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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
May 04 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Last time we covered the big picture of Time Spiral, including the mechanics of the set and the main themes, so check that article if you're confused, as while going through the colors I'm going to assume a basic understanding of what Flanking is, how Suspend changes the general picture of the mana curves in limited, or what a Sliver deck could look like, for instance. On to the colors!
Castle Raptors Temporal Isolation Griffin Guide
Commons Uncommons
In theory, white should be defined by two things: aggressive Flanking creatures and grindy Rebel synergies. However, both of those strategies are hampered due to the lack of focus in the set. On one hand, the only common white Flanking creatures are Benalish Cavalry and Sidewinder Sliver, with most of the Flanking saved for uncommon. On the other, Amrou Scout being the only common searcher means the Rebel strategy is unreliable, and without the searchers cards like Amrou Seekers and Errant Doomsayers are fine, but not ground-breaking. Instead, a lot of the power comes from the evasive creatures. While Cloudchaser Kestrel and Flickering Spirit aren't awful creatures, the real star is Castle Raptors, which is a 3/3 flier as a base (still decent) while blocking as a 3/5 (notably blocking Errant Ephemeron). Even if you don't have enough fliers, Ivory Giant is a great way to break through a board stall as well.
Moving to the non-creature spells, the main power comes from Temporal Isolation. While it looks like a weird Pacifism variant at first, an important trick is that you can attack with the creature, get through unblocked, then bounce/destroy Temporal Isolation to deal the damage. Momentary Blink also deserves a mention, as in addition to countering removal spells, there are a decent number of enters-the-battlefield effects to reuse. Moving up to uncommon, Celestial Crusader is one of the biggest possible blowouts just as a Split Second pump effect, while Griffin Guide is one of the few efficient Auras in this period.
Errant Ephemeron Spiketail Drakeling Brine Elemental
Commons Uncommons
Blue slants very heavily towards control in this set, as you would expect when you have a common 4/4 flier for 2 in Errant Ephemeron as your reward for surviving a couple turns. However, it isn't just the payoff that wants a control deck, it's the entire color. Your small creatures are all geared towards surviving the late game, such as the 1/5 for 2 Dream Stalker, the reliable looter Looter il-Kor, and the counterspell on an efficient flier Spiketail Drakeling. You even have good instant-speed card draw, such as Think Twice, Fathom Seer, and the crazy tutor Mystical Teachings. The one problem with the control deck is that your one common counterspell is Cancel (which actually made its debut in this set), and counterspells in general aren't the best when Suspend means your opponent is likely to be able to cast multiple impactful spells in a turn. The uncommons don't change the calculus much, as cards like Riftwing Cloudskate, Telekinetic Sliver, and Brine Elemental continue the focus towards the late game.
Dark Withering Strangling Soot Corpulent Corpse
Commons Uncommons
Black is the Madness color in Time Spiral, but even though I prioritized the discard outlets in my mechanic review, there isn't the quantity of payoff cards with Madness you would desire. Dark Withering and Gorgon Recluse are the obvious payoffs, and Call to the Netherworld is fine, but the only other Madness card is the bad Psychotic Episode. One other problem is that black got a lot of the “weird” nostalgic cards like Mana Skimmer, Viscid Lemures, and Cyclopean Giant that might be okay, but certainly aren't that great. In addition, a lot of the cards fit in the old “Suicide Black” archetype of small aggressive creatures with downsides, like Skulking Knight and Sangrophage, and I don't know how good those are in limited, especially as creatures have gotten better over time. Black does have a couple of decent creatures at common though—Corpulent Corpse is a good one-drop, and Pit Keeper is a curve-filler early or a Gravedigger late.
Of course, as always, the strength of black is in its removal, so much so that Feebleness and Assassinate are on the lower end of the spectrum. Instead, both Strangling Soot and Tendrils of Corruption give you a lot of value in addition to being good removal, and those get paired with the (almost) non-conditional Dark Withering. Mindstab isn't removal, but it fits into the card advantage theme of black, though it's one of the few Suspend cards without a good back-end (as you don't want to Suspend it past the first turn or two, and paying in full might not even get three cards on or after the sixth turn). The removal train continues into uncommon, with half the black uncommons being removal, even if cards like Faceless Devourer, Premature Burial, and Smallpox are much more conditional.
Coal Stoker Rift Bolt Sulfurous Blast
Commons Uncommons
Red has two main themes, but they unfortunately don't work well together. On one hand you have a lot of Echo creatures, which want you to spend a lot of mana over multiple turns. On the other you have Storm, which wants you to play a lot of spells (as notably all the Storm spells are sorceries this time) and combos well with the Suspend cards along with direct enablers like Coal Stoker. My gut is that Storm is much better than Echo unless you can combo the Echo cards with Thick-Skinned Goblin, as getting the good Storm cards (Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens) to a decent level doesn't take much work, and as I mentioned in the mechanic overview, outside of Mogg War Marshal the common Echo cards aren't worth the extra cost.
