In order to succeed in Pauper, you need to be familiar with Spellstutter Sprite. The Lorwyn common is on the short list for the most important cards in the format. While it might not be the most impactful card today, I’m hard pressed to find a card that is still legal that has shaped more Pauper metagames than Sprite. Why is this the case? How can you play Sprite to its maximal efficacy and how can you beat it from the other side of the table? My hope is that this article will provide you with a solid foundation to answer these questions.
Let’s break down Spellstutter Sprite as a card unto itself first before diving deeper. As a 1/1 flash flyer, it can answer any one-mana value spell on the stack. As the pool of available Pauper cards has grown, the format has trended lower on the mana curve. By itself, Spellstutter Sprite can stop Lightning Bolt, Experimental Synthesizer, Thraben Inspector, Rancor, Ethereal Armor and on and on and on. While this is not a sure thing – you can kill Spellstutter Sprite with its enters-the-battlefield trigger on the stack, thus reducing the number of Faeries in play – it has been a defining feature of Pauper for years. Because Spellstutter Sprite is at its best early, it forces interaction to have a better defensive speed as well. Expensive spells like Tendrils of Corruption or slower removal like Sunlance or Firebolt fall short since they are so bad at handling a Spellstutter with the trigger on the stack.
On its own, Spellstutter Sprite is a powerful card but it comes with some pretty significant upsides. Adding Faeries to your board turns it into a Spell Snare with wings or better. Cloud of Faeries was banned in part because of the lockdown turn two it gave to Spellstutter Sprite decks but both Faerie Seer and Faerie Miscreant help to fill that void. Regardless of what comes down before Sprite, its presence in the format has a massive impact on how games play out.
Pauper Mono-Blue Delver by Ezocratto1989
For example, you’re on the draw against Mono-Blue Faeries. They lead on Faerie Seer and scry one to the top and one to the bottom. On their second turn, they play out their second land, attack and pass the turn. They are clearly representing a Sprite, so do you run out a threat or try to hold off one more turn and see if they change their line? On turn three, they play a third Island and attack and this time ninjutsu in a Moon-Circuit Hacker and again, pass the turn. At this point, you’re priced into trying to play to the board or you risk falling even further behind.
What happens if you decide to play out your two-drop into Spellstutter Sprite mana and nothing happens? Your opponent then attacks and doesn’t put a Moon-Circuit Hacker into play. You think the coast is clear and cast a second two-drop, only to have the first one put back in your hand with Snap and the second one hit with the Spellstutter Sprite they were sandbagging. The Faerie player then untaps, plays another land and swings in with Sprite, only for it to be a Ninja of the Deep Hours in disguise. Now you have no board and your removal spell is almost assuredly getting stuttered.
Simply put, Spellstutter Sprite helps to push Pauper towards more efficient cards in an effort to get around Sprite while also encouraging instant speed interaction in an effort to play around the Faerie. It is a foundational card in the format that informs decisions from deck construction to play patterns.
Spellstutter Sprite is a powerful option to have at your disposal and understanding the nuances of playing with the card can be the difference between success and failure. I want to focus on the Faerie as a pure piece of material that can attack and block first.
Another scenario – this time you are the Faerie player and your opponent, playing a low to the ground aggro deck, is on the draw. You lead on a cantrip and they lead on a small creature. You then play out a second land and pass. Rather than run out another threat, they just hold back, refusing to risk a threat. Here it may be correct to run out Sprite in your opponent’s end step for “no value” if you have a Ninja in your hand. If that ninja is Moon-Circuit Hacker, then you almost certainly should since you can go up a card and have the Sprite back to handle another threat. In games that could come down to card accumulation, being able to run out Sprite as an enabler for a Ninja of the Deep Hours or Moon-Circuit Hacker can put you ahead in one of the races that can matter quite a bit.
