Spiral in Standard
By Gavin Verhey on October 24th, 2006 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
It’s finally here. After months of waiting, Time Spiral has arrived. With 422 cards being added to Standard, thinning the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, the Ravnicas from the Prophecys, is quite a task. One would have to be insane to attempt it! Luckily, MTGSalvation moderators are chosen by how crazy they are, so who else to walk you through but me?
By Gavin Verhey on October 24th, 2006 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
The first thing I think that needs to be covered are the three (okay, two and a half) new mechanics in Time Spiral. First up is Suspend.
Suspend is, unfortunately, an inherently weak mechanic. It essentially allows you to trade time for mana. Trading time for mana has never been a strong ability. However, that’s not where the problem lies. No, the problem lies in what cards have suspend. You see, in limited suspend is very strong because you can suspend a six drop on turn one, a fairly inconsequential turn, and then have two six drops on turn 6. In Standard though, generic 5/5 six drops don't cut it at all. The aggro decks don't have the mana to cast an expensive card in the same turn that your suspend creature becomes unsuspended, so you’re not getting a great bargain on the time-mana ratio.
The no cost suspend cards are even worse! Late game they become dead draws. They are only good on the first turn or two that you can suspend them. Even if the cards had some utterly outrageous mana costs for what they did, it would make them much better and playable. As of right now, only three of the no cost suspend cards are remotely playable, being Lotus Bloom, Living End and Ancestral Visions.
However, there are a few suspend card that shine above the rest. One of them is Rift Bolt.
Expect to see a lot of Rift Bolts coming at you over the next two years. This card is much like a sorcery Lightning Bolt. If you suspend it on turn one, it can either go to the dome turn two or kill the Scab-Clan Mauler they just played. Later in the game, you can just cast it for . It’s a lot like Seal of Fire in that it costs a investment of , to deal some damage at a later date, and Seal of Fire is played quite a bit. To be honest, this card is probably worse then Seal of Fire, but still very playable.
The next card up is Lotus Bloom. When I first saw this card I thought it was exceptional.....ly bad. If you ever drew it past turn three it was a dead card. However, it has found a home. There are many red decks that are abusing fast red mana, such as Seething Song and Rite of Flame, to power out a spell like Dragonstorm very early. Lotus Bloom just adds fuel to the fire - if you have one on turn one or two it lets you combo out quicker. If you draw it late in the game, well, it really doesn't matter, because you either are waiting to Gigadrowse control then go off, or you have essentially lost the game.
And then there is Living End. While many people were disgusted with the card when they first saw it, this card has a lot of potential. For example, imagine a start where you Glimpse the Unthinkable yourself on turn two, dredge some Golgari Grave-Trolls or Stinkweed Imps over the next few turns, putting fatties into your graveyard. Then you suspend Living End, and since you’re also playing blue, you naturally have countermagic to back it up such as Rune Snag. When you're dredging every turn, Rune Snag becomes much more then a Mana Leak, and Muddle the Mixture conveniently counters counterspells while tutoring for Glimpse. Then Living End goes off and kills in one turn thanks to Flame-Kin Zealot and friends of his like Simic Sky Swallower and Deep-Sea Kraken.
The deck is much more consistent then it looks. However, there are a few big problems. Leyline of the Void and Withered Wretch are both in the format, which certainly hampers the deck. However, the big blow comes in the much-discussed Tormod's Crypt. This gives any deck access to a way to completely nullify your strategy. I expect many sideboards at Champs to be packing three to four copies of Tormod's Crypt, so playing this deck is certainly living on the edge.
Unlike Living End, a card that there is a lot of hype over at the moment, is Ancestral Visions. I have to say that I'm not that impressed with the card so far. The difference that makes this somewhat playable as opposed to the other no cost suspend cards is that the decks that will want this are going to be going long anyways and can wait the turns. Obviously it’s fantastic if you suspend it turn one or two. Turns three-five, it’s not horrendous, but it’s not that great either. Turns 6+ it'll get you your cards, but longer than you want to wait to refill.
So, as long as you draw it before turn 6 it’s good, so why wouldn't you play 4 copies in all blue decks? The reason why is that by turn three, you would much rather just have a real card drawing spell. Sure, it’s not bad, but by then a real card drawing spell is better. Lets compare it to a Compulsive Research. Compulsive Research doesn’t do anything in the first two turns, while Visions is great there. Turns 3-5, Compulsive Research is better because, while you gain one less card, it happens right away. You are paying 2 additional mana to get your three cards immediately. You are gaining two turns over Ancestral Visions for each extra mana that you are spending! Yes, you have to tap out to do so, but I'd still rather tap out this turn and get my cards two turns quicker, not to mention being able to draw cards immediately in the late game. Ancestral Visions has a lot invested in luck to get it to work early, and the best players don't want to rely on luck to win, they want to rely on skill. It’s mainly this reason that causes me to dislike Ancestral Visions.
I want to discuss something real quick because I know I'll get discussion in the forums if I don't (I probably will anyways though). This is about Greater Gargadon and Restore Balance. This is cute, but ultimately not good. There are so many ways to disrupt it. Counterspells is the first one, and early game hand destruction works as well. The other problem is you have to have both of them early, or it’s going to take forever to get everything working. Another huge strike against it is why just not play a superior combo deck? A deck like Dragonstorm (which I'll cover later) is faster and less vulnerable. It could be a fun deck for something like FNM, but for a major tournament, this isn't a good choice.
Now we move to the completely opposite end of the spectrum with the other new mechanic, split second. Split second, simply put, is a wrecking ball in constructed. All of the basics you learn about timing fall to pieces when your opponent is packing split second. No longer can you wait until your opponent’s end step to use an ability safely, hiding behind the stack as your ally.
Split second is very strong because it messes with common knowledge and practice. I am personally amazed that split second cards generally only have tacked on. Boomerang? For 1 more you get a uncounterable immediate version. Shock? Pay 1 more and get a card that just breaks open some situations. Last Gasp? Tack on an extra and it'll gain all of the split second goodness, and hey, while you’re at it, add in an extra -1/-1.
