There's a new face in town. Yes, it make look a lot like someone else's but this one's got something the other doesn't. It's not spunk or suave or spice... it's text. Very specific text. And for some reason, it has flipped the standard metagame up on it's head. Why is that? Why is every deck that can play him doing so? Why are all the decks that can't playing different cards? Why doesn't mono-red seem to care? Today, I'm going to try to tackle all these questions and more.
The Big Splash
In the weeks leading up to War of the Spark, we were treated to a nice, long spoiler season filled with all sorts of goodies. The first uncommon planeswalkers, planeswalkers with static abilities, proliferate, and much, much more. Amidst all this madness, a new Teferi card emerged.
From the start, we knew it'd be good. We just didn't understand the kind of effect it would have.
Teferi, Time Raveler (TTR) had big shoes to fill from the start. It's counterpart, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, was already the control staple in standard. Heck, it was even seeing a fair bit of play in UW control in modern. Not only that, but TTR is a rare. In the past, pretty much every single planeswalker was mythic. According to Wizards, they try to keep truly powerful, complex cards in mythic for the sake of limited, meaning they had at least minor design restrictions when coming up with TTR. Tack onto those conditions the facts that 1) TTR is azorious colors, making it potentially a lynch-pin in all future control decks in standard and 2) it's only 3 CMC, meaning it could fill a very important spot in a control curve if it's good enough, and you've got a very, very hyped-up card.
So, did it deliver?
Let me ask a different question: would I be devoting an entire article to it if it didn't?
Myself, along with I'm sure plenty of others, are surprised by exactly how much it caught on. I know personally I expected it to be a sideboard card for control matchups and maybe a 2-of in hard azorious control to bounce the early problematic creatures from aggro. I was not expecting to see it at least 3-of in every deck that had both of those colors and help open up (with the help of the new Oketra) and entire new archtype: bant midrange.
Currently, he's sitting at about 13 bucks apiece, making him one of the more expensive rare planeswalkers. Looking at his price graph, he may not look like the most impressive rare planeswalker in the set, but don't forget that planeswalkers' prices are often overinflated around set release and drop far more than TTR has. Not only that, but a lot of the effect TTR has had hasn't been just for people playing him, but for the effect he's had on deck construction.
So, why exactly is he making such big waves?
Three Lines of Text
All of the rare planeswalkers in WAR were constructed similarly: one static ability, one weak plus ability, and one strong minus ability. All of these walkers have, to some extent, found a home with perhaps the exception of Jace, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time for him. TTR has several different homes: esper midrange, bant midrange, esper control, even azorious aggro. It's almost universally true in standard that, if you can play TTR, you will play TTR. Let's break down his text and try to find out why.
"+1: Until your next turn, you may cast sorcery spells as though they had flash."
This is the weakest part of TTR. A great majority of the time when you're playing him, this text essentially reads: "Put a loyalty counter on Teferi, Time Raveler". But don't be fooled—there is still value here. In midrange decks, this means we can cast Command the Dreadhorde at instant speed.
In esper control, this means we can cast Cry of the Carnarium at instant speed. In esper midrange, we can Thought Erasure on our opponent's draw step. In any of these decks, we can play Time Wipe at instant speed. These are all powerful plays! While this plus may not look like much, you should always be aware of the situation you're in. It might just catch you off-guard.
"-3: Return up to one target artifact, creature, or enchantment to its owner's hand.
Draw a card."
Understanding exactly what this ability does starts to really shine a light on why TTR is so strong. The way this is worded, TTR is a good play on any boardstate. Behind, he bounces a creature to take off some pressure and replaces himself, not to mention your opponent has to redirect some combat damage to him the following turn if they want him off the table. At parity, he can break a stalemate by removing their best blocker or bouncing a creature that's built up a lot of counters. He can also bounce enchantment removal or a Search for Azcanta and prevent your opponent from getting value from it the following turn. When you're ahead, you can use it to remove their last blocker and swing for lethal or just sit there and bounce whatever they play next.
But that's all expected from a bounce effect. Where things get a little wacky is when you start looking at the cards you play with him and the cards being played against him.
White Weenie, esper midrange, and bant midrange all generate a lot of tokens. TTR can just kill those tokens with his minus. While it's not too exciting to do that against esper or bant, with WW, bouncing a knight about to turn into a 4/3 might just save you the game. As for cards you play alongside TTR, well, what about Frilled Mystic? Counter a spell with Mystic, then next turn bounce him back to your hand with TTR. You've not only drawn a card, but you gave yourself another unconditional counterspell. Maybe you've got a 2/2 Hydroid Krasis you had to play on turn 4 because you had nothing else to do and you topdeck a TTR on turn 10. Bounce that Krasis, cast him for 8, and you've jumped firmly into the lead. You may have used a Prison Realm earlier to remove a token. Bounce it, the token doesn't come back, you get to scry when you replay it and take out their biggest threat.
This ability is bonkers. It's so amazingly versatile and magic players are really starting to notice that. But even as amazing as it is, it's not the most important text on the card.
"Each opponent can cast spells only any time they could cast a sorcery."
This here, this is why TTR is making waves. First of all, the ability to cast anything on your turn without fear of instant-speed disruption is huge in a lot of decks. Tapping out for big Teferi, God-Eternal Oketra, the new Nissa, Wilderness Reclamation, or any of your power cards is always a risk. The first thought that comes to mind is that this prevents counters, but that's not the only thing. No instant-speed removal, so they can't hold up mana and destroy your big play before you get to do something with it. No removing the target of a spell or ability to make it fizzle. No counterplay of your counters. Being able to plan out your turns and know you'll be able to execute that plan as expected is a big deal.
It's not just what this ability does in games, though. It's how it affects deckbuilding.
A lot of players have chosen to play TTR for a lot of the reasons I listed above: it's in a powerful color combination, it's -3 is incredibly powerful, it fits nicely into the curve, it allows you to play your turn without disruption, etc. Because they have done this, other players have had to change how they approach their deck, regardless of whether or not they have TTR available. Nexus of Fate becomes much, much worse because you can't use Wilderness Reclamation mana to cast it. Any sort of counterspell becomes worse because they're worthless while the opponent has TTR out. Grixis control can't hold up removal to take out whatever you play