Memory Lapse was suspended in Historic recently, casting a dark shadow over its long-term prospects in the format. Once suspended, not many cards end up being returned to the ranks of playability – the only notable exception is Burning-Tree Emissary, which spent a while in the sin bin before bucking the trend and being allowed back into the format. Memory Lapse, as a two-mana “hard” counter, has proven to perhaps be too good for Historic – which might not be much of a surprise, considering its pedigree. Traditionally, two-mana counterspells tend to be very good indeed, particularly those that don’t lose a huge amount of late game value (the difference between Quench and Mana Leak is enormous). Today, we’re going to have a look at the best two-mana counterspells ever printed, and remember just why it is that cards like Memory Lapse are often too good!
Having never played with Memory Lapse before it first came to Historic – it’s a very old card, first printed in Homelands – I wasn’t all that impressed with it upon first viewing. It didn’t seem like much more than an ineffective delaying tactic, because if they have a card they really want to resolve, they only have to wait another turn and have another go at it. How good could it be? It’s barely even “hard” countermagic.
How wrong I was. It turns out that being able to prevent someone from resolving a spell no matter what on any given turn is still very powerful, for a number of reasons. Against aggressive decks, having a turn two play to counter their two or three-drop is often enough to swing the game back towards your favor, because keeping the board clear for an extra turn and having them play a two-drop on turn three is actually a huge defensive swing.
In the late game, it gets even better, as you can force your opponent to redraw a mediocre card they drew off the top, or use it to fight counterspell battles and render the counters you put back on top of their library useless as you resolve your key spell. Memory Lapse is bonkers, and I was completely wrong about it. It’s a shame to see it go from Historic, I have to be honest, but I’m not all that surprised.
Remand is a classic piece of countermagic, beloved of those tempo-oriented blue mages that don’t want to just sit and play reactively, but rather build a proactive game plan backed up by interaction. It’s similar to Memory Lapse in that it’s not really “hard” countermagic, but nonetheless delays early turns while being somewhat of an impediment late (although not as much as Memory Lapse, obviously).
At worst, Remand can be conditionally cycled away, which is a pretty high floor. But it’s the ceiling of this card that people really get excited about – because one of the spiciest uses for a Remand is to counter your own spell, rather than your opponent’s. The classic example of this was against a Cryptic Command deck in Modern: they counter-draw your spell, and you Remand that instead of the Command. This counters the Command, denies them the draw, gives you the chance to resolve your spell at a more opportune moment, and draws you a card.
It was the sort of card people loved to play in Splinter Twin type decks, and was floated by some as a better inclusion in Historic, seeing as Memory Lapse has left the format for the time being. I wonder how Remand would go in Historic, particularly considering that Delver decks already look pretty good at the moment…
Speaking of Delver decks, Mana Leak was legal in Standard alongside Delver of Secrets, and was one of the keys of the deck’s success. Turn one Delver, turn two blind-flip with Mana Leak backup was something they just always had, while you’re sitting there with a virtual Fugitive Wizard, shuffling off your Ponders. There’s no justice in this world.
Mana Leak fought hard to remain relevant in Modern for quite some time, but ultimately fell out of favor well before Counterspell arrived to really and truly make it redundant. Still, as far as two-mana “soft” counters go, they don’t come much better than Mana Leak. For the early game, it’s effectively hard countermagic, while in the late game… well, you know what, don’t worry about that. Just get them dead early, then you don’t have to worry about it.
It speaks to the way Magic has developed over the last 10 years that Mana Leak is hardly relevant in any Constructed format at all, given that it was once a powerhouse in Standard and a familiar face in Modern. Time makes fools of us all – except, perhaps, for the next two cards on this list.
Counterspell has had the opposite experience to Mana Leak – years of competitive irrelevance followed by a resurgence to the big stage, thanks to its recent entry into Modern. There, it’s played in abundance in the format’s most popular deck, White-Blue Control, where the UU casting cost is trivial alongside cards such as Archmage’s Charm.
Counterspell is the classic… well, counter spell. Dating all the way back to Alpha, this card has been around for a long time and is enjoying a huge return to form om 2021 as a staple of the Modern format. It languished in obscurity for a long time before coming to Modern, as an occasional inclusion in Legacy decks like Miracles, but it’s back in a big way, ready to put in work once again.
For a long time, people playing formats like Modern would compare every two-mana counterspell to actual, literal Counterspell and lament at how they never stacked up, but no longer. This card is the gold standard for countermagic: two mana, counter target spell. No ifs, buts or maybes; no hoops to jump through. Counterspell is just a good, honest counterspell. Er, obviously.
If Counterspell is the gold standard, then Mana Drain is the… platinum? Diamond? Unobtainium? Mana Drain is obscenely, disgustingly powerful, so much so that it’s banned in Legacy. You can only play this in Vintage – and Commander, I suppose, if you’re in the habit of turning a whole table against you for the low, low price of just two mana.
If you’ve never played with or against Mana Drain, you may not have a conception of just how powerful this card is. Let’s say you play it on turn two, on the play, countering their two-drop. You can untap, miss your land drop, and still play Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Mana Drain is absolutely broken in half, and not just when it’s countering huge seven and eight-drops.
With recent reprints, it’s no longer the prohibitively expensive card it once was (although it’s still reasonably pricey, at around $40 or $50), but its relative accessibility has led to its inclusion in more and more EDH decks, which should make you a little more circumspect about slamming your eight-drop haymaker into play when they have UU up. It might not just be a counterspell (or a Counterspell) – if it’s Mana Drain instead, it might just double how much mana they have next turn!