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May 25, 2011


Time Spiral: Hope’s Crusaders Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

Late Summer, 1993. 

After spending a little extra time in Burlington, one of my best mates- Pat- returns home on college break, and he’s got something new to show us. We’ve all been part of the same Dungeons and Dragons gaming group for years, and this new fantasy-themed collectible card game, “Magic: the Gathering,” is an instant hit. We sit on the floor for hours upon hours, casting Craw Wurms and Drudge Skeletons, hurling Fireballs and healing up with Streams of Life. Black Vises come down, and creatures get boosted with Blessing. As it happens, the mall’s gaming shop has a box of booster packs for sale, and soon we’re oohing-and-ahhing over exotic and dangerous additions like the Royal Assassin and Mana Short. Someone gets hit with a brutal Mind Twist, and we crowd around the card reading it over. True to form, we keep our new cards secret from each other, reveling in the look on our hapless opponent’s face as we play our nastiest surprises. There’s no collected list of every card- no Player’s Guide, no Gatherer- so the only limit to what’s in those booster packs is our imagination.

I quickly develop a taste for a hundred-card fortress-style Blue/White deck, which hides behind Circles of Protection and cards like Veteran Bodyguard and Karma, sending over a Phantom Monster or Air Elemental for damage. I’m absolutely hooked, and we spend countless hours playing and discussing the game. Arabian Nights, Antiquities, the impossible-to-find Legends… Those were wonderful days. After Legends I’d move away and abandon the game, but the memories would stay with me forever.

Indeed, the game had made such an impression that I would return before long with 1997’s Visions, retiring again in ’99 at the end of Urza Block. A decade later, looking for a new hobby that wasn’t so isolating as World of Warcraft, I dropped into my local gaming store and on a whim bought some Zendikar. The rest, as they say, is history.

I didn’t idly decide to fill the beginning of this piece with my history of the game. Rather I wanted to illustrate the power of nostalgia, the wonderful memories I had of the game in its early days, memories which brought me back to it two more times after I’d left it. I remember all those early cards. The mystery of the booster pack. The gripping Weatherlight Saga storyline (at least through Tempest block). Here I am in 2011, recalling my earlies days in the game.

Late Summer, 2006

It was exactly this sort of nostalgia that fueled the design of the Time Spiral block, and this became both its biggest success- and greatest failing. The set was a hit with that segment of the playing population that had been playing long enough to understand the references and in-jokes from the earlier days of the game- the veterans. For the newer players, with no such nostalgic base to draw reference from, the set was considerably less impressive and often confusing. “Timeshifted” cards (defined as “cards from the past that have mysteriously appeared in the present”) were just different cards with confusing frames (for these, Wizards retained the old-stle frames while the rest of the set had the new). Tons of past keywords made cameo appearances on a limited number of cards. And the whole steaming mess was shoehorned into some odd story of interdimensional rifts in time and space.

To complement the theme of everything-old-is-new-again, four theme decks were released that built upon the concepts and mechanics presented in the set. Hope’s Crusaders is a mono-White weenie/tribal hybrid that takes advantage of a number of synergies in Soldier, Knight, and Rebel creature types from previous sets. We’ll begin today’s analysis with a look at the creatures, which make up the bulk of the deck (29 of the 37 nonland cards).

Hints of What is Yet to Come

Hope’s Crusaders provides a full-on creature assault, propped up as much by synergies between the different creatures as much as by any noncreature support (which is necessarily limited). Here is the deck’s mana curve for its beaters:

As you can see, the deck is heavily frontloaded, geared towards a dominating start in the early game with victory typically expected in the mid. In the one-drop slot we begin with a trio of timeshifted Icatian Javelineers. Originally from Fallen Empires, they’re 1/1 bodies that can throw out a single point of ping damage thanks to the “javelin counter” that they come equipped with (proliferate, anyone?). There’s also a pair of Brass Gnats, whose tradeoff for being colourless 1/1 flyers is that you must pay to untap them. They give the deck at least some presence in the sky, but aren’t good for much else here.

The two-drop slot is heavily loaded with Rebels and Knights. A trio of Knights of the Holy Nimbus pay tribute to an old Legends card, Clergy of the Holy Nimbus, which somewhat foreshadows the rhystic mechanic in Prophecy (granting a benefit to one player unless another pays mana to stop it). The Benalish Cavalry gives us another look at Benalia, the White-aligned Dominarian kingdom that was the land of origin for Gerrard Capashen, and is our first instance of the flanking keyword so prevalent in this deck. Introduced in Mirage, flanking encourages the aggressive style of play so critical to the success of a weenie/swarm strategy.

