Home Strategy Master the mind: play as Spy

I found Top Tier Tactics through WiNGSPANTT’s Spy videos, as I assume many readers did. While I hate to beat a dead horse that is now nothing more than a pile of goo, it’s such pretty goo, and I want to make it jiggle. What I’m getting at is Spy strategy. Real strategy. After all, the  Spy is more dependent on the mind than any other class in Team Fortress 2.

Stalking a a mile in another person’s shoes

Right behind you.

If anyone asks me for advice as Spy, which, believe it or not, has happened, I tell them this: stop playing spy.

“But it’s the best class!” they say. I would agree. However, what you must know before donning the balaclava, gloves and sexy French accent is there’s more to it than you might expect: as Spy, you must also know how your disguised class would act in any given situation. Therefore, my second piece of advice to new agents is spend at least twenty to thirty hours with the eight other classes.

Achievement whores will find this rather easy, since some of the virtual trophies are somewhat time consuming or dependent on rare situations to fulfill. And in the time you spend going for achievements, you’ll spend triple that playing, earning experience with the satisfaction of cheers, confetti and a trophy.

At first, it might seem like I’m asking a lot here. Twenty hours is half a work week, and one hundred sixty hours is more than a week’s worth of play straight. But the great thing about TF2, especially for new players, is that these hours will fly by, especially if you find a fun, mature home server.

You never really were on their side

If you still aren’t convinced, let me dive into some examples. Say you are playing spy on Dustbowl, the archetypal Team Fortress 2 map; it’s the last point, first base. There are two sentries guarded by three Engineers, two Snipers watching both attic exits and a Demoman with stickies on the point. Your choices as outlined are many, but here are the main ones:

1) Cloak behind the Snipers and deliver stabbings

2) Kill the Engineers and sap their shit

3) De-spine the Demoman, clear the point, and notify your team

The most obvious choice for experienced Spies is all three, and new Spies will think the same. However, how they go about it will be different. The experienced espionage agents will play with their enemies before stabbing, feeling out for weak points, waiting for the most opportune moment to strike. Because they have played all the other classes, they know, more or less, how to hide, blend in, and survive long enough to take out their targets.

First, an expert Spy might cloak or disguise as a Sniper and hang around the battlements, not stabbing, just watching. He’ll stand near Snipers for a couple moments, looking for a “target.” His eyes are not on the Snipers, however. They are on the Engineers, the Demoman, and other enemies. The Spy know how much time each stab will take, how long he’ll have before a potential callout and ensuing paranoia, and where the Engineers are in relation to their sentries and how much of the point area said sentries cover. When the stabs begin, everything goes this Spy’s way, likely leaves the Snipers be and going for the more influential Engineer. If he’s smart, which he has to be, he’ll cloak immediately and change disguise, find a hiding spot or returning to his role as a reconnaissance agent, waiting for the next perfect moment.

How can he do this? Because he knows how each player will handle his cards: when the Demoman might take his eyes off the point, when the Snipers will pull out Sharpie, and when the Engineers will rush around saying “Spah ’round here!” wrenches at the ready. It is at this point that a helpful Pyro arrives, ready for Spy checking. During the minute or so when paranoia is high, the experienced Spy is nowhere to be found, but at the last and most crucial moment, backs are split open as the Pyro reveals he never really was on their side.

What of the inexperienced spy? The answer is simple. He stabs both Snipers, immediately alerting the rest of the team to his presence; he runs blindly towards the sentries, saps both without stabbing; he bee-lines for the point, only to explode into tiny bits of BLU brand dog chow.

Psychology is everything

Returning to our experienced Spy, how would he play it if the enemy team weren’t falling for his tricks? How would he escape? Once again, knowing both the roles and behaviors of every class in the game, as well as the maps and current team position, he has options. Going with our example from above, say the Demoman bumped into the cloaked Spy by pure chance, making him flicker and giving him away? The entire enemy team now knows both the general location of the Spy and what his latest disguise was. This is a losing battle, and the experienced Spy will do three things:

1) Predict the route his enemies expect him to take, only to avoid it.

2) Change disguises as appropriate.

3) Mentally map the route to the nearest exit, mindful of how much cloak it will take to get there.

Outsmart, then outplay

The Spy is a wussy in a fair fight. His revolver is powerful, but slow and low on ammo, so he has to use wits before strength. If he isn’t on fire, the Spy’s bag of mind-bending tricks is enormous. Since WiNGSPANTT has covered many of them in his videos (as have many Spies throughout the years), I’ll just go briefly skim here. This list is by no means comprehensive.

