Grand Prix Ottawa is coming up this weekend and features Khans of Tarkir Sealed Deck and Draft. Throughout October and November I have been playing Khans Limited basically nonstop to prepare for and play in Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir and Grand Prix Nashville. A fundamental aspect of playing Magic, especially in Limited, is combat. Should you trade your Grizzly Bear for your opponent’s on turn two? Should you play around a combat trick or should you bite the bullet? In a cluttered board there can be an overwhelming number of possibilities to analyze. The best way to become comfortable in a variety of combat situations is to practice and experiment when you play—however I would like to offer some examples that may expedite your familiarity.
First things first: you should try to keep possible instants in mind during games to play around when possible. Here is a list of common and uncommon instants from Khans of Tarkir:
This may seem like a daunting list of cards to play around—nevertheless in practice it is quite reasonable to narrow down the possible tricks your opponent may have to one or two based on the game state.
Determining what your opponent’s morphs are is a nearly impossible skill to convey from one person to another. Nonetheless I have some ideas about morph evaluation:
- The least valuable morph is usually cast first in anticipation of it dying.
- Five available mana is quite threatening when attacking with a morphed creature. (You can fearlessly attack with a morph on turn five into a small blocker regardless of what it is.)
- Dragon’s Eye Savants and Ruthless Ripper are fantastic cards because of their surprise factor. If your opponent ever pays mana to unmorph their morph and then you pay zero to do the same, that is a blowout.
I have several examples of plausible Limited situations—I suggest thinking about what you would do in the scenarios before reading their respective discussions.
We are playing a Sultai control deck containing multiple game-ending spells including Empty the Pits and Villainous Wealth. It appears as though our opponent is playing an aggressive Boros deck. We have evaluated our relative position in this matchup to be heavily favored in a long game and an underdog in a quick game.
I would block with both copies of Smoke Teller to play around Ride Down. It may seem that Ride Down on Smoke Teller is no big deal—however there is no incentive to not play around it. No possible combination of cards will blow us out if we double-block. In the event that we single-block and our opponent does cast Ride Down, Leaping Master will deal us 2 damage this turn and represent a potentially evasive threat later. Even if the situation were slightly different so that there was a possibility our opponent could cast two combat tricks, I would likely still block. Whenever you are missing land drops you can shift your focus to preserving your life total even at the cost of other resources—the cards in your hand will make up for early disadvantages if you survive long enough.
I have seen many people in this scenario block with only Mardu Hateblade to trade with the Snowhorn Rider. If you were to block with both creatures you would take 0 damage instead of 4. It is true that if your opponent has an instant-speed removal spell (not a pump spell) that you will have effectively chump-blocked. This is a risk I would almost always take for multiple reasons: A) we are at a low life total and B) There are extremely few tricks in Khans that are effective here C) Monastery Flock is currently not providing much of a purpose anyway.
When you are being attacked by a creature you may block with anywhere from zero to all of your creatures, people often consider only blocking with zero, one, or two creatures—however it can often be correct to block with all of your creatures to play around as many tricks as possible. Imagine that you are being attacked by a Woolly Loxodon and you have two Sultai Flayers and two Abzan Guides. Your opponent may have been hoping that you only block with two creatures and to profit from the exchange with a Dragonscale Boon, or Awaken the Bear. If you were to block with all four creatures the Woolly Loxodon will die even if your opponent has not one, but two copies of either Dragonscale Boon or Awaken the Bear.
Another reason to block with every creature is that two of our creatures have lifelink (regardless of whether or not Abzan Guide is dealt damage in combat, it will deal damage and gain you life). Additionally, in the case that our opponent has no tricks we will trade only one of our smaller creatures for the opponent’s larger creature in Woolly Loxodon. It may seem like a poor attack that is unlikely to come up—nonetheless I have seen similar attacks made regularly. One of the most common mistakes I witness is people being impatient and making negative trades in order to simplify board states.
A great opportunity to pick up tempo is to block a creature with an activated ability on an early turn. Imagine that your opponent goes first, plays a turn one Mardu Hateblade and then nothing on turn two. On turn three your opponent attacks you with their Hateblade into your marginally better Jeskai Elder. Ideally you would hope that your opponent has no followup and that Jeskai Elder can begin to generate card selection—however the most plausible reason to attack is to fuel a Mardu Hordechief which will nullify our Elder.
If we decide to block with our Jeskai Elder it will cause our opponent to activate the Hateblade’s ability. One mana may not seem like much, but here it’s Time Walk. Because our opponent did not use their two mana on turn two in all likelihood he or she will have no follow up after activating Mardu Hateblade. Trading Jeskai Elder for Mardu Hateblade in this scenario is a slight downgrade in creature quality for an amazing amount of board advantage. If we then play a three-mana creature on turn three we control the only creature on the battlefield and have effectively “stolen” the play from our opponent. This concept can be applied to Khans creatures with regenerate and first strike costs like Kin-Tree Warden and Unyielding Krumar as well.
One thing that I would like to clarify is that there are no absolutes in Magic. This aspect of Magic is part of what makes it constantly interesting—all of the examples and ideas I have presented are merely things to consider rather than blindly follow. If you are more well prepared for even a single situation in the future then I will consider this article a success. Have you encountered any recent interesting combat scenarios from Khans Limited or otherwise? I would love to hear about them.
Thanks for reading