Finally, there are a pair of Errant Doomsayers, which have a very limited tap-down ability. These will tend to optimise in the early game, and be draws you’re probably not excited to see later on, when the things you’d want to tap down are probably in excess of 2/2.

Next we move to the three-drops, and there are plenty to choose from here! Need some extra offense? A pair of Outrider en-Kor not only have the flanking ability, but their damage redirection ability makes them rather hard to kill. Timeshifted Zhalfirin Commanders also have flanking, and have the ability to pump up other Knights- a bit costly, but useful all the same. The D’Avenant Healer builds on the classic D’Avenant Archer, adding a Samite Healer-style damage prevention ability at no additional net mana cost ( instead of , purely academic in a mono-White deck). Lastly, there are a pair of singletons in an Icatian Crier and the Cloudchaser Kestrel. Neither are particularly exceptional, but both enable other abilities of the deck to come on-line. The Kestrel forms the basis of a combo we’ll be looking at shortly, while the Crier can turn any card into a pair of chump-blockers which can be used to satisfy the requirement on Gaze of Justice.

Things start to get really tricky in the four-drops. There’s the Cavalry Master, a flanking Knight which gives all your creatures with flanking a second instance of the keyword (so that creatures assigned to block them get -2/-2 instead of -1/-1 until end of turn). A synergistic threat, the deck comes equipped with a pair of them. A pair of Foriysian Interceptors are superb blockers: 0/5 bodies with flash that can block up to two creatures.

Which would be great if this deck actually cared about defense.

Alas, both of these are squandered draws here. The best you can hope for is to use them as a sort of Fog-effect, blanking your opponent’s alpha strike to set up one of your own. Finally, there’s the Celestial Crusader, which also has flash as well as split second (meaning nothing can be cast or activated ‘in response to’ your playing this card). A 2/2 flyer for four mana, it pumps the team with a boardwide Crusade-style effect, making it a potentially wicked combat trick.

At last we get to the very top of the mana curve, and a trio of beaters that come with some nifty tricks of their own. The Ivory Giant can set up a game-winning attack by tapping down your opponent’s side, and can be cheated out a bit more quickly using the suspend mechanic. The Gustcloak Cavalier is overpriced, but refuses to die in combat. In addition to flanking and the ability to tap down a defender when he heads into the red zone, the Cavalier also leaves combat whenever he becomes blocked. Finally, the Pentarch Paladin puts the rest to shame with its reusable removal ability. This combos well with the Cloudchaser Kestrel, using the Kestrel to make a permanent White and then the Paladin to destroy it. Note that this isn’t limited to creatures- it specifies permanents.

Armed by Faith

The horde of beaters doesn’t come without a cost- there’s very little room left over in the deck for noncreature support, and it is quite limited. There’s a singleton combat trick in the form of Fortify, which can either add extra punch to your offense or bolster your defense, as needed. Gaze of Justice is your sole form of removal outside of your creatures, and its non-mana cost isn’t cheap. Not only does it demand the tapping of three White creatures you control, but being a sorcery it prevents those creatures from being available on defense as well. On the upside, the Gazes have flashback, so you’ll often get a second use out of them.

A Divine Congregation offers you lifegain (either now or suspended for later), while a pair of Thunder Totems provide both mana ramping as well as an extra body in the form of a 2/2 flying first-striker. Lastly, the deck’s second rare- Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII– (a bit of a wink and a nod to the Fallen Empires set) gives you token creature generation. Its usefulness is fairly limited, as it costs you six mana to get out your first 1/1 token, but it can help ease the pain of the tapping requirement of Gaze of Justice, and give you some extra bodies in the process.

Taken together, the deck is a pathwork quilt of White swarming creatures with a wide variety of abilities- a sort of look at the Time Spiral philosophy in microcosm. In our next piece we’ll report back after having taken the deck into battle, and see how it held up.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Varo
    May 25 2011

    Time Spiral reviews, this is going to get interesting.

    This deck may not seem specially powerful, but it really is. As first deck of a friend when i introduced them to magic, he would beat our other precons most of the time, until we learned which creatures we had to kill to counter him.

    Flanking can be devastating if used aggressively early on the match. No other sight inspired more fear than a turn-two Knight of the holy nimbus, hell, what a pain it was to deal with them!

  2. Icehawk
    May 25 2011

    Wow. The art on Gaze of Justice is awesome despite it looking more like someone just shot the demon over looked at him.

