Sealed Dissected: Space and Time (Spiral), the First Pass

Over the next few weeks, I’ll do some Sealed deck builds. If they’ve been battle tested in tournaments or practice, I’ll trace over the pertinent stuff. I divvy up each card into four tiers, and review two cards from each tier. After four or so articles, you’ll have my thoughts on most of the set.

It’s all about space. Not time. Space, I say! The final frontier! In the next few weeks, the Internet writing community is going to engage in a battle for the space between your ears. Who will succeed in shaping the Time Spiral paradigm, and who will end up as roadside husks, their words discarded as folly?

Here’s my format. Over the next few weeks, I’ll do some Sealed deck builds. If they’ve been battle tested in tournaments or practice, I’ll trace over the pertinent stuff. I divvy up each card into four tiers, and review two cards from each tier. After four or so articles, you’ll have my thoughts on most of the set. I’ll then go into more detail on the cards that I actually used in the final build, and bring up the specifics in the pool and analyze the build. I don’t want to harp too much on the rares or Timeshifted cards, since they won’t show up all that much. Nevertheless, I will do what I must, kicking and screaming all the way.

You can’t have any sort of reasonable discussion in Limited that skips over what to do with the Slivers. There’s one Sliver who should always make your deck. Venser’s Sliver is a reasonable deal for five mana, and doesn’t care how you pay for it. He leeches off your opponent’s Slivers and hands him nothing in return. And that’s the only sliver that’s unconditionally good. When considering committing, you’ve got to have at least five good quality Slivers to jump on the theme. And you’re still running into potential problems if your opponent is also running Slivers. Having Slivers with sac abilities, despite their relative lack of punch, lets you manage how much your opponent can leech off your part of the brood. Paying three mana for a 1/1 Sliver with Fires of Yavimaya attached doesn’t sound all that hot in and of himself. It’s the ability to manage the board that makes the difference.

Slivers, unless they’ve got abilities you don’t mind handing to your opponent, all make it to the low end of my Playable slot. However, I could be dead wrong.

This is my prerelease card pool. There were only two flights in Okazaki, and I was only able to join the first. I normally never write prerelease tournament reports, because with an additional fifteen cards to a regular Sealed pool, it’s too easy to be handed a ridiculous deck. Happily, this tournament only gave players a starter and two boosters, so I can write about it with a clean conscience.

Thar be white space in them thar hills.

I said it was gonna be about space.

You didn’t believe me, did you?

Before listing the build, I’ll go through and give my breakdown of the highlights, lowlifes, and fence straddlers. I’ll highlight three in each category, if there are enough to fill out the quota. I automatically dump all Slivers into the playable pile, unless their ability is so awful so as to be worthless.


Bombs: None.

Solid: Benalish Cavalry, Cavalry Master, D’Avenant Archer, Fortify, Griffin Guide

Playable: Chronosavant, Cloudchaser Kestrel, Duskrider Peregrine, Essence Sliver, Pentarch Ward, Quilled Sliver, Watcher Sliver, Zealot Il-Vec

Filler: None. How about that?

D’Avenant Archer is mighty handy against those pesky shadow beaters. Sometimes you’ll want him for his Samite ways, but more often than not the rangestrike’s going to be more exciting. This may be the best Samite Healer variant since Samite Archer.

At the prerelease, I saw more than one hapless player walk Griffin Guide into the waiting arms of a removal-fueled two-for-one. Even so, the investment is well worth it. Compared to Ravnica’s teeming skyways, Time Spiral’s birds fly free and true.

Chronosavant is a rare I expect to see in the 50 yen bin within weeks. It’s a passable body for its price, but doesn’t have any special traits. It’ll take a fair amount of work to get your opponent positioned to see Chronosavant’s recursion exploited. Call me slothful.

Cloudchaser Kestrel packs a lot of power into three mana. Its Demystify ability won’t make much of a difference in the early game, but can be relevant later on. Its color hacking ability throws off protection effects. Still, there are better two- and three-drops available to White.

You know what strikes me first about Zealot Il-Vec? The art’s brilliant. He captures Farrel’s Zealot and Icatian Javelineer together, with a dash of Tempest thrown in. The ability to kill off any 1/1 is also quite saucy. It keeps pesky Thallids from accumulating on the table. But he’s never going to do a good job beating down your opponent.

Pentarch Ward is such a fine Prismatic Ward. It has the magical words “Draw a card” on it. However, it runs into the same problems as Griffin Guide. Against skilled players, you may have trouble finding a window to play this card safely. I’d have been happier with Cho-Manno’s Blessing.

