Don't Strain Yourself

Posted in From the Lab on April 15, 2009

By Noel deCordova

I want you all to take some deep breaths, okay? Concentrate on your lungs as they expand and retract. You should probably be sitting down as well, unless your breathing method of choice requires you to be standing. Whatever makes you comfortable.

While you're relaxing, let's soothingly run through a quick recap of the last couple of From the Lab previews for Shards of Alara block. The first one, way back in the fall of 2008, was the world's first eyeful at Mindlock Orb, a card that, while strangely interesting, was not exactly an über-Johnny specimen. Don't get me wrong, folks, I loved locking my opponent out of the game with Maralen of the Mornsong, but usually cards with less than five total words of Oracle text are a bit narrow for deck building's sake. (Exhibit B: Mass Calcify.)

Still breathing easily? Good. Just keep pretending you're walking barefoot on a beach or whatever nonsense these yogamaniacs babble. As long as it works. Continuing on to Conflux, I thought I felt my heart stop for an unnatural amount of time when I first laid eyes on Master Transmuter (in both senses: the text and the dazzling art.) A bona fide Johnny bonanza, Master Transmuter worked on many levels to keep combos alive in the minds of many (and dare I say it, Inkwell Leviathan—formerly Master Transmuter's go-to guy in Standard—might just get one-upped by Alara Reborn's Sphinx of the Steel Wind, or as I call her, A-chrome-a.)

As you continue your chosen technique of relaxation, I'm going to gently tell you all two simple truths. One is that my preview card today will also be a card from the former shard of Esper (as of the storyline changes that have shaken things up recently), completing a cute preview mega-cycle. The second truth is a bit more abstract. You see, what would be the point of spending a decent chunk of an introduction warning my readers to relax if my preview wasn't full-on bonkers? At least, that's the cliché. To be honest, I don't believe my preview today is closer to broken than Master Transmuter (to which I threw an insane fit that lasted six minutes, two minutes longer than this one's.) However, I have a mounting reason to believe that Time Sieve is, if not broken, incredibly fun, incredibly evil, and above all incredibly Johnny.

If you believe you've mentally prepared yourself enough, click here to judge Time Sieve for yourself.

Time Sieve

I would talk about the art and how awesome it is, but as of this writing I haven't actually seen it yet. I'll assume it shows this diabolical trinket for what it is: an infinite turn machine!

Like I said, Time Sieve is just one of those cards that is the perfect build-around-me centerpiece. For such a hideous drawback (a staple characteristic of any classic Johnny card—hello, Varchild's War-Riders!) Time Sieve can provide you with that wonderful moment of untapping your lands and taking another turn.

Of course, ignoring the drawback, Time Sieve basically says, ": Take another turn after this one." This line of text is obviously busted, and so the quintuple artifact restraint was added to balance the card. Of course, my goal within this article is to do the impossible: come up with five new artifacts a turn to wind up with infinite turns!


When brainstorming for ways to complete the above task and live the dream with Time Sieve, my mind immediately spun its clickwheel to Mirrodin block. As you may or may not recall, Mirrodin block was made up of three sets that explored artifacts like they had never been explored before. I instantly knew I wanted to pair the latest combotastic artifact with the denizens of this block, so I planeswalked there with a little help from Tezzeret the Seeker. (He offers a tour route of the Blind Eternities.)

The first little dudes I befriended on this strange new world were Myr Servitors. (Not Ewoks.) These annoying Robo-Roaches, as they were called in design, seem to be a perfect fit for Time Sieve. Suppose you get all four into play. Three of them can go towards Time Sieve's artifact count, and the fourth can stick around to assemble his scrapped buddies. Okay, so that's three out of five, where are the other two? Enter Genesis Chamber, the plucky Myr maker from Darksteel. When your fourth Myr Servitor brings back its three friends, Genesis Chamber will create three artifact creature tokens. Now sacrifice all your 1/1s except for one token and one Myr Servitor to Time Sieve, and repeat lots of times. Since you come out with a bonus Myr token each time, eventually you can swarm for the win.

Myr Servitor
Genesis Chamber

As I said before, you'll need two other artifacts to sacrifice to jumpstart the engine, so that's why the deck has tons of artifact lands, Steel Walls, and Myr Retrievers to stall and come up with some spares. Puppet Conjurer can create wee Homunculi that have a window just big enough to sacrifice to Time Sieve. (In a pinch, the Conjurer is also an artifact.)

