Why We Play: Spike (Part 1)

Hi there, we’re continuing our series- analyzing the final, and most misunderstood player archetype: Spike.  Most people think of Spike as a cut-throat player, someone who only plays established decks in an effort to crush their opponent as quickly as possible, Spike doesn’t play to have fun, Spike plays to win.  In reality, most Spikes are trying to get more out of the game than the average Johnny or Timmy- they’re not just looking to play one type of game; but rather they would like to learn how to beat any opponent with any deck.  Hand a Spike a ham sandwich and they’ll think about how to sideboard with it against Tron (pro tip: side out the mayo for Ketchup and try and finish them as fast as possible).  Spike is a complex archetype, which is why I’ve divided this exploration into two parts- this week we’ll be looking into why Spike plays, and next week we’ll look into what the best formats are for Spike to enjoy Magic.

In contrast to Johnny or Timmy, Spike doesn’t find fun in simply making a “sweet play”, Spike enjoys making the “correct play” whenever possible.  When you’re looking for the most correct way to play Magic, a lot of the challenge doesn’t come from playing with a specific deck, but rather against certain decks.  Most Spikes won’t feel the high of comboing off, or resolving that 10+ CMC card like Johnny or Timmy; but when they win that extremely close match up: the games where they’re the underdog; the 1 in 10 shot; win-and-in for top 8- That’s when they feel the endorphin rush.  It’s the high stakes, high intensity, put-everything-on-the-line matches that really get a Spike going.  Chasing that feeling leads a lot of Spikes to play better decks, higher skill events (usually larger events), and generally play a lot more Magic than most other archetypes: be it practice or tournaments.

When I play Commander with my friends, I self-identify as a Johnny: making splashy plays and combo-ing off, only to “win” and let the rest of the table play for second place… but when I sit down at a Modern or Legacy event, playing some unexpected Merfolk brew I’ve cooked up specifically for that event? I enter the mindset of a Spike.  I know Merfolk isn’t the most powerful deck in Modern or Legacy, but I know it very well and I can make the correct play nine times out of ten.  A Spike is that loses, while still making the correct plays likely won’t be as tilted as someone who doesn’t understand that some games just don’t go your way.  When I’m playing Modern or Legacy, I’m much more likely to tilt if I misplay than if my play is disrupted and I can’t win.  I’ve won a few Modern events because I simply made fewer misplays than my opponents- and what I’ve found about the Spike mentality in that regard is if you’re piloting a deck that can produce wins, and you’re playing correctly, you should win some percentage of your matches.

Now, a vast majority of Spikes do like to push that win percentage as high as they can, since it’s not worth entering a large tournament if you don’t think you can do well.  This means the competitive Spike is likely to do a lot of testing before the event, trying to settle in on a deck/sideboard combination that will perform well against the expected meta.  I know Spikes who put more than 200 hours of testing into a deck before they’ll play it at a Grand Prix, and that’s likely nowhere near as much time as some of the Professional Magic players.

A huge part of getting into Magic as a Spike is to find a format and deck that you understand well, then put the effort into learning it more thoroughly: find those corner case interactions your deck can perform- whether it’s chump attacking your Mutavault into an Iona then Dismembering it so you can cast your Blue spells again, or Aether Vial-ing in a Phantasmal Image copying Elesh Norn so subsequent creatures don’t immediately die.  Most decks have a lot of room to learn (yes, even Burn has decisions to make), so take the time, practice at local events, with your friends, on Magic Online, or on your own.  Spike’s main focus when playing magic for fun should be to learn more about the game, learn rules interactions and decision making trees so you know what to do if and when a situation arises.

Now I know there are people who won’t agree with this view of Spike, most of them won’t be people who identify as Spikes: I’ve heard Spike described as “The Net-Decker”, “Too Hardcore”, and much worse.  Spike comes in many different flavours: from the FNM drafter who just wants to improve on their 1-2-0 rating; to the Grand Prix player who’s been to all the big events within 200 miles and is trying to make day 2; all the way to the Pros playing to make top 8 at the Pro Tour, or World Championship.  Spike is a player who wants to excel at the game, they might just be starting to learn how- or they might be a two-time Pro Tour Champ, Personally I say to everyone: Embrace your inner Spike, not only in Magic, but in every aspect of your life.  Look for those places you can improve, and really push yourself to do better every time you try something.


Signing off from the top-8,

Steven Hamonic.

 

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