A Time Spiral Review for Vintage

Some point in the not too distant past it simultaneously dawned upon the Magic community that this game was going to be here for a lot longer than most of us ever expected. Long after every other fad – from the hula hoop to the pog – had faded into Americana novelty, Magic has continued to thrive. Building on the past is the theme of Time Spiral. And while set designers have mined Alpha for ideas since the earliest expansions, until Time Spiral we have never seen a set thematically centered on nostalgia. And nostalgia — or at least building upon the past — is what Vintage is all about. That’s why, good or not, Time Spiral is the first set review I’ve ever written for Vintage.

Some point in the not too distant past it simultaneously dawned upon the Magic community that this game was going to be here for a lot longer than most of us ever expected. Long after every other fad – from the hula hoop to the pog – had faded into Americana novelty, Magic has continued to thrive. Building on the past is the theme of Time Spiral. And while set designers have mined Alpha for ideas since the earliest expansions, until Time Spiral we have never seen a set thematically centered on nostalgia. And nostalgia – or at least building upon the past – is what Vintage is all about. That’s why, good or not, Time Spiral is the first set review I’ve ever written for Vintage.

Academy Ruins

Recycling artifacts like Tangle Wire or Jester’s Cap is useful in Vintage. Finding ways to recur artifacts that have been countered is not bad either. The problem is that Goblin Welder is more bang for your buck. Thus, this card would have to fit into a deck that doesn’t run Red for Goblin Welder. The only deck that comes to mind is MUD, a mono-Brown artifact prison deck. The problem is that the activation is Blue. As a consequence, I don’t expect this card to see any play. I wouldn’t be surprised if it appeared, once in a blue moon, in some Top 8 decklist somewhere, but it won’t be a card you need to pick up.

Ancestral Vision

Ancestral Recall, part deux? Not quite. Some have suggested that this card will require restriction. The reasoning runs as follows: This card is really easy to play and you can play with four. In Vintage, it shouldn’t be that hard to protect a one-mana spell, if that is your intent. Thus, play this thing early, play control for a few turns and it will eventually resolve to your benefit. This theory has several holes. First of all, even assuming that this card can be played in that manner, the tactical energies of the game will turn to either killing you before this thing hits the stack, or a fight to win the upcoming war over its resolution, a fight that the opposing player will have an inherent advantage because you have already used one of your cards playing Ancestral Vision. So, while you are waiting for Ancestral Vision to hit the stack, your opponent can be amassing a wealth of counterspells, including Misdirection, to steal it from you. Second, defending yourself for four turns in Vintage is often the equivalent to winning the game anyway. Decks like Pitch Long, Meandeck Gifts, and Control Slaver will generally goldfish all over you by turn 3, let alone turn 5. By playing this card, you are going down a card – losing a resource from your arsenal – in some gambit that you will survive long enough to see the last time counter removed… a risky assumption indeed. Worse yet: even assuming you live to see the day that Ancestral Vision hits the stack, the wait for any other Ancestral Vision to resolve is going to be interminable. Even Control mirrors in Vintage don’t last much longer than turn 10. Look what can be done by turn 1 alone in an average hand by control decks in Vintage:

Mono U: Island, Mox, Mox, Ophidian
MDG: Island, Mox, Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall
Control Slaver: Mox, Mox, land, Thirst for Knowledge.

What good will a turn 5 Ancestral be in a format where plays like that are the norm?

It’s not simply that the first Ancestral Vision isn’t sufficiently powerful, but in a format where Control mirrors rarely run past turn 8 or 9, how can you expect to make use of additional Ancestral Visions?

At first glance, I foresaw Ancestral Vision as being some sort of new “Standstill” – which may still be the best or most apt comparison – but that is still pretty weak. In almost all situations that you would use Ancestral Vision, Brainstorm is much better. The three decks I could see people trying to fit Ancestral Vision into would be: Fish, mono-Blue (or some heavy Blue control variant), and Gro. People never give up trying to make Gro work. I think that Ancestral Vision will fail in Gro simply because the suspend is too great, but that won’t stop them from trying.

Ancient Grudge

Shatter plus Flashback Oxidize? This card will be a Vintage staple for some time to come. Rack and Ruin is one of the most played cards in Vintage. In fact, it may be the most frequently played Red card in the whole format – even more so than Goblin Welder and Red Elemental Blast. This card is, in many instances, just better.

