Removed From Game – Rotation Retrospective 3: Timeshifted

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Wednesday, September 17th – Let’s be honest, you only had to be at the Time Spiral Pre-Release without knowing the big surprise to see the Timeshifted set as a home run. Jaws dropped, arms flailed wildly, dealer tables went potty, and one of the hardest demographics on planet Earth to actually flat-out impress were gobsmacked. But what impact did the Timeshifted 121 have over the following two years? Rich is here to tell you, and give you his list of cards that are more keep than keepsake.

We’re roundabout the halfway mark in our in-depth look at the last two years of Magic, and specifically the sets that are Rotating out of Standard. Still to come we’ll look at Planar Chaos and Future Sight, but before that we have some unfinished business left over from Time Spiral, the bonus 121 cards in the Timeshifted set. It’s no secret that there are some extremely unexciting cards in this lot, with Squire being the card most often picked on as being synonymous with ‘waste of space,’ but even Squire did what it was, presumably, meant to achieve, which was to remind everyone who remembers Ago that it wasn’t always a land of milk and honey. Still, for every Squire and Consecrate Land there were a bunch of cards that were certainly powerful in their own time. Would they survive the brave new world of 2006-2008? Let’s find out.


No prizes for spotting the big noise here, Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Yes, she still cost twelvety billion mana, and yes, she was still useful. Dread Return found her to be a juicy target, and, just as she always did, she ended games in short order. Throughout her tenure in Standard this time around, she’s been at least on shortlists for inclusion. The other White card to mention is Sacred Mesa, a card that brought back memories of Caribou Range, Thawing Glaciers and, come to that, Bitterblossom, as a card that you basically sat behind and watched it win for you over a very, very long time. Initial examples of Blue-White control decks during the tail-end of 2006 found this in plenty of maindecks, and a ton of Sideboards, as disposable 1/1s turned out to be a pretty decent speedbump against Aggro. As the Block season developed however, the Mesa gradually fell from favor, and became comprehensively marginalised, as White faded as the color of choice to pair up with Blue in Control decks, replaced by black with its Damnation, Urborg, and, subsequently in Standard, Bitterblossom.


A card that has cult status in my circle of friends is Merfolk Of The Pearl Trident. I’m not entirely sure why this should be, but there’s something mighty wholesome about a 1/1 for one mana with precisely no abilities. And of course it’s exactly the kind of card that gets helped out by Lord Of Atlantis, a guy who surely ought to be Legendary, but isn’t. Even so, the possibility of getting multiples into play didn’t promote Merfolk to the front of the queue until quite late in the day. There had been a couple of mono-Blue Aggro decks floating around Block, but these mostly revolved around a turn 1 creature backed up by Unstable Mutation, rather than a tribal-based Merfolk strategy. For that, we had to wait for Pro Tour: Hollywood, where German Jan Ruess made it all the way to the final, where Elves and Charles Gindy (though not necessarily in that order) got the better of him. Even in the dying weeks of the season, the Merfolk have continued to put in decent finishes, with two decks making the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Copenhagen last month, including a Blue-Green variant from Italian National Champion William Cavaglieri.

The next card was essentially the poster child for the whole idea of the Timeshifted set. Psionic Blast came from a time where the color wheel was infinitely less defined and subtle than it is now, and so the idea of Blue getting what we now think of as Char seemed perfectly sensible. Of course, in flavor terms it absolutely is sensible. How come Blue doesn’t get to frost people to death, or think people to death? Because Blue gets to say ‘no’ and draw cards, and if Counter Burn was mono-Blue rather than mucking around with pesky Mountains, it would be time to close the curtains, because we’d be done. Thematically then, Blue burn was fine, but in terms of the balance of gameplay, not so much. That’s the background to why there was so much consternation when Psionic Blast was found lurking in Time Spiral boosters. Surely this was definitive proof that R&D were determined that Blue should hold dominion forever and ever Amen. The reality was somewhat different. When Erhnam Djinn returned from a significant hiatus, and Serra Angel similarly, the hype machine lauded them both as significant returns. They weren’t. Magic had moved on, and it turned out that neither the 4/5 nor the 4/4 had enough chops to get it done in a new environment. The story with Psionic Blast is a little different. The card was still good this time around. The problem was that it never really had a deck to go in, and that’s a situation that has occurred in Magic more often than you might imagine, a Good Card with Nowhere To Go. Re-release it in another setting a few years down the line, and Psionic Blast might once again cause players to have their head in their hands as Blue is gifted the final piece of the puzzle. This time around, the Blast was a Bust.

