Initial Technology – Having a Plan in Limited

After reading some excellent limited articles (PV, Olivier and Manuel B’s come to mind), I was struck by a common thread, one that was not explicitly spelled out. If you want to succeed in Limited, you need to have a plan when you draft. I don’t mean that you should go into a draft with the intention of forcing a specific archetype (which is an article itself), but that you should have a firm idea of what the deck you are currently drafting is trying to do.

Drafting is much more complex than simply picking the best card in the color or colors of your choosing, since having a focused plan and sticking to it leads to a much stronger deck. The design of the set is going to provide some fairly obvious ways to go, since the theme of the set gives you very strong incentives to follow it. Tribal in Lorwyn or Onslaught, Mono-color in Shadowmoor, and of course, drafting one of the Shards in Shards of Alara Block are all examples of following the natural guidelines set by the designers. I’m not saying you can’t draft decks that don’t fit into these categories, but by following the theme of the set you get to take advantage of all the synergistic cards designed around these themes. Some of these benefits include the Tri-lands and Panoramas, three-color cards like Sprouting Thrinax and Woolly Thoctar, and cards that just work better in their Shard, like Bone Splinters or Sanctum Gargoyle.

Now this is all pretty obvious so far, since of course you should draft a Shard in the Shards of Alara Block format! Even someone who doesn’t know anything about the set will usually fall into one of the Shards just based on what combinations of mana costs are present in the packs. Even assuming you are drafting a Shard or an allied combination, since I have yet to really see a successful off-color deck (BW or UR etc), you should have a clear idea of what your deck is planning to do.

Are you trying to be the beatdown or the control in most matchups?

Not every deck will necessarily fall into one of these two categories, but knowing where your tendency lies is valuable.

Is there a particular set of synergies you are trying to exploit, like Jund’s sacrifice mechanics or basically the entire Esper Shard?

Do you have a really powerful card to craft your deck around, like Cruel Ultimatum or Caldera Hellion?

These aren’t the only questions to be answered, but knowing what your deck is ultimately trying to accomplish will let you draft a much stronger deck, and really maximize all of your cards.

What you want to avoid is ending up with “just” a pile of cards, which sadly most Limited decks end up being. Just having a bunch of decent cards and a few removal spells won’t cut it against most really focused decks, since you aren’t doing much that is powerful or synergistic. Let’s see an example:

You first picked a Wooly Thoctar and the next booster contains Vithian Stinger and Wild Nacatl as the two clear standouts. What’s the pick and why?

Compared side-by-side, Vithian Stinger is better than Wild Nacatl. However, since you are likely heading towards Naya, considering the Thoctar, I would definitely take the Nacatl. In Naya, particularly Naya beatdown, which is where I would look to go here, Nacatl is much better than Stinger. This deck is often GW based with a splash of Red, which further weakens the Stinger, not to mention the absurd starts possible with Wild Nacatl and Wooly Thoctar in your deck.

Stinger is still good in a beatdown deck, but if your plan is attacking, Wild Nacatl has more punch. You can certainly take the Stinger here, but I feel you are giving up value by doing so. Wooly Thoctar is less impressive in the slower decks that Stinger shines in, even though the Thoctar is still obviously good. In a controllish deck, dropping a Thoctar on turn three will still pressure the opponent, but if you don’t have some good complementary low drops it gives your opponents so much more time to find an answer.

Many cards are good in both beatdown and control, but knowing which side your deck favors can help you utilize the full potential of your picks.


What are the advantages of pursuing a very aggressive strategy?

By pressuring the opponent from the beginning of the game, you put them in a position where they often get dominated by Giant Growth effects. As many know, I hate playing with Giant Growths of any type, and just never pick them in Limited. Well, that is mainly because I draft control decks, and Sigil Blessing and company are pretty sub par there. In aggro, your opponent usually has to tap out for a guy to stem the bleeding, and is at such a life total that they don’t have the luxury to just take your next attack in the hope of untapping and keeping a trick up. One of the main problems with pump spells is a removal spell to wreck you, but if you have enough low drops your opponent rarely has the time to both deploy a guy you need a pump spell to get past and have mana up to punish your trick.

