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Introducing the strategies available for drafting sliver decks.

Sliver Me Timbers!

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The letter W!ith the release of Time Spiral, Magic players around the globe are once again caught in the wake of sliver madness. You know how it goes: one guy drafts the deck and then another guy drafts the deck, and soon every Wizard Gamer Human is enjoying the fruits of the sliver tree. It's certainly a fun deck; playing creatures that promote and receive a variety of useful abilities is highly entertaining. For the majority of the readers of this column though, amusement is not really the issue. The question the Limited connoisseur is concerned with is more pointed. Does this deck have game?

Potentially, the answer is yes. The slivers of Time Spiral have some amazing abilities, even in solitary. Giving all your creatures those abilities, and gaining some in return, makes a powerful army indeed. In addition, most Sliver decks are at least three colors, with five being within reason. With access to more colors, your range of inclusion increases. To put it another way, you're able to play more bombs when you're playing more colors. Having a deck with great creatures, great spells, and excellent mana seems like living the dream, and sliver decks can pull this off. However, the deck is not the easiest to draft or master. Pick evaluations are much more fluid when your multi-colored status allows you to grab whatever crazy power is sent your way. On the other hand, your picks are more restricted, as you'll be passing potentially stronger cards now for a more tuned deck later. It's awkward as a Green player to pass Penumbra Spider for Gemhide Sliver, or even Spinneret Sliver, but that's a pick the sliver deck often needs to do.

To help ease entry into the style, this week we'll be going over some of the important slivers to be aware of, as well as some sample archetypes and decklists. My experience with the format says there is no one perfect sliver deck, but a variety of ways to incorporate the tribe into your draft. As I write this Pro Tour Kobe is underway so it's very possible by the time you're reading this the “ideal” sliver deck may have been realized. However you wish to utilize a sliver archetype, know that the sliver decks are going to be a major player in Time Spiral Limited for the next few months. Get comfortable with the deck now, because when executed well it's a real powerhouse.

The Staples

Gemhide Sliver: Deeply critical to the strategy of slivers, this guy also makes the five color versions eminently playable. He's great acceleration early on. With a Gemhide doing his job your whole hand can hit play very quickly. The deck usually requires this guy to run. A few being passed to you in a draft is a great indicator the sliver deck is open and available. The flaw in Gemmy Joe is that the other Green decks are happy to play with him too. He's a fine addition to any deck, he just happens to play extra well in the sliver builds. Gemhide is not Green's premiere common, but he's up there. So as a sliver player, know how important this one is and how quickly they'll be picked up at a table. Draft accordingly.

Watcher Sliver: Almost as important as your Gemhide, and in some archetypes even more so. The bonus it grants instantly makes it immune to Strangling Soot, a highly relevant quality in Time Spiral Limited. It gums up the ground admirably; two out means your opponent will definitely require evasion to win. In its own way, it provides the mana of Gemhide by keeping you alive long enough to get your colors online. All the slivers that assist with attacking are extraneous to having enough of these. Once you do, winning becomes practically incidental. The best part of Watcher Sliver is that it falls in White, a color with a lot of depth. One of the best White strategies is beatdown/rebels, where Watcher Sliver has no place. It's one of the key Slivers that can go around the table, much to a sliver drafter's delight. However early or late you can get away with taking it, it's definitely a critical component to a great many sliver drafts.

The Instigators

These are the cards that are so strong, you'll want to build an entire sliver deck for them. Most are quite good on their own, but become completely obscene with duplication.

Telekinetic Sliver : One of the scariest creatures to end in a sliver deck. Opposition was a wrecking ball in every format it has ever appeared in. This one isn't quite Opposition level, but given enough creatures it comes pretty close. One Watcher Sliver plus this one means fairly unkillable creatures that suppress your opponent's two best guys every turn. With enough slivers out, you can start casting Mana Short with buyback on your hapless opponent. As an uncommon, this will be a popular invitation to the tribe.

