Too-Specific Top 10 - Counter-Counter

(Vampire Hexmage | Art by Eric Deschamps)

Marker Movement

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Power Conduit is the only card that can remove a counter from a permanent you control to specifically put a charge counter on an artifact?)

In a rare moment that is thankfully getting a tad less rare, March of the Machine has brought us a couple new cards that can remove counters from permanents.

Render Inert isn't priced to blow anyone away, but it does make up for it a bit by adding on a cantrip. Add in the fact that it's one of only two spells that can currently remove counters from permanents (as opposed to creatures) and it may have just found a niche. As for Invasion of Fiora, its front side may just be an expensive board wipe with options, but its backside is one of the best counter-removers that's ever been printed. What with battles joining planeswalkers and Sagas as another card type/mechanic that will be heavily influenced by the manipulation of counters, I only see interest in these rather rare cards growing (we've even already seen some price spikes to that effect, in fact).

Since we've gotten a bit more of these effects recently, I've started to wonder where these new options fall in the hierarchy.

Top 10 Counter Removal Cards

Criteria: Cards that can remove counters from permanents (or nonland permanents) you do not control. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

I said we've been seeing more of this effect, and we have, but even with that increase, I still only found 12 cards total, including Render Inert and Invasion of Fiora. In other words, this was the perfect time to dive in.

10. Medicine Runner

(237 Inclusions, 0% of 485,338 Decks)

With counter removal being a core black mechanic, options are limited for Selesnya mages. Still, if you're in a blink deck or you just have a lot of recursion, I think we've reached a point where Medicine Runner is worth consideration, or at least more consideration than 237 inclusions. Honestly, that number already means that Saga decks aren't playing this, which is a huge miss. A 2/1 for two that can let you repeat chapters? Sign me up.

9. Thornmantle Striker

(647 Inclusions, 0% of 1,214,409 Decks)

I'm only more convinced that folks are sleeping on Medicine Runner when I see how much play Thornmantle Striker is playing in just Golgari Elf decks. Sure, it's a Ravenous Chupacabra that's an Elf, but it also costs an extra mana. The flexibility is nice, as is the lack of double-black pips in a deck that's going to be mostly green, but I just don't see why even budget decks would be stooping this low for options.

8. Dramatist's Puppet

(756 Inclusions, 0% of 1,791,408 Decks)

Dramatist's Puppet is the Meteor Golem of counter removal. If you're in black, there are way better options, but if you're not, this card's here!

Of course, that's ignoring half of the Puppet's ability, which can also add counters as well as remove them. For me, that's what actually makes this card worth it, as removing a single counter for four mana doesn't really make much sense from a cost perspective. If you are in a Saga or Superfriends deck, or have managed to put together a Weird Counter deck, that's where I think this is worth the price of admission. Most of the time, you're just going to use it to tick your Rowan Kenrith up to her ultimate, but every once in a while there will be a lone counter sitting across the battlefield that needs eliminating.

7. Cemetery Desecrator

(1,520 Inclusions, 0% of 1,065,212 Decks)

Like all good Aristocrats cards, Cemetery Desecrator gets those counters coming and going. Unlike pretty much every great Aristocrat card, however, it also costs six mana. Which is not to say this isn't worth it; we're always looking for seamless graveyard removal cards that have useful primary effects, and this qualifies. At a 4/4 with menace, it's a legitimate threat on the battlefield that's supremely expendable. The ETB/death trigger is also flexible, allowing for either the removal of a battle, planeswalker, the resetting of a Saga, or the killing of a creature. In short, if you can afford the six mana, then this is a great option as both modes of Desecrator's triggers become equally useful in this newfound meta.

6. Ferropede

(2,493 Inclusions, 0% of 2,361,862 Decks)

There was a time when three mana for a 1/1 unblockable seemed like a fairly good rate, but that time passed about a decade ago. Ferropede, then, finds itself in the same boat as old-school EDH cards like Soltari Visionary. It's not unthinkable that you'd find a deck that wants to play them, but given that the combat damage trigger will sometimes take a swing and miss, while the unblockable body just doesn't do enough damage to be worth the price of admission, you'll probably pass on it more often than not.

5. Glissa Sunslayer

(Helms 607 Decks, Rank #800; 4,855 Inclusions, 4% of 130,489 Decks)

Instead, why not take a swing with a 3/3 "evasive" legend that has the combat damage triggers of both Soltari Visionary and Ferropede, with some card draw tacked on in case none of that is what you want right now? Glissa Sunslayer is the most prominent example of just how far we've power creeped in Magic I can think of. To think that back in the day Spiritmonger was considered as pushed as anything could get just because it had more power and toughness than its casting cost and had upsides besides. Well, hold my beer, because here's a 3/3 for three with a combination of keywords that used to be considered too good to exist on the same card, along with a trio of all-relevant combat damage triggers that put any singular card you can think of that does something similar to shame. Glissa Sunslayer is Ferropede, Soltari Visionary, and Ophidian all in one, with an insta-kill in the package as well for any creature that jumps in the way.

