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Be Boring: A Guide to Building Better Draft Decks (Crimson Vow Update)

  1. Limited at my LGS
  2. Limited against LSV
  3. The Curve
  4. Curving Out with Commons
  5. CABS (Cards that Affect the Board State)
  6. Conditional Spells
  7. Filling Deck Roles
  8. The Martin Juza Rule
  9. Splashing – The Rule of Three
  10. Draft Mana Base
  11. Play 40 Cards
  12. Bending or Breaking the Rules
  13. Playskill
  14. 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 side, most spent their Fridays playing their preferred format. When a new spellcaster would enter the fray, each group would recruit the novice to join them.

If a new Magic player listened to the more vocal members of Team Constructed describe draft, they might imagine the drafting 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). Miraculously, the rest of the cards 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 that’s mostly just a formality. The drafter who opens the best rares inevitably wins, prizes are awarded, see ya next Friday.

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 commodity 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. The 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.

This article is intended to provide the limited deckbuilding guidelines that all dedicated drafters learn and internalize at some point. If you’re a high level mythic 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. If you’re a newer drafter or just trying to build better limited decks: welcome! You’re in the right place. 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 1-5 while LSV experiences normal variance.

In a single game scenario, I could see taking the deck with Toxrill, Avabruck Caretaker, 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 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.

One of the most insane Draft cards ever printed.

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 him is to use all of my mana on turns 1-5 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 the hall-of-famer by choosing option B (playing your cards on curve) instead of option A (having the bomb rare in your deck).

Obviously, I wouldn’t get a much needed handicap if I were to see LSV on Arena. 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 the broad aspects of 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 1 mana, 2 mana, 3, 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 VOW 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.

Wondering if Thalia was bad in this deck? Yeah. Oops.
A rareless trophy deck!
A curve graph can lie. Two of the 5-mana cards (Edgar’s Awakening) are meant to be discarded.

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 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 if you focus on your curve. You don’t even have to play great cards, just play reasonable cards on curve and you’ll have a chance to win a huge percentage of games. Almost all limited decks are built/drafted with a curve in mind and 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. Cards like Adamant Will and Lantern Flare can fool you because they’ll show up in your 2-drop column but are extremely unlikely to be cast on turn two. So your deck might have eight cards that cost two mana but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have eight turn two plays.

Curve graphics can also be deceiving, as seen in the last deck example above (Draft Deck 22), where the curve appears higher due to a pair of five-mana spells meant to be discarded.

4. Curving Out with Commons

Outsmarting your opponent feels really sweet, but the reality is most games of limited aren’t won that way. You’re a smart person 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 1, 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.

Note: These aren’t necessarily the optimal starts for each archetype because I wanted to show a variety of cards. That being said, any of these sequences will put you in a competitive position to win a game of limited. For more on how to build specific archetypes, see section 5.

Black/White

  • Turn 1: Traveling Minister
  • Turn 2: Ragged Recluse
  • Turn 3: Kindly Ancestor
  • Turn 4: Heron of Hope
  • Turn 5: Sigarda’s Imprisonment a blocker, play Blood Fountain, crack the blood token and transform Ragged Recluse on end step.

Four creatures on the battlefield, gained some life, played a removal spell, and set up well for future turns.

Black/Green

  • Turn 1: Persistent Specimen
  • Turn 2: Sporeback Wolf
  • Turn 3: Weaver of Blossoms
  • Turn 4: Rot-Tide Gargantua, sacrifice Persistent Specimen
  • Turn 5: Flourishing Hunter

One of the more absurd starts. Four creatures on the battlefield with 15 power among them and opponent had to sacrifice a creature. Oh, and we gained four life.

Black/Red

  • Turn 1: Voldaren Epicure
  • Turn 2: Blood Petal Celebrant
  • Turn 3: Belligerent Guest
  • Turn 4: Bloodcrazed Socialite
  • Turn 5: Falkenrath Celebrants

You’re also allowed to play removal spells in your BR decks. It’s recommended actually. But just playing common creatures on curve leaves five of them that can attack for 15 total, 9 of which has menace. Plus, you’ve made four blood tokens and pinged your opponent for one thanks to Epicure.

Blue/Black

  • Turn 1: Persistent Specimen
  • Turn 2: Doomed Dissenter
  • Turn 3: Stitched Assistant, sacrifice dissenter, get a 2/2 zombie
  • Turn 4: Bleed Dry
  • Turn 5: Rot-Tide Gargantua, sacrifice Persisten Specimen

Killed one creature, opponent sacrificed another, we drew an extra card from Stitched Assistant, and we still have nine power on the battlefield across three creatures.

Blue/Red

  • Turn 1: Lantern Bearer
  • Turn 2: Kessig Flamebreather
  • Turn 3: Abrade and Ancestral Anger
  • Turn 4: Repository Skaab, sacrifice Lantern Bearer and get back Abrade
  • Turn 5: Abrade and Lanterns’ Lift (or hold up a counterspell).

The most unusual of the sequences. This looks nothing like the UR decks I’ve drafted but that’s not saying much. By the end of turn 5, you’ve attacked for 8 in the air, pinged three times, drawn an extra card, and removed two small threats.

Blue/Green

  • Turn 1: Lantern Bearer
  • Turn 2: Toxic Scorpion
  • Turn 3: Spore Crawler
  • Turn 4: Cruel Witness
  • Turn 5: Moldgraf Millipede

Another strange one, but I find UG to be a strange archetype so maybe that’s why.

Red/White

  • Turn 1: Play Traveling Minister (TM)
  • Turn 2: Play Parish-Blade Trainee. TM attack for 1.
  • Turn 3: Play Daybreak Combatants, targeting itself. TM target Trainee, gain a life, attack with both, get a counter on Trainee. Attacking for 7.
  • Turn 4: Play Estwald Shieldbasher. TM target Combatants, gain a life, attack with both, get a counter on Trainee. Attacking for 6.
  • Turn 5: Play Lacerate Flesh. TM target Combatants, gain a life, attack with three creatures, get a counter on Trainee. Attack for 11.

Other than Traveling Minister, these cards are unimpressive. But potentially attacking for a total of 25 and playing a removal spell by the end of turn five? That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

Green/White

  • Turn 1: Traveling Minister
  • Turn 2: Dawnheart Disciple
  • Turn 3: Gryff Rider
  • Turn 4: Hookhand Mariner
  • Turn 5: Wolf Strike, pump Snarling Wolf

I’m not sure Gryff Rider has been in one of my decks yet, but it gets pumped twice in this sequence thanks to Dawnheart Disciple’s trigger. Originally had Snarling Wolf as the turn 1 play, but realistically Traveling Minister is miles better given that you want to play creatures pre-combat to get Dawnhart Disciple’s trigger and can’t threaten to activate the wolf.

Red/Green

  • Turn 1: Snarling Wolf
  • Turn 2: Hungry Ridgewolf
  • Turn 3: Fearful Villager
  • Turn 4: Hookhand Mariner
  • Turn 5: Lightning Wolf + Flame-Blessed Bolt

Honestly? Hookhand Mariner is just a beast and would also be my choice for turn five play. Lightning Wolf is playable but only here for the sake of variety.

Oddly enough, the RG deck from section three didn’t have any Snarling Wolf, Hungry Ridgewolf, or Fearful Villagers. Draft decks can be built all kinds of ways. That’s what makes it so fun.

Blue/White

  • Turn 1: Lantern Bearer
  • Turn 2: Drogskol Infantry
  • Turn 3: Binding Geist
  • Turn 4: Cruel Witness
  • Turn 5: Nurturing Presence + Sigarda’s Imprisonment

This is probably a more proactive sequence than most UW builds will have, but applying pressure with flyers has won a game or two of limited throughout its history.

Following fundamentals doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always play cards on turns 1-5 like the sequences above, but you’ll be surprised how often you do if you build decks with a good curve and consistent mana base. 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 State)

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. 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: creatures, removal spells, and combat tricks. That’s it. No card draw 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 Glorious Sunrise, 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. These numbers are not specific to VOW. Every format and archetype are unique, so the numbers are constantly changing. If you’re interested in learning how to draft specific archetypes of the current set, Sam Black’s Drafting Archetypes podcast is wonderful and aptly named. He’s a fantastic educator who explains what’s important and why. Can’t recommend it highly enough if you want to get better at drafting specific decks.)

Rather than breaking down how many creatures and spells go in each VOW archetype, we’re going to focus on some examples of cards that don’t fit CABS theory. The truth is that any combat trick is better than a dead card in your hand, so let’s take a look at potentially 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.

Bloody Betrayal

Cards that gain control of an opponent’s creature temporarily (e.g. “threaten” effects) have made their way into a lot of limited sets recently and range wildly in value. Price of Loyalty was a key piece of the best deck in AFR, while Mascot Interception and Shackles of Treachery were marginally playable at best in Strixhaven and Kaldheim.

Your default setting should be to avoid cards like this and others that provide temporary board presence. Unless you’re killing your opponent that turn or sacrificing their creature somehow, using a card to steal a creature temporarily usually isn’t worth the cost. If a set has cheap or free sacrifice enablers (hey, sepulcher ghoul), that’s when it’s time to pay close attention to cards like Bloody Betrayal.

Demonic Bargain

Don’t do this.

Even in a set with so many bombs, thirteen cards is a third of your deck! how do you know you won’t just exile it? Even if you don’t exile it, spending mana and a card to search for another card is almost always incorrect. You need to be finding a true bomb (e.g. Toxrill) in order for tutoring to be worth it – and you need to not exile thirteen cards first.

Crawling Infestation

Buildaround uncommons are one of my favorite components of a limited set because they allow for varied deckbuilding and gameplay. Crawling Infestation looks like it enables graveyard syngergies while also providing creature tokens but it’s just way too slow for most draft games. I’m sure there are drafters out there who can make it functional, but you’re much better off just playing a 3-drop creature instead of a slow enchantment.

Laid to Rest is another tempting buildaround enchantment that isn’t going to be worth the mana you spent most of the time.

Dormant Grove, however, is a beast of an enchantment with very little help.

Soulcipher Board

At least Crawling Infestation makes 1/1 tokens – this card doesn’t do much of anything until it flips. Filtering your draws is a powerful effect and the creature it flips into is powerful but neither of those components make this card good. The fact that it costs mana to activate makes it too slow and its flipside creature is too vulnerable.

Hallowed Haunting

Making this card work and winning games of limited sounds incredibly fun, and a good project if you’re going to draft the set a couple hundred times. Otherwise, don’t attempt this.

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:

Fierce Retribution

Fierce Retribution has a conditional mode for two mana and an unconditional mode for six mana. Awesome design, great limited card.

Abrade

Efficient damage-based removal at instant speed. Destroying an artifact (usually an equipment) can be a very relevant mode.

Lacerate Flesh

Inefficient damage-based removal. Costs three more mana than Abrade but only does one additional damage, plus it’s sorcery speed. That’s why Lacerate Flesh is playable-but-replaceable while Abrade is a perfectly good P1P1.

Crushing Canopy

A lot of limited sets have a removal spell that specifically targets flyers. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re unplayable. I haven’t been maindecking Crushing Canopy but it might not be a terrible idea with so many bomb enchantments in the format.

Wolf Strike

Green gets this type of removal in most recent limited sets. Wolf Strike is known as a “bite” card because your creature deals damage but doesn’t receive any. Cards where both creatures deal damage are known as “fight” cards. These cards seems great when they work but are much higher risk than more traditional removal spells. I’ve found this especially true against better competition. Wolf Strike might lead to a blowout against inexperienced drafters, but finding a window of opportunity to get value out of these cards is extremely difficult against elite drafters.

Bleed Dry

This is the goal. This is everything you want: unconditional (not technically, but functionally), instant speed, and exiles.

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 constantly on my mind after I’ve decided what colors I’m in. If I’m drafting Blue/White, my deck is trying to play cards out of the graveyard in a long game. It just wants to survive the developing phase and doesn’t care about being aggressive. If I’m drafting White/Green, I want to impact the board early to apply pressure and enable Training.

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 three. In other cases it’s vague, like my deck really wants a piece of interaction or two out of pack three to be complete.

Here’s the CABS deck role checklist.
1. Creatures.
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:
1. Two-drops
2. Interaction
3. Top End/Win Condition (This can be something like Flourishing Hunter, not a splashy rare. It can also be cheap cards like Kessig Flamebreathers and cantrips)

Those three always stay, but certain archetypes have other roles that need to be filled. My mental list for Blue/Black, for example, would probably look like this:
1. 1 & 2 drops that enable exploit
2. Interaction (preferably Bleed Dry & counterspells)
3. Exploit creatures
4. A way to get ahead on resources (Blood Fountain, Scattered Thoughts)

A Red/Green deck probably has a mental checklist like this:
1. Two-drops that are wolves
2. Interaction (removal and combat tricks)
3. Bigger wolves

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.

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 two 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 Halana and Alena in your BG deck, you need three red sources. If you’re splashing the legendary partners and Rending Flame, you need four red sources.

One very important note is that you don’t want to just add three Mountains to your deck and call it good. Your mana 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 Evolving Wilds and a Weaver of Blossoms, though, you can count those as red sources and only add one Mountain 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 Rending Flame if my deck is light on removal, but I won’t compromise my mana 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.

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 two are so slim. This isn’t true for removal spells like Fierce Retribution which can be good on turn two or turn 20.


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. There are definitely some bombs worth splashing for in VOW, but most of your decks will be better off as strictly two colors.

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.

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 every single time.

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.

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 basic decks with 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.

Most decks have cards that cost more than three mana. The above deck’s plan was to play an early threat and then counter everything.

Mono-red decks with 15 lands are viable with enough Kessig Flamebreathers and cantrips (i.e. cards that draw another card when played), though sadly I don’t have a decklist available.

