Interlude One: That Time Paul Cheon Played Faeries
About three years ago, Paul Cheon made Top 8 of the US National Championships with kind of a different look at Faeries (ironically his quarterfinals
opponent was our most recent PT winner, David Sharfman). Cheon played kind of a weird Faeries with Shadowmage Infiltrator to double up on card drawing
alongside Ancestral Vision and tons of point removal (Slaughter Pact as well as Terror, with more in the sideboard).
The Shadowmage Infiltrator caught my eye, and I decided to load it up, for just one session, on MTGO.
Though I have since summoned a Bitterblossom into Blightning more than once, Cheon’s Nationals deck marks the only time in my life I ever
actually played from the Faeries side.
All in all, it was basically disgusting.
I don’t know if I actually won more than I normally did (that is, with my own brews).
Okay, I am sure I won more than normal.
But that wasn’t what was striking.
It was so easy.
Even though I have always won at a decent clip on MTGO, I had never won, over and over, with such ease as I did with Cheon’s Faeries deck. Jonny
Magic would get in and draw me a card. Ancestral Vision would resolve. One-for-one after one-for-one, little guys died, or my hand filled up with
counterspells. Every game was so easy.
Is this what it feels like all the time?
I didn’t ever really get to know what “all the time” was, because as I said, I never again summoned a Mistbind Clique.
But damn, victory with that piece was like any girl you meet upstairs at Rodeo Bar.
I never again had it so easy until this past week, when I started playing this:
- 2 Mana Leak
- 2 Into the Roil
- 3 Splinter Twin
- 4 Preordain
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Batterskull
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 2 Dismember
This deck is super similar to the deck Michael Jacob played at the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis. I re-worked the mana a little bit
because I wanted to play Pilgrim’s Eye (I actually wanted to play four Pilgrim’s Eyes as my squadron of pseudo-Squadron Hawks but only
found enough room for the one). Gitaxian Probe was super-duper for me in regular Twin (even though it gets sided out a lot, as it does in this build),
so I maxed that out, too.
Into the Roil is better against the better decks, for the most part, than one Lightning Bolt, so I changed that.
The one thing I am not 100% happy with is the lack of Sword of War and Peace in the main, given not just the prevalence of Caw-Blade but also the
rising popularity of Red Decks… but it hasn’t stopped me from winning. I guess if you want to get that Sword back into the main, the best cut
is a Gitaxian Probe, but the size of the deck with the Pilgrim’s Eye and eight one-mana cantrips… nice and tight.
I could theoretically go into more detail about this deck, but I’ll just leave it at this: I don’t think I have ever won at this clip with
any deck, ever.
I really think I opened up something like 30-1, and the “1” had an asterisk.
I was playing against Soul Sisters, and he didn’t concede to my combo in Game Three. So I decided to make like 50 guys (you actually have to go through
every step and manually untap your Deceiver Exarch and whatnot instead of just throwing up your hands and making whacko shapes like you do IRL), and
even though I bounced the Leonin who was hiding my Splinter Twin and caught his Sutured Priest during combat, I must have missed his crossing 30, and
he lived through my big turn with Serra Ascendant. I would have won the next turn, but he had his Leonin back, and he drew another Leonin, and
if I had just made some more guys, I probably would have won.
The most common opponents—from my experience anyway—these days are Red Decks and Vampires. These decks have some natural advantages against
Caw-Blade, which has helped them to some recent success in the Opens and given a little hope to the everyman in the metagame. Red Deck can burn most or
all of Caw-Blade’s 1/1 and 1/2 guys before they can get to Equipment mischief, and Vampires has been the beneficiary of the Paris four copies of
Day of Judgment shrinking to maybe two copies, usually in the sideboard.
These advantages do not hold against Twinblade.
I mean for one, you can just kill any deck on turn 4.
But on the other hand, you just have tools that are insane against them that Caw-Blade typically can’t bring to bear. For example, you just bring
in four Pyroclasms against Vampires, and that’s an utter disaster for them. It’s like Day of Judgment for half the mana that doesn’t
actually kill most of your dudes (Spellskite, Deceiver Exarch, Batterskull barn). Combine that with a little protection from black, and
it’s just another universe relative to Vampires’ usual matchup against a Stoneforge Mystic.
Red Deck… we’ll get to that in the main section of this article.
Interlude Two: I am the most contrarian person Patrick Chapin knows.
Me: Spellskite sucks.
Him: Two weeks from now Spellskite will fall out of favor and you are going to be telling everyone how great it is.
Me: I thought Spellskite was good but I played against it and it literally doesn’t do its job. Its job is to stop Splinter Twin, and it has
basically no effect on the outcome of a game.
Him: And Jace, the Mind Sculptor is overrated.
Me: It is!
Him: Your original assessment –
Anyway, I am now here to tell you how great Spellskite is!
Spellskite’s general job is to either kold the Splinter Twin combo or protect your own Deceiver Exarch so you can execute on your own Splinter
Twin combo. Spellskite is miserable at the former (though if they ban Jace, the Mind Sculptor, he will probably start executing there) and okay at the
Everyone knows what Spellskite is “supposed” to do, but those things aren’t really what make it an interesting card in this deck.
