Limited has always been my favorite format when it comes to Magic. You are forced to think about a lot of things in a very short period of time, and it seems like losses come down to misevaluating one tiny thing. This week I am going to go over how I prepared for Limited at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored and how I came to realize that metagaming in Limited can be more important than Constructed. I also will talk about how to draft black in a world where everyone doesn’t.
Limited metagaming is exactly what it sounds like. It is the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one’s in-game decisions except in Limited. Almost every Magic player on this planet goes into a draft using pack 1 as the foundation for all the information they are going to use to win the draft. Rarely do people make picks based on an expected metagame because they don’t even know it exists.
The night before a Pro Tour is always an interesting one. Players travel from all over the world to play in a single event, and all of them find themselves in the tournament hall for registration. This always means that people are getting their first information on what the actual metagame for Constructed will be since everyone only had two weeks to prepare for the event. Everyone just seems to be scattering for that last bit of info to put the final touches on their Constructed decks. No one ever thinks about Limited. Ever!
This is baffling to me since the tournament is six rounds of Limited and the easy wins come from this format if you just put a little bit of thought into it. People only have two weeks to test Constructed, but that also means they only had that same amount of time to get drafts in. It is also much harder to get eight people in a circle for a draft, so the majority of the players in the hall will have little to no experience drafting the new set. Anyone that did test Limited will also have their guard up for their Constructed knowledge, but gladly give away anything they have found in Limited since that information isn’t as important to them. The funny thing is that, just like in Constructed, Limited has a metagame as well.
Friend: "I take Druid’s Familiar over everything!"
Me: "Even Tamiyo, the Moon Sage?"
Me: "What is your favorite archetype?"
Friend: "I just want to be U/G."
Me: "What do you think about Blood Artist?"
Friend: "Black sucks and is by far the worst color."
Me: "Have you guys tried B/W Control with Angelic Walls?"
Friend: "Black is horrible and white is pretty bad. RUG are the only good colors in the format"
Me: "What do you want to open?"
Owen: "I just want to open two amazing cards. One for me and one for my neighbor #friendship."
Me: "What is your opinion on Haunted Guardian?"
Friend: "Card is almost unplayable."
I knew that black was going to be under drafted going into the Pro Tour, but I did not think that everyone in the room would think that black sucked. Everyone I talked to hated the idea of being a black drafter and only wanted to draft green cards. So why did everyone come to this conclusion?
The reason for this is that black is a very difficult color to evaluate in Avacyn Restored. There is a very short list of cards that are good in a vacuum.
These are the only cards that are good and that everyone who understands Limited will agree on. Every other card in black needs either a sharp mind to process or extensive testing to prove if they are, in fact, playable. Most players would need to do a dozen drafts to understand that a card like Homicidal Seclusion is one of the most powerful cards in Avacyn Restored and about another dozen to figure out what cards you want to pair with it.
This means that most players in the event would shy away from black. Some because they have an idea stuck in their head that black is a bad color, and others because they simply could not get enough drafts in to understand how to draft such a situational color.
I ended up forcing black in both of my drafts to finish 4-1-1 in the format. My loss was to Kai Budde after I attacked him with Baneslayer Angel (Homicidal Seclusion) twice, played Harvester of Souls, and killed three of his creatures. The guy is a master, and I have no idea how I lost the match. My draw was because I was not concerned about the clock and the match ended when I was going to kill him on turn six of the final five turns. I feel like I could have easily 6-0ed the draft portion with mostly Swamps in my deck.
Black is by far the hardest color to evaluate when it comes to Avacyn Restored Limited. I don’t think it is the strongest color by any means, but it is also the color I want to move into the most. I feel like the best way to write about this color is to go through each card individually to accurately evaluate them.
Bloodflow Connoisseur – Black is based around many synergies, but most important is stand alone (only having one creature in play) and undying. Both of these things make Bloodflow Connoisseur a decent card to add to any deck based around black. He is not a very impressive card and I would not take it over many cards in the color, but I do like having access to one in my deck since his ability can be very good in certain situations.
Butcher Ghoul – Two-drops are very scarce in Avacyn Restored. It is very important to get at least a couple two-drops just to be able to curve out and interact with an opponent profitably. Many of the best decks in the format are hyper aggressive, and you do not want to have to waste your removal on any of your opponents little guys because you do not have any creatures to play in the early turns.
The surprising thing is a black Young Wolf is very strong. There are many one toughness aggressive creatures in the format that this guy will trade profitably with. His second body can even interact with many more creatures trying to get into the red zone. This guy is even good just when you need multiple chump blockers.
The true power of this creature comes when you have a deck filled with Bone Splinters, Homicidal Seclusion, Bloodflow Connoisseur, and Driver of the Dead. All of these cards make for a very powerful engine that only Butcher Ghoul can create. This card is by far one of the most important commons in this archetype.
Crypt Creeper – The only thing that can be said about this card is that it is a filler spell. If you need more early creatures this guy is fine, but it will most of the time be getting boarded in when you need to go beatdown. Crypt Creeper alongside Soulcage Fiend can be a very aggressive curve that some opponents are not prepared for. Most of my black decks do not want these guys in the maindeck, but I have found decent success just boarding in a handful of these guys to put the beatdown on my opponent in a game 3 where they have warped their deck to not be able to handle some pressure.
Renegade Demon –This guy is not bad! So many people think that this card is far below power level to play, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. A 5/3 body is not something a green deck would get excited about, but this is a great follow up to a Barter in Blood as well as just a big guy to put on the board when you have all the removal you can need. He hits hard and not many creatures in the format can take him down.