We’ve got some solid White beaters here, but nothing that makes me cackle with glee. These men roll over to Sulfurous Blast. White’s worth a long, hard look.


Bombs: Nyet.

Solid: Spiketail Drakeling, Tolarian Sentinel, two Careful Consideration, Fool’s Demise

Playable: Errant Ephemeron, Screeching Sliver, Shadow Sliver, Clockspinning, Mystical Teachings, Ophidian Eye, Snapback, Temporal Eddy, Truth or Tale

Filler: Huh. None again. Maybe my bad card detector’s stopped working.

Spiketail Drakeling’s a fine onboard trick. He forces your opponent to play his big, expensive cards slowly. He hits reasonably hard.

Fool’s Demise can be used in so many ways. Slap it on your opponent’s creature, and then kill it! Rinse and repeat. Or use it to preserve a key creature on your side. Yes, it’s expensive, but in many decks it’s worth it. If there’s a card in this pile that asks to be splashed, this is it.

Viva la Raza! If only we could bring Guerrero back from the dead. Er … sorry, got a little sentimental there about Temporal Eddy. Everyone and their brother would be splashing this spell, if it were instant and 3U instead. As it stands, it’s still playable.

Tolarian Sentinel is much better in any deck that beats down. He saves your best creature. There just aren’t enough big men to save in its own color, however.

We’ve got any number of great spells here, but there’s only one great creature. Problem is, with so many double Blue spells, these cards aren’t splashable. I don’t think we’re going to manage Blue in the final deck. I insist upon more creatures. A good effort, but not enough to make the grade.


Bombs: 2 Magus of the Mirror, Soul Collector

Solid: Deathspore Thallid, Strangling Soot, Tendrils of Agony, Twisted Abomination, Viscid Lemures

Playable: Assassinate, Cyclopean Giant, Mindstab, Skittering Monstrosity, Trespasser Il-Vec, Urborg Syphon-Mage

Filler: Fallen Ideal, Psychotic Episode, Sangrophage

Magus of the Mirror is an alternate win condition. Simply have him on the table and be at low life, then perform mad feats of hacking the game. Now, does this pool have burn? How do we wonder… I don’t know if this is a first pick in draft, but I’m extremely glad to see him show up in the slower format of Sealed.

Magus of the Mirror reminds me of Zvi’s favorite types of decks. He likes to play decks that work under the rules of Magic: The Gathering, but aren’t playing anything nearly resembling the regular rules of the game. In Limited, your opponent wants to reduce your life total to zero as reasonably as possible, while eliminating your strongest resources and protecting his. When you’ve got two Magi of the Mirror, you’re not playing that game. Instead, you’re taking hits and putting yourself into a false front of vulnerability. You aren’t counterstriking back, you’re playing badly. You’re trading your resources for his non-stop, leaving his life total pure and pristine. Until you hack the game. Your opponent should be reduced to a blubbering, spineless pulp, wondering what in the world he did wrong to deserve such an unseemly fate.

I’m not into humiliating my opponent, but I’ll take every chance to play a game where he has no idea what the right play is.

This isn’t the first time I have taken a bizarro strategy into battle at a prerelease. In a Scourge prerelease back when I was in the States, I ran a R/W deck with five Morphs; Extra Arms; Jareth, Leonine Titan; and thirteen Grizzly Bears. Most of them had a drawback, but thirteen Grizzly Bears in a format which encourages players to play ridiculously costed fatties is savage tech. I also went 9-2 in games in that flight. My losses were to a guy with three Fierce Empaths and two Exalted Angels. Now that wasn’t a fair fight.

That’s a lot of words spilled over a single rare. Er, did I mention I have two of these guys? That’s more hackery than a 2600 reader convention.

Soul Collector is a three-power flier no one wants to block. It’s hard to remove, and once in a while you can use the morph to utterly ruin your opponent’s day. It’s a little less IED-like than the Magi, but I’m still very happy to play with this card again.

Deathspore Thallid isn’t getting a lot of hype at the moment, but mark my words: he’s going to be a sleeper card. Even if you don’t have multiple Thallids on the table, he sets up very uncomfortable boards for your opponent, and can eliminate those pesky Shadows.

Strangling Soot is as reliable a removal card as Chainer’s Edict. Actually, it’s probably even more reliable, since you can actually choose a reasonable creature most of the time. It’s never as powerful if you’re piling on the removal, though.