Take Ichorid. Many people were excited to use Ray of Revelation in the Ichorid sideboard for the sole purpose of knocking out some annoying Oath of Druids. This card is much better! It is an auto-include in the Ichorid sideboard. Dredge up your deck, tap a land to flash this back and destroy any artifact on the table except the irritating Darksteel Colossus? Where do I sign up?

In a deck like Oath of Druids, you can flash it back after Oathing up twenty-plus cards to reveal Akroma. For those people still playing four-color Psychatog, this replaces Rack and Ruin in your sideboard. This card will probably be the most played card from the set for Vintage.

Angel’s Grace

This card is so close to being an uncounterable one-mana answer to Vintage combo, and yet so far away. Bottom line: it doesn’t stop Tendrils. You won’t die this turn, but as soon as the next turn rolls around, the game will notice that you have negative life and promptly conclude. The effect is nonetheless cute.

Chromatic Star

Now we get into another Vintage playable. Michael Simister, the creator of Vintage Two-Land Belcher combo, notoriously ran Mana Cylix in his Belcher list when he made Top 4 at the Vintage Championships in 2005. If he could have run this card, I’m sure he would have. This card is Chromatic Sphere 5-8. And that’s a very good thing. Speed combo loves the Chromatic Sphere effect. In my view, it probably replaces Darkwater Egg in Meandeck Tendrils combo. The only time you prefer Egg is in those situations where you have Mana Vault and it would simply be better to have both colors of mana immediately. The general case, however, is that you have plenty of one color of mana and you just want to turn your Ritual mana into a Blue.

The fact that you now have eight ways to efficiently transfer a colorless mana into a colored mana means that you can possibly broaden the number of colors you run in these decks. Perhaps Two-Land belcher can finally support Blue in a more stable way.

Also note that this card has some key differences with Chromatic Sphere. You won’t draw cards when this thing dies within a Yawgmoth’s Will turn or if you are under Leyline of the Void. However, there are upsides to Star as well: if you need to sac it to a Smokestack or something destroys it, you still get that card where you wouldn’t with Sphere.


Ironically, if they hadn’t removed the Time Counter off Time Vault as I requested in my article on power errata (co-authored by Rich Shay), this would combo quite well with Time Vault. Perhaps that’s why they agreed to change Time Vault for a third time this year – they knew that this card could create potential problems with Time Vault and they went ahead, under the guise of “removing the power errata” from Time Vault, when in fact that killed two birds with one stone. See also Jhoira’s Timebug

Curse of the Cabal

This is an interesting card. It’s an uncounterable Smokestack, of sorts. With Dark Ritual, Mox, you can get this thing out there. Two turns later, it will start eating away at your opponent’s permanents. Unfortunately, the fact that the card gets two suspend counters for every permanent that your opponent sacrifices makes it unplayable. Otherwise, it would be something akin to a weak Braids.

Demonic Collusion

It’s worse than Diabolic Tutor, not to mention Grim Tutor.

Flagstones of Trokair

If this thing didn’t come into play tapped, I would suggest it as a possibly viable card in Stax variants using Tundras and Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrublands[/author]. Some people have been testing Workshop variants using Jotun Grunt with Dark Confidant. A better version of this card could support that idea and provide a recurrable source of mana with Crucible of Worlds. Unfortunately, it’s just worse than fetchland.

Gemstone Caverns

So here it is, Unluckyman’s Paradise put to print. Unfortunately, this card sucks. It’s worse than Mox Diamond, a card that is played very rarely in Vintage. The two big strikes against this card design-wise are that it is legendary and that the land does nothing if you don’t have it in your opening hand. Tapping for a colorless is useless. If this land could have, at some price, tapped for a colored mana, or even for a single color of mana, then this card would be quite playable, even if legendary. Unfortunately, it’s a dud.


Storm returns to Vintage. Storm is, by far, the most powerful mechanic to ever enter the domain of Vintage. Mind’s Desire is the only card to be restricted before it ever saw play. Even Chrome Mox was allowed a three-month probationary period before getting the axe. Tendrils of Agony is the most played win condition in Vintage.

