The Evolution of Time Spiral Block Constructed

Posted in Feature on January 31, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Welcome! Today I’m just going to quickly skim over the online Standard and Extended results and focus on Time Spiral Block Constructed (TSBC). Traditionally, Block Constructed with just one set is often not viewed as an interesting format, as the card pool was too small to make interesting decks yet, so you may wonder why I choose to feature it now. Well, TSBC is a special animal, because there are 121 extra “timeshifted” cards in the first set that act like almost a full extra expansion. Probably because of that, the format is reasonable popular online, and the bi-weekly Time Spiral Block Constructed Premier Event regularly attracts around 40 players. So it seems about time to dive into TSBC.

But first, the weekly Standard update! We have a bunch of high-attendance Premier Events to add up, once again including a bunch of IPA Qualifiers.

Deck namePopularityChange in popularity from last week
1. Dralnu du Louvre■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (20%)+8% (!!!)
2. Mono Green Aggro■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)+3%
3. Dragonstorm■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)+3%
4. U/G Scryb&Force■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)+1%
5. G/B Dredge■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)+8% (!!!)
6. U/W Tron■■■■■ ■■ (7%)-3%
7. Boros Deck Wins■■■■ (4%)-1%
8. U/b Pickles■■■■ (4%)-7% (!!!)
9. Angelfire■■■ (3%)-2%
10. Black Rack Discard■■■ (3%)+3%
11. U/G PickleTron■■■ (3%)+3%
12. R/W/G Land Destruction■■ (2%)+2%
13. BlinkRiders■■ (2%)0%
14. Izzetron■■ (2%)0%
15. Solar Flare■■ (2%)-2%
16. Snake Blink■ (1%)+1%
17. GhaziGlare■ (1%)-1%
18. Satanic Sligh■ (1%)+1%
19. Panda Connection■ (1%)-1%
20. R/G Aggro■ (1%)-2%

U/b Pickles – or mono blue morphs, if you will – appears to be on its way out, and the Rewind enthusiasts seem to be taking up Dralnu du Louvre instead, which scored a whopping 20%. The most likely explanation for this trend is that U/b Pickles has a horrendous matchup against Mono Green Aggro, which also scored loads of Top 8s. Between the sea of Dralnu du Louvre and Mono Green Aggro, we have a brand new innovative rogue design that put up good numbers.

G/B Dredge

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Bennie Smith would be proud. The goal of this deck is fairly obvious: use Greenseeker or Delirium Skeins to discard a card with dredge, then dredge your graveyard full of goodies and finish with a fat Golgari Grave-Troll or Svogthos, the Restless Tomb. Dread Return on Akroma, Angel of Wrath also works well. Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise have a dual purpose in this deck, acting as many accelerants and beefing up Golgari Grave-Troll later on.

The card choices seem smart in the current metagame. Stinkweed Imp is not a blank with dredge 5; it is actually really good against Mono Green Aggro. Facing a Silhana Ledgewalker with Moldervine Cloak and Blanchwood Armor? No problem for Big Stinks. Darkblasting a Scryb Ranger in response to a pump spell is likewise hot. Furthermore, Svogthos the Restless Tomb seems insane against Dralnu du Louvre. They can hold all the Rewinds in the world, but that won’t stop the land from attacking. Recurring Nightmare Voids also tend to work well against counterspell strategies.

Svogthos the Restless Tomb


I have tried out wrapter’s version of the deck in the Casual Play rooms for a few games. Unfortunately I have to admit the deck felt rather clunky to me, so I’ll offer some suggestions for improvement. The whole “Life from the Loam on Mountain plus Skarrg, the Rage Pits, so I can trample over with my Golgari Grave-Troll” is cute, but it has never been relevant for me. I would like to see more Svogthos, the Restless Tomb instead, as they seem absolutely awesome in this deck. Also, Hypnotic Specter seems a bit out of place. I know that a turn 2 Specter is huge against Dralnu du Louvre, but it doesn’t truly fit in the deck’s strategy. I’d rather articulate the reanimation theme instead, by upping the number of reanimation targets and Dread Returns. In my opinion, the deck will need quite a bit of tuning to become a real competitor. And it seems unlikely it will start dominating the format. If it remains popular, then Tormods Crypts will start showing up in sideboards and utterly wreck you.

