Teferi, Hero of Dominaria has solidified itself as the kingpin of Standard. There's an array of powerful decks to choose from, but Esper Control remains at the head of the fleet with a handful of planeswalkers steering the ship. The community realized the power of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria early, with many nonbelievers complaining that the card is too powerful. Those complaints subsided as control was difficult to justify without the assistance of Godless Shrine and Hallowed Fountain.
With perfect mana, reasonable removal, disruption, and card advantage, we're back to pitchforks and torches. And it's about to get worse for those who do not enjoy the game as Richard Garfield intended, playing as few win conditions as possible and prompting concession after all hopes (and spells) are lost.
War of the Spark has gifted the control faithful a plethora of new weapons, but only one has immediate dedicated slots in the upcoming Standard. Teferi, Time Raveler joins the Esper Control team without hesitation, filling the role that Kaya, Orzhov Usurper had.
At first, Kaya, Orzhov Usurper was the least painful win condition in case of a Nexus of Fate standoff in Game 1. It turned out that the lukewarm planeswalker was much better than many of us initially thought, but it's still quite weak in the grand scheme of Standard. There are some matchups where it's a complete dud, others where it can be a slight annoyance, and only a few where we actively want to have access to it.
Teferi, Time Raveler is miles ahead of its competition in terms of power level and utility. I was concerned at first with a static ability replacing a loyalty ability, but Teferi, Time Raveler has one that demands answers from many decks in the format. If you thought Kaya, Orzhov Usurper was great, look at the reaction of your Mono-Blue Aggro opponents as they can't use any of their Dive Downs, counterspells, or even flash creatures on your turn. The fear we have playing against the control-killing tempo deck of the format could be eradicated with the resolution of a planeswalker that immediately goes to five loyalty or bounces their lone threat they cast the turn before.
It feels like just yesterday I made the Top 8 of US Nationals with my Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir control deck. Back in my day, I walked fifteen miles through the snow to get a static ability that prevented my opponents from playing Magic on my turn! (It was five mana, but you get the point.) The game has sped up in power level and this set is the exemplar of this new ramped-up world we live in. People may underestimate the power of only sorcery-speed play for their opponents, but I won't. Starting on the third turn, Teferi, Time Raveler can destroy a gameplan of any foe in Standard by simply existing.
There's more text on Teferi, Time Raveler than just the freebie first line, though. The first loyalty ability is reminiscent of Quicken, which I, of course, played extensively. Quicken wasn't the greatest for a few reasons, the main one being control was horrifically bad back then. That was the format with Owling Mine and Gruul Aggro, which both mashed my attempt at being cute with instant-speed battlefield sweepers. As mentioned, we live in a new world now and control is back on top. When control is successful, there are some key sorcery spells involved. The most impactful sorcery we actively use is Kaya's Wrath. There are some tantalizing other battlefield sweepers in War of the Spark but any choice we make will create the same result. Destroying all our opponent's creatures on their turn is a powerful option to unlock and I can't wait for some of the new players to experience their first Rout.
Often, we are forced to use Kaya's Wrath to avoid destruction and our opponents take full advantage of us having zero remaining mana for their shenanigans. This scenario will reduce in frequency when we can pass the turn, see how they attack, and make the determination if the mass removal spell is necessary. Teferi, Time Raveler doesn't even limit us to one flash sorcery spell. The first loyalty ability gives us free rein to hit them with a Thought Erasure in the draw step and then Cry of the Carnarium after they cast a Legion's Landing for the complete blowout. This is just one example of what Teferi, Time Raveler can do with what seems like an underpowered loyalty ability. There are always some sweet sorcery spells in the sideboard and War of the Spark may have additional options that we would have normally been hesitant about adding before.
If your control brains work in a similar fashion as mine, you immediately looked to see if this planeswalker drew cards. Luckily for all interested parties, Teferi, Time Raveler did not disappoint. I cannot believe that the last loyalty ability not only protects itself against threats, but it also replaces itself in case of a tragic, sudden death. Like the five-mana version, Teferi, Time Raveler can also answer pesky artifacts and enchantments. The utility in this three-mana planeswalker is astonishing, giving us quite the upgrade from the last two printed. Teferi, Time Raveler may not win the game on its own, but it does fit perfectly into the curve of new Esper or Azorius Control.
War of the Spark also produced one of the strongest early creatures that control has had in years past. Augur of Bolas hasn't received much hype since it was previewed but may secretly be the best card in the new set for the control community. When developing a battle plan against aggressive decks, often we find ourselves frantically deploying spot removal to stay alive. For those of you who enjoyed the Mythic Invitational over the weekend, you may remember some of the strongest Esper Control hands full of removal being wiped out by Mono-White Aggro easily. There's no stronger play prior to a Kaya's Wrath than a 1/3 blocker, followed by our new planeswalker champion and ending with a Kaya's Wrath on their turn. This series of plays will be part of the norm in War of the Spark Standard and I can't wait to live it.
Having a two-drop creature that digs for the perfect spells is something we have lacked for quite some time. Getting the blue support spells against the mirror, removal against aggro, and a combination of those in between, is an aspect of control that's very tough to defeat. Augur of Bolas adds consistency to the early-game instead of a dependence on drawing the "right half of the deck." This plus is only amplified by Teferi, Time Raveler and the threatening presence it provides upon resolution. The beautiful series against aggro was discussed above, but there are many other avenues that put the pressure on all archetypes.
Once we determine the matchup and understand that Teferi, Time Raveler is resolving the next turn, Turn 2 becomes crucial in War of the Spark Standard. Search for Azcanta is still a great play much of the time, especially when there are no threats on the battlefield yet. If you know your opponent will drop a creature or two prior to the arrival of Teferi, Time Raveler, a simple removal spell and the second loyalty ability is enough to keep the battlefield clean. It will be very tough for most decks to apply enough early pressure to wipe out Teferi, Time Raveler on the third turn, making it one of the sturdiest I've seen since Liliana, the Last Hope. The bounce ability drops it down to one loyalty, but at that point the card has done its job and will continue to be a thorn in the side of most opponents.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Teferi, Time Raveler work beautifully together in any control shell. The four-mana slot is clogged with optimal card draw, battlefield sweepers, and removal that answers most threats. When looking at the three- and five-slots, there isn't as much competition, making both planeswalkers integrate into control smoothly. When both are active, opponents are losing multiple permanents, card advantage is flowing, and only one player can play cards at flash speed. This combination will further antagonize players that are infuriated by control's method of victory.
Unfortunately for them, I don't see any metagame shift that will push Esper or Azorius Control out of first-place contention. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is too powerful, as it acts as the sole win condition of most control decks. Once it's joined by a strong early-game creature and its three-mana self, the range of games that used to be out of reach for control will shrink.