How Good is a 2/2?
Swan Song is a relatively versatile one-mana Counterspell. It hits a lot of the important non-Creature spells that the opponent could cast. For only one mana, this seems like a great deal. The question is, is it worth giving the opponent a two-power Flying Creature in the process? For many decks, the answer is, unfortunately, no. Any deck that is trying to play for the long game generally will not want a card like this, as the damage from the Creature it creates will add up over time.
This card is also relatively narrow. Compared to a card like Spell Pierce which also costs one mana, this card misses on Planeswalkers, Artifacts, and now even Battles.
However, Swan Song still sees play, and there are a range of decks that have wanted and still want this effect. The key is mitigating both the strength of the Creature it creates as well as the inability to interact with certain card types. As we will see, this can be done in a variety of ways.
Commander is an excellent place for Swan Song to be used to its full potential. First of all, with life totals at 40, not 20, the effect of the Bird token is greatly diminished. Commander also has a lot of combos and ways to generate massive advantages across the format, so interaction is key. Given that the format is also Singleton, the competition for pieces of interaction is definitely lowered.
Swan Song is an efficient way to push through your combo or interact with opponent combos. Any blue deck that plans to combo in some form will likely want this card. Take Thrasios, for example. Thrasios decks tend to play different ways to generate infinite mana, as the Commander will then let them draw their whole deck. Swan Song is a staple in these decks. This card will almost always have good targets to Counter, and being able to push through your combos for only one mana is big game.
Combo in Other Formats
Just like in Commander, Swan Song has always thrived in decks that can combo themselves. One of the easiest ways to make the Bird token from Swan Song not matter is to win the same turn you cast it. Ad Nauseam decks in Modern, for example, would often run Swan Song in the sideboard in addition to Pact of Negation as an additional cheap Counter that could help make sure Ad Nauseam would resolve.
Swan Song is most commonly used as a sideboard card in Constructed due to its narrow implications. Still, it was a good option for sideboards for combo decks for years. The card has definitely started to die down in recent years, especially in Modern. This has less to do with Swan Song and more to do with its competition.
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Other Efficient Options
The biggest reason for Swan Song’s lack of appearances in Modern decklists as of late can be partly attributed to the printing of Flusterstorm into Modern. Flusterstorm was introduced to Modern via Modern Horizons One, and has played a significant role in the format for years. What make Flusterstorm tend to see more play than Swan Song is its ability to win a Counter war.
One of the most important things these Cheap Counterspells do is protect against combo decks like Living End, for example. The issue is that Living End plays its own copies of Force of Negation. Flusterstorm gets around this via the Storm mechanic, because Force of Negation can only Counter one of the multiple copies of Flusterstorm that can put on the stack together.
There are a couple ways, however, that Swan Song can still be of use in comparison to its competition. First, Swan Song does hit enchantments. Decks like Amulet Titan in Modern often run Swan Song for this reason. Swan Song still does a decent job against other combo decks, but it notably can counter cards like Blood Moon that can be a real problem for Primeval Titan decks. Amulet Titan is another deck that can go way over the top of the two-power Flying Creature that Swan Song creates, so that isn’t a concern. Interestingly enough, the second way Swan Song can see play is if you can actually make use of the Flying Creature yourself.
Ways to Abuse Swan Song
There are a handful of combo decks in different formats that actually rely on your opponent having access to a Creature in play in order to work properly. Take Vintage Oath of Druids decks, for example. Oath of Druids only triggers if your opponent has more Creatures in play than you. Nothing will happen if you and your opponent don’t have Creatures in play. Swan Song is a cool way to gift your opponent a Creature, which will allow Oath to trigger for your benefit, and you can tutor for something like Griselbrand to put the Bird token to shame.
A new Pioneer combo deck uses very similar logic in the introduction of Swan Song to the archetype. A recent Regional Championship showcased a combo utilizing Archfiend of the Dross and Metamorphic Alteration. If you cast Archfiend, it will enter with four oil counters on it. However, if you then use Alteration to turn an opponent’s Creature into a copy of Archfiend, it will retain the text that causes them to remove an oil counter, but will not have entered with any oil counters. Therefore, the opponent will lose when Archfiend triggers on their upkeep to remove an oil counter.
Sometimes the opponent won’t oblige by simply not playing Creatures. If the opponent isn’t playing Creatures, that likely means they likely have ample targets for Swan Song. This lets Swan Song act as an efficient Counterspell to help ensure Archfiend resolves and the Creature it creates can be targeted with Alteration. Swan Song has really cool applications in different formats, and it’s exciting to see the card still shining after nearly ten years.