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Let's say the bad guy has a Wand of Fireballs, and wants to blast the party with it. To do so, they must:

...use an action to expend 1 or more of its charges to cast the fireball spell ...

The party wizard wants to stop this and uses Counterspell which says it:

You attempt to interrupt a creature in the process of casting a spell.

My thought is that this won't work. First, let's remember that when a character casts a spell, they use the Cast a Spell action. There are always components involved, whether verbal, somatic, and/or material.

Using a magic item requires none of these things...it just takes an action. But...what kind of action does it take to use a Wand? Well, according to the Player's Handbook (Combat > Actions in Combat), it would be the Use an Object action (emphasis mine):

You normally interact with an object while doing something else, such as when you draw a sword as part of an attack. When an object requires your action for its use, you take the Use an Object action.1 This action is also useful when you want to interact with more than one object on your turn.

Lastly, the spell description for Counterspell says that in order to cast it, you use your Reaction:

which you take when you see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell

So, while the players could certainly see the bad guy with the Wand, they'd see him using the Wand, not casting a spell.

I looked around this Stack, and didn't find this question - which seems a little strange. There is a question (Can you Counterspell a spell-like ability) that deals with spell-like abilities, but not magic items.

To keep the scope of this question narrow, I'm just asking about magic items that state they require an action to use and their use casts a spell.

Can you Counterspell a magic item?


1: The DMG basically has the exact opposite wording regarding the activation of magic items (Ch 7 > Activating an Item) found here. Not sure why these two core rule books directly contradict each other - hopefully that'll be addressed in a Sage Advice someday.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a note, activating a magic item does not use the "Use an Object" action. The DMG explicitly says so on page 141: "If an item requires an action to activate, that action isn't a function of the Use an Item[sic] action, so a feature such as the rogue's Fast Hands can't be used to acti­vate the item. " \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19 at 5:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin Yeah, I found that. It seems to be a direct contradiction of what the PHB says...perhaps it's just there to disallow the Thief Rogue's 'Fast Hands' ability? I'll adjust my question to reflect this...conflict. \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Jul 19 at 6:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically I suppose the DMG rule for magic items takes precedence because it's more specific (applies to only magic items, not all items). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19 at 12:48

3 Answers 3

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If you're casting a spell, you're casting a spell

The "cast a spell" action isn't the only way to cast a spell. There are a number of other ways to cast a spell. Some spells can be cast as a bonus action or a reaction, and some magic items allow you to cast spells using them, which, as you note, involves an action specific to the item rather than the "cast a spell" action. Regardless of what action, bonus action, or reaction you took, you are still casting a spell, which means that spell can be countered (in theory at least; see below for issues that might arise in practice).

Of course, in the case of magic items, you only cast the spell if the item says so. For example, drinking a potion of growth produces the effect of the enlarge/reduce spell, but it doesn't involve casting that spell, so it cannot be countered. But using a wand of fireballs does involve casting a spell, so it can be countered.

Ask your DM whether magic item use is perceptible

However, there is one other important aspect to counterspell, which is that the caster must see the target casting a spell in order to react to it. Thus, a sorcerer casting a V,S spell with subtle spell metamagic cannot be countered, because the spell has no components to perceive. Interestingly, casting a spell from a magic item also requires no components, so a strict reading of RAW suggests that casting a spell from an item is imperceptible and therefore cannot be countered (unless the item's description mentions a perceptible requirement for use, such as a command word or hand motion).

On the other hand, your DM might find this nonsensical and instead rule that the action required to activate the item and cast the spell is indeed perceptible, allowing the spell's casting to be perceived and countered. So you should talk to your DM and find out how they feel about this before relying on it in play, because whether or not magic item use is perceptible is something your characters should already know, not something they should be finding out in the middle of an important battle.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ryan, the tautology club wishes to invite you for a guest lecture. (warning: XKCD.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mindwin
    Jul 19 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Jeremy Crawford answered this on Twitter 6 years ago with the following: "Counterspell targets a creature casting a spell, no matter the source of the spell (the creature, an item, etc.)" Follow up question: "Following the general rules on DMG 141 (no components), then a creature casting a spell with a wand could not be countered?" Answer: "Counterspell requires you to see a creature casting a spell. Nothing to perceive means no counter." twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/792412232432758784 \$\endgroup\$
    – RisingZan
    Jul 19 at 18:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RisingZan JC's tweets are not considered official rulings any more. His ruling in that thread is indeed consistent with strict RAW as described above, but I still think it's worth noting that many DMs are likely to rule differently based on what makes sense to them. And I don't think it's unreasonable to rule that using an action to interact with an item should involve physically manipulating the item in some perceivable way. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19 at 18:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson, but is seeing a character interact with an object the same as seeing a character cast a spell. I can throw a ball, or I can press a button that makes a machine throw a ball. Assuming the action of pushing my thumb down is even perceivable, that is still not me "throwing a ball." \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jul 19 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott That's why I say to ask the DM for a ruling. There's lots of reasonable arguments to justify ruling either way. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19 at 21:47
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As you said, Counterspell can be used when you see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell. It does not say "using the Cast a Spell action".

