How To Turn Losing From A Negative Into A Positive

Losing isn’t fun, but it’s necessary for growth! Ryan Saxe shares his Theros Beyond Death Limited story before diving into a draft.

Polukranos, Unchained, illustrated by Chris Rahn

I am struggling with this Limited format. I thought I had a handle on things about a week ago, but things fell through the floor recently. However, I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss one of the most important concepts in Magic: improvement. 

In the last week, I’ve lost hundreds of Magic Online tickets in Theros Beyond Death Draft. It’s easy to get frustrated when losing that much, but honestly one of the best ways to improve at Magic is to lose. It’s extremely important to recognize when you’re wrong. If an opponent beats you with a card you believe is bad, it’s in your best interest to re-evaluate. If you believe a card is bad, you won’t play it, and this is your only opportunity to get data to evaluate the card. 

It’s easy to blame losses on variance. But the majority of losses contain something to learn from, even if you were on the wrong side of variance. So far, in all my losing, these are my biggest takeaways:

  1. This format really contains the full spectrum from hyper-aggressive, to normal midrange, to minimal-win-condition control. It’s hard to prepare for it all, so sideboard slots are valuable.
  2. Removal is plentiful. Assume your opponents can interact more often than you usually would. 
  3. There is an abundance of Divination-like cards. Escape turns self-mill into card advantage and can push cards like Relentless Pursuit and Funeral Rights into quite a lot of value. Be careful if your gameplan is to out-resource an opponent, because the commons in the format can play at a much higher level in that camp than they usually can. 
  4. Games seem to boil down to attacking, even though the average pace of a game is fairly slow. Slow formats often reward decks without many creatures. This isn’t the case with Theros Beyond Death. With so much removal, especially the ones that exile, it’s crucial to have enough ways to win in your deck. 

I’m still learning, and haven’t gotten over the hump yet. These are my first attempts at understanding what went wrong, and re-evaluating. I’m sure there’s more to why I’m losing, and I hope I fully understand this soon. For now, let’s jump into a draft!

Pack 1, Pick 4

The Picks So Far:

Polukranos, Unchained Elspeth's Nightmare Ilysian Caryatid

The Pack:

Hero of the Nyxborn Skophos Maze-Warden Brine Giant Elite Instructor Hyrax Tower Scout Inspire Awe Pious Wayfarer Scavenging Harpy Starlit Mantle Thaumaturge's Familiar Wrap in Flames

Wow. What a disappointing pack to follow up an extremely strong start. 

Hyrax Tower Scout, Scavenging Harpy
Hyrax Tower Scout and Scavenging Harpy are fine cards, but I find them in my sideboard more often than not. With a start this strong, it might be enticing to stay on-color, but I think the value of the on-color cards are so low that it is worth speculating for a bump in power.

Brine Giant, Starlit Mantle
The most intuitive places to speculate are Brine Giant and Starlit Mantle. Both Dimir and Simic can splash Polukranos fairly easily. Starlit Mantle is a fine way to protect Polukranos, or any good threat like a Shimmerwing Chimera. However, I don’t really ever want more than one, and it’s not for every deck. Brine Giant, on the other hand, has impressed me. I originally started low on the card, but the card is five mana frequently enough that I like one copy in many blue decks. However, it’s still nothing special.

Hero of the Nyxborn
The only card in this pack that pulls me towards an archetype is Hero of the Nyxborn. While the other cards are both playable and castable in the same deck as Polukranos, Unchained, I think opening the door to draft an amazing Boros deck, should the archetype be open, is worth more than picking up a 23rd playable. Furthermore, it’s possible that Wrap in Flames wheels, which makes Hero an even more enticing pick-up. And it actually did wheel!

Pack 2, Pick 1

The Picks So Far:

Polukranos, Unchained Elspeth's Nightmare Ilysian Caryatid Hero of the Nyxborn Sweet Oblivion Scavenging Harpy Relentless Pursuit Indomitable Will Sentinel's Eyes Altar of the Pantheon Eidolon of Philosophy Wrap in Flames Wings of Hubris Satyr's Cunning

Out of all the color combinations, Boros does feel the most open. But is that enough to deviate from extremely powerful cards that could go with my Polukranos?

The Pack:

Thassa's Intervention Acolyte of Affliction Anax, Hardened in the Forge Rise to Glory Aspect of Lamprey Bronze Sword Final Flare Mire's Grasp Moss Viper Nyxborn Seaguard Rumbling Sentry Sentinel's Eyes Skophos Warleader Triton Waverider

The Pick:

Thassa's Intervention
Thassa’s Intervention is a powerful rare, and while Dimir and Simic are still options, I don’t think this card is enough better than what the rest of this pack has to offer to push me in one of those directions.

Rise to Glory, Acolyte of Affliction
Rise to Glory is a powerful card, and white does appear to be the most open color. However, if I’m going to take a gold card, it will be Acolyte of Affliction because it is arguably a better card and more on-color.

Mire's Grasp; Anax, Hardened in the Forge
Mire’s Grasp is the option that keeps me most open, and is a fantastic removal spell. However, given that not all options are black decks, it’s not like Mire’s Grasp is as open as a colorless card. I like it, but the pick for me is between Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Acolyte of Affliction.

Anax VS Acolyte
It may sound odd that I’m considering Anax so highly, but it is a phenomenal card, and Boros is open. The question is if I can piece together a phenomenal Boros deck. And the bar is high because it has to be better than a pretty strong Golgari deck with both Acolyte of Affliction and Polukranos, Unchained. Overall, I think pushing towards certainty in the cards I already have is a better bet. Yes, Boros is likely open, but that doesn’t actually mean the cards will fall into my lap. I am usually a fan of pivoting in these kinds of situations, but I don’t think it is correct to do so here.

What Happened Next?
Overall, I ended up with a pretty powerful Golgari deck that I took to a 2-1 finish. The draft had a lot of odd decision points, and you can review it here.