  3. web8970
    May 25 2011

    Just like Elspeth’s deck from the Duel series, this one can benefit a real lot from adding crusade-like effects as provided by the Celestial Crusader.

    I remember tweaking this deck by instantly removing the Sarpadian Empires. For one, the mana cost is insane, for second, the creature type provided just does not fit. What else, I added some of the cheap flanking knights and two Kinsbaile Cavaliers. I can’t tell you how much an army of flanking double strikers dominates the battle field.

    Plus – I upped the Fortify to four. You’ll really be searching for a combat trick as versatile as this one. Either it ends the game when enough of the seemingly small knights go unblocked or it can turn a lost battle into a victory when staying on the defense …

    In my opinion this deck is far from bad – when adjusted slightly.

  4. Diennea
    May 25 2011

    I just loved this deck. It was the base of my Knight deck, togheter with some knights from lorwyn, years before Knight Exemplar. Flanking is great, I hope it will return someday.

  5. Ben
    May 25 2011

    Three knights of the holy nimbus is NUTS. Those guys are so damned hard to kill, in my experience. Especially with the flanking, so even if you turn off the regeneration, they still make you work harder to kill them. Especially with the in-deck Cavalry master.

    Cloudchaser Kestrel makes my head go sideways. Why does it blow up an enchantment? Why does it turn things white? What does any of this have to do with clouds? CURSE YOU MELVIN

    All in all, I really love Pentarch Paladin and keep trying to build a deck around him and ending up dismantling it and trading it to someone else who can actually use him. Also it’s an interesting white weenie deck that might be effective, but I just don’t think it has the initial early speed to get a win off early, and not enough of a late game to get a stabilizer finish.

    • troacctid
      May 25 2011

      Cloudchaser Kestrel is a combination of Tempest‘s Cloudchaser Eagle (a 2/2 flyer that destroys an enchantment when it enters the battlefield) and Planeshift‘s Aurora Griffin (a 2/2 flyer that can whitewash other permanents until end of turn). Time Spiral had quite a few cards like that. (Plated Pegasus is a cross between Armored Pegasus and Benevolent Unicorn, D’Avenant Healer is a cross between Samite Healer and D’Avenant Archer, etc.)

      • May 26 2011

        Great point! I caught the D’Avenant Healer, but didn’t realise it was part of a greater theme.

    • Prophylaxis
      May 28 2011

      Knights of the Holy Nimbus hard to kill? +1. You can’t believe how many times my opponent gets out a Clergy of the Holy Nimbus and it stays there until I have excess mana to spend.

  6. Lars Ullberg
    May 26 2011

    I’ve always wondered why cloudchaser kestrel was included in this deck. I thought it made little sense. After reading this review i finally understood!

    and i love the first, nostalgic part of the review!

    • May 26 2011

      Thanks! While the bittersweet part of nostalgia is the part that says “you’ll never go back there again” there’s plenty with the modern game that make it really fun. I still chuckle when I think about coming back to Zendikar and wondering what in the blazes a “Planeswalker” was and why there was so much talk about them.

  7. Stric9
    May 26 2011

    I enjoy the concept of Time Spiral. As a player that is just starting into the game of Magic it coincides so nicely with the novels that I have read so far. I love being able to tie in other elements to the game. It gives a feeling of completeness and it also introduces mechanics of the game that I never would have been exposed to otherwise.
    As far as white weenie decks go, I’m not sure how strong it is, but I think that’s because it’s so different than the white weenie decks today. I truly want to see it in action.

    • May 26 2011

      I’m a little less taken with it for the ‘exposure,’ but no fault to Time Spiral- I get my fix there by wandering the precons! I do like the idea of pulling in a history’s worth of mechanics and tying a few of the synergistic ones together! Looking forward myself to seeing how this one plays out.

  8. Jon David
    May 26 2011

    Hmmm… Time Spiral reviews! Fun! I’m not too excited by this deck, but there are others on the set that I will be excited to see reviewed and tested.

  9. Dr Tom
    May 28 2011

    I wish they would have brought banding back during time spiral block. Even if it is a difficult mechanic to understand it was fun to band a Benalish Hero with a Mesa Pegasus… fun-ish anyway.

    • troacctid
      May 28 2011

      You know that you can band with creatures that don’t have banding, right? You can band Benalish hero with any creature, not just Mesa Pegasus or other banders. And banding a non-flyer with a flyer makes the flying useless, since it lets them block the two of them together with a ground creature, so banding those two together is rarely a good play.

      And that’s why banding isn’t coming back. ^_^


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