Since the original Duels of the Planeswalkers, I’ve sort of made it my mission to squeeze nascent power out of slower, more control-themed decks. My work began with the original Thoughts of Wind deck, then Cloudburst in DOTP 2012.
Were these decks consistent, top tier contenders? No, but if played right, they were oh so satisfying.
Now the haters have circled around Crosswinds in Duels 2013. “It’s too slow.” “The control element doesn’t work.” “I hate my father but can’t admit it.” I’ve heard it all.
Uncrossing your wires
As with Thoughts of Wind and Cloudburst, Crosswinds isn’t a straightforward deck, due in no small part to having significantly more unlocks than previous games offered. Gameplay requires consistently calculated plays, including a very strong understanding of how The Clock influences mid and late game board position. A lot of short term sacrifices must be made in order to ensure that, at the end of the match, your opponent’s hand is dwarfed by your massive, throbbing stash of cards.
That said, there are two ways to play Crosswinds, and certainly many variations on each. First is my favorite: mono blue control. In this format, Crosswinds focuses on stalling while setting up combo elements that eventually achieve a soft or hard lock, depending on how it’s played. You must have a firm grasp of the number of turns you have left to live, choosing which spells to save for your delicious winning turn.*
Alternatively, Crosswinds can be played as air beats, generating mid-game card advantage and sidestepping your foe’s defenses altogether. While I don’t personally love this build, it is effective, so I’ll be including separate ratings for both deck styles in the card-by-card breakdown.
With that said, let’s review every card in Crosswinds and weight each spell’s merits. Afterwards (if you’re good), you can see my current (extremely successful) decklist. Get your notepad out!
Crosswinds card-by-card analysis (by cost)
Kraken Hatchling: 4.0 Control, 3.5 Air Beats
While a 0/4 creature won’t impress your friends at parties, Crosswinds only has two reasonable first-turn plays, and this baby sea monster is the only one that’ll stop Raging Goblins from stomping your face. While it doesn’t have the flying or combat invulnerability of Fog Bank, Kraken Hatchling can take a beating through the entire early game, and is more than happy to pull removal from your enemies’ decks for you. Keep in mind a Ring of Evos Isle can turn these into mean tanks, and even a swing for zero can boost an offensive Keep Watch.
Sleight of Hand: 5.0 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
Having Sleight of Hand in your opening paw means you can more frequently take something with only two (or, on the other side, up to four) Islands instead of a mulligan. Sleight of Hand builds consistency directly into your deck, giving you a way to dig for lands, creatures, or answers when you need them. And at only one mana, they’re basically a way of trimming your deck by two cards per inclusion: casting it instantly replaces its spot in your hand and chucks something worthless to the bottom of your deck. For that reason, you should always run all three copies.
Curiosity: 2.5 Control, 3.5 Air Beats
If you’re playing a more conservative version of Crosswinds, you won’t have a creature that can reasonably use Curiosity until your fifth attack phase! On the other hand, it’s an easy way to build card advantage in a more aggressive aerial assault. As long as you plan your offense, Curiosity will always pay for itself (by granting a single card draw), and will often supply much more advantage over the long run.
Hydrosurge: 1.5 Control, 3.0 Air Beats
As far as combat tricks go, you can’t get much lamer than Hydrosurge. You still need to front damage on your end to make good use of it, and that’s not always easy to do with Crosswinds. Another reason to hate Hydrosurge? Most of its -5 power drain is wasted on the fast weenie decks you’ll most often lose to. In other words, it’s unnecessary vs its prime targets and overkill on actual threats. Leave this one in the sideboard.
Distortion Strike: 1.0 Control, 3.5 Air Beats
Underwhelming overall, Distortion Strike does have the power to win games… in certain situations. It can give you the opportunity to swing with your Evos Isle-pumped fatty twice in a row, for instance. It also combos quite well with Curiosity and Arm with Aether, granting massive card advantage either way. That said, it serves no purpose in defensive builds and can’t be used as a combat trick due to its slower Sorcery speed.
Favorable Winds: 3.0 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
While it’s easy to scoff at a +1/+1 bonus, it’s important to remember that Talrand and his friends get a 50% boost from having just a single Favorable Winds in play. And paying four mana for two 3/3 flyers (or even 4/4 with two Favorable Winds) is still considered a deal on this side of the multiverse, last time I checked. This is an absolute must in an Air Beats build, but shouldn’t make an appearance in a Control variant unless you’re loaded with flyers.
