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Force Spike
by "The Reverend" Toby Wachter

     7th Edition brought back plenty of old favorites. Mahamoti Djinn, Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon all came back to bring back the nostalgia many players felt for old school Magic. With all of these inclusions, it's easy to forget that some other, slightly more subtle cards have found their way back into the basic set. The best example of such a card is Force Spike. 

     The funny thing about Force Spike is that it doesn't really seem all that good at first. Why pay one mana for a very conditional counterspell when you can pay two mana and use a plain Counterspell, which will always get the job done? The issue has to deal with mana curves and speed. Force Spike saw its major surge of popularity when Mogg Fanatics and Jackal Pups were everywhere. Because these creatures could be played for one mana, they could sneak by a Blue mage quite easily. While there's no efficient way to stop such plays when the aggro player goes first (outside of Force of Will and Foil), Force Spike gives the deck a fighting change when it is able to play first. Being able to counter spells on turn one allows the deck to not fall behind in tempo so early in the game.

     Compare Force Spike to its replacement for about a year: Daze. The problem with Daze is that unlike Force Spike, it is not efficient on turn one. Very rarely do you want to return your only land to your hand, as it slows down your tempo significantly. However, the alternate casting cost can be beneficial in the late game, where returning a land doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. For this reason, it has been a staple in decks such as Skies and Rising Waters which have a tendency to tap out quite a bit.

     So is Force Spike superior? That depends. For starters, Daze is only of optimal use in a deck with plenty of Islands. Any three color control deck won't bother using it, and some two color creations may not either. It still has its merits in an aggressive build (or a Waters deck), but otherwise it's pretty safe to say Force Spike is better. I could see a deck playing both, but that may be too many situational counterspells for a deck to run.

     Another issue is the effectiveness of Force Spike in the current Standard environment. Essentially, Force Spike is a good card when the mana curves in decks are tight. For example, the Sligh deck would frequently tap out for its spells, making Force Spike that much more useful. Fires has a pretty tight curve, but towards the late game it generates so much mana that a Spike can be a wasted draw. In older Standard environments you could pitch useless Force Spikes to Forbid, but that option isn't available anymore. In Extended there's a few more options such as Masticore and Force of Will, but the only decent way to get some mileage out of a late game Spike in Standard is probably Brainstorm. 

     The primary reason for someone to use Force Spike in the current environment would be to counter a first turn Sergeant or Birds of Paradise, which give Rebels and Fires respectively a substantial amount of tempo advantage. Force Spike is solid against Fires up until turn five or six when it has played out most of its threats. By contrast, Force Spike is pretty horribly against Rebels unless used to counter a very early searcher. Counter Rebels uses a very high land count but does not have many expensive spells, making Force Spike that much more useless.

     So does Force Spike have a place in the current Standard environment? That still remains to be seen. I can see it possibly showing up in mono-blue Aggro-Waters decks, but that deck isn't incredibly popular at the moment. The card does have a decent shelf life for the next few years, so as the metagame shifts it may make its way back into Standard once again.

The Reverent Toby Wachter

RevToby on IRC