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Secret Agent Man: A Spy Guide
By Spooky Beef
The Spy class is considered by many to be the hardest class to master. Indeed, most of it is based on luck, such as whether you can get an important pick off without getting spotted by a random Pyro just coming out of spawn. These are some of the things that you can't really control.
However, the things that you can control are higher in number than one may realize. And that's where this guide comes in. Much like my Pyro guide, this will be an unbiased instructional document to playing everyone's favorite secret agent. We will go over all the weapon options available, some loadouts to help you succeed, and some tips for how to play effectively. There's also a bit of a bonus section at the end, so make sure to keep reading for that one (or use the handy sidebar to skip down to it).
Revolver The default revolver is a very sound weapon in its own right, dealing decent damage from close to mid range. Although the Spy is not cut out for direct confrontations, his revolver can still be used to pick off weakened targets, or defend himself if necessary. The random bullet spread makes this unwieldy at long range, however, you can circumvent this by waiting about a second after each shot fired, which allows each bullet to be perfectly accurate (turn on auto-reloading to help get the timing right).
+ Strong, reliable damage output against most classes. - Ineffective at long ranges. Heavier classes can still make mincemeat out of you.
Ambassador A weapon designed for those who are confident in their aim, the Ambassador deals less damage per bullet, but comes with an added benefit of being able to land headshots on enemy players, a privilege normally reserved for the Sniper’s weaponry. Headshots can only be done on a perfectly accurate blow to the cranium, and there is a cooldown period between shots where bullets are inaccurate no matter what, which you can discern from the growing/shrinking targeting reticule. An advanced weapon, as the accuracy required to pull headshots off in the middle of a gunfight is fairly high. It does make quick work of Sniper’s using the Razorback, taking them out in two bullet shots rather than three.
+ Potentially very high damage output. Rewards accuracy. - Low damage output outside of headshots. Difficult to wield effectively.
L’Etranger A unique variant on the revolver, the L’Etranger is more of a utility tool than a weapon. Its special function is that damage done is converted into meter for your cloak. This makes it pair especially well with the Cloak and Dagger, which cannot restore meter normally. In exchange for this utility, however, it deals less damage overall, which makes it less effective in open combat. Still, being able to get a bit of extra meter to help you make a getaway can be very handy.
+ Allows for extra meter gain when damaging enemies. - Low damage output.
Enforcer A bit of a controversial weapon when it was originally introduced, however, recent patches have made this weapon comparatively less broken than it was before. This weapon gets a damage boost while you're disguised, but only gets it for the first shot fired. Every subsequent bullet after deals normal damage until you redisguise. It also has a much slower firing rate, which makes it riskier to use in open combat. It does still two-shot Razorback Snipers at close range, so if you’re not confident in your aim with the Ambassador, you can use this to slap them around instead.
+ High damage output when disguised. - Slower firing rate makes it less reliable.
Diamondback This weapon functions a bit similarly to the Frontier Justice, in that it allows a Spy to store crits based on how many buildings he has destroyed or backstabs he has accrued. This makes the weapon riskier to utilize, as it requires you to be able to stay alive long enough to take advantage of the crits. If you're confident enough in your Spying abilities, or if the opposing side isn't too bright, then you can store a lot of crits to help you stand your ground in open combat. Conversely, if you're having a hard time getting multiple picks in a single run, then you may be better off sticking to a different gun.
+ Can store crits based on buildings destroyed and backstabs attained. - Possibile to get killed before you can use the crits.
Knife The stock knife and its reskins are generally the best ones to use out of the bunch, as it has no downsides, and allows you to get those delicious one-hit kill backstabs without worrying about extra traits. The knife of choice for most players unless a situation calls for something different, or one wishes for an alternate playstyle.
+ No downsides. Can be applied to many situations. - See above.
Your Eternal Reward/Wanga Prick For the Spy that prefers a stealthier playstyle, the Eternal Reward offers an interesting, but challenging way to play. On backstab, this knife automatically and immediately causes the user to disguise as his victim, killing them silently and causing the corpse to disappear, and the death isn’t broadcast on the killfeed. In exchange, however, the user is unable to disguise through normal means, which makes getting that first stab off and dealing with sentries a more difficult process. It can also make things difficult when moving through enemy territory, as you have to carefully pick your targets, as well as what disguises you want to use when you go in to get your actual victim. Enemy players that are stabbed by this can also report to their teammates that you’re disguised as them, negating the silent kill aspect. It is very good for chain stabs, as the enemies won’t be able to hear the normal death cries that come up when a backstab kill normally takes place. Overall an effective knife, but one that requires very careful planning.
