Time Spiral was a funny set. Each card is a homage to something else in mechanics, style or name, some more apparent than others, while others really obscure. It’s a lot of fun to go through the set and try to figure out what is a reference or a re-imaging of a card from the past, especially for some of the random or unknown ones. Every once in a while, usually once or twice a year, I like to go through the entire block and try to figure out what each card has to do with, whether it’s simple or more complex, like an obscure reference to a casting cost or creature type, to a pretty obvious re-working of a mechanic.
Today I do that again, but this time only the Time Spiral set, and this time with an eyeball for cube. Like I did with Rise of Eldrazi, I’ll take a look at some cube cards—playable, staple, or fringe—and talk about their merits and demerits. As always, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Academy Ruins: Like Volrath’s Stronghold, you can do some silly things with Academy Ruins. For starters, you can buy back your big baddies like Wurmcoil Engine or Myr Battlesphere, whether you lost them to removal or some sort of sac effect like a Recurring Nightmare. If board wipes are more your thing, you can rebuy Nevinnyral’s Disk, Rachet Bomb, Powder Keg, Engineered Explosives, etc. for the soft/hard lock on an opponent. Keeping a planeswalker out on the board while you continually wipe everything off with a disk/keg/EE is a quick way to gain a bunch of incremental value and eventually win. I like Academy Ruins in cubes of all sizes; it allows for a unique style of recursion that isn’t common in many other cubeable cards.
Ancestral Vision: If you’re playing in an unpowered cube, this is an auto-include. While it is one of the worst late-game top decks you can get, starting with Visions in your opening hand is so powerful and will soon enough put you far ahead in the card department for what is essentially a free cost by the time it is cast. Against most decks in the format, a turn-5 draw 3 for free is tough to overcome. Even as a late-game top deck, if you can stabilize for long enough for Visions to resolve, it should put you back into the game pretty quickly. 3 cards for what is an already-paid minimal cost is pretty great.
In a powered environment, I’m less inclined to run Ancestral Vision. Against some of the decks in the format, you don’t have 5 turns to wait for 3 cards, and getting it late can at times make it unplayable, or rather uncastable. With Dream Halls or cascade cards you can hit it, but 4 turns of waiting is such a long time in a format where games can be in-the-bag by turn 3 or 4 at times. With that being said, the card is still very strong; it’s like a weaker Library, in that whenever you have it in your opener the odds of you winning increase, but unlike Library it’s fairly awful in all other facets of the game. Running this in your powered cube is a matter of preference, as it’s understandable why you would and wouldn’t want to play it.
Ancient Grudge: Depending on how many artifacts you include in your pools and how large your cube is, Ancient Grudge gets better and worse. In smaller cubes, there simply isn’t room for it; RG isn’t exactly an insane color combination in terms of the cards it offers, but all the standard inclusions for that color combination outperform a Shatter and narrower Nature’s Claim attached together. But if you run a larger list and intentionally include more artifacts into the draft pool, then Grudge seems like it would be an OK choice.
Unlike in a majority of regular limited formats, the artifacts you’re destroying in cube are either problem causers or enablers. Taking out both their Sol Ring and Signet in the same turn can be a huge tempo bust for your opponent; but also being able to blow up Wurmcoil and kill the death toucher so you can attack, or destroying a Lightning Greaves and a Crystal Shard that are causing you problems can give the card huge value. Unless I know the environment and have an idea of what my opponents are playing, I’ll almost always keep this in the sideboard, but it is a fine sideboard choice.
Bogardan Hellkite: In my opinion, this guy is THE red fatty. 8 mana is a considerable amount, but you certainly get your money’s worth. A 5/5 flier with flash is already pretty nice; alone, I don’t think I would include it, as I’d almost rather play a Shivan Dragon over an overcosted flashable version. With the 5-arc’d-damage attached, Hellkite gets into real serious territory real quick. As a shot to the face, Hellkite could feasibly do 10 damage alone. 5 damage split up also wipes out a ton of boards, as cube is full of useful, smaller creatures that 1 or 2 damage can take out easily. If you want to get silly, you can Sneak Attack the Hellkite in for “surprise” kills, and if we’re really getting deep, combine him with a Galepowder Mage or a Venser—GGs, coming to a cube near you. 8 is a lot for a creature, though, and if they ever printed a cheaper-but-comparably-as-awesome creature in red, I’d have no problem making the switch.
Brine Elemental: I think the MTGO cube ran this for the Vesuvan Shapeshifter/Pickles lock; I think there are better combos to run that are less clunky and with more options.