Puppet Conjurer

Getting all four Myr Servitors into play is a lot tougher than it sounds, though. I did my best and ran four Thirst for Knowledges to help flow through your library, but I knew I needed a Plan B. So, I continued on Tezzeret's tour and made it to Kamigawa, where I braved the swamps of the Numai and finally reached Shizo, Death's Storehouse. My ally in infinite-turn-taking lurked here: Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker. Since all my creatures have power 1 or less, sacrificing any number of them with Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker on the board would mean they would come back on my new turn, ready to repeat. The win condition for this method is also Genesis Chamber, due to the army of tokens it will spit out.

There were still some missing pieces to the puzzle. Etherium Astrolabe is a card that has grown on me over time. It also seems perfect alongside all the metal fodder in the deck, and it's easily sacrificed to Time Sieve to start your engine. Finally, I was having trouble finding my Servitors, so when Tezzeret had finished his tour, I simply recruited him to the deck. If you already have a Servitor in play, finding one with his second ability isn't too risky, as your fresh Servitor can chump block and come back for more next turn. He also enables a possible Plan C: good old-fashioned artifact creature beatdown.

Etherium Astrolabe

Time Servants

Download Arena Decklist

Another card that I stumbled upon while thinking about Mirrodin block was Second Sunrise. By using this hidden gem, it wouldn't really matter what artifacts you choose to sacrifice to the Time Sieve; Second Sunrise can pop them all back into play for another go-around. Unless you had a way to recur the white instant over and over again, this wouldn't be infinite. If you had a victory condition chipping away at your opponent, however, and needed just two more turns to win the game, Second Sunrise could provide that second turn. On flavorful terms, the pairing makes sense as well: each new turn has its own sunrise ... er, upkeep. Okay, back to deck building!

Sharded Sieve

I'm sure there are plenty of other options to explore in Extended and older formats with Time Sieve. However, I wanted to explore the limited options of Standard and see if I couldn't find a diabolical way to exploit Time Sieve there. I started by looking for ways to generate artifact creature tokens. Puppet Conjurer obviously makes the cut again, and best bud Etherium Astrolabe (a card which I'm on a mini-binge with currently) fits as well. However, I was quite excited by the prospects that Sharding Sphinx provides. As long as you have four other artifact creatures rearing to taste your opponent's blood, you'll have enough fodder to activate Time Sieve.

Sharding Sphinx

Now, Sharding Sphinx is effectively a way to win the game by itself. At worst, it's an Air Elemental that makes a flying 1/1 dork with every successful swing. At best, it practically doubles your artifact army with every combat phase. However, when Shards of Alara came out, and through Conflux's release, I had attempted to use the Sphinx casually, to bad luck. I could never punch through. Time Sieve can, like the Second Sunrise example above, give Sharding Sphinx and his sparkly cronies one more turn to take the game. Therefore the following deck isn't exactly Time Sieve-based, but my preview card certainly helps the deck win.

What artifact creatures to use? Well, it is Alara Reborn Preview Week 1 (gee, that's a mouthful!). I might as well use all of the artifact dudes spoiled so far, as well as key guys like Etherium Sculptor (pseudo-mana acceleration) and Wingrattle Scarecrow (which brings itself back from a Time Sieve sacrifice.)

Etherium Sculptor
Wingrattle Scarecrow

Steel Curtain

Download Arena Decklist

If this deck appeals to you, I'd strongly recommend checking out Tom LaPille's preview on Friday. Strongly.

The April Fool's Challenge Results!

Originally, I didn't think the challenge two weeks ago would draw a whole lot of reader response: to the contrary, I received more mail than I ever have about one article. So first off, I have to quickly thank everyone who participated, as I honestly didn't expect such a positive response!

Onto the meat of the results. I was worried that everyone would have found the same lies, but apparently I had littered the article with enough red herrings to fool many potential winners. Let's talk about each section, from the easiest to the hardest.