In a completely unrelated topic, I found the following interesting email in my inbox:

Dear Frank Karsten,
In your most recent article, you made a bold prediction stating that Damnation would not fit easily into current Dralnu builds. I completely agree; however, I was surprised to not hear you mention one of the most powerful cards in Planar Chaos: Extirpate. As a 1 of silver bullet or a 4 of deck-hoser, Extirpate will drastically change Dralnu's power (both helping and hurting).

With all the countermagic in Dralnu, it is more than easy to take the Force out of Scryb, the Ledgewalkers out of MGA, and the storm out of Dragonstorm. Extirpate even allows you to look at their hand and library, so you know what you'll need to counter and when. At the prerelease, all the hype may have gone to Damnation, where less than experienced players traded upwards of $25.00 for them; but under all that hype, the experienced players were grabbing every Extirpate in sight. It's the new T2 Cranial.
--Moses


I replied with the following:

Hi Moses,
I agree that Extirpate is a very good card. It is an efficient hoser to Ichorid, reanimation, Proclamation, dredge, single-card strategies, and whatnot. However, I am not as high on it as others are, mainly because its use against "fair" decks (like Mono Green Aggro or U/G Scryb&Force) is limited. I'd rather draw a proactive answer – like Seize the Soul – than a card that (a) you can only play if he has the envisioned card in the graveyard, and (b) merely affects your opponent's draws over the long term of game. I have never liked Cranial Extraction – I have always called it a four mana Cabal Therapy without flashback, since I just look at how a card impacts the board right away, and good decks that obeyed the rules imposed by Cranial Extraction had enough redundancy – and Extirpate seems to suffer the same problem.

Include it as a one of in the sideboard of Dralnu? Certainly. Do you board it in against Martyr/Proclamation decks? Of course. Do you board it in against Dragonstorm or the mirror match? Perhaps. Removing all Bogardan Hellkites or Mystical Teachings may have significant effect on the game. But Extripate should not be seen as a good card against Mono Green Aggro or U/G Scryb&Force, because their threats are so diversified. Those decks don't care if you spend a card to remove a certain card from their deck. I don't recall boarding in Cranial Extraction against Critical Mass in the Kamigawa Block Season either. That said, Extirpate enforces a new design constraint that deck designers will have to abide by.
--Frank


What do you think of Extirpate? Sound your voice in the forums!

Next Up: Extended

This week we saw a growth in the amount of Aggro Loam and Scepter/Chant decks, which I can understand. In last week’s article I ran various matchup data through one thousand supercomputers, and the results indicated that Aggro Loam and Scepter/Chant are among the best-performing online Extended decks.

Deck namePopularityCompared to last week’s average
1. Boros Deck Wins■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)+1%
2. Aggro Loam■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)+5%
3. Affinity■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)+5%
4. TEPS■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)-2%
5. Scepter-Chant■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)+4%
6. U/G Opposition■■■■■ ■■ (7%)+6%
7. U/W Urzatron■■■■■ ■■ (7%)-4%
8. Trinket Angel■■■■■ ■■ (7%)0%
9. Goblin Storm■■■■ (4%)+1%
10. U/B Psychatog■■■ (3%)+3%
11. Aggro-Flow/Rock■■■ (3%)0%
12. UW Post■■■ (3%)0%
13. 4C Wake■■■ (3%)+3%
14. BW Aggro■■ (2%)+2%
15. Domain Zoo■■ (2%)+2%
16. Flow Rock■■ (2%)-1%
17. Gifts-Rock■ (1%)-4%
18. GWR Slide■ (1%)0%
19. Mono Blue Control■ (1%)+1%
20. Mono Black Aggro■ (1%)+1%

An interesting newcomer is the U/G Opposition deck. It posted a couple Premier Event Top 8s – it even won one – so let’s take a look.

U/G Opposition

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This deck sports a bunch of crazy combos. We all know about the synergy between Scryb Ranger and Spectral Force by now. But returning a Coiling Oracle to your hand with Wirewood Symbiote to untap your Llanowar Elves is more innovative. This deck can definitely get some draws where you can’t lose, involving turn 3 Opposition, turn 4 Static Orb for the complete lock. Then again, there are also the draws where you just stumble upon a clump of random 1/1 dudes – boy, this deck has a lot of those – and then you don’t stand a chance. The deck doesn’t have that many truly powerful cards. Based on that and on the sentiment I got from talking to good Extended players, I am not convinced of the deck yet. It’s exciting and a blast to play, but I expect it is just a fading hype. I’d stick with the decks that have proven themselves, like Aggro Loam.