Two more Blue spells to mention before we move on. One of my all-time favorites was Whispers Of The Muse, and I was desperate to try out the whole six mana end of turn experience once again. It turned out though that although six mana was frequently available at end of turn, Control players were busy doing other things, like charging their Dreadship Reef, casting Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, or casting Mystical Teachings. With Ancestral Vision and Careful Consideration and Think Twice, even with Buyback the Whispers couldn’t find a home, putting it somewhere between the Psionic Blast (good, but no home) and Erhnam Djinn (just not good anymore.) Last, but in irritation terms definitely not least, is Willbender. The Pickles decks were tremendously irritating to play against, as you really had to work hard to try and work out what was lurking under all the morphs, and an elaborate game-within-a-game grew up as you tried to deduce what order your opponent would throw out his bait, hoping to get you to Rift Bolt the ‘wrong’ guy. To find that you’d picked the ‘right’ one, but that it didn’t matter anyway as Willbender showed its face and sent your burn spell packing in the most inconvenient fashion imaginable… yes, Willbender is a card I could have done without.


Black had a couple of cards to note, neither of which existed in the mainstream. Stupor was a nice reprint, and allowed the TarmoRack Green-Black decks another decent discard spell. TarmoRack was never truly Tier 1, although Marco Orsini-Jones used it to qualify for Worlds 2007 out of the Great Britain Nationals, and Stan van der Velden monstered his way through Day 1 of Grand Prix: Copenhagen with it. One small note for newer players — with a card like this (choosing a card at random) it’s always a good idea to roll a die to choose the card. If you’re Stuporing your opponent, it guarantees that there can’t be any kind of sleight of hand as the random discard is sitting face down on the table where it can’t be exchanged at the last minute for something less critical. If you’re being Stupored, this method also guarantees that your opponent can’t spot a mark on one of your cards, or get a read on what you might be holding (some people hold all their lands on the left, spells on the right for example) and thus you pretty much guarantee a genuinely random discard. The other Black card to mention is Withered Wretch. A 2/2 for 2? Hardly why it got a look-in, which was all down to its ability to remove cards from a graveyard multiple times at instant speed. I don’t want to overemphasise the usefulness of this, since Dredge didn’t exactly fold at the sight of it, but it was another piece of the long-standing ‘what do we do about Dredge?’ discussion.


Darwin Kastle came back with a vengeance, as the excellent Avalanche Riders returned to Standard, every bit as fun and good as first time around. This time they found a willing and symbiotic partner in Momentary Blink, and although Blink Riders wasn’t a deck that achieved massive popularity in terms of the actual number of decks in any given tournament, having the Riders around meant deckbuilding options of interest. I mentioned last week that Tomaharu Saitou won Grand Prix: Strasbourg with a mono-Red deck that included Greater Gargadon. And Browbeat. This simply screams Wrong, since it offends so many principles of good deckbuilding. For a start, Lava Axe is rubbish. I know it costs less than Lava Axe, but it’s hardly super-cheap. It can’t deal with opposing monsters. It gives your opponent a choice, and unlike Fact Or Fiction, where you could reasonably expect them to make the wrong choice as often as not, the choice with Browbeat was usually about simple math (how much damage can I expect to take from the cards he draws instead, and over what period, and will I have won before he can make use of them anyway?). Plus, Browbeat was rubbish the first time around. Come to think of it, the entire Punisher mechanic was rubbish first time around (not a bad thing to have in the game, just a bad thing to be playing with). So how on Earth did Browbeat suddenly become good? Like any deckbuilding lesson, this was all about context, or finding a Home for the card. In this case, the Red decks opened up fast. They didn’t have a huge amount of built-in card advantage, in the way that Red decks sometimes do with Earthquakes or Pyroclasms or whatever, but they did have late game, whether it was through a 9/7 Gargadon, or a timely Word Of Seizing, or repeated Magus Of The Scroll activations. What that meant for opposing decks is that dropping from 13 down to 8 life, while the Red deck still had mana open to do more stuff on its turn, wasn’t a straightforward ‘sure, take 5’ any more. The obvious choice had been removed, and suddenly, as Saitou showed, one of the poorer cards was suddenly a critical part of a Grand Prix-winning deck.

