[Editor's note: With Extended season coming in a few months, this seemed like a good time to take a look back at this article. It won the Article of the Month award 11 months ago. While it was describing an Extended environment that's already changed, a lot of the comments were quite prescient. Enjoy!]
Back in Time
Pretty much every player who is somewhat competitively interested in the Extended Constructed format anticipates the release of a new block-opening set like Christmas. There are almost always interesting new cards that can either create a whole new deck type or just fill some holes in a deck or the entire format.
Time Spiral is far from disappointing in this regard, although it lacks a major block mechanic or theme that would be worthy to build a deck around. Yet a single card can and will change the way we will play Extended.
The card I'm talking about is of course the Tormod's Crypt that once was banned in this very format. However, being reprinted doesn't make it automatically banned again, and this little card should shake up the format pretty easily since the most dominant deck at the time, Friggorid, and a whole slew of other decks, such as Astral Slide, CAL, and Psychatog, need their graveyard to operate or even to survive.
It would be easy to make a comparison between the Crypt and Morningtide, a card that has already seen a lot of sideboard spots due to the heavy abuse of the graveyard as a resource in the format, yet this is an unfair match up as the Crypt is cheaper than the Tide and also has no color requirement, making it usable in any deck.
But the most interesting thing about the Crypt is that it is non-symmetric and only removes the opponent’s graveyard. This could easily result in the use of the
Crypt in every single sideboard, even the ones of decks that rely on their own graveyards to improve their mirror matches.
Such a movement can also result in a situation similar to the one in Columbus 2004, where Pierre Canalis’ win was more or less a result of the Pros outsmarting themselves. At the time, Affinity was such a prominent and dominant deck that it was hated wherever possible. Everybody knew there was so much hate in the field and no one really tried to go for the deck. "When no one is going to play that deck, why dedicate that many sideboard spots to Affinity?" was the next thought and the hate went back to a minimum.
This train of thought made Affinity one of the best deck choices again, since nobody packed the hate against the deck. However, I doubt this will happen again. The players remember this incident and even if not, the sideboard cards against Affinity were really just useful against a single deck, whereas Tormod's Crypt is very good against half the field at the moment.
We will have to wait for online Extended results to make such an observation and maybe for the Banned/Restricted update in December, which should be right on time for the Qualifier Season from January to early March.
Then again, there are a few options as to how some graveyard based decks could still survive, with Stifle, its new cousin Trickbind, and plain old Pithing Needle, to name a few.
The Nick of Time
But not only the Crypt is going to change the way Extended is played, Time Spiral is also the home of the best keyword since Dredge (and this could also become debatable soon with the Crypt in the format). Split Second is the name of the game.
The three most fearsome creatures in Extended are without a doubt Psychatog, Arcbound Ravager and Wild Mongrel. The problem with these was always that they easily grew out of burn range or can move themselves out of it at will, at least for a turn, to shed of the burn pointed at them. And then there was another problem, even when targeted with white or black removal. The Ravager sometimes even excelled when going to the graveyard, moving its counters onto another creature that is harder to block, and the Tog and the Mongrel where often accompanied by Circular Logic or other Counterspells that would make it hard for the removal to even resolve.
Sudden Shock and Sudden Death all get rid of the three above-mentioned creatures without the fear of the creatures being pumped out of the range or the threat of a Mana Leak. The Ravager can't even channel other artifacts into more counters for the next creature. Not to mention the other targets for these Sudden cards that you can blast before they do much harm, such as Withered Wretch, Meloku or Triskelion.
Another major nuisance of the format is the Isochron Scepter-based lock, normally accomplished through an Orim's Chant. Krosan Grip is an easy solution to this problem and should force good old Naturalize out of most sideboards.
Last but not least, Wipe Away that can easily trick the opponent into pumping their Togs to lethal size, and then get rid of them. It’s also great for combating the Scepter, although you really only get rid of the imprinted card. Still, a very good trade in my humble opinion, and the targeting range for this spell is unlimited.
Of the remaining Split Second cards, I believe only Stonewood Invocation and Trickbind could find their way into the format, but that remains to be seen.
The Timeshifted Cards were an ingenious move by Wizards of the Coast. They had a shock value that can't be described and their legality in all formats should stir things up pretty nicely. Not only do we have a new source for Extended staples such as Shadowmage Infiltrator, Call of the Herd, and Disenchant, but with the return of former defining Extended cards come a few other goodies with many, many possibilities to try out. Additionally, this ensures the legality of those staple cards past the next two Extended rotations.
As a returning goodie, Bad Moon could make a fast hitting Suicide Black deck possible. Cabal Therapy and Duress should be enough disruption and there is always the possibility of splashing a second color through fetch lands and dual lands.
The Rack should give such a deck enough to make an possible impact. This card could prove to be a juggernaut in this format with decks that are bound to empty their hand early - and with a little help of the above mentioned discard spells it is easy to help those decks meet The Rack's wrath. What keeps this card in balance is the lack of powerful multidiscard spells like Hymn to Tourach, but The Rack should still make a Noir Type Deck possible along with Gerrard's Verdict.
Then there are Wall of Roots and Spike Feeder, both former staples in The Rock. Although I doubt the Wall will make it this time around, Spike Feeder is a very good weapon against BDW and RDW and should also find its way into the sideboards.