  • “Bait and Flick-Stab”: Lure your enemy into close quarters, then flick the mouse to stab the hitbox around his back
  • “Bait and Cloak”: An escape technique, the Spy combines cloak with cover to fool enemies into to taking a route he didn’t
  • “Bait and Laugh”: A tool for griefing W+M1 Pyros, simply allowing the idiot to set you on fire, then leading him directly to your team
  • “Decoy Disguise”: Easier to perform with Your Eternal Reward, it is the act of stabbing and replacing your victim with his own skin
  • “Pot Shots”: More a tool to shake morale and instill paranoia, this is the act of firing your primary, cloaking, and repeating. Enemies will lose sight of objectives while your team moves up
  • “Non-Engineer Sap and Stab”: This is the ultimate opportunist’s stab. If a sentry is well defended, sapping it gives you a two and a half second window in which to make a critical stab before escaping
  • “Chain-stab Taunt”: A suicide mission if ever there was one. Whenever a Spy gets a chainstab, he usually just goes about his day. In this technique, anger is your friend. Take out a group from behind and then taunt both in chat and with the animation, even if it kills you.

Do this every time. The results will speak for themselves, and lulz will be yours.

15 replies to this post
  1. One thing I’ve always wondered is how to get my foot in the door of playing Spy without being absolutely terrible. I remember that I once played nothing but Spy for a week and eventually became a vicious killing machine but when I switched back to the classes I usually play, I became terrible again. Is it all just extended practice or can some pieces of experience be salvaged somehow?

    • Unfortunately it’s all trial and error. Perhaps on a quick respawn server you can get more practice, though the downside is there will be enemies behind you more often, as well.

    • Wing has it. It’s just hours and hours of playing, finding your own rhythm and understanding the maps, the tactics employed at each point, how players react for the most part and knowing how to exploit it. I’ve heard spy called the class for masochists, and I think it’s an apt description. You have to be willing to take a beating over and over again before you can start the consistent chain/stair/ramp stabs.

      • I need more luck then… Half the time people seem to walk at me, and ALMOST ALL snipers I encounter have razorbacks. While this might not be a problem, I just shoot them down, I’ve noticed (especially on UKCS servers) a scout hanging back, away from battle, running up and down and radnomly shooting for spies.

  2. I need to upgrade my motherboard, since I get frame-rate issues that interfere with proper stabs, and the fact that it looks like everyone hits me with melee even though they’re about 6 feet away.

  3. So yeah speaking of chains . . . here’s a frag video where one of my best chains appears (I’ve had a moment or two with TER where I cleared a payload cart). Also watch for the life where I had to change loadout to take out a engi nest. It didn’t help my team win, but I felt good . . . lol. Spy is a hard class. I’d like to believe I’m above average, slightly, but Xiant, the key there in your article is to truly think about espionage and how to cater to the other team weaknesses and fears.


    • Fear is a good word to use. Who of us hasn’t seen or heard a spy and immediately played a little more cautiously, a little more paranoid? We check our backs more, look at clear allies with suspicion until we know the threat is gone.

      Spy is a class of analyzation, quick maneuvers and quicker reactions to change. It is this that makes an effective spy. He must know where the keystone is and take it out, causing the whole structure to collapse.

  4. Also, one huge thing anyone should have in their minds when they start playing -> YOUR REVOLVER IS INCREDIBLE. Get good with it, and you can handle just about half of the classes in TF2 in regular combat. (That’s another reason not to use the Eternal Reward – you will be restraining yourself from whipping out the old six-shooter and passing up some good kills.)

    • You’re right, though I’d prefer to use the Amb. I can’t count the times I got a lucky headshot crit. However, it was sadly only in situations where it didn’t really help me…

  5. This makes me feel a tad useless…. I main YER, so I never really get the chance to change disguise, and have to relly entirly on my cloak. Although I would LOVE to use the normal knoif, it just not as effective on payload (one of my favorite modes).

    My other favorite modes? Degroot (YER pwns face in the hallways) and CP (Steel. just Steel.), both of which where I use the YER for everything, because I CAN. It lets you get away with so much more if you get a jump on them, say from around a corner or from the top of a building. Maby Im crazy and just obsessed with seeing my enemies turn into red blurs, but I love the YER… Although I DO plan on spending more time with the normal knoif.

  6. Lol. Spy is a class of TONS of skill, but over all organization and d luck.

    Frend me on steem and give me free items so I can make a familier fezm

    My username is :zangetsu.15

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