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Attention to Detail #39
Since the very beginning, Magic players have talked about “what if there was a sixth color in Magic”. What would that color be? Would it be yellow? Orange? Purple? I think it's safe to say that most people agreed that purple would be the sixth color if one ever did exist. Well, Time Spiral is upon us (with my local prerelease's midnight madness starting in 11 hours from the time of writing). And when you open your first Time Spiral pack, you're going to see something purple. No, it isn't the legendary sixth color come to haunt us at long last and screw up the color pie for ever. Instead, it's a fourth rarity. Confused? Well, here's the breakdown. By the time you read this, you may have already attended a prerelease and found out what it was all about. But just in case you need the info in front of you;
In addition to the 301 cards in Time Spiral, there are 121 purple-rarity cards.
Each purple card is a reprint of an older Magic card (as yet, all pre-Mirrodin cards).
These cards all appear in the old card frame, with new erratted text.
They replace a common slot in the booster, appearing 1 per booster. 3 Appear in each tournament pack.
And, most importantly – they are all legal in every format that Time Spiral is legal in. That means Standard, Extended and TS Block Constructed, not to mention all the older formats (where all of the purple cards are already legal).
It sounds kind of cute at first. 121 reprint cards that might see some play in Standard. But remember that this means there are essentially 422 cards in Time Spiral (counting the different basic lands, of course). That's a whole lot of stuff to be injected into an environment like Standard. Usually when a new block comes out, we lose so much more than we gain (in this case, Kamigawa block) that the format stays much the same until the second set can really provide some solid backup to the first set's theme. But Time Spirals' theme is nostalgia (and time, of course). And the cards that are coming back have such a wide variety to them, that there'll be new things to put in every deck that already exists – and plenty of new decks to create.
So, once again – cute, right? Anyone who's paid attention to spoilers or who has attended the prerelease probably knows better. There's some positively ridiculous cards coming back into the set. Here's some of my personal favorite purple reprints, that – in my opinion – can't help but to affect every environment they become legal in.
Akroma, Angel of Wrath – May as well start at the top of this alphabetically and with White. The big nasty angel that tormented everyone during Onslaught block is coming back. She's still huge and still likes to get reanimated on turn 4.
Resurrection – Remember what I just said about Akroma? Well here's a white Zombify for you. That seems to fit nicely together, now doesn't it?
Soltari Priest – As well all know, Shadow is back in Time Spiral. And here we have one of the strongest shadow creatures ever. It's efficient, it's really hard to kill, and it looks awesome. White weenie players will be absolutely drooling to dust these things off and put them in decks.
Lord of Atlantis – Well, people have been clamoring for the errata to Lord of Atlantis that makes him a Merfolk, just like the zombies and the elves. Merfolk players were already rejoicing with the very small return of their tribe, and now they get their lord back too. Sure, he doesn't have much to pump anymore. I wouldn't expect Merfolk decks to be winning any Standard tournaments any time soon. But remember that this is a 2/2 for UU that pumps your guys and gives them an evasion ability. We might just see a surprise. After all, another one of the purple cards is...
Merfolk Assassin – It might not be terribly strong. After all – how many creatures do you remember lately that have Islandwalk? But for style points, the Merfolk Assassin is one of the coolest cards ever. And it combines so well with another card from The Dark that's coming back. What was that thing called? Oh right...
War Barge – Yes, it's one of the combos that everyone remembers. Give something Islandwalk and then kill it with your assassin. It's blue's response to Royal Assassin + Icy Manipulator. War Barge might be a little more expensive to activate, but players today understand it a little bit better than they did back in The Dark. Why stop at killing one creature per turn? Why not kill all of your opponent's creatures? If you activate the War Barge to give all of your opponent's creatures Islandwalk and then sacrifice (or otherwise destroy) the Barge, they all die. If only we'd have thought of that instead of the Merfolk Assassin.
Unstable Mutation – Blue might have had some silly combos back in the day, but it also had some incredibly powerful cards. Unstable Mutation is one such card. +3/+3, then +2/+2, then +1/+1, then it starts getting worse. But hopefully, you can do enough damage with it in a short amount of time to make it count. And it only costs U! One of my favorite decks from the old days was the “Deck of Threes”. It played Unstable Mutations, Giant Growths, Lightning Bolts, Kird Apes, Scryb Sprites, Flying Men and enough power cards to keep all of that stuff going at full speed. Swinging with a 4/4 (or a 7/7) on turn two is still huge, 10 years later.
Flying Men – Didn't I just mention these guys? This is another one of those cute old cards that, when you think about it, can be pretty nasty. When was the last time you remember blue getting a 1/1 flyer for 1 mana without any drawback? I'll give you a hint – this was the only one. Flying Men are simple. It's just a Suntail Hawk for blue, after all. But it being in blue changes things quite a bit. Expect to see Flying Men getting played. And if you can find some Arabian Nights versions, you get some big style points as well.
Bad Moon – While we're on the subject of little creatures getting bigger, here's one of the oldest tricks in the book. Hypnotic Specters and pump knights both loved getting pumped up with Bad Moon. And guess what? Hypnotic Specter and a jump knight (not quite the same, but that's alright) are both in Standard thanks to Coldsnap and 9th Edition. Bad Moon is still very cool.