Truthfully, I haven’t been breaking the rules much in VOW draft. The cards are already broken. When there are so many powerful cards, make sure you can cast yours consistently.


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 most of us. 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, building around them, and hoping to draw them during the game is not the answer to beating great players (though I will admit it’s correct more often than usual in this format given the power level of some individual cards).

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. Draft whatever way makes you happy!

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

You’re going to lose games to rares in Vow draft and it can feel awful. I get it, I really do. Those losses sting the most and stick with us the longest. Worse, 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. If an elite drafter starts building around Howlpack Piper in P1P1, it will perform like a bomb every time its cast because the deck will be built to optimize it. I’d guess we all try to do this on some level, but the best drafters are muuuuuuch better at it than most of us. So when they play their rares/mythics, it hurts more.

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 yeah, infuriatingly, great players seem to have more rares and there are some reasons for that.

But let’s be sure to acknowledge something else: It’s very possible you lost because you got unlucky. 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 Avabruck Caretaker. 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) because 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 rare or mythic, but when I’m honest with myself I often realize I would’ve lost to any comparably costed card my opponent played. Then the question becomes “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.

-Schaab
Draft Enthusiast

About the Author

Schaab fell in love with Draft when he came back to Magic in 2016. These days, he’s mostly F2P on three Arena accounts. Life responsibilities prevent him from being a tournament grinder or taking Magic too seriously, so he happily considers himself a successful casual player.

LetsTalkLimited on Twitch. Haven’t streamed in a few months but just upgraded my internet so might try again soon. I’ve really upped my Twitter game lately (I’ve been posting more pictures of animals).

You can contact me with comments, questions, or feedback at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

Goblins Everywhere! Upgrading the Arena Intro Deck for Daily Quests

*** Deck has been updated since original article was written. Kumano Faces Kakkazan was a huge upgrade. General strategy is the same but parts like Faceless Haven vs. Den of the Bugbear are no longer relevant. Thanks for reading! – Schaab 5/24/22

Deck
4 Hobgoblin Captain (AFR) 148
4 Kumano Faces Kakkazan (NEO) 152
4 Fireblade Charger (ZNR) 139
4 Hobgoblin Bandit Lord (AFR) 147
4 Goblin Javelineer (AFR) 144
4 Battle Cry Goblin (AFR) 132
20 Mountain (UST) 215
4 Den of the Bugbear (AFR) 254
3 Grotag Bug-Catcher (ZNR) 142
3 Sneaking Guide (ZNR) 164
2 Play with Fire (MID) 154
4 Hulking Bugbear (AFR) 149

The Narrative

Drafting a well-tuned deck and dueling against similarly skilled competition is the peak Magic experience for this author. Every decision made during the draft, deckbuilding, and gameplay has an impact on the outcome. Even in defeat, I’m satisfied to have been part of a great game of Magic.

But, uh, that’s usually not the experience I’m looking for when the Arena screen loads these days. Magic happens on mobile while feeding my toddler, playing outside with the dogs, or hiding in the basement from my older children for a few minutes of peace.

I’m just trying to win at least one game on all three of my accounts and complete the daily quests so I can remain mostly F2P, so I play a lot of unranked Standard.

With efficiency in mind, the “Goblins Everywhere!” beginner deck caught my eye but it didn’t take long to recognize my plan’s core flaw: the deck is terrible. And that’s fine if you’re playing against other horrendous piles like the Aerial Domination deck, but most opponents play with actual decks (e.g. Avalanche, Lifegain). After trying different builds and cards on each of my accounts, now I run this exact list on all three.

It’s consistent, fun, fast, and can win on turn four.

Great for completing daily quests with casting red spells, casting creature spells, and attacking with x creatures.

The Deck

Deck
4 Battle Cry Goblin
4 Grotag Bug-Catcher
4 Hobgoblin Bandit Lord
4 Play with Fire
4 Tin Street Cadet
4 Hobgoblin Captain
4 Fireblade Charger
4 Faceless Haven
4 Goblin Javelineer
19 Snow-Covered Mountain
4 Sneaking Guide
1 Reckless Impulse

At some point during the writing process, I started using acronyms. Here they are:

  • HBL = Hobgoblin Bandit Lord
  • BCG = Battle Cry Goblin
  • GBC = Grotag Bug-Catcher

One-drops

Goblin Javelineer – Your best play on turn 1 because it has haste and can potentially attack through blockers.

Fireblade Charger – I typically play these later so they’re potentially buffed by HBL or BCG when they die.

Sneaking Guide – Being a rogue pumps GBC. Just like Zendikar Rising draft, you can target GCB with the ability before combat to sneak in the last few points of damage.

Tin Street Cadet – Most replaceable because it’s rarely blocked and there’s a hasty 1-drop in the format that might be better than Cadet. When it does get blocked, HBL’s second ability counts the goblin that entered the battlefield.

Play with Fire – Aiming the spell at your opponent’s face can be correct if you need to hit a land with your next draw to cast and activate Battle Cry Goblin.

Two-drops

Hobgoblin Captain – It’s a goblin. It attacks for three. That’s the analysis.

Grotag Bug-Catcher – Important to note that GBC only attacks for two on its own. Creatures that buff GBC are Sneaking Guide, Hobgoblin Bandit Lord, and Faceless Haven while activated.

Three drops

Hobgoblin Bandit Lord – It only attacks for two and your opponent is highly motivated to kill it, so it doesn’t enter combat as frequently as most goblins. Its activated ability is extremely relevant though and is great for picking off cards like Prosperous Innkeeper and Lunarch Veteran. Goblins that enter the battlefield mid-combat from BCG, Tin Street Cadet, or Den of the Bugbear count towards the total.

“Four” drops

Battle Cry Goblin costs two mana. This might trick you into thinking you should play it on, oh I don’t know, turn two. But that’s a mistake most of the time. BCG is secretly a 4-drop that enters the battlefield, pumps your entire team, and then attacks for four if the coast is clear. Whether or not you attack with BCG is often the most difficult and important decision of the game.

This deck has no 4-drops according to its curve graphic, but in reality it plays four of them in the form of BCG. I almost never concede games with this deck because so many games are winnable if BCG is your next draw.

The Part for Experienced Players

The deck is plug-and-play ready but definitely not perfect. I’m far from an expert when it comes to goblins, mono-red, or constructed decks in general. The rare count was intentionally kept low to make the deck accessible to new players, so it’s very possible upgrades can be made with more rares and mythics.

With commons and uncommons, I wouldn’t be surprised if the optimal build is 4-5 cards different from the current one. There’s a one-of slot that’s currently filled by Reckless Impulse just to try it out. Truth be told, I’m kinda stumped about what the 60th card should be.

The Part for Newer Players

Rare Arena wildcards are precious resources if you plan to play constructed formats. I’m not a constructed player, but Faceless Haven is an incredible card that will be played for as long as it’s standard legal. Crafting four of them seems like a solid investment, especially if you like aggressive decks. If you don’t want to craft them, there’s nothing wrong with playing regular mountains with a Den of the Bugbear or two if you have them.

For a quick discussion about the importance of small edges, let’s talk about why this deck plays Faceless Haven instead of Den of the Bugbear, which does something similar but also makes a goblin.

Better when entering the battlefield: Faceless Haven. A land coming into played tapped doesn’t seem like a huge deal on a per-game basis. But when you play the same deck for a couple hundred games, the cost becomes clear. Coming into play tapped as your third or fourth land means you can’t cast HBL on turn three and can’t cast/activate BCG on turn four. So unless Den is in your opening hand, it doesn’t support the deck’s best draws.

Better as a land: Den of the Bugbear. This is a mono-red deck with 20 cards that Faceless Haven can’t cast. Draws with two Faceless Haven can be extremely awkward to navigate. There are turns where you can’t spend all your mana because you can’t produce enough red, so only producing colorless mana is definitely a cost that hurts in some games.

Better as a creature: Faceless Haven. Based on stats alone, Den looks like the better choice. They both produce four power and three toughness, but Den makes a goblin token that can attack again next turn. The monumental difference between the two is what else you can do on the turn you activate them.

To attack as a creature: Den of the Bugbear requires five mana, four to activate and it then taps when attacking

To attack as a creature: Faceless Haven requires three mana to activate and then attacks with vigilance, allowing it to be used for mana after combat. The deck doesn’t have a way to use the single colorless mana Faceless Haven produces, which I’d love to change but haven’t figured out how.

Sadly, this deck sometimes needs to play beyond turn four, so what can you do with five mana?

Den – Attack for four including a 1/1 token.

Faceless haven – Attack for four and activate BCG or Sneaking Guide before blockers are declared or play a two-drop after combat. It’s a changeling, so it gets all the same buffs that Den gets (see it attacking for six in the last photo below) while also adding a party type for GBC! Not to mention the fact that Faceless Haven can attack a turn sooner because you only need four total mana.

The combined costs of coming into play tapped and costing five to activate made me try Faceless Haven and I never looked back. That being said, it is my strong opinion that you should play whatever way makes you happy. If you want to maximize the goblinness of your goblin deck, Bugbear is more on theme.

Faceless Haven is a Standard constructed staple but the same can’t be said about Hobgoblin Bandit Lord. It’s certainly great in this deck, but unplayable outside of goblin tribal.

If you’re thinking about using wildcards to play this deck, I highly recommend crafting the Faceless Havens first. A common spell like Burn Bright or You See a Pair of Goblins can play a similar role to Hobgoblin Bandit Lord without the need to use wildcards. The spells might even be better in some games considering how often my HBL gets bounced back to my hand.

Pay close attention to how you sequence your plays. With so many cheap cards, the decision tree is surprisingly large. Do you play a 2-drop on turn two or a pair of 1-drops? Depends. GBG or Hobgoblin Captain on turn two? Depends. Do you have a way to pump the GBC? Is first strike likely to be relevant?

Try to plan your first 3-4 turns with the goal of maximizing damage and spending all your mana.

Here’s the easy turn 4 kill:

Turn 1 – Goblin Javelineer. One damage

Turn 2- GBC or Hobgoblin Captain. Two total damage.

Turn 3 – HBL. Eight total damage.

Turn 4 – BCG, pump and attack. 25 total damage

And a rareless turn 4 kill

Turn 1 Goblin Javelineer

Turn 2 GBC

Turn 3, Goblin Javelineer X2 and Sneaking Guide

Turn 4 BCG pump and attack.

Exactly 20 damage.

The Warnings

Conservatively, I’d guess about 263% of my losses can be attributed to Meathook Massacre. It’s everywhere, even in Unranked play mode. Just accept it as a fact and try not to get tilted. That being said, there are times when the first one is beatable.

The W and WG lifegain matchups are winnable, but even this deck’s best curve-out can’t beat their good hands when you’re on the draw.

The End

If you’re looking for a quick way to play a few games and complete your daily quests, this modified version of Goblins Everywhere is what I use every day.

While its primary purpose is to complete quests efficiently, you can also use it for things like beating a very good clerics deck

Or winning on turn tour through a big blocker

Or beating the super annoying WG Lifegain decks

Whatever your goal, this version of Goblins Everywhere is a pretty fun way to spend your time. Happy attacking, and remember to be excellent to each other.

-Schaab

Draft Enthusiast, Daily Quest Completer

About the Author

Schaab fell in love with Draft when he came back to Magic in 2016. These days, he’s mostly F2P on three Arena accounts. Life responsibilities prevent him from being a tournament grinder or taking Magic too seriously, so he happily considers himself a successful casual player.

If you’re new to Arena and want to accumulate wildcards then you should consider Draft, the format I usually write about. Watching streamers is a great way to see and learn more about a format. There’s no shortage of streamers with different styles out there, but I really enjoy Chord_O_Calls content in both video and written form. He’s an excellent drafter who explains his thought process well, streams regularly, and most importantly answers my silly little questions on Twitter. If you want to give draft a try, I wrote a guide for building better draft decks.

LetsTalkLimited on Twitch. Haven’t streamed in a few months but just upgraded my internet so might try again soon. I’ve really upped my Twitter game lately (I’ve been posting more pictures of animals).

You can contact me with comments, questions, or feedback at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

An Uncommon Approach: “Boring” Deckbuilding’s Impact on Gameplay (Rareless Drafts 4-6)

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 Curve

“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.

Final deck:

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…

Zephyr Boots

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:

One is not Zero

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.

Don’t worry, everyone. We have a 2/2.

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.

Future Drafts

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)

Silverquill: 7-0

Witherbloom: 3-3

Silverquill 6-3

Witherbloom: 5-3

Silverquill: 7-0

Quandrix: 7-2

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.

To directly promote more content, check out the Let’s Talk Limited Patreon page.

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

An Uncommon Approach: Rareless Drafting Strixhaven Drafts 2 & 3

We could’ve had fun. We could’ve drafted good cards. This series could’ve been called “Reaping Rewards: Identifying the Open Draft Color” but noooooooo stupid Schaab wanted to do stupid Rareless Drafting. Who even wants to play multiple Dragonsguard Elites when you could have two Hunt for Specimens?

Ok so we passed some real bangers in this one and talking about the rares distracts nicely from the fact that several mistakes were made during the draft. Playing the blame game isn’t helpful, but since I was the only person present during the draft and gameplay, I will valiantly accept responsibility for the errors this time.

Honestly, I fell in to some traps and don’t love how I navigated the draft, resulting in a functional but flawed Witherbloom deck. Mistakes are wonderful learning opportunities though, and eager minds will find no shortage of them in this draft.

Let’s dissect some draft choices, review the thought process behind them, and learn from this author’s mistakes. Let’s Talk Limited!

Draft #2 – Witherbloom (3-3)

Full draft found here

What’s missing?

Don’t strain yourself. The answer is ways to interact with my opponent’s creatures, particularly cheap ways.

