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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
May 18 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Last week I did something I hadn't done in a while: actually play one of the flashback formats! Yeah, I did two TTP drafts, and didn't do that badly. The first was a RG deck that went 1-1 (mostly through double Tromp the Domains), though the best part was the Damnation in the sideboard. The second was much worse: a RB deck that never really came together and went 0-1 against a Temur deck with every single bomb in the format. Anyway, to the future!
As we end the Time Spiral block, we get to the set described as Mark Rosewater's “arthouse film:” Future Sight. On one hand, it does all kinds of new things, has lots of interesting combinations, and contains cards literally “from the future.” On the other, nearly half the cards look extremely different, lots of cards make no sense when reading them, and it includes almost fifty mechanics along with a new card type. Remember, Time Spiral was too complicated when it only around ten new mechanics, and even though the fifty number is a bit exaggerated (I think it includes the evergreen mechanics, but it also doesn't include all the non-named weird stuff going on), that's still a crazy amount of things to be using all in one set. As such, Wizards drastically cut back on the number of words on the cards at common, in an attempt to reduce the “comprehension complexity” of the cards, especially at lower rarities. However, while this is the most complex a Standard-level set will ever get (and possibly any set, though Masters sets come close), the story of complexity in Magic sets isn't over yet—but that's a story for the next block, and we have plenty to get through here. Let's start with the mechanics—and no, I'm not covering all of them, just the important ones to the set.
Bonded Fetch Edge of Autumn Aven Mindcensor
Timeshifted Cards:
As I mentioned above, the Timeshifted cards are “from the future” (and many have shown up in future sets, both as direct reprints and cards inspired by the timeshifted cards), and they look vastly different than the current frame: putting the mana cost on the left and adding a symbol to signify the card's type. In this set the Timeshifted cards make up almost half the set (81 of 180 cards) and are the same rarity as any other card in the set. This is where most of the really weird stuff is (though not all of it), but some of the stuff isn't actually that bad. The Timeshifted cards can be split into three main mechanical categories:
  • Cards that aren't that special. This includes the full-art vanilla creatures, the newly keyworded evergreen mechanics (Deathtouch, Lifelink, Reach, and Shroud), and cards like Bonded Fetch that are just new combinations of existing things.
  • Cards that are minor variations of existing things. This includes non-mana Cycling and Morph costs, as well as clear variations on existing mechanics like Transfigure and Fortify.
  • Cards doing actual new things. These are new mechanics like Delve and Grandeur, as well as cards doing unique things like Phosphorescent Feast or Aven Mindcensor.
As I mentioned, most of the new things are one-offs (Delve being a notable exception), so I'll just cover them as they come up.
Marshaling Cry Kavu Primarch Mystic Speculation
Mix-and-Match” Cards:
Since the Timeshifted cards could only take up half the set, what could be in the rest of the set? Sure, Scry was added to the set (more on that in a bit), and Flash, Suspend, and Vanishing still have plenty of design space left, but we need something else for this already over-stuffed set—something that can only be done in this environment. Mark Rosewater was inspired by his old Invitational Duplicate Sealed rounds, where he would often design cards with multiple keyword mechanics (since those cards would never be printed in a normal set, and thus wouldn't use design space), as well as the popularity of Unhinged card Blast from the Past. If it would have been limited to the mechanics already in Time Spiral block, it would have been fine—certainly not helping the complexity problem, but not adding that much to it. Instead, the mechanics came from several different groups:
  • The new mechanics in Time Spiral block
  • The old mechanics from Time Spiral block
  • Any mechanic from Ravnica block—yes, really. Seven of the ten guild mechanics were used, with only Radiance, Haunt, and Replicate on the bench. You can check my three Ravnica articles if you want more details, as I have a lot to cover.
  • Scry, being introduced as a main mechanic in this set
  • Cycling—Wizards said it was because it was simple, but I'm assuming it was to give them an excuse to add all the Timeshifted cards with Cycling variants
Again, as a Melvin I like the combination of things like Cycling and Madness, or Convoke and Buyback, but as interesting as these combinations are I'm not sure they needed to be in the most complex set ever. Then again, you couldn't get this in any other set, so I'm happy it exists.
Foresee Judge Unworthy Llanowar Empath
We've hit a milestone in the Modern Flashback Series: our first returning mechanic! Granted, now that Scry is evergreen it isn't that special, but it's still meaningful. The main difference between Scry's original appearance and now is that it's now being treated as an action word, instead of just as a rider on various spells. This means cards like Foresee and Judge Unworthy can do interesting things with the scry, and it can be more than just a smoothing mechanic. On a related note, a lot of the cards with Scry care about the converted mana cost of the top card of your library, and that's an interesting mechanic in Time Spiral block with Suspend inflating the average CMC of your deck.
