As I mentioned on Ep#2 of Yo! MTG Taps!, a lot of people have been talking about the efficacy of Swerve against a good portion of the metagame (specifically Jund, and even more specifically, Blightning). In many instances, players are favoring it over Negate.
Personally, I’m not impressed.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on a blue-based control build, pulling ideas from here and there in an attempt to end up with a solid deck that at least has a decent shot at winning against the current popular Standard decks (Jund, Vampires, Bushwhacker, and now the new “Dredge” deck and the Eldrazi Green deck that won the Nashville SCG $5K over the weekend).
While I started out with a RWU deck, my most recent build has cut white entirely (via the persuasive writing of one Kyle Sanchez). However, in all of these decks—and despite my own inclinations—I have continued to include Swerve in the maindeck.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been holding a Swerve as my opponent cast Ajani Vengeant, or Cruel Ultimatum. In one game, my buddy bigheadjoe resolved two Obelisks of Alara against me, while I sat there impotent with two copies of Swerve in hand. (This all after I had beat him down to 2 life with a Sphinx of Jwar Isle and had the win on the next turn. He resolves Obelisk #1, gains 5 life, and we go back and forth for a few turns as his Obelisk nullifies the 5 damage I’m doing with ol’ Jwar-Jwar. He resolves Obelisk #2 and two turns later I find the Burst Lightning I’d been digging for. Too little, too late.) In all of these cases, had Swerve instead been Negate, I would have had an answer.
I can, however, tell you how many times I’ve Swerved a Blightning: Once. (And I think I still lost that game.)
My assertion is that Swerve’s place in Standard is strictly as Negate #5-6+. Simply put, the card looks a lot more potent than it really is, and until you play with it you may not even realize how situational it is.
The available counterspells at the moment are so narrow that us counterslingers are forced to squeeze every single ounce of versatility from our spells. At first glance, Cancel seems to be the most versatile (as it can target any counterable spell), yet a good chunk of a spell’s potency is attached to its mana cost, and while creatures continue to become cheaper and/or more powerful, counterspells seem to be going in the opposite direction. At three mana, Cancel loses a lot of its power simply due to the fact that it cannot counter a turn two Putrid Leech (for example).
(And yes, I know I said I was going to play Cancel in Standard, but the closest I’ve come is to play Double Negative, which in most cases is Cancel, so I’m going to consider that statement fulfilled.)
Those of us that want to continue to play counterspells are going to have to commit to it. Max out on Essence Scatter and Negate, and then consider Swerve. (And since you’re obviously running red if you’re considering Swerve, you’ll want to think about Double Negative as well, for its added strength against cascade spells). You may also want to mull over Flashfreeze, at least for the sideboard. As bigheadjoe keeps saying, “name one spell in Jund that is monoblack.” Also, now that Eldrazi Green seems to be the new force in Standard, Flashfreeze gains even more utility.
For the curious, here’s my current list (based heavily on Sanchez’s Izzet Control):
3 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
4 Burst Lightning
4 Double Negative
4 Essence Scatter
2 Lightning Bolt
2 Mind Spring
3 Chandra Nalaar
4 Jace Beleren
2 Gargoyle Castle
2 Magosi, the Waterveil
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Terramorphic Expanse
SIDEBOARD (in flux):
2 Pithing Needle
2 Relic of Progenitus
4 Goblin Ruinblaster
2 Magma Spray