M21 Spotlight: Teferi, Master of Time
- Rodrigo Martin
Teferi has returned! After a long time being an Azorius planeswalker, he is back in blue for Core Set 2021, showcasing a whole new static ability, tons of variant frames, and ultimately what he does best — bending time at his will. Let's look at the future impact of our beloved mage of Zhalfir.
It feels as if time flies. In just a couple of weeks, we will get to enjoy another Magic set, just right after Ikora: Lair of Behemoths became legal for tabletop play. This is what you get in the unexpected world of 2020.
A few years ago, Wizards decided to add more backstory to core sets since they always felt lacking in lore compared to the regular expansions. Core Set 2019 narrated Nicol Bolas' origin story alongside the Elder Dragons; Core Set 2020 focused on Chandra's background, showcasing three different versions of the red firebrand. This year, though, Core Set 2021 will feature five monocolored planeswalkers, like the original Lorwyn cycle, with one rare, uncommon, and common card related to each. That being said, one of the five acts as the face of the set: the one and only Teferi, Master of Time.
1. The Format Warping Concern
Teferi has become a troublesome figure in the past two years. Once he embraced the Azorius identity as the hero of Dominaria, he instantly became a format-defining character. His next incarnation as a 3-mana planeswalker from War of the Spark arguably had an even bigger impact. There have been a lot of complaints about Teferi, Time Raveler, as he completely warps how a normal game of Magic works — at least from the opponent's perspective. He's been making aggro, midrange, combo, and control players players angry ever since.
That's the main reason why everyone preemptively worried about the new Teferi's power level. Is Master of Time another nail in the coffin for Teferi's reputation? Well, it is early to say, but at first glance he doesn't seem as oppressive as his predecessors. Let's dissect his abilities, stats, and speculate about applications in competitive formats.
2. Mana Cost, Loyalty, and Static Ability
Let's start by looking at Teferi's numbers: he is a 4-mana walker starting at 3 loyalty with three activated abilities plus one static ability.
Static abilities attached to planeswalkers are pretty common these days ever since the concept was introduced in War of the Spark. But this marks the first time in Magic history that a planeswalker can use activated abilities during opponents' turns. Who better to mess around with the timing than Teferi? Teferi's static ability means a whole different approach to how planeswalkers' abilities work. Normally, after you cast any of them, you hold priority to either up- or downtick before anything happens. In this case, tough, you can activate the abiliy at any point of the turn. You can also use his first ability once on your own turn and once during the opponent's, increasing his loyalty twice per turn cycle.
Compared with other planeswalkers of the same color and converted mana cost, it is quite hard to rival Jace, the Mind Sculptor and his four abilities, who likely is the best 4-mana walker of all time. Aside from almighty Jace, I would say Teferi will rank higher than the other two 4-mana Jaces: Jace, Architect of Thought and Jace, the Living Guildpact.
3. Evaluating Teferi's Activated Abilities
Every Teferi planeswalker draws you cards one way or another, although this time around his plus ability is not card advantage. Rather it's card selection, similar to The Royal Scions or, since you can active once each turn, more like Dack Fayden's first ability. Looting away useless cards is nice, especially when combined with escape cards from Theros Beyond Death or Reanimate effects. Indeed, Teferi's plus ability gets even better in Commander, where you can use it on each opponent's turn, therefore getting to his ultimate way faster.
Phasing out, as the text reminds us, is similar to being in exile, although any creature phasing out keeps all Auras and all Equipment attached to it and tokens don't evaporate. Some memorable examples of the keyword from the early days exist, like Rainbow Efreet or Frenetic Efreet. But phasing had been phased out for a long time, until Teferi's Protection was printed three years ago in Commander 2017.
The way the abilities and their costs line up is that you can nullify one creature for a turn at instant speed after using his plus first. But this will leave Teferi at 1, so you should find a real answer quickly; otherwise Teferi will not live long. I strongly believe phasing the creature out instead of bouncing or "tucking" it keeps this Teferi from being a frustrating card. He should still be powerful enough to see competitive play …
… and a relevant part of his power does indeed reside in the ultimate. If you ever get to it, it feels exactly like casting Time Stretch. What virtually sounds like winning the game on the spot takes four turn cycles of ticking up, which is a lot of effort. The fact that you can achieve this goal will instantly put a bullseye on Teferi's head for any opponent. So your deck probably has to focus on controling the game, on defense and protection, at which point you may not be able to do that much proactively during your extra turns.
Flavor-wise, Teferi is finding new ways to break the normal rules of time in Magic: using loyalty abilities when you are not supposed to be, detaining creatures at instant speed, and if you get to his ultimate you basically get all the time in the world to close up the game.
4. Future Impact Across Formats
How impactful Teferi, Master of Time will be? For starters, there is a lot of competition in Eternal formats. My guts tell me he's neither Vintage nor Legacy material, where the Mind Sculptor will always be the better choice. There is a small consideration to see if this new Teferi can fit into Modern, especially in possible Yorion, Sky Nomad shells where the 80-card requirement leaves some extra room. In any case, the two formats where Teferi is likely to shine are Pioneer and Standard.
Starting with Standard, the format just got off to a fresh start after the recent banning and the companion mechanic downgrade. So there is some room for innovation. Currently there are 21 planeswalkers that cost 4 mana in the format, which means a lot of competition for that slot. However, only Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Narset of the Ancient Way see relevant play and now that Fires of Invention is gone, ramp decks are slated for a return. In that scenario, Teferi could earn a spot alongside Yorion in Azorius Control. When other planeswalkers return from Yorion's blinking at end of turn, you don't get to use their abilities an extra time, but this Teferi does. He could team up with "Threeferi," Narset, and even some copies of Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis, who'd benefit from his looting.
Speaking about Elspeth, Teferi also gets hit by Elspeth Conquers Death which is not a big concern since nowadays most relevant permanents in Standard do. However, on the plus side, Teferi can ditch a relevant creature or planeswalker so that the third chapter of the white Saga can bring it back from the grave. This play pattern already existed with Dream Trawler; with Teferi you get an extra card out of it.
|Azorius Control by Rone|
In Pioneer, Azorius or White-Blue-X Control shells, similar to their Standard counterpart also accompanied by Yorion, could benefit from this new addition as well. These types of deck often draw a lot of cards and feature a lot of somewhat specific answers. Sometimes you end up with a bunch of clunky counterspells in an aggro matchup or flooded with creature removal in the control mirror. In that spot, the new Master of Time will help you sculpt your hand while supporting your two other Teferis. It might even be worth adding some copies of Oath of Teferi so you can double your planeswalker activations!
5. Art Appreciation and Alternate Versions
Last but not least, a small note on the visual aspect of the card. Yongjae Choi has captured the essence of the character in this latest interpretation of the blue mage with the time distortion reflections swirling around him. Overall, nine versions of the card exist: four with the regular frame and different reflections, four introducing the cool showcase frame, and one borderless with variant art by Chris Rallis. Let me know in the comments which one you like best!
All in all, I am really excited to try out Teferi, Master of Time, although the card doesn't seem to be as broken as his two previous incarnations. He has nice stats, two medium to average abilities plus a challenging, hard-to-accomplish ultimatum that will be valuable for blue-based control shells. But I am confident, this time around, our beloved — and also hated — hero won't be as oppressive as he's been the last couple of years. As usual, thank you so much for reading and enjoy the preview season. Until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.