The Time Vault Archetype in Highlander

Welcome to the Time Vault deck archetype for 7 Point Highlander! This is an introductory article, where you will find all the resources you need to start playing Time Vault decks, and links for you to further explore its major variants in more detail.

A Summary of the Time Vault Archetype

Time Vault is such a powerful card that it has spawned a plethora of decks that hinge either partially or entirely on that namesake artifact. This has led to Time Vault retaining its place on the 4 Point list for many years, which has certainly not dissuaded players from exploring all that this iconic card has to offer. The first step to learning why Time Vault is so powerful is understanding the three pillars to an excellent combo;

  • There is minimal set-up: typical combo decks involve setting up the right environment to win, or assembling up to 3 different cards. Time Vault need only be paired with one other card (namely a repeatable ‘untap’ effect) in order to demonstrate a pseudo-infinite loop.
  • It wins the game: whilst this particular component sounds simple, many other combos allow you to simply leap ahead of your opponent or gain dramatic advantages. Instead, if you can repeatedly untap a Time Vault then the opponent has zero opportunity to ‘get back in the game’.
  • The overall cost in Mana is low: often, zero-point ‘two-card-combos’ involve large amounts of mana investment to win, whereas Time Vault is amongst the cheapest to assemble in the game.

Together, these factors make Time Vault one of the strongest, consistently performing, and popular Highlander deck archetypes in history.

Time Vault Deck Lists and Variations

Whilst all the decks that are featured below contain the namesake card Time Vault, you will soon discover that this archetype is among the most heterogeneous decks in Highlander. Time Vault lists span the range of pure Combo through to the full variety of hybrid styles which include Combo-Midrange, Combo-Control, Combo-Ramp, and Combo-Tempo. Despite the diverse approaches to playstyle (including speed, back-up plans, and when to deploy the key card itself), there are a handful of components that are consistently included across all variants; ‘untap’ effects, ‘tutors’ to find both halves of the combo, and ‘recursion’ to return the combo when an opponent answers it. In every instance Time Vault decks play Blue, as that particular colour presents a wide array of useful synergies with Time Vault as well as artifacts in general.

Time Vault Combo

To begin, let’s take a look at an example of a dedicated Combo version of the deck, before diving in to the wide range of Hybrid strategies that Time Vault has to offer. Below is a link to a winning Time Vault Combo list from 2020, which demonstrates the power and consistency of committing wholeheartedly to a Combo as the primary (and close to only) game plan. This linearity means that Time Vault Combo can assemble both halves faster than many other combo decks. It has the highest density of ‘tutor’ effects to find both halves, as well as a swath of protection in the form of hand disruption like Duress and counterspells such as Spell Pierce. Most notably, this interaction is incredibly mana efficient, allowing the Time Vault Combo deck to maintain a low curve, trim on mana sources, and therefore have a high chance to present and protect its combo before other decks can establish their own game plans.

Whilst powerful, this linearity is also an inherent weakness, making Time Vault Combo susceptible to pinpoint answers from opponent sideboards such as Stony Silence, Null Rod, and Collector Ouphe. Whilst there is the occasional secondary game plan in the form of an unanswered Monastery Mentor, in general Time Vault Combo focusses on pushing through the primary plan by answering ‘hate’ cards via spells like Perilous Voyage, Wear//Tear, and Abrade.

Deck ListTime Vault Combo

In addition there is a video primer available, which covers the key groupings of cards and touches on the fundamental aspects of the Time Vault Combo playstyle. You can watch it the pre-game discussion of the following feature match, spooled up to the right time point here:

The next two variations of the Time Vault archetype are both popular hybrid strategies: Combo-Control and Combo-Tempo. In both instances there is a natural partnership between counterspells protecting a combo, and counterspells enacting an alternate game plan.

Time Vault Combo-Control

In Time Vault Combo-Control, the alternate strategy is to buy time through the early game with removal spells from your second colour (such as Fatal Push in Black, or Lightning Bolt in Red) in order to stabilise for the late game, where your powerful spells like Mystic Confluence and Torrential Gearhulk allow you to dominate a fair matchup. This is the crux of a Control Strategy, and the advantage of incorporating the Time Vault Combo into it is to address one of Control’s weaknesses: needing to eke out every little advantage in order to safely navigate a fair match. A control deck often walks a dangerous tightrope as it attempts to recognise which threats are important, when to use valuable answers, and of course when to take risks. When a control deck wins it often looks to be far ahead, but all of that advantage comes from incremental small but critical decisions, and a single wrong move can snowball into a situation where the Control deck is so far behind that it can never effectively get back in the game. Time Vault Combo-Control mitigates that factor, because no matter how far behind you are, the deck always offers the opportunity to win the game by assembling two cards.