Azure Mage: 4.5 Control, 4.0 Air Beats
Just by sitting on the board, Azure Mage threatens your opponent with limitless card advantage. And easy setups like turn 2 Azure Mage, turn 3 Repulse (to waste the enemy’s turn, draw a card, and clear the route for attack), turn 4 draw make it an even better inclusion. Azure Mage is also Crosswind’s only two mana creature with any stopping power, making it essential for early game defense in Control and early game offense in Air Beats. It’s obviously a strong late-game play, too.
Fog Bank: 5.0 Control, 3.5 Air Beats
With the magical ability to shut down anything other than removal and trampling critters, this wall can drastically slash the amount of damage you take for the rest of the game. There isn’t much to say other than “this is really good at keeping you alive,” other than perhaps “Fog Bank won’t be as useful if you’re trying to keep an aggressive tempo up.”
Ring of Evos Isle: 2.0 Control, 3.0 Air Beats
While it’s certainly the best of the rings in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013, this island gem still has issues. It costs (valuable) early game mana to protect your creatures, and the majority of your army is made up of disposable tokens and kraken kids you don’t love enough to protect. Sure, it’s great for protecting more valuable creatures, but so is countermagic and bounce, both of which have more varied uses. That said, if you liked Talrand and are sad he got Shocked, you really should have put a ring on it.
Disperse: 5.0 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
Technically this is a poor man’s Into the Roil (or a colorblind man’s Boomerang), but in the limited Duels format, two mana bounce is nothing to scoff at. It keeps threats tied up on the other side of the board, clears blockers out of your drakes’ way, and even serves to invalidate enemy spells (by removing their legal targets). It’s cheap, versatile, and fast… use it.
Mana Leak: 5.0 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
One of the advantages of having Mana Leak in your deck is not what it actually does (counter poorly timed spells) but what it forces your opponent to do (waste mana or turns trying to be “safe” from the card). Essentially, leaving two Islands untapped on your end of the board will force your opponent to leave three lands open… even if you’re just bluffing. This cheap alternative to Cancel may not provide the brute force of that counter (or Counterspell, for that matter), but it destroys enemy tempo.
Drake Hatchling: 4.5 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
Remember when I said Crosswinds had no reasonable way to swing with Curiosity before turn 5? I lied. Drake Hatchling doesn’t have a lot of power, but it’s the cheapest way to begin asserting air superiority in Crosswinds. Add in a micro-Mana Leak element and you have a versatile creature that provides offense, defense, and utility for just two mana. Plus the value of imagining your foe’s face when he forgets this is on the board and taps out for Overrun? Priceless.
Twincast: 3.5 Control, 2.0 Air Beats
Yes, the ability to copy any Instant or Sorcery is powerful; you can be certain other mages won’t be laughing when you duplicate a Time Warp, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, the opportunity to do so doesn’t always arise when you have both Twincast and two mana available. Do yourself a favor and use it sooner, rather than later. Doubling the effect of Repulse when it’s possible is worth a lot more than holding onto Twincast all game hoping to draw Blatant Thievery.
Skywinder Drake: 1.5 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
Is not being able to block worth a nearly guaranteed three damage a turn? That pretty much depends on which variant of Crosswinds you’re playing. Leave this flyer behind in Control builds, but saddle it up with Curiosity, Favorable Winds, or Arm with Aether support when taking to the skies. A few turns of hijinks like that will pretty much spell doom for any enemy who can’t mitigate the massive damage flow.
Arm with Aether: 1.5 Control, 4.0 Air Beats
How much mana would you pay for a one-sided Evacuation? If you said six or even seven mana, you’d be completely reasonable. Arm with Aether costs half that. Sure, it requires you to put some muscle into the fight, but with lots of flying, bounce cards, and combat hacks like Distortion Strike, it’s easy to clear a path to an Aether-fueled armageddon. Not typically valuable in Control play, this card will single-handedly win games when you’re swooping in with even a few members of Talrand’s squadron.