Careful Consideration: This is a card that I never considered as “good” before I started playing with it in the MTGO cube, and then when it transitioned to another cube it’s power was still intact. 4 cards is a lot, and having the ability to hit them at instant speed is kind of nuts. The discard clause, which can be painful in some decks, is typically not a draw back; there is almost at least one land or blank/not-as-useful card you draw off the 4 to pitch, and in some decks having Careful Consideration pitch 3 is more of a boon than anything. It’s really nice to be able to fill up your graveyard with multiple targets for Sheoldered/Recurring Nightmare, or to be able to bring them all back with a Living Death. Some people may dismiss it because it costs 4, and CMC 4 in blue is a tough shell to crack into, but before you toss it aside completely I suggest trying it, as drawing 4 is quite a bit.
Draining Whelk: Way back in the day of my first exploits in cube with my brother, he ran this card, and it was OK. Hitting them with the Draining Whelk was usually huge news, but if they knew it was there and you had the mana open, you might as well have “I’m holding up Draining Whelk” tattoo’d to your forehead. 6 mana is entirely too much for a counterspell, even if you get a huge, flying beast out of the deal.
Dread Return: If you heavily, heavily, heavily support reanimator, Dread Return might be an OK option. 2BB is a lot for a reanimation spell that only hits your graveyard, and the flashback is kind of kaput unless you’re flashing back a creature that can make an army, as the dedicated reanimator decks aren’t going to run a swath of smaller creatures that can be afforded to sacrifice. I think this is a poor choice for all but the largest cube, as there are better options at a cheaper cost.
Empty the Warrens: In cubes that support combo, Empty the Warrens is a must. Even though it’s the worst of the cubeable storm option because it is so much easier to deal with a bunch of 1/1s instead of damage or mill, they still either need an army of their own or the appropriate wrath to really stop a sizeable Warrens. In addition, you can Warrens for a smaller amount if the board is a little more clear and try to sneak a win out that way. If you don’t support Storm Combo, don’t even consider this card, but don’t consider NOT running it if you do support Storm Combo…yes that confused me too.
Greater Gargadon: The Gargadon-is-on! GG does not always mean GG, and a poorly played GG can mean a game loss for you, but he offers a lot and goes into a lot of different archetypes. In an aggressive build, he’s a nice turn 1 play you can use to gain some value off their early removal and sac your lands when you have an opening to try and get in for a win. In other decks, he’s an easy-to-cast big beater that doesn’t require too much thought other than “sac my things when they’re about to die”.
Fair warning though—unless you want to be blown out, or unless you absolutely know your opponent doesn’t have it, or unless you don’t give a shit, you must play around what your opponent could have if you start saccing lands. Sure, there are the times where you could say “if I didn’t sac my lands, then I was dead anyways”, and that’ll happen. But there have been so many times where a player will get greedy, sac everything to bring Gargadon in, only to have him get Into the Roil’d or Doom Bladed. Don’t set yourself up for awful plays!
Krosan Grip: This card is slowly getting outclassed. 2G is a lot to pay for a Naturalize effect without a relevant body attached. Fortunately for its sake, Split Second is a pretty awesome mechanic. A big problem with a lot of artifacts—Icy Manipulator, Mimic Vat, any of the previously-mentioned board-wiping ones—is that in response to your Naturalize, they can tap the artifact and gain one last piece of value of it, sometimes enough to lose you the game. With Krosan Grip, you can destroy their artifact without fear if you don’t let them into a phase where they gain priority, and since it’s uncounterable, there’s no fear of the mana left open. I still have no problem playing with Krosan Grip, but I could see a near future where the card is outclassed.
Looter il-Kor: This guy is seriously awesome. That may a bit of an overstatement, as he’s only a looter, but he’s a consistent looter that’s tough to stop and gain incredible value once you combine him with cards. Unlike the other playable looters in cube, Looter is actually doing damage and progressing your board while he is in play. Other than the other random Dauthi and Soltari in the cube, this damage is pretty much unblockable. This becomes seriously awesome once you start combining swords and Jittes into the mix. Not only are you drawing and discarding a card every turn, you’re getting free counters and activations out of him as well. Looter il-Kor is a cube staple in my opinion, as he’s the best looter and every cube should have at least one. (I think the other should be Enclave; beyond that, you’re crossing into luxury territory.)