While there are only 10 cards with split second in Time Spiral, 6 of them are definitely playable, and the other four are still solid cards that'll see play in some decks and possibly become stars.
Krosan Grip, Sudden Shock, Sudden Death and Wipe Away and all basic spells given split second. These cards were already playable in their original incarnations, and even though these cost only one more, these are even more playable. The one mana won't matter very often for the benefits you get in exchange, especially considering that Krosan Grip, Sudden Death and often, but not always, Wipe Away, are reactive cards that you don't need until you have at least that much mana anyway. These cards will all see plenty of play in Standard.
Trickbind is a very good foil to combo cards. This card trumps the storm combo decks running around, and they can't do anything about it. It defends decks like Magnivore against evil activated abilities, like Tormod's Crypt. It’s a Stifle, which was already heavily played when it could be and is always a reactive card, that costs 1 more and as a bonus, shuts down all further activated abilities from the card in question. Expect this to get serious sideboard time.
People aren't really looking at Stonewood Invocation right now as much of anything but Might of Oaks, and Might of Oaks was never played. Play with the card and you'll revise your opinion. I think this card is one of the best green cards in the set and nobody is talking about it. You attack, they Condemn. You cast this which counters the Condemn while going for 5 to the face. You just got to keep your board presence, counter a valuable piece of removal and Shrapnel Blast them. Oh, and did I mention those tricky blue mages who are playing Condemn in the first place can't counter it?
The other cards, Angel's Grace, Sudden Spoiling, Word of Seizing and Celestial Crusader, will see play, but not near as much as the other cards, and some much more then others. Angel's Grace is a good counter against burn or damage dealing combo. Sudden Spoiling is a wrecking in limited and may be playable in constructed. I'd say that it’s good with Pyroclasm, but since everybody knows that already, I'll just say it’s good with two copies of Rain of Embers. Word of Seizing is a card I'm a big fan of, but I don't really see a home for it in Standard right now. Celestial Crusader is an expensive fragile Crusade, and is probably the least likely to get played out of all of the Time Spiral split second cards, but some players will be playing it at Standard Champs in aggro, so keep it in mind.
The third new mechanic, which is about as "new" as vigilance was when Champions of Kamigawa came out, is flash. While many of the flash cards are intended for use in limited, a few stick out as constructed contenders.
This dragon is very solid. Besides being the main component of Dragonstorm combo decks, he may have a place in control as a end of turn threat so you don’t have to tap your mana on your turn.
Going on this alphabetic trip down the Time Spiral lane, our second stop is at Draining Whelk. As a 1/1 that has flying and flash, he's practically the component control needed to win the long game. You flash him out on turn 6 in your opponents end step, and twenty turns later you've won. Earlier if you cast a second one. Oh wait, what’s this? He appears to have more text.
After reviewing the text, the judgment on the card stands. The blue mages will be charged a Time Stop. But really, in all seriousness with terrible jokes set aside, Draining Whelk is borderline playable. It’s a bit expensive, and it is fairly weak against pure fast aggro decks, but against midrange aggro you can nab something like a Loxodon Hierarch and get 5/5 flyer as a nice bonus. I don't know how much play he will see exactly, but I expect him to see some play, especially at Standard Champs.
I'd like to say a little word here about Plated Pegasus. No, it’s not the best card. As a matter of fact, it sucks. But it turns out, the little pegasus that could does shut off Grapeshot combo decks. So if Grapeshot combo decks involving, I don't know, maybe Enduring Renewal and Wild Cantor are popular in your area, this could be a valid sideboard option. Or you could just play Luminesce. Just throwing it out there.
The next card is Scryb Ranger. This card looks innocent on the surface, but it’s very powerful. It also, like other cards in the set, gains more text every time you read it. My theory behind the gaining-more-text phenomenon is that so many cards in this set have long reminder text that it just completely obscures certain abilities. Many times my opponents have to reread my Ranger a few times each game every time I use it effectively. The list of what he does is pretty exhaustive. He comes into play midcombat to block and screw up blocks by untapping other creatures, he can be cast in your opponent’s end step so you can give him something like a Moldervine Cloak and smash with him the next turn, he can untap mana elves to get you quite a bit of mana with just a few lands, if you don't have a land drop you can still play one drop higher...... The list goes on and on. This is another card that’s under the radar, but it’s very good and will see play once people realize how effective it is.
There is one more card with flash I really want to discuss, but to round up a few ones I didn't mention, Temporal Isolation should replace Pacifism in white aggro decks that played it and don't have Soltari Priest, Ophidian Eye is "good" in some terrible Niv-Mizzet combo deck and I've heard murmurs of Feebleness potentially seeing play.
There is one more card with flash that deserves a whole another section, and it’s a doozy. This card is Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.
When Teferi was first previewed, the response by most was rather lukewarm. Many dubbed him cool, but not tournament playable. I had a much different reaction. "If this card resolves in the control mirror, you can't lose." Now obviously that’s not completely true, but if this card resolves in the control mirror and you are a competent player, it is going to be very very hard to lose. All of your spells are now essentially uncounterable. All of your opponents spells have to be cast on their turn. Wow. Oh yeah, and he's a 3/4 so he beats down well while your making sure that you don't somehow lose the game. The fact that you can slide him into play in your opponents end step is especially brutal, and being able to end step your Akroma is just icing on the cake. This card is going to see play in control decks that can get UUU for a long time. Although it’s probably not good enough for Extended, Teferi is going to be heavily played in Standard.
Speaking of control decks, let’s talk about those. Control is back on the rise, and for good reason. You see, control no longer has to play like it has for the past year or two. You no longer have to tap mana on your own turn to draw cards or play threats thanks to instant speed draw and Urza's Factory. While me and my team are having debates about this, I believe that Compulsive Research is completely outmoded with the advent of Time Spiral. Think Twice, Careful Consideration and to an extent Whispers of the Muse (Whispers fits into a very different niche than Compulsive Research) are all better cards.
