Counterspell in Modern
Let’s start off with a quote from a previous article of mine to underline that I am a man of my word.
It is definitely no secret that I enjoy playing Control decks, but it is also no secret that I have never actually pulled the trigger in a premier event before. After a long period of TitanShift as my weapon of choice, I decided it was time to try out interacting with my opponent again. I entered a 295 players Modern PTQ on Magic Online and fought my way to a 6-1 record having two win and in matches for a top 8 spot. Unfortunately the wheels fell off in the end, but I still have a good feeling about this deck.
The Butterfly Effect
The starting point was realizing I wanted to play the full four Logic Knot and that I needed a playset of Thought Scour to make that happen. Having played a bunch of Esper Shadow and my love for the card Lingering Souls in mind, adding those in were a no-brainer. Let us have a look at the deck card for card.
These cheap blue cantrips are necessary for a strategy like this. Serum Visions lets you keep more opening hands, keeps the engine running and finds more gas in the lategame.
Not much to say here. Snapcaster Mage is incredible with one mana spells, and in the late game you have plenty of expensive spells to seal the deal with.
This card will do wonders vs. a bunch of different decks. Affinity has trouble dealing with a swarm of opposing fliers, Liliana of the Veil looks embarrasing and having four chump blockers against Death’s Shadow will buy you the time you need to find an answer. This little flashback card is a resilient threat against Midrange and Control decks, but it’s week to Combo decks.
This card is usually somewhere between blank and insanely clutch, so it’s not my favorite in the list. However, having a flexible answer to gamebreaking two-drops like Goblin Electromancer, Cranial Plating and Snapcaster Mage in your arsenal is very important. Also just countering a ramp spell out of TitanShift or any creature out of Abzan Company has value.
It is so satisfying to see actual catch all counterspells on this list. In a format as diverse as Modern, it can’t be overstated. Logic Knot should be Counterspell 90% of the time, and Cryptic Command will put you over the top if you survive into the lategame. Getting to apply flying combat damage with Lingering Souls while tapping down your opponent’s creatures a few turns is a very normal way to end a game with this deck.
I decided I wanted six one-mana removal spells and I chose a split between Fatal Push and Path to Exile. Fatal Push is best on the first few turns, while the drawback of Path to Exile decreases as the game goes on and also gives you valuable answers to threats like Reality Smasher, Voice of Resurgence, Kitchen Finks, delve creatures and Wurmcoil Engine.
Oh boy, I am not sure I can contain my self talking about this card. What if you could play one card that improved Burn, Abzan Company, Control and Combo matchups? The versatility of Collective Brutality is off the charts, and I am super happy that I have four of them in my 75.
I went with the white creature land because of some double white costed cards in my sideboard. For the record, I think Creeping Tar Pit is a better card, mostly because of its activation cost and the presence of Fatal Push in the first game of a match, but color requirements beats slightly better stats.
I really like white as a sideboard colour partly thanks to this card. It does work against Affinity, Ad Nauseam and Tron strategies. Cross over sideboard cards are key in Modern.
Cheap counter magic will help you win the inevitable counter war in blue matchups, answer burn spells effectively in combination with Snapcaster Mage, say “no” to your opponents’ Collected Company and do work vs. the spell based Combo decks, Storm and Ad Nauseam.
This deck is very slow, and closing out a game vs. Combo can be a serious concern. Adding a disruptive clock for these matchups is tailor made. Vendilion Clique is playable against any deck, so it’s an easy swap if you have dead cards in unorthodox matchups.
More versatile disruption for Control and Combo matchups when your removal spells are less than ideal. With a configuration of 4 Logic Knot, 4 Cryptic Command, 2 Spell Snare, 2 Dispel, 4 Collective Brutality, 3 Esper Charm, 2 Thoughtseize plus Snapcaster Mages to replay any of these, all Combo matchups are very good after sideboard.
The sweeper effect of this card is great vs. every aggro deck out there, and the uncounterable clause will improve Merfolk and Death’s Shadow drastically. Forcing your opponent to play the guessing game is super strong. Do you rely on spot removal and Snapcaster Mage only, or do we run Supreme Verdict? Supreme Verdict is a blowout waiting to happen.
Esper Control by Andreas Petersen
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Serum Visions
4 Thought Scour
3 Esper Charm
4 Cryptic Command
4 Logic Knot
2 Spell Snare
2 Collective Brutality
4 Lingering Souls
3 Fatal Push
3 Path to Exile
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
2 Marsh Flats
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Godless Shrine
1 Watery Grave
3 Celestial Colonnade
1 Drowned Catacombs
1 Glacial Fortress
3 Stony Silence
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Collective Brutality
2 Runed Halo
2 Supreme Verdict
Quick Notes on Popular Matchups
In a matchup like this, they will try and grind you out and plan for a longer game. The bad news for them is that we’re very well equipped for such a battle, and thus this is a favorable matchup for Esper Control. Remember to keep a land in hand for a lategame Kolaghan’s Command.
The trick here is to actually close out the game once you have disrupted your opponent. Your interaction stack quite well together, and a lot of games will snowball out of control once you start answering their ramp spells with either counterspells or discard spells, with Esper Charm putting them in an awkward spot. You have eight hard counters and Snapcaster Mage to beat their top decks once they are hellbent. You are slightly below 50% for game one, but after sideboard you are very favoured.
The games are super complicated, and experience and courage will take you a long way. All of your cards are live, so if you play your disruption correctly, you should be ahead as long as you manage to put them on a clock. Turn two Ambush Viper is not embarrasing. Watch out for Blood Moon and Empty the Warrens in the sideboarded games.
Minimize the creature damage they start out the game with, establish a clock and close out the game with hard counters. Collective Brutality is your get-out-of-jail card and will win you the game if cast in multiples. I managed to resolve four in the PTQ, and it wasn’t pretty.
Lingering Souls and Cryptic Command is your winning ingredients once you handle their initial assault. You get to cut some clunky cards and add game winning haymakers for games two and three.
Esper Charm, Cryptic Command and Lingering Souls are bad news for this Liliana of the Veil-fueled archetype. The match will be a grind, and you will come out on top most of the time. On the one hand, you can easily afford to take some hits from a Tarmogoyf, but Dark Confidant needs to hit the bin on the spot.
You have the upper hand because Lingering Souls and Logic Knot line up well against their planeswalkers, and Esper Charm is a lot easier to cast and resolve than Sphinx’s Revelation. The black discard spells give you another dimension of disruption that they don’t have, and you should be able to ignore their mana disruption most games.
This matchup is unwinnable, and on purpose I decided to not include any hate cards in the sideboard. Playing Control in Modern, you have to be able to make these choices and accept a loss to a certain deck.
You want to try and hinder their mana development early on and counter Collected Company at any cost. Note that Collective Brutality can both kill a creature and snag a copy of Collected Company or Chord of Calling from their hand on turn two before they get the chance to play either. Dispel and Supreme Verdict out of the sideboard solidify this as a positive matchup.
Black/White Eldrazi Taxes
Unless you get caught by Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter, you have a very good time playing against this deck. Their clock is not super scary, so you have time to grind them down with Esper Charm, Cryptic Command and Snapcaster Mage. In the tournament I beat my opponent that went turn two Thought-Knot Seer, turn three Thought-Knot Seer without breaking a sweat.
The difficult thing about a matchup like this is that they have very diverse threats, which is never a good thing for control decks. Sometimes your disruption will line up perfectly with their threats, and sometimes you look silly with your Fatal Push against their double Reality Smasher. Stony Silence is also hit or miss, so expect a lot of variance in your games.