Again, removal is the big draw to red: Rift Bolt (naturally cast) and Orcish Cannonade kill small things, Lightning Axe kills most things, and Bogardan Rager, while very telegraphed, is a trick that can catch people off guard with so many other tricks in the format. At uncommon the removal gets even bigger, with the bomb Sulfurous Blast wiping most boards, especially with all the tokens and small creatures in the format. Firemaw Kavu also might not be quite as good as its Planeshift counterpart, but it's also versatile (note you can use the 2 damage on itself if you need to deal 4 damage to something right away). One uncommon that isn't quite as flashy is Undying Rage, which acts as both a reusable pump effect, along with a can't block effect if necessary for a final push.
Penumbra Spider Nantuko Shaman Thrill of the Hunt
Commons Uncommons
I'm surprised how bad green looks in this set, at least in the commons. Sure, it has a lot of creatures with decent stats—Penumbra Spider is a crazy upgrade on Giant Spider (which itself is a great creature for the time), Nantuko Shaman is a 3/2 for 4 that cantrips, and Durkwood Baloth is like all the other suspend creatures—but there are also a lot more unplayable cards than normal. There's also a lot of support around the Thallids, but it feels like they are too clunky without the support in future sets (though Herd Gnarr is support in green that's good on its own). There are a lot of great non-creature spells, though—sure, Tromp the Domains is going to be dominating as an Overrun effect, but just as impactful is Thrill of the Hunt, which allows you to win combat twice for just one mana each time.
Prismatic Lens Calciform Pools Foriysian Totem
Commons Uncommons
Hooray, we have common colorless cards again! The most important part of the commons is the fixing, as between Terramorphic Expanse, Prismatic Lens and Chromatic Star, splashes are easy (compared to a normal non-gold set) and even something ambitious like a 3+ color Slivers deck can work (especially if green is involved). At uncommon, we have more fixing with the storage lands, which allow you to cast the suspend spells if necessary along with supporting Storm. The Totems allow you to ramp (and technically fix) while giving the utility of creatures in the late game, which is also what Urza's Factory provides. Overall the colorless cards continue the trend of pointing towards the late game started by Suspend and grindy mechanics like Thallids and Rebels.
Now it's time to go over the archetypes in the set. While the fixing is very good, outside of a Slivers deck, I expect the fixing to go more towards splashes than actual three-color decks. As such, I'm going to start with the normal two-color pairs and go from there.
As is becoming a pattern, WU evasion is the archetype here, though the fliers are supplemented by some Shadow creatures. There are actually two different versions: the aggro version that wants small creatures like Cloudchaser Kestrel and even Drifter il-Dal, and the more-controlling version that goes up to Castle Raptors and Errant Ephemerona—I'm guessing all the bias towards control make the controlling version better, but aggro could work if everyone's spending early turns suspending things.
The UB deck is very controlling, and Mystical Teachings is a great symbol of the color combination's flexibility. There isn't much more to say about the color pair that can do most things.
Black and red have a ton of removal, but the aggressive tendencies of the color pair don't exist, even before you consider Suspend giving everyone early plays. Maybe this is the storm color pair, since black has a couple rituals to go along with multiple Suspend cards?
There are a ton of big creatures in both red and green (even if the red creatures all have Echo), so a ramp deck could work, especially since Suspend means you can play big creatures at all points in the curve. The Sliver deck also has a focus in RG, as I mentioned in my mechanics article.
Some of the pieces are here for a token deck, but I don't know if there are enough quite yet—the Thallids do work (along with Icatian Crier), and the pump exists, but there's nothing putting it over the top quite yet. However, that might just be a reaction to knowing how good it gets in later, and it might be fine now.
There's nothing really special here, but there's definitely enough card quality here to make a deck. Maybe the instant-speed removal and decent Spellshapers makes this the best place for Rebels? I'm not sure yet.
This color combination also doesn't have much going on, but unlike WB the lack of synergy isn't made up by the overall card quality. I'd avoid this pair for now if possible.
As I mentioned above, BG is the Thallid combination for this set, but other than Deathspore Thallid there isn't much synergy at common—this pair needs some support from higher rarities to work at an optimal level.
If there's an aggro deck in this set, it'll be in RW since it is the one pair with decent small creatures. The problem is that the Suspend cards are a lot weaker here (or at least more conditional) than in the other colors, so it really needs to go aggro to be successful.
In contrast, GU has the best Suspend cards, so that's a theme you can go with. However, there isn't much of a unifying theme with Suspend and/or time counters yet (just Clockspinning and Jhoira's Timebug, neither of which is great), so you'll have to be content with the fact that the Suspend cards are just good cards.
Wow, that was a long set to cover—sure, this article is only around 2,000 words (which what I aim for, but have been overshooting a lot recently), but combined with the first part my total Time Spiral coverage is around the 5,000 word mark. However, while I don't think I'll need any more two-parters for a while, Time Spiral clearly isn't getting any easier. Next time we'll jump into the alternate reality of Planar Chaos.
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