Careful Consideration was immediately embraced by the community. For one less mana you get to Tidings..... At instant speed. "But wait!" the less informed reader might cry "You have to discard!" This is true. However, I don't really think that matters that much. You are digging into four cards for 4 mana, so that’s one mana per card. Early in the game, until a control deck can set up its mana to cast this at sorcery speed, it’s going to be draw 4 discard 3 in your opponent’s end step. That is fine, especially with Think Twice in the format. The thing about instant speed card draw is that while there is some mixture of numbers and symbols in the top right hand corner of the card, instant speed card draw has a deep dark secret that new players might not know. It doesn’t actually cost any mana. As long as you have that many lands in play, the card is free on your opponents end step, unlike Tidings where you had to cross your fingers and hope your opponent didn't have some ridiculous spell that was going to blow you out. Careful Consideration will see heavy play.
Another good card that’s on the completely opposite side of embracing as Careful Consideration is Think Twice. Few people seemed excited about this card when it was first revealed. I was one of them, I said it sucked. Many people still don't like it now. This card is very very very good. It doesn’t look great, with it being 5 mana for 2 cards and all, but I know that I'd play Inspiration over Compulsive Research if it was in the format and this is a Inspiration that can be broken up over two turns. It cycles early to fix your mana, and late game it’s just an Inspiration. Plus, it has fantastic synergy with Careful Consideration. And it’s an instant, so the whole free spell thing applies here. If you play it turn two and flashback it turn three, you've just cast Inspiration on yourself going into turn 4. Four copies of this card is in every control deck I have built right now. This card is going to be a Standard staple for a long while to come.
Now, as the last card of discussion in the blue card drawing suite, we come to Whispers of the Muse. What a highly debated card this has been. I can safely say that this card is still good and highly playable, although it’s not what it once was because of a few cards, especially Teferi. However, I do have it as a 4-of in my heavy control decklists. Light control decks like 'Tron don't really want this card because it doesn’t fit with the gameplan. Expect this to be played. Though it’s not nearly as easy to put in a deck and play as a card like Think Twice, when Whispers is in a deck that is molded to have it fit its game plan, it's absolutely fantastic.
While we're on the subject of components of blue control, let’s talk about the new counterspells we get, Cancel and Spell Burst.
I don't really have a lot to say about Cancel, it’s a pretty uninteresting card. It’s usually just slightly worse and sometimes a little better then Hinder, and that was a card that saw a fair deal of play. Cancel will see play in blue control decks for sure.
The card that’s very exciting is Spell Burst. A lot of people don't like this card right now. This card is ridiculous. Remember the last counterspell with buyback? This one isn't nearly as busted, but it’s very playable and lies in the same vein as Forbid did. Once a blue control deck hits seven or eight mana, if you have Spell Burst, it’s going to be very hard for your opponents to ever resolve a spell. This card just locks your opponent down. In a deck with the Urzatron, it’s especially brutal. Once you hit 'tron, if you have a Spell Burst, it’s going to be hard to lose. Not to mention, if worst comes to worst, early game it’s an expensive hard counter. Keep an eye on this one.
A entire set of cards that are being undervalued are the new storage lands, Calciform Pools and friends. While they certainly aren't bouncelands, I think people are really underrating them right now. In a U/W control deck I have built, Calciform Pools has been absolutely ridiculous. You can build up your mana for a huge turn, always win mana wars (Especially with cards like Spell Burst in the format), and get extra Urza's Factory and Whispers of the Muse uses. It also does something that’s absolutely fantastic. Against a combo deck that has Gigadrowse like Dragonstorm, all you ever have to do is keep one mana untapped after they 'Drowse you and you have access to your wealth of counters. Fast aggro decks definitely won’t want these, but they might be good in a midrange aggro deck with cards like Demonfire, and in control decks they're fantastic.
Completely opposite the opinions of the storage land cycle is the Magus cycle. People are loving the Magi, but they aren't that great. The green one and black one really aren't tournament playable, save for some wacky, likely bad, combo deck with Magus of the Candleabra . The white one is incredibly overvalued. If you cast it, it'll inevitably just die to a Char. "But wait Mr. Gavin! I'll just use a super cool counterspell and counter it!" Well that’s all fine and good, but by that time you have at least 6 mana, making this a delayed, vulnerable Arkoma’s Vengeance. Not so good now, is it? I think that Magus of the Scroll is playable, although it's worse than Grim Lavamancer. I don't really think that a deck like Gruul or Zoo would want it, but in something like Rakdos or Boros it might be solid.
Now we come to the much debated Magus of the Jar. This card is very exciting, but I don't think it'll see much play. We determined that if you ever activate it in constructed, you probably just won the game. Even in control he was fine because you could just draw 7, cast some signets and maybe a threat, and bounce some of your opponents permanents, which essentially Plows it. The problem is that it's so fragile and that for one mana less you can get three less cards immediately at instant speed. If your combo deck can protect him he's great, but otherwise, I don’t expect him to be in any real great decks. Unless Mass Hysteria makes a brilliant comeback in tenth edition.
The next cycle is the Totem cycle. The blue totem is obviously not very good. The red one is too expensive to use in constructed. The green one doesn't really belong in the decks that can use it. The white one is fringe playable, but for a aggro white deck, the three mana upkeep to use it commits you to probably not do much else, and the tradeoff for a 2/2 flier isn't very exciting. It could possibly be good in control as a win condition in the mirror and a blocker for aggro, but I ultimately don't think it'll see much play.
The one totem that is being debated and discussed heavily is Phyrexian Totem. I originally really liked this card, but as the set became revealed, I started to like it less and less. With the addition of Psionic Blast as a possible card blue decks can pack, no attack is safe for fear of losing half your board. I tried some cool decks with him and Mishra, play a totem, get a second token, and then attack for 10 next turn, but it never really worked effectively. The problem is just the fear of what will happen.
