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Attention to Detail #38
Last time I brought you a look at six cards which showcased the new stuff to be found in Time Spiral. First there was Lotus Bloom, which introduced us to the Suspend mechanic. Next was Walk of Aeons which showed us the new face of Buyback. Thirdly came Krosan Grip – our first look at Split Second. Fourth was Coral Trickster, one of the new Morph cards (and the return of Merfolk!). Fifth was Strangling Soot, which showed how Flashback will be used in Time Spiral and lastly was Kher Keep, a card which doesn't use any new mechanics but is chock full of old-timey flavor. Normally when a new set comes out, there's two or three new mechanics to look at. But with Time Spiral, there's a whopping thirteen mechanics that are either new or returning. And these are just the ones that are easy to pin down. There's plenty more old stuff returning with new twists. Here's a breakdown of the stuff that you can be sure to be dealing with the coming year:
Some of these mechanics haven't been seen on cards in a decade or more. So it's no surprise that they're appearing a bit differently than the last time we saw them. For instance, Echo has new templating (something I know you were all begging for, right?). Here's one of the new Echo cards for your perusal. Let's see how much old-timey flavor they crammed into this one.
Firemaw Kavu – 5R
Creature – Kavu
Echo 5R (At the beginning of your upkeep, if this came under your control since the beginning of your last upkeep, sacrifice it unless you pay its echo cost.)
When Firemaw Kavu comes into play it deals 2 damage to target creature.
When Firemaw Kavu leaves play, it deals 4 damage to target creature.
This may be the first time some of you have seen Echo. It was a mechanic introduced to us during Urza's block, back in 1998 or so. It was designed to allow for creatures with powerful comes-into-play effects to have relatively small costs, because you had to pay the cost twice. The change in templating that mentioned is that Echo used to not have a mana cost associated with it. At this point, we've only seen Echo costs which are the same as casting costs, but it's very possible that there will be different costs to keep the creatures than to play them, later in the block. So how does Echo really play out in the course of a game? I'm glad you asked. There's two ways to look at an echo card. It is either a spell with a creature briefly attached to it, or a very expensive creature with a spell attached to it. If you want to play and keep your Flamemaw Kavu for more than a turn, it's going to cost you a whopping 12 mana. A 4/2 creature usually costs 4 mana (such as Viashino Warrior). Even adding on the 2 damage it deals when it comes into play (another 1 or 2 mana to the cost), that's a pretty lousy price to pay. Especially since the big damage is something that it deals on its way out. So maybe there's a better way to use this guy? Echo is an optional cost. So, you can play the Flamemaw, kill a creature, then not pay the Echo on your next upkeep and it will do it's 4 damage. That's a potential 2 for 1, and those are always nice. But this card is even deeper than that! Flamemaw holds off blockers very nicely. It can block (and probably kill with it's 4 power) and die and shoot something else. So now we're up into 3-for-1 range. This is starting to look like a really strong card, isn't it? Well it gets even better. Notice, if you will, that the 4 damage ability is a “leaves play” ability, not a “goes to the graveyard from play” ability. This means that an Unsummon effect can generate some damage. It will also allow you to recast the Kavu and shoot something else. All of your bounce spells suddenly become 2-for-1 removal spells! That's a pretty sweet deal. So what looked like a painful investment of mana at first is suddenly much better. Echo has always been one of those mechanics that saw strong tournament play from the very beginning. Any keyword that can be used to reduce the cost of an already powerful creature is worth taking a look at.
So, Echo is back and that's fun. It's generally hailed as being a very well designed mechanic. Strong for tournament play (with examples like Avalanche Riders and Deranged Hermit) and strong for casual play as well. How about a poorly designed mechanic? It's hardly news that Shadow is considering a badly designed mechanic by most. It's like flying but without any interactivity. It was alternately viewed as a drawback by the designers and a huge benefit by the players and that led to some very large gulfs between the extremely strong Shadow cards and the extremely poor Shadow cards. Well, Shadow's coming back in Time Spiral too. And they're not pulling any punches with it, either. Here's the preview card from last Friday's Latest Developments:
Stronghold Overseer – 3BBB
Creature – Demon
Shadow (This creature can block or be blocked by only creatures with shadow.)
BB: Creatures with shadow get +1/+0 until end of turn and creatures without shadow get -1/-0 until end of turn.
