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Attention to Detail #37
It happened so quickly. Time Spiral is nearly upon us. It seems like just last week I was talking about Coldsnap release events (oh wait, that's what I was talking about). Coldsnap pushed the set release schedule together a bit so that we've had barely enough time to adjust to the changes that it made to the popular formats and suddenly we're forced to reckon with things just over the horizon. Mind you, there's nearly a month yet before the Prereleases, and the set won't be legal for quite a while after that. However, it's hard not to marvel at the things that have already been found from this most perplexing of expansions. Here's a little background on what we've known about the set, for those of you living in a cave.
Quite a while ago, some Time Spiral playtest cards (the ones without art that are used just by R&D) surfaced that included Daru Healer – a morph card. This led to a lot of reprint speculation for the set, and the incident eventually produced a lawsuit. Nasty business, but it shows how far back the rumors have been going on this set. Since then we've had various other rumors and hints and near misses. We thought the set was going to be 422 cards. But it turned out that it was only 301 cards. Or is it? There's the matter of the “purple expansion symbols”. And what about all of the art featured at GenCon, quite a bit of which seemed to be reimaginings of old favorites like Time Walk and Wheel of Fortune. Just what is going on with this set? Well, official previews start Monday, and it seems likely that some of our questions about set size and purple symbols will get answered then. As to the art, we've found a few answers already in the form of spoiled cards. Well, spoiled cards is just what I'm here to talk about today. There's a few which are official – having appeared in magazines or promos or directly from Wizards themselves. Some are less official, but it all paints an interesting picture. From the few cards that have popped up, we've found a couple new mechanics and a lot of old mechanics. Let's get right into the meat of it and start talking about new cards and just what they mean.
Lotus Bloom (no casting cost)
Suspend 3 – 0 (Rather than play this card from your hand, pay 0 and remove it from the game with three time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter from it. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost.)
T, Sacrifice Lotus Bloom: Add three mana of any one color to your mana pool.
Why not start with the most official card and the one that hearkens back to perhaps the most powerful and popular card ever printed. Lotus Bloom is just like Black Lotus. It costs 0 mana. It sacrifices for three mana. The only difference is the time it takes to get it into play. Suspend is an interesting mechanic. It allows the printing of ridiculously powerful cards which are made reasonable by the drawback of the time investment. But is it worth it? We've seen “fixed” Lotuses before. Some were more fixed than others, of course. Let's imagine the best case scenario for Lotus Bloom. Supposing you get it in your opening hand, you'll actually get it into play at the beginning of your 4th turn. Even with no other mana acceleration, this puts you up to 7 mana on turn 4. That's a pretty incredible boost. Not one that couldn't be achieved through other means, but strong all the same. The drawback isn't just one of time though. It's the removal of the element of surprise. When you Suspend a Lotus Bloom, your opponent knows it's coming. They can prepare for it. They can even save a counterspell to stop it when it gets cast on the last turn of suspension. Now, countering a Lotus is usually not a great idea (after all, you want to counter the thing the lotus is being used for, under normal circumstances). Still, it allows for preparation. Your opponent knows your mana will be hugely ramped up by that time, and so they might be able to do something about it. They can even make use of my favorite card from Coldsnap – Counterbalance – to really foul things up. There's no worse feeling than having a spell suspended and knowing that when it gets played, your opponent is sure to stop it without expending any cards of their own. That's a lot of drawback for a card, but these are the kind of problems that need to be added to Black Lotus to make it playable. You'll notice another drawback to the Bloom – it has no casting cost. The other Suspend cards we've seen all have normal costs as well as Suspend costs. They can be played either way. Not so with the Lotus. The only way to get it played is to Suspend it – or is it? Note that nothing says you can't put the Lotus directly into play from somewhere. There's not a lot in Standard that's going to let you do that, but older sets do offer some possibilities. Goblin Welder – the master of recursion himself – loves Lotus Bloom. To the Welder, it's no worse than an “ordinary” Black Lotus. So let's get down to brass tacks, here. Is Lotus Bloom worth it? Is this just another missed attempt to fix the most broken mana producer of all time or is it the real deal? Well, I may be a pessimist most of the time, but I'm impressed here. Lotus Bloom, in my opinion, is going to take the world by storm. The potential for absolutely huge turns is too great to ignore. And by sheer numbers, Lotus Bloom is going to produce some results. A great deal of it's power is going to depend on what else Time Spiral brings us. But something tells me there will be some expensive spell that everyone would like to cast three turns earlier. Speaking of which;
Walk of Aeons - 4UU
Target player takes an additional turn after this one.
Buyback – Sacrifice three islands (You may sacrifice three islands in addition to any other costs to play this spell. If you do, put Walk of Aeons into your hand instead of your graveyard as part of its resolution.)
People have speculated about the cost of a buyback Time Walk for a long time. Ever since Buyback debuted in Tempest. For all of the claims of the broken possibilities of cards like Whispers of the Muse and Capsize, a reusable Time Walk just seemed off the charts in terms of power. After all, if you can afford to pay the buyback cost repeatedly, it's incredibly difficult to lose. Now, I don't need to discuss the potential power of Walk of Aeons here. It's very clear that in almost every situation, finding a way to cast this every turn means that you have just won the game. No matter how difficult it is, someone – somewhere – is going to try to make this a tournament viable card. So what are our options for producing the six mana and three islands needed to play this card every turn? In standard, unfortunately (or fortunately), it appears to be impossible. Short of some absurdly mana intensive combo which could more reasonably kill by some other means (like Demonfire), the tools just aren't here. Remember that when Time Spiral becomes legal, Kamigawa rotates out. This removes the most efficient friend that Walk of Aeons has. I'm talking, of course, about Azusa. A quick examination of Azusa will show you what I mean. With her in play, you can play the three required islands every single turn. And getting those islands isn't so hard as you might imagine. You Make the Card #2 provided us with the perfect device in Crucible of Worlds (which is being reprinted in 10th Edition, I remind you). Three cards which could lock the game. All three pieces will be a part of the Extended environment until late 2011. The format might be a bit too volatile for this combo at the moment, but things could easily change when Invasion, Odyssey and Onslaught blocks rotate out in 2008. Sooner or later, you can expect that this combo will be winning tournaments to the utter dismay of the people playing against it.
