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Evolution of Magic: The Roller Coaster called Time Vault

An article ranking the Top 50 artifacts back in 2005 has been making the rounds recently. Some people were surprised that time vault only made 50th. I then realized that it's been several years since time vault received its current oracle wording. 2008 if I recall correctly. A lot of people probably look at time vault's current and original wording and figure that time vault was always this broken combo piece.

Time Vault [LEA] Time Vault [VMA]

Come sit and listen to the story of time vault, the card with the unofficial record for going through the most functional erratas and for going from broken to complete shit to broken again the most often.

The Birth of Time Vault (1993)

Power Level: Debatable, but probably broken.

It all started with a cute little idea. What if you could give up a turn now to get an extra turn later on? Fun, cute, mostly harmless. The problem was in the execution. It's still debated whether time vault was born out of lack of foresight, or the result of poor templating common in Alpha cards. I wasn't personally playing when Alpha was released, but I imagine a lot of people must have argued over whether or not you could twiddle it for free turns. Take the phrase "to untap it, you must skip a turn." Does that mean "to untap it normally, you must skip a turn" or "regardless of what would cause it to untap, if you want to untap it, you have to skip a turn." The first interpretation always seemed like the correct one to me and I guess that ended up being the general consensus, because they ended up restricting it in January 1994. That still wasn't enough! In March 1994, it became the first card to be banned for power level reasons. Even black lotus and ancestral recall have always been playable in at least one format!

Twiddle [LEA] Animate Artifact [LEA] Instill Energy [LEA]

Note: Like most, I used and will keep using twiddle as a convenient and easy to understand way to abuse time vault. In reality though, the problem wasn't twiddle, it was animate artifact + instill energy!

The First of Many (1996)

Power Level: Waste of cardboard.

In 1996, someone figured that the best thing to do was to fix time vault in order to make it legal again. Obviously, Garfield never meant for time vault to combo with twiddle! So came the first of many errata. Here was the announcement:

Time Vault is reworded as follows to restore the card to its original intent:
"Does not untap as normal. If Time Vault is tapped and does not have a time counter, you may skip your turn to untap Time Vault and put a time counter on it. {tap}: Remove the time counter from Time Vault to take an additional turn immediately before the next normal turn."

And so began the era of time counters and unplayable time vaults. In this version, twiddle on time vault doesn't get you anywhere because you need a time counter and you can only get a time counter by skipping a turn. There's another interesting bit about this new errata though. In the original version, it was implied that you would skip a turn to untap it during your untap step. With this, you can untap it any time you want as often as you want! Not all that relevant... for now!

Polishing the Turd (1998 and 2004)

Power Level: Useless.

The 1998 and 2004 errata aren't all that interesting. In fact, I can't even find the 1998 errata. Basically, they just polished the wording on the 1996 errata to keep it up to date with the latest templating. The 2004 oracle text read:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
Skip your next turn: Untap time vault and put a time counter on it.
{tap}, Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability if only there's a time counter on Time Vault.

Look at all that modern wording!

Abusing the Errata (October 2005)

Power Level: Format defining in Legacy and Vintage!

Oddly enough, the first combo to break time vault since its errata in 1996 wasn't an infinite turn combo. It was an infinite damage combo that couldn't care less about the extra turns (or 90% of time vault's text for that matter). All it cared about was that little oddity in the errata I pointed out earlier. time vault can untap for no mana as often as you want.

Flame Fusillade [RAV]

In October 2005, Ravnica was released. Most people remember Ravnica for introducing the guilds, the shocklands and for being one of the best set to bless Standard. Legacy and Vintage players will remember it for flame fusillade. Skip your next turn, untap time vault, tap time vault to deal 1, rinse, repeat. Who cares if you skip your next 20 turns when your opponent dies on this one? Remember that at the time, time vault was not restricted in Vintage, nor banned in Legacy, because it was pretty much shit prior to this combo. After years as a crap rare, time vault was once again a broken combo piece, in a very unexpected way.

Fuck you Legacy Players! (March 2006)

Power Level: Worse waste of hundreds of dollars!

So what happened after all the Legacy and Vintage players dropped a fortune on a whole playset of an incredibly rare ABU card? WotC produces another errata of course! Once again, under the guise of restoring its intended functionality, we get:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
At the beginning of your upkeep you may untap Time Vault. If you do put a time counter on it and you skip your next turn.
{tap} Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability only if there's a time counter on Time Vault.

Yeah, they really liked their time counters! Except this time, no infinite untaps. You only get to untap once during your upkeep. That didn't go over too well with the people who had now wasted a shit load of money on time vaults! A lot of people complained and asked why would WotC kept giving time vault power level errata when they were also trying to restore old cards to their original functionalities!

False Promises (July 2006)

Power level: Janky combo with Mizzium Transreliquat.

After the outbursts, Aaron Forsythe wrote an article about how they had listened to the community and were getting rid of power level erratas, and then ended the article with a huge "PSYKE! Can't believe you fell for that!":

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
If Time Vault would become untapped, instead choose one -- untap Time Vault and you skip your next turn or Time Vault remains tapped.
{tap}: Take an extra turn after this one.

Yeah, that didn't go over too well with most people either. When asked about it, Aaron used the excuse that this understanding of the original card was equally valid and that even Garfield didn't remember what he intended with the original card.

Mizzium Transreliquat [GPT]
At least it combos with Mizzium Transreliquat!

Full Circle (2008)

Power Level: More broken than ever!

Like most roller coasters, this one ends where it began. WotC finally caved in, removed all power level errata from the card, restricted it in Vintage (flashbacks to Jan 1994) and banned it in Legacy (flashbacks to March 1994).

Time Vault [VMA]

And this is the story of the many ups and down of time vault and how power level errata can go wrong.

- Filobel

Reprinted with permission from reddit.

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