A good writer knows that the clever one-paragraph introduction to his strategy article is what sets the tone for the rest of the piece. But a really good writer knows that his audience doesn’t really care to hear his clever banter and just wants him to get straight to the big question:
How is Time Spiral?
In a word: Awesome. Thus far, I love everything about it. It’s complex, the Time Shift cards add a new layer of complexity to an otherwise-staid Limited format, and what could have easily been a senseless mining of past mechanics has, instead, turned into the most flavorful and satisfying block ever for old-timers like me.
But let’s discuss how it plays, shall we?
More than almost any other Limited format I’ve seen (barring the stupidly unkillable creatures of Onslaught), this block seems to be ruled by gigantic fatties. The Shadow creatures will peck away, natch, but any time a 5/5 or greater hit the board, it pretty much dominated until something bigger could match it or a removal spell could, well, remove it.
That’s just an initial impression, and it may well change as I play more games with these cards, but games seemed to be won or lost whether you could keep your big dude in play. We’ll see whether that lasts.
The incredible amount of instant-speed critters and enchantments meant that every combat was an adventure. I was never really sure what the hell I was going to see when I sent my creatures into the breach, which meant that I never attacked into an opponent’s full grip with mana showing unless I had a combat trick of my own to neutralize it.
Sure made the big attacks exciting, let me tell you. I liked the way it made the whole Red Zone seem unstable and unpredictable.
It wasn’t quite as slow as Coldsnap Limited, but a significant percentage of the games ran to time — a lot more than I saw at any of the Ravnica-based prereleases. There were an awful lot of large, complex standoffs going on, where nobody seemed quite sure how to break through without overcommitting. Which meant that I often had time to set up my seven-mana spells….
….Assuming, of course, that I got the mana. Unlike Ravnica Block, where every color was rife with mana-fixers, I had but a lonely artifact to help me through a bad mana draw. Now, that’s probably as it should be, given that I was playing Black and Red, but still — you get used to the crutch of easy mana, and it’s hard to let go.
Deathspore Thallid, Thallid Shell-Dweller, and Thallids in General
For a two-drop, the Deathspore was surprisingly effective even in a deck with no other Thallids in it; basically, it was a two-drop that could neutralize half of the good shadow creatures after three turns, and who the heck wants to waste a removal spell on a 1/1?
As for the Thallid Army, I was ready to write them off — after all, I remembered them back from Fallen Empires, where they were too slow for the ludicrously-inefficient multiplayer games I played back then. But in the fourth round, I played against a guy who had a minor Thallid theme going, with four Thallids in his deck, and it worked quite nicely; the Thallid Shell-Dweller is critical to the strategy since it’s a cheap creature with a huge butt that can crank out Saprolings over the course of several turns. (His Sporesower Thallid didn’t hurt, either.)
Playing Slivers in this Limited format is a bit of a gamble; when the other guy didn’t have any in his deck (which, according to the people I spoke to, is fairly often), then your own Slivers worked out fabulously.
But unfortunately, my own deck at the Prerelease had a minor Sliver theme with both Bonesplitter Sliver and the potentially-devastating Two-Headed Sliver — but as I discovered, when they do carry Slivers, you’re kind of screwed if they get them out first. I wound up siding out the Two-Headed Sliver in almost every Sliver-style mirror match because I just couldn’t deal with that power on the other side of the table.
Interestingly enough, the one Sliver that turned out to be good no matter what was Venser’s Sliver, which seemed dumb at first — why play with a Sliver without any talents? — but as you realized you got a reasonable (3/3) body that could glom on to any opponent’s Sliver-tastic stuff, I didn’t mind maindecking it at all.
I still don’t know whether this is consistently good for Limited. I’m pretty sure it is when it comes to cheap creatures, but for effects that require a target X to be in play, it makes things a little risky. For example, I had Phthisis in my deck, but the idea of having an effect that’s going to kill J. Random Creature when it comes into play — an effect which my opponent can partially control — is too much. Likewise, an Ancestral Recall is always good, but will you really need a Wheel of Fortune on command?
I dunno. More testing is clearly needed.
I left this out of my deck at first, mainly because Lava Axe was always too expensive and the “only kills creatures” was too narrow. But as I wound up sideboarding it in for almost every game, I came to realize Lightning Axe’s use; it’s to ensure that there’s a counter-tactic for the early suspend-style antics of Durkwood Baloth and Errant Ephemeron, or the crushing fourth- and fifth-turn fatties of Skittering Monstrosity and Plague Sliver.
The discarding a card is often a bit pricey, but when the alternative is losing the game to some early gigantor thing, it’s better than nothin’.
Do not overlook the “Draw a card” aspect of this, which is what puts this over the top for me. It’s a bit hard on the early mana (and you can’t splash it), and two damage isn’t a universal damage, but it kills enough to make it worth the self-inflicted pain most of the time.
