Reflections on Time Spiral Draft

With a few more matches under his Magical belt, Josh feels he has a fine preliminary grasp of the evolving format. Today’s article sees him dissect the power commons for each color of Time Spiral, and rank the colors in order of power and depth. He also touches on possible strong color combinations; invaluable information for those looking to ace their PTQ Top 8 Drafts this weekend.

For my articles these last two weeks, I’ve given a general overview (and then a more specific look) at what the triple Time Spiral draft format might look like from my very brief experience with the cards. All of this is leading up to a qualifier season for Switzerland, and a Pro Tour in Kobe, and a bunch of Grand Prix tournaments. I know that the applications and implications of Time Spiral are huge for Constructed, for both States and Worlds; even something as simple as the fact that the format is changing from a stale-ish quagmire faux-reinvigorated by Coldsnap (actually, Coldsnap just made it a different kind of boring).

The point is that these articles are relevant, if abundant.

Assuming you waited until 12:01am to read this (as I assume you do, as any loyal fan would), your first Time Spiral PTQ might very well possibly be just a day away, and that is obviously quite exciting. I know I’m excited. Time Spiral seems like such an awesome set to play, although it might simply be the thrill of PTQing in general. Somehow, something I hated for eight years is now thrilling. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m expecting good things.

Avid draft fans and PTQ players alike are aiming, for the most part, to win… and to win a Sealed PTQ you must also win an 8-man draft pod. Often, this draft pod highlights some of the better, more consistent players in your tournament; usually a few of the “just lucky” players make an appearance, though they hardly ever last long. But yes, to win a PTQ you must also win a draft, and thus, this article is about draft archetypes.

First, if you don’t mind, we should revisit the colors.

My initial estimation put Blue ahead of White, Green ahead of Black, and finally Red.

After more testing, experience, drafting, and conversation on the format at hand, I am here to tell you all that I am a genius. You already knew that, of course… but I think I got it pretty close to right.

It should be noted before we go any further that, when discussing colors in relation to Limited formats, the common cards are the only ones that really matter. You’ll play with them more often, have more of them in your deck, and generally encounter them regularly. I will never consider uncommons for color-generalities, and rares are obviously out. That is not to say that uncommons and rares do not affect Limited games, just that they are too inconsistent – you can’t rely on getting them in an average draft – and therefore they should not be a consideration.

I saw all of your forum discussion on my last article, but my spare time is always fleeting and so I was unable to respond, but I’d like to talk about the color Blue.


Looter Il-Kor, Crookclaw Transmuter, Coral Trickster, Cancel, Drifter Il-Dal, Errant Ephemeron, Fathom Seer, Ophidian Eye, Snapback, Slipstream Serpent, Tolarian Sentinel, Think Twice, Temporal Eddy… (Honorable mention goes to Viscerid Deepwalker who largely sucks, but has positive effects on storm count and isn’t completely unplayable. Still, that’s 13 (or 14, counting Deepwalker) decent commons.

It isn’t that the cards are just playable. It’s not like Green, where you are defining playables as Grizzly Bears with “abilities” (hello, flash bear!). These are actively good cards. They do something. Some more than others, but that is always the case. Pick orders will reflect that. If your deck is primarily Blue you will be pretty well set-up to do just about anything. Pair it with Green to add a bunch of evasion, card draw, bounce, morphs, etc. Pair it with White to create the ubiquitous Blue/White flying archetype; flyers kill your opponent, while non-flyers make sure you don’t die… all fairly simple.

Because the color is so good and deep you will find what you need no matter what color the other half of the deck is; no matter how large [or small] the compliment may be. Do be careful with the morphs though, some of them don’t like not having any islands.


Amrou Scout, Amrou Seekers, Benalish Cavalry, Castle Raptors, Cloudchaser Kestrel, D’Avenant Healer, Errant Doomsayers, Flickering Spirit, Fortify, Icatian Crier, Temporal Isolation, Zealot Il-Vec.

(Plus Pentarch Ward, Momentary Blink, Ivory Giant, Gaze of Justice, Watcher Sliver, and Jedit’s Dragoons.)

Twelve cards, and six cards that have a lot of restrictions but are still playable. Momentary Blink is something I wouldn’t run without Blue; Ivory Giant I wouldn’t run if I was not mono-White; Gaze of Justice has a similar heavy-White requirement; Watcher Sliver is dangerously helpful to your opponent, and it’s a four-drop, neither of which make it very appealing… though it is playable if you need some defenders for your flying creatures to finish the job. Pentarch Ward might be better than I’m giving it credit for, but it seems like a narrow opportunity for card advantage (virtual and actual). I think it’s a sideboard card, or I’d maindeck it in a deck with enough good utility creatures. I’d play Jedit’s Dragoons in just about any deck, but probably not in large quantities; it seems like a fine way to win a race and is a good defending creature, but it is by no means awesome.

With anywhere from 13-18 playables, White might be deeper than Blue, depending on what you’re doing. It could also be argued that it is the better color, as there is not really any shortage of quality in these cards. The cards are all very efficient – it is difficult to quantify the value of Errant Doomsayer’s effect, or Icatian Crier’s, but granting the fact that they feed your rebel chain and are quite well endowed in the ability department (even if a little expensive) I grant them reprieve. The same goes for Amrou Scout, who, as a 2/1 for two would be played but not celebrated. Instead, thanks to his ability, he is the Michael Bolton of Time Spiral. Besides the Rebels, which are quite alluring and a reason for White’s awesomeness, the color is saturated with efficient fliers. You have your traditional Pacifism effect, and a combat trick thrown in for good measure, in Temporal Isolation. White is very versatile and pairs well with all the other colors, though I might suggest not pairing it with Green because I do believe your decks will be torn for focus and direction, and you’ll end up wasting a lot of picks that could better be spent protecting yourself through hate-drafts. Also of note: this color seems to serve better as a base, because I think it is rather hard to splash a rebel chain.


