Time Spiral Remastered: Preview and Predictions

Tom Anderson Products

When you think about it, every set is a brand-new version of Magic: one design team’s remix of familiar frameworks and staples. Limited formats let us sample unique flavors of gameplay, and sets with great Draft environments are spoken fondly of for years or even decades afterwards. Next month, WotC are giving current players a chance to relive one of these classic experiences — with a twist — in the form of Time Spiral Remastered.

Remastering past sets is something Wizards have tested out to solid results on their digital clients, most recently when they added Kaladesh Remastered and Amonkhet Remastered to MTG Arena. But Time Spiral Remastered is different, and not just because it’s the first time one of these re-releases has manifested as a paper product. The three sets being combined here — Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight — are remembered for some of the most weird and wonderful designs in Magic history.

IF WE COULD TURN BACK TIME

Time Spiral block first hit shelves in 2006-2007, at a real turning point in the game’s history. The player base was growing fast. Lorwyn was about to debut the Gatewatch as the game’s first planeswalker cards, fundamentally changing the future of Magic’s lore and mechanics.

But first, Wizards released Time Spiral block as a love letter to the first 15 years of Magic. The chronological theme went beyond just the lore and artwork. There were temporal effects that fluctuated between turns, appearances from characters across time and space, mash-ups of many old cards and mechanics, and intrusions from alternate timelines — ones with their own blocking rules and color pie. The resulting sets were without a doubt the most dense ever released in Standard. Almost every card dripped with rules text, and many were deliberately designed to have unintuitive uses.

For invested players like me who love this sort of thing, it’s impossible not to look back on Time Spiral fondly. And yet, WotC also firmed afterwards on the idea that this was not the way to grow the game. For better or worse, we never got another set that was as good at unashamedly pandering to the entrenched, veteran player base. 

So bringing back TSP isn’t just a way to re-package a highly popular Limited experience or distribute flashy, old-border promos players have been asking about for years. If the growth strategy behind Secret Lair, Collector Boosters and Commander Legends is to target products at specific subcommunities within Magic, then in many ways, Time Spiral Remastered seems like a clever acknowledgement of one of the game’s most invested player segments.

SIGHTING THE FUTURE

So, what do we actually know about Time Spiral Remastered? WotC has announced that this is a fairly faithful “remastering” — the original three sets have been finessed down into a single draft set, presumably producing something close to what a TSP/PLC/FTS draft felt like back in the day. 

The sole x-factor comes from the “timeshifted” card slot. One card per pack in the original block has something strange about it: TSP reprinted cards from the past in their original frames, Planar Chaos printed staple spells like Giant Growth and Curiosity in “shifted” colors, and Future Sight unleashed a clutch of strange cards that previewed upcoming sets.  This time, WotC have filled that slot with staples from the Modern-border era, but reprinted with the border and look from Magic’s earlier sets. In addition to pleasing many players who have a preference for that look or want to match their Legacy deck, this gives the set designers another way to spice up the Draft format for those who played it originally.

RE-MASTERING THE DRAFT

Not that most players would claim the environment needed spicing up to start with. TSP/PLC/FUT was already a hard-to-grasp mountain of weird combos and nonstandard costs from day 1! At least there have been nostalgia Draft events of this slightly different format on Magic Online within recent memory, so there is strategy content around online to help you understand the format.

But for those who have only started their Limited career more recently, the best comparison to make is probably Dominaria. Like that set, TSP block draft is mostly about building little value engines from seemingly unrelated pieces and incrementally squeaking out games.

There are still clearly-defined archetypes that players can try to hop into while finding their feet, but if you take my advice, drafters should go into Time Spiral Remastered with an open mind — and, ideally, some foreknowledge of which cards form the strongest packages.

