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Decknology: The Return of Counterspell

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

At the Richmond Invitational a few weeks ago, I apparently got a small glimpse into the future firsthand. In round four of the Standard portion I was paired against Shaheen Soorani, and I got my world rocked by his Esper control deck. I do not want to overstate this, because the games were close; however, the deck was able to build such a strong advantage in every aspect of the game that it didn’t truly feel like I could win. There were more than a few reasons for this, one of which was my own deck construction to be sure. That being said the card that really blew me away was Silumgar’s Scorn, a.k.a. Counterspell.

Flash forward to Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and Grand Prix Kraków; control variants featuring a healthy dose of dragons and Silumgar’s Scorns were the breakout decks of these tournaments. Yes, a hyper aggressive red deck won the Pro Tour (congratulations Martin Dang!), but the numbers do not lie. The metagame breakdown given by the coverage tells the true story.  The players who piloted control mirrored the numbers of those playing mono-red, but the percentage of those players that made day two were starkly different. 66% of mono-red players made the day two cut, which is a pretty solid rate. Control on the hand had a 90% day two rate. That is an astounding number for a Pro Tour. Then in Kraków an incredible five of the overall top 8 decks were Esper dragons. Apparently Counterspell is still a pretty good card.

Now I understand it is a lofty statement to suggest that Silumgar’s Scorn is the second coming of Counterspell, but I do not feel it is that far off (in Standard at least). Many (myself included) initially dismissed the card as little more than a cutesy Force Spike during spoiler season. It should be important to note that Force Spike can be pretty good sometimes especially if it has any sort of upside. Upside includes possibly being free like Daze or if it scales like Stubborn Denial. I am not sure if everyone noticed, but boy does Silumgar’s Scorn scale well. (Get it? Scale? Dragons also have scales? I’m hilarious)

The key to why Silumgar’s Scorn is powerful is because a Force Spike is actively good in the early turns in Standard right now. There are a ton of powerful spells, specifically creatures that come down early and put a ton of pressure on control decks before they can stabilize.  Silumgar’s Scorn gives the control player a chance to keep tempo especially when they are on the draw. I can personally attest to how much better matchups feel when you can counter Goblin Rabblemaster even when the opponent is on the play. There is a reason that Essence Scatter wasn’t reprinted this time around. Then as the game progresses, a single dragon in hand or in play ensures that you are just playing a hard counter for the price of two mana. Counterspell isn’t even modern legal and has been kept out of Magic for more than a decade, so this should alert you to the fact that this effect is incredibly powerful and pretty rare.

Obviously, the card isn’t always a hard counter. It does require a deck chock full of dragons. Initially, I think many thought that this would be a real downside. Could there really be enough playable dragons in the format to power a card like this? Why yes, yes there could be.

These are the dragons that saw a large amount of play at the Pro Tour. Do any of these cards strike you as below average? They certainly look pretty powerful to me, and that’s the scary thing. The combination of Silumgar’s Scorn and powerful creatures gives decks a scary endgame with some impressive protection. If you watched any coverage of the Pro Tour or GP, then you should have seen a pretty consistent theme. These big, traditionally slow control decks can essentially win the game on turn five. By countering or killing the opponent’s threat on turn four and then slamming a Dragonlord Ojutai, these decks are able present a proactive attack that was previously unavailable.

I had already been a fan of the Soorani version of Esper, but quickly identified that the Pro Tour variant of the deck was superior. The major difference is the lack of Narset, Transcendent, and while I really like the card, it just doesn’t do enough at the moment. Additionally you gain access to Haven of the Spirit Dragon as white sources. Lands that are also spells make for incredible consistency. I worked on tuning the Channel Fireball list from Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa for a PPTQ this last weekend. Here is what I played:

So how good was this deck? Well I won the PPTQ, so that should be a pretty strong indication. If you haven’t played with this deck yet, I encourage you to sleeve it up and take it for a spin. The first time you attack with your Dragonlord Ojutai, counter their removal spell with Silumgar’s Scorn, and trigger Ojutai to hit another counter, you’ll feel amazing.

Silumgar’s Scorn probably isn’t the best card currently in Standard, but any card that brings back an effect not legal since 2001 should be noticed. In a bubble the card is fairly weak, but Wizards was kind enough to print some of the best dragons in the history of the game to go with it. For the foreseeable future I will be combining mythic dragons with counter magic. Who else wants to party like it’s 1999?

Thanks for Reading

-Mike Keknee

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