Just yesterday, I was browsing StarCityGames.com, and I happened to click on the link for the store rather than the home page. I looked over to the left-hand side of the screen and saw “12 Items in Cart. Total: $111.88.” Confused, I clicked on the link, only to find an unfinished order for a dozen Spellskites. When that link popped up again today, it told me there were only seven items in my cart because even at $9.99 apiece, StarCityGames.com is just about sold out of them.
I'm no Jonathan Medina or Ben Bleiweiss. Magic, to me, has never really been a financial game, and I've never much gotten into speculation or investment in cards. When I want to play with cards, I pick them up, and when I don't think I'll need them anymore, I often just sell them. But I've felt like Spellskite was undervalued from the moment I saw it on the spoiler and no one was talking about it. It was the only card I traded for at the Prerelease, and I even went so far as to tell my roommate to trade for as many as he could find since he went to a different Prerelease than I did. So when I saw the unassuming 0/4 selling for a mere $2.49 on this very site, I almost pulled the trigger on ordering a stack of them.
Almost, but not quite, and clearly not in time. Spellskite, though, wasted no time showing up in top decks at the SCG Open in Orlando this past weekend. It was in the maindeck of finalist Michael Strunk's Grixis Twin deck and in the sideboard of the Darkblade that saw Kitt Holland, Alex Bertoncini, and Korey McDuffie all into the Top 8.
What's so great about Spellskite? Well, anyone who has ever played Invasion Block Limited can tell you what a nightmare Coalition Honor Guard was any time your opponent had it out. Not only could you never use your removal on the creature you wanted, but anything that couldn't actually kill the Flagbearer sat in your hand completely useless. Let's not even talk about how punishing it was against Giant Growth effects!
“But Kibler, that was Limited! There are a lot of cards that are amazing in Limited but never make an impact on Constructed!”
Well, that's true. I'm sure you've heard by now that Standard has a turn-four-capable combo deck that Spellskite serves as a great answer to—and if you haven't, you need look no further than the second-place list from the SCG Orlando Open. With a Spellskite in play, your opponent can't resolve a Splinter Twin on his own Deceiver Exarch because you can simply redirect it to your Spellskite for the low, low cost of one blue mana or two life.
But Spellskite is more than just a Flagbearer. It's also an 0/4 artifact creature for two mana! While that may seem decidedly unimpressive at first, it's important to pay attention to the context in which we're evaluating the card.
Consider Standard's reigning champion, Caw-Blade. The scariest opening sequence Caw-Blade is capable of involves Stoneforge Mystic into Sword of Feast and Famine to start smashing you on turn four—or, perhaps, a Sword of War and Peace if you happen to have a Squadron Hawk or something back to block. Pro-black, pro-green, pro-red, pro-white—it's not an easy world for a guy trying to block. With so many swords around these days, being a colored creature is a liability! But Spellskite is an artifact creature, and its four toughness just happens to be the magic number that can block a sword-toting Mystic and live to tell the tale.
Swords aren't the only reason it's good to be an artifact these days. If you take a look at the top decks from Orlando, you'll see a whole lot of throats just waiting to get ripped out. Interestingly, Go for the Throat is the removal spell of choice in many decks because of Spellskite—that is, they're playing Go for the Throat precisely because it can't target Spellskite. If your opponent goes for a Splinter Twin on their Deceiver Exarch and your removal spell is a Doom Blade, they'll happily pay two life to throw their Spellskite in the way. No such luck on their part if that removal spell is Go for the Throat—Vampires aren't interested in the taste of metal.
That got me thinking. Is there a way to leverage both the power of Spellskite and the metagame call of Go for the Throat people are making to “play around it?” Is it possible to make an artifact-heavy deck that uses Spellskite to protect its key cards?
I had this idea floating around in my head for a while of a nearly mono-black deck splashing blue for Tezzeret that used Spellskite as early defense against swords as well as a way to protect Phyrexian Obliterator (which I think is dramatically underrated, though I'm not sure where it fits yet). Unfortunately, with Go for the Throat becoming industry standard, I was much less excited about it. I did like the idea of playing something with Tezzeret, since it's such a potent card against opposing Jaces, which certainly aren't going anywhere any time soon.
The Obliterators got the boot from the never-played decklist in my head, and I started digging through artifact creatures. What artifacts are worth protecting out there? How can we maximize the value of our Spellskites?