From a design standpoint, this card is very satisfying. It can be used in Timmy burn decks as well as Spike combo decks. Grapeshot is almost exactly ½ of Tendrils of Agony. It does have the damage at half the cost. Unfortunately, it is much harder to play twenty spells in a turn than ten, despite the fact that it only costs half as much mana. The second most frequently used storm kill card, until now, has been Brain Freeze (and Brain Freeze is arguably the most used kill card in Legacy). My only wish is that this card had been an Instant. It would have been very good. Instead, it’s only playable. I think this card will see play if only because Storm is so good. Half of Tendrils of Agony is still useful. I should note that this card can target creatures as well.

Ignite Memories

This card is too expensive for what it does in Vintage. Unless your opponent is holding Darksteel Colossus, you aren’t going to do very much damage with this even with half a dozen storm.

Kher Keep

Glimpse of Nature and Skullclamp have the potential and have had the potential to make Kobolds, as a deck, viable. Mark Trogdon, a Vintage player from Ohio that nearly made Top 8 at the Vintage championship, frequently piloted his Kobolds combo deck at the StarCityGames tournaments. The single biggest problem with this land is that it is a tap to make more Kobolds. If no tapping was involved, you could continuously generate as many Kobolds as you had the mana to make.

Krosan Grip

Finally, I get to talk about Split Second! Vintage is defined by a war over logical connectives: I have a card that says “Draw 3 cards.” You play Misdirection, I play Force of Will, you play Red Elemental Blast targeting the Force of Will. Split Second, as a mechanic directly disrupts that chain of connectives. There is no way to reconnect the chain when broken.

Krosan Grip is certainly playable in Vintage. The only drawback is the color.


Mindslaver in play. Announce Krosan Grip. There is no opportunity for your opponent to respond to activate Mindslaver. Tormod’s Crypt? Same result. Or what about this:

Your opponent has Goblin Welder in play along with Smokestack in play and a Smokestack in the graveyard. There are no other Moxen in play.

You have priority. You announce Krosan Grip targeting Smokestack. Your opponent can’t respond by welding out the Smokestack for the other Smokestack. You can knock out a Triskelion without your opponent being able to remove counters to ping you. Grip will definitely see play in Vintage, despite the additional cost. It might not see much play, but it will see play.

Locket of Yesterdays

I am skeptical of its utility in Vintage for one reason: Vintage is defined by restricted cards. To even include a card in a Vintage deck is a tremendous decision. To include a card that does absolutely nothing except help power our the second copy of an unrestricted card is far too weak to justify inclusion into a monster powered Vintage deck. The only deck that I can think of that is even predominantly playsets of any card is Meandeck Tendrils, and I still wouldn’t play this card. That said, this card may have a home in some Legacy combo deck.

In Vintage, a deck called “Sensei, Sensei” saw quite a bit of play. The idea was to make a control deck that used the three-card combo: Helm of Awakening, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Future Sight. Any two of those cards were a combo, but in tandem you drew your whole deck. Locket of Yesterdays provides similar options. Chromatic Spheres and Tops are free, so long as you have one in your graveyard. The next Accumulated Knowledge is a mana cheaper. The problem, in my view, is that the cost of including the card in your deck is simply too steep. It’s a nifty design and I hope that Wizards continues to think of cards in this vein, but it’s not ready to see play in Magic’s oldest format.

Lotus Bloom

This card got me excited when I saw the preview. I kept thinking: there must be away to abuse it. It was like Wizards was tantalizing us with goodies and treats, but when I got closer, I realized it was a shimmering mirage.

In trying to break it, I focused my thinking to trying to identify the conditions under which it would be abusable. There are only two potential uses of Lotus Bloom:

1) Play it from your hand

2) Get it into play from a different zone (graveyard or directly from Library)

A deck could possibly seek to do both, but let’s take a look at both conditions and see what opportunities and limitations are present

Playing Bloom from Hand

This could be part of a decks strategy or a sideboard tactic. For the former, it would suggest that the deck would be no faster than a turn 4 deck. This rules out all speed combo. This would make it either an aggro control, aggro, control, or prison card.

Playing Bloom From Other Zones

A deck that would do this can be of three sorts:

A) Playing it from hand via a card that bypasses "Playing." See Charmed Griffin, Copper Gnomes, Show and Tell.

