- Limited at my LGS
- Limited against LSV
- The Curve
- Curving Out with Commons
- CABS (Cards that Affect the Board Strategy)
- Conditional Spells
- Filling Deck Roles
- The Martin Juza Rule
- Splashing – The Rule of Three
- Draft Mana Base
- Play 40 Cards
- Bending or Breaking the Rules
- Be Boring
1. Limited at my LGS
Friday Night Magic at my LGS (Local Game Store) had two distinct classes of card players: the Drafters and Team Constructed. Though some mages occasionally visited the other group, most players spent their Fridays playing their preferred format. When a new spellcaster would enter the fray, each group would recruit the novice to join their side. If a new Magic player listened to the more vocal members of Team Constructed describe draft, they might imagine the draft process goes like this: Eight Drafters open packs. The person who opens the most powerful rare is the Secret Winner of the draft (unless a more powerful rare is opened in packs 2 or 3 – then whoever opened that card is the Secret Winner). The rest of the cards then miraculously dance their way from the packs into the Drafters’ 40 card decks. The Drafters play the games just in case the Secret Winner accidentally eats the rare or lights it on fire – but it’s mostly just a formality. The Drafter who opens the best rares inevitably wins the draft, prizes are awarded, then they all go home.
Jokes aside, I’ve encountered a lot of players who give the same reason for disliking draft: the rares are all that matter (or matter too much).
As I transitioned from new face to known quantity at my LGS, I noticed that week after week, Friday after Friday, the same player was usually 2-0 heading in to the last round. Clearly, this was the best rare-opener at the store. Even more extraordinary, this skill followed him across town where he was regularly winning drafts at a different LGS. What I learned over time is that this player wasn’t great at opening rares, of course. He was great at applying limited fundamentals during the draft, deckbuilding, and games. Friday after Friday, draft after draft, he built functional two-color decks, made high percentage plays during the game, and won regularly.
Despite what some my friends on Team Constructed will tell you, opening good rares is far from all that matters in draft (though it certainly helps). Consistent success in limited comes from following fundamentals. Plain and simple. These same fundamental skills that lead to success at your LGS are the ones that lead to success on the Arena ladder. Today, we’re going back to the basics.
If you’re a high level drafter looking for an edge in Arena draft, you’re probably not going to find it here. But if you’re like me, veteran drafter, maybe you need an occasional reminder to follow fundamentals. This article is intended to provide the limited deckbuilding guidelines that all dedicated drafters learn and internalize at some point. If you’re a newer drafter or just trying to build better limited decks: welcome! Let’s Talk Limited.
2. Limited against LSV
Ok, so you can win some games in Southern Maine by following fundamentals, but what if you want to compete at the highest level? Let’s move beyond the LGS and turn the difficulty up to 11. Let’s say you had to play exactly one game against Luis-Scott Vargas. As a handicap, you get to choose one of the following options:
Option A) You are guaranteed to have a bomb rare in your deck.
Option B) You’re guaranteed to have lands and cards to play on turns 2-5 while LSV experiences normal variance.
In a single game scenario, I could see taking the deck with Blot out the Sky, Poet’s Quill, Insert Bomb Here and just crossing your fingers. He’s LSV, he probably drafted a good deck and is going to be playing cards on curve anyway, so I might as well take the bomb, right? Sounds reasonable enough. But let’s say you were going to play against LSV 1,000 times. Do you still take the bomb? What about 10,000 times? Are you still taking the singular great card over the guarantee of playing your cards on curve?
Over the course of 10,000 games, I think it would be wildly incorrect to choose option A even if you could pick the rare. You could even take Tetzimoc out of retirement, dust off the legendary dino’s old bones, slot him into my draft deck, and I’d still choose the option that lets me play my cards consistently.
