Home Strategy Spy Strategy: The Watches


Close enough.

After hearing what the community had to say about my last Spy article, I thought I’d go a little more in depth with the various tools and playstyles available to the Spy. This won’t be an ongoing series like my YouTube update posts; instead, I’ll have four articles after this going over in detail what you see in Spy YouTube videos.

We’ll take some time to discuss: 1) The Spy watches, 2) Spy revolvers, 3) Spy Knives and Stabs, 4) Disguises. Today is watch day, and I want to delve into each watch individually. As a purely selfish touch, I’m going to go in order of my preference, starting with the Cloak and Dagger.

Patience is a Virtue: The Long Sit

The Cloak and Dagger, or C&D, is my least favorite watch, and I think that’s the case for many of you as well. I want to talk first about why that is, and then give some examples of how the C&D can, in fact, be effective.

The C&D’s self-recharging cloak inherently promotes camping. While the relative value of camping has already been covered, the thing about C&D spying is that you are practically forced to sit in one place in order to be effective. Your choice of squat location, therefore, is critical, because one stray bullet or whiff of Pyro-flame and you’re a dead man. Without the freedom of the standard Invisibility Watch (IW), your role becomes that of area denial, though in a different way than the Engineer’s. You become a constant menace to the other team, always sitting unseen right next to their most vulnerable point, often times the spawn gates. Rage-Pyro is an almost certainty for C&D Spies, if you do it well.

That said, there are two primary reasons people dislike the C&D. First, it slows down the Spy’s role to one of cautious maneuvering, as opposed to pre-update, when he had to move quickly and decisively, always aware of what was going on around him and how to use what little cloak he had left to escape. Second, it’s just plain annoying. The standard expectation for Spies is to always be right behind you, but their location is always shifting. They are always on the move. Campers, and by extension, most C&D Spies, tend to return to the same spot after every death. Good players train themselves to expect the unexpected, because that’s how most FPS games tend to be played at high levels. When that expectation shifts to be something you should always be on the lookout for in the same place, there’s anger that builds up, leading to the general opinion of the C&D as being the least of the three watches.

As for actual usage of the C&D, it all comes down to area denial, as I said before. However, that same use of unexpectedness is required for good C&D work. Take the first point on Gold Rush, stage two. There is a tower to the right of BLU spawn, the house to the left, and the little niche in the fence to the right. There are two large ammo crates and one medium sized crate, two medium health packs and a small and plenty of corners. An effective C&D Spy will use this knowledge to his advantage. Instead of camping on the rock in the center of the map next to the tower while BLU pours past him, he will instead act as though he is a standard IW Spy.

Here is where psychology comes into play again. Say our C&D Spy stabs a Heavy/Medic combo in front of a Pyro. Said Pyro now wants some Dustbowl Fried Spy. The Pyro follows the Spy up to the tower but the ammo box is still there, as is the health. What is our Pyro to think? If he’s smart, which the majority of Pyro players tend not to be, he’ll realize he’s been duped and spray the area with fire. The more common response is to look elsewhere, because you can get pretty far on ten seconds of cloak. By the time Pyro’s left to seek his prey, our C&D Spy has stabbed that same Heavy/Medic combo and a Demoman and returned to reconnaissance.

A note from WiNG

Though I’m not a fan, I think part of what makes the C&D powerful these days is that pursuers simply don’t know what watch you’re wearing. If they think you have the IW, they should check the nearest ammo locations. If they think you have the C&D, they should spam the surrounding area. Sure, they could listen for your footsteps, which works well with surround sound headphones, but in most situations this is an ungainly procedure.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that, paired with good voice communication, the C&D makes it very easy to capture intelligence or a control point, which is a common use for it in competitive play, where applicable. Often as Spy you’ll get to a point or the intel room, only to realize capture is unlikely at the moment. The C&D allows you to wait for the right time to do so.

Death? Bah!