The Online Time Spiral Block Constructed Metagame

TSBC is a relatively young format, so I will just show global archetypes in my metagame table. An example of such a global archetype is Teferi Control, which refers to blue decks with cards like Cancel, Think Twice, Snapback, and the vital namesake Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. I am not going to make a billion categories in order to differentiate between U/W Teferi Control, U/R Teferi Control splashing Mystical Teachings, Mono Blue Teferi Control with Brine Elemental, and the ubiquitous Mono Blue Teferi Control without Brine Elemental but with Mystical Teachings. Even though that might earn me the prize for dividing decks in as many boxes as possible, I think it is more valuable to see which general strategies are doing well.

TSBC has existed for about 10 weeks now. We may want to compare the early metagame with the more fleshed out metagame (in order to get an idea of the metagame trends), but at the same time I’m not going to make a data column for each week and cause your screen to explode. I simply separated the numbers in two: one column for the first five weeks and one for the last five weeks. I ranked the decks in order of average popularity percentage over the entire period.

Deck Nov. 17 – Dec. 22 Dec. 17 – Jan. 28 Average
Teferi Control 19% 33% 26%
Scryb&Force 17% 26% 21%
White Weenie 22% 13% 17%
U/G Shifter 19% 9% 14%
Blink/Riders 3% 9% 6%
Slivers! 6% 3% 5%
Tons of other rogue decks.. 14% 7% 11%

I know that the format is going to be shaken up considerably when Planar Chaos becomes legal, so you may wonder why I actually chose to cover it now. Well, I know that many people will start testing decks for Pro Tour: Yokohama soon, and nothing has been written on the format anywhere. Offering a roadmap to put the format in perspective – a baseline to build upon with Planar Chaos – seemed valuable enough. Now, what can we learn from the Magic Online TSBC tournaments? Join me on a trip through the TSBC metagame.

In the Beginning, There Was White Weenie and U/G Shifter

White Weenie is a simple, obvious deck. With excellent White Weenie cards like Soltari Priest, Knight of the Holy Nimbus, Serra Avenger and Griffin Guide around, it won’t come as surprise that White Weenie was the first deck idea for many.

White Weenie

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All the familiar elements are present, but an interesting inclusion in Aheana’s version is the maindeck Angel’s Grace. Such a defensive card is rarely seen in decks that are focused on beating down quickly. But TSBC White Weenie isn’t your average White Weenie.

Serrated Arrows
TBSC White Weenie runs more evasion creatures than ground creatures, so you will often find yourself in a damage race where your flyers are exchanging blows with opposing Spectral Forces. A surprise “Fog” can buy you an extra pivotal turn in such a situation.

Other common choices for this deck include Icatian Javelineers and Fortify. Is White Weenie any good? I have my doubts. First of all, it doesn’t seem fast enough. It lacks good one-drops and has to fill out its creature curve with awkward cards like Benalish Cavalry. Furthermore, a lot of the decks in the format play Serrated Arrows, with Desert and Fledgling Mawcor seen frequently as well. Piloting a deck full of Soltari Priests and Amrou Scouts in such an environment is a recipe for disaster. White Weenie decreased in popularity over the weeks, and I can get behind that. There are simply stronger deck options available.

Moving on. A couple weeks into the format a new deck archetype sprang up in large numbers, based around Vesuvan Shapeshifter (hence the name).




U/G Shifter

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This deck plays morphs like Fathom Seer, Brine Elemental, and Thelonite Hermit and runs four copies of Vesuvan Shapeshifter to abuse their unmorphing abilities. No matter what morph creature you’re copying, you are certainly having fun. This deck is very mana-hungry, so it runs Search for Tomorrow as well as Wall of Roots. The lack of Serrated Arrows in the above version surprises me a bit, especially since it already runs a singleton Academy Ruins for recursion purposes. Furthermore, Willbender looks like it would be a solid addition to the deck as well.

An important problem of this deck is that many other decks in the format have also caught on to the power of Vesuvan Shapeshifter, as we will see soon enough. U/G Shifter dedicates a lot of slots on morphs that Vesuvan Shapeshifter can flip into for beneficial effects. But it hurts when you go through all of that effort to set it up your engine, only to lose to your opponent’s Vesuvan Shapeshifter. He can abuse your morphs just as well! When you basically hand your opponent a combo on a silver platter, it may be time to move on to another deck.

