I have been doing a lot of Drafts with my local friends lately, and they always ask me for general tips on how to improve their Limited game. Not pick orders and what colors are the best and the worst in Theros Beyond Death, but insights that you can apply to any set of cards in the future as well. Blindly memorizing pick orders will do you no good if you don’t understand why the cards are ranked as they are, and how they change in value based on everything else in your drafted pile.
These are some of the most important fundamentals that can help you improve your Limited game.
1) When you are drafting a deck, imagine you’re building a Constructed deck.
Think of it this way. Would you put Fires of Invention in your Standard Mono-Red aggro deck? Of course you wouldn’t, because it would make absolutely no sense. Your spells are all cheap and you are trying to empty your hand before you even get to 4 mana. Playing two 1-drops for free isn’t worth spending a card when you can, you know, just pay the 2 mana for it.
Fires is good when you are playing spells for free that would otherwise cost you more than what you invested into the enchantment. Playing double Cavalier of Flame on turn 5 and using 4 mana on the pump ability essentially means your Fires of Invention gave you 14 mana just on turn 5. That’s obviously insane.
Now let me use a more concrete example. Would you put Birth of Meletis into your aggressive White Weenie deck? No? Then why is it in your aggressive Boros Draft deck? See where this is going?
Your deck usually needs to have a direction that you should settle on as soon as possible. Obviously you don’t know what cards will be opened, but once you solidify your colors, you should quickly figure out what kind of deck you are drafting and stick to it. They usually all want different types of cards, and that’s the beauty of Limited.
2) Figure out whether you want to be aggressive, defensive, or midrange.
If I first-pick Dream Trawler, I’m going to prioritize cards like Thirst for Meaning, Deny the Divine, Birth of Meletis, and Omen of the Sea. I want high-toughness blockers like Riptide Turtle and Glory Bearers over aggressive cards like Leonin of the Lost Pride or Sentinel’s Eyes. My plan is to slow the game down as much as possible and to be able to dig deep into my deck with card draw spells, because I know that if I ever get to resolve Dream Trawler, I’m winning the game.
On the other hand, if my first two picks are Staggering Insights, I want none of these slow cards in my deck. I’ll be looking for Pious Wayfarer, Karametra’s Blessing, cheap flyers, and Heliod’s Pilgrim. To get the most value out of my Insights, I want to play a lot of cheap creatures to put them on, ideally with evasion and then protect them with Karametra’s Blessing. I want the game to end quickly and I want to force my opponent to have to make risky double-blocks that I can punish with Blessing or Indomitable Will.
If I dilute my deck with expensive cards, counters or card draw spells, all I’m going to achieve with them is give my opponent time to develop their board and then my tempo cards aren’t going to be very effective.
Individual cards change their value drastically based on the deck you’re playing. Something like Heliod’s Punishment is unplayable in the aforementioned U/W control deck because every game goes very long, but it’s a perfectly fine removal spell in an aggressive Boros deck that wants to end the game on turn 6.
Similarly, Underworld Rage-Hound can be a fine card in this Boros aggressive deck because of pump spells, but it would be horrible in R/G ramp with Illysian Caryatids and big fat creatures, because your opponent will just play a 3/4 and your Hound will die. Underworld Charger is great in R/B, but close to unplayable in U/B, and so on.
You can usually tell what all the color combinations are doing based on their build-around uncommons. If you look at Warden of the Chained and Furious Rise, it should tell you that red-green will want creatures with 4+ power, so you should prioritize those over Hyrax Tower Scout and Moss Viper.
If you go a little deeper, what do Hero of the Nyxborn and all the other Heroes—of the Revel, Games, Pride, and Winds tell you? Obviously that you’ll be able to maximize their potential by going wide and playing spells that target them, but what does that mean in practice?
It means that if I’m drafting Boros, I’m heavily prioritizing all these Heroes and Omen of the Sun, and I do not want something like Omen of the Forge anywhere near my deck, even though it would generally be a good removal spell in any red deck. Instead, I’ll use cards like Indomitable Will and Impending Doom to the same effect by making my creatures bigger, but also trigger the Hero and pump everything else. This also makes Wrap in Flames super effective by not only making some of your opponent’s creatures not able to block, but also to target my own Heroes.
I’ll cover this more in my next article where I’ll show you my actual Draft decks from this format and talk about why some cards do and do not fit in those decks.
3) Know the basics of the format, such as:
• How good is flying? Are there a lot of common creatures with reach?
In Theros Beyond Death, only Nexus Wardens and Flummoxed Cyclops at the common slot have reach, and neither of them are cards that you generally want to put into your deck, so you don’t have to worry about them much. The uncommon slot only has Chainweb Aracnir, which only goes into decks that can reliably mill themselves. As a result, flying is especially powerful in this format because your opponent won’t usually be able to stop your flyers by blocking. Compare that to M20, where green alone has Canopy Spider, Netcaster Spider, and Mammoth Spider, all at common. That doesn’t mean that flying wasn’t good in that format, but a 2/1 flyer would be almost unplayable against a green deck.
• Are there any discard spells in the format? How much card draw do I have? Should I be keeping a land or two in my hand to protect my bomb from a Mind Rot?
If my deck has a bunch of card draw spells like Divination and Opportunity, I’ll generally want to make a land drop every turn and will never try to bluff with a land in my hand. You will draw that Opportunity into a land and a bunch of spells that you will be exactly 1 mana short of casting because you didn’t make that land drop last turn. Don’t let that happen to you.
• Look at the mana curves and find out what to prioritize and which cards are replaceable.
