Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #155: The Second Coming of Fifth Edition

Rob McKenzie, a fellow judge, commented that Time Spiral was Fifth Edition all over again. It’s the kind of random discussion judges have while waiting and watching, but the thought kept recurring. We spent the rest of the tournament coming up with similarities. There are a lot. When I got home, I dug up a 5E list and saw even more. Now, I like Time Spiral and I never really liked 5E, but the two sets do feel similar…

Rob McKenzie, a fellow judge, commented that Time Spiral was Fifth Edition all over again. It’s the kind of random discussion judges have while waiting and watching, but the thought kept recurring. We spent the rest of the tournament coming up with similarities. There are a lot. When I got home, I dug up a 5E list and saw even more. Now, I like Time Spiral and I never really liked 5E, but the two sets do feel similar.

Of course, there are some obvious differences: black borders, 100% reprints verses three-quarters new cards, rules, packaging, the fact that some Time Spiral reprints didn’t exist when 5E came out, card faces, etc. Ignore all that.

Some basic / general points:

1) Both are large sets. Time Spiral has 422 cards. Fifth has 449.

2) Both feature “fixed” versions of staples from the Type 1 (Vintage) Restricted list.

3) Both reprint a mix of tournament staples and chaff.

4) Both have just one good land.

5) Both have little respect for the “color pie.”

6) Both include skill tester cards and colors.

7) Both reprint a lot of the same cards.

Let’s look at these broad points in detail, then look at some specific reprints and pseudo-reprints.

Large Sets
Both of these sets are huge. Time Spiral, which adds 422 cards to the Standard pool, is significantly above the standard of 300 or so cards that recent main sets have maintained. Even before Wizards made the decision to make the main sets smaller, and expansions larger, main sets used to weigh in at 350 cards. 422 is much bigger than anything else (except 5E.)

Fourth Edition has 378 cards, including basic lands. Sixth Edition and later numbered 350 cards (plus the seven or so Starter cards – e.g. Vizzerdrix). Fifth Edition, at 449, is significantly fatter than all the rest.

Fifth Edition is like Time Spiral, and unlike the other sets from its time, in that it includes more commons than rares. Generally, sets from that time have one-third commons, one-third uncommons and one-third rares.

Fixed Cards
Both of these sets include some cards that were created as “fixed” versions of iconic, restricted Vintage cards.

The quintessential broken card is Ancestral Recall: target player draws three cards for one mana. Time Spiral has Ancestral Vision: draw three cards for “no” mana. Fifth Edition has Brainstorm: draw three cards for one mana, put two back.

Wheel of Fortune was a broken Red card, at least back in the day. Wheel of Fortune had all players drawing seven new cards for 2R. Time Spiral has Wheel of Fate, which has both players drawing seven cards for “no” mana. Fifth Edition has Winds of Change – which was Wheel of Fortune fixed right into unplayability.

Black Lotus is not only broken, its sale price is pushing a grand, even for badly played versions. Time Spiral has Lotus Bloom, and at the prerelease, players were going frantic trying to get their hands on extra copies (although time will tell whether they are worth it.) Fifth Edition’s fixed Lotus is Barbed Sextant. Bleah. When playtesting Mirrodin, I stickered over all my Barbed Sextants, although they are still in high demand as bookmarks and, properly folded, something to stick under the short leg to keep a table from rocking [A friend of mine collects Barbed Sextants. He has hundreds. We’re looking into counseling – Craig.]

Balance is another “unbalanced” card on the Vintage restricted list. Time Spiral has Restore Balance – a fixed version that is close to unplayable (yes, I know about the Greater Gargadon deck…). In Fifth Edition, Balance was unplayable (as in missing.)

Yes, I’m cheating on that one.

Tournament Staples and Chaff
Fifth Edition came out about the same time as some major set rotations – especially the first Extended rotation. A number of old cards were leaving important formats, as sets like Legends left Extended and Ice Ages and Mirage left Type II (for you young folk, Type II is the original name for Standard).

As a result, Fifth Edition had a lot of staple cards: Disenchant, Counterspell, Dark Ritual, Wrath of God, Birds of Paradise, etc. It also had a lot of powerful cards that seemed critical to many decks at the time; cards that Wizards didn’t really want to remove from the scene. At least, I think that’s why cards like Necropotence, Pox, Armageddon, and Sylvan Library were reprinted in Fifth.