The first card that jumped to mind was Phyrexian Revoker. Revoker is a card that sees quite a bit of play in Eternal formats—it's in my current Legacy sideboard, in fact—but hasn't really gotten much action in Standard. Standard is certainly a more creature-heavy format and as such, a format more hostile to creatures—it's hard to keep a 2/1 body around in world of Lightning Bolts and Mortarpods. But Mortarpods seem to have largely been cut to make room for Batterskulls, and even Lightning Bolt has taken a back seat as a removal spell of choice thanks to its inability to kill Deceiver Exarch. On top of that, we have Spellskite to protect him!
The applications of Phyrexian Revoker are many and varied. Your opponent Stoneforges for a sword? Name the Sword with Revoker. They fetch Batterskull? Name Stoneforge Mystic and leave that five-cost equipment sitting in their hand. Against Splinter Twin, naming Deceiver Exarch makes them unable to combo kill you as long as the Revoker is in play. If Fauna Shaman decks rise up to fight Caw-Blade, you can lock them right back down. And, of course, you can always just name Jace. Granted, Phyrexian Revoker isn't the best attacking creature in a world of Squadron Hawks and Stoneforges, but the implications of Spellskite have dramatically increased his stock in Standard, so perhaps we can find a way to make him work.
Perhaps the most exciting piece of the puzzle came next. I was digging through Gatherer and found the mother lode…stone Golem. Lodestone Golem is another card that has shined in Vintage but was never much of a mover or shaker in Standard, again in large part due to the ease with which he could be killed. The factors that make Revoker more attractive apply to Lodestone Golem as well, and the impact he can have can be even more devastating, especially in multiples. A Lodestone Golem followed up by Sculpting Steel is a potent play in Vintage, and while we don't have the Mishra's Workshop to power it out quite so quickly, we do have a reasonable facsimile for Sculpting Steel.
Phyrexian Metamorph is a particularly interesting card in a deck full of various punishing utility artifacts. Need to Revoke something new? Go for it. Want to double up on the squeeze your Lodestone Golem has them under? No problem. The fact that he doubles as a Clone or Copy Artifact gives him even more versatility. Want to copy your opponent's Batterskull? Or how about his Sword of War and Peace? Or maybe you want to copy their Stoneforge Mystic to go search up your own Sword before he has one out? Your opponent powers out a turn 4 Inferno Titan with Lotus Cobra? Copy his Titan for three mana, then kill both his Titan and his Cobra with the enters-the-battlefield trigger plus a Dismember. It costs you a lot of life, to be sure, but it can turn a game around in an instant.
The last card that got me excited was Etched Champion. If we're playing an artifact-heavy deck, can we get The Champ to work? Having a creature that can block anything, attack through anything (except, of course, an opposing Spellskite!), and just about can't be killed seems pretty appealing. Of particular note with respect to The Champ is the fact that cutting both Gideon and Day of Judgment seems to have become the norm in Caw-Blade decks these days. Spot removal may be better in a world of Stoneforge Mystics and Equipment, but it looks pretty silly against protection from all colors.
And what about protection from all colors carrying Equipment himself? They're artifacts too, you know—they count toward metalcraft. Stoneforge Mystic doesn't only work for the Caw Corporation—she can lend a hand to the resistance, as well…
Deckbuilding and metagaming in Magic is about understanding systems because the metagame in Magic is itself a system that responds to stimuli. What is the impact of the introduction of a card like Spellskite? Or a combo deck like Splinter Twin? Or the continued success of Caw-Blade? Each of these influences the choices that other players make in various ways, and the better you can understand that impact, the better you can predict the way the system will shift and prepare yourself for it.
Right now, all of these are just ideas bouncing around in my brain—I haven't played a game of NPH Standard, since it's not on Magic Online yet, and it's only one of four formats I need to learn for the next four weeks of tournaments. But I've been thinking about it quite a bit, clearly—I just can't help myself. The following lists are intended just as raw material to guide your own testing and brewing and certainly not as tuned decks that I'd recommend taking to a tournament. In fact, I'm almost certain they all stink, but hopefully they at least start your mind down a path that might prove fruitful. I know I'll be exploring something along this path as I try to decide what deck to play at GP Singapore…
- 4 Etched Champion
- 1 Hex Parasite
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 3 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Spellskite
- 2 Trinket Mage
- 4 Etched Champion
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 3 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Spellskite
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
And for those of you who stayed past the decklists—P.S. Tezzeret makes Torpor Orb a lot more attractive, since multiples aren't just dead draws, and you can actually get some value out of it once it's been sitting in play for a while. Just something to think about…
Until next time,