Creatures with Shadow were already very hard to block. Add in flying and, as Aaron Forsythe pointed out, there are exactly zero creatures in Magic that can block this thing without help of one kind or the other. So a 5/5 that's nigh-unblockable is a pretty strong card, right? How about adding in a pumping ability that also weakens your opponent's creatures? Seems like a no-brainer. There are, of course, flaws. They didn't design this guy to be the be-all end-all of big black monsters. First of all, he has a hard time blocking. Shadow might have been reevaluated, but it still has a little bit of drawback to him. Of course, this guy makes up for that lack of blocking potential with one of the best defensive abilities ever put on a black creature. With a bit of mana open you can prevent any smallish creature from ever hurting you. That doesn't seem very black at all, does it? The problem with the ability is that you'll rarely be making much use of both halves in the same activation. If you're pumping up your Shadows (presumably on the attack), then your opponent isn't going to be blocking them anyway. If you're weakening their non-Shadows (presumably on defense), then your Shadows are unlikely to be involved in the combat. That doesn't mean this guy is bad, by any means. Many people are already calling him the second coming of Kokusho. And it's very likely that this will be the black finisher of choice for quite a while to come. He's color intensive, which might be a drawback in the multicolored world of post-Ravnica Standard, but I feel confident that people will make the effort to hit home with the Overseer.
As much fun as Shadow and Echo are, there are some mechanics that are just kind of dull. Bushido was dull, and so was it's counterpart – Flanking. It's an effective ability without a doubt. However, it's not flashy. It always does the same thing every time. There's not much new ground to cover with the mechanic, but that doesn't mean they can't make exciting cards to put it on. Here's one such card:
Knight of the Holy Nimbus WW
Creature – Human Rebel Knight
Flanking (Whenever a creature without flanking blocks this creature, the blocking creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.)
If Knight of the Holy Nimbus would be destroyed, regenerate it.
2: Knight of the Holy Nimbus can't be regenerated this turn. Only any opponent may play this ability.
Now there's an exciting throwback! Flanking is hardly the most important part of this card. As usual, it acts in support of the other attributes of the card to make a stronger package. Here's what Knight of the Holy Nimbus has going for it:
It's a 2/2 for 2 mana. Bears with abilities are strong, this has been proven time and time again.
It's very hard to kill. The “Holy Nimbus” ability (first seen on Clergy of the Holy Nimbus from Legends) can be very strong. It ties up your opponent's mana nicely in the early turns if they want to block and kill it (already a troubling proposition with Flanking).
It's a Rebel! That's right, Rebels have returned with Time Spiral. We can add that as the 14th mechanic of the set, perhaps. Now, don't expect half the white creatures in the set to be Rebels like they were through Mercadian Masques, but they'll definitely be a presence. And this is a fine fine card to be searching out of your deck. Especially in multiples.
White Weenie decks haven't been as strong as they have been in the last couple years since the days of Rebels the first time. We may be losing some strength in cards like Isamaru and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, but the core of the deck still exists in cards like Savannah Lions and Knight of the Holy Nimbus. Even if white weenie continues to take the form of the Boros Legion (and why shouldn't it?), the deck will continue to be strong. This card is going to be annoying players of creature removal over and over for a long time to come.
Mercadian Masques brought us a bunch of mechanics. It had Rebels & Mercenaries, Fading, free spells that required you to bounce lands back to your hand, all of the land-tapping stuff of Prophecy and, of course, Spellshapers. Some of these were strong and saw a ton of tournament play (like Waterfront Bouncer) and some of them were really awful and nobody ever used them (Greel, for instance). Well, Time Spiral has Spellshapers and from what we've seen, they're far more like the first grouping. In fact, the first Spellshaper revealed is probably the strongest one yet. Here she is in all of her burning glory:
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage 1RR
Legendary Creature – Human Spellshaper
R, T, Discard a card: Destroy target blue permanent.
1R, T, Discard a card: Jaya Ballard, Task Mage deals 3 damage to target creature or player. A creature dealt damage this way can't be regenerated this turn.
5RR, T, Discard a card: Jaya Ballard deals 6 damage to each creature and each player.
One of the problems with Spellshapers was that they only did one thing. There wasn't much variance to them, so your opponent always knew what was coming next. Jaya has three abilities, two of which will always be relevant and one which might be. The blue-destroying ability might seem like an afterthought compared to the Incinerate and Inferno abilities, but I assure you it's more than that. There's a lot of powerful creatures out there that are blue. Niv-Mizzet comes to mind. Not to mention one of the most powerful wizards of all time, Mishra (I'll talk about him in a moment). Now, a lot of the time you'll be able to kill blue creatures just as effectively with an Incinerate. However, the Pyroblasting ability gets around things like toughness pumping. It also costs 1 less mana to use. And, possibily most important, it doesn't have to kill creatures. Red very rarely gets the ability to destroy enchantments. When it does, it's very limited in scope. That's very true here. Jaya will only be destroying blue enchantments (or blue lands or artifacts, if you have some way of making them so – Distorting Lens, perhaps?). But that's better than nothing. And if there's nothing blue to destroy, well there's probably something worth burning for three. And if there's no creatures, you can always shoot it right at your opponent. And if a mass board-sweeper is necessary, she can always go out in a blaze of glory with a big Inferno. That's a lot of power for a 3-mana creature. Jaya's effectiveness in constructed is going to be debated for the next two years. Every red deck is going to have to consider her. As for limited, she's a no-brainer. I've seen quite a few Time Spiral cards so far and there's none that I would rather open in my first pack than Jaya. She may die easily, but she'll take a lot of stuff out in a hurry. More than a few drafts are going to be decided entirely on the back of this one card.
