Greetings y’all, welcome to SCG Daily! Time Spiral has come to town, and all those of us who’ve been around longer than Myr Enforcer should be hit square in the face with all the nostalgia it generates. Jeroen Remie stated recently that he thinks that Time Spiral heralds the coming of the last age of Magic devoid of ideas. I completely, utterly, and totally disagree with him there. Nostalgia as virgin design space? I think that’s genius. The thing to remember is that, for all the rampant use of tribute and homage, this is a completely new set. It’s not a repackaged old set. In fact, I think it’s got more originality than the last three blocks put together.
Smashing job, R&D!
Like every time a new set is released, it unleashes with it a new Limited format that people need to get to grips with. Old, experienced Limited players, though, are always at the forefront and generally know what they’re doing straight away, because there are always similarities between all Limited formats. So the best place to start the exploration of a new format is the past, specifically old Limited formats that have things in common with the new one. This will take some time with Time Spiral because by the very essence of its design it has many things in common with all previous Limited formats. Well, good thing we’ve got all week.
Let me start off by noting my personal history as a Limited player, so you don’t all complain when I don’t know what I’m talking about with regard to things like Fallen Empires emperor Rochester draft. My first Sealed deck was Tempest-Stronghold, but there weren’t many tournaments around that I knew about at the time and I didn’t draft even semi-regularly until the entire Urza’s block was out. Then for many years I defined myself mainly as a casual player, and while I did draft as much as I could without spending too much money, it was still quite occasional until the Mirrodin-Darksteel PTQ season, which was when I became the road warrior PTQ junkie with occasional Grand Prix success that I remain to this day.
I have, however, been reading sites like this here one here for all that time, so even though my actual memories of these formats aren’t gleaned through the eyes of a true tournament regular, they still should be reasonably well-informed.
The returning mechanics and themes of Time Spiral go back to the mists of ancient time of Magic, preceding the advent of drafting and sets getting developed for Limited play. There are a large number of references to Alpha, but as most of Alpha’s themes and mechanics never left Magic that’s quite irrelevant. I still think they should bring back Banding, reminder text or not, or invent a new form of it. That would have made me a really happy bunny.
Let’s look at our first “Limited format”:
Recurring Mechanics: Thallids
Okay, no one really played Limited with this pile of dung, even though it remains available at reasonable prices even to this day (or so I believe). I know I haven’t. I can’t really say how viable or strong the fungi were in those days. To see how viable Thallids are as an actual strategy, let’s compare them to snakes in Kamigawa block. Snakes was only occasionally a good strategy in Kamigawa, and generally relied on their lords to make up for them not being spirits. In the world of Time Spiral, creature type matters much less, so it should be much safer to pick up Thallids and simply throw them into whatever Green deck you end up with. Does this mean the Thallid deck will be the dominant draft archetype of the format?
If only. There are only six Thallids in the entire set (looking at the spoiler with nine cards missing), and only four common ones, and the legendary lord and master is not a fungus himself. This is not likely to be an archetype, just a theme that shows up in some decks.
Conclusion: It’s hard to say just how prevalent and how good these are gonna be. Personally, I was never the Thallid guy in my casual days; they never had enough immediate impact. I’m sure they’ll add a lot of fun to the Limited environment, though, regardless of how good they are.
Ice Age Block
Recurring Mechanics: None
Perhaps R&D wanted everyone to be happy with the whole nostalgia thing, but they couldn’t fit it all in TS, so they used Coldsnap as a way to make those lovers of Ice Age feel warm and fuzzy. I started playing during Ice Age, and Coldsnap didn’t really generate much nostalgia; it simply demonstrated how much Ice Age sucked, at least compared to later releases.
Quick word on two IA throwbacks: Jaya Ballard is the greatest character in all of Magic fiction, and they managed to make the perfect card for her. Drool! Seeing her card made me truly happy. On the flipside is Viscid Lemures. I find the art really disappointing. Sure, the flavor text references Hyalopterous Lemure’s art, but I think there definitely should be some kind of reference in the art. Maybe it’s just that I never liked Drew Tucker’s art. Oh well, gotta take the bad with the good, as my favorite artist of all time, Richard Kane Ferguson, finally contributed something again. Have they ever explained why he ain’t around any more?
Recurring Mechanics: Flanking
They should have brought back Banding just to show that Phasing really stands alone as the most needlessly complicated mechanic ever printed. Flanking was interesting, in that it was usually printed on creatures that were fairly priced even without it. This made them very aggressive and helped speed up the otherwise slow format. This should happen again here, although the format looks a lot faster and more tempo-oriented in general, with shadow and Morph returning.
Note that Bushido in Kamigawa block was ridiculously similar to Flanking, with pretty much the same effect on its environment. So listen up, new players, you too can feel the nostalgia!
Conclusion: Flanking’s effect on the format will be felt, but I feel it will be part of a major tempo rebalance created by a critical mass of abilities with similar implications. I will discuss that further when we get to Morph on Friday.
That’s all for today. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the full-blown return of Tempest, the block TS leans on more than any other.