torsdag 11 oktober 2018

Oldschool Magic and Stockholm in a Bottle

Sweden is the home of around 200 old school players these days. Though among them, there are very few proper "teams". Sure, someone might casually pledge allegiance to Haups, 02-drop, PropellerCap, LeatherJacket, Kaffebryggers, Lisch, Wak-Wak, or something like that, but we don't really have the crews with back-patches or recurring tournament branding. The Arvika players are simply the Arvika players, the Gothenburgers are mainly the Gothenburgers. There's one strong exception though, the gang known as Stockholm in a Bottle. They host, organize and travel as a crew, and even have a proper home page. Now, as a native Gothenburger, I must add the disclaimer that this report is from an actual guy from Stockholm, so it is probably NSFW if you work at Volvo, Ericsson, SKF, or any of the other real workplaces in the country. That said, it is my privilege to introduce the musings of the fabulous Daniel Yann Franzén. Enjoy! /Mg out

I was just listening to the latest ATC podcast with Magnus and Bryan explaining on how they, back in the 90s, used to hide from public that they were playing Magic. Afraid of that their social status would be damaged if word about them being geeks during weekends started spreading. But today one of them is running a blog and the other a podcast about it. I guess I would consider both Magnus and Bryan proud Magic nerds today. And maybe that is one of the reasons why I like them both so much without knowing them very well. I would also like to see myself as a Magic nerd. Even though I never felt that I had to hide the fact I played Magic in the 90s to remain among the cool kids. Maybe because I was lucky to grow up going to a music school were everybody were nerds in some way and 90% of them were girls, but who knows? One of our crew’s fans posted on twitter that she thought if Magic the Gathering would be a high school, the cool kids would be those who played Oldschool. So Bryan and Magnus, you are safe now. Stockholm in a Bottle is our way of showing that we are proud nerds and that everyone is free to join us to do damn cool things!

Why Magic? Why Oldschool?

Well, first let us talk about why anyone would return to game they quit playing many years ago? Of course I can only speak for myself but I believe there is a reason why this format is exploding all over the world right now. Two people in our crew without relation to each other started building old school decks around 2000, just because how they loved the old era, the art, the lore and the Magic. Precisely what is keeping us together today, with the added bonus of a fantastic community!
The reason why we all came back to Magic and did choose Oldschool as our format right now, is that we have come to a certain point in our life where we can start living as aristocrats again like when we were kids and needed an “artificial exercise”. Huh? Let me explain.

Human beings have a need (probably based in biology) for something that we will call the purpose ladder (not the same as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). This is closely related to the need for power (which is widely recognized) but is not quite the same thing. The purpose ladder has four steps. The three most clear-cut of these we call goal, effort and attainment of goal. (Everyone needs to have goals (a purpose) whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his or her goals.) The fourth step is more difficult to define and may not be necessary for everyone. Let us call it autonomy. So in short:
  1. Goal - What you want to achieve
  2. Effort - What you spend to achieve your goal
  3. Goal Attainment - The degree to which you fulfill your goal
  4. Autonomy - Your ability to, by yourself, control steps 1-3
Everyone has goals; if nothing else, to obtain the physical necessities of life: food, water and whatever clothing and shelter are made necessary by the climate. But the leisured aristocrat obtains these things without effort. Hence they end up in boredom and demoralization.

Consider the hypothetical case of a man who can have anything he wants just by wishing for it. Say you could cheat in Magic and draw Lotus, Channel, Fireball on your start hand whenever you wanted. At first you will have a lot of fun, but by and by you will become acutely bored and demoralized. History shows that leisured aristocracies tend to become decadent. This is not true of fighting aristocracies that have to struggle to maintain their power. But leisured, secure aristocracies that have no need to exert themselves usually become bored, hedonistic and demoralized, even though they have power. This shows that power is not enough. One must have goals toward which to exercise one’s power.

Thus, in order to be mentally healthy, a human being needs goals whose attainment requires effort, and he must have a reasonable rate of success in attaining his goals.

Let us use the term “artificial exercise” to designate an activity that is directed towards an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us say, merely for the “fulfillment” that they get from pursuing the goal. I deliberately choose not to call it a hobby because it stretches further than that.

Here is a rule of thumb for the identification of artificial exercises. Given that you devote much time and energy to the pursuit of goal X, ask yourself this: If you had to devote most of your time and energy to satisfying your biological needs, and if that effort required you to use your physical and mental faculties in a varied and interesting way, would you feel seriously deprived because you did not attain goal X? If the answer is no, then your pursuit of goal X is an artificial exercise.