Ramosian Revivalist Frenzy Sliver Sporoloth Ancient
The tribes of Time Spiral block got surprisingly little, but what they did get was impactful. Rebels is the most interesting, as while it did get a searcher, Ramosian Revivalist only searches the graveyard, and notably can't be searched for by Amrou Scout or Blightspeaker (though Defiant Vanguard can find it if you're very lucky—remember there's only one pack of Time Spiral now). The other important Rebel is the Tribal spell Bound in Silence, which lets you directly find a removal spell off a searcher, and in white to boot. Next are Slivers, and other than the five-color Sliver Legion, there is only a cycle of common Slivers, each with a new keyword. Unfortunately, they aren't the best—Frenzy Sliver is very aggressive but not in the good Sliver colors, Virulent Sliver is fine but doesn't benefit that much from other Slivers (note that Poisonous is not Infect), Homing Sliver should almost never be cast, and the other two are expensive and controlling. Finally, while only two Fungus are in the set (neither of which is outstanding), Sprout Swarm is the best common in the set (and possibly in any Modern-legal set). However, even though it's even better in the Thallid deck than an average deck, everyone wants it, so it isn't really a Thallid card.
Knight of Sursi Reality Strobe Rift Elemental
Suspend has many things done with it in this set, on three different axes. First of all, Infiltrator il-Kor, Knight of Sursi, and Shivan Sand-Mage are all small, cheap Suspend creatures (though Shivan Sand-Mage feels like its Suspend cost should be cut in half), leading to more aggression in the set. Second, the controlling decks get an uncommon cycle of “endless” spells that Suspend themselves when they resolve, though they're costed appropriately and thus aren't game-breaking. Finally, there are even more cards that care about time counters and Suspended cards, with something like Rift Elemental able to super-charge a dedicated Suspend deck.
Whip-Spine Drake Gathan Raiders Lumithread Field
One of the few returning mechanics I'll go into detail on, there are seven Morphs in Future Sight. Of those, three of them violate the “five-mana rule,” and while Maelstrom Djinn won't be seen much (both because of rarity and card quality), both Whip-Spine Drake and Gathan Raiders are high-profile commons. The latter has another important note: Gathan Raiders is a colorless card! It's obviously much better if you're Madness-ing something out with it, but it's still a (Gray Ogre) with clear upside, so if your opponent isn't blue, this is the Morph you should be watching out for. The other important Morphs are part of a vertical cycle of non-creature Morphs. All of them are great: Whetwheel is a solid alternate-win condition (and incidental mill is good in a format with Scry), Zoetic Cavern has minimal cost, and even Lumithread Field has a noticeable effect (and Dampening Pulse-type effects are always underrated).
Aven Mindcensor Llanowar Mentor Grave Scrabbler Death Rattle
Returning Mechanics:
As I said, I'm not going to cover every mechanic, but I'll cover all the important changes. Flash appears on 9 cards, and the most important one to keep in mind is Aven Mindcensor—don't wait on your Terramorphic Expanses if your opponent has three mana and is playing white. The Spellshapers make creatures now, and thus have more of a delayed effect compared to the spells. Storm returned with three different variations: Haze of Rage as a “mix-and-match” card, Storm Entity as a creature with a Storm-like ability, and Bitter Ordeal with the Storm variant Gravestorm. Madness only got three cards, though Grave Scrabbler cares about the Madness cost being paid. Shadow returns with five cards, including Spirit en-Dal, an easy way to give Shadow repeatedly. Finally, Delve made its debut here with three cards, and while Death Rattle is a fine removal spell (even if it looks awful compared to Murderous Cut), other than the various discard outlets there aren't really any ways to abuse Delve with self-mill or similar effects.
As always, let's look at what the color pairs were doing when we added Planar Chaos.