Searchlight Geist – Having an early creature with this much flexibility makes Searchlight Geist one of the premium creatures in black. He not only trades with most of the fliers in the format, but he can take down any creature in play in the late game. I tend to treat this guy as a removal spell and trade almost all the time with him. It could be on turn 3 or turn 9. You rarely find yourself in a position to be the beatdown, so do not overvalue this guy as a win condition.
Undead Executioner – Being able to two-for-one an opponent with a single card is powerful and makes Undead Executioner a high pick. He can even take down bigger monsters on his own. The true power of this guy shines when he is paired with Bone Splinters. There is never a time that Bone Splinters plus this guy won’t take down two creatures.
Bone Splinters –This is one of the best removal spells you will have in a black deck and the reason you want to be in the color. The important thing to value when drafting black is that you need this card to not be card disadvantage when playing with it. The more Bone Splinters you drafts means the more Butcher Ghouls, Driver of the Dead, and Undead Executioners you will need. This means the value of these four cards fluctuates solely on how many Bone Splinters you are able to draft.
Grave Exchange – Is one of the hardest cards to optimally play. You really only want to maindeck this card in a deck that has almost all of the removal in the draft and only a handful of creatures. This allows you to trade your creatures away early and get to a point where an opponent is almost attritioned out of the game. This card gets better when you pair your black with a splash of white for Seraph of the Dawn or with a splash of blue for Gryff Vanguard.
Necrobite – Necrobite is not a very powerful card but one you will have to play sometimes. I only like playing this card when I am based around Butcher Ghoul and Bloodflow Connoisseur because I did not get enough removal spells to make my deck amazing. This is just the best way to kill a Vorstclaw in situations like this.
Ghoulflesh – Do not value this card too highly. It is a decent spell, and I always want one in my maindeck but not much more than that. Play with this card in your sideboard more often than not unless you have a real weakness to Wingcrafter.
Unhallowed Pact – This is not an amazing card but can see play when you actually just got every single creature removal spell in the entire draft. This card can be very powerful against a non-blue deck since you can simply play it, kill their best guy, and get it for yourself. This can help creature a big tempo boost in your favor when paired with a Bone Splinters and can help you in a deck with no good creatures to actually win games. Do not undervalue this card!
Blood Artist – This card helps when you are based in creatures. Bloodflow Connoisseur and Soul Fiend are this guy’s best friend and can help finish a game very quickly. Do not value him in a controlling black deck.
Corpse Traders – Hill Giant is huge in this format. His ability is not amazing, and I only really use it when I am way ahead or need an outlet to get Homicidal Seclusion online. Other than that he has a decent sized body that allows you to invest your mana into other things since a 3/3 is good enough to go on offense and defense.
Evernight Shade – I thought this guy was amazing right out of the gates. The truth is that he is just a decent creature and shouldn’t be taken over much. The great thing about this card is he will table more often than not and should only be taken in the back end of packs. There are not many situations where you can pump your mana into this guy since you would rather be doing other thing with your mana.
Maalfeld Twins – Is not Grave Titan. This card is fine but nothing to get excited about. It has synergy with all of the sacrifice abilities in the color, but do not expect this card to be a finisher because it costs six mana. In all reality this is just a bad creature that costs six mana.
Marrow Bats – I only like this card when paired with green since this color combination is very aggressive and lacks high-end evasion. This guy is only good when you want to be the beatdown and have extra life use, which is not the norm for most black decks. He also dies to way too many things to be a good Magic card in this set.
Appetite for Brains – This card has overperformed for me in the more controlling versions of drafting black. Being able to find out the tricks your opponent has in their hand as well as taking the most powerful card out of it makes this a card I tend to want one of. It is also pretty great that no one else thinks this card is playable. You can easily pick one of these up very late in a draft.
Barter in Blood – This is obviously one of the most powerful cards that could be in your deck and one of the many reasons I like to take the draw when playing a black based control deck. Just read the text and tell me why you wouldn’t want to first pick this card.
Human Frailty – This is one of the most efficient creature removal spells to come out in some time for Limited. It only costs one mana and is great against every other color. I will always maindeck every copy of this card I see and have found myself first picking it over a decent creature common.
Homicidal Seclusion – Read this card! Now do it again. This is in the top five best cards in the set and for a good reason. I will first pick this card almost every time unless there is some insane bomb rare and happily base all of my decks around it. There are very few ways to beat this card when you have Bone Splinters in your hand.
Dark Impostor – Going into the Pro Tour, this was one of the only cards I could see putting a person into black as a first pick. This card is beyond bonkers!
Demonlord of Ashmouth – This card combos well in the creature based aggressive decks with Bloodflow Connoisseur, Butcher Ghoul, and Soul Fiend. Do not play him in anything that does not have many undying guys or guys that have abilities when going to the graveyard.
Gloom Surgeon – Is a decent card when you do not need him to do much work. I have a real fear that I can deck myself with this guy when playing the control version of a black draft.
Harvester of Souls – This guy is OP! There really isn’t much else to say.
Demonic Rising – This card is beyond busted because it is at the end of your turn. You can play this card and get a 5/5 out of it right away. I have yet to play with this card, but I can’t wait for the opportunity.
Avacyn Restored comes out on Magic Online this weekend, and I hope you guys get on there and start drafting some black cards! I will also be in Minneapolis this weekend for the Grand Prix and then Nashville the weekend after for the StarCityGames.com Open Series. Hope to see you guys soon!