+ Silent kills. Aids in keeping stealthy. - Unable to disguise normally. Makes sentries more difficult to approach without preparation.
Conniver’s Kunai Another knife that offers an alternative playstyle, the Kunai allows the user to absorb health on each backstab, prolonging his own life and enabling him to get out of tough situations more easily. On the downside, it lowers your health a significant amount, dropping it to 70 total. This knife is for those who like the high risk high reward playstyle, as it makes you even more vulnerable in the outset, but gives even more health than you would have had normally when you succeed in getting a pick. Not a knife for everyone, but it does have its share of advantages.
+ Can absorb health of your victim, up to a maximum of 210 health. - Extremely heavy health penalty makes it difficult to use.
Big Earner The Big Earner has a more unique role that players often underestimate. Much like the L’Etranger, each kill done with this knife (does not have to be a backstab) rewards the user with meter for their cloak, allowing for an additional resource for getting cloak back. Players also get a three second speed boost on kill, helping to get out of dangerous situations after a successful backstab. This, however, comes at the expense of -25 health. While this isn’t as drastic of a penalty as the Kunai, it still makes you more fragile than you already are. However, the benefits of this knife can overcome the disadvantages for those willing to work with it, as it allows you to quickly regain any meter lost in approaching your target, as well as make a speedy getaway.
+ Gain extra meter and movement speed on a successful kill. - Health penalty makes you more susceptible to getting picked off.
Spy-cicle This weapon is a hit or miss depending on how much you fear Pyros. This weapon has the added benefit of making the user fire proof for a brief amount of time when hit by flames. However, when the ability is activated in this fashion, the icicle itself melts and becomes unusable for a lengthy 15 seconds, during which you’re pretty much useless to your team. This also proves to be bothersome when dealing with Heavies using the Huo-Long Heatmaker, as the fire ring can melt your weapon before you even get close enough for a backstab unless you carefully time your attack to dodge the flames. If Pyros are being that much of a pain for you, then this “knife” may be useful, but in other cases, the loss of the weapon when hit with any fire source can screw you over more times than it can benefit you.
+ Can become fireproof briefly to make an escape. - Loss of the weapon can ruin potential backstab attempts.
Invisibility Watch/Enthusiast's Timepiece The most solid watch, and for good reason. The standard Invisibility Watch can fit in numerous situations, and the cloak time can be extended by collecting ammo crates, allowing you to cross large amounts of ground with substantial knowledge of their locations. Generally the most universal watch.
+ Adaptable in many situations, no downsides. - lulz
Cloak and Dagger This watch is more for those who are patient players. The Cloak and Dagger consumes meter through movement, and standing still can allow it to build back on its own. However, this comes with the drawback of not being able to collect ammo boxes to charge it while cloaked, as well as reduced cloak charge when picking ammo crates outside of cloak.
Despite this, the weapons listed above have functions that can allow you to recharge this watch without having to sit and camp a corner to wait. When using it, it’s important to not stay in one location too long, as not only will you not be helping your team, but you’ll make yourself more likely to be spotted the longer you stay in one area. When enemies aren’t around, feel free to walk around outside of cloak and let it charge up. If someone spots you, then you can cloak and hide on top of a prop and watch as they run around trying to find you, then you can move on when they give up. Use the CnD when you need to take on a stealthy role, relaying information back to teammates when in enemy territory, or when you need to pick your battles, particularly when it comes to getting that all important Medic pick.
+ Doesn’t need ammo to charge. Allows for easy avoidance of enemies. - Movement based drain makes it less useful for long distance traveling.
Dead Ringer The most controversial of the Spy’s weaponry. The Dead Ringer allows the user to feign death upon activation, dropping a fake corpse and allowing for better positioning to get a pick, or to make an escape. When feigning death, damage is reduced to a fraction of the amount, allowing one to cross dangerous areas with ease. Because of these advantages, this watch tends to be abused heavily by bad players and those who only want to be able to top the scoreboard. In the hands of a bad Spy, it’s a crutch that makes up for whatever weaknesses they may have as a player. In the hands of an expert, they become nigh unkillable, using the shield to make an escape when faced with a legitimate threat, or to gain an unfair advantage in a one-on-one gunfight.
Recent patches have redesigned this watch pretty heavily in an attempt to make it fairer to fight against. When feigning death, the initial damage is reduced, with the damage reduction waning over three seconds. This means that while you can absorb a single rocket blow, it cannot stop crits, backstabs, or rapid damage from, for example, a minigun. You're also unable to pick up ammo crates to refill your meter while feigning death, although you do get a speed boost for three seconds upon activation.