Your “crappy” two drops can end the game fast enough, and if you have a one-drop then it gets even worse for the opposition. Olivier and Manuel B stated that they value Akrasan Squire over Oblivion Ring in GW aggro, and that is a bold statement. It is hard to argue that the Squire is more powerful than the Ring, but the deck they intend to draft would actually rather have the Akrasan Squire. Opening with a 1-drop puts you miles ahead of your opponent, and gives you so much added pressure. This dedication to attacking actually puts the oft-underrated Squire ahead of what many consider the best common in the set. If you kill your opponent by turn six, you blank most of their powerful lategame cards.

It may seem obvious why it is good to be fast, but time and time again I see people not committing to being aggressive enough and ending with a weak deck as a result. If you are going to draft an aggro deck, draft the aggro deck! Don’t dilute your deck by taking the “better” Enlisted Wurm over the efficient Crystallization or Sangrite Backlash or by taking Jund Battlemage over Rip-Clan Crasher. The decks I always do poorly with are decks with no plan, since they are just filled with decent cards that don’t work together in any meaningful fashion.

There are certainly some disadvantages of playing the aggressive deck.

Your first few turns are much more important than in a control deck, since you really need to play guys on turns two and three. This makes landcyclers and Panoramas much weaker in your deck, which puts more pressure on your manabase. Trilands are still the absolute best in fixing, but if you don’t have any trilands then you really need to stick with a solid two colors, perhaps with a small splash. If you are committing to being the most aggressive deck possible (which I think is going to yield more results), then you can’t waste too much time cycling to find your mana.

Redundancy is more important, since you are in a ton of trouble if you don’t have enough low drops. This may even mean taking vastly less powerful cards in order to fill out your curve, as discussed above. I hate having to take a two drop over a sweet six drop, which is one of the reasons I often draft control!


Why is control good?

I obviously like drafting the really controlling deck, and having a plan when doing so is just as important as when drafting aggro. You have to know what kind of gamestate you are trying to get to, and only taking cards that further you in getting there. That means generally not playing very many vanilla low drops, as well as needing a reason to go lategame. A control deck without lategame punch is just setting itself up for failure, but if you lack the tools to get to the lategame then you will lose to fast decks. You need a mix of the two categories, but luckily there are many tools in your arsenal.

The “supercycling” cards like Resounding Thunder and Resounding Silence let you have early plays and a devastating lategame, as well as a good reason to play Obelisks. Resounding Silence in particular is just backbreaking in a good lategame control deck, while being pretty weak in aggressive or unfocused decks. In a non-control deck, leaving Silence mana up hinders your gameplan, since you probably have creatures to deploy. In the slow control deck, you are fine doing nothing and waiting to get to the lategame.

Manafixing is important, especially since the lategame control decks are free to go anywhere from three to five colors. It is also plentiful, as you have the time to spend your first few turns landcycling or breaking an Armillary Sphere.

Much like in the aggro deck, you need to stick to the plan. Taking a card like Beacon Behemoth or Mosstodon just serves no purpose, since they don’t do anything that you need. They don’t block well, and aren’t even that great at attacking since they die so easily. This means you should pass on this type of card, even if it looks like the only playable in the pack. I would rather grab an Obelisk or even a [card]Resounding Wave[/card], or anything, since you can’t waste space on cards that don’t advance your gameplan.

Two-drops that are useful later in the game are the only low drops you usually play, so something like Tidehollow Strix or Zombie Outlander is particularly valuable.

Is every deck either control or aggro?

No, I don’t think you have to draft one or the other. Not every deck is balls to the wall aggro or glacial control, since there are plenty of viable decks that do neither. Still, even if you aren’t drafting one of these archetypes you should be drafting a deck with internal synergy, since having focus almost always trumps unfocused decks. I don’t want to make this another “midrange sucks” argument, as entertaining as that is. I do promise that I will revisit that topic, but I want to wait until I can devote the appropriate time and energy to it!

Whatever you are drafting, make sure you know what you goal is, and how each pick will get you closer to that goal. If this sort of general look at the process of Limited helps, let me know and I will go in to detail on other ways you can formulate a plan and try and maximize it!


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