Might Sliver : Bonesplitter Sliver along with Watcher Sliver work in tandem to create an army of powerful creatures, but with heavy costs and color requirements. Might Sliver solves both issues while being a very respectable creature even by its lonesome. A Might Sliver in play for the sliver deck ends games in a hurry.

Sedge Sliver : The scary thing about this card isn't its exceptionally good stats, nor is it the fact that it makes your entire army practically unkillable. No, the scary thing is that even though it's got one of the best ability grants in the set, there's an excellent chance your opponent will derive no benefit from it. The best solitary slivers are in Green and White, with Black being much farther down the chain. As such, Sedge Sliver is quite unlikely to bite you back, unlike the occasional Telekinetic. That makes Sedge Sliver simply 3/3 Glorious Anthem with a regen kicker. The fact it can receive bonuses from opposing slivers is just sweet, sweet icing on the cake.

The High End

These ones aren't worth crafting a sliver deck around, but are very welcome additions to any dedicated build. Their only flaw is that they're intrinsically powerful, making them a popular pick for any deck that can cast them, rather than any deck that can maximize them. These are simply excellent creatures that while you're not required to grab, are great to include.

Fury Sliver : One of the better finishers, this one combos up well with Bonesplitter for Red-heavy builds. It's fairly pricey, but as the last sliver you play it should create a very powerful turn. Assuming they don't have the slivers to receive, Gemhiding this one out early can lead to a very fast win.

Essence Sliver : Like Vampiric Sliver, this is more useful as a 3/3 for four than for its special ability. It's not like Spirit Link is a bad ability to grant, it's just that a lot of sliver decks don't actually need combat to win. You're still more than happy to play it every time.

Pulmonic Sliver : Very close to a pure bomb, Avenging Angel sliver is another great “last spell” play. Set up your defenses, then give everyone flying for the kill. This one isn't so much a reason to draft slivers as a reason to draft White, but no one's complaining about spreading the love around. 3/3 fliers are always welcome, and if you can add Bonesplitter or Might to the picture, you'll be in fine shape.

Opaline Sliver : As it already has nice stats in a good color combination, the ability is simply a pleasant bonus. Early on your slivers may get targeted, and Opaline will do good things for you. Later in the game, your slivers will be relatively indestructible, and the only way the opponent will win is some kind of race. At that point Opaline is just an efficient Ogre, but that's not a bad thing anyway.

Psionic Sliver : This along with Watcher should end the game quite quickly. Slightly too fragile and dangerous on its own, it's an amazing creature in dedicated sliver decks and another card that lets you win the turn it comes into play. Incidentally, that's why the staples are so critical. There are plenty of cards that give you the win with a bunch of slivers in play, but only Watcher and Gemhide actually promote you to that status.

Standard Fare

For the majority of slivers, these creatures only find places in dedicated sliver decks. These are the ones that go 10-15th pick, because no one at a table is drafting the archetype. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part these don't need to be taken particularly highly.

Firewake Sliver : Strictly awful by itself, it does provide a lot of flexibility in G/R/X builds. As a 1/1 for three though, one is all you would want. The effect is nice, but unlike some of the others, these are non-cumulative (Double Haste, yay!). Take one if you want, but one is all you'll need.

Screeching Sliver : BDM's kill card of choice (see below). It has plenty of merit as a victory condition, as it lets you maintain your defenses while still promoting a win. Keeping up your Watcher and Spinneret slivers for their attack phase, then milling four cards is a fine way to go. These cards go extremely late, as not only are they only playable in dedicated sliver decks, they don't even go into every one. A reasonable card to have access to, but you definitely shouldn't have to bend over backwards to find.