One of my writing clichés is that I say that every set has a few janky cards that are unplayable ninety-eight percent of the time, and yet there must be a day when it will play a key role in a 40 card deck. I usually say that today isn’t that day, and that tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

Guess what? Break out the balloons, boys. It’s Sangrophage’s day! Sangrophage is much worse than Carnophage. One more mana, one less turn of beating, one more life… feh. If you’ve got some sneaky way to untap him, he’s a little better. But since we’re packing two ways to switch life totals, Sangrophage will be an attractive tool to throw into combat. Sangrophage is the ideal setup for the Gordian knotcutter Magus.

Fallen Ideal’s a very shaky finisher. In a Green/Black Thallid deck, it might be a sudden win out of the blue. Having a reusable flight card in Black isn’t horrible, but as it stands I see this card as requiring too much work to make it viable.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m ecstatic about this Black.


Bombs: Sulfurous Blast

Solid: Blazing Blade Askari, 2 Bogardan Rager, Rift Bolt

Playable: Flamecore Elemental, Ironclaw Buzzardiers, Orcish Cannonade, Sudden Shock, Subterranean Shambler

Filler: Two-Headed Sliver, Volcanic Awakening

Sulfurous Blast reminds me a lot of Invasion’s Breath of Darigaaz. It’s customizable and hits both players and creatures. It’s a lot more vicious than Pyroclasm, since it clears most of the board away. It may very well be the best Red uncommon in the set.

Believe me, the hype on Burning Blade Askari is hot and heavy at the moment. I’m not buying it. Its flanking ability is often relevant, and its Raging Spirit imitation can have relevance. It’s rarely going to win you games on its strength alone. Its chief selling point is that it’s an excellent Grey Ogre in a color that doesn’t have many.

Bogardan Rager is a powerful, hard-hitting Flash creature. For six mana, he can usually kill an attacking Green fattie, or slip through the last few points of damage for the win. Time Spiral plods slowly enough that you’ll usually be able to play him in 90 percent of your games, though not always in a position so as to maximize his utility.

Ironclaw Buzzardiers is a work of pure pleasure. Smashing Goblin Balloon Brigade and Ironclaw Orcs smashed together in a modestly efficient package. (I wouldn’t be happy if these two were cheaper, by the way. My gut tells me this card’s priced right.)

Subterranean Shambler looks relatively poor at first glance. It’s about as exciting as Root Greevil. Against a cheap beatdown deck, particularly those with shadow beaters, the Shambler’s a gem. It normalizes the board. And who knows? Sometimes you’ll want to pay that echo.

Volcanic Awakening, unlike many of Magic’s cards with vulcanism in the title, will never be playable in Limited. The card’s designed to hit off two or three fast mana spells on turn 3 or 4, clearing your opponent’s lands away. If the stars were in proper alignment, and Clockspinning set up three suspend spells on the same turn, then you could pull this trick off. I’m not buying it.

With all this removal and a reasonable number of efficient creatures, I’m very happy with these Red cards.


Bombs: None. Durkwood Tracker almost made it to this rank, but then I read the bit about how the guy has to be attacking. Yes, he combos well with Nettling Imp.

Solid: Durkwood Tracker, Hunting Moa, Penumbra Spider, Spike Tiller, Spinneret Sliver, Wormwood Dryad

Playable: Gemhide Sliver, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Scryb Ranger, two Thallid Germinator, Thrill of the Hunt

Filler: Chameleon Blur

Spike Tiller’s quite a giving tree. He can turn a single 3/3 into three burly 3/3 manlands when the board is clear, or add an arsenal of onboard combat trickery to your side.

When you’re playing Green, Spinneret Sliver’s one of the few slivers you’ll mind handing off its ability to your opponent. Since it’s a Grizzly Bear by default in a slow format, Spinneret Sliver should make the deck. If not for Aquastrand Spider’s enabling graft tricks, this Sliver would be the best fake spider ever.

Wormwood Dryad’s a superlative common beater. Its landwalking evasion will work in almost every matchup, if you’ve got access to Black mana. Green can certainly use its evasiveness; there aren’t too many ways for the color to break through. Wormwood Dryad has only got one toughness, so it will never block a flanker. But why would you want to block in the first place?

Thallid Germinator’s a pleasant but not overwhelming Grey Ogre. Yes, he eventually turns Saprolings into all-important on board tricks your opponent will pull his hair out handling. But he’s one turn slower than Thallid Shell-Dweller, who spits out progeny one turn earlier. I will never complain about this guy, and he’s good value in long games. But I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to include him into a deck.

