Tempest always fills me with fond memories. That’s probably because it was the time when I first started playing in tournaments, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Oh, how I long for the days where winning one match was such a great feeling that it didn’t matter that my overall record was 1-4. I only played about four tournaments before the release of Urza’s Saga, but they all feel special. Or something.
Let’s see what Tempest can teach us in our quest to understand the Spiral of Time that has been unleashed upon us so viciously.
Returning Mechanics: Shadow, Buyback, Slivers
Let’s start with the possibly most interesting and definitely most controversial returning keyword ability: Shadow. We all know this ability has been declared a giant mistake by no-one less than Randy Buehler, and it seemed filed in the cupboard of ideas that we’ll never see again, alongside Phasing and my beloved Banding. It was deemed wrong because it destroyed a lot of interactivity between players. Tempest Sealed often involved armies not staring at each other across the red zone as much as wondering past each other in blissful ignorance of each other’s existence. No wonder every true Red mage loves Tempest more than any other set: blocking was not simply a dirty word, but quite an alien concept.
The other thing Shadow did to the Tempest Limited environment was to make it blisteringly fast. All Shadow creatures were incredibly cheap and as they were no use as blockers they were always turned sideways. Most games were races starting on turn 2. Is Time Spiral gonna be like that? Only time will tell, but it’s definitely a step up from Ravnica’s pace that will appear more and more glacial as we get used to a more tempo-oriented format again.
This is bad news for buyback. Buyback had its place in Tempest Limited, even though it is quite a slow event for a fast format. In Tempest, all the best buyback spells had something to do with the board or with combat. Whispers of the Muse didn’t tend to get going, Brush with Death always looked kinda like a good finisher, but it never delivered. There are only eight cards with buyback and pretty much none of them do anything directly relevant. Over the prerelease weekend I didn’t see a single player buyback even a single spell a single time. This ability will once again be mostly for Constructed, and if these spells are cast in Limited games they will usually go to the bin when they resolve. Although I look forward to the one time I can repeatedly buyback Wurmcalling and keep shouting “Wuuurms!”
All together now: “Wuuurms!”
Coming to our last topic today, which is the ever-popular sliver hive. I don’t know whether drafting slivers was ever viable, but from my limited experience with the format they were sidelined almost as much as they were upon their return in Legions. They were curios that were either drafted because they were creatures good enough in and of themselves, or passed along with the other chaff. There were only eleven slivers in Tempest, seventeen in the entire block, and only six of them were common. The numbers aren’t much better in Legions.
Boy, are slivers back with a vengeance this time. Time Spiral includes a whopping 28 slivers, of which eleven are common. The sliver tribal deck is at long last a possibility that is horrifically scary, both for the person drafting slivers and the one sitting down on the other side of the table. Slivers typically get constructed from a bunch of them sharing their abilities to generate a mighty army, but oftentimes removing a single sliver can make them all crumble like a house of cards on a late summer day. Still, the idea of a horde of 4/2 double striking slivers with two instances of flanking fells deeply unsettling.
Brief and random aside on flanking: Does anyone else feel the need to giggle uncontrollably every time they read the ability “Other creatures you control with flanking have flanking.” …?
To summarise it all: Time Spiral limited will be a lot like Tempest Limited in that Shadow is a fundamental ability that leads to an incredibly speedy format. Buyback will be largely irrelevant, but slivers will also be a major defining mechanic, which it never has before. Be afraid!
This article was partially written after the prerelease, though not with enough time for me to truly test the accuracy of my musings in practice. I have heard people say that White is the best color in the format, but then again White is usually called the best color at the start of any tempo format, and in the end it usually isn’t true once people get used to it all.
Because packs have, in essence, two rares these days (one gold, one purple), I was expecting it to be all about bombs. This, however, isn’t the case, as a lot of bombs are just far too slow. Akroma may win every game she shows up in, but those games will be rather rare, especially in draft. Cheap bombs, though, can rule this world.
Until tomorrow, my friends, when we examine what the Urza’s and Masques blocks can do for us. As long as they iron our shirts, because I’m sure they have something better to do.
darkheartothorny … around