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Timeshifted Cards!

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The letter I!t is appropriate that we discuss the Timeshifted cards this week - for, insofar as I can tell, I am Magicthegathering.com's only Timeshifted author.

But let me explain.

As I told you in my first article for this site, I chose to keep a headshot that was nearly seven years old because I am a vain and petty person. The headshot shows me with long hair and a gloriously thin face - yet if you were to describe me as "that long-haired, thin guy" to my friends in town, they would laugh until they choked. Only a description containing the words "beer-bellied," "patch-balding," and "grotesque" would be accurate enough to save my poor amigos from requiring the Heimlich maneuver.

Yet it seems to work. One tiny icon next to this article's title is what you know me as, and I'm sure some of you think of me as a much younger man.

Until last weekend.

The prerelease crowd was fun. I 4-1'd my flight, and then had the most abysmal draft that a human has ever experienced. Wild kookaburras could have drafted a better deck by eating the cards that smelled wrong. My crumbling path to victory consisted of - and I kid you not - Kavu Predator boosted by Healing Leaves to my opponent's face.

Yes, my hope was to give my opponents more life. And then hope the Predator didn't get killed, bounced, or neutralized. What a strategy!

But I was playing, and having a good time with my opponent - a chatty fellow named "TJ" with a cane and a subdural hematoma - and his friend, who was watching and kibbitzing. We were joking, when his friend whipped out a Fruitcake Elemental and said, "Have you seen this?"


"Yeah," I said enthusiastically. "I have one. Where'd you get yours?"

"eBay," he replied, and I cursed under my breath because he did not say StarCityGames.com, my employer. "Where'd you get yours?"

"I write a column for Wizards," I said nonchalantly. "They sent it to me for Christmas."

Both of them stopped and did a double-take. You could see that they had no clue that this withered bag of lard in front of them was The Ferrett, Official Multiplayer Writer For Wizards! This was bad enough. But then TJ uttered the words that were like a spear through my heart:

"Well, I was trying not to swear around you, because I have respect for my elders," he said happily. "But now that I know you're The Ferrett, the &@%@ with that."

I clutched my chest in despair. Elders? Elders? Had I become so old that twentysomething-year-old men now looked up to me like some sort of wizened leader?

Apparently, I had. TJ beat me, and I wandered, thunderstruck, over to the table where my friend Josh was playing. There was a girl in a Burger King hat who also did not know who I was, and refused to acknowledge that this shambling, decrept shell of a man before her was The Ferrett because - and I quote - "He looks kinda old."

I'm thirty-seven, folks.

And yet can I blame them? By presenting a younger man as my avatar, is it not my fault for making you fine readers think of me as some young, zippy male model as opposed to the reckless suburbanite that I am, mowing my lawn specifically so that I can yell at you damn kids to get off it?

Ah. I am Timeshifted. Here, in the official Dominaria website, I am young and hale and hearty, a friend to all mankind. But at the Planar Chaos site, the public got to see a darker Ferrett transported here from a parallel universe - one where years of sedate writing and one too many pieces of Entenmann's Marshmallow-Chocolate Cake at the multiplayer table had taken their ghastly, ghastly toll.

I walk among you.

Beware.

Now let's talk some cards.

Timeshift!

I'm not going to mention all of the cool new timeshifted cards. There are a lot of them, and not all are interesting to the casual multiplayer guy. But let's pull out the Timeshiftees that have had a notorious impact in multiplayer - or been horrific disappointments.

In fact, let's just cut straight to the disappointments. These aren't bad cards; some of them will be awesome in Constructed duels, no doubt. But as anyone who's ever laid down his cards against a table full of players knows, what works in duels does not always transfer to the multiverse.

For example?

Calciderm

Way back in the day when Blastoderm was legal, it was combined with the most excellent enchantment Fires of Yavimaya to go "First-turn Birds of Paradise, second-turn Fires of Yavimaya, third-turn hasted Blastoderm, hit you for five, go." That was a start that was mighty hard to recover from (even as it happened a lot less frequently than you might think).

In a duel, doing twenty damage before a creature goes away is a bargain. But in multiplayer, you have to do at least forty damage, meaning that even if you give your white dude haste it's not going to get the job done before it fades - sorry, vanishes - into nothingness.

It's a fine creature for duels. But leave it aside for multiplayer. It'll go away long before your need for it is complete.

Porphyry Nodes

Another classic from bygone days, this one looks fantastic on paper - kill a guy every upkeep? Awesome! Then you realize that it only triggers on your upkeep.

In multiplayer, as many as seven or eight people may get a chance to cast creatures before you see another upkeep. Even assuming that Porphyry Nodes could kill the creature of your choice, you'd still be overwhelmed in short order.

Then you realize that the Nodes kills the creature with the least power. Aside from the occasional combo dude or annoying tappy-tappy guy, generally the biggest threat has the most power. (Or it flies.) Thus, by the time you get this into a game and have it start offing stuff, you're probably behind the curve.