Sure, there will be games where I draw and cast the bomb, but it’s not like LSV is going to scoop just because I played a great card. The best way for me to beat LSV is to use all of my mana on turns 2-5 and hope that he can’t do the same because he’s stuck on resources or drew poorly. Over the course of so many games, he’ll definitely experience the bad end of variance. He’ll get stuck on two mana while I spend five or six per turn. He can’t leverage his play skill nearly as much if I’m casting multiple spells per turn while he’s casting one. Over such a long stretch, I think you’d win far more games against LSV by choosing option B (playing your cards on curve) instead of option A (the bomb rare).
Obviously, I wouldn’t get a handicap if I were to see LSV in game. There would be no guarantee that I hit land drops and play cards until turn 6 or 7. What I can do, though, is build decks that maximize my chance to replicate option B in that game and any other. You can’t make yourself open better rares, but you can build decks that allow you to consistently cast your spells on curve by following fundamentals. Over your next 10,000 games, your focus should be to build draft decks that have a good chance to mimic option B. That’s all you have control over and, I would argue, what really determines most games of limited.
You can win a lot of games by building boring, functional two-color decks with decent creatures and interaction. You can sit down and draft a deck with the potential to win games in any format, even one you’ve never seen. To start, we’ll focus on these guidelines that provide the foundation for building consistent decks (with the potential to do broken things).
3. The Curve
Gavin Verhey explained the importance of The Curve beautifully in this article: How to Build a Mana Curve.
Quick version: You want variation and distribution when it comes to your cards’ casting cost. You want a certain number of cards that cost 2 mana, 3 mana, 4, 5, 6+. Most decks will have far more cheap cards (1-3 mana) than expensive cards (4-7 mana). The following 7-win decklists are from my Strixhaven drafts. You don’t even have to look at the cards. Just look look at the curve graphics in the top left corner of each list.
Note the 1, 2, & 3 mana columns compared to the 4-6 columns in all instances.
If you looked at all the 7-win MTG decklists over the past year, my guess is most of them would have a similar distribution. You maximize the chances that you’re able to spend all your mana on turns 2, 3, 4, and 5 if you focus on your curve. If you do that and play reasonable cards, not even great cards, you have a chance to win a huge percentage of games. Almost all limited decks are built/drafted with a curve in mind. You should be considering it on some level during the entire draft.
One aspect of Gavin’s article I want to emphasize is that you should think about what turn you expect to cast the card instead of just its casting cost. Teach by Example costs two but certainly isn’t a turn 2-play. Let’s call casting Devouring Tendrils on turn two “highly unlikely.” So your deck might have eight cards that cost two mana but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have 8 cards you can play on turn two.
4. Curving Out with Commons
It feels really sweet when you outsmart your opponent, but in reality you don’t always need to do it to win games of limited. You’re playing against other smart people. You’re not going to outthink them all the time – nor do you need to. Sometimes you win just because you played your cards on curve. It’s boring, but that’s the truth. Jon Finkel doesn’t lose 35% of his Pro Tour matches because he makes bad decisions or get outsmarted 35% of the time. He, and other players of his caliber, get the bad end of variance just like the rest of us. When that happens, you want to be the player who is playing impactful cards on turns 2, 3, 4, and 5. Be boring. Take unexciting cards that fill out your curve. Pay for your next draft! Here are some examples of curve out sequences that can happen with just commons.
Turn 2: Eager First Year
Turn 3: Guiding Voice + Arrogant Poet (any 2-drop). Attack for 4.
Turn 4: Specter of the Fens. Attack depending on blockers.
Turn 5: Study Break, Inkling Summoning, attack for 9 (Eager first-year has a +1/+1 counter and triggered twice this turn).
Turn 6: Mage Hunters’ Onslaught, 2-drop.
There a billion variations of Silverquill sequences.
Turn 2: Leech Fanatic
Turn 3: Blood Researcher. Attack with Leech Fanatic, grow Blood Researcher.
Turn 4: Professor of Zoomancy
Turn 5: Witherbloom Pledgemage
Turn 6: Rise of Extus, grow Researcher with the Pledgemage trigger, grab a Learn card.
Five creatures on the battlefield, 16 power among them, plus we exiled their best creature on turn 6.