Using your own example, when you take the Use an Object action to activate the Wand of Fireballs you are casting a spell, so it can be Counterspelled.

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    \$\begingroup\$ See Groody's comment here for the quote, activating a magic item does not use the Use an Object action. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19 at 11:51
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No, you cannot counterspell a magic item. Unless something says you can...

As you pointed out, counterspell requires someone to, "see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell."

So they must see a spell being cast.

In the DMG, under Activating an Item it says:

Some magic items allow the user to cast a spell from the item, often by expending charges from it. The spell is cast at the lowest possible spell and caster level, doesn’t expend any of the user’s spell slots, and requires no components unless the item’s description says otherwise. The spell uses its normal casting time, range, and duration, and the user of the item must concentrate if the spell requires concentration. Many items, such as potions, bypass the casting of a spell and confer the spell’s effects with their usual duration. Certain items make exceptions to these rules, changing the casting time, duration, or other parts of a spell.

I've bolded the important parts. There are no components (unless specified in the description) to these spells being cast:

  • There is no verbal component so there is no audio clue that a spell is being cast
  • There is no somatic component so there is no waving of hands or grand physical gestures1 to see a spell is being cast
  • There is no material component (other than the item itself), but since most magical items don't have a standard form2, there is nothing to say this thing is casting a spell

Since nothing signifies that a magic item is casting a spell, there is nothing to see, and so nothing to counter.

Nothing in the descriptions say a magic item needs to have an indicator that it's being used. Except those that do...

There is nothing in the rule books or general item descriptions that say, "To activate a charge in a wand you need to point it and say a magic word, and press a button." Here is the description for thw wand of fireballs:

This wand has 7 charges. While holding it, you can use an action to expend 1 or more of its charges to cast the fireball spell (save DC 15) from it. For 1 charge, you cast the 3rd-level version of the spell. You can increase the spell slot level by one for each additional charge you expend.

You just "hold it" and "expend one or more charges," that's it. And considering that this item requires attunement, the holder must have some sort of bond with the device. I would put it firmly in the realm of possibility that the holder need only think to make the wand work.

Now, let's look at something like the driftglobe:

This small sphere of thick glass weighs 1 pound. If you are within 60 feet of it, you can speak its command word and cause it to emanate the light or daylight spell. Once used, the daylight effect can't be used again until the next dawn.

You can speak another command word as an action to make the illuminated globe rise into the air and float no more than 5 feet off the ground.

Here, there is a clear, perceivable action that must be taken; a spoken word. In this case, it would be DM fiat if speaking the "command word" is the same as a verbal component and thus a clue that a spell is being cast.

But I need to point out that for spells like command and suggestion the verbal command/suggestion the caster gives is NOT considered the verbal component. So there is precedence to verbal components being different. It's not a sure thing that a "command word" is part of a spell, and as such, still uncounterable.

As a side note...

It also states that some items bypass the whole casting of the spell and it just happens. Like if you drank a potion of flying.

So in these cases, there is no spell being cast that is seen and therefor no way to counterspell.


1 Well, there could be a waving of hands if that is what activates the device, but it is just as likely that a wand could be activated by a button. That's up to a DM. But unless a device calls out an action the wielder must take, it could be as simple as thinking.

2 A wand is a wand, but a wand can look like a pointy stick, a metal rod, glass tube, or a rock. It's up to the DM to decide what each one looks like so people can't say, "That looks like a Wand of Fireballs!"

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The quoted text from the wand description says "to cast the fireball spell" so the highlighted text in the quote from the DMG doesn't seem relevant for the particular case, even if many magic objects don't entail casting a spell. If your argument is that, in general, wand usage "cannot be seen" (at least for the purposes of counterspell, if not in general) that is a different point altogether, and IMHO should be highlighted. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jul 19 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave, I'm not sure I can help any farther. The quote I bolded the part of "requires no components" and immediately followed up with "nothing to signify the magic item is casting a spell." So there is nothing to see. And my opening clearly states, counterspell requires, "see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell," so they must see a spell being cast. But there is nothing to see. Where is it not clear that that is my point? I also mention that things like potions bypass "casting" a spell. And that there are always exceptions to the rules. But I feel those points are important too. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jul 19 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ If your point is that the counterspeller cannot see the spell casting, then the highlighted section in the quote from the DMG is irrelevant, and you should emphasize the not seeing more directly. To me, the text description of the wand clearly indicates that triggering it constitutes casting the spell Fireball, so that requirement of Counterspell is satisfied, and that wand does not fall under the "many items..." clause you highlighted. Maybe even just highlight the word "see" in the second sentence and drop the highlighting on the "many items..." part. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jul 19 at 19:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe something like: counterspell requires seeing the casting; wands don't require the components of regular casting, so wand use can't be seen, therefore no counterspell. Mentioning that using some magic items doesn't even involve casting a spell is useful adjunct information, but not applicable to the case of a wand of fireballs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jul 19 at 19:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave, made a big rewrite to add more points. See if this makes things more obvious. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jul 19 at 22:26

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