Fracturing the Continuum: The Time Walk Story
Time is fleeting! Madness takes its toll! Time-walking has always been a signature blue move, one with the power of spelling doom for the opponent, though it might as well just amount to drawing one extra card. Let’s see how many different iterations of the time-bending trick have ever been printed, and how few actually played.
Very few sentences on a Magic card feel more exciting than "take an extra turn after this one." After all, that'll get you closer to the dream of a game of Magic where you're so utterly in control that the opponent doesn't even get a chance to play – which, if you ask me, makes for a very boring game of Magic, but people have got to vent their frustrations somewhere, I guess. As of Ravnica Allegiance, there have been 42 cards allowing extra turns, and we can divide them into three broad categories:
- Blue spells that resolve at sorcery speed (with one relevant exception) and grant the extra turn.
- Red spells that grant the extra turn, then kill you.
- Permanents that grant the extra turn, possibly multiple times, contingent on some requirement.
Not all of these cards have seen actual play over the years, mainly because reinventing Time Walk is not too easy of a design space. When the feat is a success, though, the payoff can be impactful enough, to the point that entire decks can be built around the concept. In Vintage, the Time Vault combo is still a popular way to lock the opponent out of the game. In Modern, the low-tier yet solid Walks deck feature up to a dozen copies of such cards. In Commander, the proliferation of the best effects of this type called for the printing of a blanket countermeasure.
Taking extra turns is a captivating ploy whose inherent charm will never grow old, and it's deserving of an extensive look-back to track all its appearances across time (no pun intended).
Time Walk (Limited Edition Alpha, 1993)
Meet the prototype. Or better, the twisted ideal that will never be replicated again because there's no way taking an extra turn is a two-mana endeavor. This would only happen back when you could also get three cards for one mana or three mana for nothing. Limited Edition Alpha gave us many wonders, but thorough playtesting wasn't one of them.
Time Vault (Limited Edition Alpha, 1993)
Speaking of ill-advised designs, the original Magic set also saw the Time Walk concept attached to an artifact, for repeatable use. Still for two mana, because why the hell not. I get that the basic idea was to let the opponent play two turns in a row before doing the same, which could still lead to an insane tactical advantage; but then in 1998 Voltaic Key was printed, so if there ever was any reason to play Time Vault straight, that was the end of it.
Final Fortune (Mirage, 1996)
Strangely enough, the very first follow up to Time Walk came in red, which would later become the second best time-walking color in the game, although far behind blue (there are only 13 cards on this list that aren't blue; six are red). The red Walks all come with the "last chance” clause: you get an extra turn, but you'd better win the game right there and then or you're dead. It's interesting to note how Final Fortune actually has the same converted mana cost as the original Time Walk, and it's in fact harder to cast; the death condition is there only because of the color-shifting. Also, being an instant is sort of odd, since you can't really cast it in the opponent's turn, as you would just take a turn the way you would normally do, and then die (I guess it can be used to counter the opponent's own attempt at an extra turn, provided you're ready to win. Or in your end phase, to give the opponent every possible chance to tap out). Still, this card did see some play. After all, red is a color that's likely to benefit from the access to mana resources and the combat phase twice in a row.
Last Chance (Portal, 1997)
And speaking of "last chance”, that was exactly the name of the Final Fortune sorcery-speed clone from Portal. In case you wanted to run eight copies.
Time Warp (Tempest, 1997)
And that's finally Time Walk with the correct mana cost. It just took four years to figure it out, but that's how time paradoxes work for you. By the time this was printed, the original was restricted to one copy in what it was then called Type 1, the future Vintage; so now Type 1.5 and Type 2, later known as Legacy and Standard could enjoy the less broken version and its exquisite The Rocky Horror Show reference emphasized in its flavor text. The Magic 2010 reprint inducted it into Modern, making it a staple of Walks decks – barring special circumstances and requirements, every other blue Walk spell from this point on would cost more than five mana.
Temporal Manipulation (Portal Second Age, 1998)
Time Warp almost immediately received a Portal clone, too. This was especially relevant for the yet to come EDH/Commander format, or any singleton format which could use the redundancy.
Second Chance (Urza's Legacy, 1999)
A bizarre way to get an extra turn by having a low life total, which doesn't seem like something blue is able to control or enjoy. Pretty obscure piece of Magic memorabilia.