White/Blue: Evasion, though no Shadow in Planar Chaos
Blue/Black: Control, but much less Flash
Black/Red: Conflicted between aggressive and Storm, but neither works
Red/Green: Ramp, good creatures, Sliver synergies
Green/White: Tokens/Thallids
White/Black: Rebels, though not much works with them
Blue/Red: Tempo with bounce, but Planar Chaos-focused
Black/Green: Sacrifice/Thallids, but little support at low rarities
Red/White: Very aggressive
Green/Blue: Suspend, but not much support in Planar Chaos
Knight of Sursi Augur il-Vec Judge Unworthy Lymph Sliver
Commons Uncommons
The evasion is back, with Knight of Sursi, Spirit en-Dal, and Whip-Spine Drake (which is probably better in mono-white than mono-blue) being very aggressive, while Lucent Liminid, Augur il-Vec, and Mistmeadow Skulk are more defensive. There's also a surprising amount of pump at common, with both Lumithread Field and Marshaling Cry both providing a large effect. There's still a lot of removal even though we've left the alternate reality of Planar Chaos, and it's versatile—Judge Unworthy gives you card selection while killing a small creature (or even a big one if you have enough Suspend creatures), while Bound in Silence is still a Pacifism even if you have no Rebels (though a single Amrou Scout obviously increases its value by a lot). Finally, one sleeper is Lymph Sliver, as while it doesn't look that good compared to Watcher Sliver (the best comparison), Absorb 1 is much better than +0/+1, especially on a big creature or in multiples (which is why it probably won't be evergreen anytime soon).
Infiltrator il-Kor Aven Augur Second Wind Vedalken Aethermage
Commons Uncommons
Not content with Errant Ephemeron, Wizards made another great evasive Suspend creature in Infiltrator il-Kor—obviously it isn't quite as good as the two-mana Air Elemental, but it is a lot more aggressive, and Shadow is generally a lot better than Flying in an aggressive deck. There's also a lot of bounce, though Aven Augur isn't quite as good as it looks—the upkeep clause hurts it more than some of the other Augurs. Blue also gets the best out of Scry, as Foresee is one of the best pure card draw spells (it's an Impulse you can get two cards out of, while also being able to look six cards deep if you desperately need something), while Cryptic Annelid is surprisingly good (again, looking six cards deep is powerful). Blue also continues to get good removal at uncommon, with Second Wind being a more annoying to play with Narcolepsy and Spin into Myth being a split card of a non-conditional Condemn/Time Ebb with added library manipulation. A final interesting card is Vedalken Aethermage, as while it's obviously good against Slivers, Wizardcycling is a wildcard—there are 48 Wizards in Time Spiral block, and while that includes a lot of rares (all the Maguses, as well as bombs like Venser, Shaper Savant), it also includes good, situational cards like (Crookshaw Transmuter), Prodigal Pyromancer, and Pit Keeper.
Ichor Slick Deepcavern Imp Skirk Ridge Exhumer Fleshwrither
Commons Uncommons
As always, black is defined by its removal—while Grave Peril is just weird (and probably needs a specific deck to work), Ichor Slick is great against small creatures (and note that Cycling plus Madness turns it into an instant), while Death Rattle kills a lot of things. The other surprising thing is that Black finally gets a lot of good Madness enablers, with both Deepcavern Imp and Stronghold Rats being free discard outlets and Skirk Ridge Exhumer possibly being the best non-rare Spellshaper in the whole block (it starts as “kill two toughness creatures you can block”, and gets better from there) and certainly the best one black has gotten. Augur of Skulls is also a surprisingly powerful Augur, as it blocks forever while changing the way your opponent plays (though don't get too greedy trying to wait for your opponent to have two cards in hand, as they'll either get to hold lands or can play multiple cards to make you lose value). The problem, as always, is the creatures. Sure, Mass of Ghouls is fine for the time, and Fleshwrither is flexible (though the sorcery clause on Transfigure hurts a lot more than it does on a Transmute card), but something like Cutthroat il-Dal or Putrid Cyclops just isn't good in an average deck. There are also a surprising number of dead cards, especially at uncommon—Witch's Mist is the only uncommon non-creature spell that I'd consider playing, and even that isn't that great without pingers or token-makers (which there are admittedly a lot of).
Ghostfire Flowstone Embrace Grinning Ignus Boldwyr Intimidator
Commons Uncommons
Red has even more removal than you would expect, and it's all good, common and versatile: Ghostfire gets around protection, Fatal Attraction is bigger if you can afford to wait, Flowstone Embrace doubles as a pump effect, and Riddle of Lightning can work as a finisher. However, there's a lot of compromises to give you all that removal. On one hand, red just has fewer cards, as Gathan Raiders is a colorless card and Henchfiend of Ukor is a gold card. On the other, the cards are very siloed, as cards like Grinning Ignus and Rift Elemental only go in the Storm and Suspend decks specifically (even though they're great in those decks). In addition, a lot of the Timeshifted cards are out of their element compared to their later appearances—Boldwyr Intimidator doesn't have tribal themes to work off (though a surprising number of quality red and green cards are warriors), while Bloodshot Trainee has only one Equipment in the entire block to work with (though Auras like Undying Rage and Flowstone Embrace can work with it).
