M14: Maindeck countermagic

M14 has 4 counterspells: Essence Scatter, Negate, Cancel, and Spell Blast. Are any of them good choices for the maindeck?

The spreadsheet I’d created for my last post shows that a typical M14 draft deck has 4 good targets for Essence Scatter (1 bomb + 2.8 exceptional) and 3 good targets for Negate (0.2 bombs + 2.5 exceptional). That means that you will only encounter 1-2 worthy targets per game for either of them. Even then, you need to have the counterspell in hand and have mana open to cast it, so they’re unlikely to be consistently good.

Cancel and Spell Blast have about 6.5 good targets (1.2 bomb + 5.3 exceptional). However, they’re more expensive to cast, especially Spell Blast, so you’re less likely to have mana open to cast them when your opponent casts one of those targets. Also, some of these targets are likely to end up sitting in sideboards, either due to hatedrafts or players switching colors, so you’re less likely to encounter them than the numbers indicate. Finally, countermagic does very little if you’re behind on the board, and good players can sometimes play around it.

Given this, you probably want to leave countermagic in your sideboard unless you’re playing a U/R control or U/G mill deck. In such a deck, Essence Scatter can prevent you from falling behind early and the countermagic can be regrown using Archaeomancer. Also, since these decks don’t usually win quickly, you’re likely to see more of an opponent’s decks and therefore more likely to encounter their bombs.

Other scenarios in which you might want to maindeck countermagic are if your deck lacks creature removal or if you’ve passed multiple bombs and know you’re likely to face them.

EDIT: Someone pointed out yesterday that I hadn’t covered some other reasons to run countermagic. He specifically mentioned that Negate can be useful if you have bombs or combos to protect, which is a valid point. In addition, countermagic gets better if you have other things you can do on your opponent’s turn if they don’t play anything you’re interested in countering. For instance, you might be able to play a creature with flash (although there are only 2 in M14, and both cost 4 mana) or use an instant-speed activated abilities (such as Rod of Ruin and Ring of Three Wishes).

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