From Right Field: Whither Time Spiral?

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Coldsnap is Constructed legal, and the DCI isn’t changing their minds. Ditto with the Timeshifted Time Spiral cards. I will embrace these unsavory ideas, and see what I can do with purple cards. The following are some ideas that I riffed on while in “the library.” Will any of them bear fruit? Who knows? It depends on what you do with them.

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget, or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Dark Confidant, Sacred Foundry, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks "set in stone" or "done." If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

This article almost didn’t happen.

Hold on. Let me try this again. I need more gravitas. More emotion. An edge. Imagine Don LaFontaine, the movie trailer voiceover guy, reading this:

“Mono-Blue Control: The bane of mages everywhere. On both sides of the table.

“Once, it was the King of Constructed. Now, the kingdom’s fallen into ruins.

“One man ventures forth to save the archetype. One man with the courage of his convictions. One man stupid enough to boldly go where others know better than to tread.

“He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘failure.’ Which is ironic, since he’s a writer.

“It’s also ironic because he’s failed again.”

A couple of weeks ago, as part of Quick Hits, Vol. IV, I put out a call for ways to make a good, cheap Mono-Blue Control deck. I figured that with Mana Leak, Rune Snag, Spell Snare, Repeal, Vedalken Plotter, Annex, and Confiscate, there had to be enough commons and uncommons to round the deck out.

I got many, many, many ideas. Add Infiltrator’s Magemark. It even makes Confiscated creatures nigh unblockable. Add Telling Time. The deck needs more card drawing. Add Perilous Research. The deck needs more card drawing. Drop your ban on rares and add a couple of Evacuations. The deck needs to be able to reset the board.

I tried them all, in one form or another. I tried more countermagic with a couple of Rewinds. I tried dropping Spell Snare (big mistake) since not everyone loaded up on the low end of the mana curve. (Yes, they do, actually.) I tried Peel from Reality (not enough creatures in my deck to make it useful), Exhaustion (didn’t seem to do much except waste a turn for both of us), and about sixteen other cards.

I couldn’t make it work. And I spent a lot of time – I mean, hours and hours and hours – trying to make it work.

So, I had a choice to make. Option one was that I could write about how the deck wasn’t working. There’s nothing wrong with an article like that. In fact, I think that people need to know what’s not working almost as much as they need to know what does work. I didn’t want to do that, though, because, unlike other non-working decks about which I’ve written, I really do believe that Cheap Mono-Blue Control can work right now. I just haven’t hit on the right formula. If I tell people it doesn’t work, I may stifle experimentation. I might also convince myself not to go back to it.

Option two was to tell Craig “I got nothing this week. Or, rather, I have something, and it’s worthless.” I wasn’t going to do that. Craig’s too good of a guy. I promised an article for every Tuesday, and I aim to please.

At the same time that I was working on Cheap Mono-Blue Control, I was, like everyone else, devouring and absorbing – yes, I’m half paramecium – everything that I could about Time Spiral. That’s also when I realized that, other than Green and Red, I hadn’t really even touched Coldsnap cards.

So, here I was without a decent article on the C-MUC deck and with a ton of Coldsnap I hadn’t even tried to use.

It doesn’t make much sense to some folks, but failure is often a great catalyst. Failure crushes some people. Others, it jump starts. Usually, in other aspects of my life, it crushes me. In my college days and through to my late twenties, for example, I was a relationship machine. Then a young lady crushed my soul, and I was pretty much without a relationship for several years before I met Luanne. (If you’re looking through my archives, now, you’ll see many mentions of women I went out with. Don’t confuse having a relationship with dating. To me, they really are different.) Same thing with jobs. On the creative side of life, though, it’s different. Failure energizes me. I want to look for answers. Why I can’t translate this to other parts of my life, I don’t know. Somewhere there’s a therapist who could get rich fixing that for me and then writing a book.

So, C-MUC fails, and I got to looking at Coldsnap and Time Spiral, the parts I know exist, anyway. It was the Friday night before the prerelease (Friday, October 22nd). The most recent SCG Writers’ MTGO Battle Royale was over for the night. (I’d been playtesting for States. I apologize for not supporting my local gunslingers.) I fired up the Official Online Database of Magic: The Gathering, the Gatherer. If you haven’t used this, you should. It is priceless.