B) Playing it from GY: Welder, Second Sunrise, Argivian Restoration, Bringer of the White Dawn, Salvaging Station combo, Trash for Treasure.

C) Playing it from Library: Tinker, Transmute Artifact, Arcum Dagsson (maybe with Myr), Reshape,

Assuming that the most broken way to abuse the card would be from this latter category, I couldn’t help but think of an old European deck idea using Transmute Artifact:

In the end, I was left with cards like Transmute Artifact and Reshape to abuse it. When left with those options, it became clear that abusing Bloom was futile. The first Lotus you are going to want to tutor up is going to be Black Lotus. Even after that, Lion’s Eye Diamond or Gilded Lotus is the next best Lotus.

As Kevin Cron said: Capitalizing on Lotus Bloom means making use of something other than just one or two of them… You need to be capitalizing on the fact that they will be in your opening hand. If that sucks, then your deck sucks.

Playing UU to tutor up a Lotus that can’t be replayed with Yawgmoth’s Will just isn’t that good. There are plenty of spells in Vintage that can get you that kind of mana advantage that don’t involve playing with so many weak cards. As for discarding it with Thirst to recur with Welder – the observation that Gilded Lotus is better is correct. Perhaps this card will see play in other formats, but not Vintage – unless I’m missing something.

Magus of the Candelabra

Ironically, this creature would be better as a 1/1 because you could more easily Clamp him. Candelabra of Tawnos sees no play in Vintage, although you can use this on Gaea’s Cradle and then Clamp him, I don’t think that makes him good enough simply because you’ll have to wait a turn to be able to use the effect. Cute, but not playable.

Magus of the Jar

Above all else, this is the card that elicited the most excitement from the Vintage community. Memory Jar is one of the most busted cards in the history of Magic. It was the only card ever to be emergency banned. Yet, here they not only printed a card that does almost the same thing as jar, but at the same cost. The fact that it can’t be Tinkered up or Dark Ritualed out is somewhat offset by the fact that it is Blue, and hence pitchable to Force of Will or Misdirection. What’s more, it isn’t affected by Null Rod and can block little creatures like True Believer and Meddling Mage. True, you can’t break it the turn it comes into play, but at least half of the time you wait until the upkeep after Jar came into play before breaking it so that you have an opportunity to untap and reuse all of your mana within the Jar.

The thought is that this card might have a home in a deck like Pitch Long or in a new design. Let’s analyze both of those possibilities. The fundamental problem with it being used in Pitch Long is that your primary mana accelerants are Rituals. Jar can be played off of two lands, a Dark Ritual and a Mox. With an eleven-land manabase, you are not likely to get more than two lands out, nor do you want to see more than two lands most of the time. Thus, you won’t be able to play this guy very easily. Unless you see a restricted Blue mana producer, you’ll need three lands to fuel a Ritual and the two Blue. That makes this guy too slow. You won’t even be using him until turn 4.

What about in another deck? The idea that most of the community came up with was Corpse Dancing this guy into play and then busting him. The problem with this is twofold. First, you are running a lot of bad cards to get him into the graveyard. That makes the deck worse than a combo deck like Pitch Long. Second, why not just Animate a Worldgorger Dragon and win the game?

If this guy were to have a safe home, it would probably be in a control deck like Meandeck Gifts that would slow the game down a bit and then play this bomb – much like it currently plays Gifts. But that would make the deck worse than Gifts. It’s too symmetrical, too vulnerable, and a sorcery speed spell.

I think what made me finally realize that this guy isn’t going to bust the format is the fact that Academy Rector sees virtually no play in Vintage. In combination with an easily found Cabal Therapy, Rector puts the most powerful card in Vintage directly into play: Yawgmoth’s Bargain. If Rector is considered too unwieldy or whatever, I see little hope for this guy. If this guy does see play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he does, it will be because he’s a 3/3 and Blue. My guess is that he’ll linger around Vintage, unused and unloved, until he finds some niche. I think he’s too objectively strong to never see play, but he doesn’t fit into the current Vintage metagame.