When it comes to winning it’s hard to look beyond Dragonstorm as almost certainly the most important reprint of the set. Even during the lull months when it wasn’t dominating Magic Online queues, winning Makahito Mihara a World Championship or nearly doing the same for Patrick Chapin and Gabriel Nassif a year later, Dragonstorm was right at the top of the list of cards you needed to be able to deal with if you were serious about winning your next tournament. Bizarrely, given that I’ve just spouted buckets about Browbeat of all things, that’s all I want to say about Dragonstorm. Outstanding across formats galore, a total rush to play, simple, elegant, crushingly powerful, and probably not coming back ever again, given R&Ds confirmed unexcitement about Storm in general. A card to look back on in a decade and more and say ‘I was there for the Dragonstorm era.’

One more before we move on, a Domain reprint, Tribal Flames. With lands that were truly Duals in the sense of counting as two types of basic land, it was possible to achieve the full house of Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, Forest as early as turn 3. That was the kind of speed that Raphael Levy was looking for as he won back-to-back Grand Prix in early 2007 with Gaea’s Might Get There, just about the definition of Extended crucifying speed and aggression.


Call Of The Herd was one of the splashier reprints, and subsequently one of the more disappointing. Currently the foil giveaway on the Grand Prix circuit, what looked like it still ought to have what it takes basically didn’t. It appeared in the Blue-Green decks around Ohran Viper, Plaxmanta and the like, but that was short-lived. Am I having a mental aberration? I truly can’t think of when else I’ve seen the repeatable 3/3 in the last two years. One card that I definitely have seen repeatedly has been Wall Of Roots. Fitting the curve ideally after a one-drop Suspended Search For Tomorrow, the Turn 2 Wall has been a staple of Mana Ramp decks throughout. That five toughness was huge, both figuratively and literally (or even literally figuratively) and frequently required two spells to finish it, by which time they were more worried about your Spectral Force smashing them about the head.


Fiery Justice isn’t a card that you would immediately have expected to come to prominence, and as usual, that came about by someone working out how to make a virtue out of a vice. In this case, that meant actively wanting your opponent to gain life, and that meant Kavu Predator, of whom more later. Lightning Angel was never the world’s biggest flyer, but with Vigilance and Haste it was enough to see Tiago Chan in the Top 8 of Worlds 2006. The chief value of Mystic Snake was that more or less nobody played with him, so if you did happen to run into him you were pretty much guaranteed to be surprised by it. The snake, so powerful first time around, did eventually find a home in the Wild Pair sliver decks since, despite not being a sliver, it could act as a constant counter.

The big story around Shadowmage Infiltrator was the story of the real Shadowmage Infiltrator Jon Finkel, who of course won Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur. As for the card, with so many Blue-Black decks around since the arrival of Bitterblossom it was inevitable that plenty would try it out. Success has mostly been about what removal opponents were packing. Nameless Inversion got the job done most efficiently, Slaughter Pact and Terror didn’t. A card perfectly balanced on the edge of inclusion in the finest decks. You couldn’t say that about Stormbind, which had its day in the sun during the Block Pro Tour: Yokohama, and hasn’t really been seen since. Another card with a tenuous hold on usefulness was Teferi’s Moat. Coming out of Sideboards, the Moat was the kind of card that made your opponent go ‘… ah’ and sweep up their permanents, when the Moat was any good. This time around, it wasn’t that good enough that often for many players to bother with it. As for my pick for the most underwhelming card in Timeshifted, that dubious honor goes to Void. First time up, Void was a total powerhouse. You knew what number you were going to name against all the major archetypes of the time, and you utterly skewered opponents on the back of that knowledge. This time, not a whimper. I can’t altogether tell you why it never performed, although as a debating point I’ll offer you the idea that maybe threat casting costs were more diverse now than then, and that there are many more decks that you might face at a tournament, meaning the reliability of hitting with Void has reduced. Just a thought.