Let’s acknowledge a truth, fellow drafter – sometimes a draft concludes and you never had a realistic opportunity to address its flaws during the draft – that wasn’t the case this time. I had multiple opportunities to take cards that would’ve greatly improved this deck but passed them for various reasons. We won’t focus too much on the rares we could’ve had – that’s not why this deck only won 50% of its games – the reason this deck wasn’t more successful was suboptimal draft choices. And this isn’t just hindsight – I should’ve made different decisions with the information I had available at the time.

Pack 1 Pick 1

This was a choice between Emergent Sequence and Elemental Summoning for me. Study Break would’ve been the pick if I wanted to force White aggro every time, but the plan is to draft exactly like I normally would except for the rares. Emergent Sequence is a 2-drop that both ramps and fixes, and you can sign me up for a card like that pretty much every time.

Pack 1 Pick 3

This is the one that derailed me. In hindsight, it’s easy for me to imagine a Red drafter passing this Heated Debate. Maybe they started with Multiple Choice, second picked Igneous Inspiration, so here’s this Heated Debate pick 3. Sadly, I wasn’t thinking that way at the time. I weighed this signal far more heavily than I should have and it impacted my next few picks significantly.

Pack 1 Pick 4

Lash of Malice passed: One.

Knowing that I’ll end up in Witherbloom, the choice in this pack seems obvious. But having just picked a red card, I went with a general Strixhaven guideline of “I rarely regret drafting Lessons early.” Plus, Start from Scratch is a particularly good lesson that is splashable if I end up in green. Had I taken the Inkling Summoning out of the previous pack instead of the Heated Debate, I’d probably take the Lash in this spot. Heated Debate really threw me, y’all.

Pack 1 Pick 5

Alarm bells are going off now. The lack of red cards is concerning and there are obviously good cards in both green colleges, which brings us to Mage Duel. Here’s what deterred me: “Would I take this Mage Duel if I didn’t first pick a green card?” My answer at the time was “no” but I think that was a mistake.

Is content creator bias a thing? Having done the first draft the easy way, I wonder if I felt some pressure to do this one the hard way. I’ll be more aware of this in the future. The goal is to draft good decks, and if that means I keep drafting the easy way, then so be it.

Pack 2 Pick 1

Heading into pack 2 I was confident that I’d be green but was open to either Witherbloom or Quandrix (Temur).

Except for the rare, this pack is horrendous for our prospective colors and I’d take the introduction to annihilation if I didn’t already have one. At this point, I’d prefer to be Quandrix and already have some fixing with Emergent Sequence, so might as well be Temur and take the Igneous Inspiration.

Pack 2 Pick 4

So now I’m pretty sure I’m Temur, snap-pick Bury in Books, and then see this pack:

The moment of truth. Having just taken two good Quandrix cards, I had to honestly ask myself if there were reasons to believe the college would be open in Pack 3. Did I see Bury in Books? Quandrix Pledgemages? Late Quandrix gold cards? I reached the conclusion that I was letting my preferences influence my draft choices too much. I’d really prefer to be Quandrix, but Witherbloom seemed open in both directions, so this is when I decided be Black/Green.

Lash of Malice passed: 2. I really wanted the first Pest Summoning, but wow did this deck need cheap interaction. I regret this choice.

Pack 3 Pick 1

I am an oak. Sturdy, immovable.

Pack 3 Pick 2

I am a monk. Human with iron will and determination.

Pack 3 Pick 3

I’m a child who dropped their ice cream cone, wallowing in sorrow.

Pack 3 Pick 5

I’m a pile of tears. Someone mop me up off the floor.

We could’ve had fun. We could’ve drafted good cards. But noooooooo.

Our variance was TOO good. If those rares had been Flunk and a pair of Devouring Tendrils, suddenly we’re looking at a much different deck. I got caught up in this line of thought for a bit – and it’s fine to briefly acknowledge when things you can’t control don’t go your way – but you absolutely must focus on your own choices if you’re looking to improve as a Drafter. I can’t change what cards were passed to me, but could’ve made better decisions during the draft. That’s the focus.

In the end, I think the Quandrix deck would’ve been fine if I’d stayed in that lane but would’ve suffered the same problem (lack of cheap, meaningful interaction). If I had known Environmental Sciences was going to come around insanely late in Pack 3, maybe I would’ve been stayed the course and been Temur after all.

I tried a second version of the deck splashing Bury in Books but think I would’ve been better off splashing Igneous Inspiration.

I was indecisive and it cost me.

I’m not sure why the third loss isn’t there. I think it was a Silverquill deck?

Draft #3 – Silverquill (6-3)

Don’t draft when you’re frustrated, kids. I was a little annoyed at myself for not drafting a better Witherbloom deck and it showed in my early draft choices. Eventually I came to my senses and settled in to an acceptable Silverquill deck (6-3).

Full draft found here

Friendly reminder: your typical draft mana base is horrendous, and volume drafting ensures you’ll experience unfortunate but normal variance eventually. If your mana base is sound and losses like the following happen, it’s ok to blame variance sometimes. Accept, move on, focus on your choices.

Sometimes you draw all Plains and black cards. It happens.
Sometimes you draw all white cards and Swamps. It happens.
Game #8 was an incredibly satisfying win

Future Drafts

Oh what could’ve been if I were a better drafter. Oh the deck we could’ve had if we drafted the rares. But noooooo stupid Schaab wanted to make stupid mistakes while Rareless Drafting. Beginning this series, I knew the good decks would be great examples of fundamental drafting and deck building. What I didn’t consider is the sun-sized spotlight it would place on my drafting mistakes. Yikes, woof, and other words as well.

I’m more interested in the decks we draft than the overall stats (small sample size and all that) but I’ll keep track and report them for those who are interested.

Silverquill: 7-0 (First Uncommon Approach article here)

Witherbloom: 3-3

Silverquill 6-3

Overall: 16-6 = 73%

Mistakes made: Can we not?

Rares passed: Approximately a billion today alone.

The true goal of An Uncommon Approach isn’t to make mythic or achieve the highest win percentage possible without rares (if it were, I’d probably force White aggro). The goal is to draft the best decks we can, learn from mistakes, and become better drafters than we were yesterday. Winning games is a natural byproduct of that process.

Rareless drafting feels like intensive Draft training. When I start drafting normally again, I expect to feel like Goku taking off the weighted clothing (I look more like Krillin but whatever). Truthfully, I didn’t feel as sharp during these drafts as I’d like so I’ll be looking to correct that. I don’t have much time for content consumption these days, but I’ll be making time for Sam Black’s podcast to sharpen all the tools in my Strixhaven toolbox (and add another one: Dimir Control).

Yours truly hopes to be better next time. And if I’m not…. well, let’s not call them mistakes. Let’s call them learning opportunities. And what educator doesn’t want to provide students with copious learning opportunities?

Happy Drafting!

-Schaab. Draft Enthusiast, Mardu Vehicles Pilot, Draft Mistake Maker, Iron Willed Passer of Rares

I don’t post my articles in too many places, but if you want to receive notifications when I publish, I imagine following the site is the best way.

Author’s Note

Thanks so much for reading! I’m planning to continue an Uncommon Approach until further notice but have a few other things on my mind and am unsure what to prioritize, so introducing Let’s Talk Limited’s first poll! We gettin’ so fancy.

Full disclosure: I’d like to stream An Uncommon Approach but am hesitant to do so because the rural area in which I live is still waiting for 21st century internet to arrive. My audio should be great now thanks to a new mic but I upload to Twitch slowly so I doubt the visuals are great. If there’s interest in watching despite the internet issues, I’d be happy to do it, so please let me know. LetsTalkLimited on Twitch.

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

To directly promote more content, check out the Let’s Talk Limited Patreon page.

An Uncommon Approach: Rareless Drafting Strixhaven Draft #1

“But the RARES” they shouted. “Those winning draft decks had rares in them!” – Magic players, always

The examples provided in my guide to building better draft decks contained cards like Poet’s Quill and Tempted by the Oriq, leading some to fairly point out that the lists didn’t support my theme of downplaying the rares. The reasons are pretty simple: I wanted to use winning decklists and need all the rares and variance available to trophy on the Mythic Arena ladder. My name is Schaab – not Shota, not Shahar, not Sheth Manfield.

Building “boring” decks (i.e. prioritizing consistency over power level) isn’t going to set you apart once you reach Mythic, but it sure can help get you there.

In the simplest terms possible, new drafters get the impression that this is the order of importance for draft success:

  1. Powerful cards (usually rares)
  2. Consistently functional decks

When really your priorities should be as follows:

  1. Consistently functional decks
  2. Powerful cards

Of course the rares and powerful cards matter. They just don’t matter as much as people think. And they certainly don’t matter as much as being able to reliably cast your cards.

This got me wondering how far I could climb the ladder while avoiding the rares entirely. So after some bot games, a color challenge, and a small investment in the new player bundle, I had an account solely for rareless drafting.

Let’s take an uncommon approach to the Strixhaven Arena ladder and see where it gets us. We’ll take a look at our first boring deck, a few interesting draft choices, and features of gameplay at the Bronze level. Let’s Talk Limited!

Drafting

Bomb Rares passed: 1

17lands doesn’t include P1P1 choices, but I can tell you there was a Blue Sun’s Zenith and Draconic Intervention in this pack.

Killian certainly falls into the category of uncommons that play like rares (Turn 4 Killian, Study Break, Expanded Anatomy is my personal favorite sequence). While it’s highly unusual for me to take a gold card Pick 1, this is an adjustment I’ve made for Strixhaven in the past few weeks. I’ll take an early chance on cards like Killian, Rootha, or Quandrix Apprentice because they’re all-stars in their respective decks.

Silverquill was open so I was able to play my first pick and the draft was pretty straightforward. We’ll look at the final decklist and a couple draft choices I’m unsure of.

If I were going to write a Magic love poem, it would be about 2-drops. Ten playable 2-drops in this deck! Ten!

Pack 1 Pick 2

Not 100% sure if Orator over Rise of Extus was correct. Leaning towards Silverquill, I’m fine with only having a single Rise in my build, but I’ll take any number of high quality two-drops. Plus, the Martin Juza Rule (if you’re not sure, take the cheaper card).

Pack 1 Pick 9

Hindsight is 20/20, but my final build would’ve much rather had the Guiding Voice instead of Reflective Golem. My reasoning was that I’d probably see another Voice if one tabled so I could get more later in the draft. Plus the golem already worked well with the Killian and Expanded Anatomy in my pool, so I took the creature.

Pack 2 Pick 1

Lash of Malice is so important. Let’s you kill a blocker and add to the board on turn 3 if you’re on the play. Let’s you recover some tempo by killing their 2-drop on end-step and then playing your own two-drop on the draw. Lots of good cards here but the first Lash is phenomenal.

Technically we passed an on-color rare Pick 2 but I would’ve take the Professor of Symbology anyway. Despark is not great.

Pack 2 Pick 3

Selfless Glyphweaver is a good rare but we won’t miss it. The tough choice was between the first Arrogant Poet or the first Silverquill Apprentice. I went with the cheaper creature because I already had the same number of 2 & 3 drops and will almost always lean towards the turn 2 play in that case.

Pack 2 Pick 6

So our colors are open. I didn’t have a 4-drop and Combat Professor is a very good one, so I took the first professor over the second summoning. Even after playing the games and winning some thanks to Combat Professor, I’m still unsure about this choice.

Pack 3 Pick 5

Here I am taking an off-color lesson instead of an on-color rare. Yiiiiiiikes.

Pack 3 Pick 8

These are the kind of choices you get to make when you draft the open colors (the easy way, in this instance). Decided I wanted the second Laureate more than the third Combat Professor or second Humiliate. I feel good about this pick but I could see taking a different card.

The draft played out a little strangely. Silverquill and Lorehold were clearly the open colleges but I somehow never saw a Study Break or a second Guiding Voice. This might’ve been a triple Rip Apart Lorehold deck if not for the first pick Killian swaying my early choices. Either white deck would’ve been fine in this seat – anything else would’ve been difficult.

Again, here’s the final list:

This deck plays 16 lands for three reasons: 1. I have a campus so I still have 9 white sources and 8 black sources 2. Low curve and the six-mana spell can be reduced by Killian 3. Pilgrim of Ages acts as the pseudo 17th land.

Gameplay

Play two-drops, new players. Your fellow new players usually don’t and your win percentage will skyrocket. I played two-drops in all seven games, my opponents played a 2-drop in only two.

^ This is the recipe for success. Two drops! ::clap clap:: Two drops! ::clap clap::

I could draft this deck at FNM, hand it to a new player, say “Use all your mana every turn if you can. Inkling Summoning should be the first lesson you grab most of the time” and they would have a very good chance to win games. Even if they don’t win, they get to make interesting choices and develop their skill.

As mentioned earlier, I’m not among the elite when it comes to Magic. Still, the number of games I’ve played is in the tens of thousands so there is some degree of separation between me and a new drafter. Of the games I played, I’d say 2-3 of them required a degree of skill that would be unreasonable for a newer player.

Nassari is a hard card to beat, especially when they rudely steal your Professor of Symbology. Nearly dead here, would’ve died if I didn’t chump block thanks to the Enthusiastic Study and Infuriate.

My entire board flies thanks to Stonerise Spirit and Thunderous Orator’s ability. I don’t think they accounted for the Orator when they made their play.

Maybe a newer player doesn’t trophy with this deck, but they would have a good chance to win 4-5 games, an outcome I think most novices would be extremely pleased with.

Now let’s think back to Pack 1 Pick 1 and imagine a new player trying to build an effective Blue Sun’s Zenith deck. Holy bananas what a disaster.

Looking Ahead

Sure can’t complain about a 7-0 start for an Uncommon Approach.

To keep the results consistent, I’ll only Premier draft with this account. Now at 3200 gems, we have two drafts in the bank and ready to go!