Call to Mind: 4.0 Control, 3.0 Air Beats
Imagine a blue Demonic Tutor that only worked for Instants and Sorceries, and cost three mana. Well, as long as you have a nice selection of spells in your graveyard, that’s exactly what Call to Mind is. None of the randomness of card drawing, or the crappy possibility of pulling more lands when you need a Rite of Replication. While this card is obviously more powerful when your deck has a lower number of creatures, any variant of Crosswinds has enough magic to make this worth playing.
Cancel: 5.0 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
Look, I would have preferred a Counterspell just like anyone else. But as far as Duels expectations go, saying “no” is just as fun for three mana. As long as it’s kept in hand for an actual threat that can’t be otherwise negated, Cancel is the most effective way to stop your opponent’s strategy in its tracks.
Keep Watch: 3.5 Control, 4.0 Air Beats
Three mana to draw at (basically) instant speed might normally net you one, possibly two cards. Keep Watch can easily net four or five draws, working great on offense or defense. Hell, you can swing with Kraken Hatchlings to pump your gains, or use it in 2HG for envy-inducing boons.
Repulse: 5.0 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
As with Disperse, Repulse can drastically slow your opponent’s gameplan down, often forcing him/her to waste entire turns and double the mana replaying a major threat. A built in card draw ups the tempo value of the card, essentially netting even for you. Consider it a three-mana Time Warp in the right circumstances.
Archeomancer: 4.5 Control, 3.5 Air Beats
Remember all the good things I said about Call to Mind? Archeomancer does the same thing but adds a 1/2 body for one more mana. This means Archeomancer can be Repulsed (every turn if desired), Replicated (x5 for massive style points), or used for combat. That said, he may be too slow to be a strong turn 4 play in Air Beats.
Rite of Replication: 5.0 Control, 4.0 Air Beats
By itself, Rite is a strong card, essentially a Clone at four mana and a lot of clones at nine. It can eliminate Legendary creatures, too. But paired with Panoptic Mirror, Cast Through Time, or Archeomancer? Get ready to win the game in a hurry. As with Twincast, using this earlier is better as waiting may not pay off. You can always retrieve it from the graveyard later on.
Talrand’s Invocation: 4.0 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
Card advantage comes in a lot of forms, and getting two bodies from one card is a great example. This is an excellent fourth turn offensive or defensive drop, letting you stave off both swarms and larger 4/4 bombs. More importantly, it pairs extremely well with Panoptic Mirror, Favorable Winds, and (of course) Talrand himself.
Talrand, Sky Summoner: 4.5 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
Surprisingly better in Control variants than straight air offense, Talrand turns every bounce, tap, and counter into a mildly menacing monster. He automatically makes attacking into untapped Islands scary, and he generates insane tokens with Rebound and Imprint mechanics. This card is the main argument for keeping Ring of Evos Isle.
Dehydration: 1.5 Control, 2.0 Air Beats
In most cases, Fog Bank will be better served for shutting down enemy offense. Dehydration simply won’t work on anything with vigilance or abilities that don’t require tapping, nor does it shut down defense… so it really isn’t versatile enough to justify spending four mana.
Time Warp: 5.0 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
The jewel of the deck, extra turns are almost never a bad thing. A free draw, another untap, an additional attack, and the element of dread it instills in your enemies. Comboed with Archeomancer, Call to Mind, or Cast Through Time and it’s insane. Comboed with Pantoptic Mirror, it’s a turn 6 infinite combo (Imprint during your upkeep with Panoptic’s ability on the stack).
Panoptic Mirror: 5.0 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
The ability to cast the spell of your choice every turn for free is nothing to sneeze at, especially if that spell is Time Warp. Still, Panoptic is incredibly strong with even Repulse, Sleight of Hand, or Talrand’s Invocation imprinted. Certain cards like Keep Watch and countermagic won’t work, and losing the Mirror means big card advantage for your foe. However, if you can keep this in play for even a few turns, it’s pretty much game over for your opponent.
Time Reversal: 1.0 Control, 2.0 Air Beats
Considering how cool the name is, you’d expect Time Reversal would set your life to 20 and give you a do-over on a losing match. Unfortunately, this expensive chrono magic more frequently hands your enemy the win, since he’s the one who gets to untap with seven cards in hand first. Ouch.