When I brought it up, I noticed that Time Spiral was available. I found that velly intelestink, especially since the official word from the judges’ mailing list was that nothing would be made available to the general public until after the prereleases. I guess someone finally figured that it really was a good idea for the judges to be able to view the cards.

That was when I noticed an even more interesting option: Time Spiral Timeshifted cards. Of course, as one who trolls the internet for p0rn Magic information, I had heard of these cards. The speculation was rampant. I was sure of one thing, though. There was no way that these cards would be Constructed legal. Surely, that was why the purple expansion symbols were used. Judges would easily be able to spot illegal cards.

Also, look at some of the cards being reprinted. Why on earth would Akroma, Angel of Wrath, and Avatar of Woe (just to name two cards in the A-section of the list) be reprinted? They were so powerful that they almost overshadowed the other cards in their blocks the first time around. Well, Akroma, anyway. (Also, for the forum hounds, please, note the use of the word “almost.” I do know about Goblins. I also know that Arkoma and the decks in which she showed up often didn’t care about Goblins.) In today’s environment, Akroma would be even more of a wrecking ball than before.

No, the DCI wouldn’t make these legal. Would they?

Yes, they would.

I just don’t understand this decision. By all accounts, Time Spiral looks to be the beginning of the best non-multicolored block in years. Thus, I have this question for Wizards:

Why on earth would you spend all of the time and creative energy to create a set as awesome as Time Spiral and then make its legacy the fact that Akroma is legal for another two years? I just don’t get it.

I could scream that we need to rise up and declare that Timeshifted cards shouldn’t be legal, but it won’t matter.

On the Other Hand…

There’s a part of me that can’t wait to explore even more interactions. There’s a whole new 301-card set plus an additional 121 cards.

This ambivalence is what bothers me. I think it does, anyway. (Heh.) Part of me – the part that writes about budget decks – doesn’t want to see another group of cards that players have to try to get. Yes, Twisted Abomination will be easy to get. Akroma will still be expensive whether you get the original Legions version or the Timeshifted version. And what about the Blue Char, a.k.a. Psionic Blast? Ugh.

Speaking of Psionic Blast, I have to say that I don’t like how some of the Timseshifted cards mess with the color pie. I know that some folks want all colors to be able to do all things and do them well. Personally, I think that’s a lazy deckbuilder’s point of view. (Craig, you may want to set the sprinklers on the forums now. – Chris) Those are the folks that have a pet color. They want that color to be able to do all things so that they don’t have to do any heavy lifting when it comes to designing a deck. I mean, if Blue can kill creatures as well as bouncing permanents and countering spells, I can just play nothing but Blue! Sure, and why not just give Red the ability to destroy Enchantments and trade life? I may not agree with everything they’ve done with the color pie recently (though, off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything I disagree with wholeheartedly), but it’s a fantastic idea. No color should be able to do all things. Each color should have a hole in it. In addition, there are some things that each color shouldn’t do as well as other colors. That philosophy will keep the game more interesting and fresher than almost any other for a long, long time.

As for the cost of getting these cards, either the new or old versions… fortunately for me, I’ve been playing for a while now. Actually, eight years in November. I have four of most of those Timeshifted cards. Or, rather, my brother has them. In May, I sold him all of my non-Standard-legal cards as well as all of the Kamigawa Block stuff in anticipation of him starting his own store here in Knoxville. We need a place to play that’s closer to where we live, and that’s a huge untapped market in this town. I’m sure he’ll let me borrow them. I hope he does, anyway. They’re his cards now. He could just say no, couldn’t he? I’d better be nicer to him. I can’t afford to buy four more Akromas and four more Avatars of Woe. Neither can a lot of the newer players and many of the budget players.

Yes, I Would Like Some Cheese with My Whine

I’d better get used to it. Coldsnap is Constructed legal, and the DCI isn’t changing their minds. Ditto with the Timeshifted Time Spiral cards. I will embrace these unsavory ideas, and see what I can do with purple cards. The following are some ideas that I riffed on while in “the library.” Will any of them bear fruit? Who knows? It depends on what you do with them.

Coalition Victory – Believe it or not, the first thing I noticed was not Akroma or Avatar of Woe. Duh. Big, fat, wonderful creatures with evasion. No, the first thing I noticed was Coalition Victory. Play that with a Transguild Courier in play along with one of each basic land (Ravnica Block duals count, too!), and you just win the game. Period.