Something Mike Flores recently said on one of the Top8magic podcasts really rings true. "As long as your opponent has a card in his hand and mana untapped, would you honestly ever activate this card?" While it’s obviously a different format, I was playing with a R/G draft deck in a Time Spiral draft the other day. My opponent had a Phyrexian Totem and I had no creatures, and I was under five life. I was dead on board, all he had to do was attack. Instead, he didn't attack with it for six turns, and I was able to rebuild and take the game. Sure, I didn't have anything, but what if he would have attacked and I would have Lightning Axed? He would have been cooked. This card is very dangerous to play with in constructed. Maybe it fits somewhere, but so far, I haven't found one.
The next cycle is the cycle of instants that do X, and then to X better if you played them during your main phase. I already talked about Careful Consideration, that’s a great one. Haunting Hymn... not so great. Return to Dust I actually think might be a sleeper, but it depends how played Artifacts and Enchantments are in the new Standard. Might of Old Krosa I've heard some murmurings about, but I don't think it’s better then Gather Courage or Giant Growth. Sulfurous Blast definitely has potential, but I think that the RR cost will probably not make it heavily played. It is very solid though, because it’s a Pyroclasm that kills cards like Watchwolf and Kird Ape. Time will tell on this one
Now, I'd like to discuss a new deck archetype that hopefully you know of by now. That archetype is Dragonstorm combo. After much research and information gathering, red based aggro decks, blue based control decks and Dragonstorm combo decks are currently the three most popular archetypes. Dragonstorm has garnered absurd popularity, so if you can't beat this deck, you need to figure out how and quickly.
If the deck goes undisrupted, it typically goes off about turn 4 or 5. It gets up to nine mana with Lotus Bloom, Rite of Flame and Seething Song, and then casts Dragonstorm to get 4 of these and, if the Dragonstorm player has included any, also some Hunted Dragons and kill you immediately. To up consistency, some of the newer versions are actually sporting, get this, Grozoth. Grozoth conveniently tutors up Dragonstorm to make the deck more consistent. Many builds have also started to play maindeck Gigadrowses to try and tap out a control player, or just fog aggro for the one more turn the deck needs. Some are even using Dizzy Spell to transmute for them! Grozoths and Dizzy Spells in a popular constructed deck, what a crazy format! Whether you think this deck is good or bad, be prepared to beat it, or suffer the consequences.
I also want to take a moment to discuss Slivers. I'm sure we've all tried Sliver decks by this point. We all know in the back of our minds that they'll never work, but we are drawn to build them anyways. Unfortunately, Slivers are just as prone to the same 'ol problems as ever. However, there are a few slivers that are playable that don't need to be played in a sliver deck. The first is Sedge Sliver. He's a 3/3 for 3 that regenerates for B when played correctly, sort of like a weaker Troll Ascetic because he can still be targeted. However, remember that Sedge Sliver bonuses stack, so in a Rakdos deck, this guy might be fine. The other Sliver people are heavily discussing is the "Juzam" sliver, Plague Sliver. I don't think this guy will see much play. Moroii is much better, because for one less point of power and toughness, you get evasion. Moroii was never played very much outside of block, so I don't think that Plague Sliver will be great in standard. Sure, there’s the entire blue thing with Moroii, but really, why wouldn't you just want to play blue? Pulmonic and Psionic Sliver are interesting and potentially good, but I don't really see them getting much play after Champs.
There are a few more cards I want to talk about that don't fit into any of the parts of Time Spiral I've mentioned above. Once again, going alphabetically, let’s start with a controversial choice, Barbed Shocker.
I'm going to go right out and let the sideboard tech out of the bag for playing against Dragonstorm, or any kind of combo deck like it. The card in question is Barbed Shocker. While it doesn't look like much, Dragonstorm has to carefully craft a certain type of hand to win. If you deal it a new hand every turn, it’s going to have a tough time doing that. Plus, they also draw more cards, and potentially dragons they can't search up even if they do manage to get the combo off. This is a surprising choice, but for the red decks out there without a lot of disruption options for combo, it is a solid choice.
Chronosavant I think is a interesting card people are knocking too soon. It’s a recurring win condition in a control deck. It’s much like a cheaper Eternal Dragon that doesn’t fly or plainscycle. He also conveniently makes is so that you don't deck in something like a control mirror. I don't know if he will be played much, but I definitely think he's worth a look.
Dread Return makes a solid Zombify replacement in Solar Flare. Sure, it costs a black more, but you can spend your Court Hussars to flashback it. Not to mention he has good synergy with Skeletal Vampire. There could also be some kind of combo deck that dredges like mad and then flashbacks this, but I'm not really seeing it be good.
Flagstones of Trokair is a very interesting card that’s going to see a lot of play. It fixes your mana courtesy of Ravnica's dual lands, and it thins your deck at the same time. The question you have to ask yourself before you put this into your white deck is "is the one turn delay worth it?" In a aggro deck, it performs kind of like Terramorphic Expanse in that losing your land drop for the turn really screws with your curve. But for midrange aggro and control decks with white, this should definitely be used. It also gives you the ability to randomly dominate a player that uses land destruction. This is going to be heavily played.
Gemstone Caverns is very interesting. Make no mistake, you really do get to go first but you can't play anything on turn 1 if this is in your opening hand, at the cost of a "mulligan" of sorts. I've been playing this as a 1-of in many of my decks, mainly the aggro ones that don't mind losing a card, so that the legendary status doesn't hurt me, but if I have it in my hand and my opponents on the play, sometimes I can just randomly mise them with it. This is better than it’s getting getting credit for.
Grapeshot is going to be the combo card of choice for storm decks. Dragonstorm isn't a true storm deck because often because of the spells to ramp up to the mana needed. Decks that use something like say, Enduring Renewal and Wild Cantor so they can play the same card as many times as they want and then storm for any number you want will use this card.