Here are some things I expect during this process:

  1. I expect to hit a very real ceiling where it becomes difficult for me to win more than 50% of my games.
  2. I expect to draft really focused decks. My judgment gets skewed by rares just like everyone else. I get lazy while I draft sometimes and I simply can’t afford to do that if I’m not drafting the most powerful cards.
  3. I’ll probably draft decks that try to shorten the game. Opponents can’t draw all their rares if they’re dead.

The main reason I won these games is that I played two-drops and my opponents didn’t. Booooorrrrriiiiiinnnnnnggggggg (but winning is so fun!). We passed some bomb rares, played against a couple, and came away with a perfect record thanks our turn 2 plays.

Taking a boring approach doesn’t mean you never draft rares or mythics. You draft them when they fit into your boring, functional deck. You learn to draft boring decks like the one we reviewed today – then apply the same concepts and include rares.

You have to learn to do this:

Before you can do this:

7 win mythic from a few weeks ago

Thanks for reading and remember: Be Boring during the draft and deckbuilding – Be extraordinary during your games. Happy drafting!

– Schaab. Draft Enthusiast, Mardu Vehicles Pilot

Author’s Note

I’m still figuring out what kind of Magic content I want to create, so please let me know if you’re interested in An Uncommon Approach becoming a series. I can only do it after I’ve learned a draft set, so I’m thinking it might be a unique perspective to provide a month or two after a set has been released. Thanks for the feedback!

Historic Mardu Magda: Beating Turn 2 Ugin and Other Info

My cold, calculating drafter’s heart has very few soft spots for 60 card decks. This Historic Magda list posted by Raph Levy, however, looked similar to Mardu Vehicles – the lone Standard deck I piloted during my brief stint as a tournament grinder in Southern Maine a few years back. Hello, heartstrings. Didn’t realize you were there.

Raph Levy’s Boros Magda

Boros Magda didn’t hold my interest, but the potential to play Mardu Vehicles in Historic got the wheels in my brain turning.

The Framework

Vehicle decks of all varieties were prevalent during Kaladesh standard and evolved over time. Consequently, there’s no singular list that represents the Mardu Vehicles archetype. Credit where it’s due: Lee Shi Tian innovated and piloted the Mardu version to a PT Top 8 finish, so he’s the originator as far as I’m aware. That deck, however, contained four copies of Inventor’s Apprentice, a card I hated playing then and grimace at now. My mental version of Mardu Vehicles looks more like these lists from Ondrej Strasky and Reid Duke:

Ondrej Strasky PT list

The general idea: Bottom of the curve is efficient creatures to establish early pressure. Play a planeswalker in the middle turns. Handle your opponent’s threats with efficient spot removal. Finish with a big creature if necessary.

With that in mind, here’s my current build of Mardu Magda.

*Importable Arena decklist available below

Mana Base

Astute Constructed players will likely have questions about the mana base, so here is the answer to all your questions: These are the lands I own and I’m fresh outta wildcards after building this deck.

Truth be told, tuning a Constructed mana base isn’t in my skillset. I wouldn’t know how to put together the ideal mana base for this list even if I owned all the cards. So if there’s a Constructed player out there who knows what the ideal mana base would be, I’d love to hear it!

Raph’s list had 18 lands, 3 Shatterskull Summoning, and 2 Emeria’s Call. I cut one Emeria’s Call and replaced it with a land.

The deck can function on two lands, but three is the sweet spot. Like any Magda deck, its capable of producing absurd amounts of mana even when you’re land-light.

The Core

*This entire article should have a disclaimer just in case people think they’re reading the thoughts of an elite Constructed player – You aren’t. So while I have some strong opinions about this deck thus far, they’re the opinions of a casual Constructed player who just so happened to play a lot of Mardu Vehicles.

All that being said, I wouldn’t change any of the following:

Toolcraft Exemplar (4)

Your best turn 1 play. This little dwarf artificer hits so hard with a little bit of help. Without that help though… there are few things sadder than your aggro deck attacking for 1 damage on the second turn of the game.

Triggering the Exemplar on turn two is often the difference between the artificer dealing two damage or dealing six. The current list above has 13 ways to play an artifact on turn 2 not counting Magda.

Note: The Toolcraft Exemplar’s buff happens before the treasure is created with Magda, so the dwarf’s stats won’t get boosted unless you already have an artifact on the battlefield before combat.

Thraben Inspector (4)

Thraben Inspector sparked joy in Shadows Over Innistrad draft and I’ll clutch on to any opportunity to play the human soldier again.

Provides an artifact for Toolcraft, replaces itself eventually, blocks a surprising number of early threats in the format, and usually chump blocks to protect a planeswalker. I’ve always loved Thraben Inspector and it’ll take a lot of convincing before I take them out.

Bomat Courier (3)

No card that I enjoy playing gives me more anxiety. I’m never sure if I’ve played it optimally and the card is still fantastic somehow. Three couriers seems correct based on my games so far. I won’t be stunned if the ideal list contains a different number but I won’t be messing with them anytime soon.

Fatal Push (3-4)

Access to Fatal Push is part of the incentive for playing Mardu over Boros. After watching some of this weekend’s Mythic Championship coverage, it seems like killing a 1/1 in response to Indomitable Creativity will be of paramount importance in Historic. Killing big shark tokens also important.

Fatal push obviously can’t hit players like Lightning Helix can but I think the cheaper mana cost and ability to deal with threats after they’ve grown out of hand (e.g. Scavenging Ooze, Sprite Dragon) is worth the tradeoff. Plus, you can cast Fatal Push with revolt after you’ve declared attackers if you make a treasure with Magda. Between treasures, clues, and regular game actions taking place, triggering revolt usually isn’t difficult.

Scrapheap Scrounger (2-4)

If I owned a playset of Scroungers on Arena, I’d be playing them. Another incentive for adding black to the mana base is getting Scrounger back from the graveyard. It enables Toolcraft Exemplar, crews Heart of Kiran, attacks for 3 all on its own, and can come back to the battlefield untapped at your leisure.

Magda, Brazen Outlaw (4)

What. A. Card.

This is my favorite turn 2 sequence with the deck: Turn 1 Toolcraft Exemplar, Turn 2 Magda, attack for two, creature a treasure, cast another Exemplar. You won’t have an artifact in play at the beginning of the next combat step, but again, there are 13 artifacts or ways to produce artifacts that cost 1-2 mana in the deck so you can produce one fairly reliably.

My turn 2 over. Opponent’s Turn 3 now.

If you get an artifact on the battlefield pre-combat, not only do you attack for 10 but you make three treasures! You can play a Heart of Kiran pre-combat and Gideon Blackblade post-combat all while playing around Censor on turn 3.

Magda’s forgotten ability is sometimes relevant. Don’t forget that you can grab Embercleave or Glorybringer if you have five spare treasures.

Heart of Kiran (4)

Hits hard, protects planeswalker, trades with dragons, loves to be crewed by dwarves with Magda on the battlefield.

*Yes, you can crew this with Toolcraft Exemplar after it triggers. It’s much easier than in paper, where you have to say Movetocombattriggermytoolcraftexemplartothencrewmyheartofkiran without breathing to get the effect.

Heart of Kiran is best friends with this next guy.

Gideon Blackblade (2)

I’d never played with this Gideon and initially had some doubts it would be too vulnerable on the battlefield. Nope. Being wrong is great sometimes.

This Gideon in tandem with the vigilant vehicle is a nightmare for opponents. Attacking for 8 while also gaining 4 life is, well, as good as it sounds.

Gideon’s second ability has been surprisingly relevant. The threat of exiling a nonland permanent becomes a very real consideration for your opponent very quickly.

I could see playing a third. Definitely wouldn’t play fewer than two.

Depala, Pilot Exemplar (2)

Depala often didn’t make the cut in old Standard versions of Mardu Vehicles, so I was immediately skeptical of the playset in the Boros list. I crafted two to start and haven’t considered adding a third, though cutting hasn’t been a consideration either.

You get the added bonus of your opponent not knowing what Depala does. My 5/5 Heart of Kiran has eaten quite a few unsuspecting dragons on the Arena ladder.

Depala’s ability to search for Dwarves or Vehicles is a great place to put an additional 1-2 mana if you weren’t going to spend it anyway.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

What’s to say? She’s absurd, as usual.

Magda lets you play Chandra on turn 3 in some games which a lot of decks simply can’t recover from.

I’ve been having a lot of success with Chandra and Gideon because I have an elite Constructed thought process: Planeswalker usually win game. Win game good. Play planeswalker. The best turn to resolve your planeswalker against a blue deck is whenever you’re able to.

Scrapheap Scrounger gives you another relevant way to use Chandra’s mana ability and further pressure your opponent while adding a planeswalker to the board.

Glorybringer

Of the two top-end dragons, Glorybringer has felt more important than Goldspan Dragon mainly because clearing away a blocker is often a higher priority than making more treasure. And it’s even better now that I’ve figured out how to Exert instead of just attacking and hoping Arena will ask me if I want to.

Embercleave

A perfect one-of to go fetch with Magda. Finding Embercleave after sacrificing Bomat Courier in combat is filthy but oh so satisfying.

Flex Cards

Robber of the Rich x2

Rimrock Knight does not spark joy. This could just be personal preference, but I found Rimrock to be underwhelming despite the dwarf syngery and ability to crew Heart of Kiran. This deck already has a 2-drop that can’t block called Scrapheap Scrounger.

Robber of the Rich is just a generically good fill-in with haste for now. I don’t even know if Robber-of-the-Rich formats are a thing, but this sure doesn’t feel like one. A lot of the most popular cards being played are useless – Memory Lapse ain’t doing a whole lot in or after combat.

Maybe I’ll try going back to two Rimrock Knight but I’ll probably just craft two more scroungers when I can and play those instead.

Veteran Motorist has been on my mind as a replacement but I haven’t tried it yet.

Kolaghan’s Command

As an Affinity player, this might as well be called “Kolaghan’s Blowout,” so I have a hard time evaluating this card objectively

I have no idea if this inclusion is cute or correct. There are times when it’s great because it’s a fantastic card but I’m not sure if it’s ideal.

Goldspan Dragon

Cute or correct? This card has won me games but that’ll sometimes happen even in the wrong deck because it’s so good. I’m not sure Goldspan is better than the second Glorybringer or if the deck even needs a second 5-cost creature.

Spikefield Hazard

Considering running one of these instead of the third Shatterskull Summoning to give the deck another cheap way to disrupt the Indomitable Creativity combo.

Lightning Helix

Removed from the original list, I could definitely see some number of Helix being correct.

Beating Ugin

I knew this deck would be fun and win some games but beating a turn 2 Ugin highlights a strength that not many Historic archetypes can claim: diversity of threats.

Middle of my third turn

When a Tibalt’s Trickery player resolved a turn-2 Ugin, I was ready to sit back and let them have their fun. But when I looked at my hand, I realized Ugin can’t answer Heart of Kiran. We had an actual game on our hands.

Heart of Kiran and the backup Gideon took care of Ugin, I continued to add to the board and eventually won before my opponent could play another threat.

Obviously I was lucky to have the right combination of cards to get the job done in this case, but Mardu Magda’s diversity of threats make it difficult to stop with a single answer – even one as good as Ugin.

The Problem

As long as Izzet decks are everywhere, playing against Prismari Command is a certainty one just has to accept. I’m not a Constructed expert, but it doesn’t seem like a deck is very well positioned when the most popular decks are running four copies of a clean 2-for-1 against you.

That being said: Planeswalker usually win game. Win game good. Play Planeswalker.

If your opponent is forced to answer your early threats with removal, there’s often a window of opportunity to resolve Gideon or Chandra, at which point it’s difficult for control players to answer.

The Sideboard

4 Thoughtseize

11 Other Cards

I’ve only played BO1 so didn’t build a sideboard (I don’t have the wildcards to craft new rares anyway) but it will certainly have four Thoughtseize.

Those who have read my tournament reports know that I’m a big dumb-dumb when it comes to sideboarding. After April’s Historic MIQ I joked that I might start all of sideboard plans with a playset of Thoughtseize from now on. Turns out, I was not joking.

The switch from Mardu to Boros gives future Schaab access to hand disruption in the sideboard. I don’t know much, but I know how to take the wrath or whatever card my answer my opponent is planning to play next turn.

This is another area of potential growth for me as a player, so I’ll be quite pleased if a real Constructed player takes a shot at building a 15-card sideboard for this deck.

The Finish Line

If you like aggro decks with options, look no further. This deck is gas, has a lot of decisions to be made, and can kill your opponent in a variety of ways.

It’s not perfect – and it’s not well positioned- but it can kill on turn 4, can beat a turn 2 Ugin, and is a blast to play. Maybe it could even be competitive given a more competent Constructed deck-tuner. I’d love to know what an ideal mana base would be so I can build it when the time comes.

Historic Mardu Vehicles is a work in progress – not a work of art. I’ll be tuning the list to the best of my abilities while I do my dailies and would love some help if you’re willing and able, dear reader. For now, I’m resisting ending this article with something like “start your engines!” or “Vroom! Vroom!” so I’ll just say thanks for reading and see you next time!