Dauthi Slayer – And here's someone else who thinks Bad Moon is very cool. Shadow creatures were offensive powerhouses. And here's one of the ones that proves it. Black shadow-based decks often moved fast enough that their opponents couldn't deal 20 damage before they could, even though the shadows couldn't block much. I fully expect a variation on the old suicide black decks to appear for is with Time Spiral. It is, after all, nostalgic.
Eron the Relentless – A few months ago I wrote about why Eron the Relentless was so cool. And you know what? He still is. He's a big hasted regenerator. He's a little expensive and dies to anything bigger than a saproling (unless you've got RRR open to regenerator him). But he's still awesome. And he's also David Bowie, so you can't really go wrong with that.
Pandemonium – If I had a nickel for every time someone told me about their Pandemonium deck and how it did a million damage on turn 3, I'd have quite a few nickels. This card might be a mistake to introduce into an environment. It has proven in the past to be the founding body of many, many broken decks. Any combination that can generate an endless stream of creatures can be turned into a death sentence with Pandemonium.
Avoid Fate – You might remember from my column on Mental Magic, that this is one of my favorite cards of all time. It's a green counterspell! Sure, it only targets Auras and Instants that target your stuff – but that's still quite a few cards. And it costs very little. If you've ever been afraid that someone was just going to use a wimpy little black removal spell to take out your green monster, Avoid Fate is your best friend. It'll be filling sideboards everywhere in about a month, mark my words.
Whirling Dervish – And what might you want to protect with Avoid Fate? How about one of the strongest green weenies of all time. It's right up there with Wild Mongrel in a lot of ways. Avoid Fate can help keep the red burn off of it until it's big enough to surivive, and it'll be hell on anyone trying to play a mono black deck (like the afore-mentioned shadow decks).
Mystic Snake – The Snakes deck might be dying with loss of Kamigawa block, but blue green isn't dying any time soon. Mystic Snake is right up there among the best counterspells ever printed with Mana Drain and Force of Will. It might be third among those three, but that's still fine company to stand in. If there's a green/blue deck that rises to prominence, it will be using this card.
And lastly, one of the baddest bad guys to ever walk through a swamp;
Sol'Kanar the Swamp King – Anyone who's never gotten beaten in the face by the Swamp King is going to get what they deserve very soon. He's three colors, yes. But he's 5 mana and he's big and stompy. And.. for some reason.. he gains life. But whatever. He's huge and awesome and he's got that great Richard Kane-Ferguson artwork that everyone loves so much. I don't know if he's got the right stuff to make it in Standard anymore, but I hope so.
Okay so that's just a taste of what Time Spiral's purple cards have to offer. There's 121 of the things, and a whole other full set to consider. If it was just these cards that were being added to a format, that might shake things up a bit. But 422 cards being added shakes things up a lot. There are so many very strong cards being printed and reprinted, and the mana bases are so strong right now (what with Ravnica's dual lands and 9th Edition's pain lands) that playing a three color deck (or more) just to cram as many power cards as you can into 60 cards will probably not be uncommon.
Time Spiral is a gamble. Purple rarity cards are a gamble. The new Standard format is going to be unlike anything anyone has ever seen. It was already set up to be the largest Standard environement ever with Coldsnap added into it. But now we've got nearly another whole set of cards being added. The amount of card choices is simply astronomical. At the least, I expect this to be an extremely varied Standard environment. There's enough space for every deck acrchetype to make an appearance, using their favorite nostalgic cards from the good old days. But the fun really doesn't stop at constructed. Time-Shifted cards are part of the limited experience, too. Every pack has a purple card in it. In many cases that will be like getting a pack with two rares in it. This brings up a very elementary question that it's good to answer:
What do you do when you open two rares of the same color in the same pack?
Normally, if you open a very strong rare of a color, you pick it. If you just opened a Kokusho, you pick it. No questions asked. So what happens when you open both a Kokusho and another big black rare in the same pack? Do you pick the Kokusho (or the other one), knowing you got a strong pick but passing a strong signal to the next person? Or do you go another direction and let the people next to you fight over it. Well, the answer comes down to the power of the cards. If you're actually talking about something as ridiculous as Kokusho, you probably have to take the dragon. But what if it's just a couple decent but not spectacular rares? Make sure that even when you open a pack with two rares like that (or three, even – I'll mention that in a moment) that you check the uncommons and commons too. Sometimes it's better to let the next two people fight over a color. After all, if you pass a strong rare of a color, you can bet that one of the next two people will pick it and move into that color. That gives you information that you can use in the next two packs.
Some limited environments have been described
in the past as being very “swingy”. That is to say that the
luck of what you open dramatically affects your chances of
winning. Sometimes you just open a pack and that wins you a
draft. Time Spiral is looking very much to be ones of these
limited environments. There's been a change to the way
foils are distributed, which makes it so foils now replace a
common in a pack rather than the rarity of the foil. This
means that you could potentially open a pack with three rare
cards in it – a normal rare, a foil rare and a purple card
which is reprinting a rare. That can make for some
ridiculous decisions in draft and some flat-out crazy sealed
deck pools. It's going to take a long time to figure out
how to draft a format that has so many wild cards in it.
You can't count on seeing any of the purple cards, just like
you can't count on seeing any specific rare. But you need
to prepare for the possibility. Even if it's just a War
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