No longer Standard: Time Spiral

Time Spiral

Hey everybody!
We’re going back in time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and another look at one of the classic sets from Magic the Gathering. Today, it’s time to return to 2006, and Time Spiral block!

Time Spiral

Time Spiral is the fortieth expansion set for Magic the Gathering, released on 6 October 2006. It is the first set in the Time Spiral block, the twelfth block set for the game. The set was notable for being the first to include a whole sub-set of cards, much like we’ve seen in recent years with Masterpieces – this time, it was a set of 121 “time-shifted” cards, which were reprints of cards from Magic’s history, using the older card frame but with a black border, and featuring a purple rarity symbol. The idea behind these cards was to represent the past invading the present, as there have been some horrible things happening to Dominaria on the whole.

Two hundred years previously, Phyrexia invaded Dominaria, but was eventually defeated, leaving the plane in ruins. It’s a thrilling tale, if a little on the bonkers side, and definitely something I’d like to feature here on the blog once I’ve managed to get my head around it! One of the important things to know is that Teferi managed to save his home by phasing it all out of reality, as you do, and has now returned to find the rest of the land a salt-sown wasteland. It’s time to get help from his fellow planeswalker Freyalise and sort things out!

Consequently, there is an element of despair to the artwork across this set. The basic lands look really quite grim and forlorn, with rotting forests and desolate plains, swamps filled with the rotting Phyrexian hulks and so on. We also get some factional warfare in the return of Rebel cards, which represent the three factions from the plane of Rath, first explored in Magic‘s third block, the Tempest block (part of the Weatherlight Saga, of which Time Spiral block is considered a continuation). Again, this is a really intriguing storyline, so I don’t want to go into it here, but suffice it to say, there is a real sense of eking out a living in the shadow of the apocalypse, something I always liken to the Midnight expansion for Runebound – while evil didn’t win on Dominaria, it was defeated at such a cost as to leave utter devastation in its wake.

Mechanically, the set gives us a massive eleven keywords, including eight returning keywords from historical sets (that time/nostalgia theme again), two brand-new keywords, and a keywording of Flash. The two new mechanics are Split Second and Suspend, two quite flavourful mechanics that seem to have become quite commonly-seen in formats like Commander, for reasons I’ll go into now.

Split Second is a keyword found predominantly on Instants and Sorcery cards that basically stops the Stack – while the card with Split Second is on the Stack, other spells cannot be played in response, though mana abilities, triggered abilities and special actions can still happen. A common way around Split Second is to un-Morph a creature such as Willbender, who can counter a spell when he is un-Morphed in this manner. It helps that Willbender was included in the set as a time-shifted card, too! Perhaps the most famous card with Split Second is Krosan Grip, though the keyword does occur in all five colours.

Suspend is a mechanic that proved confusing when it first appeared, due to timing issues of when such things could be played. Suspend is keyword that almost acts like an alternative casting cost: rather than paying the card’s mana cost, you can pay its Suspend cost and exile it with a number of time counters on it; when the final counter is removed, it is then cast. It can be confusing because cards with Suspend cover almost the entire breadth of card types, but you must be able to cast the card at the time you exile it – so you can’t Suspend a creature card in response to having to discard a card, say, unless you have an effect in play that would allow that (and Time Spiral gave players just such an effect by keywording Flash, such as with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir). Furthermore, some Suspend cards don’t actually have a mana cost, but must be cast via Suspend – they aren’t considered to be “free” to play. An example of this is perhaps one of the more notorious Suspend cards, Living End. The Professor has an example Modern deck based on this card, which you can take a look at here:

Returning keywords and mechanics were plentiful, due to the nostalgia theme. Of course, having so many keywords in a set means there’s a lot to keep track of, and I think having Storm return in the set feels like a step too far!

Time Spiral storage lands

An often-overlooked part of the set, in my mind, is the Storage Lands. These are a cycle of allied colour dual lands that can tap for colourless mana when they appear, but you can pay 1 and tap them to add a storage counter to them. In later turns, you can pay 1 and remove X counters to add X mana in any combination of the dual colours. Cumbersome, for sure, but with effects like Proliferate from subsequent sets, these lands can fit into decks where counter-manipulation is part of the strategy for a nice additional bonus.

Planar Chaos MtG

Planar Chaos was released on 2 February 2007, and brought a few more keywords to the party, including Kicker and also Vanishing, which works almost like a reverse Suspend mechanic, in that it enters the battlefield with a number of time counters on it, and when the counters have gone, it leaves. A revised Fading, a lot of these cards are creatures who have effects that trigger when they enter and leave the battlefield, which can be quite useful if you can find a way to remove tokens quickly.

There were, in addition, a subset of 45 ‘planeshifted’ cards that are meant to function as part of the set, rather than being reprints of older cards. In Planar Chaos, these cards represent an alternate-reality present rather than the past catching up with the present, and consist of colour-shifted cards – the focus here is on cards that grant a colour an ability it wouldn’t normally have, but still denoting a path the colour could have had from the beginning – perhaps the most infamous being Damnation, the black boardwipe spell. Of course, there is a link for each card to the colour they are printed in – while boardwipes are generally the province of White (and, to some extent, Blue), it does fit into the Black theme of direct removal.

