Patriot Games

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Limited Understanding

So Return to Ravnica pre-release was nuts.  21 Rounds of MTG over 50 hours from Friday night till Sunday night.  As a result the whole blog thing has been skewed somewhat.  Here is the blog that you should have got on Friday by Mike Radford, a big thank you to Mike for all his efforts and sorry it is so late.  This is particularly relevant as we have rolling pods of draft going on all weekend to celebrate the launch of Return to Ravnica.
Card evaluation is one of the most important skills in Magic and nowhere is this truer than in limited.  With all the advice in the world, you only have seconds to make a decision while drafting as opposed to the days you have before finalising a constructed deck.  When do you take removal over a creature?  How highly do you value mana fixing?  What exactly is a curve anyway?  Hopefully, I can answer some of these questions and this can serve as your introduction to drafting.
Loxodon Smiter
Beware big elephants with big hammers!

In this article I’m going to assume a few things.  I know this blog is for the Relax crowd but I assume that anyone reading this will know enough about Magic that, for example, you know a pure life-gain spell is not a playable card. 

Angel's Mercy
This is a really bad card - no matter how many times it gets printed!

I will assume you know that a card that says “deal 3 damage to target creature or player” almost always translates to “deal 3 damage to target creature.”  If not, well, you learned something already!

So assuming that you know the mechanics of a draft (take a card, pass the pack around – pretty simple in theory), lets get down to the specifics.  Card evaluation is something that has to be honed and practised.  Like most things in Magic, there a are few shortcuts – pure life-gain is bad, for example – but oftentimes these are only guidelines and not rules.  Even then, context plays a big role; life-gain is bad, but in the right deck, Gnaw to the Bone was fine in Innistrad limited.

Angel's Mercy
Seriously this is such a bad card - never put it in your deck, ever!

The key phrase here is “in the right deck.”  It can be tempting in limited to just jam together a bunch of cards that feel powerful but this approach is largely luck-based: if you end up with a bunch of powerful but expensive five drops in your deck, you can easily just lose before their power takes over if you can’t stall your opponent.  If you’re trying to win with big powerful spells or creatures in a long game, it’s important that you build your deck with that in mind and have some good blockers in the early game, paired with solid removal.

Ultimate Price
The latest in "solid" removal from Return to Ravnica.

This is about synergy, but a huge part of that is your mana curve.  Limited can sound complicated and scary for a new player, but often it can be quite straightforward.  One of the most reliable ways to win is to “curve out” – to play a creature every turn.  In this scenario, if your opponent stumbles it’s likely that he never recovers and loses to superior numbers if he doesn't have a sweeper or a game-changing bomb.  

Isperia, Supreme Judge
Hi, I'm Isperia, I'll be your game changing bomb for this evening...

That might seem like more luck, but you can build your deck to improve the chances of that happening.  If you have plenty of low-cost spells you’re obviously more likely to draw them early.  Like I said, Limited can be pretty simple at times.

What a good curve looks like varies wildly from deck-to-deck and format-to-format.  If you just want to cave people’s faces in with creatures, taking two and three casting cost dudes is hugely important.  This means that sometimes you will need to pick Mogg Flunkies over Fire Elemental in M13 because you just don’t need five-drops in your aggressive deck.  When you’re picking cards in the draft portion you should always have this in mind.  Early in the draft it’s fine to take the most powerful card, but at some point you need to stop and say “which of these fits my deck better?”

Good removal – Searing Spear, Murder, Pacifism should be taken over everything except game-winning bombs.  In fact, when you know what your colours are you will likely take removal over off-colour bombs that aren’t splashable.  For example, lets say your going into pack three of a draft and your main colours are black and red and you have no white cards.  You open a pack with Captain of the Watch and Murder: what should you pick?  Hopefully it’s obvious by now – you slam the murder and be happy that you have one of the best spells in the format.

Doesn't care what rank you are just kills you!

Murder is pretty obvious because it kills everything for a reasonably cheap price, but what about something like Turn to Slag?  In Scars block draft it was a relatively high pick due to the abundance of equipment making the upside a genuine consideration.  In M13, though, it’s mostly just a slow removal that eventually kills just about anything and occasionally blows out your ring-wielding opponent.

My original intention was to go into a few examples that often trip up newer players, but this is already 800 words and we’ve barely scratched the surface of a complicated topic.  If this goes down well, I’ll get the specific examples out there so until next time… pick removal high, try and stick to two colours, and don’t draft Mind Sculpts!

The second half of Mike's article on playing limited will be on the blog on Friday, barring disasters.

Before I go as this should have been here Monday I need to put up my deck list for extended this Friday (5th October 2012).

It is traditional for players to "play safe" on the day of release as everything is up in the air and no one has told them what to think yet.  This normally results in people playing Red Deck Wins (RDW) as there is a good chance it will do what it says on the tin.  I have a different default setting - that being if in doubt play the Eldrazi, so that is what I am going to do.  I will be putting the new Jace in the main deck (if I have any) and Tamiyo, the moon sage may have to go in the sideboard.  Here is the list - look forward to seeing you there...

4 Misty Rain forest
4 Eldrazi Temple
1 Eye of Ugin
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Verdant Catacomb
1 Overgrown Tomb
25 Lands

1 Kozilek, the Butcher of Truth
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Ulamog, The Infinite Gyre
4 Lotus Cobra
2 Primeval Titan
4 Birds Of Paradise
3 Fauna Shaman
3 Oracle of Mul Daya
1 Conundrum Shinx
1 Griselbrand
21 Creatures

1 Tamiyo, the moon sage
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Time Warp
1 Temporal Mastery
2 Swiftfoot Boots
4 Explore
1 Omniscience
2 Genesis Wave
14 Spells


3 Spellskite
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Vengevine
1 Time Reversal
1 Tamiyo, the moon sage
1 Temporal Mastery 
1 Genesis Wave
1 Jace's Archivist
1 Green Sun's Zenith
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter

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