Pauper Dimir Faeries by _Against_
Another scenario: you’re late in the game against a deck packing Chainer’s Edict. Both you and your opponent are light on action and every top deck can be the one that breaks the game wide open. Your lone threat is a Gurmag Angler and they have an Edict in the graveyard, finally hitting the land they need to flash it back. Even without another Faerie in play, Sprite can “counter” the Edict by coming down in response and being the piece of material that gets sacrificed.
Pauper Izzet Faeries by Modern_Monkey
Spellstutter Sprite does have a fail rate. The fact that it counts the number of Faeries on your side of the battlefield means that it can be neutered by a well timed copy of Suffocating Fumes, Electrickery or Fiery Cannonade. Fire // Ice has seen an uptick in play as of late in part because it can pick off two Faeries with ease, turning a Spellstutter Sprite into a two-for-one going the wrong way. If your opponent is running red or black, you have to pick your spots with Spellstutter Sprite in a way to negate their removal. This might mean forcing them to overcommit on a key turn so you can for sure nab one spell or instead using the Sprite as bait so actual factual Counterspell can get the job done. Green and white decks can bring in sideboard cards like Aerial Volley or Holy Light while every deck can bring in Gut Shot if needed.
So much of playing Spellstutter Sprite correctly in these scenarios is trying to understand your role in the current strategic moment. Sprite decks tend to fall somewhere between “aggro control/flash” and “midrange control” on the strategic spectrum but Sprite allows it to switch positions with relative ease. Knowing when to go aggressive often relies on guessing your opponent lacks the answer to your counterpunch.
Spellstutter Sprite is a good counterspell when backed up with other counters, but you also have to know when to use Sprite over another option. Obviously if your opponent is showing that they have a removal spell up, it makes more sense to use an actual counter most of the time. Sprite also goes up in value later in counter wars. Only Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast can stop Sprite on the stack for a single mana while cards like Dispel and Spell Pierce are useless against creatures. If possible, hold your Sprites for the latter stages of a counter battle so the more narrow bullet counters are stranded with nowhere to go.
These represent the most basic elements of playing Spellstutter Sprite to its potential. But what happens when you’re on the other side of the battlefield? How can you clip Sprite’s wings?
The most rudimentary way of doing this is to run more threats than the blue deck can possibly answer in a single turn cycle. Stompy was at one point the best in the business at this, presenting multiple two-power one-drops early that could then put Faeries on to the back foot. Today, this can be accomplished with Experimental Synthesizer and Thraben Inspector or by spewing out a horde of Elves on the third turn of the game. Running redundant cards also goes a long way to reducing the power of Sprite; if they counter your Lava Spike, then the Chain Lightning is getting through.
Another tried-and-true method available is to run pingers. Scattershot Archer, Cuombajj Witches, Sparksmith and even good old Prodigal Sorcerer all help to curtail Spellstutter Sprite. The fact that these also tend to do well against the other creatures in Faerie decks are vulnerable to such a suite. When taking this route, it’s important to have a plan for when Faeries goes bigger with cards like Stormbound Geist or Gurmag Angler. This route works on the same axis as overloading on removal except that it is far more persistent.
Speaking of removal, on-board options that can hit for one do a fine job of forcing the issue on Sprite. Icatian Javelineer and Seal of Fire are some options that have seen play but Fume Spitter and Mogg Fanatic also fit the bill. Pestilence might not come down as early but does a similar job in that it can stop Sprite from ever really mattering.
The other way to fight Spellstutter Sprite is to try and just cast spells that are too expensive to be countered effectively. Myr Enforcer, Gurmag Angler, Mulldrifter and Annoyed Altisaur all are incredibly difficult to stop with Spellstutter Sprite. Using these cards means you have to maneuver the game to a point where your opponent’s counters are expended. Whether that means running your own counters or trying to accelerate towards a top end and presenting other threats, this method relies on exhausting their resources as opposed to hitting Sprite specifically.
Spellstutter Sprite is a foundational card in Pauper and even when Faeries are not the best deck it still is a major player in the format. Understanding the implications of playing against it and the possible lines of play available to the Sprite player can only serve to help players on their Pauper progression.