Future Sight: 4.5 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
At first glance, there doesn’t seem all that great. You get one extra card and your opponent gets to see what you draw. But in practice, you’ll often drop two or three extra cards a turn, as long as you don’t hit a large patch of lands. Every time you play a new card, it’s instantly replaced, giving your hand infinite flexibility. Future Sight is a definite keeper.
Gravitational Shift: 3.5 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
An obvious inclusion for Talrand-based shenanigans, Gravitational Shift plays a secondary role of negating huge amounts of incoming damage, especially from the weenie decks that typically give Crosswinds trouble. Few other decks have fliers, and the ones that do will still be stalled by Fog Bank. Bonus: this card singlehandedly shuts down that nasty Bloodghast encounter.
Sphinx of Lost Truths: 4.5 Control, 4.5 Air Beats
Going by conventional wisdom, five mana for a 3/5 flyer is certainly reasonable. Throw on a three-card looting mechanic, and it’s interesting. Drop in the option to keep all three cards? Astounding. A turn five play with either deck can quickly even out the battlefield combat balance while helping you dig for what you need. If desired, this beast can be bounced for additional draws late game.
Spiketail Drake: 3.5 Control, 4.0 Air Beats
The father of Spiketail Hatchling, this 3/3 flyer offers a full-scale Mana Leak in exchange for his life. This effectively makes him a safe play to tap out for, though it also means you could end up paying five mana for what’s normally a two mana spell. Unlike the Hatchling, your opponents might be glad to see a spell countered if it means taking a 3/3 off your end of the board. For that reason, I can’t say it’s an automatic inclusion.
Recurring Insight: 2.0 Control, 2.5 Air Beats
While the value of Recurring Insight is largely dependent on your matchup, the reality is that most opponents will have nearly empty hands by turn six or seven. If they don’t, you’re either dominating them or they’re holding onto a Cancel to use on this would-be bomb. In most instances this won’t be worth six mana, though using it in a FFA match may yield better results.
Cerulean Sphinx: 1.5 Control, 3.0 Air Beats
For so much mana, you’d wish this creature had an activated Shroud ability instead. Sure, throwing it into your deck will make it impossible to “kill” but the odds you’ll redraw it any time soon are so low, it might as well be dead. Any variant of Crosswinds would have better luck with another high-cost card.
Cast Through Time: 2.5 Control, 1.5 Air Beats
Giving every spell in your deck Rebound is very powerful, but waiting to get the effect on turn 8? Not so much. Yes, two turns in a row via Time Warp is sweet, but many spells (like countermagic and Keep Watch) simply won’t benefit. In other words, you’ll be holding a dead card for the majority of the game before getting marginal use from it.
Sphinx Bone Wand: 4.0 Control, 2.5 Air Beats
While it’s just as expensive as Cast Through Time, the Bone Wand offers something that enchantment doesn’t: an alternative win condition. While you might normally have to push flyers into your foe’s face all game, this artifact turns every Disperse and Sleight of Hand into a bonus Shock, Lightning Bolt, or worse! Hell, it’s not unheard of to win by casting a card then countering it twice to zap your enemy (or his blockers) three times in a row.
Blatant Thievery: 2.5 Control, 2.0 Air Beats
Great for FFA matches, Blatant Thievery is just too expensive for 1v1 duels. Most artifacts and enchantments you could steal won’t benefit you (other decks’ rings and medallions, for instance), and any creature you’d want can be copied for far less via Rite of Replication.
Goliath Sphinx: 3.0 Control, 4.0 Air Beats
An undercosted monster, this card poses a serious threat the second it hits the board. By the time you play it, it can often win in a single attack, and Crosswinds has more than enough ways to ensure this Classical Era creature gets through. Mind you: tapping out to cast him may be a fatal mistake.
Day of the Dragons: 2.0 Control, 4.0 Air Beats
This scary enchantment has a lot more landing oomph than Cast Through Time or Sphinx Bone Wand, though it benefits more from a crowded runway. Cast it after an attack to replace your tapped-out army with untapped dragons, giving you a free swing. Even more fun: Disperse your Day of the Dragons if/when your red reptiles die, supplying a surprise defense at an instant’s notice.
