Time Spiral, Combo, and The Rock

Jeroen continues his excellent series, answering Magical questions posed by StarCityGames readers the world over. Today’s grab bag of goodies includes Jeroen’s picks for the best and worst that Time Spiral has to offer, his thoughts on combo in the new Standard, and a look at the Rock in Extended…

Hello my faithful readers, and welcome to another edition of your favourite Internet article series! (Well, it’s my favorite at least…) Last weekend I participated in a local Dutch tournament, and I am now proud to tell you that I am the reigning open Amsterdam Champion! Don’t think this was an easy tourney… it seemed that doing well at would be harder than doing well at Dutch Nationals.

The players in attendance included Jelger Wiegersma, Frank Karsten, Julien Nuijten, Ruud Warmenhoven, Rogier Maaten, and even an Argentinean guest appearance by Jose Ignacio Barbero. How’s that for competition! Despite all of these good players, and lots of other fine competitors, I managed to go 11-1 in 4 Time Spiral drafts. Look out for articles from me in the future, as I will tell you more about the decks I drafted, as well as supply tips on general Time Spiral Draft strategy!

As for this week’s column, I am going to dive straight in with a string of question by Ray Bechtel, who we all know now from a previous article in which he submitted a massive amount of queries. This time, thank god, he only sent in ten.

What do you think are going to be the "sleepers" of Time Spiral? You know, the Sensei’s Divining Top, the Remand? This question is inherently flawed, of course, since we won’t know what the secret good stuff is, but what cards are you getting a good feeling about?

I can just ramble on about a list of cards I think are going to be good, but that won’t really mean they are sleepers to me, as they look good to me off the bat. I can, however, tell you what has been doing fairly well in early testing.

This card has been a surprise to me, as I never really took it seriously, what with the Camel and all, but it is actually a very potent mono-colored control weapon. It basically functions as a reusable Quicksand, as it keeps creatures from attacking you every game, be it Looter Il-Kors, Dark Confidants, or Savannah Lions. Heck, with two on the board you can stave off entire armies. It even taps for mana, and it makes mono-Blue a little more viable.

Thelonite Hermit
People immediately assume that just because he is worse then Deranged Hermit, he is therefore simply bad. Trust me, this guy is awesome. He pumps all Saprolings, and guess what – that’s just about every Green token these days!

Serrated Arrows
Not only does this thing kill three separate creatures for the cost of one card (which in itself is very good), but also it single-handedly takes care of one of the best creatures in the game – Ohran Viper.

This card has been so good at making any random 1/1 a Kird Ape that I have even begun putting it in non-Green decks. It’s that strong, believe me.

What do you think will be the five WORST cards in Time Spiral – cards people actually think are good?

Answering this question is pretty scary, as I might just be flat-out wrong about some, but let me give it a try.

Ancestral Visions
This card compares unfavorably to most other card drawing Blue has right now, yet people act like it is the Second Coming. This card is not good, and will never make it to any deck of mine. I think even Lotus Bloom is a better card.

Enduring Renewal
Everyone seems to think this card can and will be broken, and tries building decks around it. Every deck we have tried to make with it has turned out to be incredibly slow and clunky, not being as consistent as a certain other Dragon based Combo deck.

Looter Il-Kor
I know that’s weird, since this card is actually good, but I see people start playing this thing all over the place all of a sudden, where before no one would think about playing Thought Courier (who is even better most of the time). It’s a good card, and it is great to have eight Looters again, but it is not an auto play in every deck.

Unstable Mutation
I see this card pop up in decks where it shouldn’t. I see it getting played in decks with sixteen creatures, being splashed, everything. It is a slightly better Unholy Strength, people! That card never saw play in serious tournament decks,

Sudden Shock and Tormod’s Crypt in Standard
Don’t get me wrong, these cards are unreal in Extended, and they completely change the format… but in Standard, these are not auto plays. Three toughness is par for the course these days, so Volcanic Hammer is still better, and seriously, there isn’t that much going on with graveyards in Standard either. Great in one format doesn’t always mean great in another.

What’s your opinion on the Timeshifted cards? Do you think they help or hurt the game?

That’s a lot of subject, and one I feel I can fill an article with. The short answer? I think they will be fun in Constructed for a while, but they will hold back too many new cards from seeing play. They will also be in the format for a long long time, meaning that the format will be huge for a long while, which might make it lose its Standard feel and make it more of a mini-Extended. The timing with this and Coldsnap isn’t great, I feel.

