3 Critical Lessons for Limited

Over the past year of writing I’ve often thought up an idea to write about but then realized I only wanted 200-300 words to discuss it. So I’d write it down and over time this list grew and grew. Today, I’ve selected some of these ideas and wrapped them into a grab bag article. This doesn’t include everything I’ve written down though, so if the article appeals to you (or doesn’t), let me know in the comments for the future.

When Should You Abandon Your First Pick?

On the surface, this question seems straightforward but is actually complicated in practice. The first step is being able to give up your first pick in draft. Take that powerful bomb, but be willing to let it go if that color is clearly being cut above you. Of course, there are some exceptions. If the set has particularly high power level bombs relative to the other cards in the format, you’ll be much more incentivized to try and play your first pick. I’m looking at you, Fate Reforged.

Similarly, if the format is one where decks have a harder time getting enough playables, you’ll want to play your first pick more often. If you waffle more in those formats, you’ll have trouble finding suitable 19th-23rd playables. The good news here is that these formats haven’t come about recently. Perhaps the closest example would be Magic Origins where the disparity in power level between good early picks and average filler was very large.

As another example, this past weekend at GPNY I participated and helped host the Sunday VIP draft. I ended up doing a super sweet 4-pack draft of SOI. Because of that extra pack, I had a longer time to find the open archetype in my seat and to draft a super streamlined version of the deck. Well, that’s what I should have done, but I forced UR spells because I was there to have fun more than anything else (which I had plenty of!). The idea is that contextual circumstances should determine how much you should force your first pick, but that it’s generally wrong to do so.

Do I Take the Good 5-Drop or this 2-Drop for My Curve?

This is an age-old question when it comes to drafting, and the answer changes a lot depending on what part of the draft you’re in. Common wisdom advises that you take the 2-drop early since you’ll have more chances to take a good 5-drop later, and you simply can’t play too many 5s without making your deck clunky. Of course, the better the 5-drop and the worse the 2-drop, the more you’re incentivized to take the more powerful option. Let’s run through a few examples:

Pack 1, pick 3 after picking Rattlechains and Murderous Compulsion: Stormrider Spirit vs. Daring Sleuth

Daring Sleuth is fine but by no means amazing, and you don’t have any investigate cards yet, though that’s not particularly surprising at pick 3. Stormrider Spirit is also fine but replaceable. Additionally, if you end up in UB, which is anything but a foregone conclusion after 2 picks, you want to be on the lookout for madness cards since that’s a major theme of the archetype. Ghoulsteed and Twins of Maurer Estate are both more powerful 5-drops for the deck, and again you don’t want to be overloaded on 5-drops. For this reason this is an easy Daring Sleuth.

Even if you end up in a different blue archetype, starting with two 2-drops gives you a lot of flexibility later in the draft and you can also prioritize investigate spells slightly higher with a Daring Sleuth already in your draft pile.

Pack 1, pick 8 in a solidly open GW seat: Moorland Drifter vs. Inspiring Captain after taking:

You’ve already got a Lambholt Pacifist and an Intrepid Provisioner so, all things being equal, this pick looks like it comes down to power level. Because of that, this pick looks like an easy Inspiring Captain. GW is about flooding the board with creatures and pumping them all. The Captain does both those things at the same time—it’s perfect! Except that’s not exactly true. Within archetypes of formats, certain mana slots are clogged with good cards, which means that normally excellent cards become much more replacement level. In GW at the 4-drop slot, you have access to Inspiring Captain, Intrepid Provisioner, Solitary Hunter, Briarbridge Patrol, Avacynian Missionaries, Apothecary Geist, Nearheath Chaplain, and Pack Guardian. While the good half of these are better than the others, they are all quite serviceable and you can see why it’s easy to get clogged at the 4 slot.

Now contrast this with the available 2-drops in GW: Devilthorn Fox, Moorland Drifter, Unruly Mob, Vessel of Ephemera, Duskwatch Recruiter, Hinterland Logger, Lambholt Pacifist, Moldgraf Scavenger, Obsessive Skinner, Quilled Wolf, and Veteran Cathar. Of these, I really don’t want to run the Scavenger or the Unruly Mob (since I think that card is just bad overall, and doesn’t attack well early). So you have eight 4-drops versus nine 2-drops you can play. You want to run way more 2-drops than 4-drops, and to ensure your mana curve doesn’t get too clunky, you should simply take the Moorland Drifter over the more impressive Inspiring Captain. In aggressive decks like GW, this is even more true since you have to apply early pressure or you’ll lose to more powerful spells.

Pack 3, pick 3 in GB delirium: Moldgraf Scavenger vs. Morkrut Necropod

GB actually has more good 2s than a lot of the other color combinations and you’ve been prioritizing them for the opportunity to take more powerful high drops later. Now’s your chance—grab that Necropod!

Multicolored Cycles Indicate Themes

This is a pretty self explanatory idea, but Wizards R&D seeds multicolored cards, usually uncommon cycles, into sets to help guide drafters. If you’re ever unsure what an archetype is about, this can be a good indication, though remember that more linear archetypes will be signaled harder than more fluid and variable archetypes. In SOI these multicolored cards are single colored with off-color activations. Veteran Cathar points heavily to an aggressive GW shell. Ongoing Investigation points to Clues, attacking, trading, and getting value off creatures that die… a lot more going on there to be sure. But more importantly, it’s a starting point. I found early in the format that I was durdling way too hard with UG decks and losing. Then I started attacking more, and things started going better for me. Ongoing Investigation points more to that style of deck since I can profit more off both sides of the card, which is merely a sign of the bigger picture.

What the uncommon cycles often won’t do is point to subthemes within a set that you can find through experience and exploration of the format. Take Drana’s Emissary from BFZ. It points to the WB themes of Allies and life gain, but WB can actually be an awaken control deck a good amount of the time. Through cards like Sheer Drop, Mire’s Malice, and Ondu Rising, the deck can trade off early then start amassing 2-for-1s through expensive awaken spells to win the game. Drana’s Emissary has nothing to do with that plan so although the multicolored cycles help guide you, use them as a little instruction manual to get started, but explore other options that don’t necessarily feel connected on first glance.

TL;DR

• The better your rare, the more you should try to draft with it, but don’t force it. Stay open longer in formats with more playables than those you’re scrounging for your 21st-23rd cards.

• Taking cheap creatures early to open yourself up for better expensive cards later is a good common practice. But be sure to look at the context of mana curves for the archetypes as certain slots can get clogged within color combinations.

• Multicolored cycles help indicate the baseline archetypes but they don’t define the full range of ideas present within those color combinations.

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