Starting a few days ago on December 12, 2023, players got their first crack at playing the new Timeless MTG format on Arena. Akin to Vintage, this format allows players to use all cards at their disposal that are on MTG Arena. All cards are legal, with a rather small initial Restricted List to start out. Notably, while a handful of cards such as Orcish Bowmasters had been previously nerfed on Arena, players will get to play with these cards as originally printed.
Obviously, there are plenty of cards legal in Vintage that are not on MTG Arena. In this sense, very little is comparatively available at players’ disposal. That said, thanks to various bonus sheets such as the Wilds of Eldraine: Enchanting Tales bonus sheet, there are plenty of absurdly powerful cards available to play with.
Shortly before the format was launched, we gave our predictions for cards that had high potential during the opening days of the format. Cards like Deathrite Shaman and Treasure Cruise immediately came to mind, given their perfect synergy with the Khans of Tarkir Fetchlands that recently arrived on Arena. Over the past few days, we’ve started to get a glimpse of some of the strongest shells available in the format. Today, we are going to take a closer look at some of these archetypes and what makes them powerful right off the bat.
As one of the Enchanting Tales cards, Necropotence has emerged as one of the best cards to be casting in Timeless. Assuming you are at a reasonably high life total, Necropotence can be used as an extreme source of card advantage. It’s even more efficient than The One Ring and has the added bonus of letting you draw a ton of cards all at once.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the card, though, is that the cards you obtain aren’t technically drawn. Instead, you exile them from your library and put them into your hand at the beginning of your next end step. This means that Necropotence effectively gets around Orcish Bowmasters, another amazing card in the format.
Our first Necropotence shell as shown above utilizes both of these cards. This deck is designed to play like a mono-black midrange deck, utilizing interaction like Thoughtseize and Fatal Push to stay alive. Cards like Orcish Bowmasters, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and even Professor Onyx act as win conditions. Meanwhile, Necropotence and Phyrexian Arena can pull you further ahead on cards.
As good as Necropotence is on turn three, it’s even better on turn one. Well, thanks to Dark Ritual, this is an easy play to achieve. Dark Ritual is a great inclusion in the mono-black midrange deck, but it’s perhaps even better in the more combo-centric Necropotence shells. Some players have decided to take a more all-in approach, using Tendrils of Agony as a win condition.Beseech the Mirror is a nice tool to help find Necropotence or Tendrils, especially because Demonic Tutor is one of the three Restricted cards. There doesn’t seem to be a complete consensus regarding how to build this deck. Some lists use more zero-mana Creatures to enable Phyrexian Tower. Some players splash green for Weather the Storm, which synergizes nicely with Necropotence, allowing you to pay a lot of life. There’s a lot of room for innovation, but one thing is for sure: Necropotence is a messed-up card.
Deathrite Shaman Shells
Another card that is exceptionally popular in Timeless thus far is Deathrite Shaman. As we stated, the elite one-drop is significantly better with Fetchlands in the mix, allowing the card to consistently tap for mana.
What makes the card so strong is that, unlike a typical mana dork, Deathrite Shaman has extra utility. It can remove problematic cards from opposing graveyards, such as Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, drain the opponent of their life over time, and more.
Speaking of Uro, some Deathrite Shaman decks are making use of the elite card-drawing threat. These decks generally function similarly to the four-color Omnath, Locus of Creation decks in Modern. Cards like Leyline Binding and Teferi, Time Raveler shine here too.
Still, there are some very notable upgrades in this format. We mentioned Uro, a card banned in Modern. Well, this deck makes use of another three-drop with the same mana cost: Oko, Thief of Crowns. Playing Oko on turn two off of Deathrite Shaman of Delighted Halfling is a great way to pull ahead. To help with consistency, players even get access to Brainstorm, a pillar of the Legacy format.
Of course, there are different avenues you can take to maximize Deathrite Shaman and Brainstorm. Some players have chosen to abandon Omnath and Leyline Binding and focus more on black as one of the primary colors. This allows for elite interaction and Orcish Bowmasters to join the mix. Each shell has its strengths and weaknesses, but both are powerful in their own right.
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Given that cards like Necropotence are extremely popular, it’s important to have a proactive gameplan. At the same time, it’s nice to be able to counter the Enchantment before it hits the board and can threaten to draw your opponent a ton of cards. This is where the Izzet tempo archetype comes into play. Cards like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dragon’s Rage Channeler allow you to get a front foot in the game.
From there, cards like Counterspell and Memory Lapse can keep the opponent off-balance while you put the pressure on. Lightning Bolt and Unholy Heat can answer pesky mana dorks, and Brainstorm can help find your Counterspells and removal.
This deck also utilizes Treasure Cruise, which was quickly banned in Modern and Legacy given how easy it was to fuel Delve with Fetchlands. Between Cruise, Brainstorm, and Ragavan as a one-toughness threat, this deck is fairly weak to Bowmasters, which likely prevents it from being quite as abundantly played as it otherwise could be.
What’s nice, though, is that the format is still continuing to evolve. It is still quite early, so there is plenty of time for players to adapt. There are also a ton of powerful decks beyond those mentioned here, including multiple Lurrus of the Dream-Den shells. If you enjoy wildly powerful and proactive formats, definitely give Timeless a whirl.