Somewhere Lost in Time

Craig “The Professor” Jones takes us through his Time Spiral Prerelease experience in his signature comic style. He shares his views on the new Limited format, and spreads the love toward some of the unsung cards from Magic’s newest, yet oldest set…

In which our hero gives the low down on Time Spiral Sealed deck, talks about the exciting new Fallen Empires draft format and discusses how the rotation of Terian Blade Block impacts Standard. Er … what year is it again?

… or rather, somewhere lost in Sheffield.

Somehow, after a day of trying to teach post-grads how to program in java, I managed to get on a train to Sheffield instead of one to my home town in Winsford. Anyone with a passing knowledge of UK geography (which apparently doesn’t include me) will be scratching their head at this point, as Sheffield is roughly due east of Manchester while Winsford is directly south.

So how did this happen?

When I checked online for the correct time the information clearly stated the train station was Oxford Road, not Piccadilly. When I got to Piccadilly the departure board for the train I actually boarded clearly displayed a long list of stations, none of which was my intended destination and transfer station, Crewe.

So again, how did this happen?

I assumed the correct station was Piccadilly, as this was where I’d caught the train from last time. When I checked online I only looked at the time, 17:13. When I got to the station I saw only one train was scheduled to depart at that time, and assumed that this was the train I needed to catch. Basically, my brain held an incorrect model of the world state and failed to update itself in the light of conflicting information. As far as it was concerned, it had a location and a time and wasn’t really concerned with anything else. My brain’s kind of odd like that.

Before Honolulu, my highest ever finish was 13th at Philadelphia. And yet, in the first round of the second day, I played possibly one of my worst games of magic ever against Gabe Walls. Gabe had failed to find a third land, and after I’d Psychic Speared him I knew he had both Kokusho and Ink-Eyes in hand. At some point he discarded Kokusho, but for some reason my brain registered it as Ink-Eyes and was too stubborn to correct itself. Even after the stunningly awesome play of Cranial Extracting Gabe’s only copy of Kokusho out of his graveyard, I failed to make the obvious block a few turns later and allowed him to Ninjitsu out the broken rat. Why? Because as far as my brain was concerned Ink-Eyes had been discarded ages ago. Weird, huh.

Something similar happened more recently at Grand Prix: Malmo. After watching a game Bernardo da Costa Cabral had asked me why I hadn’t cast a Deepfire Elemental in hand.

“Because I didn’t have enough mana,” I replied.

This was somewhat puzzling to Bernardo, as I’d had six lands of the correct color on the table. He pointed out the actual casting cost of Deepfire Elemental (4RB), which was then followed by much banging of head on table by me. For some reason I thought it cost seven mana, even while it was sitting in my hand and staring right back at me.

Okay, so what relevance has this with Time Spiral?

Absolutely nothing. I’m just trying to fill in the time during my (long) train journey back to where I was supposed to set off from in the first place.

So, Time Spiral

Actually, now that I think about it, I’m sure those anecdotes have been Timeshifted in from an article in the past somewhere.

Aren’t the timeshifted cards cool? I’d heard rumours Time Spiral was going to be the “reprint” set with a higher than normal number of cards, but I think how they actually implemented it, with the purple symbol, is a stroke of genius. It gives newer players access to some of the classics, while seasoned players who already own the cards don’t get to feel gypped as the Timeshift card is just replacing a common in any case.

I’ll talk about the Timeshift cards in more detail later, but first some obligatory card lists:

I built:

Which should have been:

Fairly average. I made the error of mistaking the depth in green for quality. It really wasn’t that good, as I found in round 2 when Pete Norris slapped me all over the shop with much more superior green cards including Call of the Herd and Stonewood Invocation. The triple D’Avanant Healer and Quilled Sliver felt like a good backbone for controlling combat, but the deck was too much at cross purposes. Wizards appear to have thrown the color pie out the window for Time Spiral (and a good thing too in my opinion, as rigorously enforcing it does risk the game becoming stale), and Green has been challenged as the King of Monsters color by some hefty brutes with Echo in Red.

Day 2 I picked up:

Lucky me. Witness this terror:

I suppose you could say the currents of time had been more than a little beneficial to me.

I wasn’t going to go into any great details on my matches. Mainly because it’s a prerelease, and also because Craig threatened to eviscerate me if I gave anymore pointless match reports of me inflicting grievous mental harm on twelve-year-old kids. This time I thought I’d actually talk about something useful, such as Sealed deck theory for all the folks who have to play PTQs fairly soon.

