It seems a short introduction might be appropriate. My name is Keane Frady and like many others, I enjoy spending a sizable portion of my free time playing Magic: the Gathering. I won’t proclaim that I’m particularly good at the game, but I’d like to think I’ve earned the right to say I’m not completely hopeless at it. I’ve finished x-4 at a couple GPs and won a few PPTQs, which borders on results worth being proud of, but in any reasonable estimation still falls short. Regardless, hopefully you can glean something positive and useful from what I have to say in this particular article, and in the potential future ones I write along the journey towards getting better and maybe/hopefully qualifying for a Pro Tour.

Limited is my favorite magic format by a fairly wide margin, and I hope to focus on that rather general topic for this piece and future ones I write for Limited is just so great, draft in particular, but sealed is good too. Somewhat opposed to constructed formats, limited constantly feels like a new puzzle. No two drafts or games play out the same way and you constantly have to assess new board states and make decisions you’ve never had to before. Another aspect of limited I appreciate is that it feels like a more well rounded test of a player’s abilities than constructed. Any Joe Schmoe can play nothing but Tron in Modern and learn the popular matchups, sideboard permutations, and common gameplay scenarios. You can excel in constructed by putting in a small amount of work and focusing on the right things, without being particularly adept at many of the other aspects of Magic. You can’t playtest a million matches of Bant Company vs W/r Humans when you’re practicing for a sealed tournament. There are no set archetypes in limited and as a result, the games have much more of an on-the-fly feel than they do in constructed.

Hopefully that didn’t come across as too much of a rant. I’m willing to play any format that can qualify me for a Pro Tour, and constructed certainly has its own set of unique challenges and awesome qualities. I have a pretty big soft spot for what people would call “sweet” decks. What do I mean by that exactly? Well, Eli Kasis, Matt Nass, and vintage Conley Woods usually bring these kinds of decks to the table. A specific example of a sweet deck is Naya Eldritch Evolution, with which Jeff Hoogland top 8’d the SCG Modern Classic in Baltimore this past weekend, found here.

Fetching up Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or comboing off with Restoration Angel and Thragtusk, or either one plus a very angry goblin that hates mirrors, definitely qualifies as “sweet” in my book. For the uninitiated, saying or writing down the name of the sneaky goblin from Kamigawa is a major faux pas.

Another example is the G/U Crush spiceball that top 8’d the standard open also in Baltimore. Holy hell is that deck sweet. Since there isn’t a sealed PPTQ this Saturday within a reasonable driving distance of my current residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I’m very likely to sleeve this bad boy up and drive to Denver for SCG Regionals. Part of me wants to stay home and play the Eldritch Moon sealed PTQ on Magic Online, but the more rambunctious and fun-loving part of me can’t wait to beat my opponents down with a never ending stream of 8/8 Krakens.

To reel myself back in from gushing about sweet constructed decks, I did say that I wanted to focus on writing about limited. We’ll save the strategy for another article though. I’ll instead leave you with two unrelated and disjointed thoughts I had over the past week that both loosely relate to limited. You can expect for me to get lost on a tangent or two while doing so.

Thought #1: Aesthetic Expression in Magic is really cool.

Even as someone that thinks winning matches is the most important and enjoyable aspect of magic, I can appreciate tracking down a foil Treachery to replace the regular version in a cube, or trading for Unhinged lands to pimp out your Standard deck, or ordering Lorwyn Thoughtseizes because you wouldn’t be caught dead playing with the Theros version. Personally, my recent aesthetic expression of choice has been to play without sleeves in all limited tournaments. I like the “I just wandered into this PPTQ off the streets” message it sends out and I think it pairs nicely for my other aesthetic preference of never using a playmat. I’m just here to play Magic without frills. Rock and roll. No shirt sleeves or card sleeves required. The choice was a little annoying at a recent PPTQ when I opened a foil Bedlam Reveler. The card sells for $15 on SCG and my instincts tell me it’s gonna go up. I thought about abandoning my values and buying sleeves from the card shop, but I’m proud to say that I stuck to my guns and riffle shuffled the sucker without sleeves like it was just another basic Mountain. I didn’t top 8 the PPTQ and my Bedlam Reveler is now rests solidly in the “moderately played” camp. Not all stories have happy endings.    

Thought #2:  Magic is at it’s best when it’s fast paced.

Mostly, Magic is a game with lots of downtime. You have to shuffle after you crack your fetchlands, you have to wait around when your opponent is thinking, or, on Magic Online, away from their computer making a sandwich. NFL football is like this as well, with lots of commercials and time in between plays, and it’s still the most popular viewer sport in America. So while Magic is great and it’s potential for growth is not completely restricted by its pace, it is understandable why things like CS:GO and Overwatch have more popular streams than Magic. They just have more constant action. My favorite matches to watch and play in are when the line between those kinds of games and Magic is blurred and both players are battling very quickly. Usually this happens when someone like LSV plays Shouta Yasooka, or when time is ticking down and players are looking to avoid an unintentional draw. When two people are relying on pure instinct and playing out their cards as fast as possible, I get really excited because it feels more like watching a FPS than the poker game Magic usually is.

This past weekend I got to be a part of such an experience in the last round of swiss at a sealed PPTQ. The match looked to be a win-and-in for top 8 for both myself and my opponent, my friend and owner of a reasonable amount of limited chops, Brendan McNamara. He defeated me in an especially drawn out first game which lasted around 45 minutes. In hindsight, I’m almost certain I should’ve conceded earlier to save time. There were a couple different spots where it would’ve been reasonable, with the one that stands out being when my opponent played a newly delirious Ishkanah, Grafwidow, which simultaneously made it unlikely that I’d be able to push through the last few points of damage and giving him a way to win the game if it continued to stall out. In the final turns he had the necessary 14 mana(!) to activate the spider twice and drain my life total away with spider venom at double speed.

But, alas, I decided not to concede early and we were left with a lowly five minutes on the clock while shuffling up after game 1. I knew my only hope would be to curve out and steal a quick game 2. There wasn’t enough time to finish the whole match but if I could just get the game count to 1-1, I knew Brendan would entertain the possibility of conceding to me just as I would to him. Being the stand up guy he is, he played quickly for our second game, even asking the judge for an extension when he had to change a sleeve that broke during shuffling. I got to enjoy the type of fast paced and thrilling game I discussed as I surged ahead by curving out and having timely removal spells. Time was called with Brendan fairly low on life and with me having a superior board and favorable attacks. During extra turns, he used an Ongoing Investigation to gain life and managed to use all his resources to keep himself alive. During his end step and before my final turn, I did some math and noted that if Brendan wasn’t holding a relevant instant that he could cast off his 2 untapped Swamps, I could attack for exact lethal if I top decked any creature. I had a delirious Reaper of Flight Moonsilver in play and just needed the 2 extra points of power to be able to swing for lethal on my turn. So I untapped, knocked the top of my deck (which going back to the topic of magic aesthetics is a really enjoyable thing to do) and ripped a Skirsdag Supplicant! It was just about the happiest I’d ever been to see such a medium card. I slammed it, sac’d it, and swung for lethal. Brendan had other plans besides dying though and promptly shrinked my crazed and delirious Angel with a Borrowed Malevolence, securing his life total at a healthy 1 and winning the match. Boo! 

Like I said, not all stories have happy endings. But fast paced and thin margin Magic really is fun. I’ll be going to number of events during the last few weeks of summer, and I look forward to telling you how I fell short at all of them.

For an application of an economics theory in drafting, click here.

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