On the other hand the pursuit of sex and love (for example) is not an artificial exercise, because most people, even if their existence were otherwise satisfactory, would feel deprived if they passed their lives without ever having a relationship with another person. (But pursuit of an excessive amount of sex, can be an artificial exercise.)

In our modern industrial society only minimal effort is necessary to satisfy one’s physical needs. Thus, it is not surprising that modern society is full of artificial exercises. These include scientific work, athletic achievement, humanitarian work, artistic and literary creation, climbing the corporate ladder, acquisition of money and material goods far beyond the point at which they cease to give any additional physical satisfaction.

For many if not most people, artificial exercises are less satisfying than the pursuit of real goals (that is, goals that people would want to attain even if their need for the purpose ladder were already fulfilled). One indication of this is the fact that, in many or most cases, people who are deeply involved in artificial exercises are never satisfied, never at rest. Thus the money-maker constantly strives for more and more wealth. The scientist no sooner solves one problem than he moves on to the next. Many people who pursue artificial exercises will say that they get far more fulfillment from these activities than they do from the “day to day” business of satisfying their biological needs, but that is because in our society the effort needed to satisfy the biological needs has been reduced to triviality. In contrast, people generally have a great deal of autonomy in pursuing their artificial exercises.

Remember when I said that “the purpose ladder” has four steps? We have so far covered three. The fourth, autonomy may not be necessary for every individual. But most people need a greater or lesser degree of autonomy in working toward their goals. Their efforts must be undertaken on their own initiative and must be under their own direction and control.

For most people it is through the purpose ladder having a goal, making an autonomous effort and attaining the goal that self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of power are acquired. Magic Oldschool 9394 is the perfect “artificial exercise” that gives you all these by putting effort in collecting cards to build that autonomously designed deck you have been having as a goal for a long time. Or winning one game when you get that spicy combo off might be enough.

Why Stockholm in a Bottle?

Yet most people do not have to exert this initiative, direction and control as single individuals. It is usually enough to act as a member of a small group. Thus if half a dozen people discuss a goal among themselves and make a successful joint effort to attain that goal, their need for climbing the purpose ladder will be served. Our small group Stockholm in a Bottle was formed because we recognized that we had more “artificial exercise” that could be combined with our mutual four stepped purpose ladder Oldschool Magic. The part on our first logo with Juzam and his champagne bottle fitted right in as a reminder of that link to aristocrat philosophy, and at the same time to gallivant with the prejudice to people living in Stockholm.

Unfortunately as a consequence of Oldschool Magic growing, the financial threshold for someone new to begin with Oldschool Swedish rules is high. Most of our members in Stockholm in a Bottle (SiaB) came in late and we are still adding new members, returning after twenty plus years. Thus, for most our members, time is more precious than finance. Many of us are entrepreneurs or have high demanding jobs, so when we meet the aim is to get as much out of the time spent on disconnecting from stress and enjoying “artificial exercises”. Usually this involves fun alternative to play the game. For example, cube-drafting or alternative rule settings together with good food and drinks in a pleasurable environment.
Oldschool Magic is a perfect way to prestigeless hang out together and let your deck define who you are for that day or night.

torsdag 4 oktober 2018

London Calling

Last weekend I was bestowed the honor of being invited to BenCon. BenCon has annals going back over a decade, though for some reason it had flown under my radar until about a week earlier, when I got a message from Ben Twitchen of The Brothers of Fire.

BenCon is quite simply a small gathering of friends at Ben's place in the countryside of northern London. The plan was to gather for Magic and board games, and wash it down with home made cider and local ale. So when Ben sent me a message on Facebook describing the event and wondering if I had the opportunity to join before parenthood would kick in, I was quick to order plane tickets. The crew this year would then consist of myself, Brother Ben, Brother Jonas, Brother Oli, and Brother Stebbo. Three people I've met before at n00bcon, as well as a new face.
This is an amazing thing I can't help underscore yet again. Before BenCon these were guys that I'd - at most - met twice during Magic tournaments, and yet I had an intense sense of friendship with them. A pair of actual brothers, one of their childhood friends, and one of their old roommates. And me. And it didn't feel remotely weird or like I wasn't part of the gang. Play the game, meet the world.