In general, expect trades to try and push tempo, and be generous in assessing slow cards (like Dreamscape Artist, if it makes at appearance), those with self-sacrificing abilities like echo and vanishing, or those that demand a lot of setup. Even if you try to pick as conservatively as possible, this is not really an environment where you can autopilot during games: there’s just too many diverse mechanics from past, present and future scattered all over to trip you up. However, if you do master these strange interactions and rulings, you quickly begin to see the cherished depth and flexibility that left such a strong imprint on players the first time around.                                           

MECHANICAL MINUTIAE

So, what are the key mechanics/archetypes to look for at your first Time Spiral Remastered pod? We don’t know exactly which themes Wizards have chosen from among the ~631 cards that made up the original block, but there are some options that just seem way too good for the set designers to pass up. Here are my predictions:

Suspend

The most vividly realized time-based mechanic of the original block, suspend is almost certain to make a comeback. Spells with suspend have an alternate, often much lower casting cost, which is attached to a unique number — say “suspend 4.” Paying this cost sends the spell that many turns into the future. 

In game terms, the card will be exiled similar to the way foretell works in Kaldheim, except it has a number of time counters on it as specified in its suspend ability. You remove one time counter every upkeep, and as soon as the last is removed, you immediately cast the spell, placing it on the stack. This isn’t optional; you must cast the suspended card straight away, even if it means casting a creature spell in your upkeep or other unusual timing situations. What’s more, casting a creature spell this way always gives the creature haste when it enters the battlefield. 

Since your opponents can see your suspended spells coming, the mechanic tends to be about “calling your shots” to get a huge discount on mana, or getting to cast two spells easily by setting one up turns in advance.

Slivers

They’re baaaaaaack! Magic’s most tribal tribe will likely return in perhaps their most iconic outing, offering five-color glory to whoever can pull enough Gemhide Slivers. The sheer popularity of Slivers in the community all but ensures they will be present as a strong theme in Time Spiral Remastered.

The spread of colors favors Naya, but most of the time, the Sliver deck ends up like the Cycling deck in Ikoria, where players use early picks on any sliver to try and muscle others out of the archetype. There only tends to be one Sliver player because the TSP block slivers are worded to be double-sided; your slivers buff any slivers on the opposing side, as well as your own. Playing a random Sinew Sliver to have a two-drop might not be the best idea as a result. The exception is Plague Sliver, which transfers its drawback to opposing slivers instead. Take that, you sneaky bioweapons!

Saprolings

The almighty Sprout Swarm is up there with Spider Spawning as one of the most beloved and format-defining token spells ever printed — though, at common, it was perhaps a little too defining. I doubt WotC will cut the card from Remastered given its fanbase, but a move up to uncommon is likely.

Even outside of that one-card value engine, there are a ton of great cards that interact with saprolings, from Mycologist to Muraganda Petroglyphs. Perhaps most prominent are the Thallids — which, typical of this block, give you many common ways to pump out free saproling value over time.

Flashback

Another iconic build-around spell from the original block is Mystical Teachings, which signposts a rough Grixis Control archetype. Evoking the control decks of Magic’s earliest days, flashback and buyback offer ways for you to keep up with the permanent-based value engines of other archetypes. Eventually, you’ll be able to out-grind your opponent or overwhelm them when some huge nasty comes off of suspend.

Evasion

The original TSP block toyed with evasive creatures well outside the usual scope of “blue flyers.” Protection, flanking and fear pop up on random cards to make them hard to block, and shadow was a common enough theme to make it a constant consideration in drafting. How these cards act in practice depends how many of them WotC chooses to include in the remastered set. But, most likely, it will give black aggro a way to force a race that will be hard to deal with if you don’t have enough removal.

LET’S DO THE TIME SPIRAL AGAIN!

Time Spiral Remastered’s street date is already just a month away, and previews will likely begin even sooner! The big focus for preview season is going to be the timeshifted “pre-Modern” frame reprints, since those are the only part of the set with some real mystique around them.

We’ve already seen Lotus Bloom, Path to Exile and Chalice of the Void spoiled, and with a bit of detective work, I think it’s possible to take a guess at what some of these other crowd-pleasers might be.

Working on the assumption that most of these have some playability in Legacy (where the old card frame is still a dominant aesthetic) and still have to complement the mechanics of their Remastered draft environment, here are my predictions for the timeshifted cards!

Can you imagine those cards printed in the old-fashioned style? Would you play those versions in your own decks if you could? Rating and debating the possible inclusions for this list is going to be a hot topic over the next month, and will likely decide whether collectors approach Time Spiral Remastered as a mini-Masters set or a draft novelty. But as a fan of both the zany originality of Time Spiral and modern Draft format design, I hope WotC will create more products for this niche down the line.