Time Spiral Standard Questions Answered!

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Champs!
Jeroen steps to the plate and answers a myriad of reader-posed questions regarding the format on everyone’s minds… Standard with Time Spiral! He brings us his thoughts on Counter-Burn, an in-depth look at Green/Black aggro-control, and the place of Mono-Blue Draw-Go Control in the current environemnt. This is invaluable reading for those planning to demolish all competition this coming weekend!

After a one-week absence – due to my Limited review, and the amount of work that comes with it – I am back again with the column that made me famous (I wish) at this site. I will once again be answering questions received at [email protected], and this time, they are mostly (if not all) about Time Spiral Standard.

I am currently focussed on testing the format for Worlds, which is coming up in about a month. This means that although I can’t go into a lot of detail, I do have a fair amount of experience with the format… and I can steer you in the right direction.

Make sure you keep sending those questions – they are the backbone of this column. Without them, this really isn’t much of anything.

Off we go!

The first question comes from regular Ray Bechtel:

At the forum I frequent, someone posted a couple of U/W decks.

They were both long-term reactive control decks… Draw-Go style. I offered my advice on the decklists, mainly saying that Urza’s Factory was bad, and they shouldn’t be playing it.

It was at this point that everything went wrong.

Unfortunately, I’m in the minority concerning the power level of the card. I think it stinks, but most of the players there seem to think it’s God’s Gift to control decks. I’d rather play something that had more of an impact.

Question: What is your opinion of Urza’s Factory?

Hey Ray, and welcome back to my little part of the StarCityGames universe.

Your question is one that comes up a lot whenever a new set is released. Every person evaluates cards differently when they first come out, and of course many discussions will arise. As for Urza’s Factory, I think the correct answer is that it is a Role Player (as Mike Flores would say). It’s neither great nor awful. It just does what it does.

Right now, it seems like people are under the impression that “old school” Blue control decks are getting ready for a huge comeback, a comeback that will dominate tournaments once again. I think that if such a deck does become popular again, it will want a finisher that does not force it to tap out… and that is where Urza’s Factory will shine. I am very skeptical when it comes to decks like this, as I think the permission suite just isn’t there, and therefore I do not think they are viable. Decks like Zoo, Burn, and Rakdos are simply too good against the slow control decks that plan to win on turn 20, as they give away too many turns to get burned out.

This means that Factory will only be truly good in another kind of control deck… but as most of these are multicolored right now, they don’t want another colorless land. The best control decks seem to be winning with reanimation and Akroma, not with slow board control and finishers like the Factory. The format seems too fast.

In conclusion, let me say that I don’t think Urza’s Factory is bad – especially not if it’s played in the proper deck – but I do think that it is too slow in the current metagame to warrant play.

Next up is a variation of a question many people have asked me, but this one was the first. It is by Adam Reiser:

I have been testing the KarstenBot BabyKiller deck for a while now, and was wondering, with Time Spiral out, what is the most optimal list?

I was reading Mike Flores article when I saw that he talked about you doing extremely well with the deck, but with a different type of list. I may end up playing this deck at States, so I would like to play the deck that does well not only against aggro, but has a good game against control. If you could give me a list (or any ideas for one), it would be much appreciated.

I feel like KBBK was, at one point, one of the best decks around. It gave me great results in many an eight-man. I love the kind of deck – slow aggression and disruption – and it has been playing well for me. It also seems like Time Spiral has given us a lot of goodies for the deck to include. I will not give you a card-for-card decklist, as I need to keep some stuff safe for Worlds, but I will cover some of the cards I think are very good for the deck. With a little work I am sure you can build a nice version yourself.

First off, I think the deck as-was cannot really stay the same. The theory of being able to kill any guy and just lean back till you kill them with Demonfire is simply not viable anymore, thanks to a little Angel Legend, and this means you will have to go for the pressure plan. I feel the deck should evolve into something like the Dutch U/G Aggro deck, but with landkill instead of countermagic for support and disruption. You cannot plan to beat decks like Solar Flare if you cannot kill an Akroma… and with Solar Flare promising to be very big, you need to be able to kill them before they get her in play.

This makes Call of the Herd an auto-include, being one of the best attackers in the game. It also gives Darwin (Avalanche Riders) more of a purpose, thanks to the fact that the damage it deals is actually relevant. Elephants and Riders are also good against aggro, so you should not have problems there either.