Auratog – I think this plays very well with Moldervine Cloak. It doesn’t suck with Hatching Plans, either.

Lightning Angel – Given the “ease” (as long as you can afford the $400 manabase) of playing three colors today, there’s no reason there can’t be an All-America R/W/U deck that uses this lovely lady. Lightning Helix and some of the other Boros cards along with countermagic, a couple of Izzet cards (Electrolyze?), a couple of Azorius spells (Overrule?), Faith’s Fetters, and Repeal add up to one solid deck. Don’t you agree? (You might also want to use Desolation Giant in this deck.)

Assault / Battery and Disintegrate – Add these two to Shock, Seal of Fire, Blaze, Fiery Temper, and Demonfire, and then ask yourself, do we have the makings of a mono-burn deck? You know, the kind that everyone tries to build when they first start Magic: twenty lands with forty burn spells. Those decks usually can’t keep up with an opponent who plays creatures, but we also get Browbeat back. Plus, there’s always Howling Mine. Hmm…

Lord of Atlantis – Remember back in my second volume of Quick Hits when I said that Lord of Atlantis should be a Merfolk in the same way that Goblin King was a now Goblin and Elvish Champion was now an Elf? You’re welcome.

Merfolk Assassin – And, if Merfolk decks become The Next Big Thing (again, if they do, you’re welcome), you’ll need this guy in the sideboard for the mirror match.

Wildfire Emissary – Protection from White? Protection from Faith’s Fetters, Glare of Subdual, Akroma, Master Decoy (checking to see if you’re paying attention), Devouring Light, and Condemn? Yeah, he’ll see play.

Call of the Herd – This card was nastiness squared when Odyssey debuted. With a Green-based deck that featured eight first-turn mana bugs (four Birds of Paradise and four Llanowar Elves), you had a better than even chance of getting a second-turn and third-turn 3/3 Elephant. I’d gladly go back to my G/R deck from back then. Twenty-two lands, eight mana bugs, Call of the Herd, probably Giant Solifuge, eight to ten burn spells, and possibly a fat, flying finisher should do the job. Oh, and don’t forget Skred!

Twisted Abomination, Undead Warchief, and Withered Wretch – What? No Rotlung Reanimator? No Cabal Archon? And where’s Oversold Cemetery and Unholy Grotto? Gee, I guess Wizards wanted us to work for our new Zombies deck just a bit. Here’s what I’ll be testing this week:

If you have Blood Crypts, I wholly endorse using them since (a) the Rakdos Guildmage can use Red mana and (b) Twisted Abomination – oh, this tickles me to no end – can grab a Blood Crypt when you Swampcycle it.

So far in testing this, my favorite play was a fifth turn 5/4 Gravedigger for three mana that brought back a Rakdos Guildmage that had been killed by my opponent. Oh, right. You’re wondering how you get a 5/4 Gravedigger for three mana. By casting a third turn Lord of the Undead and a fourth turn Undead Warchief. The reason I was so tickled by this play was that I then got to cast a 5/4 Rakdos Guildmage. Sick.

Nicol Bolas – As this card rotates into Standard, we’ll be losing a bunch of Dragon Legends from Kamigawa Block. My question is this. If people were willing to pay six mana for 5/5 Dragon Legends with great abilities, will they be willing to pay eight mana for a 7/7 Dragon Legend with a great ability? I think they will. They ability, of course, screams control. Luckily, so do the colors of Nicol Bolas: Red, Black, and Blue. Heck, you might even play Shadow Guildmage with him.

Ovinomancer – Kills Akroma. I’m just saying…

Resurrection – Let me get this straight. First, playing White and Black together just isn’t a mana issue anymore because we have Caves of Koilos, Godless Shrine, and the Orzhov Signet. Second, we’ve already got Zombify and Vigor Mortis in Standard. Now, Timeshifted Time Spiral gives us back this goodie along with Dread Return in the “regular” Time Spiral? Does anyone else smell a really strong Reanimator deck?