Mwonvuli Acid-Moss has all the trappings of a devastating sideboard card. It’s two-for-one, and it fiercely knocks your opposition’s tempo off. As long as you’ve got enough big, splashy power in your deck that can use the extra land, it’s worth considering in the maindeck. It makes opponents who play early Urza’s Factories cry. I’ll probably have to come back and reevaluate this card in later weeks, when we’ve got a better handle on the relevance of denying an opponent his second color of mana.

Time Spiral’s a very mana-hungry set, and so we want our tricks to be affordable. Chameleon Blur is not affordable. Yes, it’s far trickier and can be used in more subtle ways than Fog. But I don’t think paying three mana more makes for an attractive package.

If we want a solid army, Green will hand it to us, but there aren’t enough ways to outplay our opponents. This pile bears the air of perfectly respectable mediocrity.

Everything Else

Bombs: Not likely.

Solid: Terramorphic Expanse

Playable: Lotus Bloom

Filler: Feldon’s Cane, Harmonic Sliver

Terramorphic Expanse is an unbelievable card. It’s absolutely great for any deck that needs double colored mana, or is running three colors. However, I am not entirely sold on it in two-color decks. Yes, you can crack it immediately, but the pesky land found comes into play tapped.

Lotus Bloom is one of those frustrating cards that is so situationally powerful that you have to be sure it’s going to be brutal when it hits the table. Most of those decks have gluts of six-drops. So I will never be happy playing a deck where I have to use this card to make good situations happen. I’d rather have a proper curve.

I had to play with a six mana Mirror Universe With Legs. If I could sandbag a burn spell, that would be a very reliable two-card combo. Luckily, Red and Black had copious removal. I plugged in the good creatures, and here’s what I came up with.

2cc: Deathspore Thallid, Sangrophage, Sudden Shock
3cc: Blazing Blade Askari, Ironclaw Buzzardiers, Trespasser Il-Vec, Urborg Syphon-Mage, Assassinate, Rift Bolt, Strangling Soot
4cc: Cyclopean Giant, Flamecore Elemental, Subterranean Shambler, Sulfurous Blast, Tendrils of Corruption
5cc: Soul Collector, Viscid Lemures
6cc: 2 Bogardan Rager, 2 Magus of the Mirror, Twisted Abomination, Mindstab

2: CCS
5: CC

10 Swamp, 8 Mountain

This is a powerful yet challenging deck to play. When your opponent’s guard is down and your forces are far superior to his, you sometimes just win the game without using the Magus. Is it worth attacking him down to nothing? It can be. You could revert to a regular Limited deck after getting the elite hack win in game 1, and your opponent would be on tilt so much that he couldn’t recover. (Then again… who expects to face multiple Magi of the Mirror?)

If you’re going to have a ridiculous high end, you need to play 18 land. And yes, I swampcycled twice. Bashing with Twisted Abomination felt awfully good, but having smooth mana felt better.

I went 9-2 in games, 4-1 in matches. I pulled off the ridiculous combo in five of the nine wins, leaving my opponent’s jaw on the table. How did this deck lose a match? Thanks to Jonny Magic, that’s how. My longtime friend, fellow teacher, and eternal rival Kiyoaki Niimi sent the Shadowmage Infiltrator at me on the fourth or fifth turn in three games. His Black/Blue deck had ridiculous amounts of tempo and fliers, and I couldn’t set up my combo in time or draw enough removal to slow the game down.

Some of the highlights other than ridiculousness: I suspended Mindstab twice on turn 1, and once on turn 3. An opponent monkeyed with it with Clockspinning, but didn’t actually save his hand, due to a shortage of Blue mana. Only once did I hardcast it, and it was quite reasonable.

Soul Collector went another tournament without finding prey. She won two games for me by bashing the other guy in the air, but I’m still not satisfied with her performance. Then again, I may have unreasonably high standards.

Urborg Syphon-Mage obviously works well with Madness cards, but works quite nicely as a finisher in a pinch. Knock the other guy down to single digits, then take your time as you work him over. We’ll see how much removal he draws.

As always, leave your thoughts in the forums. Just keep it civil.

Time Spiral’s a real delight to play, and is packed full of playable cards. I’m itching to plumb the depths of the set in the next few weeks. I hope you guys are too.

Eli Kaplan
japaneli at hotmail