Welcome everyone to the Deck Spotlight series, where we’ll be kicking off October with our new card. September’s Monthly Reward Card was Emperor’s Blade, a beefy Guard in Spellsword colors. So, here we are with a Spellsword Control list. It’s a fairly basic list of Kill Spells, Ramp, Dragons, with waves and waves of Guard creatures to back them up. I don’t have any weird personal touches or strange one of’s, just a by-the-books Spotlight. My purpose of this article is mainly going to be dissecting Spellsword in general, and give this deck a chance to properly introduce itself. So let’s do it to it.
Control Spellsword sits nicely in the middle ground between Control Mage and Ramp Scout, taking most of the best stuff from both decks. The Endurance offers the Tree Minders and Skeletal Dragons we all know and love, while Willpower offers the powerful Mantikoras and Hive Defenders. Whats even better is that Spellsword gains the ability to transcend Scout’s biggest downside: Removal Spells. Piercing Javelins, Edict of Azura and our sweeper of Dawn’s Wrath are all excellent kill spells we can utilize. However, these features do come at a cost, and it’s what Spellsword is missing from the decks it takes from. Control Mage has Ice Storm, one of the most potent answers to aggressive decks. Spellsword also has no burn spells like Lightning Bolt or Ancano to end games sooner rather than later. As for the Scout side of things, it has no Dragon synergies, nor does it have the amazing cantrips of Thieves Guild Recruit or Scout’s Report. Or for that matter, any real draw spells whatsoever.
So why play Spellsword?
Why not just play either Control Mage or Ramp Scout? Whats the point of dabbling around in the middle? The answer is match-ups. Spellsword’s Token match-up is much better than Scout’s, and its Ramp match-ups are better than Control Mage’s (Mainly just because we get to fight Ramp with Ramp). Neither of the match-ups are what I would consider great, but they’re certainly better than the counterparts’. It also maintains reasonable Prophecy Battlemage, Market Archer, Orcs and Goblins win percentages. Now for me, if you boast an alright Tokens matchup, an OK Ramp match-up, and the potential to grind most decks on the ladder into Control oblivion, you’re probably gonna be pretty OK in the current state of TESL.
Now while these match-ups are fairly good, they’re not super high. Control Spellsword doesn’t “counter” anything. Its great match-ups like Orcs are 60/40 at best, but that’s as good as it gets. And to make it worse, Midrange Decks can beat up Spellsword fairly bad. With the swathe of Guards, Lethal/Rage Archer can get some pretty nasty draws against you. Midrange Sorcerer or Assassin can pressure you super hard, with Bone Colossus and Ancano being powerhouses against you (If you don’t have the correct answer immediately). And don’t forget about Supreme Atromancer. This card is such a beating against Control Spellsword, with the ability to burn, pressure both lanes and have Breakthrough to smash through your Guards. The nerfs helped out Control Spellsword so much, as this card was the closest thing to a “counter” as anything for Spellsword.
The History of Spellsword
Historically, Spellsword has always been the odd duck of Control decks. So much so, that it used to primarily be an Aggro strategy, and one of the original Tokens decks at that. Over time, Spellsword has been drip fed additional cards to transition into its Control shell. Hist Grove, Dark Guardian, Paarthurnax, and recently Emperor’s Blade have all been excellent additions to shift Spellsword away from Aggro. I’ve also done a little testing on last Month’s card, Pure-Blood Elder, but between doing nothing on Summon and Spellsword having no shortage of late game beaters, I chose to skip her. The Fall of the Dark Brotherhood expansion also gave this deck Knight of the Hour, which replaced Pillaging Tribune for me. In the current state of the game, I value the Prophecy over the extra 2-3 life and better sized creature.
One of the things I do miss about Pillaging Tribune is that it gives this deck the ability to be proactive. My main issue with Control Spellsword is that it is so reactive, clogging the board with Guards and hoping nothing too bad happens. Control Mage has a plethora of removal spells to leave the lanes totally empty, as well as burn to turn on a more aggressive play style and close out with some clutch Lightning Bolts. Ramp Scout has so much breathing room, breaking a few too many Runes usually doesn’t matter, enabling you to pressure your opponent on both life and resources. Spellsword doesn’t really have that. It has big creatures to attack with, and Dark Guardian’s ability helps buffer the potential card advantage, but most of my games end with very few cards in hand. To me, that indicates that you have to play pretty tight to get the most out of Spellsword’s cards. And that’s hoping that your Guards are even good enough. Things like Shield Breaker and Move effects can put a real big wrench in your game plan.
Spellsword and Redundancy
The great thing about Spellsword is that its game plan is a very linear strategy. Play Guards, muck up the board, stall for 10+ magicka. Even if a wrench is thrown into your game plan, a lot of your cards do the same thing or act in a very similar manner to each other. For instance, what’s the difference between Piercing Javelin and Edict of Azura if there are no Supports that need destroying? Or the difference between Skeletal Dragon and Preserver of the Hist? These cards have differences, and their effects/magicka costs can be the decider as to what is better in the moment, but they function the same way most of the time.
This is the main reason I’m only running two Emperor’s Blade; they’re Hive Defenders number four and five. Aside from the fact that it can be hit by Fell the Mighty (Which isn’t a huge issue), my only real issue with Emperor’s Blade is that it rarely ever gains life. Your opponents just attack their creatures into it in a suicide effort so that you don’t get the Slay trigger, so the card’s text isn’t super relevant for me. However, there are two small things I like about Emperor’s Blade over Hive Defender. Firstly, it dodges Unrelenting Force. Most of the time you’ll find Unrelenting Force coming out of a Paarthurnax, which just rot away in hand that late in the game, so Hive Defenders eat the Unsummon most of the time. Secondly, Emperor’s Blade protects way better against Cliff Racer. I’ve seen a Cliff Racer bonk off my Hive Defenders then get attacked or Leafurlered to finish it enough times to feel way more protected with Emperor’s Blade in the lane.
As you can probably tell by this point, I love Control decks. Its one of the great pulls that TES:L has on me with the whole Rune/Prophecy system. Now with that said, Spellsword has never appealed to me as a Control deck until like a month ago. I’ve always liked Mage or Scout or even Control Sorcerer (Which is actually fairly good now, but that’s for another day) more than Spellsword. But the list that interested me was the super Dragon-heavy version with the recently buffed Cliffside Lookout and Devours. However, with Emperor’s Blade being released, I decided to give this deck a chance. It went fairly bad at the start, as it mostly does when one picks up a new deck, but after going 18-4 in the span of a couple hours, I came around. To me, this is a Meta-style deck. You play Control Spellsword when what it does is good against the decks that are popular on the Ladder, because what it does doesn’t vary too much from game to game. Spellsword’s redundancy is its greatest asset and its greatest curse. If big Guards and Kill Spells are good, Spellsword is good. If not, Spellsword takes a seat on the bench. With that said, Spellsword would be one of the decks that would benefit from a Best Of 3 format with sideboards, with the proactive cards resting away for post-board games. This deck’s consistency would really shine in a multi-game format, and some kind of transformative sideboard would gel with Spellsword a ton. But, we’re in a Best Of 1 Ladder system, so sadly that doesn’t matter too much right now.
Well that wraps up October’s debut article, with a Control deck that showed me something. Next week I’ll probably be Spotlighting whatever I’m running hot with, but if you have any suggestions let me know. Thank you for reading, see you next week!