As of this writing, Spellskite is the third most played non-land card in Modern because of its versatility and the high quantity of cards it interacts with. It’s also the source of many judge calls – “Judge! Can I use my Spellskite on my opponent’s Deflecting Palm?”. In this article we’ll go through how Spellskite behaves with many cards in the Modern format. By the end you should feel more confident playing with and against this card.
This article is a spiritual successor and update of the excellent 2013 article “Modern Rules Problems – Spellskite” by level 2 judge Nathan Long and the 2015 Spanish article “Reglas e interacciones del Spellskite”. In addition to discussing how newer cards interact with Spellskite, we’ll get into a bit of the strategy we can use once we understand the interactions better, which goes beyond those articles.
Here are four scenarios that illustrate the depth of Spellskite in Modern. Try to solve these now, and I’ll discuss them at the end of the article.
Scenario 1 – Harbinger
You are playing Affinity and your Merfolk opponent is at 9 Poison and 15 life. From an earlier Wanderwine Hub you know that they have a Harbinger of the Tides in their hand and exactly enough mana to cast it (they have no other board or cards in hand). You have on the battlefield an Inkmoth Nexus, a Blinkmoth Nexus, and a Spellskite. You draw a Glimmervoid for turn and have no other cards in hand. Can you win this turn?
Scenario 2 – RG Tron
You are playing as RG Tron against Grixis Delver. You have an Urza’s Mine, an Urza’s Tower, an Urza’s Power Plant (which you just played this turn), a Spellskite, and a Chromatic Sphere. You are at 4 life. In hand you have a Wurmcoil Engine, Karn Liberated and a Grove of the Burnwillows. Your opponent has 2 untapped Steam Vents and 2 untapped islands, and suspect your opponent has a Lightning Bolt and a Snapcaster Mage. Find a line that lets you survive through Bolt-Snapcaster-Bolt.
Scenario 3 – Mindslaver
You have activated a Mindslaver on your turn, with no cards in hand and two untapped islands and an Academy Ruins. Your opponent starts their turn with a Mountain, Plains and a Spellskite on the battlefield. They are at 19 life and draw an Arid Mesa for turn. Find a way to win this turn. How would you win if they were at 18 life instead?
Scenario 4 – Burn
You are playing as Burn against an opponent with only a Misty Rainforest, a Spellskite and 2 tapped Breeding Pools, 5 cards in hand, 10 life. You have 3 Mountains and an Arid Mesa on the battlefield, and after drawing for turn you have a hand of Lightning Bolt, Lightning Bolt, Searing Blaze, Searing Blaze, Smash to Smithereens, Monastery Swiftspear. Get your opponent to as low a life total as possible this turn.
The Card Itself
Let’s dive in by reading the card itself.
Artifact. This benefits Affinity by increasing its Cranial Plating count. However, this also makes Spellskite vulnerable to Destructive Revelry, Natural State, and Stony Silence turns off its ability.
Creature. It’s got a body you can sacrifice to Liliana of the Veil. It also happens to be colourless so you can search for it with Eye of Ugin.
Horror. A completely irrelevant creature type also shared by Phyrexian Obliterator, Phyrexian Revoker, and Plague Stinger.
0/4. Four toughness means it survives Lightning Bolt, the most commonly played non-land card in Modern. Spellskite’s lack of power makes it vulnerable to Twisted Image, but it also means that it can attack under an Ensnaring Bridge even when the opponent has 0 cards in hand.
Redirect. This will form the majority of our discussion. This ability can be activated with either one blue mana or 2 life. It says: “Change a target of target spell or ability to Spellskite.” Since there are no restrictions on the spell or ability, you can target any spell or ability that uses the stack, even if it won’t produce any meaningful results (such as targeting an Arid Mesa activation). When Spellskite’s ability resolves, you may changes one of the targets of that spell or ability to Spellskite if Spellskite is a legal target. A common play is to redirect a Terminate to Spellskite to save your other more valuable creature.
Go for the Throat. Since Spellskite is an Artifact it can’t protect your creatures from Go for the Throat. Spellskite can yell “Go for my Throat! Not Tasigur’s!” but the game says “Sorry Spellskite, you don’t have a throat, I’ll stick with Tasigur, thanks.”
Rancor and Daybreak Coronet. When Auras are cast they have a target, so Spellskite can steal that Rancor an opponent casts on their Experiment One. Be careful about Auras that have restrictions on the types of creatures they can enchant. A Spellskite without an aura on it is not a legal target for Daybreak Coronet, so trying to redirect it won’t do anything useful.
Cranial Plating. Both ways of equipping a Cranial Plating (by paying 1 or BB) can target only a creature you control, so an opposing Spellskite cannot steal your equipment.
Warping Wail. The first mode of Warping Wail says “Exile target creature with power or toughness 1 or less.” If your opponent uses Warping Wail on your Snapcaster Mage (toughness 1) then you can redirect to Spellskite (power 1 or less). The game doesn’t care whether it’s the “power 1 or less” condition or the “toughness 1 or less” condition that is being satisfied, it just cares that at least one of those conditions is met.
Two Spellskites fighting over a Become Immense. If two Spellskites are fighting over the same spell, the last Spellskite activation to resolve wins. This means that if you and your opponent both have Spellskites you should let their activation resolve before you activate your Spellskite. Don’t respond to their activation, otherwise theirs will resolve after yours, so they will win the tug-of-war.