Pretty much all of these cards can be considered colour-shifted reprints, such as the aforementioned Damnation (in black) for Wrath of God (in white), or Brute Force (in red) for Giant Growth (in green); colour references in some may be shifted around to fit, but broadly speaking they are direct call-backs. However, they aren’t technically reprints, but new cards. As such, these cards were considered part of the main set, and so have a more general distribution.

MTG Planeshifted Cards

These alt-reality cards are reflected in the story, where Teferi allies with the half-elf Radha and the artificer Venser to attempt to close temporal rifts that have been opening across Dominaria. In order to close the rift above Shiv, Teferi loses his Planeswalker spark, though this will later prove to be a temporary loss.

Planar Chaos also introduced a cycle of Legendary Dragons in the three enemy “wedge” colours that form something of a mirror to the cycle of Dragons from Invasion (in the allied “shard” colours). These Dragons are notable for being the only way to play Commander in these colours until Tarkir block finally went deep into the wedge colours.

Planar Chaos dragons

There’s a pretty interesting article up on Channel Fireball from earlier this year, where author Josh Silvestri describes Ravnica/Time Spiral Standard as the best Standard, though precisely how much Ravnica contributed to that decision is possibly an interesting article of its own!

At any rate, Planar Chaos was followed by the third set, Future Sight, on 4 May 2007, and in keeping with the time feel of the block, included a subset of 81 ‘future-shifted’ cards that are printed in a completely different border, and often include extremely weird mechanics. The idea behind the future-shifted cards was to represent cards that could be featured in later sets of Magic – much like Time Spiral reached into the past for its time-shifted reprints, Future Sight was reaching into the future for a glimpse of what might be to come with these “pre-prints”.

The border on these cards was one of the most controversial changes in the game, supposed to represent the possibility that the card frame might change again (as it had in 8th Edition), although Wizards have since confirmed that the Future Sight border will never actually be used. It’s almost a similar story with the plethora of keywords introduced in Future Sight. In addition to pre-existing keywords such as cycling, dredge and hellbent, we saw Lifelink, Shroud and Reach become keyworded. The fun begins, however, with the catalogue of entirely new keywords, over a dozen of them, some of which have indeed become actual keywords on cards in present-day Magic.

Delve returned in Tarkir block as the mechanic of the Sultai, allowing you to remove cards from your graveyard to help pay for a card’s cost, while Poisonous was later re-worked as Infect in Scars of Mirrodin block; these are the most successful of Future Sight‘s possible new keywords. Gravestorm (allowing you to copy a spell with Gravestorm for each time a permanent was put into a graveyard this turn), Aura Swap (allowing you to swap an aura on the battlefield for one in your hand), Fortify (equip for Land cards), Fateseal X (the “hate scry”, allowing you to look at the top X cards of your opponent’s library and put any number on the bottom) and others have not yet returned, although sometimes I think it might be fun if they did bring one of these back!

Famously, Future Sight also features a couple of cards that include references that basically had no meaning within the scope of the game at that point. Steamflogger Boss with its allure of being able to assemble contraptions is probably the one that always leaps to mind, but at the time even the famous Tarmagoyf had reminder text that referenced the still-to-come Planeswalker card type.

In the storyline, the planar rifts continue to wrack Dominaria, with Freyalise giving up her own spark and her life to close the rift linking the plane with the alternative Dominaria (the one full of Phyrexian nasties). The only solution appears to be sending Karn, the only planeswalker known to have traveled through time itself, back to stop the original rents in reality by preventing the archwizard Barrin from casting the spell that obliterated most of Tolaria back in the day, when he was attempting to prevent the Phyrexians from moving on Urza. Finally, the planeswalker Jeska arrives seeking her mentor Karn, and her anger at the situation unwittingly allows her to bring back another of Magic‘s formidable enemies, Leshrac. But that’s a story for another day…

Time Spiral block

Time Spiral block is quite fascinating to me, dealing as it does with this after-the-apocalypse sort of storyline. It forms almost a lynchpin between old Magic and new Magic – the next block was Lorwyn, which of course brought us the original five Planeswalkers that formed the basis of the new heroes and stories. Names like Teferi and Freyalise would still loom large, for sure, but now it was all to be about Jace and Liliana, Ajani and Chandra. Interestingly, Future Sight was actually supposed to feature the new Planeswalker type of card, but the set already had so much going on, and the new type of card wasn’t going to be ready in time.

There is the sense of Magic‘s history that comes out of the set which, when you look through the list of subsequent expansions, is largely quite absent. Up to this point, the game had previously had a storyline that was set on the plane of Dominaria, told through multiple sets and featuring a cast of heroes and villains that had become quite well-established, if not well-rounded. Following the new card frame in 8th Edition, the game jumped around some planes, taking in Mirrodin, Kamigawa and Ravnica before stopping off once more on Dominaria for this block, before moving off into the multiverse and exploring such amazing places as Zendikar, Innistrad, Theros and Alara. It wasn’t until the 25th anniversary of the game last year that we finally had a return to the plane, and caught up with Teferi, Jhoira and the others. It’s almost like the design team wanted to swing by the original plane just one last time before they headed off into the vast potential of new and different planes.

For that, it’s almost a bittersweet set. I really like it for the flavour, whether people think the block has any power or not. There are a whole load of interesting cards in this block, and it’s definitely worthwhile taking a look beyond the handful of cards that keep coming up time and again in Commander or Modern.

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