There are some legitimate uses for this watch, as it allows you to cross areas where a lot of explosions and gunfire are flying through, and disguising as a friendly teammate, such as a Medic, can draw enemy fire your way and fool the opposition. It’s also pretty invaluable in MvM mode, as you can stay where the action is without having to worry about getting hit by a stray rocket from a robot. However, seasoned players will be able to recognize a DR user at first glance, as there are numerous bugs and traits that don’t get feigned that will give you away, and since it’s the most used watch in pubs, people will likely assume you’re a DR Spy no matter what and take the appropriate actions. There’s also the sad common mentality that most DR users tend to think they’re hot ♥♥♥♥, a trait that even affects so-called pro Spies, when in reality they rely on a crutch to be able to do basic actions. Using one of the other watches will make you a better Spy overall, as you learn to be more aware of your surroundings and pay more attention for openings. The DR just causes you to learn bad habits and develop an unwarranted ego. If you plan on being a serious Spy player, use this as little as possible.
+ Can cross dangerous areas with ease, as well as draw enemy fire to protect teammates and fool the enemy team. - Easy to spot by experienced players. Even more susceptible to Pyros who won’t hesitate to embarrass you for using it.
Stock Sapper Unchanged since day one, the sapper does exactly what it needs to do: disable, and eventually destroy, Engineer buildings. For the most part, the one you will likely be using the most.
+ Destroys Engineer buildings. - You get the idea at this point.
Red Tape Recorder The Red Tape Recorder is a more oddball variant of the sapper. Instead if destroying a building, it instead reveres its construction, taking it back through all the upgrades, and eventually turning it into a small package that can be picked up for ammo. As far as actually destroying buildings goes, this is inferior to the stock sapper, as the deconstruct rate takes a very long time to accomplish, and depending on where the sentry was to begin with, the Engie can just build it right back up again. It’s better used for weakening heavily entrenched sentry nests, as a group of level 2 or one buildings is easier to take out by a coordinated group than level threes being whacked on by Engies. It’s peculiar in design, but effective if used in the right situations.
+ Deconstructs buildings, reducing sentries to level ones quickly and allowing them to be easily destroyed by teammates. - Has difficulties actually destroying buildings, as the deconstruct process takes a long time to accomplish.
Offensive Spy For this loadout, your focus is on attacking the enemy base and causing as much havoc as possible. To accomplish this, you’ll need the stock watch, as it’s the best to get in undetected. For your knife, if Pyros are actively searching for you and being a pain in the ♥♥♥, you can use the Spy-cicle to help in making a getaway, but for the most part, stock knife or its reskins will serve you best. Your revolver choice is largely up to you and what you need to be able to accomplish. Are there Snipers that need to be taught a lesson on why the Razorback is useless? Go with Ambassador or Enforcer. Need meter gain that badly? Stick with the L’Etranger. Feel like being a hipster? Go stock.
Meter Monster This loadout is designed to allow you the most possible resources in order to get the meter you require for cloak. L’Etranger in primary and Big Earner in melee slots allows you to have a near limitless supply of meter, keeping you mobile and with plenty of cloak to spare. This loadout is meant to benefit the CnD and DR, as they are more meter hungry than the stock watch.
Anti-Machine This loadout is designed more for MvM mode. The Ambassador is an obvious choice, as robots move in predictable patterns that make them susceptible to headshots, while the DR can allow you to stay in the front lines for longer periods of time, as long as you don’t get caught on fire or decloak in front of the bots (they can’t hear the decloak sound apparently). Knife of choice is generally up to you, but the Big Earner can allow you to rebuild meter for your cloak and keep you active without having to wait for it to recharge.