Next up would be Psionic Blast, a card that everybody is talking about, but no one is really sure where to fit it. The best application I can think of so far is in a White Weenie deck with blue or some kind of Fish deck. Soltari Priest is also a returning weapon for White Weenie.
Lastly there are the oddities such as Auratog and Avatar of Woe. That Tog alone won't make Enchantress viable again, and even though Friggorid could play the Avatar pretty fast, the deck's survival is in question and there would still be the question of how to fit it in.
Combo or No?
Another thing to point out would be the return of Enduring Renewal. This card was the foundation of an early combo deck named Fruity Pebbles, which looped a 0-cost creature like Phyrexian Walker through Goblin Bombardment. But recreating the deck has significant problems since there is only Ornithopter as a good 0-mana creature in the format and no really good sacrifice options. Looking at the list, Nantuko Husk and his cousin Carrion Feeder are probably the most potent. Blasting Station is also a great card for this deck, one of the best ways to recreate the loop.
But there are other cards in the format that could combo with the Renewal. Wild Cantor, Skirk Prospector and Blood Pet all can be sacrificed for mana, returned to hand by the Renewal, and then come out again. You can easily fuel Storm on cards like Grapeshot or Brain Freeze this way. Goblin Sharpshooter would be another combo possibility.
For already existing Combo decks, the suspend cards could actually prove to be useful as they can resolve at the beginning of your upkeep without spending any more mana. This will either give you more fuel (e.g. Ancestral Vision), limit the opponent’s options (Mindstab) or, if they counter it, force open a window for your combo. This is definitively something to try out although the usefulness of suspend cards may be limited due to ScepterChant in the format.
While there are some format warping cards in the set, there are also a few little things that should not be overlooked. Those aren't going to change how any deck is handled, but they are still worth a mention.
Look at Chromatic Star, which will replace Terrarion in the Affinity deck since it does basically the same thing but only needs a single mana to activate if it doesn’t turn out to be just Ravager food.
Or Ancient Grudge, more or less Ray of Revelation's lost cousin, almost an Oxidize that you want to dredge away.
Next would be Magus of the Scroll, the successor of the pre-rotation Extended staple Cursed Scroll, but being a creature could prove to be too troublesome to include it in modern RDW or BDW.
Probably the easiest observation is the use of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir as the sideboard card of choice for the (half)mirror match in any blue-based control deck. It just neutralizes every opponent’s counterspell at once, is a win condition on its own and makes your other win conditions instants and therefore even harder for Wrath of God to handle. This also pretty much spells disaster for Llawan, Cephalid Empress’s tenure in Extended.
Another card that shouldn't be underestimated is Magus of the Disk, a Pernicious Deed on legs that could also possibly turn any of your bounce spells into one by saving the Magus (hello again Wipe Away). However, it comes into play tapped and being a creature can again prove to be troublesome.
Last but not least, there are two cards I would like to draw your attention to as they could easily be forgotten: Flagstones of Trokair and Return to Dust. The former can easily be identified as another set of Fetchlands for any white deck, and should be included at least once in any given white deck, if only to have a land that can't be successfully pillaged. Return to Dust might seem expensive, but is really worth its cost. A white sorcery Rack and Ruin can mess with Affinity's plans, but what makes this card really worth it is the fact that it can take Astral Slide, Solitary Confinement or Seismic Assault out of the range of an Eternal Witness.
I also made a list of cards that could find their way into the format, but then again, there are a few things that stand in their way. All the following cards have potential, but probably not enough as the aforementioned, so I saved the trouble to explain them in detail. It’s doubtful but possible that they’ll show up in the format.
Molder: Will probably replace Oxidize in some decks.
Mishra, Artificer Prodigy: Combo potential, but how to ramp up the mana?
Nether Traitor: If a black-based aggro deck will enter the format, it could shine.
Phyrexian Totem: If Mono-Black Control can make it in, a possible inclusion.
Pull from Eternity: Can combat Isochron Scepter, but there are better ways to do so.
Rift Bolt: 3 damage for :symr:. Should go into RDW/BDW
Serra Avenger: Very good card for White Weenie with counter backup, but there is no deck for it at the moment.
Spell Burst: Blue-based Tron Decks would love this card.
Stuffy Doll: Instant combo with Guilty Conscience, probably not strong enough for Extended.
Smallpox: Probably too hard to utilize.
Think Twice: Is this the new Accumulated Knowledge?
Tivadar of Thorn: Anti-Goblins, duh.
Vesuva: As if there weren't enough nonbasics in the format.
Grapeshot: Another win condition for Heartbeat?
Careful Consideration: Instant card draw, probably not good enough.
Bogardan Hellkite: Maybe if Tooth and Nail is tired of Triskelion.
Call to the Netherworld: Madness for 0 is always nice. Might go into Friggorid if the deck weren't so tight.
I think the question that everybody is asking now is whether the Crypt will eat the format or not. I actually doubt that all the decks will break on a single card that takes out one resource and there are still plenty of cards to combat the Crypt, but it sure will change the format.
For competitive Extended, you should get yourself a playset of Crypts as well as a playset of the four Split Second uncommons I mentioned above and the ones I pointed out in the "Obviously" section if you are playing a deck that can use them.
Have fun testing, some interesting things are bound to happen.