Time Spiral also brings back a lot of tournament staples. It brings back bombs, like Akroma, Call of the Herd, Enduring Renewal and so forth, but it also brings back a lot of utility cards. Disenchant returns because Wizards realized that the lack of an instant speed, targeted method of killing artifacts and enchantments – except globally – is just as bad for White as it was for Green: in short, Tranquility effects alone aren’t enough. Wizards felt the need to rein in graveyard abuse, both in Standard and Extended, so they returned Withered Wretch and Tormod’s Crypt. The list could go on and on, but you get the idea.

By including certain cards in Fifth Edition, Wizards ensured that those cards remained Extended legal for years. Several of those cards eventually proved so problematic that they were banned in Extended and Legacy. The major offenders were Mana Vault and Necropotence. Time Spiral also has three very scary cards that will, at the very least, define formats for years to come. These include Arkoma, Angel of Wrath; Call of the Herd; and Psionic Blast. Darwin’s Avalanche Riders get an honorable mention.

States will tell us just how dominant these cards are, but StarCityGames ran a states prep tournament last weekend. At that tournament, three of the top eight decks ran Akroma, three ran Blast, and two ran Call of the Herd.

As for the chaff – sure. Both sets have bad stuff. Squire is Hipperion, with worse art. Celestial Dawn is every bit as unplayable as Game of Chaos or Feroz’s Ban.

Enough. Both sets have bad cards. I know – I spent a ton of time building decks around them. I used to kill people with Feroz’s Ban. I had Karn, Silver Golem animate it and swung for the kill. Whatever. I didn’t win tournaments with that deck.

One Good Land
Fifth Edition has one very good land that produces all five colors of mana, but with a significant drawback. In Fifth Edition, that land is City of Brass. Time Spiral has one very good land that produces all five colors of mana, but with a significant drawback. In Time Spiral, that land is Gemstone Mine. [No love for the Flagstones? – Craig.]

Fifth Edition also has the Ice Ages painlands, like Adarkar Wastes. They are nice lands, but nowhere near as good as the dual lands from the previous-once-removed base set. Time Spiral has the new storage lands, like Calciform Pools, but these lands are nowhere near as good as the dual lands from the previous set.

Actually, Calciform Pools and company are more like the old storage lands (e.g. Dwarven Hold.) Fifth Edition has storage lands. Time Spiral’s reprisal of the concept is at least two-colored.

Finally, Fifth Edition was the last set to have rare lands that did not tap for mana (and did not do anything all that exciting.) Fifth Edition has Ice Flow and company. Time Spiral has Safe Haven and friends.

The “Color Pie”
After years of “Wizards hates Green” articles, about three years ago, Wizards looked hard at the distribution of abilities among the colors and discovered that they were massively unbalanced.

Blue was clearly the best color at the time. Blue was considered the “clever” color. At that time, it had counters (e.g. Counterspell), bounce (Boomerang, et al), direct damage (Prodigal Sorcerer, Mind Bomb), card drawing (Brainstorm, etc.), evasion (flying, unblockable guys), global removal (okay, Nevinyrral’s Disk isn’t actually Blue…), cards that steal stuff (Ray of Command, Binding Grasp, etc.), suppression, graveyard recursion (Recall), etc. It also had some of the largest creatures and best Walls – and that’s just scratching the surface. For example, Blue also had Stasis. If you have played against Stasis, you know what it is. If not, no description can ever do it justice.

White had global removal for creatures (Wrath of God) and lands (Armageddon). It had some targeted removal, although it had lost Swords to Plowshares. It had some good fliers, although few were ever seen in tournaments.

Black had Necropotence – a totally broken card drawing enchantment, and Dark Ritual to get it into play turn 1. Black had Bad Moon and suicide creatures (e.g. Erg Raiders), life sucking (e.g. Drain Life), reanimation effects (e.g. Animate Dead), creatures that return from the graveyard (Nether Shadow), discard (Mind Ravel), and Pox. Black even had some strange steal or negate creature effects, like The Wretched and Sorceress Queen.