* Never stay in enemy territory longer than you need to. If you’re spotted, don’t be afraid to make a break for your teammates so that you can heal up and prepare for another infiltration. * If a sentry nest is being heavily guarded, don’t bother wasting time on trying to tackle it solo. Report the activity to your teammates so that they can distract them and allow you to get to work. * When finding player targets to backstab, Medics are the highest priority, as their ubers can keep your team from making a crucial push. Snipers are also of high priority, as they can pick off key targets from range and prevent you from making an advance. Inversely, Scouts are lowest on the priority scale, as you’ll rarely encounter them and they’re too fast to get a backstab off reliably anyway, while you should be avoiding Pyros at all times unless you can catch one not paying attention to your presence. * On CTF maps, you can sneak into the enemy intel room and report any defensive setups that the opposition is using. Just be sure not to stick around too long if there’s a lot of people around, or you’ll likely be spotted. * Try to use alternate or less populated routes when entering an enemy base, as going through the front lines will just increase your chances of getting blown up before you do anything. * When using disguises, think about what position you’re in and who would be where you’re at right now. Snipers tend to hang around in the back, while Engies tend to be walking to and from their buildings, and Spies are usually seen returning from enemy territory. * Try to avoid using Scout or Medic disguises unless you’re in niche situations. You won’t be able to mimic the Scout’s running speed unless he’s using the Baby Face’s Blaster, and the Medic is always healing someone, which can root you out when someone puts two and two together. Contrary to popular opinion, and the various DR spammers that may think overwise, Scout disguise also doesn’t reward you with a smaller hitbox. * Despite the above, don’t be afraid to use more peculiar disguises once in a while. A Heavy disguise in the right situation can fool even seasoned vets, as they likely won’t be expecting it. * Imperative to effective Spying is learning the Stab n’ Sap technique, in which a Spy backstabs an Engie near a Sentry, and quickly saps the sentry before it can fire on him. It takes bit to learn the motions and the speed required for it, but it makes dealing with Engies and their nests much easier if you can catch him off guard. This is made more difficult with the Eternal Reward, but is still possible with patience and timing. * If a Medic is moving erratically and you’re unable to get a stab off, try getting his patient instead, especially if it’s a Heavy or Demo. The lack of a power class on the front lines can cause them to lose precious time in getting an uber off, which is time your teammates can use to prepare a counter. * Always make an effort to humiliate Razorback Snipers with a couple bullets into their back. Forcing them to rageswap to a different class just to get payback on you is one less person picking off your teammates from afar. * Jarate and Mad Milk will cause your cloak to short circuit and reveal your location. If you’re hit with these, either pull your gun out to defend yourself or beat a hasty retreat, preferably towards a water source.
* Robots are fooled no matter what disguise you pick, though keep your disguise’s mobility in mind when picking one. Slower disguises mean fewer opportunities to get a crucial sap or stab. * You’re usually in perfect position to get a backstab off on a Medic bot when they enter the area. Take advantage of it when you can and get to work. * Avoid Pyro bots if you can, as they can easily set you on fire, even inadvertently, and cause the other bots to focus fire on you. * Your knife can be upgraded to deal heavy damage to giants on backstabs, and your sapper can be upgraded for a wider disabling range. * A Spy’s role in MvM tends to vary drastically depending on the wave. You can either be a money grabber, using your disguise to grab fallen cash without worry of being attacked, or you can focus on bot elimination, picking off crucial targets and slowing down waves for your team. * Bots will retaliate quickly when another bot is backstabbed, and call out your presence. Disable a group with your sapper before hand to make chainstabs easier. * You’re weakest against tanks, as they cannot be sapped or backstabbed. When one comes in, focus on the small fries while your teammates take care of it. * With the introduction of Engineer bots in MvM mode, a Spy has gained another crucial role, that being the removal of the Engie bot and its sentry nest, especially the teleporter. Listen for when the Administrator calls for their entrance and make sure you keep them from getting set up.
How to Spycrab
Learning to Spycrab is not necessarily a crucial tactical skill, but it does provide a humorous sight for friends and enemies alike. Spy crabbing is actually a simple process done as so:
1) Pull out your disguise kit. Do not pick a disguise. 2) Look straight up, and then crouch down. 3) ????? 4) SPYCRAB!!!
Once you learn how to Spycrab, you can move around the area and put on a show. For real effective spycrabbing, knowledge of the maps helps a lot to allow you to move without having to pop up and look around. You may also want to equip the DR, as most people will not care whether you’re spycrabbing or not, instead focusing solely on getting as many points as possible. Still, it’s a fun trick to do whenever you’re bored, or faced with an imminent steamroll and just don’t really feel like trying anymore.
And so ends our adventure into the tricks of the French assassin. Hopefully this guide was helpful in some form, as Spy is definitely not an easy class to play as, and it's an even harder class to master. When everything clicks together, though, the Spy can truly turn the tide of a battle with a single action, making him an important class to have on any team.
As per usual, feel free to leave comments and questions below, and I'll see you in game.
July 2 Patch Information
* The L'Etranger now give +40% to cloak duration, allowing you to travel further before needing to recharge your cloak. This allows it to pair especially well with the Cloak and Dagger, which normally has a much shorter duration compared to the other watches. Keep in mind that while this also increases the duration of the Dead Ringer cloak, it does not prolong the damage shield effect.
* Updated the information regarding the Diamondback to reflect current balance standings.
* Updated weapon sections to reflect current build. * General sprucing up.