Bonesplitter Sliver : Viashino Warrior was an adequate card, and this has the potential to be better. Its issue is that low toughness is such a negative in Time Spiral. Strangling Soot and morphs are all over the place, which is a big tempo loss if Bonesplitter remains a 4/2. I'm as big a fan of build-your-own Might Sliver as the next guy, but it's only the Watcher half that's excellent on its own. I'm seeing a lot of people taking this guy as their only sliver, and I'm definitely not in agreement. It dies easily, and on the way to the graveyard you may be helping your opponent. With Fury Sliver it's great, with Watcher Sliver it's great, and with Spined Sliver it's interesting. All by itself, Bonesplitter Sliver is pretty unimpressive. Although they appear to be cumulative, that benefit tapers off pretty quickly. If you're dealing damage you're already winning, and if you're not, Bonesplitter or Bonesplitters won't change that.

Timber Wolves : As a bander, Timber Wolves provides excellent defensive properties. As an attacker, it's functional but a little on the small side. A 1/1 banding creature is basically there for great group blocks, and should only be put into decks where that situation is likely. Is your Green deck planning on doing lots of big blocks? Personally, my Green decks are more into attacking with big creature than blocking with them. Luckily, as a 4th Edition rare, Timber Wolves scenarios will rarely come up in Time Spiral limited.

Sidewinder Sliver : These guys are cheap and cumulative, which are both nice attributes. They combine very well with all kinds of offensive types. Their flaw is the same as above: combat isn't a requirement to win with a sliver deck. Like the Bonesplitter Sliver, Sidewinders are pretty average all by themselves. Depending on the deck, I like playing a lot or none at all.

The rest of the slivers are easy enough to evaluate. Vampiric Sliver is fine on its own, and great with Quilled. Basal is a pure ogre, with little chance of its ability helping or hurting you.

Just make the sliver deck with the key cards, and the rest will fall into place. Regarding how to draft the deck, it's a complicated scenario. Know that this column will definitely go into a sliver walkthrough in more detail later in the season. In the meantime, here are three different styles of sliver decks. There are of course many more sliver derivatives out there.

This was my first foray into the five color sliver plan. The mana is rough of course, but a single Gemhide living was enough to cast what you needed. Its major flaw wasn't mana, but a lack of toughness helpers. In the late game the deck had plenty of bombs to work with, but getting there was occasionally a problem when all the little slivers kept dying. Had this deck been drafted with a better understanding of the needs of Watcher Sliver, it would have been quite amazing.

Brian David Marshall's Green/White/Blue control slivers

According to Mr. Marshall, this is the only type of Time Spiral deck he's been drafting for the last three weeks. He's had great success with it, so much so that it's becoming a popular strategy on the East coast. Stay alive through the normal means and Screech them out. Most of the cards go late, so it's entirely draftable at any time. A very strong archetype.

Amiel swept his entire pod with this deck. Three Fury Slivers might be one too many, but the power of the deck is quite obvious with double Might and Pulmonic Slivers. The two Baloths and Duskrider Peregrines doesn't hurt either. Momentary Blink is a cute card in the deck, doing a few interesting things like untapping Spectral Force, and being flash-backable off a Gemhide. While there are plenty of strong cards here, I believe it's the sliver component that really pushed this deck into undefeated territory. Another strong archetype.

If you're starting to get scared, there are a couple of methods on handling the sliver decks. Your first option is at the draft table, where you can simply go out of your way to grab a few slivers for your sideboard. Take a Screeching Sliver instead of the narrow sideboard card. If everyone at the table takes out just two slivers, the sliver player will be hard up for the really quality stuff. Your other method is in-game, and it's to make sure to kill the important slivers. That's definitely not the power-boosting ones, but rather the enablers like Watcher, Gemhide, or Telekentic. You improve your situation significantly when their slivers are hard to cast or easy to kill. Of course there's always Hivestone and Plague Sliver. Just try not to use them together.

That's it for this opener into various sliver schemes. Given enough interest, this will definitely be a topic to revisit in the upcoming months of Time Spiral Limited.

Don't forget, you only have a few more days to get your questions in. I'll be taking some of the more interesting questions, and publish and answer them in an upcoming column. If you want yours to be considered, use the E-Mail link at the bottom of the page to send something in by 10/25/06. Thanks for reading.

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