And thus, what we wind up with is the deckbuilder's lament: Yes, it's a nice effect. And it's cheap. But is it worth a card? I mean, killing a creature every turn is nothing to sneeze at, but when you think about what other cards you might draw in place of the Nodes might do, you begin to realize that it probably does not pull its weight in any but the most specialized decks.

Mana Tithe

This card had a hard time in duels, when your opponent was your sole focus and he was trying to curve out (by casting the biggest possible threat that he could with his available mana) every turn. But curving out in multiplayer will usually leave you with no cards in hand just when everyone else is getting started.

It's a white counterspell. That's cool. I think white should have more counterspells - White is, in the words of River Tam, "Meddlesome." But this is not the Counterspell you're looking for.

(Incidentally, though I am not Mark Rosewater, I see the Alliance government of Serenity as pure white; they mean well, but their attempts to create peace don't lead to what they'd hope and have a lot of unwanted side effects. As to what the crew of Firefly is, well, I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.)

Groundbreaker

In a duel, casting what is essentially a one-shot sorcery to knock someone's life down by six is an excellent play. But the Forty-Life Minimum Rule applies here just as well as it does anywhere else, and you will come to regret having a guy who doesn't stick around for more.

Shivan Wumpus

I really tried to make this work back in Urza block, and trust me: No matter how many ways you have to get this thing back multiple times in a turn, someone will always sacrifice a land if they don't have a way to kill it. And if they have a way to kill it, then it's worthless.

This may well win the award for Most Useless Multiplayer Card.

But enough about bad cards. What about good cards? I'm sure you want to hear about them. But let's talk about one of the most annoying Timeshifted cards in the bunch:

Essence Warden

I can hear you tourney players pooh-poohing this already. (And trust me, hearing a bunch of Magic players pooh-poohing is not a pleasant sound.)

"Lifegain's a scrub mechanic," you sneer. "You'd be better off attacking! Everyone knows that all lifegain does is buy you time."

But there's the rub, my friend; in multiplayer, three factors combine to make lifegain a much more attractive package than it is in the one-on-one games:

1) Players are spread too thin. You're stuck with the same seven-card start in multiplayer, but each of those cards now has to do at least twice as much damage… And sometimes seven or eight times as much damage. Your threat potential is fractioned, because every card you use to lop points off of one opponent's life generally doesn't affect the other opponents. Fire a Shock at someone's head, and that's a Shock you can't lob at someone else.

(This is why global damage effects are gold in multiplayer, assuming that everyone just doesn't team up to kill you outright.)

But lifegain? That only affects you. Your spell efficiency, for lack of a better word, is a straight one-for-one tradeoff. When you bring your own life total up, you're making it that much harder for someone's cards to kill both you and the other guys at the table. Some decks are hard-pressed enough to do sixty damage total in the face of global disruption; make that seventy life, and many badly-designed decks crumble flat.

2) Players are more cautious. Given that there's a much higher incidence of some sort of bizarre global reset taking place (Wrath of God/Damnation/Inferno/Wildfire/et cetera), good players are much more loathe to dump their entire hand onto the table. This makes them parcel out their threats in a much more sedate pace.

Add that to the fact that they cannot attack without fear of retribution (barring Vigilance, if I send my guy at you I'm open to whatever pummelling my other enemies choose to send my way), and that leads to a game where people are loathe to commit.

Yet they should commit. Games where everyone just stays back and turtles are ludicrous. If everyone at your table does this, devote eight cards of pure defense - like Propaganda and big walls - into some ugly combo deck and then keep comboing everyone out until they stop.)

3) Experience. All good tourney players know that lifegain sucks in duel. Well, maybe not, since cards like Astral Slide/Renewed Faith, Martyr of Sands, Loxodon Hierarch, and Umezawa's Jitte have raised the bar on life gaining, but still. There's a prevalent idea at a lot of places that lifegain isn't really worth worrying about.

This is good for you, because lifegain is defense. When you have forty life and your opponent has twenty, that makes you more aggressive; you don't have to leave your guys at home to defend you, because you can take a solid fifteen damage to the face and not worry about it. You can send your little Elvish army on the road.

Thus… Essence Warden. A first-turn Warden swells nicely, meaning that it gets a lot more powerful in larger games (even as people are much more likely to kill it). You can gain five, ten, twenty life easily if nobody's watching. And they are understandably reluctant to waste a spell to kill a 1/1 when they know bigger things are on the way.

And the great thing is that if you're the sort of player who always forgets optional triggers, as in "You may," well… Essence Warden is not optional! You gain it no matter what. It's not nice to go back and gain five life retroactively - I tend to think that if you're that absent-minded, you should pay the price - but it does mean that in casual games, you can go, "Oh, yeah, and I gain a life for that" at the end of that player's turn because, well, you did. It wasn't your choice.