Griffin Guide is a card that isn't getting a lot of talk, but it might end up being a real sleeper, much like how Moldervine Cloak was. For three mana, the same cost as Cloak, you get a very similar effect. You lose a point of power and toughness, but pick up evasion in return, which is probably better. Much like the dredge on Cloak, this gives you something if the creature it’s on dies. If they Wrath, you get to keep a 2/2 guy. I think this is a definite sleeper of the set and will see some play, increasingly so as the season goes on.
Ignite Memories was used in a few combo decks that have been posted, but in the end, it’s currently inferior to, and certainly not nearly as played as, the more refined versions of Dragonstorm combo. The other problem is that Memories will sometimes flop and not deal enough.
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage is a card that has a lot of hype, but that I think will turn out to be a dud. For an aggro deck, she is expensive, mana intensive and fragile. Sure, she and Fiery Temper make a nice couple, but in testing we found that in our Rakdos decks, Rakdos Guildmage was just better and more effective than Jaya. I'd expect this to get a lot of play at Champs, but to dwindle short after.
Knight of the Holy Nimbus, now here is a card with massive potential. It’s an always so effective 2/2 for , that has Flanking. But wait, there’s more! For your opponent to kill him, they have to pay an extra on the method of death they want to escort him with. This makes him very hard to kill. A control deck wants to clear the board without tapping out, not have the Nimbus Knight survive and keep beating. In creature fights, not only does his flanking make him dangerous, but if they want to spend the resources to take him down early, then you end up stunting their development. All in all, a very impressive card that will likely be a staple in white based aggro decks.
Looter il-Kor is a card that’s been discussed far more than it should have. It’s a Thought Courier that deals a damage to your opponent. Yes, it’s not terrible, but when was the last time anybody wanted to use Thought Courier outside of Reanimator? In a UG aggro deck, it’s a 1/1 for two. Sure, if you give it a Moldervine Cloak it starts doing much more, but so does any creature. I think that this card is overrated.
Mishra, Artificer Prodigy is a card that intrigues me to this day. When I first saw him I thought he was weak, but then I started thinking about it. What if he read “draw a card” instead of “get one from your library”? That’s essentially what he did, wasn't it? Every time you played an artifact, you generated a card. He was a 4/4 Vedalken Archmage! I immediately started working on a deck with Signets, Chromatic Stars, Mishra's Baubles and Demonfire, along with Phyrexian Totem. You could play a Totem, get another one, then bash for 10 the next turn! However, while it looked great on paper, in the end the deck didn't work very well at all. The mana caused pain, and all of the artifacts made it hard to fit in removal. This guy probably still has his place somewhere (Mishra, Sol'kanar and Gorgonzola makes one crazy UBR legends deck!) but I think it'll take Mishra a while to find a proper home.
Momentary Blink recently saw a good deal of hype and play at Pro Tour Kobe, and it may have a place in Standard. It not only lets your threats survive targeted removal, but it combos well with a long list of creatures, such as Loxodon Hierarch. It fits into Solar Flare to blink Skeletal Vampire and Angel of Despair, and is very powerful in a deck with Mystic Snake and Draining Whelk. It’s probably more gimmicky and cute than a deck should have, but I wouldn't be surprised if I saw somebody fooling around with it at Champs.
Mystical Teachings is a very exciting card to me. In the right deck, this is an instant, flashbacking tutor. It can grab a answer for practically any situation. There’s actually quite a interesting decklist from the 105 person Standard tournament I've been running on MTGSalvation that I can't release yet that uses a Mystical Teachings engine. Look for an article with this decklist in the next couple weeks. In any case, Teachings not only gets any answer you want, from removal to counters to burn, but it also gets the ridiculous Teferi. Once Teferi is in play, it can get any creature in your deck thanks to Teferi's wording. So you could cast it, get Teferi, and then flashback it into any creature you want. This card is very potent, and I expect to see several decks, from control to possibly even combo, using this card. Keep an eye on this one, many of the pros have been keeping it pretty hush hush, and I expect it to break out.
Nether Traitor is a very interesting card, with a lot of potential. In a new version of B/W with Husk deck, this guy can deal a huge amount of damage. For a B extra per creature, you can deal two points per each creature sacrificed! That’s not even counting the kind of things that happen when you have two Nether Traitors or a Teysa, Orzhov Scion in play. I think this card is very underrated right now and will see play in a deck that abuses him.
A quick word on Prismatic Lens. I think that, while rather unexciting, you will see people playing this card over Signets in some tri-color decks, or as signets 5+. I don't necessarily agree with this, but it will be played by some people in those slots.
Reiterate has been discussed as a combo card with Early Harvest, but I don’t know how good that deck is in comparison to other decks right now. What I want to mention is that if you’re looking for a effective weapon against huge Demonfires that isn't fragile or doesn't require you to remove two blue cards from the game, this might be something to possibly keep an eye on. Otherwise, this card will probably see minimal play. Twincast didn't see much play except as a foil to Tooth and Nail in blue decks, and that was in a color that had several cards it could abuse it with.
Saffi Eriksdotter is another card that isn’t getting a lot of talk, but seems like a fantastic drop in a G/W Glareish deck. When your opponent goes to wrath you, you get to keep your best creature, which is often what control wanted to get rid of in the first place. It’s also an all so efficient 2/2 for 2. I think that this card will see some substantial play in decks.
You will see people playing with Sengir Nosferatu, but the card has the distinction of just being worse than Skeletal Vampire. Don't play with this one in Standard.
Serra Avenger... Now here is a card that has a lot of discussion and arguments behind it. I think that this card is good, but only in the correct deck. In a Boros deck for example, I don’t think it really belongs because it doesn’t fit in with the deck. However, in a U/W aggro deck, it’s great because you can cast it on turn four and hold up Remand mana, while retaining a 3/3 flying vigilance. In control, it’s another possible option for a finisher. Instead of tapping out for something like Akroma, you can just cast this on turn five or six and leave counter mana up, and then just protect it the whole game. This should see a decent amount of play, but it’s not some defining card of the set.
