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Here’s How Counterspell Actually Works In D&D 5e

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“I cast Fireball.”

“I Counterspell.”

“I Counterspell his Counterspell.”

Yeah. It can be a bit confusing to use counterspell.

Counterspell is the strongest reaction spell in D&D 5e. It can be used against the BBEG’s plans and save a friend. Ironically, it can also be used as a stop to the spell that’s trying to stop that from happening.

Let’s start with the Player’s Handbook.

You try to stop a creature from Casting a spell. The spell of a creature Casting a Spell of 3rd or lower Levels fails and does not have an Effect. Make sure your Spellcasting Ability is used to check if the creature is casting a spell of 4th level or higher. The DC equals 10 + your spell’s level. If the spell succeeds, the effect of the creature’s magic is null.

Higher Levels: If you cast this spell using a 4th Level spell slot, the interrupted spell does not have an effect if the spell’s level is lower or equal to that of the spell slot.

Casting Time: 1 reaction. This is when a creature is within 60 feet of your casting a spell.

Counterspell is a spell, so it can be tricky. It is therefore just as susceptible to being counterspelled as any other spell.

Naturally, this has caused some concern within the D&D 5e community. This is especially so when it comes to fighting to cancel each other’s Counterspell cancellations.

Here are the words of Wizards of the Coast about Counterspell. They have it in their Sage Advice compendium, which is a continuously updated document that clarifies rules.

Subtle Spells can be used to counter spell sorcerers

“Subtle Spell protects spells without material components from Counterspell because you can’t see them being cast.”

My argument is that the caster must specify that they are using Subtle Spell beforesomeone decides that they want to counterspell them.

To protect your spell casting, you can cast Counterspell

Although it may seem that this is against the Rules as Written, a caster cannot cast two leveled spells at once, that’s only for the use an Action and Bonus Action. A caster can use their own Reaction (if available — you only get one per round!) to Counterspell any Counterspell they are trying to stop with their Action or Bonus action.

A readied Dispel Magic doesn’t quite work like a Counterspell

The Ready action allows dispel magic to be cast in response a spell is being cast. However, dispel magic cannot replace counterspell. Dispel magic can be used to remove a spell already on a target. This is true regardless of whether the target is a creature or an object. Dispel magic cannot pre-dispel anything. Dispel magic doesn’t work if a spell isn’t already on a target. A ready-to-use dispel magic cannot do more than dispel a spell that has been cast immediately to stop it from being affected by the action it was cast. For
You could, for example, say this on your turn: “I’m ready to dispel magic. If the high priest casts any spell on anyone, I will cast dispell magic on that target. If your companion fails to save against the spell, you can unleash your prepared dispel magic and end the hold person.”

Unfortunately, this won’t apply to a Disintegrate and Power Work Kill that are cast by the same High Priest. The damage is instantaneous.

It is up to you (and the DM), to decide how lenient or strict you are about meta-spell knowledge

Counterspell’s upcasting can only be done in response to spells that are either being upcast past third level, or that are already higher-level spells by default.

Some DMs simply inform their players what level the spell they are trying to counter. This allows them to use up higher level spell slots if necessary. Another DM may ask for an Arcana check to determine if the Fireball the PC is trying to stop has been cast at a higher level.

It doesn’t matter how you interpret it, but it should work the other way. The DM’s monsters must also make the Arcana check if the DM wants to determine the level of a player’s spell they are trying to counter.

There is no limit to the number of Counterspells you can cast in one turn.

Imagine 100 wizards of level 20 fighting 100 sorcerers of level 20 in high-magic shenanigans straight from Wheel of Time’s Final Battle.

The first wizard (Wizard #1), at the top, casts Meteor Swarm right at the Sorcerers’ center. It will strike all of them and most likely kill them — as squishy and weak as they are.

Naturally, a sorcerer (Sorcerer 1) from the opposing side casts Counterspell using their 9th level spell. Problem solved, right? It’s not, however, as a wizard (#2) on the other side uses their 9th-level spell slot to cast Counterspell against that Counterspell. Sorcerer #2 counterspells the Counterspell and so forth, until there are 201 spells.

Although it sounds absurd, I cannot find any evidence to support this hypothetical.

As mentioned above, the Sorcerer may be able to use Subtle Spell. This is a huge trump card. This protects spells against being Counterspelled and can be done “when a spell is cast” — which means that you can Subtle Spell Counterspells so that they can’t be Counterspelled. However, Subtle Spell doesn’t say anything about “on your turn” nor “as an additional action.”

Subtle Spell can be pretty powerful once you reach Counterspell level. This is something you should keep in mind when your DM sends you spellcasting NPCs.

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