Cube Draft Strategy: U/R Counterburn


Blue/Red Counterburn is one of the most powerful strategies in the cube. With the most powerful control cards along with some of the most powerful removal and burn, this is one scary draft archetype.

High Picks

Counterspells (Mana Drain, Cryptic Command, Arcane Denial, Mana Leak)
Control Magic (Control Magic, Treachery, Legacy’s Allure, Dominate)
Burn (Lightning Bolt, Incinerate, Demonfire, Fire/Ice)
Card Draw (Thirst for Knowledge, Fact or Fiction, Jushi Apprentice)
Card Selection (Sensei’s Divining Top, Scroll Rack, Brainstorm, Magma Jet)
Powerful Artifacts (Isochron Scepter, Crystal Shard, Duplicant)
Board Sweepers (Rolling Earthquake, Pyroclasm, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Oblivion Stone)
Finishers (Keiga the Tide Star, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Akroma, Angel of Fury, Bogardan Hellkite)


This strategy is incredibly popular amongst veteran cube draft players as they recognize the power of what are arguably the two most powerful colors in the cube (though White is probably #2 and Red is a very close #3). That said, this archetype is a force to be reckoned with.

Firstly, they have the permission to stop scary threats. The ability to go Counterspell, Mana Leak, Arcane Denial, Drop A Fatty is not to be underestimated. This gives them a 1-for-1 trade with your best cards and then forces you to have an answer to their finisher. Burn is, of course, one of the best ways to take care of creatures of any color, and when all else fails you simply throw it at your opponent’s face.

One of the most under appreciated aspects of this archetype is that it relies heavily on the power of artifacts. Sensei’s Divining Top and/or Scroll Rack is a huge, huge boon for this deck, as they need the ability to sift through their cards as need be. Crystal Shard is an important tool as it allows them to manipulate their removal at times (Duplicant, Man-O’-War) while also providing enough tricks to kill someone with their other comes-into-play monsters such as Bogardan Hellkite and Sower of Temptation. Isochron Scepter is probably the most powerful artifact to grab, as almost all of your spells can fit on it, and sticking virtually any counterspell on it is providing you with your own flipped Erayo without any of the hard work required.

While this strategy seems almost ridiculously straightforward, ie Kill Their Dudes and Counter Their Spells, there is a lot of intricacy in knowing which spells to counter, which burn spells to use for which creatures, and when to use your control magic effects and board sweepers. That said, it doesn’t take long playing the cube to recognize the power of Blue/Red Counterburn, and I suggest you do not underestimate it.


While U/R Counterburn is definitely one of the most powerful strategies, it is by no means the end-all-be-all. The foils to this deck are usually U/W Control, as they either have more removal, counterspells, or better artifacts than you, and B/W Aggro Discard can give you fits with cards like Duress and Thoughtseize followed up with difficult creatures such as Paladin en-Vec. Reanimator can throw down fatties with which you have little to no answers to (even Simic Sky Swallower can’t be taken or taken down by Keiga).


U/R Counterburn is one of the most dynamic, fun, and powerful strategies available in the cube. There will (or should, over time) be at least one or two people playing this archetype and I can assure you its one you don’t want to leave to just one person of eight taking the goodies. It gets pretty absurd pretty quickly. Artifacts drive this archetype more than most care to admit, so Disenchant effects can cause it great harm. Good luck with the counters and the burn, as both find a wonderful home in this deck.


3 Comment(s)

  1. I drafted this archtype (along with Black splash specifically for Nightscape Familar, Finkle, and a couple others) and it was probably one of the most powerful decks Ive ever built. I was able to run over a lot of people just by dropping a threat after countering/burning everything they played. You are right when you say that artifacts essentially run this deck, a Scroll rack on turn 1 can be the difference between a win and a loss. Good article.

    Electrohead | Mar 5, 2009 | Reply

  2. Definitely my favorite archetype. Since I drafted this sick nearly creatureless deck, with 5 control magic effects + 4 red sweepers, I even wanted to play U/R in constructed.
    A card that I found in many cube lists, including yours, is Legacy’s Allure. I like this card a lot in slow multiplayer games, but how good is it in the cube?

    eidolon | Mar 14, 2009 | Reply

  3. Considering what’s said… I’d like to add the significance of mana-committment to the deck. Despite having cheap-efficient spells, via Counterspell, Magma Jet, and Brainstorm to name a few, if your capsize-buyback engine is held back because you’ve only got 5 mana sources, then maybe its time to go back to the drawing board. To make this deck effective, paying attention to how much land you’re playing or many signets/mana-producing artifacts, is just as important as drafting that powerful draining whelk as your finisher. I actually find myself drafting on-color signets quite high in pack 3 to ensure I have mana to dump into my iscohron-scepter with counterspell mana up.

    Renato Hufana | Apr 19, 2010 | Reply

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