For some of you this may be premature.
“But Michael J,” they begin. “Don’t you think we need more tournaments under our collective belts?”
Nah, dawg. Is my enthusiastic reply. I’m ready to call it.
Teferi, Time Reveler is the best card in Standard.
Here are my Top 8 reasons why:
- Fail State
- Meeting the Planeswalker Minimum
- Casting Cost
- Virtual Card Advantage
- It Makes Their Stuff Bad
- Wilderness Reclamation
- It Makes Our Good Stuff Even Better
- Synergies (Hero, Dovin's Veto)
1. Fail State
The bar at present is not whether or not you should play Teferi, Time Raveler if your colors permit, nor even if you should bend your colors to play him. Rather, we’re asking if this is the best card in Standard or not.
The most compelling reason to scream “yes” while running a circle around the tournament room is simply Teferi’s fail state. Teferi isn’t always going to destroy the opponent. He bends some of the format around himself in an uncomfortable way, but he’s not the best in every matchup. However what you can’t argue with is how good he might be at his worst.
Check out Teferi’s “minus” ability:
−3: Return up to one target artifact, creature, or enchantment to its owner's hand. Draw a card.
To paraphrase: On a Planeswalker with a base loyalty of four, that means that for three mana, Teferi will essentially act as an Into the Roil WITH KICKER, while leaving some rare cardboard on the table with a healthy solo loyalty to spare.
Into the Roil - again with Kicker - (or Blink of an Eye for your more recent players) is a tournament playable effect at 4 mana. With Teferi, you get it for three mana. And, again, get to keep the card!
One Into the Roil use out of Teferi, followed by biting it to the haste on a Ghitu Lavarunner might not be the most exciting return on three mana you can imagine, but it’s an awfully good worst one. Remember, we’re getting four mana of value and stealing at least a point of damage (and maybe even a full card, depending) for only three.
Hell of a deal.
Side note: How good is (or was) Into the Roil, comparatively?
Splinter Twin | New Phyrexia Standard | Michael Flores, 1st Place TCGplayer.com WWS Big Apple
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Preordain
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Splinter Twin
This is one of the most successful decks I ever built. I won a $5K with it, and shortly after some key cards were banned in Standard. For all of one week prior to this deck, Exarch Twin decks were primarily three colors (Grixis). Briefly after some were three colors (Jeskai) in order to hybridize elements of the wonderful (and then-dominant) Caw-Blade.
I’m not sure if the Jeskai decks that came after weren’t just better, but at the tournament I played my version, straight really felt like the best thing you could play. I certainly defeated a room full of skilled Caw-Blade players. In the Top 8 alone I 2-0 / 6-0’d, sequentially, Dave Shiels coming directly off of arguably the highest skill tournament win in Magic history, a then-unknown Reid Duke, and finally EDGAR Flores, who was at the time one of the most covered and well known Floreses (or Magic players of any stripe) in the world.
To repeat: We get that, and more, for three with Teferi, Time Raveler!
There are seven more very good reasons still.
2. Meeting the Planeswalker Minimum
Think about Liliana of the Veil; Ajani Vengeant; or Chandra, Torch of Defiance… All these monsters of their respective eras could themselves murder monsters. Or one of the Elspeths… Both Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Elspeth, Sun's Champion could deploy blockers that helped to soak up damage and preserve Planeswalker loyalty.
But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
Saheeli Rai, for instance, proved Center Square to one of the best decks of its era without being able to defend herself… But the vast majority of Standard standout Planeswalkers can… At least for the first turn or so they are on the battlefield.
As with its wildly successful “fail state” (above) Teferi, Time Raveler can handle at least one threat short-term.
Three casting cost Planeswalkers tend to be spottier on this front than some of their more expensive oath-brothers… But Teferi seems on the right side.
3. Casting Cost
Speaking of three mana… That’s how much Teferi, Time Raveler costs!
It’s not just that you get an outstanding fail state… For three; you also get to keep the body in that case. In many other spots (say you have four mana and a Spell Pierce) Teferi’s cost is an additional asset.
Three mana Planeswalkers are often giant hits or even cross format All-Stars - think Liliana of the Veil; Liliana, the Last Hope; or even Jace Beleren [alongside Sun Titan] - Teferi is in historically rare company.
