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Timeless: 5 Things You Need to Know about the Format!

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In this article, we delve into Timeless and five things you need to know before playing Magic Arena's latest eternal format!

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переведено Romeu

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рассмотрено Tabata Marques

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With a Metagame Challenge scheduled for February, Timeless has become popular as a competitive format on Magic Arena, inviting players to try out some of the most powerful cards in the game's history that are available on the digital platform.

While the format continues to develop and competitive strategies are formed with independent tournaments, there are some essential nuances to understand when building Timeless decks that define what is viable and what is not in the format.

In this article, I present five things that every player needs to know about the format before jumping into it and investing their precious wildcards to build decks to play events or ranked matches!

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1 - Timeless has a unique and weird power level

The Timeless space in Magic is truly unique and this becomes one of its biggest attractions. After all, in what format other than the absurdly expensive Vintage can you play Necropotence, Oko, Thief of Crowns and Lurrus of the Dream-Den?

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However, this is also a format where decks lack a mana base as optimized and non-punishing as that of Vintage and Legacy, closer to Modern, where the use of Fetch Lands and Shock Lands are at its core, in addition to currently lacking some of the cards that transform blue decks into the most efficient “fun police” in the Metagame, such as Force of Will and Daze.

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This creates a scenario where, while most archetypes today seem like an adjusted version of what we already know from other formats, Timeless has a huge potential for innovation with strategies and archetypes.

In fact, decks like Rakdos Breach are proof of this, with a shell that is very reminiscent of the format's Rakdos Midrange, but running Underworld Breach as a potential combo-kill alongside Tendrils of Agony.

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Other examples of innovation Timeless can be found in strategies who run cards exclusive to the digital environment, such as Jund Midrange, played by Nicole Dubin in the Timeless Trials at The Arena Coliseum, with Jarsyl, Dark Age Scion and Perilous Iteration.

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Therefore, we can conclude that Timeless is in its own space in the game, and while most of its main decks are reinterpretations of already known strategies, it has a unique power level where it mixes some of the most powerful cards in the game alongside a structure that seems, for the most part, to abhor the concept of free spells.

It's uncertain whether the format will continue as more cards are introduced via special sets or through direct insertions through series like Strixhaven's Mystical Archives, in addition to exclusive digital cards with the Alchemy sets, but today, this unplanned joining of expansions and factors makes Timeless have its own charm.

2 - Its many broken cards balances the Metagame

It's common for players to have a misconception about how eternal formats work. For decades, jokes about how Legacy or Vintage are “two-turn formats” have been going on, while in reality, these environments end up creating their own ways of balancing around their high-power level and establishing a Metagame where some games can end in two turns, but most tend to take much longer to complete.

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As a curious observation, the most problematic archetype in recent years in Legacy, a format known for its fast combos and free spells, are precisely the Delver decks, whose function in the Metagame is to police unfair strategies to the point of the phrase “ if Delver is the best deck, the format is healthy” be a common motto.

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In other words, it is not a degenerate turn 0 strategy that causes problems - although they can if there are no efficient means of containing their advance - but rather one that keeps the rest of the format in check while being flexible enough to extract the most value of any spell with a slightly higher power level that enters the format.

Timeless will probably suffer the same misconception.

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If we look on social media, the most common complaints surrounding the new format are about an explosive and almost unfair play involving Dark Ritual to cast Necropotence as early as the first turn to accumulate absurd card advantage every turn, or all at once to cast March of Wretched Sorrow to recover the life paid with the enchantment.

But in the current Metagame, Necro decks aren't a problem when most lists play too fair with their key piece like it's a Phyrexian Arena on steroids, but add the infamy of it being banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage and the frustration of being unable to keep up with a Necropotence on the first turn - and you have the perfect target to ask for the restriction or ban of one of these two pieces.

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Timeless is a diverse format today where, while everything feels broken and overpowered, there is a healthy balance between those looking to play under - in general, they are Midrange archetypes with Lurrus of the Dream-Den, those who seek attrition and card advantage matches to prey on Aggro and Lurrus decks, such as Jund Midrange, Rakdos Blood Moon, Sultai Oko and, also, Necropotence, and those whose approach involves playing over, Titan Field being the most famous, but we can include the Goodstuff variants in this category.

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In between these three, there are the most aggressive archetypes, such as Zoo, Izzet Tempo and Burn, the Control such as Dimir Lurrus and Tainted Pact, and the combos, today starring Golgari Yawgmoth and the variants of Winota, Joiner of Forces.

Therefore, Timeless has a high diversity of viable macro-archetypes and a good selection of different strategies for each of them, and due to the way the games develop, and the interactions used in the format to keep certain decks in check, games tend to last long enough to involve exchanges, card advantage and land drops.

Amidst the extremely high level of power available in the players' hands, everything ends up self-correcting to create an environment that, so far, is healthy.

3 - Timeless has Several Format-defining Cards

Defining cards are those that define the Metagame and dictate, through their effects, what is viable in the competitive environment of their respective format - this imposition occurs in two ways:

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The first and most obvious is the power level, that is, if there are better versions of a card available in the pool of that format, either because its effect is more comprehensive or efficient, or because it adapts better to changes in the Metagame.