The Dead Ringer (DR) is the most annoying watch. It takes five direct critical stickies to alleviate the DR’s 90% damage reduction, and Valve had to make the Horseless Headless Horseman’s axe damage 20,000 to make it impossible for DR Spies to survive his terrible blade. The reason the DR is second on this list is not because I loathe it more than the other two (which I do), but because for a while I became very proficient with it, and see its inherent worth, despite its annoying nature.

DR espionage is a far left field departure from IW and C&D spying. Spies are much more brazen with the DR equipped, and I know several who go straight into a horde of enemies, stab, feign death, and repeat for top of the leaderboard. There is no acting, no psychology, no tricky movements. Just brute force and the reward of reputation and points. But let’s skip the sob story and go straight to the strategy.

Using the Dead Ringer takes a few forms. First is the one outlined briefly above. The second is an attempt to use it in a manner similar to the IW and C&D while still making use of its feign death ability. This involves somehow damaging yourself out of view of enemies, finding your way behind them and making your move then. Done by jumping from a high place with knowledge of where to refill the cloak meter, this method is probably more “noble,” as if anything a Spy does could be considered remotely noble.

The third use for the Dead Ringer is a combination of the two previous strategies. To begin, use a disguise pertinent to the area you occupy, and run backwards, your teammates facing you. Ask them to fire at you as though you were an enemy Spy. Whether or not they comply, have the DR active during the interchange. If your foes fall for the ruse, make their backs your personal pincushion. If they don’t and fire at you anyway , use that as cover to find a shady spot to uncloak and begin your work.

Sticky situations call for a fourth strategy. This one is hard to pull off convincingly, and stabby’s video shows how to do it in one way. This is the act of making your fake death look real. As stabby showed, don’t pick up nearby health or ammo once cloaked. Survey your surroundings before uncloaking, if you have the time. If the health and ammo spawn, be aware of which direction the enemy is coming from, which class they are (as this determines speed of travel and damage output) and where your team is in relation to you. Sometimes the situation is hopeless, but that is something Spies need to get used to. Even the DR fails us sometimes.

A note from WiNG

While I don’t necessarily enjoy using the Dead Ringer, it is all but necessary in many circumstances, when spam makes regular cloaking untenable. Part of the strength of the DR, though, is not in engendering the traditional Spy paranoia, but in toying with your enemies. Even if they know you’re alive, somewhere, there’s nothing they can do about it. This exercise in frustration can waste your foes’ time, which is always a minor success as Spy. Hell, you may accomplish more by actually dying than by staying alive, as cynical enemies search for your resurrection in vein.

I should also point out that friendly disguises are an important component to DR death feigning. While most players are used to looking for fake DR deaths by now, few will be scrutinizing enemy Pyros, Demos, and Medics to check for awkward animations. As with all friendly disguising, it limits the enemy team’s knowledge of your presence until it is highly inconvenient.

This Will Be the Last Time They See You

Now for the bread and butter of Spy work, the Invisibility Watch. Before the Spy update, this was the only option you had, and before December 11th, 2008, you had around ten seconds of cloak with a thirty second recharge time. That’s it. Make of it what you will. I joined TF2 in August of ’08 and logged around 30 hours of Spy in that time. I can honestly say I wish they hadn’t done anything to him in patches. But that’s a matter for another article.

The first thing I tell people who want to play Spy after I’ve given the two little snippets from my last article is this: use the IW first and learn its ins and outs by heart. This should teach them to intuit, without looking at the cloak meter, how much time they have left. They should know the maps and where to uncloak. They should learn how to move efficiently so that if there isn’t any metal handy (which still happens), they can still get to a safe place or at least one that provides a critical target before the untimely gibbing. If they master the IW, the unpredictability of the DR’s cloak meter won’t be a hinderance and their use of the C&D will prosper.