Turn 2: Prismari Pledgemage
Turn 3: Quandrix Pledgemage
Turn 4: Pillardrop Warden
Turn 5: Spectacle Mage, Curate for an impactful 7 mana spell to cast next turn or whatever else you need, trigger Pledgemage.
Turn 6: Elemental Masterpiece, trigger Pledgemage
Six creatures on the battlefield, 18 power among them, and set up well defensively. Draw cards and do whatever you want for the rest of the game.
Turn 2: Scurrid Colony
Turn 3: Field Trip
Turn 4: Elemental Summoning from Field Trip
Turn 5: Leyline Invocation a 6/6
Turn 6: Eureka Moment, Needlethorn Drake, Mage Duel
Like Silverquill, a billion variations of what you could do in the first six turns with just commons.
Turn 2: Illustrious Historian
Turn 3: Stonebound Mentor
Turn 4: Burning Effigy
Turn 5: Relic Sloth
Turn 6: Heated Debate, Pledgemage.
Most of the above cards aren’t even desirable, but this is still 15 power on the battlefield and a removal spell on turn 6 with just commons.
Again, hands like this won’t happen every game, but you’ll be surprised how often they do if you build a deck with a good curve and consistent mana base. The sequences described above contain no uncommons or rares. You don’t always have to do broken things to win games – but you will lose every game in which you can’t cast your cards.
5. CABS (Cards that Affect the Board Strategy)
On episode 296 of Limited Resources – A Fundamental Approach to Limited, hosts Marshall Sutcliffe and LSV give excellent insight into a number of topics, including building CABS decks. The acronym stands for “Cards that Affect the Board Strategy,” but my brain has internalized it as “Cards that Affect the Board State” which works just as well for me. An overarching theme of CABS and the fundamental Limited Resources approach is that it allows you to build functional decks with a good chance to win games almost every time you finish a draft. This approach isn’t very exciting. In fact, a lot of “correct” draft choices are incredibly safe and boring. But here’s the thing: you get to make interesting decisions in almost every game you play. That’s exciting. You get to win more games and draft more decks. That’s exciting! Be boring during the draft and deckbuilding. Have your fun while you’re making more meaningful choices and winning games more often.
As usual, I’ll recommend that you listen to the episode so you can hear directly from LSV – though I believe Marshall came up with the concept so credit to him (discussion about fundamentals starts around 58 minute mark). CABS decks consist of three things: units, removal spells, and combat tricks. That’s it. No card draw spells or fancy enchantments. Just creatures, tricks, and removal. Marshall and LSV are quick to note that this isn’t the optimal way to draft, and that’s certainly true (you would never draft Ingenious Mastery, for example), but it’s a very good starting point for drafting and building limited decks.
A quick aside: I spent a lot of time memorizing specific cards and interactions from the current MTG limited set when I first started drafting. While that time wasn’t exactly wasted, your time is far better utilized learning concepts that can apply across formats.
We won’t delve too deep into the three card types involved in CABS decks: creatures, removal, and combat tricks. Your deck should mostly be creatures. Your removal should be unconditional (more on this later) when you can get it. Your combat tricks should be… tricky.
A very basic breakdown of a typical* 40 card draft deck:
- 17 lands
- 16-18 creatures
- 3-4 removal spells
- 2-3 combat tricks
*This is a stock framework – good for drafting Core sets. Every format and archetype are unique, so the numbers are constantly changing. These numbers are not specific to Strixhaven.
Rather than breaking down how many creatures and spells go in each Strixhaven archetype, instead we’re going to focus on some examples of cards that don’t fit CABS theory. While we could talk about which combat tricks are most efficient or are better in which decks, the truth is that any combat trick is better than a dead card in your hand, so let’s take a look at potential dead cards. You can increase your win percentage significantly just by not putting narrow or suboptimal cards in your deck. Minimize mistakes to maximize win percentage applies to both gameplay and deckbuilding.