Krosan Grip – 2G
Split Second (As long as this spell is on the stack, players can't play spells or activated abilities that aren't mana abilities.)
Destroy target artifact or enchantment.
Older players might recognize just what Split Second is. It's an interrupt. For those who haven't been playing that long, you should know that there used to be another type of spell – Interrupts. They were in most ways just like Instants (and all Interrupts have received errata making them Instants). The difference is that you could only respond to an Interrupt with another Interrupt. Of course, activated abilities were a bit more confusing, but let's just say that the comparison can be easily made. Now on to the meat of the card. What does Split Second mean? Well, I'll give you an example of its use to demonstrate its power. Let's say your opponent is playing Affinity. They've got an Arcbound Ravager with 10 +1/+1 counters on it and an Arcbound Worker, both attacking you. You're at low life and only have one removal spell in hand. Normally you'd be in big trouble. Even if you try to kill the Ravager, your opponent can simply sacrifice it in response to move the +1/+1 counters over to the Worker. But with Krosan Grip, this is impossible. Your opponent can't respond. So the spell goes off and the Ravager dies, taking all it's modular goodness with it. That's not the only power to this card however. Let's say your opponent has a Masticore – another nasty artifact creature. You Krosan Grip it. Normally they'd have a chance to regenerate from such an effect, but not with Split Second. This card stop regeneration, counterspells, things like Shrapnel Blast and everything else. Your opponent can't redirect the spell. They can't stop it in any way. Split Second spells will almost always resolve. I say almost because there is a way to stop them. I'm talking about my new favorite, again. Counterbalance may be one of the few weapons that the world has against Split Second. True, you won't be able to manipulate the top of your library once the spell is cast, but you will at least get the triggered activation of Counterbalance in an attempt to stop it. The potential for Split Second spells is still staggering. If there's a Shock-variant with Split Second it could be the most effective way of killing Psychatog ever. If there's a Counterspell-variant, it will put Last Word to shame. Interrupts may have been annoying rules baggage, but this is pure gas as they say.
Coral Trickster – 1U
Creature – Merfolk Rogue
When Coral Trickster is turned face up, you may tap or untap target permanent.
The art and text of this card showed up at GenCon, to the overwhelming applause of many. The return of Merfolk has happened! Well, the crowds of happy people unfortunately discovered – once the Orb of Insight was brought online – that this little bugger is the only Merfolk in the set. Still, it's nice to see the fish back in good form. Time Spiral is all about bringing back old favorites. The last three cards each evoked a classic aspect of Magic's past (Black Lotus, Time Walk and Interrupts, respectively). Merfolk might not be quite as powerful of an aspect as these others, but they are a welcome addition. The card itself is somewhat dull, but amusing all together. It occurred to me, as I'm sure it occurred to the person who designed Coral Trickster, that they hadn't printed a Twiddle-variant in Morph form during Onslaught block. This seems like it was something of an oversight. Nice to see the fish bringing us something we missed.
Strangling Soot – 2B
Destroy target creature with toughness 3 or less.
You read it right, Flashback is one of the returning mechanics. And we're getting more off-color Flashback costs as well. The only such card that was in the Odyssey block was Ray of Revelation. Now they make a bit more sense. Wizards (and more speifically Mark Rosewater) has said that they wanted to increase the amount of shared design space between blocks so that they flowed more easily into one another. Off-color flashback costs seems to be Time Spiral's nod (though I'm sure there are others) to Ravnica's dual-color theme. I'm not sure how much Rakdos really wants to be using Strangling Soot, but it's an interesting card all the same. Without a doubt, it will be a strong player in Time Spiral drafting. A sign that red/black might be quite powerful in that field.
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
1R, T: Put a 0/1 red Kobold creature token named Kobolds of Kher Keep into play.
I finish off today with one of the coolest throwback that we've seen so far. It seems like every time more Time Spiral cards show up, they are cooler and more nostalgic than the group before. Kher Keep is no exception. Anybody who doesn't remember Kobolds would do well to go to http://gatherer.wizards.com and do a search on 'Kobold'. They were a silly little addition to Legends, which have prompted some very serious decks. The relevance of the name 'Kobolds of Kher Keep', of course, relates to the king of the kobolds, Rohgahh of Kher Keep. It's somewhat amusing that Kher Keep itself might be the best of all the Kobold cards, printed more than a decade after Legends first saw print. Cards that produce a stream of little token creatures are nothing new. Vhitu-Ghazi is one of the most recent, but Kher Keep is a bit more reminiscent of Nuissance Engine from Mirrodin. The tokens are useful only as sacrifices or as blockers, unless you can find a way to make them larger en masse. Of all of the throwbacks we've seen so far, this is my favorite. It's proof that the designers of Time Spiral weren't just concerned with bringing the old power cards back into the light. Even the smallest creatures couldn't escape their notice.
I'm sure I'll be bringing you my thoughts on Time Spiral for some time to come. Whether it turns out to be 422 cards, 301 cards or something in between, there's going to be a lot of gems in a set like this. With so many returning mechanics, it might be hard to formulate a strategy that best encompases them all. I'll be here to walk you through it the whole way.
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