-Schaab, Draft Enthusiast, Mardu Vehicles Pilot

Arena Importable Decklist


4 Thraben Inspector (SOI) 44
4 Toolcraft Exemplar (KLR) 35
3 Bomat Courier (KLR) 225
4 Magda, Brazen Outlaw (KHM) 142
1 Goldspan Dragon (KHM) 139
4 Heart of Kiran (KLR) 242
3 Shatterskull Smashing (ZNR) 161
2 Gideon Blackblade (WAR) 13
2 Depala, Pilot Exemplar (KLR) 192
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance (KLR) 117
1 Glorybringer (AKR) 157
1 Embercleave (ELD) 120
1 Emeria’s Call (ZNR) 12
4 Inspiring Vantage (KLR) 283
4 Needleverge Pathway (ZNR) 263
4 Sacred Foundry (GRN) 254
3 Fatal Push (KLR) 84
2 Scrapheap Scrounger (KLR) 268
2 Concealed Courtyard (KLR) 282
2 Blightstep Pathway (KHM) 252
1 Godless Shrine (RNA) 248
2 Robber of the Rich (ELD) 138
1 Kolaghan’s Command (DTK) 224
2 Blood Crypt (RNA) 245

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.

To directly promote more content, check out the Let’s Talk Limited Patreon page.

I’m new to streaming but am loving it and always appreciate new followers! LetsTalkLimited on Twitch.

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

Pledging Prismari: Drafting UR Spells in Strixhaven

Hello and welcome to Prismari Campus! My name is Schaab and I’ll be your guide today. Truthfully, I’m surprised to find myself here. As a language-based professional, I consider myself more of a Silverquill staff member, but the Prismari brochure says “DRAW MORE CARDS!” so I find myself here often.

Schaab, 2021

Today we’re going to tour one section of Prismari’s campus: Big Spell Square. The most popular place on campus is Tempo Tower (CFB Pro article by Ethan Saks – not the actual title of the article), but if you have dreams of casting the Magma Opus or Crackle with Power you opened, you’re in the right place! You don’t have to choose between having fun and winning – you can do both – probably. Maybe. No promises.

I’m not saying you should live in Big Spell Square. I’m just saying it’s one place on campus. You can cast big spells while drawing multiple cards per turn! What more could you want? Fair warning: your campus guide is easily distracted, so we’ll take some detours along the way. Let’s Talk Prismari Limited! 

The Faculty

This college has some truly exceptional educators. 

Efreet Flamepainter

If you’re looking for fun, look no further. Efreet Flamepainter transports you from Strixhaven directly to clown college. Riiiidiculous sequences happen with this card on the battlefield.

Efreet Flamepainter creates a mini-game. Whether you’re attacking, defending, or at parity, the red shaman’s arrival shifts the priorities and game actions of both players.

I’ve chosen to highlight this card in particular because it makes use of the graveyard – a surprisingly useful resource for Prismari players.

Go ahead and play Efreet Flamepainter on an empty board or without any impactful spells in the graveyard. Give your opponent that false sense of security and let the shenanigans begin. There are multiples ways to put spells in your graveyard without casting them – even at instant speed. 

Giving Efreet Flamepainter keys to the Access Tunnel isn’t my preference but I’ve seen others do it with great results.

Elemental Expressionist

Not a bomb, but worth highlighting that you can stack multiple triggers on the same creature, giving you more than one 4/4 Elemental when it dies. Floor of a 4/4, typical scenario is two 4/4s (the Expressionist and then the Elemental), and a game-winning ceiling of multiple elementals. The Orc Wizard itself isn’t a reason to attend Prismari but better than it first appears.

Nassari, Dean of Expression

An unanswered Nassari is not a beatable Magic card in a game of limited. What do you want? Card advantage? A creature that grows? A mill engine that provides inevitability? Check, check, and check.

Torrent Sculptor/Flamethrower Sonata

Both sides of this card perform well in Prismari. It’s not hard to turn it into a removal spell or decently sized creature depending on your need.

There are a lot of good Blue & Red rares that go in Prismari decks: Multiple Choice, Tempted by the Oriq, Ingenious Mastery, Draconic Intervention (bomb), etc. This isn’t a complete list but honestly most of the rares are good these days. Like, I haven’t had a chance to play Magma Opus in one of my draft decks yet but I imagine it’s pretty deece.

Let’s stop by the stables for a second so I can hop on my high horse before talking about Draconic Intervention. This card is a bomb in Prismari. It’s flexible because you usually have spells in the graveyard with different Mana Values (weird not to say CMC but ok) so you can engineer a favorable situation for yourself. It’s not unusual to exile a 2-3 mana spell and keep your 4/4 elementals. In a dire situation, you can even discard Elemental Mastery and then exile the two Bookwurms on the other side of the battlefield – a cool anecdote which would be much better had I actually won that game. I underestimated Draconic Intervention at first – now I never pass it, am happy to first pick it, and still see it passed far too late.

Also, Mystical Archive cards can lead to some nonsense:

A buddy’s draft log. 21 mana worth of spells on turn 6 with Mizzik’s Mastery. Seems good and fair.

Second-years (Two-drops)

The two-drop slot in Prismari is the equivalent of the second year of a 7-year degree program. Just survive it.

Prismari Pledgemage

The young Orc Wizard doesn’t excel in all areas but has perfect attendance – just shows up and sits there. If it looks like my deck is trending towards UR big spells, the pledgemage becomes a better card than Prismari Apprentice. It took a while for me to wrap my brain around it, but I’m pretty settled now. Prismari Apprentice is great, but when you’re casting 7 mana spells or multiple spells per turn, you typically don’t need your two-drop to win you the game. What you do need, however, is a 3/3 to help you survive the early turns.

Apprentice is still great, but Pledgemage is better in this deck.

Curate

My evaluation of this card continues to trend upwards and I’m surprised by how often I play Curate over replaceable two-drops. Playing Blood Age General or Burrog Befuddler and just hoping they trade with another creature feels awful.

Playing Curate over creatures isn’t free though – sometimes you’re on the draw, your opponent has early plays, and you take damage while casting your spell. But when that happens, Curate allows you to start digging for what you need. Maybe you find a Heated Debate, Igneous Inspiration, or Bury in Books to play the following turn. Maybe you put two Islands in your graveyard so you’re closer to drawing Pillardrop Warden and establishing blockers.

Now imagine the difference between drawing Curate and Blood-Age General in the late game. One is likely useless on the battlefield – the other puts imminent dead draws into your graveyard and gets  you closer to your more impactful cards.

Illustrious Historian

Putting this card in your deck is not the plan. But if you must….

It can trade with another two-drop as a blocker if you find it in your opening hand. If you draw it later, the goal is to discard it somehow and still get some value out of it.

Just survive your second year.

Negate

My love for Negate in this format is reaching unhealthy levels. I’ll play at least one in any Blue deck. One reason: above average number of spells in Strixhaven. Better reason: Future plays are telegraphed more often thanks to Lesson/Learn and some common play patterns. Fractal and Elemental Summoning are easy to see coming and there’s no shortage of good targets even against a deck like Silverquill aggro (Yes, you should be countering their Learn cards like Guiding Voice if you can. In a lot of games, you should use Negate whenever you get the chance.)

How is your opponent supposed to know if you’re holding up Negate, Curate, or Reject? They can’t. Have fun, opponent.

Reject

This is Plan D. Playing this in your 2-drop slot is better than nothing, but this should only make your deck out of necessity. The only reason I even consider this card playable in Prismari is because there are multiple ways to discard it later in the game when it’s useless. When this card finds a target, I feel like I’ve already won the game.

Junior Year: Committing to Your Major

In an ideal draft deck, your turn 3 play complements your turn 2 play. That’s not naturally the case in Prismari, so surviving the Developing phase will look slightly different based on your build. If your deck is Curating on turn two and playing a Quandrix Pledgemage on 3, you’re going to have a hard time defending against any kind of reasonable opening from your opponent (and should probably trade that pledgemage even if it feels real bad).

A great start for this deck would be turn 2 Prismari Pledgemage, turn 3 Spectacle Mage, turn 4 the world is your oyster. Pigment Storm isn’t efficient at 5 mana but does a nice job cleaning up the board on turn 4 with the discount from Spectacle Mage. Don’t have the answer you need? Time to start digging with a discounted Practical Research or the like.

If you’re committing to casting big spells, you’re planning to be the defender and need to deckbuild accordingly. You don’t want to be studying enthusiastically on turn three – Enthusiastic Study only goes in my Efreet Flamepainter decks and even then I don’t love it.  

Most of the turn 3 Prismari plays don’t defend well, so these decks are highly susceptible to being run over if you’re durdling on both turns 2 + 3.

In general you want your cards to help you find spells, survive long enough to cast them, and then help you cast them. You want Spectacle Mage, not Tome Shredder. Pop Quiz, not Enthusiastic Study.

The best cards to cast on turn three are your classically good cards: Heated Debate, Igneous Inspiration, Divide by Zero, and Bury in Books.

Graduate School

Strixhaven students might notice the omission of a particular six mana spell. If you’re building a big spells deck, you can…. Ahem…. You can…. I’m so sorry… You can give Snow Day the day off. There are cheaper sources of card advantage and the temporary effect isn’t what you’re looking for in a slower Prismari build. Snow Day isn’t bad – it’s a decent six mana spell so it will often have a significant impact on the game, but it’s not what most spell decks want to be doing.

I want the first copy of Elemental Masterpiece before the first copy of Creative Outburst, and I want them both more than Explosive Welcome. The eight-mana spell is fine but unimpressive. My ideal split is probably two Elemental Masterpiece and one Creative Outburst.

Snow Day has its place, like at the top of this Prismari build:

3-0 Traditional Draft with Snow Day as the top end.

Oracle of Mul Daya Award

In this section of campus, you’ll notice that a Prismari student has recently won the prestigious “Oracle of Mul Daya” award.

This honor is awarded to cards that make your campus guide seriously question his reading skills. Having read the card and comprehended the words, he is still somehow surprised when the card performs exactly as stated. Any card that makes him say “pffffft this card is dumb” out loud during a game is eligible for the Oracle of Mul Daya Award.

Maelstrom Muse

“Oh cool” I thought to myself after reading this card, “this will make 7 & 8 mana cards easier to cast. Very cool support card.”

“Oh… I’m casting Mentor’s Guidance for a single mana!” I said while actually playing with the Muse. Scry, draw, scry, draw, for a single blue. Eat your hearts out, Legacy players.

Don’t even get me started with having a Muse and Rootha on the battlefield at the same time. How do you like casting Heated Debate for 3? How would you like to cast it twice for three instead? Absurd.

Play tip: If Rootha is on the opposite side of the battlefield – kill it.

Student Stand-outs

Speaking of Rootha…

Quite simply, this is one of the scariest cards on the battlefield in Strixhaven draft. When possible, you should keep a cheap card like Opt in hand to cast and copy in response to an opponent’s removal spell. Kill this card when you can.

Play tip: This is the kind of card your opponent won’t block with if they don’t have to. Attack with your 2/2 the turn after your opponent plays Rootha and watch them take damage for free.

Academic Dispute

Prismari Pledgemage’s best friend. Playing this on turn 3 allows you to kill your opponent’s 2-drop, grab Elemental Summoning, and play another 2-mana spell that turn. It’s a fantastic sequence that puts you miles ahead.

Remember that you can block flyers thanks to this card! I remember about 50% of the time, usually after I’ve taken 6-8 damage to the face from an Inkling Summoning.

Elemental Summoning

Looking at the Trophy Decks in the following section, I’m not surprised that all the 7-win lists can Learn this Lesson. If you cast a Learn card in the developing phase (turns 2-5), Elemental Summoning is the perfect card to grab. Spectacle Mage makes it cheaper, it allows Prismari Pledgemage to attack, makes the Apprentice an unblockable 3/3, and it provides a bridge from the early game into the late game – ya know, the part where you cast seven-mana spells while they draw two-drops.

Ardent Dustspeaker

What else does Elemental Summoning do? Thank you for hypothetically asking! It allows you to play something impactful on turn five that isn’t Ardent Dustspeaker. Your opponent usually can’t just ignore the 4/4 Elemental, so they either have to trade with it or use a removal spell on it – making it less likely that they have a removal spell for the Minotaur Shaman I actually care about.

Like Efreet Flamepainter, Ardent Dustspeaker creates its own mini-game. There are some things you just can’t let your opponent do in a game of limited. Playing two extra cards off the top of their deck every turn falls into that category. Just have to make sure you have an instant or sorcery in your graveyard… And what’s this!? Elemental Summoning!?* Perfect!

*Longtime readers of Let’s Talk Limited know that this grammatical construction – “!?” – is called an interrobang. If you’re new, there’s your piece of trivia for the day.

Be careful with your choices if you’re planning to get cards back with Pillardrop Warden , play serpentine curve, or exile them with rares (e.g. Torrent Sculptor, Draconic Intervention).

Divide By Zero

Ya know what I love Dividing by Zero in the developing phase of the game? Anything. Literallly anything my opponent does – cool, let’s divide that by zero and grab Elemental Summoning. Again – just trying to survive the early turns – and I’m quite happy to play the tempo game when necessary. Slightly more seriously: the goal is to Divide something they can’t play again that turn.

Later in the game, Divide by Zero’s flexibility makes it a great topdeck. An overall outstanding card.

Trophy(ish) Decks

17lands.com is new to me and I’ve never actually linked to my data, so hopefully this works out alright. Note: If some choices don’t make sense, it’s possible I just rare-drafted. I’m trying to pay for my next draft, y’all.

7-2 DRAFT LOG
7-2 DRAFT LOG
7-0 DRAFT LOG
6-3 DRAFT LOG
6-3 DECK DETAILS

Maelstrom Muse: not legendary.

Walk of Shame

Some unsuccessful decklists.

First Prismari Draft of the format.

Horrific two-drops, tome shredders, and Zephyr Boots. Whole lotta “Yikes” here.

2-3

Note the lack of Prismari Pledgemages in the 2-drop slot. Academic Dispute is just so much worse when your 2-drop is Illustrious Historian. Gross.

Cards that weren’t mentioned in the article, though might be present in some of the above decklists out of necessity, because I don’t typically want them in my Prismari spell decks: Tome Shredder, Arcane Subtraction (I go back and forth on this one), Symmetry Sage,  Teach by Example, First Day of Class, Grinning Ignus, Mascot Interception, Oggyar Battle-Seer, Resculpt, Square Up.

