Assume Caster A casts fireball.

Assume Caster B casts counterspell on A's fireball using his reaction.

Now Caster A can use his reaction and also cast counterspell on Caster B's counterspell.

Does this mean that Caster A can finally cast fireball and B can do nothing about it?

Or does this mean that Caster B can cast another counterspell to counter Caster A's counterspell attempt?

This gets out of hand so I described it as simple as I could. I hope I get an answer because I was on a dispute with one of my players for this mechanic.


Yes, the original spell will take effect

Counterspell has no restrictions on what spell it can counter (beyond the possible ability check for higher level spells).

It states that the...

spell fails and has no effect.

So if a Counterspell is, in turn, countered, it will have no effect.

If that Counterspell has no effect then it was not able to counter the original spell!

With only two casters this is as far as it can possibly go of course, because each caster only has 1 reaction. More casters = more possible reactions so it could indeed get very silly, though in practice it seems doubtful you would have so many casters about who also have that spell prepared!

  • \$\begingroup\$ So if the fireball get's countered by a counterspell, and the counterspell is countered by fireball's caster counterspell, does this mean that the original caster is then able to cast fireball? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 16 '20 at 12:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be good to quote the rule about how play continues after a reaction is resolved: "If the reaction interrupts another creature's turn, that creature can continue its turn right after the reaction." \$\endgroup\$ Jan 16 '20 at 12:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And this is why my prime counterspeller characters always have sorcerer... a Subtle Counterspell has no visible components, and therefore cannot be Counterspelled itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Jan 16 '20 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Or you simply cast from an item :) for the same reason. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Jan 16 '20 at 15:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth I was more talking about ending the potential counter-counter-counter chain early. I generally don't use Subtle Spell in combat for anything but counterspell (it has non-combat uses, of course). Unfortunately, beyond loading a single instance into a Ring of Spell Storing, I can't think of any official item that would let you cast Counterspell. :( \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Jan 16 '20 at 15:36

Yes, provided you have a Reaction available.

The Counterspell description says (emphasis mine)

You attempt to interrupt a creature in the process of casting a spell. If the creature is casting a spell of 3rd level or lower, its spell fails and has no effect. If it is casting a spell of 4th level or higher, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell's level. On a success, the creature's spell fails and has no effect.

Under "Casting Time", the PHB (pag 202) says (emphasis mine)

Some spells can be cast as reactions. These spells take a fraction of a second to bring about and are cast in response to some event.

Hence, the steps are the following:

  • Caster A casts a spell.
  • While A is doing the magic (moving hands, chanting, et cetera), caster B casts Counterspell. Suppose that B has success.
  • Two possible interpretation may arise:
    1. A can "pause" its casting to use its Reaction (if available) in the middle of casting a spell and cast Counterspell too, to contrast B's. In case of success, A resumes to cast its spell which has normal effect.
    2. Casting a spell does not allow any "pausing", hence there is no way that A succeeds in casting its spell.

The first interpretation satisfies the description of Reaction casting time: by RAW and moreover under what it is written in the latest version of the Sage Advice (pag 14, Can you cast a reaction spell on your turn?) you can use Counterspell as a response (reaction) to a Counterspell of another caster while you are casting a spell. The second interpretation is in contrast with the first one: hence it is not valid.

Or does this mean that Caster B can cast another counterspell to counter Caster A's counterspell attempt?: No, because B has only 1 reaction per turn that had already been used for casting the first Counterspell.

If there would be a 3rd caster C, then C can cast Counterspell on B's Counterspell, allowing A's Fireball to be activated, without A being forced to use another 3rd (or higher) spell slot.

Under a role-play point of view, we can see the Counterspell as just one (or more) gesture(s) that ruins the manipulation of the Wave by a caster. Using Counterspell against another Counterspell during a spell casting is possible (just add a simple gesture to the casting), and it can be seen as the two casters battling for mastering the Wave.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I honestly can't tell what your conclusion is. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Oct 6 '20 at 12:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch My conclusion is that you can use Counterspell againts a Counterspell while casting another spell: You are right, I've written an unclear answer, and there is not final conclusion: let me rewrite it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Oct 6 '20 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems like you are answering if you can cast a counterspell, not if the initial spell is stopped, but I may be misreading. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Oct 6 '20 at 12:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch What I intended is that if you have counterspell prepared and a reaction available, you can cast counterspell and if you have success then the original spell (the fireball, in OP's case) is cast successfully. I missed maybe the second point of OP question "Caster B can cast another counterspell to counter Caster A's counterspell attempt?": I will add this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Oct 6 '20 at 12:59

PJRZ's answer is correct per rules as written. The exact exchange of spells described here is specifically cited as a legal example in the Sage Advice Compendium.

I assert that the rules as written are bad and wrong.

The legal target of Counterspell is "a creature in the process of Casting a Spell." The original caster has not finished casting the original spell when the counter caster starts casting Counterspell, or they would not be a legal target. In order for the original caster to cast Counterspell on the Counterspell, therefore, one of the following must be true:

  1. You can be casting two spells at the same time.
  2. You can stop the process of casting a spell, do something else, and then resume and successfully complete the casting.

I assert that both of these are inconsistent with the image of spellcasting produced by the rest of the rules text.

  1. Spells have casting times, as well as verbal, somatic, and material components unique to the spell. The rules are generally explicit about which things you can do at the same time, and there is no indication that spells are an exception.
  2. The rules on spells with a casting time of more than one turn state:

    When you Cast a Spell with a Casting Time longer than a single action or Reaction, you must spend your action each turn casting the spell [...] If you want to try casting the spell again, you must start over.

Counter-countering does violence to the imagination in much the same way that the peasant railgun does, and that is reason enough for me to suggest excluding it, the rules authors notwithstanding.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Related on counterspelling a counterspell. That may change your view or you can try a different answer to that one and see what the response is. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jan 17 '20 at 0:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't change my view, as I still think the counter-counter is straight nonsense in the sense that I cannot imagine what the original caster is doing to make this work, but the rules citations are specific and clear in contradicting my position. I will add them to my answer and let the votes fall as they may. \$\endgroup\$
    – sptrashcan
    Jan 17 '20 at 1:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or this answer can be deleted as attempting to reject the valid premise of the question and thus not being an answer to it. This is not the hill I want to die on. \$\endgroup\$
    – sptrashcan
    Jan 17 '20 at 2:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I understand correctly, your objection is to the example situation where A casts, B counters, and A counter-counters (while in the process of casting the original spell). The essence of the question, however, is to ask whether counterspell can itself be countered; who casts the counter-counter isn't important. The second counter could be performed by a third caster, C, in which case your "you can only cast one spell at a time" objection is no longer relevant. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 8 '20 at 12:53

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