Time Spiral: Reality Fracture Review (Part 1 of 2)
There’s a scene you might remember from 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure as the film approaches its climax. Having spent the greater part of the movie rounding up the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon, the boys are ready to do their ‘history report’ but run into a little problem- all the historical figures have been arrested and locked up in the San Dimas jail. The clock is ticking, and if they can’t break them out so they can participate in the history report, they’re going to fail with the direst of consequences to follow (military school, etc).
(Outside)Bill: How’d it go?
Ted: Bad. Our historical figures are all locked up and my dad won’t let them out.
Bill: Can we get your dad’s keys?
Ted: Could steal them but he lost them two days ago.
Bill: If only we could go back in time to when he had them and steal them then.
Ted: Well, why can’t we?
Bill: Cause we don’t got time.
Ted: We could do it after the report.
Bill: Ted, good thinking dude. After the report we’ll time travel back to two days ago, steal your dad’s keys, and leave them here.
Bill: I don’t know. How about behind that sign? That way when we get here now, they’ll be waiting for us. (bends down and picks up the keys) See?
Ted: Whoa! Yeah! So after the report we can’t forget to do this, or else it won’t happen. But it did happen! Hey, it was me who stole my dad’s keys!
Bill: Exactly, Ted. Come on. (goes over to the car) Mom?
Bill: Can you please bring the car around back?
Bill: (stands up) Come on, Ted. We’ve got some historical figures to rescue. (source)
If that exchange makes any sense to you, then it’s time to slip on the chronomancer’s shoes and fracture reality. Because while your dad’s keys might not be the same thing as a 6/6 unblockable Kraken, as we’ll see the principles underlying the both of them are not so very different.
The Gift of Future Sight
Now imagine the following scenario. You’re in your kitchen with your evening’s repast sitting out on the counter, all of it frozen. Your range and oven is broken, but you have a microwave. No, scratch that, you now have four microwaves. You throw your steak or veggieburger entree in one, a potato in another, the green beans in a third, and some corn in the fourth. They may not all be done at the exact same time, as some take longer than others to cook, but they all finish in their turn and you’ve prepared your dinner.
Between Bill and Ted and the microwave dinner, you now know everything you need to know about suspend, which is one of the two core mechanics at work in Reality Fracture. Thematically, it is as Bill and Ted found- that you can use time itself to leave little ‘gifts’ for a future (or past) you. Need the keys? Resolve to steal them and leave them in a hiding place, and voila! They’re there! Going to need a 4/4 flyer on turn 6? You can plant the seed as early as turn 2!
Mechanically, suspend works much the same as you standing in front of your bay of microwaves, preparing each portion of your dinner. You put the raw food in, set the timer, and wait for it to finish cooking.
Now let’s take a look at those ingredients.
Ouch! A virtually nonexistent early game presence combined with a minimal midgame package, with an overloaded back end… this is a joke, right?
Nope- and as we saw with the recent review of New Phyrexia’s Life for Death, when you have an alternate way of playing cards, the mana curve can look like an entirely different deck. Let’s say that rather than hardcasting any of the dozen cards in the deck that feature suspend, you instead suspended all of them. How would the curve look then? Howabout:
Now that’s more like it! Now we have plenty to do in the early to midgame, and only one expensive top-of-curve critter that could clog up your opening hand. While there is a drawback to this strategy that we’ll get to shortly, the benefit is obvious- buy more, spend less.
Of the twelve cards with suspend in the deck, all but one of them are creatures. We’ll begin with one that perhaps best highlights the “trade-time-for-mana” principle- the Keldon Halberdier. A five-mana 4/1 with first strike isn’t the worst deal in Red, and it has a lot of company amongst high-power, low-toughness critters with special abilities there. Still, if you’re willing to wait four turns, you can ‘buy’ him now for the low, low cost of . One drawback to suspend is that it announces your intentions early, giving your opponent time to prepare an answer. The upside, though, is that once your suspended creature ‘wakes up’ and steps from the temporal rift you’ve placed it in, it enters the battlefield with haste, so you won’t have to wait around for another turn- you can use them right away. With the Halberdier’s high power and first strike, he’s equally versatile on both attack and defense, as your needs dictate. You’ll seldom be disappointed to find this one in your opening seven, and the deck gives you two copies.
