Time Spiral Limited – First Impressions

While a number of top players weren’t particularly impressed with Coldsnap, it’s safe to say that Time Spiral has got everyone’s juices flowing. Josh is a big fan of the new set, and is excited about its impact on Limited play theory. This article takes a look at some of the stronger colors, cards, and ideas that are slowly emerging from Magic’s most intriguing Limited format…

Where to begin? Well, how about Purple…

It is finally relevant to the game of Magic, beyond perhaps an old-time rumored sixth color. First there were five colors, and then we received Gold and Silver. Now we have Purple.

What is Purple, I hear you ask? A Purple card is a card that’s been “Timeshifted.” The rarity symbol is Purple. Three in Sealed decks, one in each booster. Each Sealed deck-pool you open has five Timeshifted cards.

This is huge.

If everyone simply had eighty cards to choose from for building their Sealed deck, and those five extra cards were commons, you’d get some degenerate decks. Especially since, technically, you can get three of one Purple card – so you could get three copies of the same common. You’d get some good decks. But… these are no commons.

I presume you’ve all seen the Timeshifted cards. If you haven’t seen the complete list of Timeshifted cards, I suggest you go look at it.

Sure, cards like Safe Haven, Coalition Victory, Avoid Fate, Squire, Consecrate Land, Conspiracy, Dragonstorm, Enduring Renewal, Feldon’s Cane, etc are usually quite bad in Limited. But there are 121 Timeshifted cards, and only about 15%-20% of them are not what I would call “exciting.”

The rest of the Purple cards will affect your deckbuilding decisions. No ifs or buts about it – they will. From simple cards like Withered Wretch – which will simply improve your mana curve – to cards like Jolrael, Empress of Beasts and Stormbind, Serrated Arrows, Faceless Butcher, Avatar of Woe, and Arena. Just typing the cards is exciting. So, besides increasing the fun-level of the games you are going to play at PTQs, GPs, and whatever Sealed deck events you do play in, it will also increase the power level of the decks you play with and against in general.

There are more cards to play around; there are more decisions to make during deckbuilding. There are a number of new decisions to make that weren’t available to you in past Limited environments, and there are those that only seem new, despite being ever-present. The more decisions there are to make in a game, the more skill is rewarded, no matter whose skill it happens to be.

And that’s only Sealed deck.

In Draft, you’re looking at a fifteen-card pack that often contains “two rares.” I encase those words in quotation marks because all Purple cards have the same rarity, even if their previous rarities varied; and thus of course, it isn’t quite two rares.

So you open your pack and you have to figure out if Stronghold Overseer is better than Faceless Butcher, or if Pirate Ship is better than the best Black card in the pack, if only because Black sucks and Blue is awesome.

This whole “two rares” thing rewards players who are better able to make the correct decision more often than not.

Of course, the Purples aren’t all sunshine and glory. Some of them are outrageously powerful, to the point where the cards will dominate games in which they are played, as I alluded to. Cards like Stormbind, if unanswered, are probably game over. Losing to Akroma, Angel of Wrath or Avatar of Woe just because your opponent lived long enough to cast it… well, you get the point. They will dominate in constructed too, but somehow I think that was part of the plan. I won’t go into Standard or Extended now, as both of those formats are blown wide open and every old deck is probably garbage based on the power of the new cards.

At the prerelease, my Sealed deck contained Mistform Ultimus, The Rack, Feldon’s Cane, Pendelhaven, and Honorable Passage. The rest of my cards pointed in the direction of a Blue/White deck. I had a few rares in my deck, besides the Mistform who conveniently gained the abilities that my other Slivers granted (such as the ability to tap any permanent, or flying and the option to put it on top of my deck if it were to die, or Castle bonus provided by Watcher Sliver). I also had Ancestral Vision. Yes, I was happy to see it; yes, it was foil. Yes, it’s very good; however, I think it is probably passable in Draft, without having played enough to say for sure. Cards like Flamemaw Kavu, Griffin Guide and more, I’m sure, are probably all good enough to take over the faux-Ancestral. Sometimes waiting four turns to draw three cards just isn’t enough.

The last rare I got to play with was Deep-Sea Kraken. Suspend 100, for three mana. Figure he comes out on turn 8 or so as a 6/6 unblockable haste creature. Of course, your opponent could delay it by just not casting spells, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing either and I think, if nothing else, it’s a card you’ll be pleased with if you do manage to open or draft one.

The rest of my deck, which had a terrible mana-curve, included eighteen lands, a singleton two-drop (Amrou Scout, who might very well be the best White common), several three drops including the Human Spellshaper who casts Raise the Alarm [Icatian Crier — Craig] and the Rebel Flanking En-Kor (ridiculous offensive and defensive creature) [Outrider en-Kor — Craig.] I had Griffin Guide, which is obviously insane, and probably the best White uncommon. I also had another top-tier White uncommon in Celestial Crusader, an instantaneous White flying Crusade.