Capture of Jingzhou (Portal Three Kingdoms, 1999)
There's another Time Warp for Commander, since apparently every Portal set needed one. You can see why Stranglehold came to be, eventually. Also, as the flavor text explains, this is a political way to achieve the strategic advantage that translates into an extra turn. You still have to cast a spell to do it, though, which is a bit confusing.
Warrior's Oath (Portal Three Kingdoms, 1999)
Portal Three Kingdoms also included the second functional reprint of Final Fortune (or more precisely, the first functional reprint of Last Chance, given that Portal rules wouldn't cover instants). Has a 12-Fortune Legacy RDW deck ever been a thing?
Magistrate's Scepter (Mercadian Masques, 1999)
Six years after Time Vault was printed, a new time-walking artifact had a more sensible casting cost and a harder to crack activation requirement. But, hey, if you have access to 18 mana and three Voltaic Keys, that's a lock! (More seriously, it uses charge counters, so you can exploit Energy Chamber, Power Conduit and such. It's been done). Magistrate's Scepter has been reprinted in Core Set 2019, in time for its 20th anniversary. It's a two-cent rare.
Time Stretch (Odyssey, 2001)
Two Time Warps for the cost of… two Time Warps. Commander likes it.
Seedtime (Judgment, 2002)
This is possibly the weirdest entry in this list. For one, it's the only green spell that grants an extra turn. And it does it exclusively as an answer to a blue spell being cast in your turn. It's easy to picture that blue spell being a counterspell, but then you shouldn't answer that directly with your Seedtime, because it would resolve before the blue spell does, doing nothing. But like Final Fortune, you can cast it in your end phase in response to, say, some blue-based card-drawing.
Wormfang Manta (Judgment, 2002)
The first extra-turn-providing creature. Played as written, the idea seems to be that you spend seven mana and one turn to put on the battlefield an evasive threat with a non-negligible clock, so the opponent has to deal with it at some point, and when they do, it's your turn get an extra turn. You don't want to play it like that, though (if you'd ever choose to do it, I mean). There are indeed complex ways to abuse Wormfang Manta. So complex, that I'm just going to remand you to this discussion about going infinite with it. Have fun.
Timesifter (Mirrodin, 2003)
Timesifter is a silly artifact that grants extra turns by playing a game of War with your opponent. This said, it can be properly exploited by manipulating the top of the library – the opponent's or, more easily, yours – and it can lead to cool, Miracle-like builds like this one. Still not the most competitive way to take extra turns, but peculiar enough to feel fascinating.
Beacon of Tomorrows (Fifth Dawn, 2004)
This is a Time Warp that costs three more mana because it goes right back into the library after resolving at sorcery speed. Remember this concept, this speed and this cost, kids. It'll be relevant later.
Stitch in Time (Guildpact, 2006)
Time Walk, please meet the coin-flipping technology. Look, I'm aware the game has actual ways to influence a coin flip, but I just refuse to entertain the idea of a deck based on this, even if you can technically achieve the largest number of extra turns this way, i.e. an infinite amount (well, not really, since at some point, while you're still winning your flips, this is bound happen).
Walk the Aeons (Time Spiral, 2006)
Slightly more expensive Time Warp with buyback. Now, that's a more clearly useful variant, isn't it? Of course, the buyback cost is steep, but this didn't stop larger-than-life formats like Commander to abuse this spell happily. And lands are known to come back from the graveyard, occasionally.
Temporal Extortion (Planar Chaos, 2007)
The only monoblack card that grants an extra turn, and one of only two black cards in this list. It's sort of a tribute mechanic, which makes it unreliable, in that the opponent will probably give you the extra turn when it's more convenient to them, and take the damage otherwise. It also comes with an insane four-black mana cost. Definitely one of the least played Time Walk variants ever.
Wanderwine Prophets (Lorwyn, 2007)
A ton of requirements here. You first need to have a Merfolk to champion (not to mention, six mana to spend). Then your non-evasive 4/4 has to successfully connect. Then you need to sacrifice another Merfolk (unless you're willing to give up the Prophets to their own trigger). It's kind of a Timmy card, although not ineffectual. Champion is a versatile mechanic, and there are tons of ways to help the Prophets get through and to populate your board with sacrificial Merfolk. Furthermore, this is a Wizard, so it combos with Inalla, Archmage Ritualist in Commander (you copy the Prophets, champion the original with the copy, attack with haste, sacrifice the copy to get an extra turn, the original comes back, you copy it again, and then a third time in your end so that you can repeat the process during your extra turn).