You want your cards to be playable, and worth the mana you spent, as close to 100% of the time as possible. Every card is good sometimes. You want cards that are good all the time or a majority of the time. Don’t ask yourself what it could do. Ask yourself what it’s likely to do most of the time.
Is the mascot intercepting the ball? Are they intercepting the mascot? I know not all Magic players are sports fans, but mascots don’t participate in games on this plane so sports must be very different on Strixhaven. Anyway.
Stealing fractals for the win is a good way to surprise and annoy this author – but it’s really not what you want to be doing in most games of limited. Some draft sets have sacrifice themes that make cards like this more effective, but generally this is the kind of card you don’t want – doesn’t impact the board by itself and only provides a temporary effect. Playing a 4-drop unit like Burning Effigy instead of spells like Mascot Interception doesn’t make you feel clever but leads to a higher win percentage in the long run.
Don’t put this card in your deck. If you only remember one thing from this article, make sure it’s this: Don’t put Secret Rendevous in your draft deck.
Symmetrical effects, those which impact both you and your opponent, are generally undesirable in limited. Letting your opponent draw extra cards is also undesirable. Using an entire card to produce that symmetrical effect is unacceptable. This isn’t a potentially dead card, just a terrible one.
Don’t put Secret Rendevous in your draft deck.
Playing Reject is acceptable if your Prismari deck has a gaping hole in the 2-drop slot, but if this card is in your deck then something has gone wrong.
Strixhaven has more spells than a typical format, so the number of potential targets for this card is significantly reduced.
Not a creature, not a combat trick, not a removal spell, and most definitely the potential to be a dead card in your hand.
On some alternate plane where you have the chance to cast Hypnotic Specter off your Turn 1 Dark Ritual in draft, go ahead and try to live the dream. Otherwise, leave the rituals to our Constructed friends. The temporary extra mana isn’t going to be worth the card you spent to get it in 99% of your draft games.
This is not the ramp spell you’re looking for (That’s Cultivate). If you’re paying full price for this, you can already cast a six mana spell….. so maybe just play a creature? Any 6-drop creature is better than this card on turn 6. And you definitely don’t want to play this for four at sorcery speed, ramp your opponent, then let them untap and play cards first.
6. Conditional Spells
Not all removal spells are created equal – those that can only target creatures that meet certain requirements are referred to as “conditional.” The easier a condition is to meet, the better the removal spell is. You want to minimize the amount of conditional removal in your deck, though conditional removal is almost always better than no removal at all if you’re stuck in that spot. Some examples:
This condition is surprisingly hard to meet in Strixhaven draft, as many of the biggest creatures have a mana value of zero.
Doesn’t hit absolutely everything, but this will have a target and be good-great in 99% of limited games.
Not the hardest condition to meet in limited, but can be awkward in more aggressive decks.
Always good, but is often super efficient in Strixhaven because it kills huge tokens. Cool Leyline Invocation, oppo. Very cool.
Boooooooooo Tangletrap! Just an example of a conditional damage spell. Please don’t maindeck this card in Strixhaven draft.
Unconditional but inefficient damage-based removal spell.
This is the goal. This is everything you want: unconditional, instant speed, and exiles (That’s why it’s a rare).
Again – the goal is unconditional removal – but we’re Drafters. Most of the time you just take what you can get.
7. Filling Deck Roles
“What does my deck want?” is a question I constantly ask myself this after I’ve decided what colors I’m in. Though I don’t always have specifics in mind, I always have an idea of what I want my deck to look like when it’s finished – even if it’s just to have a good curve with some interaction. If I’m drafting Prismari, my deck is trying to draw extra cards and cast big spells. It just wants to survive the developing phase and doesn’t care about playing early threats. If I’m drafting Witherbloom, my deck should have decent removal and lifegain synergies
At the very least, I ask myself what my deck wants in between packs, though it’s something that’s always in the back of my mind. Sometimes it’s specific, like seeing that my deck needs 2-drops so I have to take them over almost everything else in pack 3. In other cases it’s vague, like my deck really wants a piece of interaction or two out of pack 3 to be complete.
