Time Spiral: Sliver Evolution Review (Part 1 of 2)
Our fourth and final deck for Time Spiral is one that was guaranteed to be a hit from the moment it was hatched, and has consistently maintained some of the highest value amongst collectors. This was certainly not a coincidence- what better way to get tongues wagging about a new set than to reintroduce a fan favourite? Given the amount of ground that has been covered on the topic of the Sliver tribe, however, we’ll be doing very little backgrounding here today. For those wanting an exhaustive history of Slivers, you’ll find that in our review here. For others who might be curious as to the ‘collector value’ alluded to above, you may want to check out the Precon Buyer’s Guide series at Quiet Speculation. No, today we’ll be focusing on the deck itself, and what it tells us about throttling.
We’ve used the term throttling before, but let’s go ahead today and stamp it into the lexicon. By throttling, what me are referring to are those mechanisms by which a precon deck is slowed down in order to keep it on an even competitive field with its peers. A classic example of this is the Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. The Coalition. Conceptually, the designers wanted to have a five-colour deck pitted against a mono-Black one. As thematically appetising as it was, it’s a virtual recipe for slaughter as any reasonably-constructed mono-Black deck should have tremendous competitive advantage. Cheap creatures, fast acceleration (see: Dark Ritual), and no possibility of not getting the right colours of mana open would strike a clear imbalance, right?
To be certain, the Phyrexian deck is capable of blowout starts in a way that the Coalition deck could only dream of. But in order to balance the two decks, the Phyrexian one needed to be throttled. The designers accomplished this in several ways. One easy method was to limit the number of Dark Rituals to two. You’d get the fast starts, but only half as often as you could. Another way was to integrate diverse strategies. From top to bottom, the deck has no singular focus beyond representing Phyrexia. Small clusters of cards synergise with one another with little overlap, and the deck itself feels more like a collection of microstrategies than a single unifying theory. This means you could have one card out that helps you in one direction (say, Puppet Strings), and another that has an entirely different purpose without any synergy for the first (say, Hornet Cannon). By the way, one last referral- if you’d like to read a bit more on how the Phyrexian deck was constructed, you can check out the review here as well.
By necessity, throttling always is applied to fast decks, as slower ones need no check on their speed to even out their effectiveness. And so it is with Slivers. Like the later Allies, Slivers could punch well above their weight even after establishing even the most basic of board presence. Certainly some Slivers are better than others, but by far the majority of them are inexpensively-priced and get robust fairly quickly. How then are you to throttle the tribe?
One way would be to mitigate the number of Slivers available by adding in some non-Sliver creatures. Zendikar did this with The Adventurers, its Allies-themed deck, delivering an 80/20 mix of Ally versus non-Ally, mixing in some utility in the form of a Borderland Ranger, Greenweaver Druid, and Awakener Druid. Checking Sliver Evolution, however, we find that every one of the deck’s twenty-nine beaters is a Sliver. Next.
A second way particularly applicable to a creature-heavy deck is to tone down the options available for influencing events outside of combat. In other words, make the deck do all of its heavy lifting in the red zone, so that it lives and dies on its combat prowess. This principle can actually be applied nearly wholesale to the colour Green, which gets the most efficient creatures in the game but has few removal effects (cards like Beast Within are anomalous). We certainly see that here, as we’ll detail further down.
But the most effective throttle taken to Sliver Evolution is another effective tactic in the book of tricks: colour dependency. The deck would be brutal as a two-colour deck… so why not make it three? Sliver Evolution is a Naya deck well before Naya was so much as a twinkle in the eye of the playerbase. The Shards of Alara intro decks set a high standard for three-colour precons: 7 of your primary land, 3 each of your off-colours, then a pair of fetches (the Panorama cycle) and a pair of tri-lands (such as Crumbling Necropolis). All this, mind, in a 41-card deck.
Sliver Evolution? A pair of Terramorphic Expanses and a singleton Gemstone Mine. Everything else is as basic as basic gets, though to be fair the Slivers themselves are not without their resources either.
Lethal New Forms
As the mana curve for the deck illustrates, there are other ways to throttle a deck, and the increased back-end of Sliver Evolution is surely one of them. To get an idea of just how far the Slivers have ‘evolved,’ it may be interesting to compare the deck’s mana cure with those of its predecessors.
Notice not only the move in coverage from later-game options at the top end of the mana curve, but also the quantity of Slivers themselves. In a way, it’s almost as if Tempest’s deck either didn’t trust the Slivers to get there on their own, or that they were fearful of the archetype proving too dominant (throttling the deck by limiting its creature count). Sliver Shivers spread the Slivers out over a longer curve, which meant that more powerful Slivers were being included- but there was little increase in the amount of Slivers. Three of deck’s creature complement were Mistform Dreamers, which means that Shivers topped off its Sliver count at 17- an increase of one Sliver.