Time Vault Combo-Control can be found in a variety of colours; wherever Control exists, a viable Time Vault Combo-Control deck will not be far behind. However one of the most popular is Izzet (Blue-Red) for two reasons; 1) the artifact synergies that Red has to offer, and; 2) the established powerful control shell Blue Moon. The latter combines early removal spells like Chain Lightning and ‘sweepers’ such as Sweltering Suns to handle early aggression from Midrange, Aggro, and Tempo decks, with an important ‘prison’ element (Blood Moon) that prevents opposing decks from leveraging their cards in the mid-to-late game. Take a look at the list below for a great example of an effective Time Vault Combo-Control deck in these colours:

Deck List – Time Vault Combo-Control

A similar prison element can be found in the other Blue-Red Time Vault hybrid deck that we’ll be exploring next.

Time Vault Combo-Tempo

Time Vault Combo-Tempo uses similar tools as Combo-Control, but leverages them in a very different context: dominating the mid-game through efficient tempo-plays. Cheap counterspells like Spell Pierce are not only effective at protecting Time Vault, but also allow you to ride a threat like Pestermite to victory without ever having to assemble the combo. Although these decks tend to have a glut of 3-mana threats, players often find that in practice you will pass the turn with mana available, operate on the end step, or build up resources until you feel it is safe to ‘go off’ (making a cluster of 3’s a little less relevant). Likewise, according to the matchup it is often just as effective to deploy back-to-back threats each turn with progressively more mana for counterspells to ensure one sticks and you can ride it to victory. This gives Time Vault Combo-Control somewhat of a Protect the Queen element.

When the going gets tough however, Time Vault Combo-Tempo gives you the option to win out of nowhere not just via the namesake, but with a creature-based combo in the form of Splinter Twin (when assembled with either Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch you can win via an army of hasted clones). A card like Imperial Recruiter that is traditionally reserved for finding similar combo pieces like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker also pulls double-duty in these lists by tutoring up Voltaic Servant or Tribute Mage (in order to consistently have access to Time Vault) all while also generating board presence. Although this variant does look to generate board presence, you will find your threats can often get outclassed by larger Midrange creatures, so prioritise protecting your flying creatures and don’t be afraid to chump block with your creature-tutors (Imperial Recruiter, Tribute, and Trinket Mages). Not only do evasive threats give the deck ‘reach’ when the opponent has stabilised, but even a ‘useless’ Manifold Key pulls double-duty in this variant by allowing you to push creatures through a stalled battlefield.

Last but not least, the synergy between Pestermite, Deceiver Exarch, and Zealous Conscripts in untapping the namesake card to net you a single extra turn cannot be understated in your Tempo plan. Given that the weakness of these archetypes is going too late into the game against powerful Control and Midrange decks, the ability to gain a Time Warp-effect to push a little extra damage (and perhaps finishing the game with a ‘burn’ spell) is sometimes the difference between winning and losing. Likewise, even if it will expose your Time Vault to removal when the opponent untaps, don’t be afraid to use Saheeli Sublime Artificer to make a token into a Time Vault once (or any other of your ‘one shot untap’ options for that matter) to simply jump ahead of your opponent with a single bonus turn. That combined with the mana that your opponent has to spend to answer the namesake card will often have allowed you to gain significant amounts of tempo, and for this variant Tempo is the name of the game!

Deck List – Time Vault Combo-Tempo

On a completely different note, Time Vault can also be found in another hybrid archetype: Combo-Ramp.

Time Vault Combo-Ramp

There is a natural synergy between effects that untap artifacts, artifacts that tap for more than one mana, and popular colourless Ramp threats. For example, when your Voltaic Key doesn’t have a Time Vault to target, often untapping a Grim Monolith to deploy an Ugin planeswalker earlier than usual is just enough to set up a dominant board position. This leads Time Vault Combo-Ramp to play a subset of popular cards from the Artifact Ramp Archetype. The decklist below provides an excellent example of this approach to building a Time Vault deck. To the untrained eye you may be mistaken for a Dimir (Blue-Black) control deck, leading opponents to fear a counterspell on their key threat (leading them to play too cautiously). But by forgoing Counterspell and co. this deck can surprise opponents with a Grim Monolith suddenly deploying an Ugin the Ineffable, a sideboard Wurmcoil Engine, or Karn the Great Creator into Mycosynth Lattice.