Red had land destruction and artifact destruction, both targeted (Shatter, Stone Rain) and global (Jokulhaups, Shatterstorm.) It had burn. It had Disintegrate and Fireball, both commons, and Incinerate and Inferno and on and on. Red also had some creatures, but those were pretty much irrelevant. Red was LD and burn.

Green had fat and semi-fat creatures. It had artifact destruction (Crumble, Titania’s Song.) It had global enchantment destruction (Tranquility.) It had mana acceleration and color fixing (Birds of Paradise, Wild Growth, Llanowar Elves.) Green even had the best removal spell then printed, in Desert Twister. Green had damage spells (Tsunami, Hurricane, etc.) Green also had Fog at that time, and card drawing in Sylvan Library.

The modern color pie moves a lot of those abilities around. However, even when 5E was new, several of these cards are seriously outside of what was expected of the colors, even at that time.

Time Spiral also breaks the modern color pie all to pieces – and while 5E could claim that the color pie concept was not fully fleshed out or important, Time Spiral does not have that excuse.

Let’s look at some major offenders in each color.

White: Witch Hunter. White is not supposed to have direct damage and bounce. Witch Hunter does – although the card is hardly tournament worthy. Akroma’s trample gets an honorable mention.

Blue: Psionic Blast. Blue is not supposed to have direct damage. It does – and it has several other direct damage cards (Tim, Fledgling Mawcor, etc.) Blue also gets instant speed card drawing and a number of other old abilities back.

Black: Bad Moon. Black gets global creature pump, something that is usually White or Green nowadays. Still, that’s pretty much all that really seems out of color for Black. [Darkness? – Craig.]

Red: Wheel of Fate. Red gets card drawing back, although only in a throwback spell. [And Browbeat. – Craig, probably adding too many comments now.]

Green: I was going to say damage, with Unyaro Bees, Hail Storm, and Squall Line, except that Wizards put Hurricane into Tenth Edition. Maybe damage is a Green ability. However, if I set that aside, what do I get? Neo-poison from Glass Asp? A limited counterspell in Avoid Fate? I don’t know.

Did you notice a difference in the descriptions above? Most of the colors got a small “bleed” of color pie abilities. Most colors got those bleeds on a few cards throwback cards, few of which are tournament worth. Blue, on the other hand, gets a lot of bleed, and in critical areas. Blue also gets a lot of cards that were heavily played at all levels, like Whispers of the Muse, back. Other colors did not fair so well.

Green got shafted. Where is Sylvan Library? Exploration? Autumn Willow? Time Spiral’s one really interesting green Timeshifted card is Gaea’s Blessing, which is Green in name only. It rarely gets played outside of Blue decks. (Okay – Gaea’s Trash, from ancient history, wasn’t quite Blue, but that was a long time ago.)

Skill Tester Cards and Colors
Skill tester cards – is there any point in talking about bad cards, and whether people can recognize they are bad? Didn’t think so. Let’s skip right to the unplayable, skill tester color.

(Yes, it’s a Timeshifted “I hate Islands” rant, straight out of 2002. Time Spiral is all about nostalgia.)

Back in the day, Blue was the most powerful color. Green was the worst. Green wasn’t completely unplayable – it did provide great support cards. Birds of Paradise, Sylvan Library, etc – and all found their way into solid decks. The difference, however, was that the main abilities of some colors, especially Green, were not useful in serious Constructed play.

Blue had a raft of seriously playable abilities. The counterspells in the 5E era were great. The card drawing was great – and so on and so on. Blue was both a solid addition to multicolored decks and very good as a standalone color.

White, Black, and Red could say the same, but not quite with the same conviction.

Green, on the other hand, ranged between nothing special and stains. Green had quirky cards that saw play, but Green’s “specialty” was big, dumb monsters. Not the best monsters – just lots of mediocre creatures with moderate to high stats and high casting costs. Green’s best fattie was an 8/8 trampler with a massive upkeep cost (Force of Nature), which nearly every other color could eliminate for almost no mana. White had Brainwash and Circle of Protection: Green, Blue had Unsummon and Counterspell, Black had Terror and Red had … problems (although Fireball or Disintegrate could kill Force of Nature, and LD could make sure it never got played.)