Prank City

Historically, challenges like this tend to move from easiest to hardest in that order, but hey, it was April Fool's Day! I had to break the norm somehow. Therefore I placed the easiest section at the end. There were barely any red herrings here, and most everyone picked up the lie: "Best of all, a Cairn Wanderer can pick up ninjutsu from fallen Ninjas!" Cairn Wanderer wishes it could be that cool.


This section was also not too hard to figure out, but a couple people fell for the decoy, which was the sentence describing the prize. I didn't want the introduction to be too tough (and yet I did, but more on that later) so I made the lie in this section pretty easy to spot. "I don't blame you: catching my sister filling my sink basin with lighter fluid two years ago was a life-altering moment."

Thematically Foolish

There were two booby traps in this section, mostly hinging on careful wordplay. Some thought that Vizzerdrix just wasn't a win condition, to which I must say: the pink mutant bunny was indeed my only way to win.

Many were stumped on the sentence containing Shu Elite Infantry, in which I described it as a "white Hill Giant." These people thought this was the lie, as Hill Giant is red. While Hill Giant is indeed red, Shu Elite Infantry can accurately be described as a "white Hill Giant," just as Serra Sphinx is a "blue Serra Angel."

The lie in this section was, "Foxfire is a pseudo-Fog effect which doubles as the only card draw we can muster." The decklist clearly has Mishra's Baubles, Fool's Tomes, and a Thought Reflection as other card draw, invalidating that sentence.

Section Dissection

Right off the bat, this was the toughest section. Multiple red herrings lay in dead ends, and many were fooled. First, although Inkwell Leviathan probably doesn't have the chops to run with Darksteel Colossus in terms of tournament play, I did read, hear, and even enunciate the opinion that the 7/11 beastie was a "new Colossus" at the Conflux Prerelease. So that sentence was true.

Some tried to be sneaky and claimed that I didn't fully update the deck with cards released since 2004. While I did use necessary cards such as Leveler and Fabricate (Magic class of '03), the deck list was still an update of Mark Gottlieb's version.

Here was the biggest red herring: my seemingly innocent mention of Mind Theft, a fake card created by Gottlieb for his own April Fool's Day article. Many wrote, "Mind Theft isn't a real card. It's a lie!" And, if I had tried to pass Mind Theft off as a card, you would be right. However, if you'll look closely at Mind Theft's link, you'll realize that it didn't lead to a fake Gatherer window (if it did, then I would be lying) but to Gottlieb's article. Thus, I never actually passed it off as a card, but instead a link to a funny piece of Magic-related work. And, earlier in this section, I (truthfully) wrote: "I'd suggest reading the majority of Mark Gottlieb's work." So really I was just reinforcing that truth. This one was quite hard, I'll admit.

So where was the lie? "It's a random artifact with the tiniest text since Ice Cauldron." The "it" is referring to Thought Dissector. This sentence is blatantly untrue. Look at any card from Alliances (Gustha's Scepter), or Bureaucracy, which, although it is silver-bordered, is still a card.

Gustha's Scepter

Our first winner (First? What? Hold on, folks ...) sadly forgot to place his last name in the email, but he nonetheless was the first person to reply with the right answers. I'm also touched that he "had nothing better to be doing on at 5:00 AM with a 9:30 engineering class 4.5 hours away." Thanks and congrats to Josh, who caught every lie!

Now, when I designed this challenge, I read it over from an innocent perspective and knew immediately how I would tackle it. I only hoped that a reader would think on my same wavelength and get the tricky answer. Not only did Joey W. get this answer, he summed it up in a perfect email:

I believe the lie is in this one sentence: "Starting now, one sentence in each section will be blatantly untrue." It seems to me that "Starting now" is the key phrase which gives away the trick: " sentence in each section will be blatantly untrue," being the only untrue statement in the entire article. What a terribly cruel yet refreshingly devious ploy, having your readers pore over your article again and again, looking for those three little lies when all along there was only one great untruth. Then again, I might just be projecting my own deviousness onto an otherwise innocently contrived challenge, in which case I am the fool. Oh, well. What shall be, shall be. Ciao, for the nonce.

Outstanding work, Joey. Many others cottoned on and sent me the tricky answer. Joey was not only the first to do so but completely understood the entire challenge. Congrats to Joey and Josh! I'll be in touch soon.

I'm pooped, personally, after this marathon. See you all next week, and try to think of ingenious ways to crack the mysterious Time Sieve!

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