However, that second deck was such a monster I just couldn’t resist some of these gems:

Playing Shadowmage Infiltrator on turn 2 going second thanks to a certain “lucky” land.

Activating Grinning Totem to steal a sideboarded Viscid Lemures from an opponent’s deck, and in the process working out the card remaining in their hand was Assassinate and playing around it accordingly. Opponent’s end step only for you Mr Avatar, I think.

Attacking with Looter il-Kor, then fetching Dark Withering with Mystic Teachings. Now which card shall I discard…

Pumping Mistform Ultimus with Assembly Worker. Okay, so it didn’t really matter, but it still felt cool.

Axing creatures with Avatar of Woe after playing Fool’s Demise on them first. That will be my Errant Ephemeron, thank you very much. And while we’re at it I’ll have that Sporesower Thallid as well.

Axing creatures with Avatar of Woe in general.

Unmorphing Brine Elemental to make them skip an untap step. Turning Brine Elemental face down with Ixidron and then unmorphing it again to make them skip another untap phase (okay, so I might have made that up, but you get the gist — synergistic Sealed decks are a lot of fun).

I stomped all over everyone, and went home with a box.

Well actually…

First, I couldn’t actually stay the whole tournament as I needed to get a lift back. This turned out not to matter, as I picked up a loss in round 3. I failed to draw a second Swamp in the first game (despite deliberately skewing the manabase towards Black), and in the second he drew enough removal to keep me pegged back every time it looked like I might turn it around.

Okay, so enough with the specifics. Time for the generalisations as we take a look at what Time Spiral means for the upcoming PTQ Sealed season.


As has been pointed out on many an occasion, one of the more common mistakes players make is failing to update the rules when the Sealed format changes. Ravnica, and multi-colored madness, is behind us for the time being. Time Spiral is a return to normal Magic. This means two colors, with possibly a third as a splash. There are also no Karoos, so no more cheating on the lands. Personally, I’d recommend seventeen lands.

Important cards to look for are Terramorphic Expanse, Prismatic Lens, and, to some extent, Chromatic Star. These are going to determine whether you can safely sneak in a couple of off-color removal spells. Prerelease lists warp things a little because of the extra booster. From what I’ve seen it should be possible to go close to two-color. I think two-color might be especially important in Time Spiral. There seems to be a lot of cards that require double mana or more in the casting cost, so it’s not so much about finding that first Swamp… you’re probably going to need a second as well. In those situations, Terramorphic Expanse and Prismatic Lens are your friend. Actually, I quite like the Lens. It’s one of the best “diamonds” Wizards have ever printed.

Benching the Bombs

This is the toughie. Ravnica spoilt us a little, as you could often bend over backwards to squeeze in every power card in your pool. As Time Spiral is going to be far more restrictive in what colors you can play, there are going to be occasions when good cards get left in the sideboard. Swallow that pill and leave them on the bench.

I’m a little ambivalent on this one. While it hurts to leave juicy cards like Stronghold Overseer on the sidelines, this might give better deckbuilders an advantage as they’ll know when to make the chop, while a lesser player might get greedy and then spend the rest of the day whinging about how manascrewed they were. But then I also seem to remember thinking how much of a leveller Ravnica would be as everyone got to play with their good cards rather than the jammy players who managed to open both bombs and playable depth in the same color.

Timeshifted Cards

Wow, is there some power in here. Throw in the fact we’ve got an extra set (Coldsnap has enough decent Constructed cards to count), and Standard is going to feel like Extended for the next couple of years.

In Constructed terms, there were a couple of cards that surprised me. Blue getting Psionic Blast seems to be a strong indication that R&D have decided to shred the old color pie. Now the Blue/Green decks don’t even have to splash Red to get access to Char. Trying to get hold of a playset of these, especially on MTGO, is going to give my bank manger fits.

The biggest surprise for me was Call of the Herd. A lot of the Timeshifted cards feel like either niche favorites (Akroma, Enduring Renewal) or interesting cards that never really got their shot the first time round (Desolation Giant). Call of the Herd stands out to me as a card that was fairly ubiquitous the first time round. Back then it cost a fortune as nearly every deck was running those damn elephant tokens. It may be different this time, as there is a lot of competition in that three-mana slot, but I’d be very surprised if I didn’t see a lot of flashed-back elephants over the next couple of years.