I will not delve too deep into my journal this time, but rather let pictures speak more than my words.
Brother's Highlander with the Brothers Twitchen. Watch out for that Torsten von Ursus. Also watch out for that bottle of beer.
Friday dinner with Oli and the lady of the house. Traditional English Asian food.
Magic!
So much synergy going on around here. Oli almost got the best of Adventure Island despite my broken opener, but the Black Knights are looking bleak now.
The house guests for BenCon '18: Mg, Oli, Jonas and Stebbo.
Brother Stebbo joins in for a five-player pentagon match.
With a long week behind me I manage to sleep past noon on Saturday. I was still treated to proper English break fast once I emerged. 
Overslept the Scythe game. Looks intricate.
Compensate a lack of Scythe with some bonding with Gatsby the dog. Lively fellow.
The sun and reasonable weather haven't left the UK yet. A rare sight in October for us from Oslo.
Walking to the local pub.
Blatantly British and brilliant ambience. I have no idea why we haven't adopted this kind of open pub culture in Scandinavia.
No Magic in the pub though. We don't want to get nerd-bashed.
Next game up is Colonel Twitchen's Jam Kitchen. Was surprised to learn it was made by Jonas. Fantastic game.
Jonas, Stebbo, Oli and Mg. Making jams. After a super tight game where a stuck thermostat prevented both Oli and myself from taking home the £11 needed to secure victory, Ben managed to emerge with the win.
Next challenge was Seven Wonders. Never tried that one before either. Jonas demolished the field by focusing on drafting culture.
A photogenic gang.
Back at the Twitchen Manor for some more Brother's Highlander. Jonas keeps his streak going from Seven Wonders, and the Pentagram style victory is split between the two of us.
 I got to summon a Force of Nature with Spirit Link. That was gas. 
As night approaches, brother Stebbo digs out some awesome surprises.
Sealed booster box and starters of first edition Jyhad! Jyhad (later renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) was designed in 1994 by Richard Garfield and initially published by Wizards of the Coast. It was the second Deckmaster release, and the third CCG ever created. Old school gaming if I ever saw it. After about twenty minutes trying to read up on the rules, we however had to submit that it was a little too complicated to get into while slightly drunk and with zero experience between us. So the box was left intact, and hopefully we'll have another go at it in the future when we have studied the intricacies of the game a little more.
So we cracked a box of Unstable for drafting instead. Managed to 4-0 the table with a four-color durdle deck that won with the instantly classic Zombified/Ordinary Horse/Clocknapper combo.
The final game of Brother's Highlander into the night. Witch Hunter is gas. Also, beware of the drinks ;)
I am highly uncertain of how (or if) the final score was calculated, but apparently the back of my Unstable win had me receiving this gem. A glorious prize, which I will cherish dearly.
Thanks for a wonderful weekend Ben! And to Jonas, Oli and Stebbo of course. Proper Magic this gathering.

måndag 24 september 2018

Flippin' Stars

Ah, dexterity cards. The mechanic to represent the primordial era of Magic unlike any other. These days, most oldschool players are in consensus on how to use Chaos Orb, and its 2012 format errata (with a small 2013 update to follow new oracle errata) have been adopted by a majority of the format variants (que exception for the Wizards' Tournament).

Chaos Orb is a staple in 93/94 if there ever was one. It joins a tiny handful cards - alongside alumni like Black Lotus, Sol Ring, Strip Mine and Library of Alexandria - where one of the only feasible reasons not to play it is that one doesn't have access to it. Pretty much any deck is stronger with a Chaos Orb in it, and many players also consider it a properly fun card to play.

Today is not about Chaos Orb though. Today we give the spotlight to its oft neglected little brother; Falling Star.
In the footsteps of giants.
Falling Star is the only dexterity card other than Chaos Orb outside the land of silver borders. For those not knee-deep in rarely played Legends rares, this is the rule text:

Flip Star onto the playing area from a height of at least one foot. Star must turn at least 360 degrees or it has no effect. When Falling Star lands, Falling Star does 3 damage to each creature that it touches. Any creatures damaged by Falling Star that are not destroyed become tapped.
"Why do you keep moving your Rukh Egg so close to my territory?"
The Oracle errata of Falling Star is fairly straightforward, mainly removing the "360 degrees" wording, specifying "lands on" rather than "touches", and updating the language to more modern terms (e.g. "does 3 damage" is replaced by "deals 3 damage"):

Flip Falling Star onto the playing area from a height of at least one foot. Falling Star deals 3 damage to each creature it lands on. Tap all creatures dealt damage by Falling Star. If Falling Star doesn't turn completely over at least once during the flip, it has no effect.