Here’s the CABS deck role checklist.
2. Removal Spells
3. Combat Tricks
When I draft/deckbuild, here are the essential roles that I’m thinking about and looking to fill in my deck:
3. Top End/Win Condition (This can be something like Ravenous Lindwurm, not a splashy rare. It can also be cheap cards like a piece of equipment with multiple runes)
Those three always stay, but certain archetypes have other roles that need to be filled. My mental list for Prismari, for example, would probably look like this:
2. Interaction (preferably heated Debate & Bury in Books)
3. Card Draw/Selection
4. Big spells to finish the game
A Witherbloom deck probably has a mental checklist like this:
3. Top End
4. Ways to gain life (preferably repeatable ways)
I know I always mention two-drops first but that’s because they’re so important.
Once you figure out what colors you’re in, you should determine what roles need to be filled in that specific deck. The further you are in the draft, the more you should be looking to fill roles instead of just taking the best card available. For example, I would never take Guiding Voice over Thunderous Orator Pack 1, Pick 2 because I consider the creature to be significantly better. But I would take the spell in a heartbeat towards the end of pack 3 if I still needed to fill roles in my deck like cheap spells or ways to access Lessons.
If the decks you draft consistenly have a good curve, a mixture of creatures and spells, and cards that impact the board, I promise you will have the opportunity to win more games, even if the cards you’re playing aren’t great.
8. The Martin Juza Rule
This is a draft guideline that exists because of deckbuilding constraints. The Martin Juza (MTG Hall of Famer) Rule is how I learned it and what I call it in my head while I draft, but Gavin Verhey attributes it to Charles “Aceman” Dupont, so credit to him if he’s the originator.
The rule is as follows: All other things being equal, draft the cheaper card. If you’re deciding between a 2-drop and a 4-drop halfway through pack 2 and you’re really not sure which one to take, take the 2-drop. This is only meant to be a tiebreaker. If it’s close, if you’re really not sure which card is better or which one your deck wants, just take the cheaper card. It’s unusual to finish a draft and find that you have too many cheap spells. Casting multiple spells per turn is usually a sign that your game is going well. If you’re not careful and just keep taking the most powerful card in the pack, though, it’s easy to end up with a deck full of cards that cost 5, 6, or 7 mana. All other things being equal (i.e. quality, role), take the cheaper card.
9. Splashing – The Rule of Three
Conventional wisdom is that you want at least 3 sources of a color for every card you splash. So if you want to splash Sparring Regimen in your Witherbloom deck, you need three white sources. If you want the Regimen and Swords to Plowshares (what a format), you need four white sources. One very important note is that you don’t want to just add three Plains to your power base and call it good. Your power base will be horrendous, you won’t draw your primary or secondary colors consistently, and you won’t have any fun. If you have an Environmental Sciences and a Letter of Acceptance, though, you can count those as white sources and only add one Plains to your deck.
My personal bar for splashing cards is high because the cost of a potentially dead card is significant. I’ll jump through a couple hoops to splash Swords to Plowshares if my deck is light on removal, but I won’t compromise my power base to splash it if I’m otherwise loaded with removal spells. Not being able to cast your cards obviously hurts your win percentage, but it’s also incredibly un-fun. I’ve lost plenty of long, complicated games that were really enjoyable. I’ve never lost a game with uncastable cards in hand and thought it was fun. Those games are miserable. I’ll hit the frowny face button every time Arena asks if I enjoyed myself.
In general, you want your splash cards to be impactful later in the game. It’s usually incorrect to splash for something like a 2-drop, even a very good one, because your chances of playing it on turn 2 are so slim. This isn’t true for removal spells like Doom Blade which are equally good on turn 2 or turn 20.
Wanting to play the bomb dragon that was inexplicably passed to you in Pack 2 is a good reason to splash, for example.
The Rule of Three applies when the card you want to splash requires a single color to cast. You shouldn’t be splashing for cards with double mana requirements.