And now we have the Slivers at the peak of their precon evolution- all of six cards in the deck aren’t Slivers- and close to double the Sliver content of previous decks. If you’re looking for bang for your buck in terms of a high Sliver density, Sliver Evolution is as good as it gets. Now, let’s take a look at the actual Slivers themselves.
As Hope’s Crusaders showed us, flanking can be a very strong mechanic if deployed early enough, and this deck packs in a trio of Sidewinder Slivers. Good for some quick, early beats as well as creating a blocking headache for your opponent, this is an excellent inclusion here.
Next we have the overloaded two-drop slot. If a deck’s going to be bloated somewhere, you could do worse than to do so at the two-drops, because often on turn 4 that means being able to tap out and play two cards. First up is the playset of Gemhide Slivers, a mana-ramp dream that’s a nightmare for your opponent. With every creature here being Slivers, these can deliver massive mana ramp and colour fixing all in one. Look for them to have an early target painted on what passes for their foreheads. The trio of Quilled Slivers allow you to put up a solid defense as you build your Sliver army, permitting you to kill off attackers without putting your precious Slivers in harm’s way. They’re equally suited to killing off an injured blocker.
Next we have a pair of Spined Slivers, ‘timeshifted’ carryovers from Tempest. These give a sort of ‘fixed’ version of rampage which extends even to the first creature that blocks it. Somewhat similar in effect to flanking, the upside of this Sliver is that it’s a 2/2, where all the others in the slot are 1/1’s. Finally, there’s the Two-Headed Sliver. This Sliver shows you just how exhaustive the designers were to find new abilities to give their Slivers, and this one’s another logistical nightmare for the defending player.
There’s a single three-drop here, a Harmonic Sliver, and the deck carries but the one. The good news for you is that this deck carries no artifacts and only two enchantments, so you won’t often be faced with the prospect of having to kill off your own cards, but against an opponent who relies on such things the result can be devastating. The flipside of the coin, though, is that it’s three mana for a 1/1, and if your opponent isn’t playing those effects, it’s a bit of a waste.
Moving on to the four-drops, we have the power and toughness-pumping abilities of the Bonesplitter and Watcher Sliver. Four mana may seem a tad steep, but remember that if nothing else they’ll grant their abilities to themselves immediately, so you’re really paying for a 4/2 or 2/4 respectively, a more palatable prospect. Then there’s the Fungus Sliver, which pays homage to the classic Fungusaur. Not only does this make your Sliver army rather nasty against non-lethal blocking, but it synergises well with the pinging ability of the Quilled Sliver- even the card’s flavour test evokes the notion of Slivers damaging one another to grow back stronger.
Entering top-of-curve territory, we come upon the double-Muscle Sliver, the Might Sliver. Again, don’t be put off by the numbers in the corner, this is a 4/4 for five mana- not the worst deal in the world- and the deck offers you a pair. There’s also a pair of Venser’s Slivers, which like the Metallic Sliver of old does nothing except provide a body for the other abilities to be layered on to. Also at five mana is the Pulmonic Sliver. Once deployed, the Pulmonic Sliver guarantees that you’ll steadily replace your attrition losses by putting dead Slivers back on top of your library to be redrawn. This can be something of a curse as well as a blessing depending on your needs and the Sliver in question, but the flying that the Pulmonic offers your army will often close out games all on its own.
And of course, perched at the very top of the curve is another dangerous addition, the Fury Sliver, which gives your army double strike. All told, the deck is a bit end-heavy, but the counterbalance to that is the Gemhide Sliver- even one of those appearing on a reasonably-stocked board will put most of your mana worries to bed.
Those Who Stick Together Survive
Beyond the Slivers, there’s precious little to speak of in the deck. An Avoid Fate offers you the rare bit of countermagic in Green, countering any targeted removal your opponent might think to send your way. Strength in Numbers is a combat trick in the Giant Growth family, while Molder is artifact/enchantment hate. Finally, there are a pair of creature auras in Spirit Loop, a card which synergises quite well with the deck. Even if it’s killed off by the attentions of the Harmonic Sliver, it returns to your hand to be recast. As cheap as it is, you’ll seldom have much difficulty using this lifelink-enabling aura on your Slivers.
And there’s the deck! We’ll be taking the swarm into the field of battle, and when we return we’ll have a full playtest writeup for you on how they managed. Third-time lucky? We’ll find out!