It might sound odd, especially considering I’ve been playing long enough to see what Enduring Renewal and Pandemonium could do in the right deck, but I think the card coming back that terrifies me the most is The Rack. There is a lot of good discard available at the moment, enough to possibly see one of the Big Hated Three archetypes (Discard – the others being LD and Counter) come back. But then I may also be thinking too much in terms of Old Skool, and such an old-fashioned strategy might not stand up to modern theories of tempo.

But anyway, enough Constructed talk. I’m probably going to go into this in more detail in another article (If I can still keep one step ahead of the university death machines).

In Sealed Deck, the Timeshifted cards have a big impact. Okay, so there’s only one in a booster, and it might be Squire, but the purple cards have a high overall power level. So much so that it seemed to be that, in most cases, Time Spiral felt a little overshadowed by its sub-expansion. At the prerelease, I was hearing a lot more about cards like Akroma, Avatar of Woe, Call of the Herd, Lightning Angel, Desolation Giant. Even Cockatrice.

Throw in the fact a foil rare replaces a common (what, you haven’t heard?) and there is the potential for some truly sick boosters. I don’t like to cast aspersions on my fellow Magic community, but one of the reasons I like playing at Bradford is that they insist on registering card pools, even for a prerelease. It certainly avoids the whole “you got an Akroma again today, how lucky…” issue.

Although there is the potential for some insane bomb-laden decks, I think the Timeshifted cards will just balance things out. If you get a Moonlace in a booster, it may not necessarily be a complete loss if the Timeshifted card is a Lightning Angel (Of course, you might also open Moonlace and Squire in the same booster. At which point I’d advocate running straight home and locking all the doors because a savage Panda has just escaped from the zoo and he’s coming for you right now.)

That’s enough purple goodness for the moment. Let’s leave the old behind and go onto the new, and in particular a mechanic that’s going to have a fundamental impact on how decks are built in the future.

Tog. Dead.

Wild Mongrel. Dead.

Ravager. Dead.

Meloku. Dead. I don’t care how many counterspells you have in hand or how many untapped lands you have. Just put him in the bin and don’t even think about making any tokens.

Not even Morphling is safe. Early reports indicate Superman is in hiding and refusing to even answer the phone.

You know all those smug players; the ones who answer everything you try and do with the most irritating words in Magic: “In response.” Now you get to pound on their face, and there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it.

Yes, I’m talking about…

Split Second

Apart from the carnage Sudden Shock and Sudden Death are going to inflict on Extended, the presence of Split Second cards in Time Spiral means you are going to have to make fundamental adjustments in how you play. Previously, the correct strategy was to delay instant speed effects until they were really needed. Now that can be potentially fatal.

The second game I lost in that third round match on Sunday had the following game state. I’d been under the cosh for most of the game, but looked to be on the verge of pulling out of it after Avatar of Woe came online. He had a Faceless Devourer that was currently devouring my own Devourer. I was at a dangerously low three life, but the Avatar was active. No point activating it in my turn – I might need it to block in case he summoned something with haste. That’s the normal thinking anyway. Play instant effects in your main phase? What kind of scrub play is that!

As soon as I passed the turn, I knew I’d made a mistake.

In his turn he cast Sudden Spoiling, then followed it with Sudden Death. Any chance of stabilising had been taken away from me, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

I know some people have bashed Split Second because they think it takes some of the skill out of the game. I imagine these are the same people who thought the apocalypse was nigh when Counterspell went away. Personally, I like the added tension these cards bring. They force players to really think about what their opponent’s options are rather than lazily sitting back and thinking they can just do their thing in response or make the nasty things go away by tapping two islands. I like it when players are kicked out of the comfort zone.


Now we move onto the other new mechanic.

Oh, wait something seems to be emerging from the time stream.

Ah yeah, those earlier anecdotes. You see there was a point, I just suspended it until now.

(Oh boy, even Mox Radio’s Rich Hagon would groan at that).

I’m a visual player. Generally I recognise a card by the artwork. In fact, once I’ve played with a card enough times, the bottom half of the card generally ceases to exist. If you’re like me and do the same, the thing you really have to be aware of is when your internal representation of what the card does differs from what the card actually does. For this reason I don’t like to read spoilers too carefully, as my brain is old and stubborn and I have a helluva game trying to change what it thinks a card does when the card turns out to be different from the spoiler.