As for Limited, I think they seem horrible for Sealed, and pretty bad for Draft, but the format is still good because it is new and built fairly well. The jury is still out on this one – is the format is really good, or will it turn out to be too bomb-oriented in the end?

You mentioned that you’ve been playing the KarstenBot BabyKiller deck (or KBBK for short). What cards does Time Spiral add, if anything?

That’s pretty easy. Just look at the Timeshifted list and you see some cards that are a complete shoe-in. Avalanche Riders and Call of the Herd seem to fit right in, and might change the deck to a point that it will not look the same at all. Thornscape Battlemage is also a very solid option in the sideboard. I suggest reading Flores’s articles for updates on this deck.

Slivers. Hot or not?

Not very. Save a sliver or two, I don’t think any of them are good enough to make it to Constructed, and it seems like most are purely aimed at casual and Limited Magic. Sedge and Plague Slivers are houses, though.

The new storage lands look interesting. Do you think they’ll be the next Karoos, or just another land?

They are simply too slow in anything but control mirrors, where they might give you a decent boost as you have the time to charge them up. They are also not very flexible, which is not a good sign for cards in Constructed formats. I don’t think they even come close to Karoos.

In a nutshell, what’s Limited going to be like? Do you think Suspend will be useful? What are the top 5 Bombs for Limited Time Spiral?

Also an article series in itself. Look for that from me in the future. Suspend will, of course, be useful on the good cards, but the spells without a casting cost seem to be pretty unplayable. As for bombs, there’s Stormbind, Call of the Herd, Disintegrate, Firemaw Kavu, Teferi’s Moat, Magus of the Disk, Akroma, Bogardan Hellkite. Take your pick. There are plenty of cards that just win games.

How good are the Totems? Are they maindeck worthy in Limited? Strong enough in Constructed?

That all depends on both the Totem and the Constructed deck. I think all of them are at least somewhat playable in Limited, with the Chronatog being the worst and not making it most of the time, and the Weatherseed being the best (making it an almost bomb you always play).

Gemstone Caverns will either be a total flop, or will totally change the game around. Which do you think it is?

I am leaning towards “okay but not great.” It has a lot working against it, with it being legendary, not giving you a color if you aren’t lucky, and the format being very color diverse. If I had to pick, I’d say flop.

Out of all the new Magi, which one do you think is best?

Magus of the Scroll, being not quite a Cursed Scroll, but close enough to the original to matter a lot. It’s one of the best Red one-drops in a while, and it should see a lot of play.

How many useful applications can you think of for Norin the Wary?

A lot, with all of them having to do with creatures coming into play, but none I would really like to explore. It’s just a quirky little fella that is supposed to make you think. There are always crap rares, and there always will be.

I overheard at the prerelease that Sudden Shock is going to break open Extended since it can kill Wild Mongrel and Psychatog. Do you agree with this statement? Do you think Sudden Shock and Sudden Death are the next big things?

In Extended, yes, the statement is completely correct. This card will be unreal, and might even drive those two guys completely out of the picture. But like I said, I do think that the Sudden Shock isn’t that great in Standard, and that is what people don’t really seem to see.

Flash: Useless new keyword or awesome new ability?

It’s not a new ability, nor is the keyword useless. It’s just not very exciting, and it has been around forever. It just has a name now.

I don’t listen to the podcast at Top8 Magic, but someone I know who does told me that Flores said that "We should enjoy KBBK while we still can, two more weeks and it won’t be any good." Can you comment on this?

All the new cards will make the deck change, and basically become a different deck. I do think that R/G landkill will be very good in the coming Standard though, in whatever final form it takes.

May you inbox stay full and you feet stay dry!

The latter is never a given in the Netherlands, but the first seems to be working. Thanks!

Next up, a more elaborate question by Chase Lamm:

With the reprinting of Enduring Renewal I immediately began searching for a new combo and came up with the following… Enduring Renewal, Wild Cantor, and Grapeshot. It’s an infinite combo, but it seems really fragile with the new Stifle and Krosan Grip and counterspells. Do you feel there is any direction this deck can go that will make it competitive in Standard? I am running through many variations, including with Black for Castigate and decent transmute cards, with Blue for countermagic (Teferi?) and card drawing, and with Green for Birds of Paradise and other acceleration.

Do you see this deck as being viable at all? If so, which version seems the best, or is it some combination, or four or even five colors? I love love love combo decks, and have played nothing but Heartbeat for over a year now. I’m really looking for a new combo deck for after the rotation that will be Tier 1, like Heartbeat is, and any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated. If this isn’t the best combo and there is something else out there, please help!

