Limited Lessons

Anyone can study pick orders. What Ari Lax has to teach you about Limited today is far more important. This work won’t just help you learn a specific draft format, it’ll help you understand how to master any draft format!

In Constructed, my biggest strength is fast observational analysis. Play three games, draw conclusions based on situations that occurred, revise and

I can’t do that nearly as well in Limited, likely because there are so many different aspects of the format, and confounding factors start from pick one
and ripple so far down the line. In Limited, I mostly learn lessons from punts. On occasion I figure out something really awesome, and I learn a lesson
because things go so well.

But mostly it’s the punting.

This is a summary of all the major punts (and a couple sick plays) I’ve made over the last year of Pro Tour Limited and the big picture lessons I’ve
learned from them:

Tracking Picks

I have a pretty good memory. Give me a list of items quickly, and I can rattle them back off to you when needed later.

I can’t remember every card in every pack I pass. Based on the above, I’m guessing the vast majority of people can’t either.

If Draft was literally a game of look, pass, remember, it would be fine. But remembering exactly what you pass is probably the fifth most important thing
you are processing in a given pick. You have evaluation of the things in front of you (Is the right pick Razorfoot Griffin or Typhoid Rats?), deductions
about things that you aren’t seeing (I didn’t see a red card last pick or this pick), remembering attributes of what you passed (I passed two good green
cards), and recalling all of the cards you have already taken (I have two two-drops mid-pack two and need to grab more).

If you have enough processing power to do all that and remember everything you passed, then bravo.

That doesn’t mean we can’t store a few things. We pick and choose what matters and store that info.

What cards should you pay attention to when passing?

1. Pack Texture

Who cares about what exact cards you pass? What did they generally look like? I passed three semi-playable green cards pack one, and there are zero left
when the pack wheels. I know what color I’m not playing. Even if I get one back, I don’t really care that I know someone took Charging Rhino over Satyr

What I care about is that number. I passed two reasonable green cards, one wheeled. Now that I see it and can legitimately take it, I can pay attention to
what it is.

I think this is where a common Limited practice goes wrong. People like to play the “what’s going to wheel” game and figure out what the ninth or tenth
best card they can hope to get back is. That’s not a very good game. Rather than basing your draft on guessing which marginal playable you are getting
back, base it on the information you get from what other people picked when you see the pack again.

If you want to pick the right spot in a draft and be rewarded with late picks in later packs, this is huge.

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Draft two of Pro Tour Magic 2015, I was guessing what would wheel out of my pack. A Coral Barrier did. I took a card that pushed towards the black or red
splash in my green deck but should have considered that Barrier was the only blue card in the pack when I passed it. To be fair, I’m not 100% sure it was
right, but I should have more strongly considered moving into Blue at that point.

2. Sideboard Cards

So, what specific cards should you consider on the wheel?

The ones that less people want but make a huge difference.

Ever get to ninth pick, see a Naturalize and a mediocre creature (i.e. Midnight Guard), decide to take the safety sideboard card and then see another
Naturalize next pick? What about the reverse where you see a second random creature?


Paying attention to details like this really helps you to not spew off picks and maximize the number of relevant cards in your 42 draft picks. Notice that
I said “relevant,” not “playable.” The extra copy of that card might be playable, but you probably aren’t going to play it.

If you are going to count to eight playables to see if something can wheel, this is also the point to do so. This is something I know I need to improve at,
as often I see a Plummet fourth pick, pass it, and label it as possibly coming around and don’t realize there was nothing worth taking in green (or
sometimes at all) in that pack.

I also tend to ignore the exact pick number sometimes and assume a sideboard card is something I can see with four or so cards left. Sometimes it isn’t
(see: the aforementioned Plummet sometimes). Don’t do that.

I’ve been rewarded for ignorance here a number of times. I had a Magic 2015 draft where I accidentally ended up with two Naturalizes, had enough random
bodies anyway, and played versus the Heliod’s Pilgrim theme deck where I wanted every copy of the card for his Spectra Ward. But the one time it matters
really sucks. I’ve also been punished. See the Plummet example.

This seems like it’s a small thing, but it’s really not. Sideboarding in Limited is absolutely huge (more on this later).

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That Plummet thing I was talking about happened in draft two of Pro Tour Magic 2015. I ended up losing to fliers I had issues killing and had excess random
bodies instead of sideboard removal.

3. Niche Cards

This is very similar to the sideboard point.

One of the ways to win a draft is maximize your late picks. One of the ways to do this is build the deck that works because of the late picks.

The best example of this currently might be the artifact deck, where after your second Scrapyard Mongrel, picking up that Hot Soup sixth is insane, but
there are other examples. The Necromancer’s Assistant isn’t actually that good, but if you end up in B/G with a couple Undergrowth Shamblers or Restocks,
it turns a tenth pick into a solid playable. Or if you want to go super deep, you passed a Necromancer’s Stockpile first and suddenly that Carrion Crow
looks like quite the pick.

Remembering that you passed one of those small value enablers often changes evaluations in the middle picks. Magic 2015 is a format where most of the cards
like this are reasonable to begin with and get way better, but sometimes you have stone unplayables that you can just assume you will get if you see them
early enough that there will be cards left to wheel. And that leads to nonsense like eight Ethereal Armors.