Lotus Bloom: I have a love-hate relationship with this card. On one hand, any Lotus is a good Lotus, and by the time you get to t4 you’ll be ready to cast a 6 or 7 drop. If you’re building one of those fatty decks, Lotus Bloom is really nice. Also, in an unpowered environment, it’s nice to have what I feel is the “fairest” Lotus. You must broadcast that Lotus Bloom is coming into play; beyond maybe 1 or 2 applications that I can’t think of, Lotus Bloom can only come into play suspended. But against a lot of unpowered decks, it’s tough to recover from some of the 6 or 7 drop plays you can do on turn 4.
Lotus Bloom can be seriously awful, though. Unlike both Library and Ancestral Vision, it is bar-none one of the worst top decks you can get. You can’t sandbag it in your hand to try and rep something else, as you’re losing the potential value you could be getting by not suspending it. Is repping a mana leak or something like that really worth having an absolutely dead card in your hand? In some match ups it may be worth it if there is absolutely no way you could use it later in the game, but I’d rather run a card that did things in all parts of the game, instead of a card that is pretty good if you have it early and the worst thing you could draw later in games.
Magus of the Scroll: This guy is alright. If you want to support red aggressive decks, I suggest putting 2-power guys in there first. Not that you’ll never be able to activate him or he’s horrible or anything, but for my aggressive decks I’d rather have a consistent 2 damage from my 1 drops coming in. 1 damage early on with only the potential of 2 damage is not ideal. That being said, getting into the late game and have a repeatable shock if you have 1 card in your hand can win the game for your quick. Unlike with Lavamancer, you technically have an infinite supply of shocks for each turn as long as you hold a card in your hand. Like Krosan Grip, this is another one of those cards that is waiting to get truly outclassed; until then, I think it’s a fine option, but I wouldn’t fault you for not running it.
Mishra, Artificer Prodigy: Best card in cube. It’s a shame Mishra is too powerful for cube, powered or unpowered, because he was such an icon to Magic’s early history/lore.
Mogg War Marshal: This is another one of those “ok-but-whatever” cards. Getting all the 1/1 tokens is cool, but you’re left with some pretty crummy options for after you cast it and you have to pay echo: let it die and get a Krenko’s Command, which is sucky, and pay for it and have two 1/1s, with one acting like a bad doomed traveler, which is also pretty sucky. He can be pretty cool with Mimic Vat or Recurring Nightmare, but there are better option than Mogg War Marshal in most all cubes.
Momentary Blink: This card is pretty neat, but ultimately I feel it has been outclassed by other UW cards, especially Venser, the Sojourner, which is pretty much Momentary Blink on steroids. Blink is nice because not only can you use it in ETB-value decks, but it is also nice protection from removal your opponents may have. At the end of the day, blinking one creature for each activation probably isn’t enough, and there are other, better white cards you could be running.
Plague Sliver: If 5/5 beaters for 2BB that deal 1 to your is your thing, then Plague Sliver is your guy. A 5/5 for 2BB is still a big deal, even in cube, and Plague Sliver is a pretty nice curve topper in the black aggressive decks. Unfortunately, I think Desecration Demon is a much better choice, even if they don’t perform the same roles. I like how Demon can screw up combat, and if they can’t interact with him like that, he swings for more with evasion. The days of essentially vanilla 5/5s for 2BB are probably over.
Prismatic Lens: I know the MTGO unpowered cube ran this for a while, but I’d rather play all the signets, everflowing chalice, and Mindstone over this card, and beyond that, how many CMC 2 artifacts that ramp your mana do you need? Fixing your mana is pretty cool, and being able to tap your mana when you play it is kinda nice, but that’s rarely an issue with your signets to warrant Prismatic’s inclusion, and paying the 1 to fix, while a necessity in a lot of 4 or 5 color decks, is a bit of a roadblock otherwise. In the largest of lists, I like this card a lot as it adds redundancy for not much of a step down, but otherwise the signets and other cards do a fine job and with the Lens it seems like adding it just to add it.
Rift Bolt: This card is an OK option if you want to add another bolt variant to your cube, but unless mono red is an actual thing that gets drafted a lot, Rift Bolt is worse than a lot of the other options. Broadcasting a bolt to allow your opponent to play around it can be useless, and 3 damage for 2R without any further upside is asking a lot, especially since it’s only sorcery speed. With the recent printing of Searing Spear and the new Arc Lightning, I don’t believe there could be room for this card in cube.
Riftwing Cloudskate: This guy can be pretty sweet. He’s not overpowered, but he’s not underpowered either—all the modes are just about what you’d expect for a utility creature in blue. 3 turns for 1U is reasonable to wait for a 2/2 flier with haste that bounces a permanent, as it’s a cheap cost with an ability that is always going to have a target. Casting it for 3UU is a decent amount but it does not break the bank, especially since you can sometimes time walk them by bouncing their turn 4 or 5 play.
