Looking at a Random Card: Spike Weaver
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Spike Weaver: Before I continued with this feature, I made a tally of 100 clicks on the “random card” feature of Gatherer (not counting stuff I wouldn’t write about like the original basic lands, Unglued cards, Planechase cards or tokens). I got 44 creatures and 56 non-creatures – an extremely reasonable distribution. So, the prevalence of creatures in my choices so far is either a statistical artifact, or an issue with Gatherer has been resolved in the meantime. Either way, I’m resuming this feature now… with a creature. Of course!
Of all the spikes in Rath Cycle block, this was the most high-profile one in constructed (but possibly Spike Feeder beat it on sheer numbers back then). I’m not sure if any other spike (barring changelings etc. as usual) ever saw any use in constructed at all – probably someone tried out Spike Cannibal as a sideboard option against certain decks sometime, but in general the spike mechanic was mainly suited to limited. Although it was briefly revived for nostalgic reasons in Time Spiral with Spike Tiller, it’s unlikely that we will see more spikes in the future – the creature type is weird and not too popular, and the mechanic has been re-interpreted as graft in a way which plays better in most environments (since it costs no mana to switch counters), even though it isn’t as flexible.
So why did Spike Weaver and Spike Feeder get used in constructed a lot, and the rest of the bunch not at all? Because they are utility creatures – that’s why! (The term “utility creature” usually refers to creatures whose main purpose is not to directly affect combat.) While they had reasonably sized bodies, they were played for their special effects – fogging an opponent several times, or gaining you life. Note that the environment has changed a lot since 1998, though, and that these creatures seem less attractive to the eye of a contemporary onlooker. For one thing, creatures have gotten stronger in general. Then, spikes were hurt by combat damage no longer going on the stack more than most other creatures (Spike Weaver not quite as much as the Feeder, of course, for obvious reasons, even though it was sometimes useful just to redistribute its counters). Their general function, though, would be welcomed today as much as back then: Birthing Pod, which has a lot in common with Survival of the Fittest, would simply love to be able to get utility of that kind, and fogging attacks or gaining life as a bonus is as interesting today in the age of token-horde decks and fast red decks as they were back then.
While the Feeder is an efficient, but fair weapon against decks making use of direct damage spells, the Weaver is a bit problematic. In the heyday of Decks centered around Mirari’s Wake, it was noted that the main problem they posed for creature decks wasn’t Wrath of God, but Moment’s Peace, their reusable fog effect. It is frustrating to have several attacks nullified by a single card, and Spike Weaver is a lot worse than the flashback Fog, providing three uses instead of two, being easier to find and to reuse, and even providing some value on offense. The “annoyance level” of a card is somewhat tied to its power level, but there is some variance, and the Weaver excels at frustrating opponents. Then again, seeing with what kinds of creatures decks have to deal nowadays, facing just this spike instead would probably cause sighs of relief. Still, the principle holds true: If a single card is able to invalidate the whole of a fundamental strategy, the fun of playing the game will suffer. As such, my impression of this card’s constructed performance is mixed: It provides interesting opportunities to deckbuilders, and it is certainly in a good place power-levelwise, but it tends to lead to less enjoyable gameplay.
For limited purposes, the spike mechanic really works great in general – if an environment isn’t too fast, even better than graft (due to its flexibility)! With the Weaver, the frustration issue seems magnified in limited at first glance, but actually it’s being counteracted by another effect: While in limited being able to attack is generally even more important than in constructed, and while available removal is sparse; on the other hand, every deck needs removal for problematic creatures anyway, and more importantly, the opponent is much less likely to capitalize on the time gained by repeatedly fogging – a Mirari’s Wake deck which untapped with its namesake in play would usually just win from that point on, just like a Survival of the Fittest deck would likely be able to establish total control, but in limited, it is quite possible that a player has little to gain from just drawing out the game. I would certainly neither use the Weaver as a common in any of my cubes, nor in any low-powered environment, but in a rather high-powered environment it provides me with an option to diversify the functions of creatures (especially, green creatures) available, providing interesting draft decisions and influencing gameplay in a slightly unusual way. The latter is typical for well-designed utility creatures: They make the game about more than just two players racing each other and trading threats with answers, while at the same time not being so powerful that they make everything else which is going on irrelevant (like planeswalkers nearly always do).
Final things to note: Spike is not a useful creature type (and the only one this creature possesses), and the flavor of this card suffers a little from depicting such a weird and unappealing creature.
To sum it up: I give the same grade for limited and constructed, since it is a useful and quite unique card for both purposes, with its slight tendency to lead to frustrating gameplay partly offset by the variety it adds to deckbuilding, drafting and play strategy: C-.