SCG Daily – A Look At Time Spiral Sealed

A new week, a new Daily run.

“But it’s Tuesday!” I hear you cry. Well spotted. Have a lollipop.

I’ve a mixed bag planned. Today, some talk of Time Spiral Sealed. Tomorrow, some talk of Time Spiral Draft. Thursday, it’s Constructed’s turn. And something fun for Friday, which I think you’ll all enjoy. Those of you with souls, at least.

A new week, a new Daily run.

“But it’s Tuesday!” I hear you cry. Well spotted. Have a lollipop.

I’ve a mixed bag planned. Today, some talk of Time Spiral Sealed. Tomorrow, some talk of Time Spiral Draft. Thursday, it’s Constructed’s turn. And something fun for Friday, which I think you’ll all enjoy. Those of you with souls, at least.

Enough guff. It’s time to stack the yack, and crack on.

Time Spiral is scary.

The thing is, we’ve been spoiled with Ravnica… and, to a certain extent, with Coldsnap. With Ravnica, the world was our Limited oyster. Got Bombs? Hell, we got the mana for ya, Jack! Just fire up them there funky-ass Karooamijigs, and play every damn thing! As for the lost set of the Ice Age block… I dislike Coldsnap Limited as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Craig Jones, of course), but I have to admit there was a certain perverse beauty to Coldsnap Constructed Draft. Writing out draft decklists with four of this and four of that did feel rather decadent.

And now for Time Spiral. Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.

Yes, it’s back to real Limited Magic. Man’s Limited. No more multicolored chicanery – it’s back to two, or two-and-a-splash. No more playsets of broken commons – now it’s one, maybe two, or three (in Sealed) and more (in 4322s).

We’re back to Limited as played years ago… when I was still rubbish at Magic.

Before I go on, I’ll get the obligatory out of the way. I’m still rubbish at Magic. Yes, I’m English National Champion. Yes, I’ve played at six Pro Tours, and I’m on my way to Kobe. Yes, I made Top 8 at a Grand Prix. But fundamentally, globally, and realistically, I’m still slightly crap. And that’s why Time Spiral scares me.

I have great trouble evaluating new sets and formats for Limited play. At the outset of a Brave New Game, I flub and flounder like chub and… flounders, heh. Triple Ravnica draft hurt, as did Ravnica Sealed at first, but with a little effort and a lot of practice I soon kicked the back door down of that format.

I’ve done some Time Spiral Sealed, and a little drafting. While I’ve not done much winning, I have learnt a few things along the way. I’ll share them with you today, so you won’t make the same mistakes.

Base Black/Red in Time Spiral Sealed

Ferrett touches on his dislike for this archetype in yesterday’s “The Weekly Timeshift Sift.” He dislikes the color combination in this format. I myself have tried building a base B/R deck three separate Time Spiral Sealed pools… and they all sucked.

I had bombs: Stronghold Overseer, Lim-Dul, Bogardan Hellkite, Magus of the Scroll,

I had decent tricks: Split Second removal, Word of Seizing, Rift Bolts, Lightning Axe, Firemaw Kavu, Viashino Bladescout

And every time, I got bummed.

At first, I wasn’t sure why this was. After all, I had a curve, some decent-ish fat men, some knockout bombs, and the veritable lagoon or removal. Still, again and again, it sent home with my arse in a hat.

After some thinking, here’s what I believe went wrong.

1. Everything costs three mana.
All the basic guys cost three mana. That’s overload. While it’s key to hit this three, everything I play here likely trades with everything else. That’s no fun. And your four-slot is full of anaemic guys too, unlikely to trade with Hill Giants. 2/2 flyers are great, when pared with the trickiness of Blue, or the beef of Green, or even the evasiveness of White. When pared with 2/1s for three, or 2/2s with some mediocre ability, you’re gonna get smashed.

I’d hoped to power out some tricky two-drop into shadowy three-drop and removal in hand… then down came an 0/5 wall that makes infinite chumps, or a morph that taps and trades (or taps, trades and pings — bloody Fledgling Mawcor), or flankers that render my entire team defensively moot, or even a bleedin’ Quilled Sliver, which stunts my combat options to no end. Which leads to…

2. The deck rolls to pingers
There are a number of pinging creatures in Time Spiral. Quilled Sliver and Fledgling Mawcor we know… There’s also D’Avenant Healer and Subterranean Shambler, and Shadow Guildmage. Even Zealot Il-Vec can handle the little guys. Add this with a number of other ways to instantly batter x/1 guys (Sprout!), and it’s definitely Bad Times for Midgets.