4. Virtual Card Advantage
Let’s start with this seemingly innocuous static ability:
Each opponent can cast spells only any time they could cast a sorcery.
In some formats, specifically biased Red Decks will spend much of their opening hands to get a Blood Moon in play on turn one, often before even knowing what the opponent is playing. They make gambles like this because they are betting that the Blood Moon will counter many, many future cards; and hence, will be worth whatever was spent getting it out there.
Imagine an opponent is playing a multicolored deck predicated on fetchlands like Flooded Strand or Windswept Heath. If those lands are reduced to Mountains, they may be completely incapable of casting their other cards (which, in turn, are presumably in other colors). Blood Moon can slow down “Tron” lands… Which in turn can slow down the often enormously expensive cards in the seven, eight or even fifteen mana range.
The Blood Moon doesn’t destroy the lands… It just makes them far less convenient to use. In turn, it doesn’t force the opponent to discard his hand - that Mind Twist quip is more functional than literal. But when it works, it sure makes opponents miserable.
Teferi, Time Raveler can work the same way. If he resolves, he removes not the cardboard but the utility of a good number of opponent draw steps. If the opponent is a Blue permission deck, every Essence Capture, Negate, and Wizard's Retort is now a blank. If he’s a reactive White deck, ditto on Settle the Wreckage. I mean… It’s not like you’re likely to attack him on his own main phase, right?
It will be difficult to quantify the actual amount of card advantage that Teferi generates over the course of a match, or will generate over the course of his tenure in Standard. But I think it might end up mattering less, soon.
Why? Teferi is a literal game changer. He will change how the game is played, and even how decks are built! Teferi is so powerful, so poised to be recognized for what he is, that people may just stop playing certain cards main deck. Interested in a Dimir control with Surveil? Maybe you’ll focus on disrupting with Thought Erasure more than countering with Sinister Sabotage. The downside risk of drawing the latter after the opponent has resolved Teferi may just be too scary.
This might even extend to other Teferi decks!
I just think it’s kind of weird that if both players have a Teferi in play, neither can cast instants, even if they’ve activated the [+1]. Weird, right?
5. It Makes Their Stuff Bad
That kind of goes without saying, right? I mean the whole Virtual Card Advantage thing is an indication that whole classes of cards may be warped out of the format as a result. But it goes beyond this. The combination of different abilities does something truly special with Teferi.
In the past, Planeswalkers tended to only have one thing going at a time. You could Unsummon or you could Brainstorm; but not generally both. You could Icy or you could Lightning Helix… But only one at a time. Because Teferi is always cancelling instants, his ability to turn sorceries into instants takes on new meaning.
Let me share a play-test game I had last week with Roman Fusco’s Esper Hero deck:
Esper Midrange | War Standard | Roman Fusco, 11th Place, SCG Open Richmond
- Planeswalkers (9)
- 1 Narset, Parter of Veils
- 2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- 3 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
- 3 Teferi, Time Raveler
- Lands (25)
- 1 Swamp
- 4 Drowned Catacomb
- 4 Glacial Fortress
- 4 Godless Shrine
- 4 Hallowed Fountain
- 4 Isolated Chapel
- 4 Watery Grave
… Against a Feather aggro deck.
The opponent came out fast and furious, with Dreadhorde Arcanist. I knew I couldn’t afford to let him get it online. So I answered by playing Teferi and bouncing the Arcanist before it could duplicate a single buff.
As I feared, he came back with Tenth District Legionnaire, whose haste made it a perfect foil for my now-one loyalty Teferi.
But as luck would have it, I had a near-perfect follow-up.
On my fourth turn, I set up a Hero of Precinct One and passed the turn.
My opponent came back in with his Legionnaire, knowing I wouldn’t block. He followed up with the Dreadhorde Arcanist but refrained from taking a really gaudy turn. I ended it with a Tyrant's Scorn, untapping with both a 2/2 and a 1/1.
I guessed at this point that my opponent didn’t have a removal spell, or I probably wouldn’t have a Hero still in play. But these cards were all fitting together like Tetris blocks.
Turn five gave me a second Teferi (and a 1/1 token) and two open mana. I made a cursory attack leaving both my 1/1s back; ticked up Teferi; and I let the opponent go to his turn…
… Where I sprung a Thought Erasure on his draw step.