Players are usually tempted to splash when they open pack 2. Even if you’re confidently in your colors, it’s early enough in the draft to take a powerful rare and say “eh, I can splash it.” While this can be correct sometimes, the cost of taking that card and splashing it isn’t free. It costs you the on-color card you were going to draft. If I’m drafting Silverquill and Pack 2 offers me Igneous Inspiration or Mage Hunters Onslaught, I’d take the less desirable removal spell (Onslaught) that’s already in my colors.
Watch Ben Stark’s stream. You’ll see him draft slightly less powerful cards that are in his colors instead of a potential splash card like clockwork.
Dr. Karsten and the math on splashing: To Splash or Not to Splash in Limited
10. Mana Base
This section wasn’t in the original publication of this article but has been added because we all need to remember this. All of us. Every single one.
The mana base in your typical draft deck, the mana base that every pro and high level drafter will recommend you use at your starting point, the 17 mana split with 9 of your primary color and 8 of your secondary color – is atrocious. It’s the best we’ve got, but it really is terrible.
New players always want to cut lands because they hate flooding. Guess what happens then? You mulligan more. And you cast your spells less consistently. And you lose more. And it’s so hard to see this over the course of a draft, or five drafts, or ten drafts, but you just have to trust the math and accept that 17 lands is correct – but still bad. I stare at my campus-less Strixhaven mana bases and think “what a trainwreck. How did I let this happen?”
If you view your mana base as a fickle, untrustworthy, unreliable pile of trash, then you’re far less likely to mess with it. The true cost of splashing cards isn’t just the potentially dead card in your hand, but also the compromise of your mana base which, again, is horrendous (but recommended!).
So thankful for Dr. Karsten (I heard Marshall call him “Frankie Digits” once and that’s a Pack 1 Pick 1 nickname): How Many Lands Do You Need To Consistently Hit Your Land Drops
11. Play 40 Cards
Always play 40 cards if you want to build competitive decks. You can play more than 40 cards if you’re alright with making your deck just a little bit worse but that’s the decision you’re making.
12. Bending or Breaking the Rules
A saying I learned from a college professor (but a quick Google search attributes similar quotes to Picasso and the Dalai Lama, who likely said it first) goes roughly like this: You have to learn the rules so you know which ones you can bend and which ones you can break. This applies well to both writing and deckbuilding. When a new set releases, most drafters draft fairly conventional decks with some interaction and a decent curve. Once you learn a format, though, you start to figure out which rules you can bend and which you can break. You figure out what you can get away with.
Your typical deck shouldn’t have a spike in the 6+ column. If you drafted without a real plan and your curve has a column like that, go ahead and click the “edit deck” button before you play your games.
Strixhaven feels fairly tame as far Breaking the Rules go, but maybe it just seems that way because we just finished the circus that was 4-5 color snow. So many rules to be bent and broken in Kaldheim. This list wasn’t even egregious, just one I happened to have saved on my computer.
Bending the rules can work the other way as well, as most draft decks won’t have a lone card that costs 4 mana like this
Legacy Strixhaven Lumimancer storm deck.
13. Play Skill
“But I NEED those cards!” a person I’ve invented to help my argument said to me. “I NEED the rares to beat the really good players!”
This is completely understandable – and probably reinforced by experience for a lot of players. If you’ve ever beaten a drafter you consider to be much better than you, a bomb rare or two might’ve helped your cause. But this is not The Way. First picking more rares, blindly building around them, and hoping to draw them during the game is not the answer to beating great players.
Developing play skill is a long and arduous process that requires absurd amounts of losing. If you and an elite player both sit down with rare-less 40 card decks, winning that game is going to be a grind (and probably won’t happen). But if you rely on rares to win drafts, you’ll never develop that play skill. The decision tree is much larger with a good curve and consistent mana base because you have multiple options per turn. We all know what it’s like to be mana screwed – your plays are scripted, you cast one spell per turn, and you don’t make a lot of meaningful choices. But with creatures on the battlefield and spells in hand, you get to make decisions. You enter combat with multiple lines of play available and have to figure out which one is best. You figure out what works and what doesn’t. You get to enjoy the game.