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy

Although he costs four, he might as well cost six or seven. If he has a home, it’s going to be in a Workshop deck as a win condition such as Five-Color Stax. Every Smokestack you play means you can find another. Every Tangle Wire finds another. Every Chalice. Every Sphere. And so on. He’s probably a bit too unwieldy to see play, but there are clear advantages. First, he’s not an artifact. That may seem ironic, but in a Shop deck, not being an artifact means you won’t die to Rack and Ruin or bounce to Hurkyl’s Recall. He also doesn’t turn off to Null Rod. I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of him, but he could show up every once in a while.


I think this card is really exciting for Legacy. Chris Pikula Dead Guy Ale deck could almost certainly take advantage of this nifty little spell. It may also show up in non-proxy European Suicide Black decks.


This card probably won’t see play, but it isn’t terrible. Free cards, especially free cards that can bounce Darksteel Colossus, have some utility. Something to remember down the line.

Spiketail Drakeling

Spiketail Hatchling saw a great deal of play in U/R Fish, a deck that was dominant in 2004. However, there is a steep difference between 1U and 1UU. This card could see some play down the line, but I doubt it. Nonetheless, it’s worth mentioning.

Sudden Death and Sudden Shock

These cards are uncounterable creature kill. Morphling, already non-existent, has yet another reason to stay out of this format. If Morphling ever becomes good again (or Psychatog), here are two reasons why it won’t remain good. In the days of the Keeper mirror, almost every deck ran Diabolic Edict as a way to remove Morphling. These may be better.


An uncounterable solution to Tendrils of Agony is a serious card for Vintage. Stifle already sees a marginal amount of play, and I expect this to follow suit. Welcome to Vintage, Trickbind. We’ll be seeing you for some time to come.


Triskelion is one of the most popular “bots” in Vintage. Since Mirrodin a wide swath of large artifact “robots” have become staples in the format: Sundering Titan, Triskelion, Pentavus, Darksteel Colossus, Karn, etc. Pentavus, falling from favor, was primarily used with Goblin Welder to generate infinite Mindslavers. Eventually it was decided that having a hard lock using Mindslaver was unnecessary and Pentavus has fallen into disuse. Triskelion, however, remains as popular as ever – pinging little Red goblins and fishies. The hybrid card, Triskelavus, is probably better than Pentavus, but won’t replace Triskelion. The free pinging on Trike is a big difference between the two. Nonetheless, wherever the Pentavus remains, this guy will probably replace him.

Wipe Away

An uncounterable solution to Darksteel Colossus. Not to mention that this can do the same thing as Krosan Grip in many circumstances: bouncing Tormod’s Crypt, Mindslaver, and even Worldgorger Dragon (mid combo loop) to dramatically change the course of Vintage games. The mere presence of this card, like Trickbind, will affect design in Vintage. Combo players will not be able to rely solely on countermagic, but must supplement their offense with cards like Duress and Xantid Swarm to protect against these Split Second answers. It will also change the nature of control matchups. Every time Meandeck Gifts plays Merchant Scroll while Tormod’s Crypt is on the table, the controller of the Crypt will have to decide whether to Crypt now or risk getting it bounced. Split Second will alter the way Vintage is played in some interesting ways.

In no particular order, here are the cards from Time Spiral that I think will have the most impact on Vintage:

1) Ancient Grudge
2) Chromatic Star

3) Trickbind
4) Wipe Away
5) Triskelavus

And then here are some cards that have serious potential, but aren’t assured a place in Vintage:

1) Magus of the Jar
2) Mishra
3) Grapeshot
4) Krosan Grip

All in all, Time Spiral is an exciting set. On the one hand, I don’t like to stifle innovation with what many will perceive as closed-minded or negative reviews. On the other hand, I rarely expect very much from new sets when it comes to Vintage. I am not one of those people who thinks that a set is bad unless it contributes to Vintage. That is not the appropriate measure of a set. In terms of flavor and excitement, Time Spiral is as good as it gets. Sure, it may not be a Mirrodin or Urza’s Saga, but Vintage players shouldn’t be asking for that. Vintage has, in its own way, found ways to integrate new cards into deck design without needing Wizards to design cards for it. That’s the beauty of Vintage – it’s the land of unintended, but carefully monitored, consequences. It’s a world in which unforeseen interactions play out in exciting ways. I am going to enjoy Time Spiral, with or without Vintage, and vice versa. And you should too.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian