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Attention to Detail #41
Last week I gave everyone a dose of etymology when I explained the title of the column, Double Edged Swords. I feel like continuing on in that vein with this week's column. Now, most people know what the phrase 'The Nick of Time' means. It means to do something just when it needed to be done, right? Well, not quite. As you may or may not be aware, 'nick' means 'to steal'. As in the phrase, 'I nicked a guy's wallet on the way downtown this morning'. So, for the purposes of this phrase, it means 'the theft of time'. Rather than just doing something when it needs to be done, you're doing something sneaky – making time where there was none. This was a bit of a roundabout way to get there, but making time is what today's article is all about. Now, of course, we're right at the starting gates of Time Spiral block now. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a card that has something to do with time these days. That's another interesting phrase, but not one I'm going to explore today. So – stealing time. How does one steal time exactly? There are two interpertations of that idea in Magic, as I see it. Either you can be doing something at a time when you are not normally allowed to do it, or you can be getting more time in which you are allowed to do things. The second one is that which I'll concern myself today. After all, the first one basically just covers the 'Flash' mechanic (and to a lesser degree, the Suspend mechanic).The second one is far more interesting and – in my opinion – more potentially dangerous. After all, everyone wants more time. Getting it can just be a little costly.
The first thing I'm going to do is run down the list of cards in Time Spiral which can potentially give you more time to do the things that you want to do. The list ranges from the very powerful (and potentially game breaking) to the cute and fairly stupid. After that, I'll start talking about what you can do with all this time you're making. After all, more hours in the day is great – but only if you have something to do with them (besides playing more Magic, of course). I'll run through the list alphabetically, starting with a very neat little card.
Angel's Grace – There's few moments in the game when you want more time than right before you're about to lose. Angel's Grace is certainly the ultimate in “don't lose” technology. After all, a Platinum Angel or a Worship (or an Ali From Cairo and his descendent, who I will get to a little later on) are great, but they are all permnents. All your opponent has to do to kill you when you've got a Platinum Angel is to first kill the Angel. Of course, this is easier said than done, but not impossible. It is basically impossible to stop an Angel's Grace. It has Split Second, so the number of ways to counter it are drastically reduced. One such way is Counterbalance. Aside from that, you're not too likely to have this stopped. That means you've always got an out when things get rough. You're not going to be in very good shape for the next turn, but you'll be alive. Just hope your opponent doesn't have a shock to finish you off during your upkeep. That being said, I like this card a lot. Fog has been joked about for a long time, but few people laugh at it without giving quite a bit of respect. Fog variants like Spike Weaver and Moment's Peace have been extremely effective in tournament play. And, most of the time, this will just be an uncounterable Fog. However, it's a lot more versatile than that. It's a Fog which can stop uncounterable (and unpreventable) damage such as Demonfire. It's a Fog that can stop alternate win conditions like Battle of Wits. It's a Fog that can prevent all the damage to you while still allowing your blockers to take out some of the attacking force. This is no mere fog. While this isn't the card which will give you the most unearned time, it is one that will give you just the right amount of time at just the right moment. The nick of time, indeed.
Chameleon Blur – Hot on the heels of Angel's Grace is yet another Fog variant. This one does one of the things that Angel's Grace does very well. It allows your blockers to deal their damage, while protecting you from the stuff that got through. This can be a very handy way to deal with an alpha strike. Oftentimes when your opponent turns all of their creatures sideways and pushes them into the red zone, they're setting themselves up for a few devastating blocks, while hoping that the rest of their creatures are enough to win the game. Chameleon Blur can turn such an overwhelming attack into a horrible loss. Green these days is often about offensive strategy. Which creatures to attack with and when. However, once upon a time, green was a much more defensive color. Back when Fog was still in print, green got a lot of damage prevention (Foxfire, for instance). Chameleon Blur is a throwback to those days, allowing green to care about defense again, rather than just playing with the strongest attackers and trying to race the other colors to victory. Once again, this is a card which can give you another turn, just when you need it. It's less versatile than Angel's Grace, but then again it's not a rare. Expect to see this in draft a lot and always consider the possibility that it's waiting in your opponent's hand, when you turn things sideways.
Darkness – I swear that it wasn't my intention to simply talk about Fog variants in this article. I promise there's some other very interesting ways to talk about stealing time, later on in the list. Meanwhile we have the strangest Fog variant of all time. The black one. While a fog can be devastating and unexpected, it will never be as unexpected as Darkness. When you're playing with a lot of black cards, nobody expects you to run defensive spells like this. And they can be downright handy, too. Some of the strongest black creatures in Time Spiral are shadow creatures. Now, the drawback of Shadow is reduced blocking ability. If you're playing nearly all shadows, then you're going to be letting a lot of creatures through (unless your opponent also happens to be playing shadows). And let's face it, letting things through is a common thread through many of the best black decks of all time. You let your spells do the creature killing and let your creatures do the player killing. That's the natural order of things in the swamps. So, Darkness can buy you time in a very unexpected way. With so much offensive power on the board, and so much of it potentially unblockable, Darkness can act like a time walk for an unstoppable army. A lot of the time, suicide black decks need “just one more turn” to kill you, when they've got the pressure on. Darkness can buy you that turn without having to dip into white or green, which is a good thing for a deck that likes to play its Dauthi Slayers and Nether Traitors on turn 2 every game.
Fortune Thief – Finally we get a non-Fog card. Although we're not far off. Fortune Thief, obviously, is a throwback to one of the coolest (and, at one time, most expensive) cards from the early days of Magic – Ali From Cairo. Ali was just like Fortune Thief except he cost 3R and didn't have Morph. The trickiness of unmorphing your Fortune Thief with lethal damage on the stack aside, this is basically an emergency countermeasure with a very short lifespan. 0/1 creatures don't last long against nearly every kind of deck. I say nearly because there are some decks against which she will simply be “I win”. Removal like Faith's Fetters can stop just about everything, but the Thief just laughs at it. A mono white deck is going to have very few options for removing a creature that never attacks and has a static ability. They'll either need a Wrath effect (in which case, they lose their team too) or they need something like Gaze of Justice. Either way, it can be a very strong play. And, of course, the trickiness of Morph allows you to use her as (here it is again) a Fog effect to buy that one extra turn you needed. Just make sure she doesn't have 1 damage on her when she flips, or it will never matter.
Paradox Haze – Some cards on this list are here because their effect can essentially give you more time. Paradox Haze is here because it literally makes more time. It adds another upkeep where there wasn't one before. Where does that extra upkeep come from? You've nicked it, of course. So this can affect either you or you opponent, since it's the second ever Enchant Player. The first one was somewhat lame, but this has very neat applications. If you have positive things happening during your upkeep (like removing Time counters from Suspended cards or putting spore counters on fungus), then this lets you do all that twice a turn. If your opponent has some stuff that they don't particularly like doing every upkeep (like losing life to Plague Sliver or one of your Pillory of the Sleeplesses or taking damage from The Rack), then you can make them do it twice as often. Of course, twice is the most simple application of this card. With more Hazes, you get more upkeeps. How would you like it if your saprolings produced three spores a turn? What if one of those Saprolings was Sporesower Thallid? That's a lot of salad. The limitations of this card are few. There are so many applications for it spanning across the history of Magic that it's hard to nail down just a few. Suffice to say that every single set in the history of Magic has had something that happened during your upkeep. Paradox Haze can make it happen again.
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – I considered not including Teferi in this list. If you'll recall, playing things when you couldn't normally play them was a part of the second definition of “the nick of time”, which I wasn't going to talk about. However, there's another side to Teferi which definitely does beg to be talked about. Some cards give you more time and some cards take away time from your opponent. Teferi does the latter. Consider this – each turn has five steps when things are commonly played. The upkeep, the first main phase, the combat step, the second main phase and the end of turn step. Each player gets both of these. So for each pair of turns (one for you and one for them), there are ten different steps when things are commonly played by both players. If Teferi is in play, your opponent goes from ten to two. Suddenly they can only play things during their main phase. Some cards are completely useless under this restriction (like Fog effects, Counterspells and quite a bit of removal and combat tricks). Some cards are completely unaffected (non-Flash creatures, Enchantments and Artifacts). Now, don't take this to mean your opponent is helpless for 8 of the 10 steps. They can still use abilities, and that can get you into trouble. But abilities are, for the most part, things you can see coming. Unless they've got an activated ability out of something in their hand (something like a Channel card from Saviors of Kamigawa), you're going to know what they've got the option to do. Teferi does not give you more time, but he's perhaps the biggest time thief of them all. All that extra time has to come from somewhere, after all.