If You Give Luis (LSV) Some Mana

If you give Luis some Mana, he’ll probably draw more cards. If Luis draws more cards, he’ll have more lines of play. If he has more lines of play, he’ll probably find a winning line. Ok I’m done now.

Watch LSV’s stream for long enough and you’ll eventually hear a version of “if you draw enough cards and make enough mana, you don’t need a win condition.” And while that’s typically true in the abstract… watching him do it in practice is an exercise in mental gymnastics. If your plan is to win by hitting your land drops, drawing a lot of cards, and just kinda figuring things out, it sure helps to be a master of the game.

To quote from the Book of Obvious Statements: “LSV is a much better Magic player than I am” – Most of Us.

If you aspire to be that kind of player, Prismari Big Spell Square is a good place to practice. There’s no concrete gameplan in these decks, they involve knowing exactly what’s in your current build, and it’s not unusual to win with only a few cards left in your deck. Not recommended for freshmen, but seniors should be fine.

Also, if the above decks look nothing like you’d expect from the author of Be Boring… Yeah. I get it. Learn the rules for building boring decks, then figure out how you can break them. You don’t have to build boring decks forever.


Bidding Farewell

Prismari campus is a fun place to hang out, whether it’s Tempo Tower, Big Spell Square, or the less popular Low-Curve Lounge.

7-2 DRAFT LOG

If you have a chance to visit Big Spell Square (i.e. you open Mizzik’s Mastery, Magma Opus, Blue Sun’s Zenith, etc), this guide highly recommends doing so. There are some great faculty, huge parties, and no two games are remotely the same.

I’m not sure how to end this tour, but you can find your way back to the parking lot, right? I’m terrible with directions but I’m sure you’ll be fine. Happy Drafting!

  • Schaab, Draft Enthusiast

Full Disclosure

Author’s Note

Thank you so much to everyone who gave feedback on my last publication – Be Boring. I’m not sure where I fit in to the Magic community, but I’m happy to be here.

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.

To directly promote more content, check out the Let’s Talk Limited Patreon page.

I’m new to streaming but am loving it and always appreciate new followers! LetsTalkLimited on Twitch.

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

Be Boring: A Guide to Building Better Draft Decks

  1. Limited at my LGS
  2. Limited against LSV
  3. The Curve
  4. Curving Out with Commons
  5. CABS (Cards that Affect the Board Strategy)
  6. Conditional Spells
  7. Filling Deck Roles
  8. The Martin Juza Rule
  9. Splashing – The Rule of Three
  10. Draft Mana Base
  11. Play 40 Cards
  12. Bending or Breaking the Rules
  13. Playskill
  14. 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 drafting 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). Miraculously, the rest of the cards 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 commodity 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. The 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.

This article is intended to provide the limited deckbuilding guidelines that all dedicated drafters learn and internalize at some point. If you’re a high level mythic 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. If you’re a newer drafter or just trying to build better limited decks: welcome! You’re in the right place. 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 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.

One of the most insane Draft cards ever printed.

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 much needed 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 the broad aspects of 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 Uncommon Approach 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.

7-0. Full draft here
7-2. Full draft here
7-2. Full draft here

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 play reasonable cards, not even great cards, on curve 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.

Silverquill

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.

Witherbloom

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.

Prismari

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.

Quandrix

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.

Lorehold

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 State)

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. 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: creatures, removal spells, and combat tricks. That’s it. No card draw 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 potentially 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.

Mascot Interception


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.

Secret Rendezvous

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.

Reject

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.

Dark Ritual

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.

Verdant Mastery

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:

Despark

This condition is surprisingly hard to meet in Strixhaven draft, as many of the biggest creatures have a mana value of zero.

Vanishing Verse

Doesn’t hit absolutely everything, but this will have a target and be good-great in 99% of limited games.

Expel

Not the hardest condition to meet in limited, but can be awkward in more aggressive decks.

Fract-Eliminate:

Always good, but is often super efficient in Strixhaven because it kills huge tokens. Cool Leyline Invocation, oppo. Very cool.

Tangletrap

Boooooooooo Tangletrap! Just an example of a conditional damage spell. Please don’t maindeck this card in Strixhaven draft.

Pigment Storm

Unconditional but inefficient damage-based removal spell.

Baleful Mastery

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 constantly on my mind after I’ve decided what colors I’m in. 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 Quandrix, my deck should have ramp and ways to spend a lot of mana.

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.
1. Creatures.
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:
1. Two-drops
2. Interaction
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:
1. Two-drops
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:
1. Two-drops
2. Interaction
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 mana base and call it good. Your mana 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.

Kaldheim was all kinds of silly if you knew the rules

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 most of us. 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. Draft whatever way makes you happy.

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.

-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.

To directly promote more content, check out the Let’s Talk Limited Patreon page.

I’m new to streaming but am loving it and always appreciate new followers! LetsTalkLimited on Twitch. And I’ve really upped my Twitter game lately (I’ve been posting more pictures of animals)

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

The Player I Want To Be: May MIQ Tournament Report (Standard)

The Player I Want To Be doesn’t shy away from complicated decks – he embraces them. The Player I Want To Be sees them as opportunities to leverage his play skill against the rest of the field. He’s comfortable in high pressure situations with complex board states because he’s used to playing in high stakes Magic tournaments. He shakes off and overcomes bad variance. Sure hope I get to be that player someday, cuz he definitely wasn’t around for May’s MIQ (Mythic Invitational Qualifier). 

The player I am is a Drafter who qualified for two Constructed tournaments, so for the second month in a row this Limited enthusiast took a shot at a Constructed format and is here to tell the tale.

I swear I really do usually write about limited, but my tagline “Let’s Talk Limited” is once again irrelevant to this discussion, so Let’s Talk Lurrus and friends!

The Problem

My typical approach to tournament deck selection was reviewed in last month’s MIQ tournament report- Almost, Paradise Druid.

  1. A linear gameplan with some flexibility
  2. Potential for dream curve out hands
  3. Short games.
  4. *A deck I could craft in Arena

Given that I don’t usually know Constructed metas, I tend towards decks with a powerful, but not singular, gameplan. Think Modern Affinnity – not Modern Ad Nauseum. Historic Elves – not Historic Tainted Pact. I want to kill my opponent quickly, but I want a couple different ways to do it. The longer the game goes, the more the Constructed players can leverage their knowledge, so my guidelines exist for a reason.

The first two Standard decks I crafted when I downloaded Arena were mono-Red for completing daily tasks and Rogues for fun, so those were my two options without crafting a new one.

No offense to my fiery friends, but mono-red just isn’t for me. Hazoret decks are fun, so maybe it’s just this particular iteration of mono-red that I don’t enjoy, but completing daily tasks feels more like a chore than an opportunity for a good time.  Really, deck selection was never truly in contention.  Give me the deck with cards that say “Draw Four Cards” or “Counter Target Spell.”

Rogues goes against all of my tournament philosophies for selecting a deck, but The Player I Want to Be has a much more elegant philosophy for tournaments: Play the best deck.

There simply has to be a first time. I can’t just become the Player I Want to Be overnight. The player I want to be plays complicated decks at a high level, but how exactly do I get there if I never play the complicated decks? I’ll only show up to tournaments once I’ve mastered my deck and the Constructed format? Come on. If I’m ever going to be the player who plays complex decks optimally, then there has to be a first tournament where I allow myself to play those decks suboptimally.

This is a shift in tournament philosophy that playing on Arena has made possible for me. It’s not really feasible to develop tournament playskill if I only get to compete once every year or two, but If I continue to play Arena Limited well then I can play in these MIQ tournaments with some regularity. And if that’s the case, then I can start working on becoming the Player I Want to Be instead of just hoping to spike a tournament – all while sitting at home in sweatpants. What a world. 

Mentally, I’ve given myself about a year. A year of playing whatever deck I enjoy or think is best and just accepting that I will make mistakes with them during tournament play.

The Player I Want to Be plays Rogues and so do I.

The Format

When I last played Standard, deck choices were Mardu Vehicles, Aetherworks Marvel, or BG Winding Constrictor. Riveting.

These days, Standard seems to be in a much better (Uro-less, Oko-less) place. There’s a plethora of competitively viable decks to choose from. Slow decks like Sultai Ultimatuum, fast decks like mono-red, kinda combo-ish decks like Winota, and handful of other respectable archetypes to choose from. Therefore, there are a variety of matchups and decks that one could face and should be prepared for.

The Deck

Selecting the perfect build of a well-known deck is difficult so I will share my methodology with you. I look for the latest deck guide on CFB (subscription required -not affiliated with them. This is just honestly what I do), export to Arena, Import.  I’ll look at other lists and tinker a little bit after playing games, but at first I just want something functional.

Having achieved Mythic ranking in April with this stock Rogues list, I felt pretty confident in my ability to pilot the deck. I’d watched PVDDR’s video on how to play the deck, read the deck guide update on CFB Pro (subscription required), and was winning a fairly large percentage of my games. Excellent – this is a deck for skilled pilots and I’m basically Maverick.

Schaab, circa 1986. But really I was born that year.

Given that the most recent winner of a Mythic Championship, Arne Huschenbeth, piloted Rogues en route to victory, watching his matches from the tournament seemed like a great way to confirm that I was already an ace with the deck and could go into the weekend confidently.

First turn of the first game: I would’ve played blue source, Ruin Crab. The Kaldheim Champion played a blue source and a Merfolk WindRobber.

I am a big ol’ dumb dumb. Not sure how I’ve ever won a game with this Rogues deck. What am I even doing with these 60 cards? It took all of two game actions for me to make a mistake. Not even two turns! Two game actions! Back to the drawing board.

Having lost so many games of Limited, I’ve become quite adept at identifying the factors that contributed to those losses. But that skill doesn’t translate to Constructed all that well. I’m not sure what the most important cards are in each matchup, can’t theorycraft it, and can’t extrapolate that information by playing a few games. I’d gotten to know the ins and outs of Rogues pretty well after grinding on the Arena ladder, but I didn’t feel like I understood my matchups or optimal lines against them better than I previously did.  Unlike Limited, I can’t separate my decision from the result when playing Constructed – not in any meaningful way that would lead to improvement anyway. That being the case, I reached a point where I didn’t feel like I was learning very much playing games and consequently changed my approach.

It’s counterintuitive, but I actually played less Standard the week before the tournament. I found that my time was better utilized watching Arne’s Khaldheim Championship games or listening to coverage from League weekends. If you’re looking to improve a skill, it helps to find a model of an expert completing that task. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent, and you want to make sure you’re piloting your deck as close to the Pros as possible (More on learning in this article: Listen). So watching really good players pilot Rogues helped me fill in some gaps I didn’t realize I had, and listening to the commentators gave me insights about what was important in each matchup. I found Paul Cheon’s analysis in particular to be fantastic.

The Changes

Dimir Rogues has some flexible card slots that can be adjusted based on the meta you expect to see or player preference. Based on recent events and games I’d played, I expected to see a decent amount of mono-white and mono-red aggro, matchups which I’d been struggling to win, so I adjusted my list to give me a more favorable Game 1.

Suffocating Fumes

My tolerance for dead cards in hand is low, so the option to cycle away Suffocating Fumes was extremely appealing. It hits tons of relevant creatures against mono-red, mono-white, Winota decks, and Adventures.

Flunk

Indestructible creatures had given me some trouble during testing so I wanted to diversify my suite of removal spells, replacing one Heartless Act with Flunk.

Castle Lochthwain

The previous versions of Rogues I played had four Of One Mind. It made sense because lack of card draw without Into the Story is one way that Rogues loses. Castle Lochthwain, however, is a much better solution to that problem. The land can draw multiple cards per game in some matchups, cutting two Of One Mind opened allowed room for more interactive cards, and I was thrilled with its inclusion.

Baleful Mastery

The list in Reid’s article contained two Baleful Mastery but I found the second to be a little bit of a liability. Still, having a maindeck answer to Polukranos or other Escape creatures was great, and casting it for its alternate cost in response to Embercleave when necessary was often well worth letting my opponent draw an extra card.

Third Zagoth Triome

Cycling away suboptimal draws later in the game will always appeal to me, so I liked the adjustment of three Triomes and three Temples instead of the 4 Temple/2 Triome split. I often struggled with the decision to cycle or play a Triome in the midgame. Those are the times I’d love to pick someone like Arne’s brain to hear how he thinks about the decision.

Didn’t Say Please

Truthfully… I go back and forth on this card. There are games where I’m ecstatic to play the three mana counterspell, and games where I think “…. in the year 2021, I am playing Didn’t Say Please in a Constructed format. What. Am. I. Doing?”

Disdainful Stroke

Maybe should’ve been Essence Scatter? Frank Karsten’s analysis (subscription required) found maindeck Essence Scatter decks were particularly successful, so there’s a good argument that I should’ve maindecked it instead of Stroke.  I felt most matchups, except mono-white, had enough good targets to warrant Disdainful Stroke’s inclusion but it’s definitely possible the creature counter would have been better.

The Sideboard

Dead Weight

Shores up matchups against aggressive decks and Lurrus can recur the enchantment. Dr. Karsten’s article noted that decks with access to Dead Weight in the sideboard have been particularly successful, and it’s easy to see why after playing with them.

Crippling Fear

Further shoring up those aggressive matchups. Also great against Adventures and Naya Showdown, though you need to be careful against the latter, as they have some Humans and Rogues that will survive if you choose the wrong creature type.

Cling to Dust

Oxen & Spiders & Zombie Hydras, oh my.

Skyclave Shade

The crabs come out, the Shades go in depending on the matchup. Nice and easy for a sideboarding simpleton like me. An expert Rogues player can probably tell you why there’s three Shades instead of four. I can give you some shrugged shoulders and a sense of bewilderment.