The majority of my deck was flyers, except for the few slivers that could eventually gain flying and a few rebels that mostly played defense as my flyers soared overhead. This seemed like a fine strategy, and I didn’t really run into any situations where I wished I had removal (I had none, save a Snapback which killed a few Skulking Knights.) One of my opponents made a game extremely close with his Urborg Syphon-Mage (the Syphon Soul Spellshaper), but his Essence Sliver allowed me to gain life and eventually overtake his temporal advantage with my unrelenting flying slivers and the rest of my non-tribal airborne army.

Did I go undefeated? No, no I did not. Despite the event only being four rounds, I did not manage to go 4-0. I felt that my deck was not weak, though the curve could be an issue against opponents more likely to consider such a thing. In round 3 I ran into a Purple Void, and I took three mulligans on the forced play in game 3 to seal the deal. I recovered to win round 4 and secure five packs.

So what’s left? The set is still brand new – technically unreleased – but we all know those who want to draft and won packs at their prereleases are indeed drafting. I suppose an overview of the colors would be appropriate.

The new mechanics are quite powerful. Getting overloaded by big creatures during the mid-game, most of which fly, have fear, or do something ridiculous – or do some combination of the above – is really hard to beat.

This makes Blue quite good. Of the Blue commons only Dream Stalker, Clockspinning, Sage of Epityr, Shadow Sliver an perhaps Vicerid Deepwalker are cards I’d not want in my deck — and some of them are quite playable in the right circumstances! Talk about depth. Granted, they aren’t all first picks, and some of them you don’t want more than one of as they are cost prohibitive, or counterspells, or relatively weak card-drawing spells, but they all have their place and are all quite playable. I think Blue is probably the best color overall in Draft. If it’s not blue, then it’s…


With Amrou Scout and a Pacifism that stops pingers at the top of the common-list, White is obviously strong. White is also deep in quality creatures (like Blue.) Flyers, Rebels, strong utility creatures (Errant Doomsayers and D’Avenant Healer,) combat tricks, the whole deal. Honestly, White has it all. It’s good at all the points in the curve, and the color has a built in card-drawing engine if you are able to overload on Rebels. You can’t really ask for much more.

Green’s up next, and it has a few standouts. A slew of fungi ensures synergy if you want it, otherwise cards like Penumbra Spider and Greenseeker will fill out your curve while your higher drops wait to be suspended or flashed into play. Gemhide Sliver will be a high pick in any Green deck, even without slivers, which is a strike against any sliver-hopefuls out there. All told, Green isn’t very impressive. Overrun is back (Tromp the Domain) and that’s obviously an early pick, but, save the few Standouts Green seems to have gotten the shaft; the combat tricks are conditional but strong, and the creatures are good but not great (on average). The color left me wanting more.

Red and Black are both very similar, although let’s talk about Black first. Some decks won’t be able to beat a deck that simply kills all of its early guys and has removal left for the big late-gamers too. It seems that Black is primarily removal. Unfortunately, whereas Black usually has a few other good creatures, it seems that this time it is mostly filler (there is always the exception – Mana Skimmer or Corpulent Corpse). This color is all removal all the time, and while I think it will make an excellent support color in Draft or Sealed, only a specific card pool will lead to a prominent quantity of Swamps in your manabase.

Finally, Red: Red wishes it were Black. Good removal – most of which can go to the dome to beat your opponent when they aren’t expecting it – a great spellshaper, Keldon Halberdier, a few other solid or mediocre creatures, and not much else. I think the color sucks, but again, removal is attractive. If you get the lion’s share you’re obviously going to want to play all of your removal, but a deck that is jam-packed with removal won’t win without a way to draw cards, kill your opponent quickly and efficiently, or generate some other sort of advantage (besides temporal or resource advantage). Having a deck full of removal and a Weatherseed Totem would be nice – or a deck full of removal, flyers, and a Whispers of the Muse — well, you get the idea.

Pro Tour Qualifiers start on the 7th and Purple cards alone would make a format very exciting to play. I think that this is a great set, possibly overshadowed by the aforementioned Purple cards, and while people complain about that exact thing, I think in the long term people will remember the cards in the set just as much, if not more, than the Purple cards that everyone is buzzing about now.

I find myself seeking qualification in PTQs after two years on the Tour, which is a little depressing, but also very exciting in light of Time Spiral being as awesome as it is. In the future you can expect a PTQ-victory-walkthrough… and I’m not too sure what I’ll do for next week, but you should read and find out.

Until then,

Josh Ravitz