All this pointless rambling about my diseased brain (if you’ve ever seen any of my artwork, you’d agree) does lead (in a completely roundabout fashion) to possibly the most important advice for anyone about to enter PTQs with a brand new Sealed format. Read the damn cards!

So many games are lost to stupid screw-ups because a card does (or doesn’t) something different to what a player thought it did.

Now back to suspend. This is fairly straightforward. For the cards that have an alternate casting cast, you either get to suspend them in the early turns when you aren’t doing anything anyway, or just cast them as normal when they show up while you have plenty of land on the table. There is no bad here (apart from making Remand even better than it already is).

Rather than go into any more boring detail, I’m going to talk about Greater Gargadon instead and how I might just actually try and play such a stupid big kiddie card in Constructed. I’m not kidding. You know how those evil geniuses at R&D like to sneak out cards like Accursed Centaur and Norin the Wary just so us good players have something to feel superior about when we see the poor scrubs suckered in? Well, Greater Gargadon is the kiddie revenge card.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem that impressive. A 9/7 with no evasion, not even trample. It costs ten mana. Even if you suspend it on turn 1 you have to wait ten turns for the stupid thing to show up. Junk rare for the kiddies, not even fit for a reputable Sealed deck.

After my Green/White deck got bashed again, I hastily boarded into Red/White. In the confusion, Greater Gargadon snuck in. I got it in my opening hand, suspended it on turn 1, and suddenly realised the tool I had access to. Every creature your opponent kills is one turn sooner for the beast to arrive. When he drops to a few time counters, all of a sudden things get really awkward for an opponent. Attacking becomes tricky when your opponent can sac a few land and suddenly throw a 9/7 monster in the way. It also isn’t particularly comfortable to tap out when your opponent can potentially clear out a blocker then throw a nine-powered hasty monster into the gap.

Okay, I admit it. I’m a sucker for the big kiddie cards, and he’ll probably turn out to be dross. But it’s nice to see a kiddie card with a little bit more to it.


I only got the chance to draft once, so this is on the real cutting edge of preliminary thoughts. Throw in the fact I’m not naturally good at Limited, so it takes me a while to find my feet and you probably want to take the next few paragraphs with a pinch of salt.

I wanted to be Green/Red (my default option for any new format), and I wanted to go for Thallids in the single draft. After passing Pth-Pthhis-oh-whatever-I-give-up and Nightshade Assassin, I finally took the hint and went Green/Black. I wasn’t too impressed with the deck, but it got the job done. I was worried about my manabase, as this was when I noticed how many double-mana spells in either color I’d picked up. In the third booster I grabbed Terramorphic Expanses and a Prismatic Lens quite highly.

There do seem to be possible themes in Time Spiral: Thallids, Rebels, Slivers, Looter il-Kor combined with the Black madness cards. Until I found out Thick-Skinned Goblin was uncommon I’d been thinking he could be a nice engine card to power out stupid red echo guys.

The problem with these themes is that Time Spiral seems a little diffuse. I’m not sure there are enough cards (apart from slivers — and I don’t know how many of them are actually good) available to really make these decks kick. General power might triumph over synergy in this case. After seeing how my second prerelease deck played, I do like the look of Blue/Black though. There looks to be some nice synergy between discard effects / madness, and there is also both good card drawing / tutoring and removal.



Extremely sad moment imminent.

Those of you with weak stomachs, or without a nearby bucket to throw up in, might want to stop reading at this point.

Pro Player Cards

Oh dear. Those three words have just lost 75% of my audience.

One of the coolest moments of the weekend had to be opening up a starter pack and seeing my own Pro Player card staring back at me. Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s deeply sad, tragic, pathetic. Apart from the people on them nobody else cares, and my likenesses are doomed to a year of being chucked in the trash, left on the floor to be hovered up, torn up into +1/+1 counters, or used as roaches. Still, I did get a nice buzz out of it, I’m ashamed to say. At least in twenty years time I’ll have something to show just how much of a geek I was, and that is sort of precious.

You may vomit now if you wish.

Anyone looking at the stats might notice I’m kind of the nut-low (and the birth date is wrong. Us weird UK types write out dates as day/month/year, rather than month/day/year, and it should be 8th March). If you do get (very) bored and use these things as top trumps, I’d recommend going with the highest Constructed ranking. I probably have a chance against the others on that one. If you allow age then I’m a dead cert. And if all else fails, you can go with median Pro Tour finish – there’s no way anyone’s going to have a value higher than that one.

Erm… I’d better go now.

Thanks for reading.

Craig Jones