Mindswipe is a fascinating permission spell. It costs XUB, where X is the amount of mana your opponent has to pay in order to have the targeted spell not countered. However, Mindswipe also deals X damage to that spell’s controller, whether or not that mana is paid. So not only do you have a permission spell, but you also have a pseudo-Fireball. It’s a counter-spell that can kill someone, even if the permission cost is paid. The greater the X cost that you pay, the better this card gets.
There’s an older card from the Dissension set similar to this called Overrule. It was XWB to cast, with the same permission effect, except that you gained X life instead of dealing damage. Again, you gained that life whether or not the spell became countered. A counter-spell that can also deal damage whether or not that spell gets countered is a very good card. You don’t usually see permission spells that get more powerful as the game goes along. So, was this card a key to making counter-burn a real deck in Standard again?
Unfortunately, as good as Mindswipe is on paper, it never really saw much competitive Standard play. It did work its way into a Top 8 Jeskai Control deck as a four-of. Also, some Jeskai Tempo decks like this one would run a single Mindswipe. But beyond that, it didn’t see much top level play. Mindswipe never really made its way into Modern decks, either.
Yes, Mindswipe is a solid card. But, you have to dump lots of mana into it in order to get full value from it. It wasn’t played much in Standard. While the damage is a nice bonus, most of the time you may only get in between one and three damage. While it seemed like a nice counter-burn option, it didn’t really find a home in most decks that would want it.
Unsurprisingly, though, Mindswipe does see a fair amount of play in Commander decks. It’s also unsurprising that the Commander who takes the best advantage of this card is Mizzix of the Izmagnus. This is because Mizzix makes X spells very good, since her experience counter ability makes instants and sorcery spells cost 1 less for each experience counter that you have. It’s a very powerful card in that deck.
Also, Mindswipe sees some play in Melek, Izzet Paragon spellslinger decks, in which Melek can actually copy Mindswipe and deal double the damage as well as giving you a second chance to counter that spell in case the cost was paid initially. While these aren’t the only two commanders that have used Mindswipe, these are the two that will take advantage of this counterspell the most.
Another Commander who can play around with X spells is Kaza, Roil Chaser. A Wizard-focused Spellslinger combat, Kaza’s tap ability makes the next instant or sorcery spell you play that turn cost X less where X is the number of Wizards you control. So, Mindswipe is much more playable in that deck than many others.
The last Commander worth mentioning for Mindswipe is Tibor and Lumia, another Wizard Legendary Creature. The difference here is that since Mindswipe is both a Blue and Red spell, it triggers both abilities on Tibor and Lumia. First, a target creature gains flying since its Blue, then Tibor and Lumia deals one damage to each creature without flying since Mindswipe is Red. While not quite as effective as in Mizzix, Melek, or Kaza, Mindswipe fits perfectly into Tibor and Lumia strategy, providing more synergy than power.
In Commander, having Mindswipe as part of your counter-magic suite, where mana is much more plentiful, can allow you to both stop a crucial spell and deal a fair amount of damage. Mindswipe may not be ever efficient enough for competitive decks in other formats, but for what it is, it’s a good card.