Moving right along, we come to Smallpox. This is a very interesting card for a number of reasons. It’s an Innocent Blood, Tremble and small Delirium Skeins all in one. While none of those save for Innocent Blood are very good on their own, together they can pack a wallop. On the play you can hit somebody’s bounceland, and in the late game you can remove their huge threat while knocking out their last card. The problem is that the card won't always be useful, but it is situationally very good. A deck using it recently won the Starcitygames 1,500 Dollar Open. This card will see a lot of play at Champs, but after that I have no idea as to if this will continue to see play. It really depends on how big of a showing it has.
The next card, Snapback, is a very interesting card. While I haven't heard a lot of people talking about it, if there are any viable blue based aggro decks, this card could be very good in it. We built a URB aggro deck that didn't turn out so great, but Snapback was ridiculous in it. You saved your best creature from removal or in combat, and even when you were tapped out you could have a trick. This card is better then people are saying, and I wouldn't be surprised if I saw a few crafty players playing it.
Now, Spectral Force. I have no idea why this card isn't getting more press. Look at its stats. It’s an 8/8 trampler for five, which means it comes out turn four or even possibly three in a green deck. Its small drawback can easily be worked around. Against a red deck, he makes a good guy to hold back until you stabilize the board with more threats, then you slap a Moldervine Cloak on him and go to town. Plus, him with the already great Scryb Ranger is just ridiculous! This card is going to be heavily played in green based aggro decks that don't aim to kill you very quickly like a Gruul or Zoo.
I don't think Spiketail Drakelingis very good in constructed. It’s too expensive in blue aggro decks with light disruption, and the new face of control doesn’t really want to cast this guy because he's not great at either of the things he does. I've seen people play with him, but I haven’t been impressed at all.
Squall Line is yet another card that isn't getting very much press that deserves some love. It’s a instant Hurricane. How is that not just what many green decks were looking for? If you don't have access to red for Demonfire, this is just the card many green decks seem to be looking for. Try it out!
I don’t think Strangling Soot is a great constructed card, but in a deck that has the capability to flash it back, it’s actually pretty good removal against aggro. However, red and black control decks are far and few between so I don't expect this to see much play.
Some people have touted Stronghold Overseer as a good finisher. I don't really see it. He's unblockable, but if you need a man to hold down the fort he can't do that. It's also very mana intensive to use his ability. What control deck out there can produce to use his ability twice, let alone to cast him? There are other cards for about the same price that I would rather play over this card. Skeletal Vampire, anybody?
Okay, now we come to Stuffy Doll. This card sucks. Why did I bring it up? Because for some absolutely unknown reason people like this card and think it’s great. It’s a 5 mana indestructible Prodigal Sorcerer. Let that sink in for a moment. Aggro decks just don’t care, you just spent 5 mana on a wall. Good job. Control decks care even less because their win conditions are in the air. This card isn't generally good in constructed.
Tendrils of Corruption I think is another card that may see some fringe play. I had it in a / control deck I was testing, and it was very good. Early game you can recoup the damage from a Char, late game you can take out a control deck’s win conditions with it. Try it out, you might be surprised.
Terramorphic Expanse is a card with a lot of applications. I don't foresee it getting a lot of play right now because of all of the good mana fixing there already is and the fact that people just simply aren't running very many basic lands. However, in some decks this is a real winner. It’s just not good in curve decks or many control decks because they tend to have a lot of nonbasics these days.
Thelonite Hermit is a very powerful and playable card. Much like Spectral Force, I have no idea why it isn't getting more press. Yes, it takes up 8 mana to do it, but in a green deck your probably unmorph this guy turn four and get 4 2/2's. By using one card, control either has to Wrath or be overwhelmed. As long as you hold the Hermit back, they can't efficiently Condemn either. It’s also fantastic with Glare. This card is great and will see a great deal of play.
Thrill of the Hunt was in a Japanese G/W deck as well as in a few decks around here, but I've so far just found Gather Courage superior. However, it is a solid trump in the aggro mirror matches to keep in mind.
Urza's Factory is a card I like quite a bit. It was much maligned at first, but as soon as I saw it I liked it. It’s a repeatable Stalking Stones for 2 extra mana! In a control deck, it is just amazing. You can do everything on your opponent’s turn now, you rarely ever have to tap mana on your own turn. I predict this card will see play in Standard control decks for a long time to come.
The last card from the actual Time Spiral set that I want to discuss is Yavimaya Dryad. It doesn’t look like much, but it has stole the slot of Wood Elves in green decks. The extra point of power over Wood Elves is enough. Plus it forestwalks! I haven’t given my opponent a Forest yet with it, but I'm sure that it is something that will come up on rare occasions. Yeah yeah, the land comes into play tapped, but really, a third turn Wood Elves usually just got a dual land into play tapped anyways.
Well, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this arti- What’s this? I just got a message from the editors. Apparently I'm supposed to write about these so called "Timeshifted" cards too. Sheesh!
Since they don't have any kind of rhyme or reason to them, I'll discuss the relevant ones that I haven't already talked about in alphabetical order. But wait! Since this is zany and timeshifted, and since I'm tired of normal alphabetical order, I'll be going in reverse order, from Z to A! Exciting.
Skipping swiftly past Zhalfirin Commander, (come on, you know that you want to make your Knight/Soldier Zhalfirin Commander Field Marshal deck!) we come to Withered Wretch. I don’t really think there’s a lot to say here that you probably don't already know. In a black based midrange aggro deck like B/W aggro, he's a fine sideboard card that deals with graveyard strategies and beats for two. In control based black decks, Tormod's Crypt is probably more effective.
