1800 Or Bust!: Not Enough Counters!

How many counterspells go in a CounterRebel deck? A-One… A-two… a-three. Three. Wait, that’s not nearly enough.

I picked up my first bunch of 7th boosters yesterday, and I must say that I was very happy with the results. Thirty-six boosters, and I picked out a couple of painlands, a City of Brass, Mahotmi Djinn, and countless other good cards. I picked out some turkeys, too (why oh why is Jandor’s Saddlebags a rare?), but all in all they all look great, have great flavour text, and I think the land art this time around is amazing. If you need a few cards that have been reprinted, I thoroughly recommend picking up a few boosters.

Anyway, back on track. Last week, Kai posted an article on Mindripper where he discussed the advantages and drawbacks of a white rebel deck (splashing green for Wax/Wane) against a counter rebel deck. His conclusion was that CounterRebel was the better choice (one upheld by the results pouring in from regional qualifiers around the world) and finished with the following deck:

Counter Rebel by Kai Budde

9x Plains
9x Island
4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Coastal Tower

3x Defiant Falcon
3x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Defiant Vanguard
1x Rebel Informer
1x Ramosian Sky Marshall

4x Counterspell
3x Power Sink
3x Absorb
4x Brainstorm
3x Tsabo’s Web
3x Dismantling Blow
4x Wrath of God

26 land, 10 creatures and 24 spells. Of those 24 spells only ten are counter spells. They’re intended to give the deck the ability to say "No" to important things like Earthquake, Wrath of God, and Tsabo’s Decree – basically, things that normally wreck a white rebel deck.


There are a lot of decks out there with a lot more threats to worry about than at Chicago. The last time I saw a deck like this played, it happily searched out its Defiant Vanguards to kill Blastoderms – but Planeshift has become Type II legal since then, and nowadays five damage will probably be coming over the top thanks to our new friend: Mr. Shivan Wurm.

Decks with around ten counter spells in are normally right on the Aggro control/Control deck border. A good example of an Aggro control deck was Accelerated Blue. Here’s a deck list:

PatrikJ.dec played by Zvi Mowshowitz, January 2000

4x Grim Monolith
3x Masticore
4x Powder Keg

4x Counterspell
4x Miscalculation
3x Morphling
2x Palinchron
1x Rewind
3x Stroke of Genius
4x Treachery

2x Blasted Landscape
3x Dust Bowl
4x Faerie Conclave
15x Island
4x Rishadan Port

28 land this time, but only nine counter spells. The deck worked around the idea of putting out a big, bad threat early on and protecting it from mass removal (as Morphling could largely protect itself). Masticores, Kegs, and Treacheries kept rival ‘big threats’ out of the way (mind you, Masticore is a pretty big threat all on its own) and controlled things that might give the opponent the upper hand. This meant that the nine counterspells could be used to stop game-swinging spells, rather than trying to stop every threat that was cast.

For a good example of a pure control deck we have to throw our minds (or browsers, in this case) a little further back:

Cuneo Blue from 1998

4x Force Spike
4x Counterspell
3x Mana Leak
1x Memory Lapse
4x Dismiss
4x Nevinyrral’s Disk
3x Forbid
2x Dissipate
4x Whispers of the Muse
4x Impulse

1x Rainbow Efreet

4x Stalking Stones
4x Quicksand
18x Island

26 land – the same as Kai’s deck, but only one creature. This deck has seventeen main deck counter spells and lots of card drawing to get to a Disk to get rid of any threats that might have hit the table. Unlike Accelerated Blue this deck tries to counter most threats until it can get hold of a Disk, then it can pick and choose. That made the deck vulnerable to early plays like Jackal Pup or Goblin Patrol if they didn’t see a Disk or Quicksand. Cuneo Blue, or Draw-Go as it became known, will forever signify the pure blue control deck for me – but where does that leave counter rebel?

Well, it’s very simple. Counter rebel is obviously a control deck for a Pre-Planeshift era. The decks out there right now have evolved and now have too many must counter threats, too many threats that a pair of Defiant Vanguards can deal with. That means we need more counter spells, more removal, or something else.

With this in mind, I searched around for the best counter rebel deck I could get my hands on. The deck I chose was one from a local player, Richard Edbury. He’d been playing Counter Rebel at tourneys recently with consistent success, winning the last two fifty-player Bath tourneys without losing a match. Here’s the deck he played at the last tourney:

9x Plains
10x Island
4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Coastal Tower

3x Ramosian Sergeant
3x Defiant Falcon
4x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Defiant Vanguard
1x Jhovall Queen
1x Ramosian Sky Marshall

4x Counterspell
4x Absorb
4x Brainstorm
1x Tsabo’s Web
2x Dismantling Blow
1x Disenchant
4x Wrath of God

Deliberately at 61 cards (27 land from 61 instead of 26 from 60), this card is very similar to Kai’s deck of last week. Kai has opted to play no Sergeants, going just for the Falcons, giving Kai an extra few slots to play with. All in all, though, they’re very similar and this deck has only eight counterspells.