And then we have Green…

I’ve heard a range of remarks regarding Green, anywhere from “rubbish” (I’m out of R words now) to the best color. I think it is solidly in the middle. I don’t love it, and I don’t hate it. It isn’t the strongest, or the weakest. It has its strengths and weaknesses, it’s deep enough to be a base color, and it provides something no other color can really provide (mana-fixing).

Let’s do this again:

Ashcoat Bear, Durkwood Baloth, Gemhide Sliver, Greenseeker, Havenwood Wurm, Herd Gnarr, Nantuko Shaman, Penumbra Spider, Scarwood Treefolk, Search for Tomorrow, Spinneret Sliver, Strength in Numbers, Wormwood Dryad.

(Plus Savage Thallid, Thallid Germinator, Thallid Shell-Dweller.)

With 13-16 playables, the depth is there. The quality? Not so much. There’s nothing wrong with Grizzly Bears – there are no Horned Turtles in this format (they plagued 888 and 999 drafts, where 2/2s fell out of fashion) – but I don’t really want them in my deck. On the other hand, Gemhide Sliver is easily one of the bets commons in the set, and will be drafted by sliver players and non-sliver players alike; mana ramp and fixing in one card, potentially boosting your other slivers (should you have any) to power out bigger spells (should you have any…). Ins, outs, what-have-yous; Green has a lot of question marks.

Thallids vary in playability and value based on how many you have, and how many uncommon and rare fungus cards you have. Thelon of Havenwood and Sporesower Thallid are the two you really need. If you get one or both, or multiples of either, you should be picking Thallids highly, trying to accumulate as many as possible because, as you can see, they become stronger in multiples.

Yada yada, standard deal; big creatures, small creatures, faux big creatures (Herd Gnarr), a combat trick that gives trample (very good!) but is harder to use (not so good!)… still, it’s good. Overall, Green is just average. Its mana-fixing is excellent (Greenseeker, Search for Tomorrow, and Gemhide Sliver). You can easily go four or five colors if you want to, and you can easily support a lot of slivers if you want to – or have a reason to. Still, I don’t love it.


Red pairs with any color, because any color would want removal. Some of Red’s removal is double-Red, which sucks, because I can easily see a mono-colored deck wanting something like five good Red cards to take it over the top, but if those are RR its mana will go to sh…will be worse.

Burning Blade Askari, Bonesplitter Sliver, Coal Stoker, Flamecore Elemental, Flowstone Channeler, Goblin Skycutter, Grapeshot, Ironclaw Buzzriders, Lightning Axe, Mogg War-Marshall, Orcish Cannonade, Rift Bolt, Subterranean Shambler, Viashino Bladescout.

(Aetherflame Wall, Empty the Warrens)

A lot of these cards suck. In fact, if you have too many of these in your deck, your deck will just be bad. Still, these are the playables; I’m not even going to count. The non-removal cards, though, are quite average to mediocre. The Flowstone Channeler is good, the Flank-Knight is good, and Flamecore Elemental is okay or good, if you need something like that. Bonesplitter Sliver is good, Subterranean Shambler is good in the right deck… it’s the same with a lot of these cards. Most of the time, if you got into Red it was for a Rare, Purple, Silver, or removal spell. Hope to focus on those cards if you are drafting this color.

Last, but not least…


Assassinate, Corpulent Corpse, Dark Withering, Deathspore Thallid, Drudge Reavers, Feebleness, Mana Skimmer, Mindstab, Pit Keeper, Psychotic Episode, Skulking Knight, Strangling Soot, Tendrils of Corruption, Trespasser il-Vec, Urborg Syphon Mage, Viscid Lemures

Maybe Black is better than Red. They are very similar. Mediocre guys, good removal. They can be combined to create a very removal-heavy deck; if you do this (and you can, easily), you should focus on getting high power-to-cost ratio from your creatures (Bonesplitter Sliver and Cyclopean Giant becomes playable, various 3/1s for three… etc). Black is home to maybe the best outright common in the set, Strangling Soot; but you probably won’t get passed a lot of these. If you’re either one of the colors and find one of these, that’s a pretty good reason to splash the other color. It’s quite good. The other removal in Black isn’t bad, though. Various Dark Banishings with various restrictions or abilities… it’s what you’d expect, maybe even a little more. However, without creature support it’s difficult to justify a large commitment. There isn’t much to say.

I think, overall, the set is very good for drafting, though perhaps slanted slightly towards favoring worse drafters – despite what I’ve said in the past two weeks – because of the depth that does indeed exist. A lot of players will end up with enough playables even if their draft was blown. Some players lament this, and I do believe they concede it is difficult to avoid without weakening the set.

I think you can draft just about any color combination with success. Green/White might not be the best idea, but your deck will still be playable. I think off-color drafting is absolutely viable; archetypes like Black/White control – not so much aggro, because your mana costs will get out of hand (double-White and Tendrils of Corruption) – mean you still play the cards, but you just can’t expect to attack with them on turn 4. I think as more events take place and people get to play more and more often with the cards, they’ll find the format to be challenging, in the sense that picks can be difficult and purple cards make it even harder (especially when nearly every common is good) – and that it is of course, most importantly, fun.

What could be more fun than playing with reprints and old mechanics?

Good luck at your PTQs tomorrow; see you next week.

Josh Ravitz