Countermagic

Came in against all the controlling decks. Drown in the Loch’s flexibility gave me great comfort in sideboarding out most removal spells in exchange for counters in some matchups (though if we want to be results-oriented I sure could’ve used a way to kill an Elder Gargaroth in one sideboarded game).

The Player I Want To Be doesn’t rely on a Sideboard Guide during the tournament. The Player I am, however….

The Tournament: Day One

Here are the actual notes I wrote myself the week leading up to the tournament:

  1. Don’t play scared.
  2. Windrobber or crab first? THINK.
  3. Remember how good rogues are at attacking.

Nothing about individual card interactions, corner cases, or sideboard plans. Just big picture stuff.

Playing scared is a hurdle I overcame long ago in Limited but still persists when I play Constructed, apparently. When my opponent’s game actions tell me they don’t have Bury in Books in hand during a draft game, I attack confidently and just accept the small possibility that they got lucky enough to find it with their previous draw step. But those decisions are much more difficult for me in Constructed.

Example: I attacked for lethal with three Rogues into a lone Yorion on the battlefield. With Drown in the Loch in hand, I had the option to remove the flyer before blocks and win the game. “But what if they have Heartless Act in hand?”, my brain started to consider. Then I won’t have lethal on board, they might cast Emergent Ultimatuum on the next turn and I won’t have Drown in the Loch to counter it.

Fear of losing is a very real barrier to Magic success. With an apparent advantage on board and clear path to victory, my brain came up with all sorts of creative ways I could lose. Any objective observer, myself included, would have looked at my opponent’s game actions and concluded that they very obviously didn’t have anything in hand, nevermind the combination of cards I was envisioning. So I killed the flyer and got in for lethal. But it was so easy to think “Ya know what? I’ll play it safe because I’m ahead” and I’m horrified by how many games I probably used to lose with that mentality.

One thing I was sure of: when the tournament is over, I want to be able to say “I tried my best to win my games,” not “I did my best to beat everything my opponent could do.” I’ll be working on that in every tournament for the next year.

Saturday’s games felt like a dream. My seven card hands were pristine. I had pressure in matches where I needed it, and mill crabs in games where that was the plan. Drown in the Loch always seemed at the ready. The deck ran beautifully and I didn’t let fear of losing get in the way. Turn One plays were considered critically before being placed on the battlefield. And I, for sure, remembered how good Rogues are at attacking.

Record 7-1

Wins: Sultai Ultimatuum x2, Naya Showdown, Jeskai Control, Doom Foretold, Temur Luuka, and a sweet Sultai Rogues list with Scavenging Ooze for win #7.

Losses: Rakdos Sacrifice. 

Heading into the game that would potentially win me my seventh match, my thought was “Ok, your goal is to mill them. That’s how you win this matchup. You mill them.”

The shuffler:

I gotchu, fam. I gotchu. Enjoy Day 2.

The Tournament: Day Two

On Sunday morning, I remarked to Mrs. Schaab that elite Magic players often describe a paradox about how much more you win after giving yourself permission to lose. I was ok with losing on Saturday and absolutely crushed. What a freeing feeling. “Ok,” said the universe, “let’s take this permission to lose, notarize it, laminate it, frame it, then hang it on the wall so you can look at it all day. Cuz’ losing is all you’re doing today, chief.” Ya know how the universe talks to you like a grandpa sometimes?

Look at how lucky my triple Ruin Crab hand was in the above picture: now imagine the opposite of that.

Record: 0-3

Losses: Sultai Ultimatum, Rogues, mono-Red

The Player I Want To Be has better luck on Sundays, y’all. The shuffler and I were such great friends on Saturday but somehow our relationship became tarnished overnight.

After losses, it’s common for players to resort to a version of “well, there was nothing I could do.” I genuinely believe that’s the case for my first match and maayyyyybe my third, but not my second – the Rogues mirror. Constructed isn’t my format so I’m not an expert on tournament preparation, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to play the mirror for the first time on Day 2.

The Player I Want To Be can overcome bad variance – future Schaab is so good – and maybe a presently great player like Arne could have found a way to overcome the issues that I experienced on Sunday, but I am far from that player. At this point in my Magic career, I fully accept that better players might have won games that I lost – games where I made the best decisions I could, lost, and walked away with a feeling of “eh, that game wasn’t winnable” because I couldn’t see the line to victory. I don’t know what I don’t know. My mono-blue deck could inexplicably draw all Plains and these days I’d still think “I bet PVDDR finds a way to win that game.”

So if I were a better player, there’s a universe where I win that Rogues mirror and write a tournament report about how I clawed back from 1-2 to win 7 matches on Sunday. The player I want to be writes Tournament Reports with winning endings – but I’m not him yet.

I ran hot on Saturday, got unlucky on Sunday, but it’s best not to focus on the luck part. The best players aren’t luckier than the rest of us. They experience bad variance just like I did, just like you do – but they continue to make optimal plays that give themselves the opportunity to win those games despite their bad luck. And when they get normal or good variance, the games can seem unfair because their skill level is so high. You need to play extremely well (and maybe get a little lucky) to beat the best Magic players. We all get unlucky – they just handle it differently.

The Review

MTG Hall of Famer and fellow paper boomer Raph Levy had some Twitter wisdom on Sunday night that I really needed to read after my losses.

Variance didn’t go my way on Sunday – the details don’t matter so I won’t write about them. Frank Karsten can double check my math, but my research approximates there are a bajillion ways to lose a game of Magic, so there’s no real point in focusing on whatever unique and unlikely one you happened to experience.

What matters, and was disappointing to learn, was that I got so frustrated after my first two match losses that I made small mistakes in my third match. They probably didn’t change the outcome at all, but reflecting on previous bad luck during a current game is an area I’ve worked on for a long time and must continue to work on.

Overall, I’m thrilled with this weekend’s performance. I overcame fear of losing when necessary, (mostly) played well after experiencing bad luck, and made my first MIQ Day 2 – a result I would’ve been more than happy without before the tournament’s outset.

Constructed Mythic Qualifier #2 is in the books for this Drafter, and a 50% Day Two conversion rate is more than acceptable (ignore my Day Two win percentage, please). The Player I Want To Be minimizes his mistakes so he gets opportunities to play against the world’s best – and that’s where my focus will be in next month’s MIQ.

The Player I Want to Be doesn’t have restrictions when it comes to tournament deck selection – he plays the best deck and plays it well. I’m closer to being that Player today, so Sunday was a good day despite a bad result. Figure out what kind of Magic Player you want to be and try to be a little bit more like them tomorrow than you are today. And maybe, just maybe, that player and Future Schaab will sit across the table from another someday at an all-limited Pro Tour. Because the player I really want to be is a Pro Tour Qualifier who has the chance to sit across from him opponents. He shuffles real Magic cards in his hands, carefully considers his lines, doesn’t rush, and when the time is right – he most definitely doesn’t play scared. He turns his creatures sideways, declares attackers, and goes for the win – just like he practiced.  

-Schaab

Schaab is the writer and operator of LetsTalkLimited. He considers himself a Draft Enthusiast, Moderately Decent Rogues Player, and successful casual Magic player.

Author’s Note

Thanks so much for reading! Tournament reports aren’t usually my style but these have been pretty fun. I’m very close to finalizing a comprehensive guide called “Be Boring: Drafting and Building Better Magic Decks” for Limited players. Once that’s done, I’ll write more about Strixhaven limited.

Raphael Levy’s piece of wisdom was particularly great to read because I’ve been watching his stream lately. My infant daughter wakes up at unspeakable times, so I’ve been catching streamers from other time zones. This American East Coaster has been watching Raph and Andrea Mengucci, who are both great and highly recommended.

To directly promote more content, check out the Let’s Talk Limited Patreon page.

I’m new to streaming but am loving it and always appreciate new followers! LetsTalkLimited on Twitch.

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support is always appreciated. Thank you!

Theorycrafting Draft Decks: Xenan Mandrakes

When Empire of Glass falls and fades from memory, as all Empires do, this author will lament the parts of the kingdom that went unexplored: the bogs, swamps, and thickets where Mandrakes reside.

Mandrake decks have occupied a space in the back of my brain from the format’s outset. The draft community collectively recognized the power of these decks but found them to be inconsistent both during the draft and gameplay. It seemed like you needed good enablers, worthwhile payoffs, and to draw them all in the right order for the deck to be good: Magical Christmasland, if you will.

If there’s one big thing I’ve learned about my approach to draft this year, it’s how strongly I gravitate towards decks that provide inevitability. Essentially, decks that say “if this game lasts 25 turns, I know which one of us is going to win it.” I’d much rather be Thanos than The Flash while drafting.

Theorycrafting – the act of trying to solve problems by thinking of them in the abstract or with minimal information – is a useful tool for evaluating and learning a draft set. There’s no substitute for actually drafting decks and playing games because formats often play out very differently than you’d think reading each card individually, but theorycrafting is often useful nonetheless.

Early in the format, I spent a good deal of time trying to theorycraft EoG’s version of Feln Control. Xenan decks based on cards like Fatal Misstep, Humbug Nest, and Leyline Tracer were my first thought experiment but the decks quickly led nowhere when I tried to actually draft and play them. Theorycrafting only goes so far.

You won’t find a blueprint for drafting Xenan Mandrakes in this article. Honestly, I’m not even sure you’ll want to draft Xenan Mandrakes when you’re done. The goal isn’t to convince you of its power level or teach you how to draft it. Instead, we’re going to talk about how to find the inevitable in a draft format. Let’s take a look at the mad science of theorycrafting. Let’s Talk Limited!

Beating the Format

Theorycrafting a deck with inevitably (i.e. control deck) requires an understanding of the threats you’ll be facing. In Argent Depths, for example, the most common early threats were Flameheart Patroller and Chainwhip Bludgeoner, so any controlling gameplan that couldn’t neutralize those threats weren’t worth pursuing.

Empire of Glass’ biggest threat was obvious from the start. Like many of you, I’m a little sick of seeing and talking about it, so let’s invent a new card: Marinade Masher. We’ll make this saucy boy a reckless 5/5 with some kind of downside: you discard a card when you summon it.

Xenan Mandrake decks, if they were going to be successful, would have to answer the question all EoG draft decks have to answer: How do you beat Marinade Masher?

Mandrakes vs. Marinade Masher

First things first: forget about the rares. Our goal is to draft this deck consistently, so factoring in rares doesn’t help.

For now, we’re even going to ignore the uncommons.

If the commons can’t contend with the format’s likely threats, then we needn’t go any further. Feln Control had Valley-Clan Sage, Hearty Warrior, and Wisdom of Elders in between to not only stop threats but start generating card advantage. One of its most important pieces, False Demise, is also a common. So – how do Xenan Mandrakes fare against Marinade Masher?

For those keeping score, 5/5 is larger than 3/3. This power level discrepancy feels more significant early in the game – like on turn 3. However, Marinade Masher’s discard clause means we can block it with two units, trade them all off, and still be even on resources, so let’s add some more units to the battlefield.

Overdrawn Harvester – Let’s not overcomplicate things. Playing a second one of these allows you to block profitably. Now we’re in business.

Darkwater Vines – The card that really ties the room together, man. One reason Xenan Mandrakes is hard to build consistently: multiple Darkwater Vines aren’t essential but highly recommended. One inexplicable fact: DV still goes insanely late in draft, making it possible to get 3-4 in a draft deck. If you play this on turn one or two, Marinade Masher will trigger the ultimate and make it a 2/1. A 2/1 regen and a 3/3 plant can block a Masher profitably. Now we’re talking.

Pollensprayer – Doesn’t trade with Marinade Masher when paired with Overgrown Harvester. A serious flaw. That being said, it blocks most units effectively and can be shockingly relevant in a long game. Not great, but acceptable. Note that this buffs all units, not just Mandrakes.

Vinepetal Creeper – Below average. Nearly unplayable.

Shoaldredger – Who knows what this will cost when you cast it? Whatever the number, it’ll be a lot lower if you have multiple DV in your deck. Drawing the Dredger to trigger Vines is a beautiful sequence.

Gameplanning around playing two 3/3s is the height of Be Boring, but the math works out favorably every time I put it in the hypergeometric calculator. Two 3/3s beat a 5/5. A 2/1 and a 3/3 get the Masher off the board.

The commons don’t like up well against Marinade Masher anywhere on the curve individually, but combining multiple commons can lead to even resource trades or possibly favorable exchanges. A very good sign for a theorycrafted deck.

The Problems

Aurelian Mandrakes

Both Xenan and Elysian Mandrakes ideally want a play on turn 1: Darkwater Vines or Little Seed. There simply isn’t enough fixing to build Aurelian Mandrakes that can cast either of those cards on turn 1 consistently. Plus, the most desirable Primal mandrake, Root Ripper, is double Primal so it’s not like you can splash that faction easily. All told, I lost hope for three-faction mandrake decks early on. I’m sure they can come together once in a great while but it’s wildly unlikely. And Feln Mandrakes is a disaster most of the time, as its uncommon, so Mandrake decks should usually be Xenan or Elysian.

Two-drops

Mandrakes have common 1-drops, 3-drops, 4-drops, 5-drops… and a massive hole in the 2-drop slot. You can’t curve out with mandrakes on turns 1-3 because they don’t exist on turn 2 at common. The 2-drop slot is the most flexible spot on the curve for Mandrake decks and really depends on the makeup of your deck (i.e. how many Shoaldredgers do you have?). We’ll review some options a little bit later.

Uncommon Mandrakes

See how much I wrote without even mentioning Vine Grafter? I’ll go ahead and give myself a pat on the back.

Vine Grafter

Look at any draft-legal Eternal unit. Now imagine it had +1/+1 and Regen. Much better now, right?