Cloudskate starts to get really dumb once you start recurring or blinking it. Venser or Nightmare decks love this guy; being able to hit anything on the board that he can target will clear the way quickly, and the fact that he has flying means he can hold the one weapon in your deck that clinches the deal. Recursion turns Cloudskate into an actual Capsize with buyback on a stick.
Search for Tomorrow: Unlike Rift Bolt, I think Search for Tomorrow is still an OK card, even with the other better options of Cultivate/Kodama’s Reach/etc. that are available for use. As a turn one play, it functions like a Farseek or Rampant Growth, putting you to 4 mana on turn 3. Even as a hard-casted option, it gets you the land untapped, allowing you to keep open an Icy Manipulator or play an additional elf for more ramp. Search for Tomorrow is certainly not the best card for this role, but it’s a fine option.
Serra Avenger: This card is OK. A 3/3 flier with Vigilance on turn 4 for WW is pretty good, but it’s kind of boring. It allows you to equip it or hold up removal/counter magic, but there are better things I can be doing with the CMC 2 slot in my cube roster.
Smallpox: If you run the pox package, you run this card. The pox archetype is all about out-resourcing them by being able to get permanents into play quick and destroy the few they have by the time your casting your Braids/pox spells, attacking with the 1 and 2 drop creatures or tokens you have because they have next to nothing on the board. Smallpox is a nicer, smaller version that seems more like a turn 3 play, when you can sac your bloodghast and play it, or play that extra creature or two from your second turn into your third. It’s like everything an aggressive black deck wants to do to your opponent—kill their creatures to make space, destroy their lands to stop momentum, discard a card to kill unplayed gas, and hit them for life—packaged into one card with “symmetrical” appearances. The thing is, the pox deck is built to empty its hand and make it so the “symmetrical” effects don’t matter as much. When the pox dust settles, they can walk in there with their 1 or 2 creature and take the slow, “aggressive” victory home from there. It’s a cool archetype but one you need to commit to.
Temporal Isolation: This is a card I appreciate, but I’m never happy to play it. It’s like an instant speed Pacifism—a card that is way under the power level for cube—but their Titans stay active, shadow creatures can now be blocked, and activated abilities can still be played. These are only relevent in some cases, but when they are it’s a reminder why Pacifism is a dud and this can be just as bad, even worse when Titans are involved. A playable card, as sometimes Pacifism is fine and exactly what you need, but it will hopefully be outclassed in due time to not be considered.
Terramorphic Expanse: I like both this and Evolving Wilds a lot. The draw back for coming into play tapped makes this card a fairly non-entity in aggressive strategies, but in midrange or control decks it’s a great option for fixing your mana and allowing your decks to get a little greed. Being able to get any basic is super nice, as you could have awesome fixing with 5 other duals/fetches, this, and 10-11 other lands. In Winston draft I value this card extremely high as the chances of me playing 3+ colors are greater than not doing it, so being able to easily fix my colors is super valuable. Terramorphic Expanse is a fine card, indeed.
Urza’s Factory: A land that pumps out 2/2s is pretty cool. 2/2s are a solid size and getting them for not resource but your mana seems like a deal. That deal is 8 lands/7 mana and the Factory for a 2/2. If you can afford to consistently pay that cost, you either have the game won or your opponent’s deck has no way to put pressure on you, and you should be able to win it without this. Urza’s Factory is excessive fat which has no space or time in a lot of decks or cubes.
Vesuvan Shapeshifter: If you’re interested in running the previously mentioned pickles/Brine Elemental lock, then you need to play Vesuvan. What you do is you have a flipped Brine Elemental and a Vesuvan Shapeshifter, and keep on flipping him down and up again. If you catch them while they’re tapped out, they can only play the cards off the top of their deck, and only with supreme caution and prejudice. It’s a cool combo if you can assemble it, but a little to pieces-specific for my liking.
Otherwise, Vesuvan Shapeshifter is an OK clone option, but ultimately worse than the other options. The fact of the matter is there aren’t enough awesome morph cards in cube to warrant its inclusion, as you miss out on the ETB stuff you get from other creatures, and with Phantasmal Image, Phyrexian Metamoroph, and OG Clone, there isn’t any space for a fourth clone. How many do you really need to run? He’s pretty cool, and great if you are running pickles, but otherwise I think he’s a non-entity and excessive at this point.
Overall, an OK set. A couple staples, a few pretty decent cards, and some fringe or preference cards. If there are any you think I’m missing, let me know in the comments!