Now, it obviously works because Rich has been doing very well with it… But I’ve playtested it against old Fires decks and new Fires decks, and there are too many new things I have to counter. Flametongue Kavu kills Lin Sivvi. Flametongues seemed to have largely replaced Assault/Battery – which I used to let them cast. Shivan Wurm has slipped in over Jade Leech. Jade Leech I could kill and take no damage. Shivan Wurm does me five over the top. All in all, I need to counterspell more things – that means more counter spells.

So, a quick look at the cards in the decks. What could be taken out for more counterspell space?

Brainstorm is amazing. With the searching ability of the rebels, you get to see three new cards almost every time you cast it – they stay in.

Kai stated that two Lin Sivvi is not enough, and common consensus is that he is very, very right. Rich is playing four, though – and four just seems too much. I know that it’s the most important card, but you can only have one at a time in play and you have a bunch of cards in the deck that can search for her. Finally, having a few in your hand rarely helps against a Decree.

Defiant Falcons, Ramosian Sergeants, and Ramosian Lieutenants. These guys get Lin Sivvi and chump block things until a Wrath turns up. Richard plays six, whist Kai has gone down to three. In Kai’s version there are less creatures to chump block with, and less to beat down with if you’re winning. Okay, there are two Vanguards, too – but they are expensive to activate, and most of the time they’ll only be popping their heads up above the parapet to have them shot off again.

Counterspell, Absorb, and Powersink. These are very important. Richard plays eight, Kai plays nine. I’d like to play all twelve. They’d give me early counters and more counters late game. One other point Kai made was about going down to three Absorbs:

"It is rather important against some decks to have a counter available on turn 2. Additionally, it requires only a single blue mana. In general I think this is superior to Absorb but vs. other control decks Absorbs are quite essential, as Power Sink is sometimes just no real counterspell if your opponent has tons of lands on the table. If you expect a lot of Fires, then run four Power Sinks; if you think there is a lot of control, then Absorb is the way to go."

Against Fires, Absorb has kept me alive more than I’d like to admit. Talking about this on a number of groups and mailing lists, a lot of people seem to disagree with Kai – and I’m with them. Absorb is too good not to play four of (which fits nicely into playing twelve counterspells).

Richard played one Tsabo’s Web, he called it his 61st card, Kai has gone up to three, and while I think that the Web is a very good card for this deck, helping against the myriad of Ports and Dust Bowls out there right now, I’d prefer another counterspell.

So, the deck:

Land (26):
9x Plains
9x Island
4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Coastal Tower

Creatures (11):
3x Ramosian Lieutenant
2x Defiant Falcon
3x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Defiant Vanguard
1x Ramosian Sky Marshall

Other Spells(23):
4x Counterspell
4x Absorb
4x Power Sink
3x Brainstorm
2x Tsabo’s Web
2x Dismantling Blow
1x Disenchant
4x Wrath of God

As you can see, I’ve been forced to play either 61 cards to play the fourth Brainstorm, or stick at the three I list here. I’m playing Lieutenants because of the number of people playing Simoon in my area at the moment. I’ve also gone with one Disenchant to give me the occasional chance of getting rid of an early Idol so that I don’t have to take damage for a few turns while I use my turn 3, 4, and 5 mana casting counter spells. With eight counterspells you can cast on turn 2, you have a much higher chance of really having one – and with twelve in total, you should draw them pretty regularly.

I haven’t put much work into the sideboard so far, but here are the cards I’m considering:

Parallax Wave
COP: Green
Thermal Glider
Rebel Informer

The metagame where I intend to play this deck is around a third Fires and Fires-like decks at the moment, with only a handful of players playing CounterRebel and Nether-Go each. Submerge may give me the tempo control I need to slow a Wurm that has popped through the counter net, or even give me a spell I can play against U/W Nether-Go decks (as typically they can’t hard-cast the Nether Spirit).

If anyone has any other good cards they think would work well (like Disrupting Sceptre), please feel free to email me – I could use all the help I can get. The only two things I have left to tinker with may seem a bit odd, but here they are.

I want to try Accumulated Knowledge over Brainstorm (which would mean going up to four, really). Brainstorm lets you look into your library, sure, but as you get into the mid- to late-game the more likely it is you’d prefer to draw another two or three cards. Okay, there are a lot of Fires out there right now and you’re lucky to see the late game – but if you do, nothing will calm your mind more than a handful or counter spells. I guess that’s why I playtest – I could be very wrong.

I also want to try a few Dominates main deck, maybe two or three – but I really have no idea what to take out for them. I have a feeling that that way lies the dark side… Or a deck with no creatures in, anyway.

At the end of the day, my deck is only four cards different from Kai’s, a fact that cheered me up a lot when I saw his deck list, and seven different from Rich’s (their decks are eight cards apart with very different sideboards). Of those four, two of them are added counterspells. Hopefully, that’ll tip the balance a little more away from Fires in the first game.

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats.