Baiting that Counterspell

Exploiting a Play Pattern

There are certain game states and matchups where we find ourselves with an excess of a specific type of resource and a deficiency of another. Today we are going to talk about converting rituals and tutors into Duress. When and how should we attempt to bait counterspells from our opponent?

First I want to introduce a common play pattern with TES and its cousin ANT. You have Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor, Cabal Therapy; and in play you have an Underground Sea. If you know or suspect your opponent has a Force of Will then there is a common play pattern in this scenario: you cast your first Dark Ritual, and use the extra mana to Cabal Therapy your opponent. The constraining factor in this scenario is the initial mana sources available. If we resolve our first Dark Ritual, then there is a high probability we win the game this turn. This means that depending on their hand texture, an astute opponent will counter our first Dark Ritual. This is even more likely if they have strong plays available on the following turns (Hymn to Tourach, Ethersworn Canonist, Vendilion Clique, Flusterstorm etc.).

We can exploit this play pattern. Imagine instead you have a hand of Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor and Polluted Delta; and in pay you have an Underground Sea. The constraining factor in this scenario is interaction, therefore we want to turn our extra Dark Ritual into a Duress. If we cast our first Dark Ritual, and our opponent counters it, then we have a very high probability of winning the game this turn. In this scenario it is important to follow the same play pattern as if we intended to play Dark Ritual into Cabal Therapy, that means we must cast the Dark Ritual off of our only black source, before playing our second land.


We can bluffing situations by the following criteria:
  1. What is the upside if the bluff is successful? The upside of a successful bluff was very high. We have a very high chance of winning the game this turn if we are successful.
  2. What is the downside if the bluff fails? The downside of failing is modest. We waste a Dark Ritual, but are still well positioned with plenty of mana to combo with once we find interaction.
  3. Is our play pattern consistent? Our play pattern is very consistent; exactly in line with how we would play if mana constrained but with interaction.
  4. Do we have a strong alternative? I didn’t provide enough context to evaluate other lines. If we have a Ponder or Brainstorm in this situation it might be worth digging for a more deterministic kill.
  5. Are there opponent specific considerations? Some opponents, especially players less familiar with the matchup might save their counter magic for our high impact spells, such as tutors. While this play pattern may be incorrect, we need to consider to what extent our opponent is susceptible to being baited.


Example 1

Our hand is Infernal Tutor, Infernal Tutor, Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond, Cabal Therapy; in play we have Island, Swamp, Lion's Eye Diamond. We cast Dark Ritual off the Swamp, and then cast Cabal Therapy naming Force of Will with the intention of pursuing an Ad Nauseam win.

Our opponent reveals Force of Will, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, and Counterspell. Let’s examine the situation, trying to turn our extra Infernal Tutor into a Duress.

  1. What is the upside if the bluff is successful? If successful, we can Ad Nauseam on the following turn and be in a strong position to win the game.
  2. What is the downside if the bluff fails? The downside is that our opponent would have more information about our hand, as we would reveal a card to tutor.
  3. Is our play pattern consistent? The short answer is no. There are very few situations where tutoring here is a threat to our opponent. We need to hope that they make a mistake.
  4. Do we have a strong alternative? With no cantrips, and staring down a Leovold, Emissary of Trest, Deathrite Shaman and Counterspell, we don’t have a strong alternative line to win.
  5. Are there opponent specific considerations? It is interesting that our play pattern is actually quite consistent with situation where we might bluff without interaction, but our opponent let our Dark Ritual resolve. This might mean that our opponent is more likely to interact with our bigger payoff spells.


Conclusion: Because of the limited downside, baiting a Counterspell here is likely correct. It might have been a better line to use our turn to tutor for a second Cabal Therapy. However we did not take that line, so need to figure out how to win despite multiple pieces of interaction.

Example 2

Our opponent is playing a BUG Control deck and has in hand Force of Will, Hymn to Tourach, Leovold, Emissary of Trest and one unknown card. In play they have Deathrite Shaman and Underground Sea.

It is our second turn and we haven’t yet made a land drop. We cast Brainstorm into a hand of Burning Wish, Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, Ponder, Ponder, Polluted Delta, Polluted Delta. This is a very interesting situation where we are lacking on interaction, and our opponent has strong follow up plays. Bluffing might not allow us to with the game on the spot, but it can give us the advantage of a two-for-one.

  1. What is the upside if the bluff is successful? If successful we will strip our opponent of their reactive interaction, and likely their Leovold, Emissary of Trest. This will advance our ability to rebuild following Hymn to Tourach.
  2. What is the downside if the bluff fails? There is tangible downside, as Hymn to Tourach makes it important to keep a critical mass of cards.
  3. Is our play pattern consistent? Our play pattern is very consistent. This is exactly how we would play if we had multiple rituals and a Duress or Cabal Therapy.
  4. Do we have a strong alternative? Allowing Leovold, Emissary of Trest to resolve greatly disadvantages us as our Ponder will essentially turn into “scry 3”. If our opponent leads with Hymn to Tourach, then we will have another turn or two to set up our combo.
  5. Are there opponent specific considerations? Our opponent seems competent and familiar with the matchup. I think that there is a reasonable chance that they will counter our Dark Ritual.


Conclusion: I am not sure if I took the correct line here. A successful baiting of Force of Will pitching Leovold, Emissary of Trest would have put us in a strong position. However, the importance of each card increases when facing Hymn to Tourach.


Sideboarding Guide

A guide for sideboarding against each Legacy archetype – explaining what to take out and bring in against those decks. Keep in mind that this is a rough tutorial and sometimes straying from these instructions… Read More »

Storm Data Comparison

All data was collected from these resources: TES Spreadsheet | ANT Spreadsheet (Data collected on 8/1/2017) Categories - General TES ANT Matches Played 863 327 Matches Won 554 202 Games Played 2,137 809 Game Win % 60% 58% Game Win % (Play) 65% 68% Game Win % (Draw) 64% 59% Match Win % 64% 62% Match Win % (Play) 64% 63% Match Win % (Draw) 64% 58% Mulligan… Read More »