Now, all of these creatures have since been outclassed in their own right, with once-Standard-All-Star Ophidian paling in comparison to Scroll Thief, then Neurok Commando, then Gateway Sneak, then Sea-Dasher Octopus, then Glenn, the Voice of Calm, then Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar, then Mischievous Catgeist, then moving entirely outside of blue with Park Heights Pegasus, Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor, and finally Glissa Sunslayer.

I'm not saying this is the end of Magic, but it's a concerning trend. As for Glissa, she'll be near the top of this list soon, at least until something better is printed. Soon.

4. Hex Parasite

(5,792 Inclusions, 0% of 1,216,23o Decks)

That'll be particularly heartbreaking for fans, like myself, of Hex Parasite. Number four on this list is already much too low for this little Phyrexian Insect, so to see it fall to five will be a sad day indeed. Why do I think it should be in the top two instead of the top five? One, it can repeatedly remove counters without even a trigger needed. Two, it costs less than any other option that can do the same (and that's before it can be a combo engine by becoming a zero-cost creature with a cost-reducer). Three, it's an aggro threat in its own right.

In short, I don't really get the buzz of most of the cards ahead of this, at least in comparison.

3. Thrull Parasite

(8,007 Inclusions, 1% of 1,216,230 Decks)

Now, none of that is to say Thrull Parasite is a bad card. It should probably be at least number six on this list! The reason it's not has almost nothing to do with its counter removal ability. No, put simply, the reason for Thrull Parasite's 8,000 inclusions is because it is the sole one-mana Extort card. Sure, the counter removal is good, too, but what folks are actually looking for is a means to start repeatedly draining their opponents early and often, and who can't relate to that?

2. Vampire Hexmage

(8,095 Inclusions, 1% of 1,216,230 Decks)

Similarly, I wouldn't say that Vampire Hexmage is a bad creature, or a bad option to remove counters. Most people, off the top of their heads, probably would have put it as the number one card on this list. Indeed, with the printing of battles, the price for it has doubled overnight, putting it at just over a quarter! Oh my! In all seriousness, a 2/1 first striker with the ability to trade for planeswalkers and Hydras without ever resorting to combat is just a good, efficient threat. There's every reason to love this thing, especially as counters become more prevalent in the format.

I just like Hex Parasite more, is all. Sure, I've gotta pay the mana, but that seems more than worth it for repeatable removal. Which, it must be said, is also something that Hexmage can do if you're deep in recursion, so it's not like there's no place for it!

1. Clockspinning

(9,635 Inclusions, 1% of 1,165,834 Decks)

I'd never say never on any subject in Magic, but unlike Vampire Hexmage and Glissa Sunslayer, I think it's unlikely we'll ever see Clockspinning outclassed. With the ability to add or remove counters and to be repeatedly recast with Buyback, it's a mainstay in Superfriends, Saga, +1/+1 counter, and Spellslinger decks all at once, along with a heck of a series of entries over on Commander Spellbook. Most of those things are looking to abuse the adding ability (or just the fact that it can target something repeatedly), but I know in the two decks I play Clockspinning in, I've used the removal option several times to take out low-lying fruit in the form of planeswalkers and +1/+1 counters. Those options will only be more prevalent as you look to start "winning" your battles.

Honorable Mentions

With this top ten and the two new entries being the entire spectrum of counter removers that can hit all permanents (or at least nonland permanents), rather than just creatures, there's not much to mention this week!

Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.

What Do You Think?

Counter removal has more or less been retconned to be a mono-black option these days, which, at least to me, seems a bit restrictive. What do you think?

Finally, what's your favorite counter-remover? Do you think I'm off my rocker to be claiming that Hex Parasite should see more play than Vampire Hexmage? Will Glissa Sunslayer end up at the top of this list?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the table we've been trying to balance with cheap drink coasters. Actually, Tim, can you take one more out on your side? I really think we can get this thing level.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

EDHREC Code of Conduct

Your opinions are welcome. We love hearing what you think about Magic! We ask that you are always respectful when commenting. Please keep in mind how your comments could be interpreted by others. Personal attacks on our writers or other commenters will not be tolerated. Your comments may be removed if your language could be interpreted as aggressive or disrespectful. You may also be banned from writing further comments.