It wasn’t as if Green even had the best creatures. Here’s a list of the largest creatures in 5E – everything with a power of five or greater.

Leviathan 10/10
Colossus of Sardia 9/9
Akron Legionnaire 8/4
Force of Nature 8/8
Lord of the Pit 7/7
Scaled Wurm 7/6
Ball Lightning 6/1
Craw Giant 6/4
Craw Wurm 6/4
Hungry Mist 6/2
Johtull Wurm 6/6
Orgg 6/6
Personal Incarnation 6/6
Sea Serpent 5/5
Shivan Dragon 5/5
Sibilant Spirit 5/6

By comparison, here are all the creatures with power greater than five in Time Spiral block. Note that the creature color finally got the largest creature in the set – but it is the totally unplayable (absent Sutured Ghoul) Krosan Cloudscraper.

Krosan Cloudscraper 13/13
Leviathan 10/10
Greater Gargadon 9/7
Spectral Force 8/8
Liege of the Pit 7/7
Nicol Bolas 7/7
Tectonic Fiend 7/7
Akroma, Angel of Wrath 6/6
Avatar of Woe 6/5
Craw Giant 6/4
Deep-Sea Kraken 6/6
Evil Eye of Urborg 6/3
Orgg 6/6
Slipstream Serpent 6/6

Green does a bit better, but only one of those Green monsters has trample. Everything else can be held off forever by a Drudge Skeleton. The biggest Blue creature has trample (and unplayability, of course.) Two Black creatures have flying, one has fear and the fourth is a pain to block. Blue has an unblockable dude, and White has Akroma. The Green creatures with good abilities all have serious drawbacks – the other colors’ creatures do not. Creature color indeed.

As Ben pointed out, Teferi should so have been a Green creature, but if a creature is going to have really good abilities – even those that just affect other creatures, or that were once part of a classic Green card like City of Solitude – then the creature is not going to be Green.

In 5E, Red and Blue had the best Walls. Blue was especially blessed – Glacial Wall complete stopped nearly every Green creature that could conceivably be played by a Green mage. (Only Force of Nature was bigger than Glacial Wall – but a mono-Green mage could never, ever expect to get that to resolve against a Blue mage. Or, if it did resolve, the Blue mage was just waiting for the Green mage to pay the upkeep so Blue could Unsummon it.)

Look at what Blue got in Time Spiral. It got another dose of instant speed card drawing, and direct damage. It gets good, playable counters, and it gets an invitational card – and a few other Wizards that might make that card playable.

Green gets Thallids. Sure, that fits Green’s part of the color pie. Green is all about growing things. Thallids grow, slowly. Cool.

I live on a farm. I know all about growing things. I also know about the relative merits of grown stuff verses manufactured or created stuff. I see this all around me all the time. The matchups are hardly fair – like the old Monty Python skit with the John Cleese as Ken Clean Air Systems, a boxer, versus a schoolgirl. Only worse.

In this corner, wearing the Green trunks, ROSE BUSH. In that corner, wearing Red, it’s GALLON OF GASOLINE!

Tree versus Chainsaw.

Cucumber versus Teeth.

Green growing things suck at combat.

My fields are full of alfalfa – which is pretty similar to Saprolings. Alfalfa gets chewed to crap by sheep, for crying out loud. I mean, Ovinomancer can turn Morphling into a Sheep, and it can still take out the Saprolings (okay, with a bit of help.)

Hyperbole: exaggeration for effect – a technique used by writers, politicians and preachers of various sorts.

Getting back to Thallids, though. I have been playing casual Magic for over a decade. I have played against a ton of Thallid decks. (note: “ton of” – hyperbole again.) I don’t think I have ever lost to a Constructed Thallid deck.


Time Spiral was all about bringing back old themes and pushing the nostalgia buttons. Now maybe Green themes like Fastbond / Exploration or Sylvan Library / Abundance were too powerful, but surely they could find some Green theme somewhere in between Fastbond and Thallids.


To go back to the boxing match analogy:

In this corner, wearing the green trunks, THALLID. In that corner, wearing the white trunks, SQUIRE!