Tormod’s Crypt – … Or not … Most likely, this card was reprinted so that The DCI wouldn’t have to ban Ichorid in Extended. People can keep playing that deck. Opponents have just been given a nice tool to combat it. However, it will also have the (unintended?) consequence of hosing what could have been (yes, after one paragraph, I’m already writing them off) some really great Reanimator decks.

Spike Feeder – Is this card good with the Graft Gang from Dissension? I dunno. I’m just asking.

Witch Hunter – Normally, a creature like Akroma (just hold on; I’m getting there) is found only in control decks. When something is so hard to cast, you don’t plan on dropping it as soon as you can for fear of removal. Of course, Akroma doesn’t have the same problems as many other finishers. She doesn’t have to worry about a whole lot of the usual suspects (i.e. Black and Red removal) touching her. Yes, Cruel Edict can get her if she’s the only creature on board. There’s also Plague Wind, but who uses that? Red could run Flowstone Slide, but if you have enough mana for the Slide to kill Akroma, you should just cast Blaze. This is what makes Akroma unique. She can be used equally effectively in aggro or control decks. If you go the Mono-White Control route, consider Witch Hunter for the deck. Witch Hunter can keep at bay opposing creatures that could cause problems until you get Wrath of God. Then, of course, you let them stick. Witch Hunter is also the new (old?) Waterfront Bouncer for a U/W Control deck, without the card disadvantage that the Bouncer required.

Grinning Totem – I used to run Grinning Totem along with Bribery to take cards that I couldn’t afford to own myself. Often, Bribery would grab the finisher, but Grinning Totem would take Rishadan Port. Take that, you Port-wielding rich guy! Today, with all of the colors that decks are running, the Totem should be able to grab something useful for you. At worst, you get to see your opponent’s deck and take a land. Make it a good land, though, mmmm-kay?

Craw Giant – Lordy, lordy, do I want to play Lure on this thing.

Stormbind – Plus Fiery Temper equals five damage for three mana plus one card. If I remember algebra, both sides of an equation are supposed to be equal, but that just doesn’t look fair to the other guy at all.

Faceless Butcher – A couple of years ago, I wrote about a pretty powerful and cheap deck that ran the Butcher with Nantuko Husk, Fallen Angel, and Phyrexian Plaguelord. The key was – as many of you already know – the Butcher’s abilities could be stacked so that the removed-from-play creature never came back. With its comes-into-play ability on the stack, you sacrificed the Faceless Butcher to something. That would put its leaves-play ability on the stack on top of the CIP ability. Thus, its leaves-play ability would resolve first. With nothing removed from the game, nothing came back. Then, the CIP ability removed something from the game forever. Bring back the Butcher (say with Oversold Cemetery), lather, rinse, repeat. The Angel and Plaguelord are gone. However, we still have the Husk who is joined by Plagued Rusalka and some other lesser lights. I can’t wait to use him again.

Pirate Ship and Prodigal Sorcerer – If you’re like me (and if you are, I pray for you), you had a deck once that sat behind pingers like Tim (the Prodigal Sorcerer), Rootwater Hunter, and the other Blue tap-to-deal-one-damage guys. Of course, it lost to Tremor, which is a sign that your deck needs some serious work, but it was fun, right? You should try that again, but, this time, do it in Standard.

The Rack – Yeah! We can still playing Owling Mine after Kamigawa Block rotates out! Yeah!

Like I said, I’m just riffing here. This isn’t a complete set review. Heck, the thing’s just a couple packs shy of Coldsnap, and the Timeshifted cards are only a freakin’ subset. Besides, there are some cards that are just obviously good without being the kind of card around which you build a deck. Psionic Blast, for example, is a Blue Char. Or is Char the Red Psionic Blast? Either way, P-Blast is awesome, no matter what deck it’s in. Ditto for Shadowmage Infiltrator. Others, like Mystic Snake and Mystic Enforcer, simply slide into existing decks.

Then, of course, there are the ones that I’m going to try to build decks in the coming weeks. I know that everyone’s gonna chime in with their own Sliver decks. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t. With Disenchant, Defiant Vanguard, and Soltari Priest being reprinted along with the new Instant-timed, uncounterable, Crusade on a stick, Celestial Crusader, you better believe I’ll be back on White Weenie like, um, white on rice.

In the meantime, ponder this: unlike Crusade and even Glorious Anthem, Bad Moon is splashable.

Chris Romeo