Magic: The Gathering is a fast-paced game, full of action and excitement at every turn. Part of the reason for this snappy pace of play is due to the existence of instant type cards, spells that players can cast even if isn't their turn. These can accomplish a wide variety of feats, from countering your opponent's plays to gaining more mana to dealing with threats on the board.
Over the course of Magic's history, there have been numerous instant spells printed, and while most of them have been decent, a few stand out from the pack. These spells are powerful, game-changing cards that can decide the course of a match. Let's take a look at the 10 most powerful instant spells in Magic: The Gathering.
Two of the colors from Magic that absolutely dominate the instant game are blue and black. It makes sense, then, that our first card on this list is one that costs two blue and one black to cast: Undermine. It combines principles from both colors and makes for a formidable spell.
Undermine has two effects. First of all, it counters a spell, meaning that whatever card your opponent was trying to play goes straight to the graveyard and has no effect on the game. Secondly, it makes your opponent lose three life. These dual effects make a great card that hurts your enemy in multiple ways.
Absorb is something of a mirrored version of Undermine. Instead of costing two blue and a black to play, it costs two blue and a white. It also counters a spell, but instead of hurting your opponent, it gains its caster three life.
While Undermine and Absorb are roughly equivalent in how powerful they are, Absorb edges its way forward due to the life gain aspect. It can provide a much-needed boost or some padding to your life total that lets you make riskier plays later on, on top of denying your opponent a spell.
8 Cyclonic Rift
Our first single color card on the list, Cyclonic Rift is a blue instant that on the surface seems fairly innocuous as it allows you to return a creature you don't control to its owner's hand. Where the card shines, though, is in its overload ability, which lets you cast the card for a higher cost and extends its effect from a single creature to each one you don't control.
In essence, this makes Cyclonic Rift a sleeper board wipe. It can be used to completely clear the field of your opponent's creatures, or it can be used for targeted removal if needed.
Terminate is the first kill spell on the list, which does pretty much exactly what that suggests. Namely, it destroys a creature. Additionally, Terminate prevents that creature from activating any regenerating abilities that could potentially save it, meaning that it will very definitely be dead once the spell resolves.
There are a lot of kill spells in Magic, mostly in the black color. Terminate wins out as potentially the best due to its low cost at two mana. It is restricted to red and black decks, but it still remains one of the most potent single creature removal spells in the game.
Next up is the first green spell on our list. Berserk follows green's basic principle of creating large creatures that then attack your foes. It can only be cast before combat damage is dealt and doubles a creature's power. It also gives that creature trample, meaning it can deal excess damage to players, even if blocked. The creature must then be sacrificed at the end of the turn, though, so it isn't without a price.
Berserk can be used to destroy foes in an instant. This is especially true when combined with other effects that double power and strong creatures.
5 Lightning Bolt
Lightning Bolt is a relatively simple red burn spell. For one mana, it deals three damage to any target on the battlefield. While this isn't going to be a win condition in the same way that an instant like Cyclonic Rift could be, it's still an incredibly useful card at all stages of the game.
Lightning Bolt can be used to destroy early game threats or planeswalkers that start with only a few loyalty counters. In the late game, it can be used to finish off opponents at low health or used to finish off damaged creatures, making it a very versatile burn spell.
4 Mana Drain
Mana Drain is perhaps the best counter spell in the game... including Counterspell. It costs only two blue mana and can be used to counter any other spell your opponent may play. On top of that, it adds colorless mana at the beginning of your next main phase equal to cost of the spell that was countered.
Combining counter magic and mana ramp is perfect for blue, which thrives on denial and having mana available for its big plays. Mana Drain, as the spell that does both, is without a doubt a must-have for anyone looking to frustrate their opponents.
3 Swords To Plowshares
One of the most consistently powerful instant cards in the white color's playset has always been Swords to Plowshares. At one mana, it is ridiculously easy to cast, and it exiles a creature from the game. Nope, not destroy, not kill, but exile, which completely removes that card from the game.
Swords to Plowshares does have a downside in that the creature's controller will gain life equal to the exiled creature's power, but this is a small price to pay. This kind of immediate and powerful removal is hard to beat, and can be used to deal with all manner of threats.
2 Dark Ritual
Dark Ritual is a card that shines more in the sorts of plays it enables rather than in the card itself. It costs only a single black mana, which it then turns into three black mana. This can then be used for all manner of things, from forcing your opponent to discard to destroying their early creatures.
What makes Dark Ritual particularly powerful is that it can give you access to turn three cards on turn one. This can accelerate the pace of the game in your favor and lead to an assured victory.
1 Ancestral Recall
Finally, our pick for the best instant card in Magic: The Gathering is Ancestral Recall. This blue spell is fairly simple - for one mana, it draws you three cards. It isn't particularly flashy or game-changing on its own, but turning a single mana into three new cards is incredibly powerful.
In general, the longer you play a game of Magic, the fewer cards you have as you play them. Drawing more cards gives you access to more options and can help you to outmaneuver your enemy. Since Ancestral Recall gives you such a significant card advantage for just one mana, that makes it absolutely the best instant spell in the game.