Here endeth our sermon for today.

Okay, before everyone overloads the forums – Green is not really that bad, and Blue is not really that great, and no one (other than JXC and myself) plays mono-colored decks anyway. Green has other stuff. Gaea’s Blessing is great. Call of the Herd rocks. I love getting Spike Feeder back. I just wish there were a few more Spikes to play with. Spikes work best in pairs or triplets.

Where was I?

Time Spiral and Fifth Edition both had reprints from old sets. In many cases, they reprinted the exact same cards. Here’s a list of identical reprints.

Bad Moon
Craw Giant
Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore
Feldon’s Cane
Lord of Atlantis
Pirate Ship
Prodigal Sorcerer
Sengir Autocrat
Unstable Mutation
Whirling Dervish

More interestingly, Time Spiral reprinted a bunch of Fifth Edition cards, with small tweaks. Let’s start with the obvious example:

Enfeeblement = Feebleness. Only the name was changed, a bit, but the card is still feeble. If you really need this effect to kill a creature, play Funeral Charm. If you really need to stop Shadowmage Infiltrator from drawing cards, use Last Gasp, or Serrated Arrows.

Some reprints are tweaked a little. Thankfully, the Time Spiral versions are usually better. For example, Fifth Edition had Brainwash and Serra Bestiary as Pacifism equivalents. Time Spiral has Temporal Isolation. This isn’t really a great example, since all sets have some twist on Pacifism, but lets look at some others.

Lord of the Pit = Liege of the Pit. Here the morph ability makes Liege a lot more playable than Lord of the Pit was, but that’s like saying cassette tapes are more playable than eight-tracks. (Kids, tapes were like CDs, but on plastic strips wound on reels inside plastic cases… screw it, just go to Wikipedia.) Anyway, Liege and Lord are fine in multiplayer games, together with Grave Pact and token generators, but Constructed is another animal altogether.

Dust to Dust = Return to Dust. The classic removes two target enchantments from the game. Return to Dust is all around better. It is an instant, it can hit artifacts, or single targets. The roots are clear, though – this is another homage / nostalgia card.

Pox = Smallpox. Okay, the real equation is Pox >> Smallpox. Smallpox is a “fixed” version of Pox in much the same way my dogs have been “fixed.” Nonetheless, Smallpox appears to be playable, and I expect some to appear in the post-States articles that are doubtless on their way.

Aspect of Wolf = Aspect of Mongoose: Fifth Edition had a rare Green enchantment for 1G that has no practical use in Constructed. Time Spiral has a rare Green enchantment for 1G that has no practical use in Constructed. Cool, eh?

Castle = Fortify. Another homage to old cards – thankfully, Fortify is a better Limited card. Neither have Constructed implications.

Kher Keep / Sappy Ole Vol. III = Snake Basket / Serpent Generator / The Hive. Fifth Edition had a bunch of token generators. Snake Basket was actually powerful, if you had a lot of mana. The others were far more situational. “Situational” is more polite than, for example “sucks monkey dung.” In my profession, like most, being professional = being polite. Given that, Kher Keep is “situational.”

Mind Bomb = Browbeat. Mind Bomb was more Blue direct damage / Blue discard. It was symmetrical – but the big drawback was that the opponents got to choose whether they took damage or pitched cards. Browbeat is card drawing or damage, and opponents get to choose. Both are bad cards, but in remarkably similar ways.

Time Elemental = Ovinomancer. Fifth Edition reprinted Time Elemental, a zero power Time Spiral reprinted Ovinomancer, a zero power creature with a quirky but powerful special ability and a serious drawback. They are not exactly equivalents, but they certainly are interesting parallels. Like Fifth Edition and Time Spiral itself.

I hope you enjoyed this little diversion. Feel free to comment in the forums, but remember that much of this is exaggerated for humorous intent – much like last article’s comment that Unstable Mutation breaks Chisei in Extended. (It was a joke – really.) I don’t really believe that Wizards is out to shaft Green, or that Blue is going to be totally dominant for the next few months.

That said, I will be far happier opening a Psionic Blast than a Thallid in an online Time Spiral pack next week.


pete {dot} jahn {@} Verizon {dot} com