Next up are a trio of Viscerid Deepwalkers, another early suspend-drop except in Blue. A little more hardy on the back end, they lack first strike but have an ability you don’t often find in their colour- firebreathing. A three-of, you probably would want a little more for five mana (like flying), but they’re a useful mana sink when you have nothing else to play.
The next step up brings us to the Riftwing Cloudskate, another three-of. These do have flying, and what’s more they bounce a permanent back to its owner’s hand, a sort of upgraded Man-o’-War. This can give you a very useful tempo advantage, returning something big and/or nasty back to your opponent’s hand, or even a land you’d prefer them not to have open on your turn. Although it pops out of suspend a turn sooner than the Halberdier and Deepwalker, it costs an extra mana to place into suspension so it’s basically even.
Finally, we arrive at our big beaters, the deck’s closers. First up is an Errant Ephemeron, essentially a suspendable Air Elemental. Indeed, compared to the Elemental, we can gauge that the ability to suspend a creature tacks on approximately to its casting cost- “approximately” because the Air Elemental requires and the Ephemeron only .
Next we have our deck’s rares, and these are some of the best-suited rares to a deck we’ve seen. Both of them employ the deck’s core mechanic, yet both also add a very distinctive twist to it. The Pardic Dragon is a slightly-weaker Shivan Dragon, telling us that the cost of suspend in this case is -1/-1 to power/toughness. The Dragon is an absolute steal to suspend, costing only and popping only two turns later. With a deal like that, there’s gotta be a catch, right? And there is- like a one-sided game of ‘hot potato,’ the Dragon gives your opponent the option to delay the Dragon’s suspension any time they cast a spell by adding a time counter to it. For that reason, you’ll be lucky to land the Dragon on turn 4 (assuming it’s your turn-2 play), but once in awhile you might well steal a game with it early, especially if your opponent is playing an expensive deck or happens to be mana screwed.
Going the opposite direction is the Deep-Sea Kraken, the unblockable 6/6 beater referenced earlier. It has the most expensive suspend cost of any card in the deck- three mana- and suspends with nine time counters. But again, there’s that twist- every time your opponent plays a spell, you get to remove a time counter. This sets up a delicious tension for your opponent, who must now ration their spells if they don’t have an answer for the Kraken handy.
Of course, the gaping hole in this strategy is that it leaves you very vulnerable in the early game- what good are a host of suspended minions if your opponent is unleashing brutal damage in the here and now? Unfortunately, the remainder of the non-suspendable creatures afford you little protection.
Your early options are limited to two- the perfectly-placed Jhoira’s Timebug, and the Sage of Epityr. The Timebug is a creature made for this type of deck, letting you accelerate the pace at which you pop your suspended creatures from stasis. It says something that the deck has limited you to one copy- multiples might well amp the power level of Reality Fracture to those beyond this set of theme decks and the card after all is a common. The Sage of Epityr, on the other hand, has no real use after he enters the battlefield, but on the way in he acts as a cheaper (nonflying) Sage Owl.
A pair of Coal Stokers offers some acceleration given their ‘rebate’ effect, and 3/3 bodies will help put up a solid defense while you wait for your suspended critters to pop. A more unusual inclusion is two Giant Oysters. A triumph of fusing both form and function, the Oysters grab an enemy creature and hold it underwater until it drowns, a sort of natural-world version of a Vedalken Anatomist. Having 3 toughness is helpful, but even still you’re not playing these until turn 4 at the earliest. Another drawback to the card is the same one faced by cards like Assassinate– because it only targets tapped creatures, it gives your opponent some measure of control over what creatures are vulnerable to it, and does nothing to remove pesky defenders.
Finally there’s the Clockwork Hydra, another somewhat oddball inclusion. A 4/4 for five mana is fine, though like all clockwork creatures it has a tendency to shrink with repeated use. There’s some value there, though, as it also allows you to ping a creature or player each time you remove a counter- perfect for picking off your opponent’s nettlesome utility creatures.
So if your non-suspend creatures aren’t especially suited to the task of early protection, how does the deck enable you to stay upright in the early game without getting overwhelmed by your opponent? Let’s see if there are answers in the noncreature support.