Notorious Throng (Morningtide, 2008)
Time Walk goes tribal! Your Rogue deck can take an extra turn for six mana while creating a bunch of little flyers. A bit narrow, and probably too slow, but not the worst.
Savor the Moment (Shadowmoor, 2008)
An extra turn without untapping is not ideal, but it's the price you have to pay to lower the cost to quasi-Time Walk level in the 21st century. It might be worth it, and it interacts well with cards that grant automatic universal untapping like Awakening and Wilderness Reclamation (but not with those that trigger in the opponent's turn, like Seedborn Muse and Prophet of Kruphix).
Time Sieve (Alara Reborn, 2009)
A good combo piece for artifact-heavy decks, and the second (and so far, last) black Time Walk card.
Magosi, the Waterveil (Zendikar, 2009)
The first and only time-walking land. At first sight, you would think it's impossible to break Magosi, as it generates its own specific counter, and on top of that, it's a tapland that returns in hand when activated for the extra turn. Just too guarded to ever be abused, right? Wrong! Don't underestimate the power of an entire world of devoted Johnnies. The Magosi combo is awkward and requires three other cards and several mana sources, but it does work in giving you infinite turns, as expected of any time-walking permanent worth its money.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (Rise of the Eldrazi, 2010)
And then came Emrakul. She doesn't really conform to the three categories I exposed earlier (and why should she?), in that it's not a permanent whose goal is generating a Time Walk – the Time Walk is sort of a byproduct of her coming into existence. Basically, you cast the biggest bad of it all, and you get a bonus Time Walk for your troubles. But I guess you can see it as a 15-mana Time Walk that leaves a body behind.
Lighthouse Chronologist (Rise of the Eldrazi, 2010)
Rise of the Eldrazi featured another creature with Time Walk capabilities, and it's a more straightforward case compared to Emrakul's. You just keep leveling up the Chronologist, and seven blue mana later, you'll start taking twice the amount of turns your 1v1 opponent takes (or half the total number of turns taken by all players combined in a multiplayer game, where the Chronologist gets crazier, especially if two or more players control an active one). Unfortunately, level up being a sorcery-speed mechanic, you'll have to concede to your opponent the chance to respond to your maxed out Chronologist in their turn before starting to reap the rewards. It's a fun card, but more on the Timmy side of things.
Temporal Mastery (Avacyn Restored, 2012)
The miracle Walk. Very popular in Walks decks because it's easy to set up as a veritable, old-fashioned, too-broken-to-be-true Time Walk.
Search the City (Return to Ravnica, 2012)
This gotta be the most convoluted way to take an extra turn. It sort of doubles as a way to gain some value from running multiple copies of a card, as you basically draw five cards for five mana, except you'll only get access to them later. As casual as they get, and definitely not suited for singleton formats.
Ral Zarek (Dragon's Maze, 2013)
The original Ral Zarek's ultimate procure a variable amount of extra turns by flipping coins, a la Stitch in Time. Which is why it's not a very good ultimate. In fact, it's one of the rare planeswalker ultimates that has a chance of doing exactly nothing.
Medomai the Ageless (Theros, 2013)
The first instance of a time-walking card involving white (they remain extremely rare and always associated with blue or red), Medomai has never found a real home, but you have to give it to this Sphinx: he gets the job done. His job being to provide a Lighthouse Chronologist amount of extra turns (i.e. one for each opponent's turn) by just connecting, which for a flyer can't be too hard of a feat. Sure, he's Titan mana (or Consecrated Sphinx mana) and not particularly formidable battle-wise. But, what do you know, he can also be exploited beyond the written text, since the clause that prevents him from attacking during an extra turn doesn't prevent him from coming into play attacking, just choosing to do so himself. It's the Magic card version of Rule 34: if it exists, there is abuse of it.
Sage of Hours (Journey into Nyx, 2014)
Speaking of which, abusing heroic creatures is pretty easy, you just keep targeting them with spells. Sage of Hours has an elegant way to turn all that into extra turns, even several in a row. He never fitted well within heroic decks, though, as they would focus on using the +1/+1 counters to simply deal damage.
Plea for Power (Conspiracy, 2014)
The will of the council Conspiracy mechanic has produced top-tier cards like Council's Judgment and Coercive Portal, exploited in 1v1 well beyond their intended use in multiplayer. In the case of Plea for Power, the opponent must choose whether giving you access to Time Walk or Ancestral Recall. It's clearly a situation-based decision, as there are times when an extra turn is less impactful than three extra cards. Plus, it's a four-mana spell at sorcery speed. You're bound to never get the extra turn when it would give you a crucial advantage, at least based on the information the opponent can infer from the board state, so the Plea is just not a very reliable Time Walk variant.