All of this means that despite me respecting Mike, I don’t like his current list of the deck, and think you need to look more to the Angry Hermit decks of old than the more controllish style currently praised. If built correctly I feel the deck is very good, and there is a good chance you will see me kill people with it at Worlds.

Jameson asks a question that seems to be on everyone’s mind:

What are your thoughts on the Suspend mechanic, and what (if any) effects will it have on the Standard metagame?

It’s not a big secret that I do not like the mechanic itself, and I am not a fan of most of the suspend cards that are currently considered in decks. The tempo in the format is so high right now, due to a critical mass of burn and the fast clocks control decks like Flare put you on. You do not have the time to sit around and wait for suspend to resolve.

This would be fine if the reward was high enough, but with cards in the format that give us the same effect – but immediately, rather than on a future turn – I don’t think saving a mana or two is worth sitting there and doing nothing. I am obviously talking about Ancestral Visions compared to Compulsive Research here.

I think that the suspend spells could be good, as the effect can be very strong… but not right now, when tempo is so much more important than a huge effect. And I am not even mentioning Remand

More on that with the next question, by Keith France:

When I looked at the Time Spiral spoiler, the first new deck that popped in my head was U/R. I was wondering if you thought a deck like the following has any viability in the new standard.

4 Ancestral Visions
4 Wheel of Fate
4 Char
4 Psionic Blast
4 Shock
4 Seal of Fire
4 Remand
4 Mana Leak
4 Rift Bolt

This is just a first draft and will undoubtedly change through playtesting. Some form of Counter-Burn seems like it could be good, and any thoughts you have on the archetype would be appreciated.

I have a couple of problems with your current list…

Eight Suspend Spells
These cards will need to be drawn early, as well as being played early, putting you behind in tempo a lot of the time. They will also just draw you cards which do nothing but draw more cards, which take another ice-age to net you card advantage. Playing a card like Wheel of Fate to draw suspend spells again, when your opponent draws active spells, does not seem like a good proposition.

You Are A Very Bad Control Deck
This might be fine when playing against control, when your threats are fairly cheap, but against Zoo or the like you are really drawing dead. Just look at what a Kird Ape followed by a Watchwolf will do to this deck, and admit that you are often close to being done when they get that that draw. All your answers are more expensive than their threats. You will just be behind so much that you can’t afford to give them burn with your Wheels.

Trading One-For-One
All your cards are just trading one-for-one. Against a deck with some sort of countermagic, or a deck that makes use of the time you give them, the only way you will have to get ahead are four Ancestral Visions. Wheel doesn’t even net you card advantage in this deck.

There Are Better Decks Around That Do The Same Thing
I do not see what this deck does better than Rakdos or Gruul, so I feel it is obsolete. Sure, Counter-Burn was used back in the day, but these decks are simple better for doing little more burning people out – counterspells are just horrible these days.

So, in short: no, I do not think Counter-Burn is going to be viable.

Next, it’s Peter Gudlewski:

I have two questions before I need to return to work. First, how do you pronounce your name? Is there an easy way to do so?

My actual question related to dueling with Magical cards:

Should I be “afraid” to work on reanimation decks (it seems like there are so many reanimation spells and so many ways to get fat into the yard with Time Spiral’s release) since Tormod’s Crypt has returned?

Put another way, how concerned should I be when there is one “silver bullet” that could potentially destroy my deck, if I feel like that – unless my opponent has that “bullet” – my deck is going to be pretty good?

Hey Peter.

It is clear to me now you don’t actually read all of my articles, as I answered this question before! Heh. My name is pronounced “Yuh-Roon Ruh-me.”

As for your second question — no, I don’t think you should be afraid to work on reanimation at all. As history has shown us, answers never really force the threats out of the format. You do need to keep them in mind when you are playing a deck, but you shouldn’t be afraid of these things until people start maindecking a lot of hate against you, like what is happening right now in Extended. Note that most of the successful decks in the past had their share of sideboard hatred around when they did well.

On top of that, I don’t even think Crypt should be in sideboards in Standard right now, as there doesn’t seem to be enough going around in graveyards to warrant playing such a narrow card. Let’s say I am playing Solar Flare — that deck likes to reanimate creatures as much as the next guy – and I am playing against a creature deck that has to put me on a fast clock to kill me. He then decides to board in four Tormod’s Crypts, and draws two in his opening hand. The only thing this actually means is I’ll have so much time to control the board and win by casting my fatties. His sideboard actually worked against him.