Once the Format Progressed, We Saw More Teferi Control and Scryb&Force

Teferi Control comes in all colors, shapes and sizes, but a blue/red version is the most common. This is the deck that won last weekend’s TSBC 4x open event. FFfreak did not present a sideboard, so the listed 15 cards are my own approximation based on watching replays, other similar decklists, some guesswork, and my own preferences.

U/R Teferi Control

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The common factor of all Teferi Control decks is that they run some counters, some card draw, some creature kill, some bounce, some big fat flying win conditions, and of course Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, which still works wonders in combination with Mystical Teachings. A sound balance between all those elements makes this deck one potent control deck. FFfreak’s deck dips in black for Mystical Teaching’s flashback cost and a duo of Strangling Soots. With Prismatic Lens, Terramorphic Expanse plus 1 Swamp, and 6 storage lands, finding a black mana source should not pose a problem. The above deck shows that Sulfurous Blast is the de facto Wrath of God of TSBC.

I think that some version of Teferi Control is the best deck in the format, and it would be my choice for a tournament. But Scryb&Force is also not bad.

U/G Scryb&Force

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Sporesower Thallid
This deck is a direct port of the Standard version, replacing Elves and Birds with Wall of Roots and sometimes Search for Tomorrow. Mana Leak and Remand are also not available, so the TSBC version just runs more guys: Riftwing Cloudskate and Sporesower Thallid. No, we’re not just trying to build a good draft deck here, Sporesower Thallid is actually not that bad in TSBC. Take another look at the U/R Teferi Control deck we just passed by. What is its removal base? Sulfurous Blast and Strangling Soot! A four-toughness creature therefore trumps most creature kill.

Not every Scryb&Force build plays blue. In fact, about half of the Scryb&Force players run red instead. I honestly wouldn’t know what the better choice is, but there certainly is some merit to the red version. Without Mana Leak and Remand, there is less of an incentive to add blue cards alongside a Scryb to the Force. And stuff like Assault//Battery, Disintegrate, Stormbind, Thornscape Battlemage, and Rift Bolt are quite appealing as well.

But Let’s not Forget the Fun, Roguish Archetypes!

So far I’ve covered the decks that show up in large quantities. But as always, there are more original designs lurking around just as well.

BlinkRiders

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This deck is also directly based on an existing Standard deck, introduced by Shaheen Soorani at the World Championships. The deck is all about creatures with come-in-play abilities and Momentary Blink. A cute trick, for instance, is to put the echo of Avalanche Riders on the stack and respond with Blink, postponing the echo for a turn and nailing a second land. Playing all the colors of the American flag together provides access to Lightning Angel, which is one of the best creatures in the set... if you can manage its casting cost, that is.

I would like to make room for Vesuvan Shapeshifter in this deck, perhaps instead of Rift Bolt. The morph has good synergy with all the 187 creatures. When you play Vesuvan Shapeshifter (unmorphed, that is), and copy a creature with a comes-in-play ability –say, Riftwing Cloudskate – then you get to bounce a permanent. That’s neat, but you’re not stuck with a 2/2 flyer for the remainder of the game. On your next upkeep, you just flip the Shapeshifter face down, then unmorph it and copy your opponent’s Spectral Force for good measure.

Slivers!

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Ah, you didn’t think I would end my discussion of the TSBC metagame without mentioning Slivers, did you? Sedge Sliver is an improved Glorious Anthem on a stick, Bonesplitter Sliver makes for a fast clock, and Two-Headed Sliver laughs in the face of blockers. You are quickly building a self-reinforcing Sliver army with this deck, although it stands or falls with the survival of the essential Slivers. The major downside of this type of deck is that if your Bonesplitter Sliver is Snapback during combat, your entire combat math is screwed.

Sedge Sliver
There have also been straight up red-black versions (without the green) around. I like the above one; I’d rather up my creature count with solid guys like Might Sliver than with a meager Basal Sliver. Admittedly, the mana base of a full three color deck is not all that consistent in TSBC, as we don’t have the beautiful Ravnica duals. Two colors is the norm. This implied mana inconsistency is, by the way, one of the major problems of the 3-color BlinkRiders deck. The Slivers, however, have access to Terramorphic Expanse, Search for Tomorrow, and Gemhide Sliver. Still not perfect, and adding Gemstone Mine won’t hurt, but all these cards together go a long way towards ensuring you can withstand color screw.

That concludes our journey through all major deck archetypes in Time Spiral Block Constructed so far. Hope that you enjoyed it and, join me next week.

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