Sprout Swarm Thornweald Archer Llanowar Empath Nacatl War-Pride
Commons Uncommons
First of all, let's address the elephant in the room: Sprout Swarm is insanely powerful, and more troublesome, it creates a repetitive gamestate, as I warned Buyback spells were prone to do. In fact, Sprout Swarm's existence makes counterspells much more of a priority for blue decks. Other than that, green has a lot of efficient creatures at all costs: Nessian Courser and Thornweald Archer are great small creatures (remember, Trained Armodon is the gold standard right now for green), while Llanowar Empath and Kavu Primarch give you both reasonable four-drops and mana sinks for later. At uncommon, we have the card that everyone would be complaining about if Sprout Swarm didn't exist: Nacatl War-Pride. This is Predatory Rampage that hits all your opponent's creatures while also getting damage through, though it is balanced by being triple-green and needing to attack. The biggest problem is the lack of good non-creature spells (no, Sprout Swarm doesn't count), as while Edge of Autumn is fine (though hard to use for fixing, as it can't find your splash when you draw it late), nothing else is a card you want to play. It's also missing the great Suspend cards that were in the earlier sets.
Tolaria West Keldon Megaliths Zoetic Cavern
The main feature here is the cycle of lands with keywords, and with the exception of Dakmor Salvage (as it requires a very-focused graveyard deck with discard outlets to be meaningful) they're all worth the minor cost of entering tapped. Tolaria West still functions as a mana fixer (even if you don't have a Urza's Factory or Zoetic Cavern to get), and the other three lands have very meaningful effects. Other than that, Zoetic Cavern is great as I mentioned above, but nothing else really stands out. And again, while it isn't technically colorless, remember that any deck would be happy running Gathan Raiders.
One more round of color pair analyses!
One constant through the block has been the WU evasion deck, and Future Sight continues that with lots of Suspend creatures, along with the versatility of both sides of Whip-Spine Drake.
A lot of the UB control deck was based around Mystical Teachings, and as such it's one of the decks hurt most by the loss of Time Spiral packs. Instead, UB becomes more of a general control deck, possibly with a Madness angle due to the density of discard outlets in both blue and black.
Finally, Storm gets some real support with Grinning Ignus and Storm Entity, but the cost was a pack of Grapeshots and Empty the Warrens. Still, with Time Spiral being the first pack, you know if you have the Storm cards and can pivot to a generic removal deck (or another color pair) if the cards aren't there. You do get all the Henchfiend of Ukors you want, so that's a plus as well.
While Rift Elemental allows you to super-charge the Suspend archetype (like in Modern Masters), the cost is a lack of Suspend cards in Future Sight. The Sliver deck is also hurt by removing a Time Spiral pack, though Homing Sliver lets you find the ones remaining while Virulent Sliver provides an alternate path. As such, RG doesn't really have a plan in the Future Sight pack, though good creatures plus removal is always reasonable.
Even if you don't get a Sprout Swarm, the GW Thallid deck isn't in a bad position, as it gets a lord at common (Sporoloth Ancient), and Kavu Primarch is a “good enough” payoff for tokens.
Another archetype hurt by losing a pack of Time Spiral, as you lose a chance at Amrou Scouts while only getting three Rebels (though both Blade of the Sixth Pride and Deepcavern Imp are good).
While bounce isn't in red anymore, Aven Augur is powerful enough to pick up some of the slack. Infiltrator il-Kor gives you another cheap threat as well, so this could work.
Death Rattle is finally a decent common incentive to put cards in your graveyard, but it's already a good removal spell. As such, there isn't much other than card quality to pull you to this archetype.
The RW aggro deck gets some surprisingly good two-drops here—Blade of the Sixth Pride was groundbreaking for the time, while (Emberwild Augur) provides both an early creature and reach. In addition, the lower numbers of super-powerful Suspend cards (due to the lack of Time Spiral packs) helps the aggro decks win games faster.
As is the story with a lot of archetypes, Time Spiral block's lack of focus left behind the GU Suspend archetype, and there isn't much else to tie the archetype together.
Ten thousand words later, the crazy Time Spiral block comes to an end. Next time we'll move to the complete opposite side of the spectrum with Tenth Edition. In addition, Eternal Masters previews are finally starting next week (and shockingly nothing has leaked out at this point), and I'll provide what coverage I can (though I doubt it'll be much more than the Monday previews) in addition to planning for my Reprint Set Report Card.

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