Turning the Turn on its Head

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My name is Jules Robins, and I'm addicted to taking extra turns. Now don't get the wrong idea. I don't play Vintage decks with Time Vault and Voltaic Key. I don't chain Ichor Wellsprings and Prophetic Prisms into Time Sieve. And I don't recur (or even cast) Time Stretch. These practices have given the art of playing more Magic than your opponents a bad name.

Nobody appreciates it when you [card Time Warp]warp time[/card], but is the effect of the card itself evil? It all comes back to the Doom Blade versus Essence Scatter distinction I covered in Waving to the Horizons: people like to accomplish their goals. Your opponent wants to attack with their creature, but on top of that, they want to cast their creature. Your opponent can't really do anything while you sit playing by yourself on extra turn number seven. But a turn isn't some abstract concept, it's an accumulation of resources. When you step back from your intimacy with Magic and look at it as a game design, you see something strange and new. Magic is very much a game of resource management and, as you know, the game has a variety of resources.

But beyond that, it has a variety of types of resources. PV covered those at the very core of the game in a Channel Fireball article back in March; now I'll be so presumptuous as to expand upon the thoughts of perhaps the world's greatest Magic player.

Going Meta
A big part of what makes Magic unique is that the resource management begins even before the game: before you've shuffled up or even found an opponent, you've already been given the opportunity to optimize your use of the cash you have on hand, or the cards in your binder, to obtain cards for your deck as effectively as possible. Beyond that, because the vast majority of the time sticking to the minimum bound for deck size will get you better draws, available deck slots are a resource which you must carefully dole out. And then you have your matchup percentages. You can sacrifice chances to win against one friend's deck to bolster your game against another through card choices, but how do you know to do this? Based on the resource of metagame information of course!

Getting Started
When you sit down to play, you're immediately rewarded with more resources:

  • Twenty (or in this case forty) life
  • Ten potential poison counters
  • Seven cards
  • Fifty-three Ninety-two cards in your library
  • Six productive mulligan opportunities
  • Some number of other players at the table

Turning Around
Those are all well and good, but what we're really interested in (at least for today) is those resources that stem from the turn. If you ask some one what Time Walk does, they'll most likely reply that it gives you an extra turn. But what is a turn?

The resource that most obviously replenishes itself with each new turn is your supply of mana. Of course, you actually get more mana in two ways every turn. Not only do you untap all of your lands, but you get to play a new one. Fast mana has often been the culprit behind broken decks, and this is the reason why. In cases where the rest of a turn's resources become unimportant, Mox Sapphire is Time Walk: you just played next turn's Island!

Of course, there are more ways to circumvent the mana system than just using traditional ramp spells to impersonate lands from the future. Seething Song is actually very similar to Final Fortune; it makes more land drops for you, but if you can't win right after casting it, you aren't going to win at all. The untap step is harder to mimic, but Early Harvest certainly doesn't shy away from a literal interpretation. That said, Mirari's Wake can just as easily give you two turns' worth of mana...every turn.

Each turn you draw a new card, and it's not a rare sight to see Time Walk do little more than cantrip for free in Vintage. Should you find yourself with no board position, plenty of mana, and nothing in hand, even Blood Divination can make a mighty fine Time Stretch. Then again, when compared to mana generation, the one card you get every turn is often a bit anemic, so why not consecrate a [card Consecrated Sphinx]Sphinx[/card]? It's no secret that card draw is very strong, but most people seem to pack too little or go way overboard. Take a lesson from the turn: everything works better in balance, so you should try to sync the number of cards you'll be drawing to the amount of mana you'll generate to avoid the less painful equivalent of mana flood or screw.

Phasers set to Cast
In the last two sections I've brushed over something essential: cards and mana are all well and good, but they need a medium in which to combine: the main phase. Most of the spells in Magic can only be cast at sorcery speed, and it's important not to forget that every new turn brings two more spell-casting opportunities. Seedborn Muse may seem much stronger than Rude Awakening, but most of the potential mana it offers will go to waste without a way to replicate the main phase, be it packing your deck with instants, or running Vedalken Orrery.

Of course the main phase isn't the only time when you gain a unique opportunity to do something. Magic is full of cards that trigger at the beginning of your upkeep, but this is the most difficult part of the turn to replicate. Paradox Haze is the one and only card that lets you get additional uses of these effects without taking an extra turn, but if your opponents are relying on these effects, Eon Hub could cut out a significant chunk of all of their future turns.

And finally we come to the limitations that Magic sets upon your creatures. If you have a creature that taps to use an activated ability, every turn you can attack, block, or activate it. In this manner the turn system restricts your damage output, the number of your opponents' creatures you can invalidate, and the number of abilities you can use. Here Seedborn Muse serves best by allowing you two of these options for each player's turn, but if you want more attacks you'll need to be [card Relentless Assault]relentless[/card] in your efforts. Even Lava Axe, Command of Unsummoning, and Counterspell are Time Walks, cutting a turn off of your clock.

Then again, something as simple as Vigilance allows you to attack and block. Still, we're missing something that an extra turn would give us. Have you ever cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn? Hasty creatures are normal creatures with Time Walks stapled onto them when you're primarily concerned with damage output!

Haste and Vigilance are evergreen keywords, but it's actually even simpler to take extra turns through attacking. Play bigger creatures. Hitting an opponent once with an Air Elemental is as good as hitting them twice with an Azure Drake, and better yet, this fact allows us to save room in decks. If you decide to increase your mana output anyway, you can save deck slots by playing huge creatures rather than small ones and Waves of Aggression.

With all of that established, it's clear that Capture of Jingzhou does different things in different decks. In an aggro deck it provides mana, cards, main phases, and damage, while in a control deck it rarely provides damage and you may not even use the main phases (aside from land drops). Furthermore, in a combo deck that has its combo in hand, even the card may be irrelevant and it becomes effectively a ramp spell. That's not to say that it doesn't provide the same resources, but rather that a given deck might not take full advantage of them. If a deck only needs a piece or two of what a Beacon of Tomorrows can provide, then it's probably better off playing more efficient cards to fill those roles.

But let's step back from winning for a second. As I said earlier, nobody likes getting Time Walked, and since Comander is all about having fun, we shouldn't go around taking extra turns. But fewer people are offended by ramp, card draw, and big creatures, so even if you have a Commander deck that desperately wants everything an extra turn provides, you'll still be better off including reasonable proportions of other cards to simulate the effect. The advantages gained by [card Walk the Aeons]walking the Aeons[/card] are enjoyable, but getting walked over isn't. Don't end the fun.

Until next week turn,

Jules Robins on Google+
@JulesRobins on twitter

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