Now, my first though here was if anyone considered the different unit of height measure in the Italian market, but I can't seem to find any indication that Italian oracle errata force players onto "freedom units" rather than the metric system. So it appears that this is the only black bordered card that in fact have different functionality depending on language.
One foot is 30.48 cm, but it is translated to a more grokable 30 cm here. Which means that the Italian version is in fact slightly better than the English one. Small difference, sure, but still amusing on so many levels.
Another interesting thing with the oracle errata is that it refers to the flip taking place at "the playing area" which is not a space defined in the Magic comp rules. Playing area is not a zone (such as battlefield, hand, graveyard, stack, etc), but rather a physical space where the cards are. So could we flip the Star to deal damage to a Jackal Pup in the opponent's graveyard? Probably not, but a man can dream.

The "Swedish rules" - as well as a majority of the other oldschool rule sets - simply use the oracle wording for Falling Star. It may seem a little weird - in particular as we have special errata for Chaos Orb - but as Falling Star is fairly weak even in the hands of a skilled flipper and almost no one plays it, it hasn't created any problems yet. "If it ain't broke", and all that.
Oh you foolish, foolish man...
A couple of local rule variants have taken a stab at Falling Star errata however. Among the first people out were the Bazaar of Moxen rules a couple of years ago. Their errata is very similar to the Chaos Orb errata, but instead of getting a fair flip on one card, BoM gives you a fair flip on two separate cards with the Star:

Choose up to two different creatures.
For each chosen creature, flip Falling Star onto the battlefield from a height of at least one foot. If Falling Star turns over completely at least once during the flip, and touches the chosen creature, Falling Star deals 3 damages to this creature.
Tap each creature that has been dealt damage this way.
Something akin to this.
I can't speak for how well this errata has been recived by potential players using Falling Star during BoM events, but as far as I know no players outside the BoM group have adopted this wording. Some have expressed it as unintutive power level errata, considering that Chaos Orb has the exact same written wording but only flips on one card. But the most notable thing with the errata is of course that it goes away from oracle wording, having the flip taking place on the battlefield zone rather than the playing area space ;)

More recently, the Beasts of the Bay took a stab at Falling Star errata as well. Personally, I find this one pretty sweet:

Choose any number of non-token creatures on the battlefield, then arrange them in the playing area in any way except that none of them may overlap. Flip Falling Star onto the playing area from a height of at least one foot. Falling Star deals 3 damage to each chosen creature it lands on. Tap all creatures dealt damage by Falling Star. If Falling Star doesn't turn completely over at least once during the flip, it has no effect.
I have no idea why I have six Dragon Engines, but it made for a nice picture. So no regrets.
This avoids potentially messy board states while giving a solid edge to those with deep flipping skills. If we would adopt errata for Falling Star here, I suspect this would be very close to what I would vote for. The only nitpick I have here is that it has power level errata to be unable to deal damage to tokens. I get why we don't let Chaos Orb destroy tokens, as its text clearly refers to "cards" (rather than permanents), but as Falling Star only reference creatures (not "creature cards") on both written text and current oracle errata, I don't really see an argument to make it unable to kill a bunch of Sand Warriors or similar. I guess it could relate to that tokens don't have fixed sizes, but that should be easy enough to fix by letting card sized objects represent the tokens during the flip?
"To play around Falling Star, I will let this fire represent my Wasp token."
The background for this post was a message I got from Ryan Gresco last week btw. He was wondering about errata for playing Falling Star over Skype, and looked for a general solution. I've talked a little with DFB about this subject some time ago, and back then there were no clear consensus. But to answer the question, I would personally recommend the Beasts of the Bay errata for Skype (and I would also recommend the Beasts of the Bay to update their errata so Falling Star can hit tokens :P). Thanks for the post suggestion Ryan, it's always appreciated to get some inspiration on topics!

...

This week I also had the pleasure of being a guest on the All Tings Considered podcast. It was very enjoyable to get to chat with Bryan for his 30th episode. We covered a lot of topics in a marathon episode spanning over two hours with - at most - a small hint of structure, so a casual listener might get more than they would bargain for. But if you are interested in the budding days of the 93/94 format in the late 00's, The Deck tech from n00bcon 5, whether Coal Golem is in fact better than Celestial Prism, some truly strange deck ideas ("Tunnel for the win"), and way to much talk about cards with modern frames, you should check it out :) Oh, and also check out the Player's Ball Tournament report over at Music City Oldschool, sweet report from what seems like an awesome event.

tisdag 18 september 2018

Time is out of joint

On March 23rd 1994 Time Vault was banned from play in sanctioned Magic. It was the first card to be banned for power level reasons in any format. Of course back then there were only a single format, "Magic", so Time Vault was effectively removed from the card pool. It was all due to this particular interaction:
My French opponent anted a Time Vault at the start of the duel, but drew a second one to go off. Wizards' Tournament don't adhere to those new-fangled "restrictions".
Time Vault, Animate Artifact and Instill Energy. Make the Vault a creature with Animate Artifact, slap on an Instill Energy, and suddenly you have all the turns in the world. If you assembled these three cards in order and the opponent didn't have any removal, the gig was up.