The thing about IW use is that it remains a catch-all for any situation. The strategies I talked about in my first Spy post revolved primarily around IW use. The best Spies I know of use it exclusively, and I know even stabby wouldn’t be the top agent he is without having learned from it. So how does one go about owning with the IW? The real question is, how don’t you? Here are just two different ways to use the Invisibility Watch to great success.

Endless cloak: Because ammo and metal refills cloak, and for balance reasons there is always a good amount of metal on maps, knowing where it all is allows the efficient Spy the ability to remain invisible indefinitely and still remain on the move. Even on the largest maps, getting to the BLU/RED spawns is a cakewalk, so long as you know where all the metal is.

Fake it Till You Make It: The mobility of the IW lets Spies continually fake out their enemies. If it isn’t the disappearing around corners, it’s appearing in front of Pyros or Demomen  for just a couple seconds and disappearing. The IW is as much a tool of morale destruction as it is a way to sneak behind someone. If you toy with your foes with the DR, they get angry. If you play with them with the C&D, they will be confused and annoyed. If you are successful with the IW, they won’t know where to look for you, and the anger and confusion takes a third partner: constant paranoia.

Regardless of which watch watch you use, always remember that you play how you play. If you are successful, who is to say which way is best?*


*WiNGSPANTT reserves the right to make life decisions for you.

11 replies to this post
  1. I switch between the IW and the DR every few monthes.

    Honestly, the IW is probably the best choice, though after you main on a server for a while people start to get really paranoid when you join and you have to resort for the old second life instead.

    Remember – the DR is most effective as a safety net and it’s pretty weak when it comes to actual stealth. (It’s also very helpful to decloak right before you step on an ammo pack with it, so you can recharge faster).

  2. I prefer the DR and friendly disguises. I also love it when the server is all talk and I hear the paranoia. Good Stuff. It is possible to play aggressive with the C&D but you have to truly exploit friend disguises and enemy Disguises as well, and only cloak when the enemy can see you. Just consider all the times you’ve moved around the enemy without cloak and play the CD that way. Use darkness, and the “map flair” to your advantage. Great article.

  3. *pokes Wing*

    (You know what I mean.)

    Some very good points were made here and I can’t honestly say I disagree with any of them. Right down to “Dying for real leaves the enemy looking for you anyway.” I think the Kunai will work in the DR’s favor once people get used to it, as easy deaths can be attributed to its low base HP.

  4. Personally, I find the best watches are the IW and DR, finding myeself switching between them often (I love the Dead ringer with the Saharan Spy set, Silent uncloak really is nice there..)
    However, I almost always use the C&D for the badlands map, reasons being their isn’t an awful lot of ammo and it’s probably the easiest map to ninja cap with (For extra luls, cap while disguised as a friendly engineer. Seriously)

  5. Personally, My two favourite watches are the IW and DR, Dead ringer especially when using the Saharan Spy set (Silent uncloak with no other downsides with the dead ringer? Why, thank you VERY much!)
    However, I always use C&D on Badlands, for some reason I find that their isn’t an awful lot of ammo for the IW on it, and C&D works wonders for a ninja cap on the last point. (For extra lulz, add in friendly engie disguise.)

  6. Awesome post. Nodded in agreement throughout the whole read.

    As a dedicated user, I should say you nailed the DR, in particular. People tend to have very black and white opinions on the feller; it’s either an “easymode noob watch” or “The Watch.” Iit’s refreshing to see criticisms of lame point-inflated usage (ammo to cart looping trial-and-error spies) alongside acknowledgement of the fact that it can be used to greater effect with finesse. On an entirely unrelated note, flattered by the vid link :}

    Very fair assessment of the much-maligned C&D, too.

  7. Look at that! Stabby Stabby (the post above this one) is a very famous spy and one of the best if not the best competitive spy in TF2!
    Anyways, great article I very much agree with basically everything said. My favorite sets are Saharan spy set and the revolver kunai IW set.

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