Here are my impressions from a pretty salty run:
1. You Lead Off with a Turn-Three Stoneforge Mystic
Usually you run out a turn-two Stoneforge Mystic (if you can) and get Batterskull. The problem in the Red Deck match is that they have approximately
twelve cards in this spot to kold your Stoneforge Mystic before he can deploy your Batterskull, and all of a sudden you have a sub-Baneslayer Angel
five; you might very well be dead before you can drop it.
However if you play a turn-two Spellskite and then drop the Mystic, you can keep removal off your Stoneforge Mystic for the turn. It might
cost you a few life points (and then again it might not depending on your land), but you can usually untap with your Mystic in play and presumably get
the life back with Batterskull post haste.
The thing that is cool about this sequence is that while the average Red Deck has Burst Lightning, Lightning Bolt, Searing Blaze, and Staggershock (and
maybe more, like an Ember Hauler activation) to kold a Mystic, it will usually take two cards to get rid of a Spellskite, and they won’t have
enough mana to get the Mystic even if they get the Spellskite first.
2. Steal an Attack
My favorite play from my many Red Deck matches was this one:
Him – Ember Hauler
Me – Spellskite
Him – Teetering Peaks
Me – Pay two
A friend pointed out that you lose two life either way… which is one way to look at it. In truth, you save two (you don’t take the Peaks
power boost), and if he attacks, his Ember Hauler is kold to your now 2/4 Spellskite. So much for so little!
3. Take Control Late
You know what is insane?
A six-toughness Spellskite!
Sometimes you fight and fight to stabilize against the Red Deck but know that you can be topdecked and burned out at any moment. However if you have a
Sword on a Spellskite, you all of a sudden get a lot of insurance. Not only do you get a portable “counterspell” for burn cards, but also
it’s a reusable one.
Just make sure you don’t accidentally set up an illegal strategy. If you have Sword of War and Peace on a Spellskite, and it has protection from
red… burn cards, etc.
4. Soak up a Staggershock
Sometimes the opponent runs out a late Staggershock.
Then you play Spellskite, and it’s a free two points.
This is a little play that comes up a lot. Just make sure you see it when it does.
5. Block a Bloodghast
I ran up against this issue multiple times in the Invitational.
After spending basically my entire life underrating Vampires, I was actually dead to Bloodghasts more than once. Now if I had played Sea Gate Oracle as
I did in the New York 5K… No problem. But my faster deck that was pre-sideboarded for the good decks had only one recourse against a Bloodghast
(especially a hasty one): race.
But sometimes the Vampires deck has a fist full of Dismembers and Act of Aggression!
Racing is tough!
There are few long-term solutions to a Bloodghast.
What if you just run out a Spellskite to block?
6. Lacerate a Lacerator
You know what is even better than killing a little Vampire?
Leaving some of them around!
Vampire Lacerator against Spellskite is no kind of fight. They basically need a Lightning Bolt (or thereabouts), and even that plan wilts against
I had this come up actually while writing this very article:
Opponent had three Bloodghasts and multiple Kalastria Highborns. I could deploy Batterskull with Stoneforge Mystic, but I might die to Kalastria
I actually saved more damage by not lethally blocking some of his Vampires and just blocking the Bloodghasts with my Spellskites (taking two
but avoiding a ton of triggers), deploying Batterskull later to pick up some life on my own turn.
7. Invalidate Bad Decks
There is a deck running around that is based on fast G or 1U Infect creatures and then loading on 100 or so Mutagenic Growths.
How do you think that strategy stacks up against a Spellskite? You may or may not want to actually block (and sometimes you don’t even have the
opportunity to block, depending on the 1/1 in question)… But the Mutagenic Growths?
If you want to play this kind of a deck, you’d best have a good answer to Spellskite!
8. Invalidate Good Decks
Before I actually played U/R Twin, I was enamored of MWC on MTGO.
I went on a pretty decent run, enough to make me think about whether I wanted to try MWC despite the new set, but what I was really worried about was
not Deceiver Exarch (though I probably should have been), but Spellskite.
I mean I could play my own Spellskite and replace Journey to Nowhere with Dismember, but the bigger issue was opposing Spellskites out of Caw-Blade.
I was super comfortable with my pre-New Phyrexia Caw-Blade matchup, which was largely based on running out 100 Squadron Hawks and Pilgrim’s Eyes
and moving around Mortarpods to kill all the Caw-Blade creatures before they could equip up.
However just one Spellskite could cost me like eight mana! It just didn’t seem worth it.
9. Stand Around While Other People (Vampires, actually) Burn to Death
As stated above, Spellskite has four toughness, and Pyroclasm does two damage.
Die bloodsuckers, die.
10. Protect Jace
A Spellskite can stop the vast majority of things that can bother a Mind Sculptor. Monsters? Block ‘em. Lightning Bolt? Suck up three. Into the
Roil? Take one for the turn. Beast Within? Take one for the team.
Altogether, Spellskite performs in Twinblade like it does in no other archetype. U/G and Birthing Pod don’t have Swords for it to carry.
Darkblade doesn’t have Pyroclasm for it to survive. While it may be foolhardy to believe that a single Spellskite will save you from the big, bad
Exarch Twin, it can do so many other things that yeah… I can be a little contrarian (for once).
In the words of Jacob Van Lunen, “Spellskite is a wonderful card. Play it in your decks this weekend.”