There’s also the multi-colored card conundrum that applies here. Obviously some two-colored cards are so absurd that you take them first and splash them if
you end up either color (Nightfire Giant), but there are others that are just strong and won’t necessarily be picked over slightly worse mono-colored cards
(Pharika’s Mender). Knowing you passed one of those is big early on as it gives you a good marker to figure out if a color pairing is open later, and in
later packs you can actually do wheeling math a lot more reliably with them.

” related to
This is one of the ones that I actually knew how to do! Cool example from a side draft at (again) Pro Tour Magic 2015: After opening Necromancer’s
Stockpile pack three, I realized I had five Zombies and picked up another four before wheeling the Stockpile. Turn 2 Stockpile won every game I had it, and
it wasn’t remotely close.

Similarly, I used Akroan Hopilite wheeling to judge positioning in my second Grand Prix Toronto draft.

4. Rare and Uncommon Blowouts

In general, you just have to assume they have whatever common trick they could have somewhere in their deck.

What about uncommons? Do you actually play around Gather Courage or Devouring Light in the dark? Sure, the scenario is one where you are trying to figure
out exactly what you lose to you but not typically.

What about rares? Unless it’s absurdly telegraphed, would you really think about it?

Sure, if you passed it you probably should.

Conditional sweepers are the big one here, but another common case of “remember the rare” is a bomb of a specific color combo. Sometimes people aren’t
playing Blue and White for that Ephara, God of the Polis, but if the guy two seats to your right is those colors he probably has the card, and you may want
Fade into Antiquity post-board more than you normally would.

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One of these is mine. The other is a teammate’s.

I passed a Mass Calcify pack two in draft one of Pro Tour Magic 2015 and didn’t register that my opponent was White-heavy enough to play it until he
was untapping to cast it.

The second is from Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Two of my teammates are at one of the top draft tables and they discussed information after the draft.

Player One: “Did you pass anything interesting? Bombs, odd tricks, sweepers?”

Player Two: “Not really.”

Two rounds later.

Player One: “I lost to Anger of the Gods I could have played around it.”

Player Two: “Oh yeah, I did pass that.”

In Game

1. Aggro to Control

For someone who has a strong Constructed background, this is probably the hardest thing to grasp in Limited.

In Constructed Magic, if you are playing the aggressor and then have to switch back to the control, it usually means you are losing. They played a card you
fundamentally can’t deal with and you start dying. They drew a huge threat, and you don’t have a lot of time to get out of the boardstate. Even if things
hit parity, the game is usually very close to slipping back out of parity.

In Limited, having to pump the brakes isn’t a death sentence. The cards are just less powerful, and a little push in either direction from a stall doesn’t
typically start a snowball. You could easily be winning, have the opponent play a card that makes your attacks less profitable, and feel fine sitting back
because you are slightly ahead in some aspect of the stall game.

As a result, there are a lot of instincts you have to fight.

Just because the cards you have in play have a gameplan doesn’t mean the rest of your hand or deck can’t have a different one.

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I’m sure I’ve made way too many of this one, but this exact situation popped up in a draft I played last week.


Just played Witch’s Familiar on turn 3 on the draw as his first creature.


Oreskos Sunclaw and Selfless Cathar have bashed my opponent down to fifteen life. I Ulcerate his Familiar, get in for another four, and proceed with the

Wait, my cards in hand are what? Rotfeaster Maggot and Liliana Vess? Who built this deck? How about you have a real dedicated gameplan?! Oh wait, I took
the cards that came to me and those happened to be the good ones.

I was in prime spot to trade off for his best cards and ride Liliana Vess to victory, but instead I tried to beat him down. What is he keeping that doesn’t
blank my attack with another creature next turn if he didn’t play a one- or two-drop, and what am I actually able to follow up with to continue applying
pressure once that happens? The answer to both is nothing.

2. Understand What Playing Safe Means

This goes beyond just knowing the tricks.

There are a lot of scenarios where you say, “Well, this sucks if they have card X.” Typically, that card is bounce, instant removal, or sometimes a Fog (thanks Kibler).

So, you get blown out if they have it.

Take a second, stop trying to gauge the odds of them having it, and figure out what the least miserable boardstate is if they have it.

If the result of them not having it is the same both ways (i.e. a lethal pump spell occurs), then make the right decision among the supposedly equal

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There’s a near punt from my video this week that covers this involving Hunt the Weak.

I Aspect of Hydra’ed a creature for lethal at Pro Tour Born of the Gods and got it bounce spelled
when I could have targeted Leafcrown Dryad and won with the bestow follow up.

And on the going too deep side, I recently got blown out a bit by a Meteorite killing a 2/2 with Burning Anger when I could have put it on a 4/4. I didn’t
want to lose both good cards to a Flesh to Dust and the 2/2 was big enough to gun anything down, but also consider if you are opening up extra outs for
your opponent by doing this.

3. Sideboard More

There really isn’t a punt associated with this, more an observation from watching Chris Fennell.

He boards tons of cards in.

Everyone else probably should be doing that too.

I’ve said time and time again I want to get better at Limited. I feel like I’ve made huge progress since Pro Tour Theros, but my results don’t show it.
Hopefully I can keep picking out flaws like the above, shake off the rust, and quite honestly get back to the top tier drafting I know I’m capable of when
I have the time to make it happen.