Riley Ranks: Best Spells that Can’t be Countered

Now that Innistrad: Crimson Vow has been out for a few weeks, we’re really starting to see its impact on Standard. One card that has taken many by surprise is Hullbreaker Horror, with its “can’t be countered” ability – I don’t think people expected a random seven-mana blue finisher to actually have an impact, but it’s proving to be a lot better than anticipated! There are plenty of spells that feature a “can’t be countered” clause, and today we’re going to get across the best of ’em. Here we go, the best spells that can’t be countered!


5: Hullbreaker Horror

Hullbreaker Horror

Every now and again, a set will chuck a great big blue monster into Standard with stuff like flash or “can’t be countered” or some kind of defensive ability. Good examples include Pearl Lake Ancient and Nezahal, Primal Tide, both of which saw a small amount of play in their respective Standard formats (usually out of the sideboard). These monsters are usually pretty narrow, and while they can dominate a control mirror, they often don’t see widespread success.

Enter Hullbreaker Horror. At first glance, this card is in the same category – a big finisher that might be of use in control matchups. In reality, however, it’s a very different story. People quickly figured out that using Hullbreaker Horror in conjunction with Lier, Disciple of the Drowned results in opponents getting locked out very quickly indeed. Lier makes all spells uncounterable, but then Hullbreaker Horror cheats on that restriction by returning them to their owners’ hands.

If you untap with Lier and Hullbreaker Horror – not difficult to do, given the Horror has flash – you’ll be able to respond to your opponent’s spells with anything out of the graveyard – something as simple as a Fading Hope will do – and you’ll Remand their spell right back to their hand, in direct violation of the spirit of Lier’s “can’t be countered” ability, if not the letter of it. This one-two punch of Lier and Horror looks to be very potent indeed!


4: Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant

While Hullbreaker Horror, Pearl Lake Ancient, and other cards like that are designed to break the control mirror, Carnage Tyrant just wanted to smash control decks into the dirt. There are no tricks or fancy abilities on this card – it can’t be countered, it can’t be targetted, and it can’t be blocked all that well either. It demanded a sweeper on the spot – a removal spell was no good – or you’d die to it very quickly.

Carnage Tyrant, believe it or not, was such an enormously dominant card in Ixalan Standard that vendors ran out of copies of it ahead of a Pro Tour, and its price tag skyrocketed to $40 or so – for a French vanilla creature, and a six-drop at that! Carny T just crushed the slower blue decks so strongly that everyone playing green wanted access to this card.

The thing is, it wasn’t just good in those matchups. In creature-based matchups it also shone, as creature-based decks don’t tend to play creatures and a 7/6 trampler is difficult to block at the best of times. You look at a six-mana 7/6 with seven words of rules text and wonder how the card could ever cost $40, but that’s how it was in the heady days of 2017!


3: Abrupt Decay

Abrupt Decay

Return to Ravnica had a five-card cycle of uncounterable cards, and Abrupt Decay was one of the standouts. Not so much in Standard, where it saw marginal play, but in older formats like Modern and – particularly – Legacy. In Legacy, where at the time the overwhelming majority of relevant permanents cost three mana, having a catch-all answer to anything – from Delver of Secrets to Stoneforge Mystic – that couldn’t get hit by Force of Will was massive.

More than anything else in Legacy, however, Abrupt Decay was critical in keeping Miracles decks in check. Miracles would play the devastating combination of Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance to lock out opponents and eventually win with a massive Entreat the Angels (set up with the Top, of course). Abrupt Decay was a way to remove the Counterbalance, no questions asked.

After Sensei’s Divining Top was banned, Abrupt Decay still saw play and today is found in Modern Jund, Pioneer Niv, and the odd Legacy deck like Hogaak or Aluren. It’s not the powerhouse removal spell it once was, but was nonetheless an important safety valve for Legacy for quite some time.


2: Supreme Verdict

Supreme Verdict

Another card from the Return to Ravnica uncounterable cycle, Supreme Verdict is, I think it’s fair to say, the best sweeper ever printed. It is the go-to choice for Modern decks looking to manage the board, and sees plenty of play in decks like Five-Colour Omnath and WU Control. There are some pretty iconic four-mana sweepers – Wrath of God, Day of Judgment – but Supreme Verdict is the best of the lot.

Sweepers are obviously an extremely important tool in contesting creature decks, particularly very aggressive ones, where a turn-four sweeper can be the difference between life and death. But Supreme Verdict goes one better in protecting you from the countermagic of more tempo-oriented builds, the ones that can drop a cheap threat or two then protect them with interaction.

Of course, there are still ways to “counter” Supreme Verdict, and is always feels monstrously unfair whenever someone gets away with this. It’s a sweeper, it says it can’t be countered right there on the card, your creatures should be dead! Something like a Heroic Intervention or a Boros Charm in response to a Supreme Verdict just feels so… sneaky.


1: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Did you know Emrakul can’t be countered? I have to say, in all my years of working with Magic, calling matches and writing articles, I never memorised the fact that Emrakul is uncounterable. Extra turn, yep, annihilator, of course, can’t be reanimated, oh yeah. Apparently amongst all that text is also… protection from coloured spells, and uncounterability? Wow. Who knew.

The ability doesn’t come up much. It’s very rare for someone to tap fifteen mana’s worth of lands and put Emrakul on the stack, so the fact you can’t snipe it with an Essence Scatter isn’t often relevant. Rather, people cheat it into play with cards like Through the Breach, cards that – usually – are very counterable indeed.

Still, there’s no denying that if we’re going to list all the most powerful, famous and impactful cards that can’t be countered, Emrakul is one of the most powerful cards of all time, not just one of the most powerful uncounterable cards – even if its uncounterability doesn’t actually come up all that much!

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