Ugin's Nexus (Khans of Tarkir, 2014)
This is an interesting design, in that it works as a safeguard against extra turns, like Stranglehold, but then it gives you an extra turn when it dies, as a way to punishing those opponents that got rid of it in order to, presumably, take extra turns themselves. Unfortunately, it can't be abused because you have to exile it to get the extra turn.
Temporal Trespass (Fate Reforged, 2015)
Delve version of Time Warp. Its cost can be reduced to just triple blue, but it starts from whopping eleven mana, so once your graveyard has been depleted, further copies become very hard to cast. Also, it exiles itself. Did you notice how many of these spells do that? Keep that in mind for later.
Part the Waterveil (Battle for Zendikar, 2015)
Time Warp for six mana is strictly worse, but Time Warp and a 6/6 for nine mana is intriguing, and the reason why Walks builds use this spell as a finisher.
Expropriate (Conspiracy: Take the Crown, 2016)
This is a very cool one. Played in 1v1, the opponent finds himself or herself in a very tough spot, either allowing you to potentially take two extra turns, or surrendering their best permanent. Strictly for Commander and similar formats, but pretty powerful.
Gonti's Aether Heart (Aether Revolt, 2017)
Energy decks didn't really made the leap from Standard to other Eternal formats, did they? They had this as their way to Time Walk. Not too efficient, as it asks for six mana and eight energy counters. Also, am I the only one who hates when they place that many symbols in a row, and there's no way you can instantly grasp how many there are without counting them?
Timestream Navigator (Rivals of Ixalan, 2018)
Ixalan's own Lighthouse Chronologist. Not as efficient, since you first need to ascend, then you have to pay four mana (and tap the Navigator, so if you drop her when you already have the city's blessing, you still can't use the effect right away), and she tucks herself at the bottom of your library, so in order to abuse her ability you'd need crazy cards that manipulate the bottom, some repeatable tutor, or a way to create a token copy of the Navigator.
Karn's Temporal Sundering (Dominaria, 2018)
Time Warp with bonus Boomerang for one extra mana, but as a legendary sorcery, which is not too simple of a requirement. Underwhelming.
Teferi, Timebender (Dominaria, 2018)
The Teferi from the Dominaria Planeswalker Decks has a time-walking ultimate. Makes sense; he's a time mage, after all.
Mu Yanling (Global Series: Jiang Yanggu & Mu Yanling, 2018)
One of the two planeswalkers from the exclusive decks devised for the Chinese market. She actually has a better time-walking ultimate than Teferi, Timebender.
Nexus of Fate (Core Set 2019, 2018)
Thesis: Nexus of Fate is the most broken Time Walk variant since Time Walk. Proof: Nexus of Fate costs seven mana, so it can't be used in early turns to stabilize, the way Time Walk can. Other than that, it has two major and unique qualities. The first is being an instant. There were only two other Time Walks working at instant speed before the release of Nexus of Fate, Final Fortune and Seedtime, and neither of them could actually be used in the opponent's turn; Nexus of Fate can, and this makes it the perfect Time Walk for draw-go decks. Additionally, its speed allows it to interact with end-phase triggers like, most notably, the untapping from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and especially Wilderness Reclamation, which effectively halves Nexus's casting cost. Second crucial characteristic: it goes back into the library. Many Time Walk cards don't even end into the graveyard, they exile themselves entirely. This is the case of: Temporal Mastery, Ugin's Nexus, Temporal Trespass, Part the Waterveil, Expropriate, Gonti's Aether Heart, and Karn's Temporal Sundering, so basically every extra turn provider printed in this decade, with very few exceptions. There was one previous case of a Time Walk that shuffled itself back into the library, and it's Beacon of Tomorrows, which however costs more than Nexus of Fate and is not an instant, so it can't be played in the opponent's turn nor can be helped by Wilderness Reclamation. Conclusion: Nexus of Fate breaks all the rules. I rest my case.
Chance for Glory (Guilds of Ravnica, 2018)
And that's the fourth instant-speed Time Walk ever, a Boros-colored, more expensive Final Fortune with bonus indestructibility for your creatures, since that's probably the plan for winning in red or Boros before your own spell kills you.
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