If someone were to ask you what a “rogue strategy” is in Magic you’d likely describe a player who is interested in home brews or adding unexpected twists to a known deck. These unique decks are usually built to attack metagames in Constructed, but that task is easier said than done. Many articles have been written about the perils of brewing gone wrong and how to avoid traps. Yet rogue strategies can lead to the most resounding successes. Simply look back to PT Paris where Caw-Blade took the world by storm and you’ll see the benefits of a successful rogue strategy.
Going rogue in Limited takes the same concepts of Constructed deckbuilding but instead uses the card pool of Limited as a tool rather than a limitation. I wrote in my DTK 5-color Dragon Green article about using the archetype as an exit strategy when the draft isn’t going your way and you’re being pushed out of tried-and-true linear archetypes. Using cards in new flexible ways or incorporating under-utilized cards can open up new doors to stranger looking decks that can actually be the perfect weapon for taking down a draft. Today I’ll guide you through the instances where going rogue makes sense and what conditions are necessary for success.
Making Use of “Bad” Cards
In most formats there will be a hierarchy of the archetypes ranging on a spectrum from good to bad. Usually, this spectrum is somewhat narrow, in that the worst archetype isn’t that far off from the best one. DTK is a perfect example of this. I certainly wouldn’t want to go into the draft hoping to end up with a GW deck, but it isn’t that far behind UB and RB. When this is the case, looking at cards people dismiss as bad or unplayable can open avenues to a successful deck.
Early in the format, very few people were taking Dromoka’s Gift. I think this is partly due to experience with its worse cousin Cached Defenses and players don’t want to fall into the same trap twice. Even I was skeptical of Dromoka’s Gift but after seeing it cast once or twice I couldn’t deny that it was much better than I thought it was at first glance. It’s very important to reexamine cards as your experience grows and utilizing unwanted cards is one of the greatest strengths you can develop as a drafter.
Going even deeper, Inspiring Call looks to be completely unplayable, but in the right deck it is an absolute monster and can be GW’s best card. Would I look to take the card early and move into the deck? Absolutely not. But I’d look at the card in the context of other cards I’ve drafted. High variance cards often get the unfair reputation of being a “new player” card, since a newer player will only think of the card under ideal settings. Experienced players pride themselves on removing these types of cards from their decks because the cards are seen as traps, but do so even when it’s correct to include them! Think of the floor and ceiling of the card in combination with the surrounding cards in your deck and then decide if its inclusion is warranted.
Playing the Bad Deck of the Format
I mentioned that there is often a tight power discrepancy between the archetypes within a given format but that is not always the case. If we take a look back at M14, it’s clear that white as a color was borderline playable. It was so bad I remember often passing Serra Angel in my opening packs even when it was so much better than the next best card in the other colors because I just really didn’t want to draft white. I took part of the collective mindset on the format that you would just have a higher win percentage if you didn’t touch a white card. Raphael Levy defied this logic and was known to consistently draft WR all-in aggressive decks with Suntail Hawks and Fortify to close the game quickly while everyone else spent their time casting the best common in the set, Divination.
The format had grown inbred to the point where an unplayable deck could actually succeed. White cards didn’t suddenly get better, but it could win games based on the logic that everyone else thought it couldn’t. I’ve seen this happen again to some extent in MM15. The WR double strike deck has gotten a lot of flak, mostly due to the fact that it is quite bad. I have seen Hearthfire Hobgoblins and Boros Swiftblades continuously wheeling from packs, which makes me more and more likely to jump back in on the deck despite poor performance with early iterations of the deck. One of the coolest things about draft is that it is self correcting and when a format is completely understood, it becomes wide open again for unwanted rogue strategies.
Building Around Rarer Cards and Unique Interactions
Rare cards typically fall into two camps: The first are powerful creatures and spells like Whisperwood Elemental or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that can take over games and are often worth a good amount of money. The second are more casual or combo-oriented cards that range from bad to pretty good given the right context. We all know not to put Dragon Tempest in our Limited decks, but Living Lore is quite a good card given the right home. The key to these cards is classic risk vs. reward. If the card isn’t very hard to enable and can do a lot, it clearly is a lot better than a card requiring similar investment with a smaller payoff. Goblinslide is a good example of a card that required a lot of effort for it to be functional, but just didn’t end up being very powerful (unless you’re LSV)
On the other hand, Secret Plans was a great low-risk, high-reward build-around. All it asked of you was to build a normal Limited deck that prioritized morphs more highly. Some strategies are a bit higher risk to draft but are so powerful that they can easily 3-0 when they come together. Innistrad had two classic examples with the Spider Spawning and Burning Vengeance decks. Looking to take a build-around uncommon or rare can open up new draft space that others aren’t interested in and can then result in amazing decks that attack from unique angles.
One final interesting place to go rogue is when the perfect confluence of cards meet to create something special which can’t often be recreated. I recently was beaten in an MM15 draft when my opponent resolved Swans of Bryn Argoll and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind to draw as many cards as desired by looping the damage ping from Niv-Mizzet onto Swans. I had a DTK deck with Clone Legion and Living Lore so I prioritized Zephyr Scribe to loot away Clone Legion and make my Living Lore a 9/9 on turn 5. Clearly I didn’t plan to do so going into the draft, but by looking for unique combinations while drafting and in game, you can utilize under-drafted cards to your benefit in surprisingly powerful ways.
There are many ways to go rogue in Limited, all with the intention of doing something unique to gain an edge on the competition. Just as in Constructed, you shouldn’t look to employ a rogue strategy in Limited just to do something different. Instead, explore to find powerful strategies that might be off the beaten path, especially when convergent thinking can allow off-the-wall strategies to shine. Most of all, remember that drafting is a dynamic process and the card evaluation is always changing. At the point when a format begins to stagnate and players feel like they know exactly what to do within the format, rogue strategies can go one level deeper and rise to the top. Good luck in your drafts and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.
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