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Two notable examples of this are Lightning Bolt and Play with Fire. While Midnight Hunt's red spell offers occasions where we can filter out the top with its scry ability, the extra point of damage from Lightning Bolt makes an exponential difference in the efficiency of dealing damage and/or dealing with threats, making Play with Fire a bad and obsolete option for the format despite being released many years later.

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The same logic, in most decks, would apply to Llanowar Elves: unless the player really wants multiple copies of one-mana dorks and/or one-mana elves for some reason - like, for example, playing Elves - there are no reasons to run it instead of Deathrite Shaman in most lists, given its interaction with Fetch Lands and efficiency in providing access to any color, in addition to having other abilities that grant it greater range and usefulness during the game.

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In addition to power level, another strong format limiter is susceptibility, that is, how susceptible your deck and the cards present in it are to the most played cards in the Metagame to the point of generating very positive trades for your opponents.

Of course, we shouldn't create expectations of winning every game, but it's preferable that our deckbuilding choices don't help the opponent win, especially when we talk about staples in the format's most famous archetypes, such as Orcish Bowmasters.

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As exemplified above, a card can be more efficient than another due to its set of abilities, but this is not always the reason for running one over the other.

In a list with high color requirements, a player might be interested in Birds of Paradise (not yet available in Magic Arena, but it's the best possible example) as a complementary mana dork alongside Deathrite Shaman to have quick access to all colors and cast bombs earlier, but the existence of Orcish Bowmasters as one of the most played cards in Timeless makes Birds a terrible option because it generates an even more positive value for the opponent, allowing them to kill your creature, deprive you of the necessary ramp and even put two bodies on the board with one of the most punishing effects in the game's history.

Instead, even if your list doesn't run many legendary spells, Delighted Halfling works better for surviving a Bowmasters with its two toughness, making it a more reliable method of guaranteeing access to the extra mana it generates on your next turn.

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This rule is not applied linearly. For example, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is a 2/1 creature and still sees a lot of play in the format, being its best one-drop alongside Deathrite Shaman.

The reason why Ragavan sees play while other creatures with one toughness who doesn't have the same impact don't is mainly due to the absurd amount of value that the monkey adds with just a single attack: in addition to jumping the mana curve, Ragavan also guarantees the potential of an extra card from the opponent's deck to be played by you, essentially “drawing” a card, and this usefulness extends throughout the game, making it useful at any point in the game.

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In other words, despite being as susceptible to Orcish Bowmasters as a Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is worth the risk because the reward at stake is too big, forcing an immediate answer.

Timeless has several format-defining cards:

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If you play with tapped lands, Ragavan can take advantage to take the game, if your deck depends on interactions or specific cards, Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek can ruin the strategy as early as the first turn.

If you aim to play large creatures, Swords to Plowshares and Oko, Thief of Crowns can ruin your efforts, if you rely on a combo and/or high-cost spells, Counterspell can ruin your plans, and if you run small creatures to attack, your deck better have enough resilience or protection to deal with Lightning Bolt, Orcish Bowmasters and Fatal Push.

If you intend to go late-game playing Control, keep in mind that Field of the Dead is much better at going for inevitability - and if, by chance, you go for a very greedy mana base, remember Blood Moon can win the game on its own.

Just like in any competitive Metagame, building decks means considering the peculiarities of that format and the way it behaves to define what exactly you would like to win against and which games you would accept to lose - Due to the high availability of cards with power levels high in Timeless, the variants of this calculation are very comprehensive.

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A notorious example of this situation is Hammer Time, a strategy with many enthusiasts and good results in Modern, whose version of Timeless has one of the most powerful equipment cost reduction effects in the game's history and compensates for the absence of Puresteel Paladin, but it will never be successful in the format because its shell is too vulnerable against several Timeless staples, especially without Stoneforge Mystic and Urza's Saga to establish a complementary plan.

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Izzet Phoenix is another one hampered by these limitations, where cards like Orcish Bowmasters are already quite harmful against draw effects while their cheap interactions are relatively inefficient. Additionally, Deathrite Shaman doubles as a graveyard hate in several lists, deals with Arclight Phoenix before it becomes a problem, and forces playing around too many cards for Phoenix to work effectively.

4 - Timeless has a high entry cost

Having the best mana bases and several contemporary or historical staples from multiple formats, decks in Timeless are extremely intensive in rare and mythic cards, and with little space in most lists for commons and uncommons.

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For example, one of the lists which runs common and uncommon spells the most and with good results in the format today, Dimir Control, has an average of 42 rare cards in its list, while other strategies can reach anywhere from 30 to 55 rares, not counting the mythics.

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There are three reasons for this discrepancy, with the first being an elephant in the room created by Strixhaven's Mystical Archives - staples that were released as commons and uncommons on paper are "locked" as rares in Magic Arena as they were printed in this set as rares.