One of the most entertaining players I ever witnessed involved a triplet of Soul Wardens I had in an eight-man game. My friend David had out Dual Nature, which makes copies of every creature that comes into play.

It was late into an eight-man game, and there were a lot of creatures in the graveyard - including my three Soul Wardens, which had all died ugly deaths. Then someone cast Living Death.

My Soul Wardens came into play and spawned three copies. So did about twenty other creatures, each spawning their own copy.

And so did two Crater Hellions, which did four damage to every other creature when it came into play. And the two Crater Hellion copies also did four damage to each other creature.

Many, many creatures came into play. All of them took sixteen damage, and went back into the graveyard. When the smoke had cleared, there was nothing on the board - literally everything had died - but thanks to all of those creatures helpfully coming into play, I gained something like four hundred life in one shot.

Strangely enough, I did not win that game. Neither did I lose it. It was the most bizarre draw I've ever had, but remind me to tell you about it some other time.

Essence Warden is surprisingly effective. It's not a power card, but for what you get it's very good… And considering it's now in the color that likes to churn out Saprolings, it's probably got some nice side benefits as well.

Pyrohemia

When my pal Dmitri threw a pair of Hurricanes into his mono-Green beatdownish deck, I was skeptical of its power as a finisher. I tried to talk him out of it.

But he keeps winning with it.

Games at our table tend to devolve in three separate ways:
1) One player dominates and walks away with everything. Doesn't happen too often, but it's there.
2) Several players get into an arms race where they build up huge defenses/offenses, and play cat-and-mouse with each other while the helpless guys sit on the sidelines and watch.
3) It's a sweaty brawl as everyone gets brought down to five life and then tries to last it out.

D wins #3 every time. And as such, given that he has an aggressive Green deck, a splash of Red for control and a finisher would also work very well.

Pestilence decks were outrageously common in multiplayer because they were ludicrously easy to build: Dark Ritual, Pestilence, some creature with protection from black, season to taste. But the Pyrohemia is in a color that's enemies with white instead, a superb control color in multiplayer, which means that you can probably throw Pyrohemia into your W/R Samurai deck or your W/R aggro deck or your W/R Astral Slide deck without too much trouble at all.

Gain your life. Clear the board. It's so easy, children.

(As an added bonus, "Pyrohemia" may well be the coolest name Wizards ever came up with. Even if it keeps making me want to sing "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph.")

Ovinize

Again, not a particularly sexy-looking card, but this one saves a lot of trouble. I was addicted to the Humble back in the day, because it solved pretty much every problem I had.

Gigantic creature going to smash my face? Not any more.

Huge defender in my way? Not so much.

Some dumb fattie going to survive combat and then come after me? Not so much.

Is a creature going to trigger some nasty effect when it dies, or cause an infinite loop when it hits me? I don't think so!

Ovinize is the all-in-one removal toolkit so long as you have something that can dispatch a 1/1. And come on. You're in Blue, the color of pingers and Psionic Blasts. I'm sure you can think of something.

Frozen Aether

I realize that there are some of you who are not old enough to remember the card I am about to whisper, or how utterly annoying it was for those of us who had to deal with it. Someone always, always tried to make it work in multiplayer, and it was hell on wheels to try to get rid of. It didn't usually work, because the commitment to Islands made the mana very ugly, but it was feared.

Now we have a card that makes this other card a bit better. And let me drop a hint to someone, somewhere:

Stasis.

Run.

Kor Dirge

Again, this was another classic back in the day. It saves your creatures and kills others, acting as a nice little rebound. It's probably about one mana more than I'd really like, but there is one new trick that I know people will hate:

"Oh, yeah, I'll block your Teneb the Harvester with my little 1/1 flier. Aaaaand I'll Kor Chant that damage over to Stuffy Doll. Yeah, I know, you hate Stuffy Doll; doesn't matter. Damage is what's for dinner, pal."

Damnation

Come on. Do I have to tell you it's good? Destroying all creatures in a color that likes to cast Drain Lifes without anything in the way and then recurse its biggest fatties?

What? I do have to tell someone? Who? Give me his name.

All righty, then. Marvin Peschnad of Schnectady, New York! This is a good card! You should play it!

Sorry to waste everyone else's time.

Harmonize

Marvin Peschnad! Will you ever learn?

Card drawing is good, ya putz. Especially in a color that likes the aggro. Just play it.

The Contest

Just a note to you lovely people: When Planar Chaos is released, I'll be asking you what the best card in it is… Or, rather, what the "Most Powerful Card" and "The Funnest Most Fun Card" is. So get your pencils ready.

That's right. I said pencils, not keyboards. Because I'm an old guy who uses pencils to write everything down on the papyrus I wrung myself from the reeds I kept from Moses' birth, because I am that old.

Now get off my damn lawn.

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