Flare of Denial - How Good Is It in cEDH?

Harvey McGuinness • May 10, 2024

Flare of Denial by Marie Magny

Modern Horizons 3 is just around the corner, and you know what that means: buckle up, because it's time for a new pitch spell cycle.

Just like we've come to expect, blue's card this time around is another counterspell, although, unlike previous pitch spell cycles that had you exile another card from your hand, this time around our alternate casting cost is sacrificing a colored creature. Here, I'd like to introduce you to Flare of Denial, the newest card to potentially make a name for itself in our free-interaction suite.

So just how good is it?

Free counterspells from previous Modern Horizon sets

What is Flare of Denial?

For one generic and two blue mana, Flare of Denial is an instant that reads "Counter target spell." No "if"s, "and"s, or "but"s... well, until you get to the casting cost, that is. Rather than pay three mana, Flare of Denial also allows you to cast it for the alternative cost of sacrificing a blue creature.

In terms of effect, Flare of Denial is the closest we've come to the original free counterspell, Force of Will, in a long time. Unlike the past two pitch cycle counterspells to come out of the Modern Horizons series, Flare of Denial is an unconditional counterspell: no creature/planeswalker/noncreature restriction, no stipulation that you can only cast it for the alternate cost so long as it isn't your turn, and that's worth paying attention to. cEDH is full of creature threats but is not full of a lot of free countermagic capable of dealing with them, so the popular maxim that "creatures are uncounterable" really is just about true.

Unless someone is holding up a Force of Will or a Pact of Negation (more on the latter in a moment), creatures often resolve without issue. Flare of Denial, meanwhile, presents us with another opportunity to deal with creatures on the stack, preventing the likes of pesky Dockside Extortionist or Tivit, Seller of Secrets triggers from ever even being an issue.

It's important to keep in mind that the effect of a card is just one half of the picture. There are plenty of counterspells out there that can hit creatures, from the original Counterspell through on to Cancel, but these don't see any play, and for good reason. The cost of a spell plays a significant role in its viability, and nowhere is this more apparent than with interaction. Flare of Denial may be castable without paying any mana at the time of use, but that's not the same thing as saying it's free. Rather, its cost of sacrificing a blue creature is representative of a mana investment in and of itself; odds are you had to pay some mana to cast that creature, after all. You can cast a Force of Will on turn zero without problem, but you can't do the same thing with a Flare of Denial

This brings us to Flare of Denial's best comparison: Pact of Negation. Like Flare of Denial, Pact of Negation asks for a mana investment if you want to keep playing the game, but unlike Flare of Denial, this mana investment is put on a delay, rather than being paid preemptively. Now, I'm not blind to the fact that Pact of Negation is routinely used on most players' win-attempt turns, and as such the likelihood that they'll ever pay the cost is low, but that is insufficient reasoning to ignore the cost completely. While it may be an inopportune use of the card, there are plenty of times when a player will be forced to defensively cast a Pact of Negation so as to prevent an opponent from winning the game. After all, staying alive is better than losing, even if it costs five mana on your next turn.

Moving to Flare of Denial, we can see that the timeline of mana investment is flipped on its head. Rather than presenting us with the option of win now or pay five mana next turn, Flare of Denial doesn't care what happens once we cast it. Assuming it resolves, there's no pressure to win that turn or risk losing due to insufficient resources in our next upkeep. Rather, by paying preemptively, we safeguard ourselves against the possibility of losing to our failed win attempt. The only problem, however, is that the cost of this safeguard is the guarantee that mana is paid. In Pact of Negation's case, if we win the game that turn, then it's as if the spell had no cost whatsoever: no card to pitch, no creature to sacrifice, no mana to pay. Not only is that better than Flare of Denial, it's better than Force of Will

Who Should Play It?

Now that we have a grasp on the next free counterspell coming to cEDH, who should play it? As the decks below will make apparent, two things stand out as indicators for Flare of Denial's success: decks with a lot of cheap blue creatures, and decks with a cheap blue commander that isn't the primary win condition.

Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow

First up is the deck that I think is going to benefit the most from Flare of Denial: Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow. This deck is absolutely bristling with cheap blue creatures, so much so that it almost always has one down by turn two, if not turn one. No other deck competes with Yuriko for the sheer consistency with which it outputs blue creatures, and it's this consistency that's going to make Flare of Denial shine. Unlike our next two contenders, which primarily rely on the commander as the sacrificial creature for Flare of Denial, Yuriko here can pitch any of a number of other creatures, keeping the commander in play without a worry. If worse comes to worse and you do end up having to sacrifice Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow, you don't even need to worry about commander tax, thanks to commander ninjutsu. Truly, Flare of Denial is Yuriko's card,

Thrasios, Triton Hero // Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh

Alright, up next is a bit of a placeholder for any deck with Thrasios, Triton Hero as one of the commander. In terms of gameplay on every turn leading up to the win attempt, Thrasios has, for a while now, occupied a role similar to that of Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh in that you play him for both the colors as well as the early-game activation of things like Mox Amber and Fierce Guardianship. Now, however, that toolkit is expanding by just a bit as Thrasios looks to slot in Flare of Denial

It's also important to note that, when attempting to win in a manner that involves Thrasios (i.e., infinite mana), the cost of sacrificing Thrasios to defend piecing together your combo is essentially negligible since, if all goes through, you'll wind up with more than enough mana to recast him and activate his ability over and over again. Ranked just above our next commander, Thrasios really packs both the mana cost and the playstyle of a card to suffer the least from being sacrificed to an early- or late-game Flare of Denial.

Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator // Tymna the Weaver

Tymna the Weaver

Finally, we come to our last recommended deck, another partner pair that serves as a placeholder for a much broader swath of the meta. That being said, before I get into why Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator makes a good contender for a Flare of Denial, I need to caution you: do not play Flare of Denial in a Malcom deck with a red partner. Those lists use Malcolm as the centerpiece of a combo, and the cost of sacrificing your win condition is often just too great.

With that out of the way, back to the Malcolm decks that do want Flare of Denial: anything and everything nonred. Malcolm-Tymna here is among the slower nonred Malcolm lists out there, primed to play a grindy value-based game, and as such it's going to both want countermagic the most as well as be best situated to recover from sacrificing Malcolm, since you'll likely be in for a longer game with more opportunities to untap. As for why Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator specifically, however, it all comes down to one card: Jeweled Lotus.

[/ec]Jeweled Lotus


Unlike the multicolored Thrasios, which still requires an investment of at least one non-Jeweled Lotus mana to cast due to its color requirements, Malcolm here presents an opportunity to completely free-cast your commander as early as turn one and leave mana up for other developments. This marginal improvement over Thrasios is significant when it comes to Flare of Denial, as it means there will be more games when your early turns consist of more than just "commander, pass." Pay attention to how many games start off with a Malcolm in play and then something else that gets countered pretty quickly; in my experience, I'd certainly have appreciated the extra interaction.

Who Shouldn't Play It?

It seems the common refrain for potential cEDH playables these days has been "good luck testing in midrange, steer clear for turbo," and while that's largely the case with Flare of Denial, that isn't the whole picture. As we'll see in a moment, this card is a complex case, and the decks that want to steer clear of it are far beyond just the usual turbo crowd.

Tivit, Seller of Secrets

About as far away from turbo as you can get, the format's premier control deck probably doesn't want Flare of Denial simply because there isn't too much the Tivit can sacrifice. The commander costs too much, and it's a key piece of one of the deck's primary win conditions. If you've already cast Tivit, then odds are you are in a pretty good position and have some extra Treasure tokens lying around. With that much mana and so few blue creatures, the better question to ask is "why would I want Flare of Denial?"

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is blue's Winota, Joiner of Forces, and if you've been around the format long enough you know what that means: this deck needs its commander. Couple that with the fact that, like Tivit, the only blue creatures (outside of the commander) tend to be mana-heavy investments, like Hullbreaker Horror, and suddenly the case for running Flare of Denial just collapses. Yes, Kinnan makes a lot of mana, but if you're spending mana to cast a counterspell then you should be spending a lot less than three.

Blue Farm

On to our last deck: midrange's darling, Blue Farm. Overall, this comes to be another case where the card quality of Blue Farm is so great that I don't think the deck really needs Flare of Denial. In a world where Flare of Denial's alternative cost was simply "sacrifice a creature," then maybe I could see Blue Farm picking this one up. The deck casts Tymna a lot, especially in the current midrange meta.

That said, Flare of Denial is a pickier card, leaving us with just a few cards to potentially sacrifice, with the most reliably available being Kraum, and Kraum isn't getting cast nearly as often as Tymna, so, between such limited sacrifice options and so many great alternatives, Blue Farm just isn't the deck to win out from Flare of Denial.

Wrap Up

Overall, Flare of Denial looks to be a card that's going to do something pretty interesting for the format: be a standout for the less popular, lower-tier decks, while being a much more selectively included card in the format's more common competitors. Thrasios, Triton Hero is probably Flare of Denial's best bet as far as making a long-lasting impact in a high tier deck goes, but beyond there I expect Flare of Denial to be a much more experimental card. I'm a control player at heart, though, so here's to hoping I'm proven wrong and that Flare of Denial becomes the next big thing.

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.