An Uncommon Approach was conceptualized as a way to highlight the fundamentals discussed in “Be Boring: A Guide to Building Better Draft Decks” by climbing the Arena ladder without rares or mythics. The first three drafts confirmed what others already knew (Silverquill aggro is really good) and saw this author navigate a draft pretty horrendously (Draft #2). Despite winning games on the lower ladder, the victories seemed to highlight the flaws of our opponents’ decks more than our decks’ strengths. I was happy to report good results, of course, but wasn’t thrilled with the decks I’d drafted.
This week’s Silverquill and Quandrix decks, however, gave us plenty to talk about so I won’t delay with a lengthy introduction.
Let’s examine the impact that “boring” deckbuilding has on gameplay. We’ll look at a variety of topics including The Curve, CABS, and Filling Deck Roles, all with examples from games played en route to a 76% rareless Win Rate in BO1 thus far. Let’s Talk Limited!
“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.” Be Boring, section 13 “Play Skill“
“Be Boring” emphasized the importance of considering your curve throughout the entire draft. While it’s typical to think of curving out as a playing a card that costs two, then three, then four, then five, it’s commonplace to curve out in various ways – say, casting two 2-mana cards on turn four instead a single 4-mana card.
The goal is to spend all of your mana every turn. Varying your cards’ casting cost to form a typical curve maximizes your chances of doing that. One of the reasons I talk about two-drops incessantly is because having a lot of them makes it easier to find ways to spend all your mana every turn. Let’s look at some examples of this in action.
What’s the Play?
I don’t know if it’s optimal, but this is the line I took:
Guiding Voice counter on Unwilling Ingredient, get Inkling Summoning, attack with Ingredient and Arrogant Poet, pay 2 life so their only block is on the frog, Lash of Malice the 2/1 after blocks, their 1/1 frog can’t kill our 2/2, play a Campus Guide after combat. 8 power on our side of the battlefield, zero on theirs. Have answers. Go.
So how does this highlight curve, exactly? Here’s where it gets interesting. The Inkling Summoning is known information at this point. My opponent knows I have a three mana play that I’m motivated to cast. So if they double block our Unwilling Ingredient and we save it with a combat trick, from our opponent’s perspective, at least we’re not adding another creature to the battlefield. Of course, that’s where we know they’re wrong. We prioritized cheap creatures and interaction during the draft, so our spell to impact combat only costs 1 mana and we still have a 2-mana play that we can add to the board.
Are any of the creatures on our side of the battlefield in the top right picture even good? No, they’re not, but there are four of them. We used cheap interaction to manipulate combat in a favorable manner and added to the battlefield. Thanks, curve! Oppo’s next play was a Combat Professor and the game concluded quickly afterwards.
Here, our opponent’s life total is low thanks to early Killian/Reflective Golem shenanigans. A couple turns later we’re able to finish the game off by adding three 2-drops to the board.
This deck’s goal was to put a lot of creatures on the battlefield. Like, attacking-for-lethal-through-Snow Day-and-a-blocker amount of creatures as seen below.
“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.” Be Boring, Filling Deck Roles
This Silverquill deck was nothing special. In fact, it had four uncommons and twenty commons in the main deck. But it sure did spend every single mana available on a large majority of turns, leading to the 7-0.
Filling Deck Roles
“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.” Be Boring, Filling Deck Roles
Here, we have four maindeck creatures halfway through pack 2 and I already want to cut Dueling Coach. The worst thing that can happen for this deck is to have a hand of spells with no creatures on the battlefield so we are now in complete “see creature, draft creature” mode. The final deck was full of subpar creatures, but those creatures could wear +1/+1 counters just fine.
Playing Campus Guide in a 2-color aggro deck exemplifies Be Boring. I was thrilled to see it with three cards left in the draft. Here it is attacking for three and letting us grab Inkling Summoning. Zzzzzzz.
CABS (Cards that Affect the Board State)
It can be difficult to see why cards that don’t affect the board on their own are often undesirable in limited. When they work, they really work. But when you need them to be creatures…
Eight creatures on our side of the battlefield, four creatures on theirs. Seems good. They put Zephyr Boots on the stack, I have Negate and an untapped 3/3 island if I want to cast it, but those boots don’t bother me one bit. Only one of my creatures flies and it’s a 1/1 so giving a blocker flying accomplishes nothing. I’d be able to block their flying attacker with Needlethorn Drake and am perfectly fine with them losing a blocker every turn anyway, so that also does nothing. In short, my opponent really needed this to be a creature or piece of interaction. This card does nothing on this board. You may have your boots.
Mascot Interception/Claim the Firstborn
So this was a close one. I didn’t see Claim the Firstborn coming and found myself in a tight spot.
But I got my fractal back, of course, and then continued playing Magic. Here’s the board three turns later:
Permanent board presence > Temporary board effects
Losing to Rares
The inevitable occurred, as it tends to do. I’ve been on the lookout for games that were uniquely impacted by rares and finally found one while trying to trophy with this Quandrix deck.
This deck doesn’t have a good answer to Bookwurm so I’m trying to apply a lot of pressure in case I draw a way to remove it temporarily. It’s not a great plan because I know they have Pest Summoning but it feels like that’s the best chance to win.