Spells that don’t target. Every spell is a legal target for Spellskite, even ones that don’t target anything, such as Damnation or Divination. This doesn’t really accomplish much. When asking a judge about a Spellskite interaction, judges will answer the exact question that you ask them. So if you ask “Can Spellskite’s ability target Divination?” they will say “Yes it can.”, even though it won’t really do anything. Judges are not there to give you strategic advice, so don’t expect an answer of “Yes, but it won’t accomplish much.”
Overpaying. You can target the same spell or ability multiple times with the same Spellskite, even if the spell or ability only has one target. This is one of the main reasons why you should sideboard out all of your Spellskites against U Tron: If they Mindslaver you and you have a Spellskite they can make you repeatedly pay 2 life.
Spellskite leaving the battlefield before its ability resolves. If Spellskite leaves the battlefield before its redirect ability resolves then the target is not changed. This can be used to eke out extra damage from an opposing Spellskite. For example, if you cast Lightning Bolt targeting your opponent and they pay 2 life to redirect it, you can respond by casting Terminate on their Spellskite. They can respond by paying again to redirect the Bolt, but in this case your Lightning Bolt was good for 4 life loss.
Kiki-Jiki. Reading Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker’s text very carefully, we see that it says “target creature you control”. Your Spellskite cannot redirect an opponent’s Kiki-Jiki ability.
Valakut. The Scapeshift deck will try to win by casting Scapeshift with 7 lands, getting a Valakut and 6 mountains, which puts 6 copies of Valakut’s “3 damage trigger” on the stack for 18 total damage. Your Spellskite can redirect each of those triggers, which will mean you only pay 12 life and take no damage from Valakut. Functionally, Spellskite turns Valakut into only dealing 2 damage per trigger.
Table of Damage
[table id=5 /]
Kolaghan’s Command. Let’s say your opponent casts Kolaghan’s Command choosing “Destroy target artifact” and “Kolaghan’s Command deals 2 damage to target creature or player”. Since each of these effects says the word “target” separately, each Spellskite activation can redirect one of those effects. So for 4 life you can save your Cranial Plating and your Signal Pest from a single Kolaghan’s Command.
Electrolyze, Conflagrate. In contrast to Kolaghan’s Command, the word “target” only appears once on Electrolyze. So if your opponent uses Electrolyze on your Signal Pest and your Vault Skirge, then Spellskite will only be able to save one of your creatures. Multiple activations of Spellskite won’t save the other one as well. This interaction is exploited by the Ad Nauseam decks when they cast Conflagrate for X=21, dealing 1 damage to your Spellskite and 20 damage to you. In that case Spellskite cannot save you as it is already a target of Conflagrate.
Harbinger of the Tides. This merfolk is often used to remove one of your attackers. Usually Spellskite is untapped and is not a legal target for the Harbinger’s bounce ability. One way around this is to attack with Spellskite in addition to your creature you want to protect. This way Spellskite is tapped and is a legal target for Harbinger triggers. Other ways of tapping your Spellskite, like Springleaf Drum, also work.
Wild Defiance and two Spellskites. If you have Wild Defiance and two Spellskites, then the Spellskites can bounce any targeted spell between them and will trigger the Wild Defiance after each redirection resolves. This won’t work for just a single Spellskite because the redirect resolving doesn’t actually change the target.
Let’s tackle the scenarios at the beginning with our new found understanding of Spellskite.
Scenario 1 – Merfolk
Play the Glimmervoid. Activate your Inkmoth Nexus and attack with it and your Spellskite. If they play Harbinger targeting your Inkmoth, use Glimmervoid to redirect Harbinger’s bounce ability to Spellskite.
Scenario 2 – RG Tron
Pass the turn. If your opponent tries to Lightning Bolt you, then use the Chromatic Sphere for blue mana to redirect to Spellskite, keeping you at 4 life. Now if they follow up with Snapcaster-Bolt targeting you, your Spellskite survives to block Snapcaster, and you’re at 1 life. If they follow up with Snapcaster-Bolt targeting your Spellskite, then you’ll go down to 2 life once Snapcaster attacks you. If you had played Wurmcoil instead, then the Delver player could Bolt-Snapcaster-Bolts you at the end for your turn.
Scenario 3 – Mindslaver.
Get them to play the Arid Mesa and activate it, holding priority at 18 life. Then they activate Spellskite 9 times (paying 18 life), targeting the Arid Mesa ability. If the opponent instead started at 18 life, then activate your Academy Ruins (returning Mindslaver) and get them to target that ability 9 times (paying 18 life).
Scenario 4 – Burn
Cast Lightning Bolt, targeting your opponent.
If they respond with using their Misty Rainforest (Opp: 9 life), use your Arid Mesa for a Mountain and Bolt them again. They will pay 2 life to redirect it (Opp: 7 life). Respond with Smash to Smithereens. They will respond by redirecting both Bolts (Opp: 3 life). Then the Smash to Smithereens will finish them off. If they don’t use Spellskite after you Smash, then the second Bolt won’t get redirected, so they will take 6 from the Bolts (which is a line that leads to 12 total life loss).
If you suspect your opponent is going to sacrifice their Misty Rainforest at the end of your turn, then going off in response to their Misty Rainforest activation will lead to two extra life lost in this sequence.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think; I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favourite Spellskite interaction? Have you ever used Spellskite to target a Fetchland ability?
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