Walk the Aeons – Right next to Paradox Haze, this is one of those cards that fits our definition of 'the nick of time' perfectly. And in perhaps the most devastating and powerful way possible. Since Buyback was first printed way back in the mid-90s, people have mused about “what if there was a buyback Time Walk?” Obviously, the cost would have to be something which would be difficult to pay every turn. If it was simply an enormous mana cost, then having that much mana available would mean infinite turns. If it was something like paying life, then the ability to gain life would likewise mean infinite turns. Even something like removing your entire deck from the game can be surmounted when the prize is so steep. The cost they settled on, of course, is the sacrifice of three islands. That's a cost that you can certainly pay a few turns in a row, but it gets very hard to pay forever. In order to do so you need a way to recycle your lands from the graveyard and a way to get three of them into play every turn. Now, the best two options for this are probably Azusa from Kamigawa and Crucible of Worlds from Fifth Dawn (and 10th Edition). Of course, these cards will not exist in Standard together, and something tells me an Azusa-based infinite turns deck is just a little fragile for Extended. So what do we do with this powerhouse card? Crucible won't be reentering Standard for a solid 9 months or so. We've got Life from the Loam, but we still need some way to play the lands. Sakura Tribe Scout was lost along with Azusa. Summer's Bloom is around, but that's only going to work one time. So, the short answer is that infinite turns aren't going to be happening in standard. The longer answer is that it doesn't matter. Infinite turns are only important if you are killing someone in the slowest way you can concieve (Telim Tor's Darts, for instance). You don't need a thousand turns, you just need as many as will get the job done. This means you need the right kind of threats. And that leads me into the second section of the day.
What do you do with all this time?
Time Walk has always been a powerful card. From the first time anyone openend one on the first day of Magic's release at GenCon, I'm sure they knew that taking another turn was a very good thing. The trouble is that why it's such a good thing is often lost on some people. The number of times I've seen someone tap out and Time Walk on turn 2 is very high. What are you getting in that situation? You get to play an additional land and cycle the Time Walk, at the cost of not playing something else on turn 2. That doesn't seem very good at all, now does it? The moments when Time Walk is at its best are when you have lots of stuff to do every turn, and doing it twice is great. Of course, if you'd Time Walked on turn 2, then you could potentially be reaching this stage of the game a turn sooner. Time Walk is an interesting discussion, but the card we're more interested in is Walk the Aeons. You won't be playing this one on turn 2 ever. Instead, it comes down in the late game when you want to do lots of stuff every turn. And that serves our purposes just fine. Now, let's assume that you're going to get two extra turns out of Walk the Aeons. Assuming you buy it back once and don't want to sacrifice your whole suite of lands. What kind of great threats can you have on the table in a clearly mostly blue deck (since it takes a lot of islands to sacrifice) that can win the game under those circumstance?
Well, we need something big. A few mid range creatures are okay, but it's easier to remove one and stop the whole parade. When you go off with Walk of Aeons and start buying it back, you want that to be the end of the game. If it isn't, you're going to be hurting. I submit a different card of choice – Deep-Sea Kraken. That's right, the big 6/6 unblockable suspend guy. This is perfect for our purposes. It won't be coming down until you've got the mana to start Walking the Aeons. It won't cost you any mana the turn it comes in (so you can protect it with your blue countermagic), and it has Haste. That means that if you manage to get it into play on a turn when your opponent can't do anything about it, you could potentially swing, walk, swing, walk, swing and win. That's dangerous stuff. All for the low, low cost of 2U and a bit of waiting. Now, we've got our big dangerous threat and our way to make it count over and over again. What we need now is some way to afford it all. Note that if you want to swing three times with a Deep-Sea Kraken (hopefully for the win), then you're going to be needed at least 8 lands in play on the turn when it starts happening. You need enough to cast the first Walk and sacrifice three lands, but still have enough land the next turn to be able to walk again (with or without the buyback). The other option is to make your Walk less expensive. There's not too many options for that these days. One would be Locket of Yesterdays, but that won't reduce it by much, unless you can get the two or three others in the graveyard or more lockets in play. Instead, I think the best option is to get lots of mana. And, for the most part, that means playing green. If you want to get lots of mana but still have islands to sacrifice (and still be able to afford UU the next turn), you need to play GU. Breeding Pools will allow you to play your green acceleration while still putting more islands into play. Handy enough, they also can be put into play with green's forest-searching acceleration. Since we're not just trying to ramp up the mana, but rather the lands in play, this becomes important. The tool of choice here is the lowly Wood Elves. You'll likely want Birds of Paradise as well to facilitate Suspending your Kraken on turn 2. The idea here is to put out as much land and mana as possible so that when your Kraken goes nuts, it keeps going nuts. Since he's unblockable, you don't have to worry about stopping your opponent's creatures to much. You just have to stop them from killing you. Wood Elves excels at accelerating you and then blocking something huge. As does his new best friend, Coiling Oracle. Between these two cards, you can put a lot of land into play. So we've got acceleration and we've got a huge threat and we've got a card to make the threat count? What else do we need? We need a way to prevent all of our plans from being wrecked by a Fog, of course. And that means counterspells. Fortunately, green/blue has just about the best mix of counterspells we've seen in 5 years. Mystic Snake, Cancel, Voidslime, Rune Snag, Mana Leak. Take your pick.
I hope to test this deck fairly soon. I'll make sure to take the time to report my progress here. Meanwhile, I hope you'll all enjoy the time you've been given. Or that which you've taken.
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