Initial Thoughts on Time Spiral

After a dose of draft and a slice of Sealed deck, Nick delivers his preliminary verdict on the highs and lows of the new set. He theorizes that play skill is currently more important than deckbuilding considerations, and gives us a brief lowdown of each color’s strength for triple Time Spiral draft. Nick is practicing hard for Pro Tour: Kobe… expect future articles to break the format wide open!

It’s been a while, I know.

Before Time Spiral came out, I had the annual problem of having nothing to write about during the gap between sets. I decided I’d rather just wait than write about something I didn’t fancy, or something that probably wouldn’t be of the best quality simply due to lack of material. With Time Spiral proving to be an incredibly fun set, I’m excited to be writing again.

My experience with the new set thus far has been two days of prerelease Sealed Deck and eight drafts (as of this writing). While I feel like that probably puts me ahead of pretty much everyone but the Neutral Ground regulars as far as the learning curve goes, I still feel like I have a lot to learn before Pro Tour: Kobe if I want to do well. You see, while Time Spiral appears to be a simple set to draft after the monster that was RGD, there are plenty of nuances and things you can do to get an edge. This week I want to talk about some things I’ve learned in the first few days of drafting, and hopefully give you some insights to guide you in your drafts when the set is released.

Pay Attention
If there was a tip I could give to anyone who didn’t make it to the prerelease but was planning to draft TS when it hits the shelves, it’s this. I can’t tell you how many games I won at the prerelease because my opponent didn’t pay for Echo, walked into my subtle on-board trick, or walked into the same Flash card two games in a row.

While I can’t be entirely sure after only eight drafts, my initial suspicion is that the real edge in skill in this format is not going to come from draft picks, but from how you actually play the games. There are a million things going on at all times during the game, and if you are able to reduce it all down into something you can understand, and then form a gameplan, you are going to be far ahead of the other guy and tough to beat. Before I go any further, I want to explain why I think the slight differences in draft picks isn’t going to be as important as actual play skill. When I’m drafting this set, it reminds me of box drafts that we used to do when we got bored with a draft format, or just felt like doing something different. The thing I remember most about those box drafts is that you were always confronted with ridiculous packs where there may not even be a “correct” pick so to speak. Different picks will lead to different strategies, and the edge you gain from the pick can be diverted if you know how to follow up into a strong deck. My point is that when you’re deciding between Fireball, Wild Mongrel, Violent Eruption, and Fact or Fiction in the first pick of a box draft, any of those picks could potentially lead to a winning deck, and choosing the card that fits your style or game plan is usually just as correct as taking the overall best card in Fireball. A lot of similar situations have come up in Time Spiral for me so far.

Getting back to my point, I believe play skill is really what matters here. Not that it didn’t matter in RGD or CCC or any other previous format, but I felt that in those formats you could also gain a big edge by the choices you made during the draft, in situations where other players may make a misstep and end up with a pile of scraps for a deck.

It’s time for a lot of us to relearn what it means to play and think like a chess player. Every turn there are things going on that must be dealt with. Things like upkeeps on Suspend cards (though thankfully they aren’t optional, or my opponents never would’ve unsuspended a card), the usual end of turn effects that you don’t want to forget (like pinging someone or making a token), as well as deciding what spell to cast on a board that is usually complicated. When you take all of that, and then consider that you have to factor in the huge number of Flash cards with which your opponent could be waiting to ambush you, as well as what potential Morphs he could have, as well as what could happen if he has something with Split Second… you had better not be playing on auto pilot, or you’re as good as dead.

I made the mistake of turning on autopilot during one game of Sealed last Sunday, and it cost me a game that I’d never have lost had I just slowed down and thought things through. I’ve never been so far ahead on board and in hand only to walk into every trick my opponent threw at me and give the game away. Trust me when I say that this isn’t a good feeling when everything was easily avoidable. Most of you will probably have to make the same mistake on your own once or twice, and the best advice I can give is to just slow down. Before you attack on your turn, think everything through.