Willbender actually isn't as bad as he looks. In a blue based aggro-control deck, he shoves their removal elsewhere, and in control decks, he is known to trump many a counter war. He is also an effective solution to Demonfire in blue control decks, insuring that once you establish control you don't just get Demonfired out of the game.
Wall of Roots is a very exciting card to me. Against aggro, he holds off most of their creatures effectively, while also fueling a turn three wrath. It hasn't been getting a lot of talk, and I think that’s because of its main problem: it’s a green card that wants to be in a control deck, and green often doesn’t do control. I think that this is going to be awesome in the decks that can play it, but it’s hard to find one that it'll fit into.
Voidmage Prodigy, the invitational card of Kai Budde, was a exciting card when I first saw it on the spoiler. I had visions of him with Shadowmage Infiltrator and Dark Confidant and Guildmages oh my! However, the deck never really fit together properly. The problem is with a deck like this is that it has severe trouble with a simple Seal of Fire. If your opponent plays a Seal on turn one, you’re in a world of trouble. I actually think that Seal of Fire is going to be one of the best cards at Champs because it takes down so many old standbys as well as new goodies. Try it out, it’s a fun deck, but be afraid of mountains.
Twisted Abomination is a card that was very good to me in testing. By playing four you can easily cut a land, they fix your mana by getting black dual lands, and in the late game they're a very flexible win condition that survives a lot of cards. I had this in my W/B control deck I was testing and it was very solid. Plus, it has fantastic synergy with Debtors' Knell. Try it out, it might be something that Solar Flare wants.
Tormod's Crypt is the next card, and man, is it a doozy! In testing I found that it single-handedly invalidates graveyard based strategies. Sure, you might not play against any all day, but there’s also a good chance that you could easily face round after round of four copies of Tormod's Crypt. Now that’s not to say that decks that utilize the graveyard are bad. Solar Flare, especially the new "Solar Pox" build, certainly uses the graveyard, but it doesn’t need it to win. A deck that’s focused on abusing the graveyard, like say, pure Reanimator, just loses this card. This is a card that really depends what the metagame looks like, and in the right metagame, it can be devastating. For a wide open metagame like Champs, where anything is possible, it’s probably a good addition to your sideboard if you can fit it in.
Thornscape Battlemage is a fine addition to any R/G deck sideboard. In the maindeck it can often be unimpressive, but in aggro mirror matches it’s a 2/2 that takes down one of their guys. Not to mention a major enemy for red decks, Paladin En-Vec, has protection from red. Protection from red kicker costs on a green card? Not so much.
The Rack is a card that is very powerful once it gets active. Once you get under a Racks grip, it’s really hard to get out of. The problem is getting there in the first place. Aggro decks naturally empty their hands, but control decks like to hoard cards. However with some of the new discard, that’s not such a problem. Such as...
...Stupor. Stupor and the Rack make a great tag team duo, and are both powerful cards. Stupor is much much more than a Mind Rot. The one random discard will, more often then not, nab a card they would have kept. Random discard is often very powerful; R&D has limited the amount of random discard effects for a good reason. I predict Stupor will see Standard play in many kinds of black decks.
I've heard murmurings of Stormbind with Life from the Loam in some sort of 42 land deck, but I think that, unlike extended Life from the Loam the activation on Stormbind hurts the synergy too much. I don't really see much use for Stormbind outside of that.
Soltari Priest is a card I've seen many decks like Boros running, and I must say, I think it’s very effective. It can't be burned out in aggro mirror matches, and it attacks very well, something that the Boros deck really wants. I expect this card to see a good amount of play in all kinds of white aggro decks.
Shadowmage Infiltrator, John Finkel's invitational card, is a card that didn't see a ton of play its first time around, despite how good it was. Will it be good enough this time around? I really don't know. The problem is that the Dimir guild wasn't particularly good, and so UB doesn’t have ton of support behind it. A U/B draw go deck with him might be ok, but pure UB doesn’t have a lot to put behind him. We tried him over Court Hussar in Solar Flare to extremely varied results. I'm sure that he will see play, but the jury is still out on where.
Shadow Guildmage looks pretty innocuous, but it is in fact a future Rakdos staple. A turn one Guildmage takes out many a one drop, from Birds of Paradise all the way to Savannah Lion. From Dark Confidant all the way to Frenzied Goblin. Later, he deals the extra points to finish a creature or player off much better than Magus of the Scroll. Even better, some of the builds or Rakdos have a something like Gemstone Mine to utilize the second half to Rise // Fall, so using the blue ability to save your creatures in combat or from removal isn't a stretch either. This card will see quite a bit of play.
Serrated Arrows is a card I initially dismissed at first, but it might be good enough, especially with Repeal. In a blue based control deck, along with Desert, it can just shut off some attacks. It’s a bit expensive, but it does many things and is flexible.
Sengir Autocrat may have a future as a Promise of Bunrei replacement in a new Husk style deck. That’s pretty much all I can say about him, otherwise he sucks.
Sacred Mesa is a card a lot of people are really liking as a control finisher. I might be completely off base here, but so far I haven't liked it. It’s extremely mana intensive, and I would probably rather just buy an Akroma for the cost it takes to keep using. Yes, it blocks aggros creatures, but you have to repeatedly tap out to make it work. This will see a lot of play, but I don't like it, although I may be wrong.
Resurrection... Wow that makes three four mana reanimate spells in the format. In any case, I've seen some control decks use this to power an Akroma into play on turn four, but those lists haven't impressed me. However, it is something to try out.
A lot of people are going absolutely crazy about Psionic Blast for whatever reasons. I'm going to take a controversial stance and say that it is extremely overrated. The tools for some counterburn deck were already in the format last season with Flames of the Blood hand instead of Psionic Blast and it didn't take over the format then, and I don't predict it doing so now, even with Rift Bolt. Many decks with both blue and red right now don't use Char anyways. No, the place where this card belongs is in a deck like UG aggro that has always wanted Char, but couldn't afford to mess up its mana base to get it. I honestly don't see this getting much competitive play in Standard outside of blue based aggro decks.
