with one or two types of creature.

Boseiju, Who Shelters All. As long as you like losing a little bit of health for a sorcery spell or an instant your fine. Just remember you can only have one of these on the field at a time...

Lastly Grand Abolisher. Even though this isn't a land its great against counter spells since they will never be able to do anything on your turn. The bad is if they can kill it on their turn by dealing two damage to it.

These are really nice when versing counter spells but there is other stuff too!


Throw some Grand Abolishers in your deck! 2drop white creatures that disallows your opponents from playing spells on your turn, meaning, all their counterspells become useless to your enchantment/ creature drops. Add in a privileged possition to prevent them from trying to remove things, and then you're only susceptible to board whipes, which can even be counter themselves by making your creatures indestructable with something like Ajani's presence.


Dosan the Falling Leaf stops all other players from meddling during your turn.

  • 1
    That is dependent on the other player not dealing with that card on their turn (or them being able to remove it with non casted abilities on your turn) and you being able to get a copy of it in play. Personally I wouldn't want to have a deck dependent on 4 cards in a deck of which only 1 can be in play at once
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 0:16

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