Time Spiral Online Release

Posted in Feature on October 25, 2006

By Frank Karsten

Info on the Time Spiral release events, a rundown of the new Vanguard avatars, and an interview with wotc_elf.

Konnichiwa from Japan! No deck technology for today, because (a) I was in Kobe last weekend to play in the Pro Tour, and I did not have time or an internet connection to check what happened in last week's events, and (b) the Time Spiral rotation is imminent, so most current formats are pretty much dead. I doubt anyone is interested in last week's Standard metagame because of that, so today I have something else instead. I'll cover the Time Spiral release events, the new avatars, and a behind-the-scenes interview.

Magic Online Time Spiral Release Events

On Monday, October 30 at 9:00 am PST, Time Spiral goes on sale in the Magic Online store. Time Spiral becomes legal in ALL Constructed formats the day it goes on sale (October 30). All casual rooms and constructed queues will use Time Spiral starting on October 30. Constructed Premier events will not run until November 9 and will use Time Spiral starting on that date. Time Spiral draft queues begin on Monday, November 6, 10:00 am.

Time Spiral Release events begin Thursday, November 2, and the last ones start November 13, 9:00 pm. You can find in-depth information here, although it is not yet available at the time of writing. I'll highlight the important aspects of the release events.

Release Leagues

These special leagues will start November 2 at 9:00 am PST and have a duration of one week. They have a maximum of 256 players each and will auto-spawn (as soon as a league reaches 256 players, another will begin registration). Apart from boosters, the prize support also includes a Stuffy Doll participation avatar for everyone and a Jaya Ballard, Task Mage prize avatar for 5-0 records.

Premier Event 2x Flights and Release Event 2x Championship

There will be Time Spiral Sealed Deck Premier Event 2x flights starting on November 2 at 2:00 pm PST. They will start every hour, on the hour. The only gap is because of the scheduled downtime, so there will be no Premier Events on the morning of Thursday November 9. The regular admission besides sealed product is 2 tickets, but there's a special deal. Events that start between the hours of 10 pm and 8 am will be “Nix Tix” events and won't require any event tickets to enter!

The prize support is a 2x payout, which pays out boosters to everyone in the Top 8 after the Swiss rounds, who will do a booster draft to determine who gets the first place prize of 24 boosters. All who participate in a 2x Prize Premier Event flight will get the Stuffy Doll participation avatar. The Top 2 will get a Jaya Ballard, Task Mage prize avatar. In addition, the 1st place finisher will qualify for one of the Time Spiral Release Event 2x Championship, which is also Sealed deck with a Top 8 booster draft.

The prize support of those invitation-only Championship events – which are held on the weekend of November 18 and 19 – is a whopping 6x, which pays out boosters to the top 64 players. Moreover, the winner of the Championship will also receive a complete set of Magic Online Premium Time Spiral cards (Including “timeshifted” cards). Second place will receive a complete set of regular Magic Online Time Spiral cards (Including “timeshifted” cards). Although players may have multiple accounts qualified for the Championship event, players not permitted to have more than 1 of their accounts entered in the event.

Premier Event 4x Flights and Release Event 4x Championship

The setup of these tournaments is similar to the previously described 2x flights and Championships, with better prizes. The Time Spiral Premier Events (4x flights) will start November 2 and 3:00 pm PST. They will launch every 3 hours. The only gap is because of the scheduled downtime, so there will be no Premier Events on the morning of Thursday November 9. The normal admission is 4 tix and product, but there's once again a special deal: events that start between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am will only require 2 event tickets!

The prize support is a 4x payout, which means boosters for everyone in the top 16 and a first place prize of 48 boosters. All who participate in a 2x Prize Premier Event flight will get the Stuffy Doll participation avatar. Top 4 will get a Jaya Ballard, Task Mage prize avatar. In addition, the Top 8 finishers will qualify for one of the Time Spiral Release Event 4x Championship.

The New Avatars

I have mentioned the new avatars already when I was talking about prize support, but I haven't even introduced them yet. I'll do that now, and I'll also try to build a Vanguard deck that abuses each avatar. Note that the decks I will suggest are not well-tuned killer decks that will do well in a competitive tournament. I'm just having fun here and abusing the avatars' abilities in an entertaining way.