Flow of Ideas: 3.0 Control, 3.5 Air Beats
Expensive, yet powerful, Flow of Ideas shines in Duels where games will often be drawn out to 10+ turns. In Air Beats, this card is a strong way to refill your hand with threats after playing a Talrand’s Invocation or four. In Control, Flow of Ideas may come a little too late to actually stop threats. After all, if you’ve survived long enough to get six Islands on the board, you’re probably in an okay position. Do yourself a favor: never put this on Panoptic Mirror.
Bribery: 5.0 Control, 5.0 Air Beats
Considered a powerful card since it debuted in Mercadian Masques, Bribery is even stronger in the limited, creature-dominated Duels format for a few reasons. Each deck only has a few high-end creatures, and usually only one copy of each, so using Bribery denies your foe their favorite fatty forever. Pairing this with Twincast, Archeomancer, or Crosswinds’ nastiest artifact will all but guarantee you a win. Just don’t use it on Phage the Untouchable.
Followed Footsteps: 3.5 Control, 2.5 Air Beats
Followed Footsteps won’t save you the turn it’s cast, so it falls into the same category as Future Sight. Unlike Future Sight, this aura is only really useful when there’s something worth copying on the board, and can easily be stymied by any removal spell. Throwing Followed Footsteps on your opponent’s threat will offer you a 2-for-1 trade, which is noteworthy. Also keep in mind that putting one on Archeomancer can provide infinite turns with Time Warp.
Tidings: 3.5 Control, 3.5 Air Beats
There’s nothing wrong with Tidings, it’s just a matter of finding a good time to cast it. If you’re in trouble on turn 5, tapping out for four cards may or may not be worth it. Later in the game, this spell can give you the momentum and answers you need to move the game forward, but Future Sight does the same thing better for the same mana cost. I could go either way on this card, so it’s really a matter of personal taste.
Flow of Ideas: 2.5 Control, 3.0 Air Beats
For one mana more than Tidings, you could draw two more cars, or ten more cards. That’s not a bad deal, but as with Tidings, it’s not always easy to find a good time to cast these card-drawing powerhouses. This card could also backfire in the Jace matchup, though that consideration won’t be particularly common. Don’t include this card unless you have a particularly light mana curve.
Time Stretch: 2.5 Control, 1.5 Air Beats
If you survived long enough to cast Time Stretch, your fate was probably sealed either way already. This card will sit dead in your hand 90% of the time.
Crosswinds control-style deck list
Now that you’ve seen my thoughts on every card available, here’s what I’m currently (and quite successfully) running in Crosswinds. While a few cards might be subject to change, my overall approach was spell-heavy, creature-light, and combo focused. To slightly tweak the spells-to-mana ratio, I’ve loaded 61 cards.
- 3 Kraken Hatchling
- 3 Sleight of Hand
- 2 Azure Mage
- 2 Disperse
- 3 Fog Bank
- 2 Mana Leak
- 1 Twincast (or Call to Mind)
- 2 Cancel
- 1 Keep Watch (or Tidings)
- 2 Repulse
- 2 Archeomancer
- 2 Rite of Replication
- 1 Talrand, Sky Summoner
- 3 Talrand’s Invocation
- 2 Future Sight
- 1 Bribery
- 1 Gravitational Shift
- 1 Panoptic Mirror (or Sphinx-Bone Wand)
- 2 Time Warp
- 25 Island
Crosswinds air beats-style deck list
After spending more time with Crosswinds and tinkering with a more aggressive build, here’s what I’d recommend for an Air Beats variant. Here I dropped a lot of the “combo” cards instead leaving spells that would help air assaults get through and bounce any threats long enough to sneak in damage. Have any suggestions or thoughts? Let’em rip in the comments below!
- 2 Curiosity
- 3 Sleight of Hand
- 2 Azure Mage
- 2 Disperse
- 2 Favorable Winds
- 3 Fog Bank
- 2 Mana Leak
- 1 Spiketail Hatchling
- 1 Arm with Aether
- 1 Keep Watch
- 2 Repulse
- 3 Skywinder Drake
- 1 Talrand, Sky Summoner
- 4 Talrand’s Invocation
- 1 Bribery
- 1 Future Sight
- 1 Gravitational Shift
- 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 2 Time Warp
- 1 Flow of Ideas
- 25 Island
Crosswinds gameplay videos
* In many cases, your winning turn will occur after taking several turns in a row.