As I had hoped, dreamed, and secretly fantasized… He drew a Reckless Rage!
Normally this INSTANT would buff his Tenth District Legionnaire (or a future Feather) and put the bad mojo on one of my men. But because of Teferi’s static ability, he could not cast it in response to the Thought Erasure.
So Reckless Rage was erased without causing any mischief. I got another 1/1 for my troubles, and the game just got worse and worse for him from there.
You see, when you can play sorceries as instants in a deck that prevents the opponent from casting instants at actual instant speed the interplay between abilities is more than the ostensible sum of its parts. My deck - part creature deck, part Planeswalker control, part disruption - attacked from all those angles in concert, preventing him from being able to take advantage of his sick topdeck while spreading my board wider and wider, one power and toughness pair at a time.
And no, of course he never got in to Teferi, no matter how many buff spells he drew. Of course not!
6. Wilderness Reclamation
On the specific subject of “their stuff now being bad”, Wilderness Reclamation - under other circumstances one of the best cards in the format - tops the list.
This barely even falls under “Virtual Card Advantage” … The card is still there. If you have a certain Elf Crab Warrior, you can still play Squadron Hawk on your End Step. But the real reason you have it? The reason Nexus of Fate got banned online? That mischief is officially reformed while Teferi is on the battlefield.
Remember what I said about Teferi being a game changer? Wilderness Reclamation decks are going to have to pivot, hard, or find themselves completely invalidated by a card that is faster than most of their key cards… And unfortunately, already in Blue.
7. It Makes Our Good Stuff Even Better
Playing Thought Erasure on the opponent’s draw step can be pretty sexy. It’s downright filthy if they just drew a Vraska's Contempt to remove Teferi. But that is mostly about removing flexibility from the opponent’s game.
The same overlap of abilities adds flexibility to ours. Consider cards like these:
The option to play value-adding removal during combat or other non-sorcery-intended times can be backbreaking. An Enter the God-Eternals mid-combat? Is this a “best Simian Grunts of all time” contest?
On the high end you can get two attackers, gain, four life, and keep a monster.
Kaya's Wrath (or Deafening Clarion, or whatever) might be even more powerful. You gain the ability to deal with creatures that are not creatures on your turn, like certain Planeswalkers (the non-indestructible ones, anyway) or creature lands. You also get to take away the opponent’s tactical options.
If an opponent is playing against specifically Settle the Wreckage, he can decide how many creatures he is sending, how many he is holding back. Not so with an instant Kaya's Wrath! You get everything; they get no basics.
Last, and actually kind of least, come synergies.
So in sum, you might be asking what Teferi, Time Raveler deck I would recommend playing.
What if we played a deck that didn’t give Teferi anything to do? What about this?
Golgari Combo | War Standard | Michael Flores
- Creatures (20)
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Seekers' Squire
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Bolas's Citadel
This is what I have been recommending for the past week or so.
I saw a version on Twitter from Ben Kaestner-Frenchman:
Winning quite a lot in gold/plat with this build of a Bolas's Citadel combo deck. Revival/Revenge is a perfect find - can grab Wildgrowth Walker or Ranger from the graveyard or gain tons of life when you're comboing off. @arenadecklists #mtgarena pic.twitter.com/82mJxkDZg1— Ben Kaestner-Frenchman (@benfrenchman) May 1, 2019
The extreme number of Explore creatures in this build supplements Wildgrowth Walker for two reasons. 1) Mono-Red is one of the most successful decks right now. That deck is weak to Wildgrowth Walker. 2) Having a lot of 187 guys with triggered abilities - but relatively few instants - does a lot to blunt Teferi and his awesome ability set.
I found Revival // Revenge really good against Red Decks, and leave it in after sideboards, even if I’m taking out all my Citadels. The ability to re-buy a Wildgrowth Walker or Jadelight Ranger for only two mana is valuable when lacing them back together. And sometimes, yes, you will get to double your life total thanks to Evolving Wilds or Deathsprout. You will need some high end oomph, though. Life gain alone is not going to cut it if the opponent is heavy on Tibalt.
Give it a try! I was surprised how much I was liking 2/3 for … Until I remembered all those Worth Wollpert Erg Raiders comments from over the years. Still, an exciting strategy.