Claws Of Gix was a card that you used to be quite glad to see your opponent playing with, especially in the good old days of Urza, when they’d rip their topdeck in Sealed and cast it and look, if you can believe this, pleased with themselves. That was a time when most people didn’t understand how amazingly powerful lifegain had to be before it was worth a Whole Card in your deck. This time, the lifegain was completely coincidental, and so was the sacrificing bit. What counted was that perfect little circle of zero in the top right hand corner. Yes, an artifact that cost nothing was the perfect fit for the Combo Storm decks around in the Summer of 2007, shortly before Ravnica block Rotated out. That meant fun and frolics for the Hatching Plans/Perilous Research combo deck, and the Storm count could get out of hand very, very quickly, with Claws of Gix, sacrifice your Perilous Research, bounce the Claws back to hand, recast the Claws, Remand the Claws, recast the Claws… this was a really elegant deck with lots of nice synergies and interactions, and even when it was busy being a Red deck it still felt like a Blue deck. I’ve already mentioned the TarmoRack deck, and there’s no doubt that a totally dedicated discard strategy coupled with The Rack simply wins games. The trouble comes when it simply doesn’t win enough games, and that’s mostly been the case since 2006. Still, Thoughtseize you turn 1, Augur of Skulls turn 2, sacrifice it turn 3 plus Stupor, then drop The Rack and Extirpate your Reveillarks turn 4 isn’t a bad sequence. The final artifact of note was Tormod’s Crypt. This was a real chase card when it came out. I know, you’re busy re-reading that last sentence and thinking I’ve gone mad(der). But it truly was, if it came in a foil version and you knew Vintage players. The Crypt went for a sizeable chunk of cash to begin with, and even if you didn’t get a foil one, at least you knew you were going to put 136 of them into your Sideboard in the hopes of beating Dredge…


Which brings us once again to the lands. With a ton of one toughness monsters around, Desert performed slightly under par, often being one of the last cards cut as players built increasingly demanding and exotic manabases. Still, it did have its day in the sun, as the mono-blue Control decks seen to good effect at Grand Prix: Krakow last year featured a full suite of the pingers. Across from Desert sat the almost anti-Desert card, Pendelhaven. Like Thrill Of The Hunt, this caused far more disruption to plans than it appeared to have any right to, and right up to the Rotation wire I watched it win games for people, often coming out from under an artfully-arranged land collection to tap at the crucial moment for critical damage.

Timeshifted Conclusion

It was never intended that all the Timeshifted cards should be exciting and/or playable, which is just as well. I won’t divide our list to keep into rarity, since some of you may want to insist on Timeshifted versions, which is your prerogative, but which is likely to bump the price up a ton. Therefore I’ll just list the cards alphabetically that I feel you should be setting aside for the future. This is especially hard for this group of cards, since there’s a real heap of stargazing involved. Will Psionic Blast ever get reprinted and find a home? Can Browbeat possibly be good twice? Will Dragonstorm be consigned to history? My best answer to these are ‘no,’ ‘I really doubt it,’ and ‘almost certainly,’ and that means the first two don’t go on the list. Dragonstorm may yet have a place in Extended to consider. So, here’s the initial pass at the keep list:

Akroma, Angel Of Wrath
Avalanche Riders
Claws Of Gix
Gemstone Mine
Lightning Angel
Lord Of Atlantis
Shadowmage Infiltrator
Soltari Priest
Teferi’s Moat
The Rack
Tormod’s Crypt
Tribal Flames
Voidmage Prodigy
Withered Wretch

It’s a good bet that many of you will have most of these already. Even if not, it’s next to impossible to shave the list any further, since it already feels very much like a 10th Edition-style list. Thankfully, only a few of these were Rare last time round, and a total outlay for this lot should be no more than approximately $175, $40 of which is accounted for by Akroma.

Until next week, and Planar Chaos, as ever, thanks for reading.