Vine Grafter just does it all in this deck. Fills the two-drop Mandrake slot, trades with other two-drops TWICE, triggers your ultimate synergies, and can turn average cards into bombs.

Goliath Flytrap

We don’t really want to play the common mandrake 4-drop, so upgrading to Goliath Flytrap is massive. It ultimates automatically with an extremely relevant ability, plunders, and can profitably block Marinade Masher with any other reasonable unit.

Invasive Creeper

I feel pretty strongly that this card should be maindecked, not put in your market. I’m not “don’t put Reflection in your deck” levels of confident, but I’m fairly certain maindecking Invasive Creeper leads to a higher win percentage in the long run. Let’s talk about why.

If you put Invasive Creeper in your market, chances are your plan is to grab it with Vine Grafter, draw a card, and create a 3/2 regen (or buff another unit that’s already in your hand). That’s not a bad sequence.

But let’s look at the alternatives. Let’s say Invasive Creeper is in your opening hand, so you have a generic 2/1 that didn’t draw you a card. Gross. Casting 2/1’s for three power is a good way to tank your win percentage. But after it’s on the battlefield, what does your opponent do with it? If they leave it there, and you’ve built a functional Mandrake deck with Ultimates, the Creeper slowly becomes one of the most relevant units on the battlefield.

There are some games where you play a 2/1 for three power and then it does nothing, so the floor is very real and should be acknowledged.

Now let’s look at some good scenarios with commons plus the creeper.

Turn 1 – Darkwater Vines

Turn 2 – Something irrelevant. We’ll say Amber Lock.

Turn 3 – Invasive Creeper (didn’t draw a card because it was in your opening hand)

Turn 4 – Pollensprayer

Turn 5 – Mandrake Simulacrae, Ultimate, trigger Invasive Creeper & Pollensprayer.

The above sequence leaves you with the following units:

  • Darkwater Vines: 3/1 Lifesteal + Regen
  • Invasive Creeper: 4/1 Lifesteal
  • Pollensprayer: 3/5 Lifesteal
  • Mandrake Simulacrae: 5/3 Lifesteal + Decay

When you’re eventually going to have an army of lifesteal units, you can afford to take some damage early on. Your opponent could play a 2-drop into a Marinade Masher and you can still take that damage and come back from behind.

Now we’ll visit Magical Christmasland with some uncommons.

Turn 1: Darkwater Vines

Turn 2: Vine Grafter

Turn 3: Invasive Creeper

Turn 4: Goliath Flytrap

Turn 5: Activate Vinegrafter, hopefully have a way to spend remaining two power. Fatal misstep, for example, would be bonkers because it Darkwater Vines would also trigger.

Turn 6: Huge Flying Regen monster.

So at the end of Turn 6:

  • Darkwater Vines: 3/1 Regen + Lifesteal
  • Vine Grafter: 4/2 Regen + Lifesteal
  • Invasive Creeper: 4/1 Lifesteal
  • Goliath Flytrap: 5/5 Lifesteal
  • 5/3 Flying, Regen, Decay Hookblade Infuser

In this sequence, the Creeper triggered twice on turn 5: Once for Goliath Flytrap, once when you activated Vinegrafter.

Venomous Nightshade

Works well with Invasive Creeper and makes a deadly Little Seed if its Ultimate triggers. With these in my deck, I’m more likely to put a Devour in my 2-drop slot with the hope of sacrificing a Darkwater Vines or something with Killer and then getting it back.

Shoal Stirrings

You probably only need one. Maindecking two feels risky, especially if you have multiple Shoaldredgers in your list. Recurring buffed units is definitely part of the plan, but you also have generically good cards like Nectar of Unlife and Triumphant Return to help with that.

Rares

Vine Tangler

The Thanos of Mandrakes. Vine Tangler is not a beatable card in a functional Mandrake list. It was completely absurd when the Ultimate cost 7 but is by no means out of reach at 9. Remember: we’re trying to build a deck that inevitably wins the long game. I’m fine playing a game that lasts 20 turns and getting to 9 power eventually. And even if you never get to trigger its Ultimate, a personal mandrake factory will go a long way towards winning games as well.

Shadowcreeper

Shadowcreeper Ultimates, kills a creature, fills an important slot on the curve, and even triggers Darkwater Vines. Enjoy!

Variations

Shoaldredger

If multiple copies of the big plant monster is your deck’s win condition, load up on Darkwater Vines and units. Avoid cards like Medibot Station that make units but aren’t units themselves if you can. Only very good non-units should make your deck.

Vine Grafter Market

When I see Vine Grafter, I switch to “Build-my-own-Rare” mode. Part of the reason I’m so averse to grabbing Invasive Creeper with Vine Grafter is because I don’t want to get a small value unit that draws me a card, I want a huge flying beater to pummel my opponent. Make a huge monster, recur as necessary, win.

Shoal Stirrings*

We’re getting further into theorycrafting, but I imagine there are very powerful versions of this deck that run two Shoal Stirrings as a win condition. Again, I prefer to recur my units with more flexible cards like Triumphant Return or Nectar of Unlife. Building around Shoal Stirrings hasn’t worked out well for me the few times I’ve tried it.

Draft Pack Standouts

You’re not looking for Mandrakes in the draft packs. You’re looking to fill deck roles with enablers (i.e. cards that say “Ultimate”) and interaction.

Sunset Priest

Fire up the hypergeometric calculator again. Sunset Priest and the Darkwater Vines it triggers trade with Marinade Masher. A priest and Overdrawn Harvester block favorably. Also makes your Shoaldredgers better when played or in the void. Even though it doesn’t say “Ultimate,” this card does a lot in Xenan Mandrakes.

Time Monsters

Mandrakes are understatted for their costs with the expectation that they’ll be buffed at some point. Problem is, that can take a while in some games, leaving you with a board full of mediocre units. I’ve found putting 1-2 Powerbreach Sentinel or the like at the top of my curve can help stabilize, present an individual threat, and buy some time.

Two Drop Ultimates

Xenan Mandrake decks struggle to find relevant two-drops, so building decks that can play and trigger these units helps immensely with enabling Mandrake synergies.

Interaction

The premium shadow removal spells are always plan A, but Xenan Mandrake decks make excellent use of cards like Predator’s Instinct and Teleport since part of your plan is to Ultimate units, recur them from your void, or both. Finding the balance between units and relevant spells is one of the main challenges of decks with multiple Shoaldredgers.

Putting it All Together

Reader, I so wish this article could conclude with firm recommendations and a formula to draft Xenan Mandrake decks consistently. Life hasn’t allowed me to draft nearly enough to move beyond theorycrafting into practice. The Xenan Mandrake decks are busted when they function – I think most of us agree on that. The big question is whether or not they could be drafted and played with any degree of consistency. That question, sadly, will likely go unanswered.

The goal of my writing is almost never to give readers concrete answers. It’s to present information that improves the way people think about limited. I was a little nervous about spending so much time on only a few individual cards in Drafting Empire of Glass the Hard Way, but an overwhelming amount of the feedback indicated that people really enjoy reading about the process and I’m all for that. Here’s the process that led me Feln Control in Argent Depths, has me endlessly intrigued by Xenan Mandrakes in EoG, and I’ll apply to Eternal’s next draft set when its released.

  1. What are the most common threats in the format? This includes both individual cards and play patterns.
  2. Can the deck I’m trying to build stabilize against those threats using only commons?
  3. How do I guarantee that I win the late game?

If you can answer those questions, you’ve theorycrafted a good deck! But those decks don’t always come together in practice for a myriad of reasons: key cards are prized by other drafters, shallow card pool, lack of redundancy, and the list goes on. Eventually, I was consistently successful with enough Feln Control lists that I felt comfortable writing a guide – but that’s not the case with Xenan Mandrakes. These decks have mostly been constructed in my head. In practice, I’ve drafted great Mandrake decks and absolute trainwrecks. The reason I’ve spent so much time thinking about Xenan Mandrakes is because I think the answers are out there. I’m fairly sure there’s a way to draft it consistently but never figured out how.

A general word of caution to drafters: make sure you’re not dismissing decks too quickly. In good draft formats, the difference between the good archetypes and the bad ones isn’t that significant. If you mentally file Xenan Mandrakes or any other deck as “Unplayable” when really they’re just harder to draft or have a higher fail rate, then you won’t know how to draft those decks when they’re glaringly, blindingly wide open in your draft seat. You shouldn’t go into a draft planning to play Mandrakes (or any deck), but the most prepared drafters know how to draft everything – even the decks that aren’t available very often.

Please, for the love of sanity, do not try to draft Xenan Mandrakes for the first time at the Draft Open. It’s challenging to play, very difficult to draft, and I’m not even telling you that it can be drafted consistently! I’ve mostly just thought about it! So please, this is not an endorsement to try Mandrakes this weekend.

Draft Open

Draft Tournament time!

Direwolf announced and implemented some significant changes to the Draft format prior to this week’s Draft Open. These changes brought an influx of “bot packs” that seem to be filtered out of the system by now. That means the games you play this week will be a better indicator of the format as a whole than the games you played last week. Now that decks don’t have piles of rares and an embarrassment of premium commons, we should get a sense of the format’s speed heading in to next week.

I reached out to the brave souls who drafted after last week’s changes to get any relevant information about the new format. Thank you so much to Cotillion, HatsonLamps, BeardBroken, Olorin, Abednego, Grgapm, MercurioBlue, and Patomaru, whose words and ideas I’m either directly or indirectly stealing for the following segment.

Speed of the Format

With the pack order reverted back to EoG, Curated, Curated, EoG, the format is faster than it has been for the past month. Aggressive decks are very strong right now (author’s thought: that’s usually the case at the beginning of a format) but it remains to be seen how much the format will slow down by next week.

Be very wary of Feln:

“This is all theorycrafting right now, but I would think that getting into feln in pack 1, on the strength of the good mandrake cards, would be a trap. You still have Spore-Spitter and Rosebloom, but some of the support cards like Raven and Sporebreath are gone. Spitefeeder is the only mill card that was boosted (unless I’m forgetting something) and I’m never thrilled about filling in deck slots with Spitefeeders.” – HatsonLamps

Cotillion posted a 7-win Feln decklist shortly after this conversation and offered these insights.

  1. The format is very fast right now
  2. Cheap and early interaction (Darkwater Vines, Razorbot, Ghastly Perfume) is essential.
  3. Shoal Stirrings was a great finisher (I saw at least five good targets in the list: Spore-spitter, shoaldredger, Forbidden Tree, Mandrake Simulacrae x2)
  4. Having two Maveloft Huntresses is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

So yes, you can draft a 7-win Feln decklist but the cards pulling you in that direction should be Maveloft Huntress power level cards.

BeardBroken had success with Feln prior to the pack changes and offered the following (referencing the previous format, so might not be 100% accurate after pack changes but hopefully still useful):

“Decks usually felt like a mish-mash of divergent synergies. Primal’s got some soldier and amplify matters cards, a few grenadin-related cards that also play into sacrifice a bit, mill synergy in the curated packs, relic matters synergies in the curated packs…Shadow’s got sacrifice and mill synergies as well. Feln’s interaction was pretty excellent in the format prior, having a wealth of ping effects for all the 1 hp threats and relatively efficient large removals in Biting Winds, Grisly Contest, and to an extent, Fatal Misstep. Depending on what synergies you have and enable in a given feln deck, their threats could end up pretty hefty as well – Rosebloom Mandrake & Shoaldredger in the mill packages, Maveloft Elite in the amplify ones(edited)

for the relic-related synergies, Corrupted Greed was a pretty nice curve threat if you could enable it with stuff like medibot stations…which in turn help fuel cards like Grisly Contest

As for fast spells feln could make use of, it gets pretty interesting. Hardiness in conjunction with Maveloft Elite & Quartermaster is quite spooky on the combat math and card advantage front, Grisly & Biting Winds offer different ways to remove threats for 3 mana, Fatal Misstep serving as a partial essence scatter that activates Darkwater Vines/feeds the Shoaldredger/Spore-Spitter/Rosebloom Mandrake/Other void recursion…and on the card advantage front there’s Devour if you have the food for it and Wisdom if you were lucky. If you’re splashing red, you do get access to stuff like Mortar & Mighty Strikes as reach in the curated packs, which is cool.

overall I guess I’d say feln could be pretty tricksy in terms of it’s ability to answer a spectrum of threats and also greatly benefitted from a surplus of powerful curated pack cards, downside being feln also involved a lot of potentially disjointed synergies.” -BeardBroken

Wretched Raven has been reduced from x10 to x1 in the Curated packs*, and my understanding is that some of the other mill synergies have been nerfed as well. In general, my advice is to stay far away from Feln decks this weekend unless you’re already comfortable drafting them.

*Thank you to Reddit user Oboshan9 for alerting me of the error in my original publication

Schaab’s theorycrafted thoughts on the Send to Market Nerf:

I’d still play two in an Argentport midrange list. It’s possible I’d still play one depending on my Rakano build but I definitely don’t want multiples now, whereas I would’ve been happy putting two of them at the top of my curve when it cost 5.

Looking Ahead

This weekend’s Draft Open should be a blast!

Yours truly was a guest on the Friends of Eternal podcast to talk Draft this past week, and this recent episode of Farming Eternal has some excellent strategy discussion, particularly regarding pauses.

Best of luck to everyone who is competing this weekend! Try to have fun. Almost no one plays better when they’re stressed or irritated. Take an extra five seconds before you make your plays. Draft Boring – Play Extraordinary.

Happy Drafting!

-Schaab
Draft Enthusiast, Valley-Clan Sage Fan Club President, Transcriber of Advice from Others.

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. Writing gives me significantly less time to grind gold, so all contributions are used to fund more drafts. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support through donations or the Patreon is always appreciated. Thank you!