3. How does it deal with an x/5?
The critical number for toughness in Ravnica was four. Things with less than this magic marker were bait for Last Gasp, Lightning Helix, Galvanic Arc… Of course, fours were downed by Ribbons of Night and the rare Char, but we won’t go into that. In Time Spiral, the critical toughness may well be the same — there’s Rift Bolt and Strangling Soot to start with. Even fours are in danger, from the excellent Sudden Death. But fives? There’s Dark Withering (expensive when not tricksy), Assassinate (which is nice, but means you’ve been slapped once already, or you can’t take out a big bad blocker), Phthisis (good luck with getting those swamps, fella), Premature Burial (you’d better have it the turn the big lad appears), and maybe Tendrils of Corruption. In fact, it seems that Lightning Axe is the only true savior here. Fives, especially blocking fives like Thallid Shell-Dweller, may be a problem.

Okay… there is a lot of removal for both Black and Red. They make good colors when paired with Blue, Black, or Green. But stick ‘em together, and you’re screwed. Why? See number four…

4. There’s no card advantage.
The removal is great, but the creatures suck. What does this mean? No card advantage.

The removal trades with your opponent’s resources at a rate of one-for-one. In fact, statistically, it trades at slightly less than one-for-one (unless you have some sort of bombastic mass removal spell) — you may need the Grapeshot to finish a guy after blocking, or their guy may come back (a la Penumbra Spider) and be born anew (a la Griffin Guide). Your creatures, on the other hand, only trade one-for-one if you’re very lucky. Especially if you’re Red reliant.

Card drawing? None. Making them discard? Largely irrelevant, I suppose, but a case can be made for overloading the discard in the hope to redress this balance.

Most games will see you trade guys and removal early, and then you (the B/R mage) will start trading two cards for their one (a 3/1 and a Sudden Shock for their 5/5, for example). Sooner or later, with no way to recoup the loss in card advantage, you’re puckering up.

Of course, you hope it won’t get that far. But it will. You won’t win on sheer tempo, at least not as often as you’d like. Here’s why…

5. To win, things need to go VERY well.
In order to win with Black/Red, you need more than fast beats and removal. You need specific fast beats and specific removal. So many basic things can go wrong early game if your cards come down in a screwy order.

Say your three-slot is full of 2/2s and 3/1s in equal measure. Your opponent makes a 1/1? That’s half your offensive force blunted. Next time you’re lucky and have a 2/2 flanker… Oh look, down comes an early 3/3. Where’s your tradable 3/1 now?

The same goes for removal. They’ve made a 1/1? Do you want to waste a Rift Bolt on it to force through your 3/1, knowing you’ve two Grapeshots in the deck (and wishing you had drawn them)? Of course, the next game sees you start with a 2/2 Flanker and a Grapeshot. Down comes the 0/5 wall…

I know that, in all Magic, there’s some answer for almost anything. The thing is, with a deck bereft of reach and an unhealthy desire for tempo-fuelled “stolen” wins, you need the answers now.

In a nutshell? Avoid Black/Red. Here’s why:

  • Your guys will be chomped by anything they make.
  • You need tempo, that most evasive resource.
  • Pingers, and Flankers, are a nightmare.
  • There’s no chance for card advantage.
  • There are bombs, but an over-reliance on bombs does not a winner make.
  • High-toughness blockers are a pain in the ass.
  • There’s no reach in the deck. Unless you plan to Disintegrate them out. If so, just splash it.
  • In order to win, you’ll need things to go “just so” each and every game. If they do, you may be accused of stacking your deck.

And what have I learnt about the format in general, from my failure with Black/Red?

  • X/1 guys are easy to remove: do not place a premium on their survival.
  • Fat seems important, as ever.
  • Flanking seems very good.
  • There are a number of common defenders that screw the ground early.

That’s it for today. Join me tomorrow for some preliminary thoughts on Triple Time Spiral draft.

Until then,

Thanks for listening.

Craig Stevenson
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