Pendelhaven is a pretty innocent looking land. However, this card will have the Okina factor of being ran in all green decks with a 1/1 creatures. In aggro decks, this card is so powerful the builds I've been using started to play two of them! It turns any 1/1 into a Kird Ape and deals extra damage, all in a land that doesn't really hurt you. This is going to be a staple 1- or 2-of in green aggro decks for as long as Time Spiral is in standard.
Mystic Snake is a great addition to UG decks. But you probably already knew that. Outside of that, there’s really nothing more to say. Next!
Mystic Enforcer is a cool and sometimes powerful card, but I've seen it appearing in a bunch of places randomly. For example, some people have it in their G/W aggro decks. Why is it there? You can't expect to get threshold easily during any random game since you are so permanent based. I can't think of any Standard deck this really goes into. It’s good with dredge, but what deck wants Mystic Enforcer along with dredge cards?
Lightning Angel is a interesting card, but I don’t think it'll see much play. I tried out a URW counterburnwrath style deck with this, but it wasn't very good. I'm just pointing this one out because I've seen some people playing it, and I wouldn't be surprised if you run into some URW counterburnwrath special at Champs.
Honorable Passage is an absolutely backbreaking card in aggro mirrors. For example, in Boros against a aggro deck, you get to counter their burn and reflect it back at them, which automatically gives it merit to me. Also, against Skred, this card is an absolute house. Against an opposing Skred they will often take six or more.
Gemstone Mine is simply a utility land for some two- but mainly three-color aggro decks. It is great for mana consistency in Zoo. It’s also good with bouncelands. Once again, a real no brainer.
Fiery Temper is a card you will see a LOT of at Champs. Every few decks is going to have the cute couple of Jaya+Fiery Temper, even if Jaya isn’t very good. Fiery Temper is good with Rakdos Guildmage, but not great. Volcanic Hammer is often just better. Expect to play against it, but I probably wouldn't advise playing it.
As I alluded to a few times earlier, there is a combo deck using Enduring Renewal. How it works is you get Wild Cantor into play and replay it over and over off the mana you get off it from sacrificing it, and then you Grapeshot for as much as you want. It’s probably the next best current combo deck after Dragonstorm. I don't particularly like it, and it certainly hasn't garnered as much of a cult as Dragonstorm, but you may run into it at Champs.
Disenchant is, uh well, Disenchant. It is an easy pick to stick into a white sideboard and use if artifacts or enchantments are common in your metagame, or in a wide open format like Champs. If you have extra sideboard slots, try this out.
Desert is a card that isn't getting a lot of talk, but I think is one of the new era control cards. With one in play it’s pretty decent shutting off most one drops from attacking. However, once you get two or more in play it just gets ridiculous and becomes hard for aggro decks to make an attack without its army being crippled. Try it out in your control decks!
Dandan isn't getting a lot of talk, but it’s actually great in a control mirror. If you play it turn two and it doesn't get Spell Snared, you can easily protect it for the rest of the game. However, the problem with it is, ironically, Desert. If your opponent is playing Desert, they can easily deal with your Dandan. I don't think that Desert is going to catch on though, so it’s probably a great choice for control mirrors at Champs.
Call of the Herd is a fantastic card. It generates card advantage by getting two uses out of one card. While a 3/3 isn't terribly impressive, two 3/3's in one card is very good. This is a flexible and great card at any point in the game. This card will see quite a bit of play in all kinds of green aggro decks, and is a nightmare for control. Repeal and Remand help, but still, as is a common theme in many of the cards I've discussed in this article, cards that let you keep threats after your opponent Wraths are very good.
Bad Moon might be good. I haven't played it very much in Standard so I really don’t know, but if some kind of heavy black creature aggro strategy becomes popular, this will probably be a staple in it.
Avoid Fate is a card that hasn't seen a lot of press, but in a green aggro deck is actually great because it counters all kinds of Removal. Green doesn’t get effects like this anymore so it can be hard to evaluate, but being able to protect your creatures from almost any targeted removal spell for is very good.
Avalanche Riders is a card that will see some play in land destruction decks, especially 'Vore if it can manage to survive Tormod's Crypt. I don't like it in decks like KarstenBotBabyKiller though. A 4 mana stone-rain-shock or 8 mana stone-rain-permanent 2/2 doesn't impress me at all.
I originally really liked Assault // Battery when I saw it on the spoiler, but my opinion of it has greatly decreased. It doesn't do either of what it wants to do that well. Unlike Call of the Herd, one 3/3 for four mana isn't very impressive and there are a lot better burn cards to play than Assault. this card I'm sure will see play, but I don't think it’s the correct choice in a RG deck like Gruul.
The last card to discuss is the players favorite, Akroma, Angel of Wrath. I don't know what I can say about her that hasn't already been said. She's basically a one million one million with every ability ever. I rarely cast her and lose. I think that this, for now at least, is the new control decks finisher of choice and if you can't deal with her, you should probably find a way how. This card will see a good deal of play.
Thank you very much for reading through this article. Please post your feedback on the forums, I'm very interested to hear what you guys have to say. I know I had some controversial things to say on some subjects, and in some places may have skipped some cards people may perceive to be good. I look forward to reading what comment you guys have.
Thank you very much for reading,
Team Unknown Stars
About Gavin Verhey
Gavin Verhey is an nineteen year-old professional card player that travels to play in events throughout the world. He has a wide range of accomplishments, a few of which are playing in U.S. Nationals 2006, a top 16 finish at Grand Prix Los Angeles 2009, playing in Pro Tour Berlin, and being awarded over $8,000 in college scholarship through the Junior Super Series and Magic Scholarship Series programs. He sports 12 Pro Tour Qualifier Top Eights with two wins and formed the successful internet based group Team Unknown Stars.
Gavin is a level one judge and MTGSalvation Administrator. He lives in Washington state and is a student at the University of Washington.