For example, if I’m drafting Dimir in this format, I’ll notice that at the 4-drop slot, I have an abundance of good defensive cards. Pharika’s Spawn, One with the Stars, Drag to the Underworld, Venomous Hierophant, Nyxborn Seaguard, Nyxborn Marauder, Memory Drain, etc. Whereas at the 2-drop slot, the only good defensive creatures that I’m looking for are Riptide Turtle and Mire Triton. As a result, I might prioritize the Turtle over picking up some of those 4-drops early because I know I’m more likely to end up with too many of them.
This is also useful when evaluating cards early on. Take Rage-Scarred Berserker as an example. Normally, this would be the perfect example of a very medium, replaceable common creature that you are going to get super late in the packs for free because there is no shortage of them. But in THB, there aren’t very many other big sized creatures like Berserker that you want to put at the top of your curve, so it’s actually a pretty valuable card that I will be happy to pick up during the Draft.
• What flash creatures are there in the format? What tricks is my opponent representing if they have XYZ open mana?
This format has plenty of instant-speed cards that can punish you for not being cautious. Vexing Gull eating your Transcendent Envoy for free on turn 3 can be especially brutal. Threnody Singer, Omen of the Sun, Aspect of Manticore. Even just 1 mana can represent Karametra’s Blessing, Infuriate, or Mystic Repeal.
• What are the sweepers in this format?
Does this format have cards like Pyroclasm or Infest, especially at uncommon? If my opponent kept a hand and didn’t play any creature in the first three turns, is there a chance they are slow-rolling a sweeper?
• Look at which numbers matter.
This is similar to the earlier point with flying and reach creatures. Are there a lot of playable 2-mana 1/3s in the format, say a common cycle of Invokers that everyone wants to have as many as possible in their decks? In that case, 2/1 creatures for 2 are generally going to be pretty poor in the format. On the other hand 3/3s or 3/2s are probably going to be pretty decent because these creatures won’t be able to block them profitably.
This applies to removal spells that deal damage as well. How good is Shock in the format? In Onslaught Draft, everything revolved around morphs. For that reason, Shock was an absolute all-star, because you would always have plenty of targets to trade your 1-mana spell for their 3-mana creature. On the other hand, in the previously created scenario with a cycle of premium common 1/3 creatures in every color, it would very likely be better to take a 3R sorcery that deals 3 damage instead.
All the scenarios that we just talked about are pretty much going to happen in some degree in every matchup. Sometimes it means that you want to board in 2x Return to Nature because your opponent has a couple of bomb artifact rares. That one is easy.
The next level is realizing that my opponent’s U/W Control deck has six 0/5 Riptide Turtles, so my 4-mana 4/4s are never going to get through and I invested twice as much mana into them as my opponent did. That’s a horrible scenario for me, so I’m going to board them all out for 4-mana 5/1s instead, because they will never be able to block them profitably and 1 toughness is going to be as good as 4 if all their creatures have 0 power. Obviously this scenario with 6 Turtles is extreme, but you get the idea.
The same is true for the defending player. If I’m U/W and my Boros opponent has a ton of 3/1 creatures like Leonin of the Lost Pride and Underworld Rage-Hound, then I’ll bring in as many copies of Omen of the Sun as I can get my hands on because they will all give me easy card advantage.
Sideboarding and the size of creatures is incredibly important. People generally blame their losses on mana flood, their opponent drawing better, and all kinds of other issues, but in reality, they presented a deck for games 2 and 3 that had a couple of really poor cards for the matchup that functioned as effective blanks, drew them, and they just simply didn’t do anything.
Don’t be in a position where you have to decide if you want to attack with your Transcendent Envoy against your opponent’s double Vexing Gull deck on turn 3 after having it eaten for free in the first game. Board those Envoys out for bigger creatures and make your opponent’s 3-mana 2/2s look horrible by comparison instead.
Overrated Cards in Theros Beyond Death Limited
• Hero of the Winds – I think this card is basically unplayable. 1 power for 4 mana is just not going to cut it.
• Hydra’s Growth – Too many Pacifism effects in the format, but can be a decent sideboard card in the right matchup.
• Pheres-Band Brawler – Too expensive and has to fight if you choose a creature, so if they play a pump spell in response, you can’t choose “no” on resolution.
• Stern Dismissal – You can only target your opponent’s cards, so you won’t be able to free your own creature from under Ichthyomorphosis ,for example, which would make this card much better. I like aggressive and tempo decks more than anyone and I really don’t like Dismissal in this format unless I’m boarding it in against someone with 4 Iroas’s Blessing or something similar.
• Alseid of Life’s Bounty – I thought this card would be much better, but I’ve been super disappointed by it. It’s nowhere near close to Gods Willing, which can be an absolute blowout because your opponent won’t know about it. If I don’t have some powerful rares to protect, I won’t even play it in my deck.
• Sentinel’s Eyes – I see people put this card in almost every white deck, while in reality it probably belongs in maybe a third of them.
• Final Flare – If you have the right sacrifice synergies in your deck then this card can be okay, but otherwise you are just 2-for-1’ing yourself, and that’s never a good strategy.
• Moss Viper – This card is good defensively, but a horrible attacker.
Underrated Cards in THB Limited
• White, in general. I’ve heard a lot of people say that white is the worst color, and I don’t really get it. Dreadful Apathy, Daybreak Chimera, Karametra’s Blessing, Heliod’s Pilgrim, Hero of the Pride, Revoke Existence are all very good commons. Red has three. In my opinion, white is tied with black for the best color, but black is usually overdrafted.
• Pious Wayfarer – Maybe not as underrated anymore as when the set first came out, but I’m still seeing this card regularly table. White aggro decks are very good in this format.
• Elspeth’s Nightmare – This card gives me nightmares and should be a first pick.
• Wrap in Flames – I’m usually hoping to get one for my Boros decks.
I’ll see you next time where I cover all the 10 two-color combinations and how those decks should look!