Today, I want to talk about just how easy it is to lose a game in Time Spiral Limited.
Not just any game, mind you, but one where it looks like you are completely dominating and can safely put yourself on autopilot. And therein lies your first mistake: turning on autopilot.
If there’s one piece of Limited advice I can give for this format, it’s to never let your guard down.
This is easily the swingiest Limited format in years (if not in the history of the game) and I’ve seen countless people start to rest on their laurels when they’re in the dominating position, only to flush the game straight down the toilet.
Before I get into the actual situations that I want to talk about today, I want to give you a perfect example of what I’m preaching. This one happened last weekend at the PTQ in Detroit in round one.
During game one my B/R opponent was somewhat stuck on lands, though I had to play Dream Stalker on turn 2 to hold off his Goblin Skycutter, since my draw wasn’t going to do anything for quite a while and I also had Strangling Soot in hand for his next threat. I drew Errant Ephemeron on the next turn and Suspended it, and my opponent still continued to just draw and pass the turn for a few turns after getting stuck at four lands.
A few turns down the road, he killed my Stalker with Skycutter and something else – which seemed more than fair to me – and my board now consisted of Basal Sliver and Skulking Knight with the Ephemeron down to one Suspend counter. He had hit five lands on the previous turn and hadn’t done anything, so I didn’t attack with Basal Sliver for fear of running it into a Drudge Reavers (this was Sealed Deck, after all). He took the Knight and I played Slipstream Serpent face-down.
At this point, I felt like there was absolutely no chance of me ever losing this game, with a dominating board position and Ephemeron also coming in next turn. And as I’m sure you’ve figured out already, I was very very wrong.
He drew his card, cast Conflagrate for one on my Skulking Knight and then flashed it back to kill Basal Sliver and my morph. I still felt like I was in the driver’s seat here. I hit him with Ephemeron and played another dork in Assembly Worker before passing the turn. On his turn he played Sengir Autocrat. That would seem like it didn’t matter at all, except that I failed to mention that he discarded Dread Return and Bogardan Hellkite to Conflagrate on the previous turn! I finally drew Red mana on my turn and Lightning Axed his Hellkite before trading Assembly Worker for Sengir Autocrat. He did nothing on his turn and then I drew my second Ephemeron and hard-cast it with Soot still in hand and a Soot in the Graveyard.
Then he cast another Dread Return from his hand on the Hellkite.
I think if you were watching this game, you just might’ve seen my jaw drop.
While this exact series of events is certainly rare, my point is that crazy things like this happen all of the time in this format and you just always have to be playing top-notch Magic. The flip side of this is that you should also never concede a game no matter how hopeless the board position looks, as I’ve seen some even more incredible comebacks than the one I just described.
What follows are some situations I’ve encountered recently where I lost the game due to a poor judgment call on my part. All of my plays are justifiable, but again, in this format the smallest thing can cost you a game and you need to constantly be re-examining your play if you want to do well.
Let’s set the stage: This example comes from the top 8 of a 2x event on Magic Online. We were still in the first round and in game three. I had tried to move into a Zombie archetype in the draft after getting two Undead Warchiefs early in pack one, but there just weren’t many Corpulent Corpses or Skulking Knights. For reference, here was the deck I ended up with:
- 2 Undead Warchief
- 1 Basal Sliver
- 1 Basalt Gargoyle
- 2 Cyclopean Giant
- 1 Flowstone Channeler
- 2 Ghostflame Sliver
- 1 Mana Skimmer
- 1 Nightshade Assassin
- 1 Sangrophage
- 1 Sedge Sliver
- 1 Skulking Knight
- 1 Thick-Skinned Goblin
- 1 Urborg Syphon-Mage
Not the worst deck ever, but I wasn’t overly excited about it.
My opponent in the first round was G/B/r, splashing for the activation on Thornscape Battlemage and the Flashback on Strangling Soot. Game one went really long and I saw most of his deck, which played an important role in this decision. We had split the first two games, and the play in question came on turn three of game three.
Score five points to anyone who said they’d need more information to correctly answer this question.
I won game two primarily on the back of Sedge Sliver with some help from its Ghostflame and Basal friends. His deck was filled with lots of fatties such as multiple Scarwood Treefolks and Durkwood Baloths, so Sedge Sliver was essentially my ace in the hole for this matchup. The cards he’d shown that could kill my Sedge in previous games were Strangling Soot and Sudden Death.
So knowing all of that, what would you do?
The only card that really worries me here is Strangling Soot. If he has another Swamp and Sudden Death it’s going to take care of my Sedge Sliver anyway, so the question is whether or not I play the Sedge Sliver into the possible Soot since it is such an important card in the matchup.