There's one card, recently revealed, that there's no question about it's effectiveness in Constructed. Like last week, I've shown you a bunch of cards that make use of old mechanics in new ways. And, like last week, I'm going to finish up with a card that doesn't use any old mechanics, but is old in flavor. Kher Keep was a bundle of flavor for people who loved Legends. And this one is a bundle of flavor for people who loved Antiquities.
Mishra, Artificer Prodigy – 1UBR
Legendary Creature – Human Artificer
Whenever you play an artifact spell, you may search your graveyard, hand, and/or library for a card with the same name as that spell and put it into play. If you search your library this way, shuffle it.
Mishra is by no means just a flavorful throwback. He's one of the powerhouses of Time Spiral, and simply begs to have decks designed around him. Suddenly, ever artifact you cast is producing card advantage. He's also much larger than you would expect for a 4-mana creature that isn't green or white. It's been a long time since Mirrodin, but there's still a lot of cool artifacts that you might want two copies of. Here's some of the more popular choices for Mishra:
Mishra's Bauble – It's no surprise that he likes his own devices best of all. The bauble is ordinarily just a card that replaces itself. Suddenly when it's creator is around, it's a card that replaces itself twice. That's huge. It's even more fun than that, though. Mishra helps you bend the 4-of-a-kind rule in a way. If you play a Bauble with Mishra in play, you can search your deck for another, then put it into play. Sacrifice both and you're up one card in total. Now, the next bauble you play out of your deck, you can fish one of the baubles out of the graveyard. You're up two cards now. Then three cards when you play the fourth bauble. Artifacts that sacrifice themselves (and draw cards, hopefully) make Mishra very happy. In line with that, here's another “new” card from Time Spiral that Mishra might like.
Chromatic Star 1
Sacrifice Chromatic Star: Add one mana of any color to your
You may recognize this as Chromatic Sphere. It's been redesigned so that the card drawing is a seperate trigger rather than part of the effect. This is useful for two reasons. For one, if the Star gets destroyed before you can use it, you still get the card out of it. Secondly, you draw once the cost is paid, rather than once the effect resolves. This usually won't matter, but you never know. In either case, Mishra loves cheap artifacts that draw you cards. Especially ones that you want to play anyway so you can better handle his 3-color mana cost. Speaking of which -
Signets – Mishra has a tough cost. 3 colors are easy to assemble these days, but sometimes not on turn 3 or 4. With either a Rakdos, Dimir or Izzet signet, you can get Mishra out much faster and without straining your colors too badly. And, if it's later in the game and Mishra's already around, you get two Signets for the price of one. All that extra mana can certainly come in handy.
Booby Trap – This has already been discussed to death on a dozen different Magic message boards, but it bears repeating. Booby Trap is an artifact that deals 10 damage by itself. Two of them will deal 20 damage. And any Magic player knows that dealing 20 damage is usually the best thing you can do during the course of a game. That it combos incredibly well with Mishra's Bauble is no small gift, either. Save one of your baubles until the turn you want to play your Booby Trap, and you're going to be able to kill your opponent very quickly. This deck has a lot of promise as being one of the powerful combo decks of the season. Mishra himself is very survivable for his cost. Plus, every time you cast an artifact, you're sure to get at least one of them, even if the other one gets countered.
There's one last thing to mention about Mishra as well. Something of a trick that may come in handy. Imagine, if you will, that you've just cast Booby Trap (or any artifact) with Mishra in play. You put his triggered ability on the stack. Now, if your opponent counters the original artifact before you search for a copy, you will be able to search the one they just countered out of your graveyard! So even if you've only got one Booby Trap (or whatever) left, you can still make use of his ability sometimes.
Time Spiral's got a lot of fun cards that are going to be casual powerhouses. And it's got a lot of cards that are going to be extremly important in the upcoming Standard environment. The decks that appear are going to have to combine elements from ten years of Magic history along with the most recent elements of Coldsnap and Ravnica blocks. Time Spiral is a huge set and we already were set for the biggest Standard card pool in history. It's going to be very hard to pick just what the right strategy is. I know I'll be following every advance in Standard tech for the next year. It's going to be fun.
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