Mogg War Marshal
Honestly? I have no idea whether this is any good or not. All I can tell you is that it worked really well in my deck, since my deck was packed with removal but light on early creatures. The War Marshal gave me an early drop that was, essentially, three chump-blockers to stall for time until I could hit five mana. And that was just the ticket.
Three damage globally takes out a lot of stuff — not as much as you might hope for, given that this set is filled chock-a-block with large creatures (as I said earlier), but it will clear the room after combat quite nicely.
It seems like a really cheap deal, but Time Spiral is rife with flash creatures with “comes into play” effects, and almost all of them kill this. I never had a problem dispatching it on command.
Tendrils of Corruption
I had two of these, and I could not have been more grateful. In the late game, a big Tendrils will not only destroy the large-scale creature of your choice, but buy you enough time to set up your own counteroffense. It involves playing lots of Swamps, of course, but obviously you won’t play this if Black isn’t a main color.
Lim-Dul, the Necromancer
For seven mana, this is a creature with a powerful effect. Sadly, though I got it out in a heck of a lot of games, I never actually got to use it once. It either got killed (usually by, of all things, Psionic Blast), or all attacks came to a screeching halt once it hit the board.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad creature, of course; it’s definitely bombish. But it’s so bombish and so blatant (and so expensive) that people immediately found ways to work around it. (I should add that I had seven removal spells in my deck after boarding and I still couldn’t get it to fire consistently, so I don’t think anyone else will, either, barring some reusable rare burn cards like Jaya Ballard, Task Mage or Magus of the Scroll.)
It’s one of those strange quasi-bombs that won’t affect the game as much as you’d hope it will, but it will bring your opponent to a standstill until he can work around it.
This, on the other hand, was a sweet little bomb. A 4/4 in the sky is almost unmatched, and this format is slow enough that you can afford to wait until turn 7 to cast him with 1B backup. Plus, ya gotta love the flava.
Oh, no. I must lose a life for this 5/5 creature. The horror.
Or maybe I’m just a little bitter because I saw this followed by Skittering Monstrosity the next turn, leading to the game being over by turn 7. I wasn’t even in this.
Abso-frickin’-nobody ever expected it.
At every Prerelease, I can get an idea of which colors are the most popular by noting who’s asking for what land. At the prerelease, it was Mountains and Swamps that were in scarce supply. I would have put the Lemures in as a reasonably-priced body in any case, but for most of the games I played, it read “Do three straight to yo’ face.” Which was perfectly fine, even if I forgot and gave it swampwalk anyway on at least one occasion when my opponent had no blockers. (I remembered that he had sent with his full team the next turn – and thank God, because if I hadn’t left it at 4/3, then I would have been one damage short of being able to finish him off that turn with the Sulfurous Blast.)
For four mana, it’s a great combat trick to prepare for the Alpha strike, essentially yanking two non-trampling creatures out of combat so that you can save them to strike back. I almost got pinched by this twice, so you watch, now.
The way this turned excess lands into 1/1 little critters was highly irritating, and almost swarmed me under after an extended standoff. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the definition of a Spellshaper; converting extended stand-offs into one-sided blowouts. The Crier worked well enough against me, but I also saw Urborg Syphon-Mage absolutely destroying a friend of mine.
I was packing Flowstone Channeler with the intent of picking off x/1s, but given that I had a couple of mana-intensive creatures, I never thought it was worth the trade-off to blow a land for an x/1. Different decks may well find better uses, though.
Remember when I said that fatties seemed to dominate the game? Well, this common 5/6 was one I saw quite often, and it seemed to be mopping up whenever it dropped by.
Rumors abounded of the man who got this out and Stuffy Doll. Yeah, he won that game, you betcha. Which makes me wonder whether there’s a cool combo to be used somewhere in Constructed, even as I know that’s almost certainly never going to happen.
A very, very nice creature that always seemed to get popped before it could do anything of interest. There are cards like that in Limited; they’re overpowered for their body, and so they repeatedly get smashed down before they can accomplish their full potential. But still, cards like that are usually good to run, since they act as lightning rods for your opponents’ removal spells, which means that it’s one less effect to destroy some other creature you need later.
The Weekly Rhyme Time
I do have a problem here in that in Ravnica, my weekly forays into Sealed strategy were called “The Weekly Guild Build.” And now I want something with a similar rhythm to “Guild Build” that indicates I’m putting cards from this block together… But I want it for Time Spiral. And alas, I’ve been bereft of inspiration.
Anyone got any better ideas?
The Weekly Plug Bug
There is this webcomic called Home on the Strange, which talks about nerd culture. For the past three weeks we’ve delved into a fairly character-extensive storyline called Princess Fluttershine, but we’ve taken a break to do cheap jokes about recently-released movies. I hope you’ll join us.