Let me say also that I think playing the Gargoyle is just awful, as I need to do something on the next turn and paying Echo is going to prevent that.
Without creating too much suspense here, I decided that if I passed the turn and did nothing that I would probably get smashed anyway since he would likely play a large guy on his turn and also have Totem online soon…. So I went for the Sedge and he had the Soot for it. As it turns out, his draw was actually really slow and had I waited a turn I am absolutely sure that I would’ve won this game. It helped too that a few draws later I had drawn both Basal and Ghostflame Sliver to help the Sedge out, but I couldn’t know that when making the play.
Given the information I had, what would you have done?
This is just one of many judgment calls that have caused me to lose a game in this format.
This time the details are a bit more sketchy. This situation also came up in a Sealed Deck PTQ where my opponent was U/G/r, splashing for Rift Bolt from what I’d seen. It was game two and I was up a game. He’d also shown two copies of Snapback in the first game, which were always on my mind.
My draw for this game was on the slower side and he started off with a Thallid Germinator which traded for my Ashcoat Bear. After that, he had Yavimaya Dryad and Savage Thallid, while my board was empty on turn four except for two Mountains and two Forests. At eighteen life, my hand contained a bunch of random 2/2 creatures and Penumbra Spider and Sulfurous Blast. I don’t remember my entire hand exactly, but I do remember that the only options for the best play were to play Spider or play Blast.
Again, as I said earlier, those two Snapbacks from game one were at the front of my mind… And I played the Blast in my attack step for two without really giving the Spider a chance. It’s very possible, however, that playing the Spider here was the better play as if he doesn’t have Snapback or decides to do something else on his turn (unlikely), then he will certainly overextend into the Blast and my Spider doesn’t even care about it. I also wanted to get the other random guys into play, and would certainly have to Blast before I could do that. Finally, he was tapped out for the Savage Thallid and therefore couldn’t even save it with a pump spell or something.
All in all, I think Blasting is probably right here, but this is another game that I would’ve won if I just made the risky play and played the Spider. He played Halberdier (on the splash?) and then two other cheap guys that would’ve died to Blast and he didn’t have the Snapback. As it happened, I had a hell of a lot of trouble dealing with the Halberdier and it ended up contributing greatly to me losing this game.
This is one of those gray areas where I’m not even sure what the percentage play is, since it hinges so much on what’s in my opponent’s hand.
This one I’m pretty annoyed with myself about, since it was the round before I could draw into top 8 if I won and my deck was insane. This is from game one, so I had zero information on his deck at all.
I wish I could remember the exact details more clearly, or had written down the game state after the match, but I failed to do so. In any case, I had Assassinate, Conflagrate, Assault/Battery, and Strangling Soot in my hand on the key turn, and enough mana to kill both of his dorks. I also had some guy of my own in play and another big guy to start the offensive once his side was clear.
I took a moment and thought about whether or not he could play something huge that I’d need to keep Assassinate for in those colors… And couldn’t really come up with anything. My plan then was to keep the more pro-active removal and use the Assassinate while I could actually find a tapped creature. Since I was planning on going on the offensive soon, I wanted to be able to clear the way for my guys, and Assassinate is not very good at doing this. So anyway, I used Assassinate and Assault / Battery on his guys when I should’ve used Soot instead of Assassinate just to be safe.
The funny thing was that my opponent also tried to throw the game away when I was at eleven by attacking with Overseer and Peregrine, and then casting Strength in Numbers to deal only ten. Had he kept the Peregrine back I could simply never win the game, and Overseer would kill me next turn anyway. But as it’s if fate itself was taunting me – since after attacking him, casting, and flashing back Conflagrate for my whole hand, I’d only be able to get him to one life.
It’d be nice if some of the little errors I make didn’t immediately cause me to lose while my opponents are allowed to make awful plays and still win. That’s Magic for you, though, and I blame only myself for losing in all of these situations.
At any rate, the point I want to make with this example is to always think things through completely. Part of the reason I think I used the Assassinate is because I really do not like the card and subconsciously was so happy to get a use out of it. But I didn’t step back and realize that I probably couldn’t lose this game unless he had something enormous. Had I done that, I would’ve saved it just in case and ended up winning this game. It didn’t help matters that I mulliganned to five in game two and got stuck on one land with Twisted Abomination in hand on the draw, but I was mainly annoyed with the fact that I should’ve won game one.
The point of all this is that Time Spiral Sealed is very volatile and you really have to be playing tight all of the time or you could just make a judgment call that costs you your whole tournament. Hopefully this proves helpful to anyone still planning to attend Sealed Deck PTQs.