Half a year after the initial release, a new three-card combo entered the card pool from the fringes of Arabian Nights and Antiquities:
Make Time Vault a creature with Poltergeist, untap with Saddlebags.
Antiquities was released only a few weeks before the Time Vault ban, so a speedy brewer might have had the chance to take that combo for a spin. But I guess that was mostly as a curiosity and didn't have much time to affect the local meta. Legends also brought a potential Time Vault combo a few months later, but at that point the Vault as we knew it had already left the card pool and its true power would stay away for well over a decade.
This one has some timing issues and won't go properly infinite unless you have two Time Vaults, but basically you play Song to make Time Vault untap as normal and then bounce Song with Time Elemental.
I've owned an unusually large number of Time Vaults over the years. Seven or so. And pretty much all of them have been in a condition close to pristine when comparing with other cards from that time. Being banned during a majority of the "sleeveless era" of Magic surely must have contributed. Fewer Time Vaults than Mahamothi Djinns were aggressively tapped on sidewalks in the mid 90s for sure.

Anyway. Flash forward to April 1996. Wizards of the Coast are actively issuing power level errata in this era, attempting to change cards so they correspond to "orginal intent". They issued the following statement regarding Time Vault:

ERRATA:
Time Vault is reworded as follows to restore the card to its original intent:
"Does not untap as normal. If Time Vault is tapped and does not have a time counter, you may skip your turn to untap Time Vault and put a time counter on it. {tap}: Remove the time counter from Time Vault to take an additional turn immediately before the next normal turn."


This change removed all opportunities for combo shenanigans. Time Vault was unbanned and unrestricted in Vintage (and hence in Type 1.5, the predecessor to Legacy), and no one really cared.

Time Vault got some template updating in 1998, but the basic functionality was the same. Then in 2004 Time Vault got errata again. I think it was mostly seen as cleanup, but it removed one crucial safety valve that prevented potential combos:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
Skip your next turn: Untap time vault and put a time counter on it.
{tap}, Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability if only there's a time counter on Time Vault.


Yep. You no longer checked if Time Vault had a time counter on it before you tried to untap it. And you could untap it whenever you wanted as an activated ability.

At the time, we had no good way to abuse this potential loophole, but already the following year a card would be printed that made Time Vault a contender again.
Skipping 10,000 future turns doesn't really matter if we deal 10,000 damage to the opponent before they get to use them.
I loved this deck. I played a WR version of it to some solid results in the budding Legacy scene in Sweden. Also made a Stax Build with the combo - Time Bandits - ready for whenever the local store held proxy-10 Vintage tournaments. Josh Silvestri was one the first guys to recognize the combo btw, and Stephen Menendian was another early developer of the strategy.
My old Time Bandits deck. Lodestone Myr and Time Vault is another combo to deal all the damage. And skipping a few turns with a ticked up Smokestack and a Trinisphere in play is rarely a bad idea.
But dealing a bunch of damage was clearly not the intent of the card. Players had once again broken the Vault. So in March 2006 this errata happened:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
At the beginning of your upkeep you may untap Time Vault. If you do put a time counter on it and you skip your next turn.
{tap} Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability only if there's a time counter on Time Vault.


Yeah, that is fully useless. Both my Legacy and Vintage decks were suddenly unplayable. I did have two backup decks in Legacy though, one that would combo Brass Man with Quicksilver Dagger, and one that used Hunted Horror and the likes with Brand to steal back the tokens created for the opponent. But when it rains it pours, so WotC also issued errata for Brass Man stating that it could only untap once per upkeep, and changed the rules so that tokens were considered owned by the controller rather than the one who owned the effect that created them. So every deck I owned save for my super casual Thrull deck were made obsolete in the span of one month. Slightly heartbreaking.
I left for the US that spring, leaving my piles of cardboard back home. Running a bed & breakfast in San Francisco was an interesting change of pace. When I returned to Sweden in the late summer, I found that Time Vault had gotten errata once again:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
If Time Vault would become untapped, instead choose one -- untap Time Vault and you skip your next turn or Time Vault remains tapped.
{tap}: Take an extra turn after this one.