You might’ve noticed Culling Ritual on the stack in the upper left hand corner. Hey, new players, if you have the chance to 4-for-1 your opponent, go ahead and take it.
Sure hope they don’t have anything to do with all that extra mana.
Turns out, Bury in Books was the next draw, which makes me feel really good about this loss. We put ourselves in a good position to win and it just didn’t work out this time. That’s Magic.
Let’s be clear about this loss. There’s no guarantee we win this game if our opponent untaps, plays a Witherbloom Pledgemage, then casts the Pest Summoning we know they had. That series of cards also would’ve been hard to beat even with the Bury in Books we drew. Prior to this, oppo killed my early threat with Lash of Malice and gained four life with Cram Session, which gave them time to cast multiple Field Trips, cast Bookwurm early, AND scry with Introduction to Prophecy. Our opponent’s deck was really good. We didn’t lose to Culling Ritual and Eledros Witherbloom, we lost to an excellent deck that contained those two cards.
Losses are much easier to deal with if you give your opponent credit for the cards they drafted and the deck they built. I showed you last week how a draft can go wrong. Oppo clearly got their draft very right, built their deck well, and received a well deserved trophy for their efforts.
Testing Uncommon Quandrix
Uncommon Quandrix’s final test was a against a Mythic drafter with a ranking in the 600s – An Uncommon Approach’s first matchup of its kind.
Despite what I just wrote about handling losses, I was ready to lose my mind if this trophy was snatched away by the dominant “Waiting for Server.” There are turns missing from this game, but turn 4 is the one that really mattered. Uncommon Quandrix played Emergent Sequence into Quandrix Cultivator on turns 2 & 3. On turn four, we added six power to the battlefield with Master Symmetrist and Reckless Amplimancer.
Opponent’s turn 4: plays an island, casts Expressive Iteration revealing Letter of Acceptance – pass turn.
Opponent’s mana used turns 2-4: Seven.
Uncommon Quandrix mana used turns 2-4: Twelve.
Discrepancies like the one above are what win games of Limited.
Our opponent made a game of it – Multiple Choice is a great card and their ranking didn’t just happen by accident – but the advantage accrued early while their three-color draft deck stumbled was too much to overcome.
I didn’t see many of oppo’s cards but have built enough draft decks to know: There be bombs among those 40 cards. Illustrious Historian in a three-color deck with Letter of Acceptance says “just get me to the late game so I can cast my unbeatable cards.” This was Boring vs. Bombs, and we were on the fortunate side this time.
Uncommon Approach achievement unlocked: Trophy against a Drafter in the top #1200.
Perhaps the bigger test, though, was our game five. We’ll see a few things in the next game: 1. Great rares 2. Our opponent stumble just a little 3. Flexible options thanks to our curve.
This is turn 3 – the turn that ultimately won us the game. Oppo follows up their turn 2 play, Dragonsguard Elite, with the following.
Tapped campus. Go.
This wasn’t covered in Be Boring, but I believe Dr. Karsten and his friend, Numbers, say that 8/8/dual is the ideal limited mana base with taplands. Playing a second campus is understandable – I do it fairly often in durdly decks – but it’s a cost. Seems like a small one, but still a cost. In this instance, in this particular game, that small decision had a large impact on this game.
We play a land and wait. Thanks to our curve, there are multiple options this turn. We can respond to what our opponent does or just cast Eureka Moment.
There is no tantrum large enough to convince me to sign the permission slip for this Field Trip. We counter their spell and then they miss their land drop. Had they drawn an Island or Forest on turn 3, this would be a non-issue. They would’ve resolved Field Trip while we were tapped out. But that small price of coming in to play tapped bought us just enough time.
Uncommon Quandrix survived Dragonsguard Elite and Multiple Choice on the draw as seen below.
Our opponent played more powerful cards. We played more cards and played them on curve.
A reckoning is on the horizon. The days of leveraging my play skill are nearly over as my opponents are doing me fewer favors on the ladder. I have a moderately large bag of tricks thanks to years of play, but we’re not talking about some Mary Poppins bag of impossible depth.
Here are An Uncommon Approach’s results thus far:
76% Win Rate through six drafts, helped by a completely reasonable Silverquill win percentage of 87.
(Links redirect to the drafts)
It’s not about the rares. It’s the same boring thing that leads to success in other competitive areas: mastery of fundamentals. Every great basketball player was once a young player who realized that the way to win more games wasn’t to practice their half-court hookshot – it was to make more free throws. Greg Maddux’s entire career highlighted that pitchers don’t need exceptional stuff if they can do fundamental things like change speeds and location. And I imagine every Magic Hall of Famer eventually realized that not casting their spells was a great way to lose more games, so they followed fundamentals and cast their cards consistently.
“Be Boring” is a deckbuilding guideline, not a prediction of your gameplay experience. The games are fantastic. I’m not exactly trophying myself to sleep over here (I know it’s only 3 trophies, but I liked the sentence too much to delete it after I thought of it).
That’ll do it for this installment of An Uncommon Approach. My time is limited and these piles of commons and uncommons aren’t going to draft themselves.
Until next time- Be boring, use your mana, and happy drafting!
– Schaab, Draft Enthusiast
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. He writes articles and runs LetsTalkLimited as a hobby to improve his mental health. It’s hard being human – helping others makes it easier.
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