Participation avatar – Stuffy Doll
Starting hand size = 7
Starting life total = 14
: Prevent all damage that would be dealt to you by a source of your choice this turn. Stuffy Doll deals damage equal to half the damage prevented this way, rounded up, to you and target opponent. Play this ability only once per turn.

I think the best way to build a Vanguard deck around this avatar is to play cards that happen to deal damage to you as part of their effect – for example, Char. Char is perfectly acceptable card that which gets better with the Stuffy Doll avatar, because it suddenly deals 5 to your opponent and 1 to you. This is what I came up with:

Standard with Vanguard – Stuffy Doll avatar

Download Arena Decklist

Apart from Char, I also put in Squall Line and Orcish Cannonade, which have a similar purpose. For example, a Squall Line for X=6 now deals 3 to you and 9 to your opponent. Furthermore, I included Blockbuster and Sulfurous Blast, since those cards work equally well with the Stuffy Doll avatar. The real Stuffy Doll (the card, not the avatar) is a great combo with the aforementioned Earthquake variants, so I incorporated that as well. If you have Stuffy Doll in play and activate the avatar, then Sulfurous Blast will deal 2 damage to you and 8 damage to your opponent. Now that's breaking a symmetrical effect! Stuffy Doll also works well with Blockbuster since it can tap itself at will.

Just keep in mind that if you want to use Stuffy Doll on, for example, your own Squall Line, you have to hold the control key when you play the spell. That allows you to respond to your own spells, so you can activate Stuffy Doll and choose the Squall Line that is on the stack as the damage source.

There is just one problem with this strategy: the Stuffy Doll avatar decreases your starting life total to 14, and you are constantly dealing damage to yourself. Even though you are slinging burn towards your opponent at the same time, it's still a somewhat suicidal proposition. So you need life gain to compensate. I think the best option is Tamanoa. This card works wonders in the deck, because it triggers when you play one of the many burn cards. And if I'm not mistaken, it should also trigger off the avatar's ability. Imagine your opponent has a 3/3 and you have Tamanoa in play. When you play Sulfurous Blast, it deals three damage to you, your opponent, and the two creatures, so Tamanoa will give you 4 x 3 =12 life. That's a recipe for a good card, so Tamanoa is definitely in. In order to fix this three color mana base and to accelerate your spells somewhat, I play Farseek and Search for Tomorrow (which you should suspend on turn one) and of course a lot of dual lands.

Prize avatar – Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
Starting hand size = 6
Starting life total = 22
: Jaya Ballard deals an amount of damage chosen at random from 0 to X to target creature or player. Play this ability only once each turn.

Breaking this avatar was hard. I considered building a combo that that aims to get infinite mana, since it could use Jaya Ballard as a win condition. I also thought about a Zoo-style deck that just plays assorted fast efficient creatures such as Savannah Lions and Watchwolf on the first couple turns, and then uses the avatar to deal the last couple points of damage to the dome. But those decks wouldn't be any fun, would they? Instead I looked for a deck that could generate ridiculous amounts of mana to pump into Jaya Ballard's ability. I finally found a use for Braid of Fire and went from there.

Standard with Vanguard – Jaya Ballard Avatar

Download Arena Decklist

To be fair, the above deck looks horrendous, but I was trying to make a fun deck, not a competitive one. Apart from Braid of Fire, this deck generates lots of mana with Gauntlet of Power. If you don't have that artifact to turn your Mountains into super lands, then you can try to collect the three Urza lands for equally large amounts of mana. Orcish Librarian is a cool and random way to get closer to assembling the Urzatron, and I just wanted to include him because I love the picture of the card. I mean, he eats books! The rest of the deck consists of mana artifacts, Furnace of Rath (which doubles Jaya Ballard's efficiency), Coal Stoker (which gives you extra mana to pump into the avatar when it hits play), and Bogardan Hellkite (this deck has so much mana, so why not?).

Behind the Scenes: Interviewing Elf

I got to interview Michael Feuell, better known as ‘elf'. Online he uses the account “wotc_elf.” As a Senior Software Engineer, he led the development of Time Spiral Online.

Frank: How you did you get involved with Wizards/Magic?