That is, if you want a Lightning Bolt or Counterspell play set, you will have to invest four rare wildcards to acquire them. The same goes for other staples, such as Memory Lapse, Dark Ritual and Inquisition of Kozilek.

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The second reason involves the interaction between Fetch Lands and Shock Lands, famous in the eternal formats where these cards are legal.

This interaction allows the player to have access to the best possible combination of mana at the right time, without many complications when it comes to needing a splash or a specific color in the first turns.

When playing at least two-color decks, you automatically need Fetch Lands and Shock Lands, possibly in a composition of eight Fetchs to four Shocks, plus a dozen other lands for your mana base that you may, or may not, use. already own in your collection.

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The third reason is that, by the very nature of a TCG, stronger cards have higher rarities, therefore, more rare and mythic wildcards are required to build your list.

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In a direct comparison, there aren't many differences in practice between building a new Standard deck and a Timeless deck in Magic Arena, as archetypes like Esper Midrange require over 40 rare and mythic cards to obtain their optimized version, but Magic Arena rewards the Standard player much more through winning booster packs and playing draft than the Timeless player.

Furthermore, there is the problem of Timeless' scope: like every eternal format on paper, it first requires an investment in the mana base and staples - assuming an archetype with comprehensive cards for multiple decks, like Rakdos Midrange, this means investing in 8 to 12 Fetch Lands, 4 Blood Crypt 4 Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, 4 Orcish Bowmasters, 4 Thoughtseize, between 2 and 4 Lightning Bolt and an amount of Deathrite Shaman.

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Among the up to 32 rare and 4 mythic cards used to invest in this list, only twelve of them are legal in other formats, with Orcish Bowmasters being nerfed in Historic. In other words, unlike Standard or Explorer where you can transfer your investment between other formats, Timeless requires wild cards only for itself.

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Finally, another inherent problem that makes Timeless virtually more expensive than other formats is the way in which, due to the high-power level of its staples, it is much more punishing with not having a card when compared to other options: if your list plays with Bowmasters, it will be much worse without it, to the point where it becomes unfeasible to assemble it since there is no way to replace this creature.

Other formats have slightly more benevolent strategies in this regard: a Tranquil Cove where there should be a Restless Anchorage will make a difference in certain situations, but it won't make your deck bad to the point of being unplayable.

This is an essential factor for F2P (free-to-play) players, and for those who build their decks little by little while climbing ranked matches to earn enough gold to play a Draft - for this profile, Timeless isn't viable, for the reason presented above, and the fifth thing everyone should know about the format.

5 - Timeless's power level makes budget decks unfeasible

First, we need to come to a common sense about what budget is in Magic Arena. So - My conception of this style of deck for the platform is that Budget are lists that free-to-play players can put together without having to go through countless drafts to farm wild cards, being able to build them just with their natural progression of wins in ranked games during a season.

My limit for a budget deck is being able to include up to 12 rares and 4 mythics in the list - it's an estimated number of how many wildcards an average free-to-play player usually accumulates between seasons by doing daily quests if they don't want to invest too much in drafts, with a small variation due to the wildcards open in boosters. This is also an approximate number of wild cards that a new account usually has available after purchasing the game's basic package.

Over the last few weeks, I've been leaning towards producing an article about budget lists for playing Timeless, and during the several days I spent trying some of the main approaches seen in other formats, I realized that the overall quality of the other archetypes is so high that any cheaper and accessible strategy is notoriously inferior in every aspect.

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The composition of several decks already starts with rare cards: two-color lists are unfeasible because they already require Fetch and Shock Lands, the best spells of the format, such as Lightning Bolt and Counterspell are also in rare card slots, so we spend a lot of that scarce resource trying to have stable mana and/or access to the most efficient spells in their categories.

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When trying mono-colored approaches, it became clear that most of the budget strategies that work in other environments are bad in Timeless: Heroic had to deal with too many obstacles between removals, discard and blockers, while Hammer Time, while faster, was inconsistent and too vulnerable.

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In other colors, Delver automatically lost to Orcish Bowmasters even when accompanied by Snapcaster Mage and a dozen cheap spells while Mono Blue Tempo suffered from the same issue, Stompy's creatures were too slow to keep up with removals and not even a combination of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Dark Ritual, Thoughtseize and Necropotence was enough to make Mono Black work.

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The only viable budget proposal in Timeless today is red Aggro, as these have a decent number of cards with the format's power level, while the cheaper cards can offer the redundancy needed to win the game, in addition to some recent Burn staples having been released as common and uncommon lately.

Therefore, between the difficulty of putting together more accessible lists and the way in which its environment punishes poorly optimized lists, Timeless is not, today, and perhaps never will be, a format for players looking for cheap alternatives to building decks.

Conclusion

That's all for today.

Despite some of its main elements being troublesome for some players, Timeless is an incredible format once you build a deck and start playing more games in it. The matchups are fast, but never linear, and require good knowledge of the Metagame to optimize most of your cards.

Furthermore, it is the pinnacle of Magic Arena's power level, and the opportunity to play with great staples banned from other formats is certainly one of the biggest reasons to play the format.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!

Thanks for reading!