Hey Chase, I feel kinda bad since I glanced over most of my answers earlier in the quick questions part already, but I’ll give you more of a rundown here.

Basically, from our testing, it has shown that the engine requires the presence of three cards that are not very interchangeable, and thus it takes a lot of time to get together. Either you play Black for Tutors, Blue for Card draw, or you just depend on a lot of luck. Adding to that the fact that against control decks you will still have to fight through Disenchant effects, countermagic and graveyard control, and you will see that you don’t really have a great matchup versus anything.

Relying on a four-mana enchantment is simply not very good anymore. Back when the Pebbles decks were all the rage, the deck had a lot of things going for it: better disruption, better combo, and not to mention actual good card advantage and tutor power between Necropotence and Enlightened Tutor. With those cards gone, getting the combo is too difficult. You can’t even play it with Blue to protect everything, which was the main strength of Heartbeat.

If you are looking for combo though, there is still hope for you, as Dragonstorm looks like one of the best new contenders on the combo front. It could grow to be just as efficient as Heartbeat was in its prime. The only problem seems to be finding the correct build, which will take a while – just like it did for Heartbeat – and then you will have your new favorite deck.

Last up, just because I love the topic more than is good for me, a question by a dude calling himself “Greg a Name.”

I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a build of the Rock that will be competitive in the Extended metagame. I’m hesitant to try to rely on a Life from the Loam engine, because other decks simply do it better (classic and/or aggro CAL), and if I face them with an inferior Life engine I’ll lose. Further, if I’m trying to use Life from the Loam I’ll be hit heavily by splash damage from hate intended for the extremely popular and good aggro CAL builds.

I’m also reluctant to go for an aggro build, because I think that other color combinations are simply better at that job than a base G/B deck, and I would rather play true, resource control rock. Aggro Rock seems like a poor choice next to the extremely efficient pure aggro of Boros, the combo-aggro of goblins or the tempo control aggro of updated Dump Truck. I can’t see a way to make base G/B aggro as good as any of these decks at their schitck, and they pretty much cover the available ways to do aggro that I’m aware of.

I’ve primarily tried playing with White, for Loxodon Hierarch; Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, and Vindicate (plus Kataki, War’s Wage out the sideboard), but it always seems to wind up just a little behind in cards against good control decks, and thus it gets run over.

I tooled around with a version using Blue and Gifts Ungiven for awhile, but found that I just didn’t gel with the deck’s style of play; I wanted to go in one direction or the other: Blue control focused on reactive elements and a combo-esque win, or a proactive Rock-style control with grinding inevitable win… but I struggled with the hybrid structure.

Lately I’ve been hearing good things about a version of Red Rock using Destructive Flow. I’ve yet to try this out.

What would you recommend? I’ve had success with classic G/B Rock builds in the past, control based with Duress, Cabal Therapy, Cranial Extraction etc, grinding out the win with Genesis recursion. Such decks seem to suit my play-style. Is there something in a vaguely similar vein that is competitive in the current Extended metagame? Obviously, Tormod’s Crypt hoses over-reliance on the graveyard, and the new crop of uber-efficient aggro decks makes playing proactive control, even with superlative tools like Pernicious Deed, very tough.

Is there some kind of decent Rock build based on proactive control?

Ah the Rock. Good old Rock. Nothing beats Rock.

If only that was true…

To be honest, I myself have been taking lost of beats with Rock as well lately, while preparing for Worlds, and I don’t really know how to fix it. I myself have been favoring switching to beatdown, because I do think you have a lot of things going for you others do not – namely the disruption suite of Duress, Cabal Therapy, and the great graveyard removal cards Black offers (like Withered Wretch) that are not dead in other matchups.

This is not the deck you are looking for though, and as I myself haven’t been able to really get control Rock working properly, I turned to Magic Online for study. I found this deck, that has actually been doing fairly well:

This deck has been doing very well, and has been for a while now. Of course, if it is still good after the rotation and way from MTGO (where cards and decks remain unplayed because of price issues) remains to be seen. It has a lot of tools to shine, and seems like it has plans for every matchup. I suggest that if you are interested in getting the Rock in control mode again, to take this as your starting point.

That’s it for this week’s column! I’ll see you tomorrow with my result article on the Battle Royale, over on the free side, and next week back here with more of your questions. Be sure to email at [email protected].