Llanowar_ElvesElf: A friend of mine and I were trying to develop a fun fantasy based card game in the early 90's. Nothing collectible, just trying to convert bridge decks into fantasy style board elements. We lost touch for about 3 months and when we met up again he says, “You have to try this Magic card game.” Legends had just been released, so off I went, and I've been playing ever since. I became involved closer with Wizards through the judge program where I've been a Level 3 judge for the past 10 years with more than 20 Pro Tours under my belt. For a year I served as the DCI Judge Netrep.

Frank: What is it like to develop a huge set for Magic Online? What's the best and worst part of the job?

Elf: The best part is trying to come up with clever answers for interesting problems. A surprising number of cards every set have something that has never been done online before, or try to do something old in a new way. The worst part is dealing with a legacy codebase that sometimes doesn't do what it's told.

Frank: Time Spiral brings back a bunch of old mechanics. Were you able to reuse a lot of the existing code for this set?

Elf: Not much at all. Many of the older mechanics weren't in use online (such as buyback) or use new rules (for instance, madness) if they were. Many of the cards had changed wording (Verdeloth the Ancient) or even changed abilities (Lord of Atlantis). There were certainly some cards that we got for free and that helped. But for the most part this set is bigger and more complex than any set we've previously done.

Frank: What were the most difficult cards to program?

Elf: First of all, Arena. This cards does something that has never been done before online; it requires multiple players to choose targets for the same effect. Previously all the targets were chosen by the same player, even if sometimes that player was not the player playing the spell.

Second, the free spells with suspend. There are so many complex interactions with trying to allow the card to be played with cards that can play them in some other means, Eye of the Storm, Fist of Suns, Panoptic Mirror, Isochron Scepter, etc.

Third, Leviathan. Just because a card will see little use, doesn't mean it will be easy to code. This is the first online card to have a non-mana attack cost.

Fourth, Hypergenesis. I'm just now finishing up this card. Originally it just looped once and then was done. After that it looped until no one could play anything. Without a complex series of yes/no prompts it's actually difficult to determine if everyone is done.

Frank: What were the most awkward programming mistakes that caused the strangest bugs?

Elf: At one point I fixed the suspend cards with no casting cost so they could be played with Fist of Suns, and then added a quick extra line to allow Evermind to work the same way. Only I didn't go back and test the original fix again. Adding Evermind broke things such that the suspend cards could be played at any time as if they had a casting cost of 0. The beta test metagame for a couple days was obscene decks with all the no casting cost cards and turn 1 kills either involving Pandemonium or storm cards. Eventually I built a deck that would kill during your opponent's first upkeep using Gemstone Caverns. Fun times!

Frank: Are there going to be any new features or interface changes?

Time to hit F7!

Elf: It looks like it. Some minor, like the ability to add 10 cards to a deck at a time, certainly more convenient than adding 4 basic land at a time, but still minor. Other changes are more prominent. The whole Suspend/Madness section of the Removed from Game zone has its own window. And we get a new F7 key. It's still being tested, but pressing F7 will allow you to auto stack multiple triggered abilities as long as they all have the same effect. Picture if you had 5 different suspend cards and you just want them to all go to the stack, or multiple Howling Mines, or multiple Graft creatures.

Frank: How did you implement the purple timeshifted cards in the deck builder/collection pane?

Elf: There are several things to be aware of. First, they are considered both “Rare” and “Special.” If you filter by “Special” you will see them. Yet at the same time, if you sort by rarity they will be in the Rare pile. If you just ask to look at Time Spiral you will see all the cards, but the timeshifted cards will appear on their own Tab.

Frank: What is your opinion on the beta policy changes?

Elf: I was actually involved in a lot of the decisions that went into our beta program, so I'm pretty happy with the direction the beta program is headed in. There's been a lot of progress made in the past couple years and things are much better than they used to be. Getting rid of drafts and using sealed deck has worked out well but I think there's still some ways we can make the beta even better. I expect we'll be trying new things each new beta we hold. The overriding goal of the beta test is for us to get the cards tested. There are always a couple bad apples though that just want to playtest the latest deck and rarely if ever submit an actual bug report. For the most part however our core group of beta testers have been absolutely phenomenal. If you see bubba0077 or joekewwl online, send them a thank you. Because of their efforts the game is a better place for all of us.

Frank: Thanks Elf, I appreciate your time. I'm looking forward to playing Time Spiral online.

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