Emulate the Powerful
As it happens, the prognosis is much more optimistic here. Indeed, the noncreature spells rather cleverly have a mechanic that lets them punch above their weight all their own- storm. With storm, you are rewarded for playing a large number of spells on the same turn, for each spell you cast ups your ‘storm count’ and magnifies the effects of any such spell. It’s important to note that when you suspend a card, you’re not actually casting it, so it won’t help up your count. However, once your suspended creatures come off of suspend, that does. And there lies the deck’s trickiest interaction- the intersection where suspend and storm meet. If you can orchestrate things so that two (or more) creatures pop on the same turn, then toss off a few storm spells, you’ll be able to create some truly brutal turns for your opponent.
Storm comes in four flavours in Reality Fracture:
Grapeshot: Two mana for 1 damage doesn’t seem like a great deal, but Grapeshot’s cheap cost makes it a very desirable finisher to a large storm count and can quickly become quite a bargain. The deck carries a full playset, and it will be your most reliable storm spell.
Empty the Warrens: One of the finishers-of-choice for Constructed storm decks, Empty the Warrens like most storm cards appears a poor deal on its surface, costing twice as much as a Dragon Fodder. However, with enough of a storm count behind it, you can flood the board with a ton of 1/1 Goblins, making this card a win condition all its own. The deck offers three copies.
Ignite Memories: Like many Red “random-damage” effects, this can be a home run or a strikeout, all depending on luck. This is direct damage to your opponent, and has no other application. Its cost means it may be difficult to cap off a high storm count with it, but you’ll ocasionally ride to victory on the back of it when some suspended critters pop late in the game. You’ll have access to a pair of them here.
Ground Rift: A singleton Falter-effect designed to open up your opponents defenses for an alpha strike, this too can open up a game for you if you’re able to manage a few storm copies.
Beyond that, there’s a small host of utility cards available to you. A pair of Claws of Gix give you the opportunity to trade in permanents for life in a pinch- just the tonic if you’ve sustained too much early damage in setting up your board position and need just a few more points of life to stay alive. Unless absolutely necessary, keep the Claws in your hand for as long as possible- their zero-cost to play means they’re essentially a free +1 storm count card.
You also have some limited reusable removal in the form of Serrated Arrows and card draw with both Careful Consideration and Whispers of the Muse. The Whispers features one of the other keywords to make a cameo appearance here- buyback- but also can be cantripped on its own to up a storm count. Two other cards with buyback are almost custom-tailored for the deck: Clockspinning. Clockspinning lets you add or remove a counter from a card- look at it like the spiritual forefather of proliferate. Because of its cheap cost to play (without buyback), this is one of your best storm-enablers. Simply use it to remove the last counter from one of your suspended beaters and voila- you’ve hit a storm count of 2 (one for the creature being casts from suspend, the other for Clockspinning itself) all for one mana. Note that Clockspinning also interacts favourably with the Giant Oyster, Serrated Arrows, and Clockwork Hydra.
Finally, there’s a singleton Rift Bolt. While the 3 damage is welcome most any time, this also helps set up large storm counts given its very short gestation cycle (one turn). Simply suspend it the turn before you’re ready to ‘go off’ with a massive storm count, and you’ll add one more to the pot!
It’s also worth noting that the deck includes a one-of Dreadship Reef amongst its land choices. This again has been selected with storm in mind, letting you store up mana like a battery until offloading it all to cast as many spells as possible. For any pilot of the deck, the strategy will almost certainly be to hold off on casting everything the moment you can, and trying to optimise as many casts as possible on a single turn. The Reef will certainly be a help there if drawn early enough (and does little harm if pulled later).
Here are both versions of the deck’s final mana curve, first without using suspend, and the other playing everything suspended. As usual, actual results will be somewhere in the middle as circumstances dictate.
All in all, Reality Fracture– while slow- appears to be a very tightly-constructed theme deck. It has strong support for its two main mechanics, and indeed the mechanics intersect in a pleasingly synergistic way. The only drawback is the early-game vulnerability (you’ll note how the deck was crushed by the fast, aggressive Hope’s Crusaders in our field test of that deck). We’ll take this into the field, and see how well it performs.