Deck List – Time Vault Combo-Ramp

The last variant approaches Time Vault with yet another diverse perspective, this time ensconcing the namesake card within a powerful Midrange shell.

Time Vault Combo-Midrange

In this article, each variant has been sequenced approximately according to the degree to which they rely on the combo (from most to least), with Time Vault Combo-Midrange representing the least-dependant on its namesake card to win. By building a reliable Bant (Green-White-Blue) Midrange deck that happens to feature Time Vault as a win condition, it ensures that if your key card is exiled by Force of Negation, or your opponent over-sideboards against the combo by bringing in all of their artifact ‘hate’ cards, you are not only still able to win the game, but you will actually thrive. Bant Midrange is already an established powerhouse of ‘fair’ Magic, able to win by leaping ahead on mana production with Llanowar Elves effects in order to deploy aggressively costed creatures or out-value the opponent with card advantage engines (e.g. Skullclamp). Therefore Time Vault Combo-Midrange borrows some of the best elements of the Equipment-based Midrange archetype.

The important aspect of this approach is the intersection between combo and midrange. When including cards that untap, tutor for, or recur Time Vault, one must be careful not to lose the best part of the Midrange strategy. For example, there is a distinct cost to drawing Voltaic Key when what you really needed was another creature to pressure the opponent’s life total (because you haven’t drawn Time Vault yet). On the upside, when thinking critically about which components to include, you will find that the best cards sit at an intersection of both halves of the deck. For example, Chord of Calling provides you access to both Time Vault (via Tribute Mage) and creatures that untap it. The same card can also be used to bolster your Midrange plan by finding Skyclave Apparition, Questing Beast, Titania, and other flexible and powerful threats according to the game state, with the Instant speed and Convoke aspects mitigating any perception of inefficiency. In the end, Time Vault Combo-Midrange combines a proactive game plan where you are ‘asking the question’ of the opponent, allowing you to capitalise on stumbles if they occur, or pivoting flexibly into either the beatdown or ‘stall and dig to combo’ plan according to your role in a given matchup.

Deck List – Time Vault Combo-Midrange

As you can see, Time Vault decks hold a prestigious position as one of the most heterogeneous combo archetypes in Highlander history!

Highlander Time Vault Video Content:

Compiled below are links to some excellent YouTube resources that can help you see versions of the Time Vault deck archetype in action.

Watch this video to see a dedicated Time Vault Combo deck in action:

After winning that event, Time Vault Combo returns again in the subsequent tournament:

Watch this video of Time Vault Combo-Tempo to see a good example how a hybrid deck can win in different ways:

Last but not least, check out the power of cards like Tezzeret the Seeker in this video featuring Time Vault Combo-Control:

Enjoy!

Where to next?

Did Time Vault fit the kind of deck archetype you’re looking for? Want to know more about other dedicated Combo decks? Visit the Combo hub here.

Some of the decks featured above also contain a control sub-theme. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Control decks or those that have a control element to them, visit the Control hub here.

Although predominantly a Combo deck, Time Vault deck archetypes sometimes involve a Ramp sub-theme to power out large artifact or colourless threats that can also win the game. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Ramp decks or those with a Ramp element to them, visit the Ramp hub here.

Did Name Name fit the kind of deck archetype you’re looking for? Want to know more about other Midrange deck

As you’ve now seen, Time Vault decks can also allow their combo to play a secondary role, instead relying on a proactive Midrange or Tempo plan to win the game, or keep their opponent off-balance long enough to assemble the combo. If you’d like to know more about dedicated Midrange and Tempo decks or those that contain one of these elements to them, you can visit the Midrange hub here or you can visit the Tempo hub here.

Dr Sarven McLinton

Sarven has been playing Magic the Gathering since Stronghold (1998) and is on The Highlander Points Committee. He is well-versed in a wide variety of deck archetypes but remains an avid student of the game. Sarven is a passionate writer and seeks to apply his extensive experience in research and statistics to gaming. By day, 'Dr McLinton' works as a Research Associate at the Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX) managing various projects investigating psychosocial factors at work, as well as lecturing Psychology Honours and supervising PhD candidates. By night, 'McLinton Sensei' teaches traditional Japanese Karate in South Australia's premiere sporting centre, the ARC Campbelltown. He holds a 4th-degree black belt and is a gold medalist, competing both nationally and internationally in Karate and Open-style contact tournaments.