If you recognize that developing playskill isn’t a commitment you want to make, maybe you can’t draft too often and would rather just build around the rares, I think that’s fine. Part of what makes Magic great is that we can all enjoy it in different ways. But if you love drafting, want to play on the Arena Mythic ladder, and are committed to the process that requires – then you need to draft decks, not cards. Great draft decks beat great cards (Umezawa’s Jitte and a few others notwithstanding).
14. Be Boring
Losing games to rares feels awful. I get it, I really do. Those losses sting the most and stick with us the longest. It can seem like great players always have rares in their deck. There are a few reasons for this. 1.) High-level drafters (Ben Stark, William Jensen, Martin Juza – not me. I do my best impression of them) prioritize being able to cast their cards and build decks accordingly. They’re usually able to cast their rares when they draw them. 2.) Great drafters maximize the value of their best cards. You can put Leonin Lightscribe in any Silverquill deck and it’ll be great, but there’s a big difference between building around the cat you got in pack one compared to just slotting in the elite two-drop you were lucky enough to open in pack three. 3.) If there’s a way to play a sweet rare that adheres to deckbuilding fundamentals, great drafters will find a way. And when their mana base doesn’t support that sweet rare, they put it in their sideboard where it belongs. So yes, great players seem to have more rares and there are reasons for that.
Let’s acknowledge something else: It’s very possible you lost because you got unlucky. I’ll be honest – Of course there are games where I feel like I outplayed my opponent, my overall deck was better, and then I lose after they play Velomachus Lorhehold. The enlightened perspective is that variance just didn’t go my way that game. Sometimes you lose to bomb rares. That’s part of what we signed up for. My reaction in the moment is usually something more like: “OH COOL! FUN GAME! SO GLAD I DID ALL THAT HARD WORK!” and then I rage draft (0-3, usually). I’m a flawed individual and I’m working on it.
The larger truth though – the one that takes so many games of limited to learn – is that your ability to apply drafting and deckbuilding fundamentals will decide far more of your next 10,000 games than the number of rares your opponent plays against you.
The next time you draft a 7-win deck, or just a streamlined deck that functions well, take a look at some of the rares you were able to beat. Though each set has some exceptions, good decks can – and do – beat good rares consistenly. Sometimes I’ll be annoyed after being beaten by a card like Nassari, Dean of Expression, but when I’m honest with myself I often realize I would’ve lost to any reasonable play my opponent made. Which then begs the question, why couldn’t I answer my opponent’s threat? If I had answers but didn’t draw them, that’s unlucky. If my deck just didn’t have many answers, it’s possible my deck wasn’t very good because I drafted poorly.
If you’re newer to draft or looking to build better limited decks, here’s my advice: Be Boring. Try to draft two-color decks with a good curve and cards that impact the board consistently. Take the 2-drop that your deck wants even though it’s not exciting. The truth is that increasing your win percentage doesn’t always look flashy. No one at your LGS is going to grab their buddy and say “come here and check out this game! Schaab is using all of his mana, like, EVERY turn!” You don’t always have to outsmart your opponent. Sometimes you win games because you cast cards with your simple, efficient 2 color deck while your opponent hopes their mana base works out. Boring is correct a lot of the time. Boring wins games. You know what’s not boring? Games of Magic with interesting decisions. Drafting boring decks will provide you with a lot of those.
Learn the rules for building consistent decks. Apply the rules. Internalize the rules. Make it to Mythic with the rules.
Then figure out how you can break them.
About the Author
Schaab fell in love with Draft when he came back to Magic in 2016. Having recently downloaded Arena, he’s been hanging out in the top 1200 Limited rankings and loves playing against the Arena elite. Life responsibilities prevent him from being a tournament grinder, so he happily considers himself a successful casual player.
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