Now let’s assume you are playing traditional reanimation and can’t actually cast your fatties. Your opponent once again boards in the Crypts, but you board in a couple of Wipe Away. He draws a couple of Crypts, and has to play them soon. This gives you time to wait and bounce them end of turn, then discard and animate in the same turn. No problemo. Add that to the fact that he may not draw them… and you crush him!

Sure, Crypt sucks if you want to do stuff with the graveyard, but it can be played around. Most of the time it will simply screw up your opponent’s draw, since it doesn’t really do anything. Don’t be afraid.

This week’s final question is by Bowen Mendenhall:

I’m trying to put together a Rock-like deck for States, and since you are the expert I thought I’d ask for your advice on the list.

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Elves of Deep Shadow
3 Withered Wretch
4 Hypnotic Specter
3 Phyrexian Arena
3 Weatherseed Totem
4 Putrefy
3 Faceless Butcher
4 Persecute
3 Skeletal Vampire
3 Crime / Punishment

4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Forest
7 Swamp
2 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Pendelhaven

Possible sideboard cards:

Ghost Quarter (I want to be able to break Urzatron and Urza’s Factory, or side in more lands versus LD since I think I might be low)
Cruel Edict (I’m very scared of Akroma and Paladin En-Vec)
Carven Caryatid (five toughness is supposed to be good now… I’m not sure what it blocks though)
Krosan Grip (it just seems better than Naturalize, and they won’t make any Triskelavite tokens or anything in response)
Withered Wretch
Crime / Punishment

The choices are somewhat dictated by the cards I have… I’m only two colors because I only have the B/G dual and pain lands, and I got the idea when I realized how great Skeletal Vampire was with Bad Moon, until I realized that deck wanted Dark Confidants, which I don’t have (and mixing Dark Confidant with Skeletal Vampire seems like a bad idea). So I won’t ask you what cards I should add. But I want to know what you think the weaknesses of this deck are? Do I have enough land, and if not, what should I cut? Do I have enough/too much/not the right kinds of disruption? Will heavy burn roll me over? Please lend me the benefit of your years of experience with decks like this.

Okay… as you asked, I’ll not comment on what you should or should not cut, since you are limited by the cards you own. My questions are simple ones: what are you trying to beat, and what are your game plans against those decks? This is what you need to ask yourself every time you build a deck, while you run the gauntlet in your head before you start to actually test.

Let’s take a look at what the gauntlet looks like in the upcoming Standard format.

Your plan against Zoo is to survive the early rush, and then take over with larger creatures and removal. You do not have life gain, so you must make sure to have a fairly high total when you stabilize, to survive the burnout that follows the guys. Right now this plan does not look great, as you have very few ways of stopping creatures, and you have very few fast finishers once you do stabilize through Crime / Punishment.

Solar Flare
Your plan seems to be to drop down a quick clock, followed by disruption through discard to stall and win. Your discard is very inefficient against this, as they have removal for Hyppie, and they play a lot of colors so Persecute is not very good. On top of that, you don’t really have a clock. Later, when they do what they want, your removal does not help you against their quality stuff.

You plan to kill them as fast as possible, before they can kill you with their burn. Once again, you do not really have efficient removal for their early threats, as well as efficient fat to kill them fast enough to not die to multiple Chars to the face. It looks like you need some Last Gasps and Caryatids maindeck at the very least.

Here, you plan to kill their men while dodging countermagic. This matchup also doesn’t look good, as everything they have is so much more efficient than your spells, and you have nightmares of Plaxmanta.

In trying to give the deck some of everything, you have a lot of half-answers and incorrect threats. I feel this deck needs a huge overhaul – it needs to focus on how it plans to win certain matchups. The tools are there, you just lack focus against the expected field. The sideboard cards need to be maindeck most of the time – to stand any sort of a chance – and they need to be the correct cards. If you get to the point where Flare gets an Akroma in play, and you have to kill it, you are not winning anyway. Your plan is to disrupt them before they get there.

I hope that helped a little – I am not trying to burn your deck to the ground… I’m just trying to illustrate that you need more focus. It also sucks that Hypnotic Specter isn’t great against any deck right now, and that there’s a lack of an actual decent creature to finish games quickly in these colors.

That’s it for this week! Keep mailing those questions to [email protected], as I love hearing from all of you.

Good luck at Champs!