There is one of those stories that a certain type of person loves to hear, about Kai Budde, when he once got a game loss at a Pro Tour because he played a Whipgrass Entangler as a morph thinking it was a Daru Sanctifier (owing to the similar artwork). This sort of thing, surprisingly, didn’t happen too often in those days, even if it did happen to the best of them. But nowadays, oh boy… have things become more confusing! Every time I play a morph in Time Spiral I need to double and triple check that I didn’t accidentally play a madness or echo dude face-down by accident. I didn’t like the days when they were reluctant to make keywords, but they really have gone overboard now.
Anyway, all this aside, morph was always a great mechanic and it defined its block to an extent no other ability ever did. It’s time to remember how.
Returning Mechanics: Morph
Onslaught block was possibly the most straightforward set for Limited, ever. There were several deck construction rules that were set in stone, such as that you always play eighteen land, as anyone missing their third land drop was deader than Steven Seagal’s career as an A-list movie star. Almost every game played out with each player playing a morph on turn 3, and the player going second living or dying by his decision to block or not. Blocked a Battering Craghorn? You lose. Let the Skirk Commando through? You lose. It got repetitive after a while, but there was always a certain excitement as to what that face-down creature was up to.
More than any other format before or since, Onslaught block was all about tempo. Glory Seeker was broken because it allowed you to turn the tempo disadvantage of going second on its head. Going first was so important that seeing the dice roll became the pinnacle of excitement. Removal was scarce, and (Shock aside) it was generally very expensive, so no help from there either.
Time Spiral is quite different. There are far fewer morphs, so seeing them on turn 3 is going to be the exception rather than the norm. There are only three common creatures with morph, and all morphs apart from a few rares and purples are Blue. Many have prohibitive morph costs. The guessing game on turn 4 isn’t going to exist in the way it used to, because most of the time it really doesn’t matter. None of the morphs that can be flipped on turn 4 do anything truly exciting. Most of them want to sit around face-down until an opportune moment until they can do their little dance, and then they become mostly useless or simply big and dumb.
So, morph ain’t what it used to be. Does this mean that Time Spiral has pretty much nothing whatsoever in common with Onslaught? Not quite. Since Onslaught, the pendulum has swung further away from tempo with every block, and now it’s going the other way. So many of the abilities they brought back, from flanking to shadow, are ones that create fast, tempo-oriented formats. There are seven common two-power guys for two mana, and many of them are 2/2s with actual benefits. The small creatures seem to offer much better value for mana than the big ones (apart from the suspend monsters). All of this means that tempo is once again the big enchilada. Going first will become the rarely broken norm, even in Sealed.
Like Onslaught block, this will be a format where you need to hit your land drops or you will perish. I think there are too many mana accelerators for eighteen land to be a necessity, but if you don’t have them then it will be. In Onslaught block, cycling gave you something to do with extra lands later in the game, and here spellshapers and friends will do the same.
My friend Chris Stocking said he was surprised how fast the format was, because the spoiler looked slow to him with things like suspend. Suspend, though, isn’t really a slow ability at all, as long as you play it more or less on-curve. The creatures generally come into play the turn you would expect them to if you paid full price, but they do so with haste to boot. So you get your men when you want them, if not sooner, and you have mana to do stuff that turn.
The only slow ability that’s a major theme in the block is thallids, which just means that Green is the control color and will take a while for people to get used to how to harness the power that undoubtedly resides within that color. Green has the tools to hang on until the thallids do their thing; they just need to be studied and understood.
I hope y’all enjoyed the dailies this week, and I hope I’ve pointed you in the right direction to increase your understanding of this new format. I should be back next week with something that is more specific about playing Limited with Time Spiral. Until then, remember that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
It’s been a pleasure,