OK. That we could work with. I rebuilt the old FlameVault deck and took this pile to a third place at the 2006 Legacy Nationals:
Mize Things. Written lists seems oddly strange these days.
I played that deck for a year or so, placed in the elimination rounds of the BSK Legacy next year again (with Rings of Brightheart replacing a couple of Transreliquats and some minor changes), and generally enjoyed life. Then 2008 happened:

Time Vault come into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
If you would begin your turn while Time Vault is tapped, you may skip that turn instead. If you do, untap Time Vault.

{tap}: Take an extra turn after this one.

Time Vault was more powerful than it been for well over a decade. That meant a ban in Legacy and a restriction in Vintage. So I finally sold my Vaults to build new decks, fondly looking back to the roller-coaster that was.

Eventually I traded for an Unlimited one to use in Vintage, and picked up one with black borders some time later. Though I've yet to sleeve up Time Vault combo in 93/94.
Berlin's TwiddleVault from Fishliver Oil Cup Ed. 0
Rather than "going infinite", this strategy attempts to "go enough" by using and recurring Twiddle to untap the Vault. Once the deck goes off it doesn't feel like much of a difference though. TwiddleVault has proved to be a pretty solid combo deck and an enjoyable part of the oldschool meta.

Hm. This post didn't really turn out as planned. It escalated to some sort of history of errata and combo decks with Time Vault. Here's what I planned to write about:
We have been so busy breaking Time Vault that we didn't look at the card by itself. Is Time Vault playable on it's own? When would we want to exchange one turn for another?

The turn is a fundamental structure in Magic, but something we rarely talk about in detail. A turn gives us opportunities, which we may or may not use.
Draw, go.
All turns aren't created equal. The only thing we can be mostly certain of is that we will use our draw step. Untap doesn't matter if we didn't tap anything important last turn. Upkeep isn't a big deal unless we have cards like Ivory Tower or Land Tax in play. Relentless Assault was one of the most sought-after cards in Visions at the time of the release, but if we don't have anything to attack with we might as well skip combat. That is why the (new school) card Lich's Mirror isn't an all-star even if it prevents us from dying, resets our life total, and draws us seven cards for a reasonable mana investment. After Lich's Mirror has been activated, we are forced back to operate with early game turns while our opponent keeps playing on late game turns.
More modern frames!
There is a scenario where Time Walk is mostly useless. If we spend a card and two mana to draw a card an untap two mana, we are not moving the game forward. Sure, we are not technically losing anything either, but we didn't do anything except loot away a Time Walk.

Slightly above that we have the "Explore Time Walk", were we also get to use our land drop. It is better, but usually not that good. The extra turn becomes a big deal first when we can use most parts of it, when untapping our permanents means something is coming and when the relentless assault of combat kills our opponent.

What Time Vault does, at face value, is that it skips a less impactful turn for a stronger one later on. A turn when a Howling Mine is in play is more valuable than one when it isn't. During a turn where we have no creatures, we will always skip our attack phase regardless. So skipping one of those turns may de facto only mean that we'll skip a draw step. We can then cash in that draw step later for another draw step, and additionally an extra combat and a more useful untap.
Even with combat mostly out of the picture, Time Vault shines in the control matchup. It is obviously nice to take an extra turn in the late game after a counter war when our opponent is tapped out, in particular if we have a Tome or two to make our turn better. And being able take the first turn after a midgame Timetwister is sweet. But cashing in a turn if the opponent taps out to use their own Tome in our end step is gravy. Now they don't have countermana up anymore. Or they wont use their Tome, which is probably even better for us in the long run.
This is all theory crafting, but one particular deck that I think could use Time Vault with "original intent" is Tax Edge. Tax Edge is mostly happy to skip an early turn, as we regardless want the opponent to make more early land drops than us. In mid- to lategame, getting an extra upkeep with a couple of Land Tax and Ivory Towers in play can then give the edge to win.
That pretty much covers what I had in mind. An ode to Time Vault, partly as a combo enabler, but also as a playable within its original intent. When a card have a history of brokenness in the way the Vault does, it is easy to forget how it plays in a vacuum and just look for interactions.

Time Vault has been high on the list of possible cards to unrestrict in the last few years. As the first card to be banned for power level reasons, it is by no means an obvious candidate to allow as a four-of. But it could be cool to test it out sometime down the line. Feel free to share your opinions on the subject.