Another tidbit I can offer to support this point is a situation that Ben Peebles-Mundy told me about. He’d attacked with Clockwork Hydra and pinged his opponent’s 2/2, planning to finish it off with Shadow Guildmage. Normally this would be a fine plan, but before the Guildmage could think about activating, Sudden Shock killed it! Innocent as they may seem, the Split Second cards have a dramatic effect on “normal” situations, and should be given the respect they are due. The advice I can give you regarding this new class of cards is that it is important now to consider just doing things while your opponent is tapped out rather than waiting and giving him a chance to foil your plan. Sure, the general line of thinking is to save your removal and tricks as long as possible, but there are now plenty of reasons to reconsider that rule and just kill something immediately.

The Colors

I’ve heard plenty of talk already about their theories on the worst color in the set, and at this point I’m still unsure. Plenty of CMU guys endorse Green as the worst color, and other people I’ve talked to say that they love Green. Without doing enough drafts to have a definite answer at this point, I think the best thing I can do is go over my experiences with each of them to possibly give you a starting point for your own drafts.

If anyone is a skeptic of White in TS Draft, it’s me. The few times I’ve drafted it, I’ve ended up fighting multiple people for it and therefore failed to get a strong Rebel chain. I’ve drafted the W/R Flanking deck twice, and both times got crushed going 0-2 and 1-2 with decks that looked completely fine on paper. Temporal Isolation is awesome, and can be used to wreck combat tricks as well as being a strong Pacifism variant. So far, I’ve only seen White be amazing when someone had a lengthy Rebel chain or Sacred Mesa. I’m sure I’ll get flamed in the forums for saying all of this, but so far I’m not a believer.

As usual, Blue is a color I can get behind. All of the Morphs are spectacular. My favorite for sure is Fathom Seer, which you can easily abuse with bounce effects like Snapback or Dream Stalker. Blue also brings some of the top commons in the format, in Looter Il-Kor and Errant Ephemeron. The Ephemeron in particular deserves special mention because he dodges Strangling Soot and Rift Bolt. Overall, I’ve had the most success drafting U/R or U/B so far.

Strangling Soot is clearly the top dog here. That aside, I’ve become very partial to Dark Withering as I always have plenty of ways to Madness it. Trespasser Il-Vec and Urborg Syphon-Mage both help with this, as well as being good cards on their own. In general I’d also say that Dark Withering is better than Assassinate.

It seems that you should usually be playing either Red or Black in this format, since each of them has a large complement of removal. Red’s creatures aren’t so spectacular overall, but the color has been great for me in combination with Blue fliers and card drawing.

My advice from the few drafts I’ve been in Green is that you should be drafting with a five-color approach in mind. Greenseeker is by far the best Green common, as you can completely empty your deck of mana eventually as well as fix colors early on or trigger Madness. You also get Gemhide Sliver, Search for Tomorrow, Chromatic Star, and Prismatic Lens to fix your mana from the common slot. I’ve drafted multicolor Slivers twice with good results, and I have to say that the Fires of Yavimaya Sliver [Firewake Sliver – Craig] is awesome even though he looks rather weak.

General Thoughts

Suspend has been simply amazing for me. I’ve won so many games in both Draft and Sealed deck where I was stuck on three or four lands but still able to get my fatty into play on turn 6 while using my cheaper removal spells to stop my opponent’s threats. The simple fact of the matter is that early game mana is not nearly as important in Limited Magic and time, as a whole is less valuable than later mana. Suspending Ephemeron on turn 2 is usually game over in draft, and I have yet to lose after Suspending a turn 1 Durkwood Baloth in Sealed.

Another thing to keep an eye out for is that some of the Timeshifted cards combo in weird ways with the actual TS cards. Who would’ve thought that Academy Ruins would be ridiculous with Serrated Arrows? These types of things are subtle and you really need to be watching for crazy interactions during the draft, because they could make an obvious pick into a debatable one, or simply change the obvious pick to a card that you would usually never play.

These are my thoughts so far on the format, though I’m sure after a lot more drafting a lot of the specific ideas will change, and I’ll be sure to write that up when it happens. For now, I’m headed on an Eastern Caribbean cruise for a week. When I get back I plan on doing nothing but drafting until PT: Kobe, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty of interesting things to share with you guys.

Enjoy the new set.

Nick Eisel
Soooooo on MTGO
[email protected]