måndag 7 oktober 2013

Time Walk and Hamlet 1:5:190

That's an obscure title.

About 18 years ago, I remember a guy at TV-spelsbörsen pointing at a card on their "Wall of Magic". Tv-spelsbörsen was one of the local gaming stores in Gothenburg in the 90's, and one of the walls in the store was completely covered in color proxies of every magic card ever printed at that point. I remember many days staring at the wall and trying to learn all the cards. I still didn't really know which cards were good, but I do remember this guy talking to a friend of his, and pointing at Time Walk, stating that it was the best Magic card ever printed. I knew he probably had a point, but I didn't really understand why. It felt like Polar Kraken would be a superior win condition.

Two years later, I remember a guy approaching me at BSK 1997. He was looking to sell 7 cards, and asked me if I would give him 2000 kr (about $300) for two Moxes, four Underground Sea and a Time Walk; it was a pretty good deal even back then. 14-year old me obviously didn't have that money to spend, but I felt a little envious to the next guy he went to who accepted the offer. That was the closest I had come to power cards at that point, and the Time Walk felt as mythical as ever.

Time Walk always had a special place for me as magic cards go, and very few cards compare to it. I never owned one before, but just this month I got to finalize my purchase of this gem, from old Shark winner Robert Schram:

It's more expensive now than 1997 btw.
Time Walk may not be the best card ever, but it is certainly one of the true greats. This post will actually be somewhat strategic, on how I perceive playing with Time Walk. As stated, I haven't owned it myself before, but I have certainly cast it, and not the least played against it a huge number of times. And I do think that many players cast Time Walk suboptimally.

I tried to find articles covering strategy on extra turns, but with no luck. So, I figured that I could write one myself. Note that this strategy covers 93/94. In e.g. EDH, an extra turn is has another value than in a one-on-one game, and of course extra turns have more implications in a format with Smokestacks or Planeswalkers.

So, Time Walk is such a great card that it's good even when played far from optimally. Much like newer cards such as Necropotence and Brainstorm, Time Walk will always be at the very least decent. The worst possible Time Walk says "Untap all permanents. Draw a card" for two mana. That is very playable. If you have an additional land to play, Time Walk becomes better. For each thing you may do at your turn Time Walk becomes better. One of the most hyped cards from Visions, and at a point the most expensive card in the set, was Relentless Assault (for all you youngsters; it's a sorcery that gives an extra combat step for 2RR). Time Walks does that one as well. These concepts are mostly intuitive however, and I think the gold can be found once we consider the card Starburst. But more on that later.

First we must face the goldfish.
Lets start with the most basic examples, fighting the goldfish opponent, and always drawing perfectly. Say that you play a deck that consists of a Time Walk, Underground Seas, and the following card

Juzam's Will 3BB
Sorcery
You win the game.

When do you play your Time Walk? Correct answer is obviously at any time between turn two and four, in order to make you win before your (actual) turn five. It's usually not this easy.

Now, consider a more "realistic" deck, consisting of a Time Walk, 20 Islands and 20 Merfolk of the Pearl Trident. You still fight the goldfish and draw perfectly. When do you want to play your time walk? Can Time Walk be a blank? Consider playing it on turn two:

T1: Island, Merfolk
T2: Island(2 in play), Time Walk. Attack for 1.
ExtraT: Island(3),3 Merfolks(4). Attack for 1 (2 damage total).
T3: 2 Merfolks(6). Attack for 4 (6 total).
T4: 1 Merfolk(7). Attack for 6 (12 total).
T5: 1 Merfolk(8). Attack for 7 (19 total).
T6: Attack for 8, kill the goldfish.

Now, consider not playing it at all:

T1: Island, Merfolk
T2: Island(2), 2 Merfolks(3). Attack for 1.
T3: Island(3), 3 Mefolks(6). Attack for 3 (4 total)
T4: Merfolk(7). Attack for 6 (10 total)
T5: Merfolk(8). Attack for 7 (17 total)
T6: Attack for 8, kill goldfish.

So, in this case, if we cast time walk turn 2, it doesn't help us win the game faster or give us more board presence than if we never cast it in the first place. If we cast it turn 4 or turn 5, it makes us win a turn earlier, but the interesting thing here is that a too early time walk doesn't affect this scenario at all.

Casting a random turn two time walk may feel good, but many times, it doesn't really do anything. If you spend a card and two mana to draw a card and untap two mana, your not getting ahead. Your not moving back either, but this the "first turn brainstorm" of power cards. It's often better to cast that Fellwar Stone instead.
Probably would have been more careful if this variant was the printed one.
Your turns get more critical the further the game goes. You usually don't have Juzam's Will, so you need to consider what Time Walk can do for you at different board states. Time walk gives your creatures haste. It let's you combo out with Rocket Launcher the same turn you cast it. It makes you draw an extra card with your book. But this is all goldfish. Interesting aspects of time walk comes when we consider the original Time Walk, the mighty Starburst:

Note that the "2" in the casting cost means "Total cost is two mana"; modern templating would say 1R. Yep, it was red during playtesting.
Opponent loses next turn. The text changed before the card saw print, as some playtesters misunderstood the card (they interpreted it as the opponent loses the game next turn, rather than the he/she loses the actual turn). This is still what Time Walk does, but it's easy to forget the implications of your opponent having to skip a turn. Just as some players have referred to Explore as a Time Walk under correct circumstances, this card has also the same effect as a Time Walk under some circumstances:

A multicolored sorcery? Someone is trying to ruin Magic!
These are both examples of very bad time walks, but even a bad Time Walk is one of the best possible versions of the cards above.

Consider what Time Walk can do if you don't face the Goldfish. Time walk makes you untap Nevinyrral's Disk before the opponent untaps his Disenchant mana. Time Walk gives your creatures vigilance. It makes you use your Mirror Universe before that lethal attack. It taps their Maze of Ith. These are all very important aspects of the card. Just as a control player would cast his Brainstorm differently than a combo player, you should know how your deck best can use Time Walk. If you aim to cast Recall or Time Twister in the midgame, a simple Time Walk in the early game may be correct as well.

The thing with all these examples is again that we assume that the opponent plays correctly. The real blowout is the unexpected Time Walk; if you play to make your Time Walk good. Many players do this intuitively with cards like Balance, tempting your opponent to play in such a way that he or she will create a boardstate where Balance is devastating. If you can create a situation where your opponent's next turn becomes vital, and then make him/her lose it, you've probably won the game. Consider what Time Walk can do to your opponent's game plan. It lets you remove that last card with Disrupting Sceptre. It makes them lose their countermana. It leads them to overcommitting attacks, and have no blocker left for your relentless assault. If the game is tight, Time Walk completely changes the rules.

And you may do the sweet victory dance.
If you play Time Walk in your deck, consider what each turn means to your game plan. If you want to go next level, consider what each turn means to your opponent. It's e.g. usually worse for them to skip a turn after they've cast Howling Mine. Understand that it is very possible to cast a Time Walk that actually does nothing as far as your game plan is considered, and show the card respect to shine. With great Power comes great responsibility.

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