Often on SpellSnare.com, I spend a whole column writing about specific cards, strategies, and skills. These are all valuable, but I have realized that what’s missing is a concise, high level guide for someone who’s just trying to get a handle on how they can level up their limited game. If you’re someone who wants to start winning at Friday Night Magic or making day 2 of a Grand Prix, here are some figurative merit badges you can earn on your path to success in Limited. Check them off as you go!
Recognize when cards are just bad
Plenty of times, I have sat across the table from someone who has cast a card that should never, ever, ever go in a limited deck. And yet, I understand these players’ reasoning. Sometimes you picture a best case scenario that gets you really excited, like the idea of ramping out giant Improvise spells with Dramatic Reversal. Sometimes you are just one step away from really understanding what makes specific kinds of effects unplayable.
In any case, it’s important to learn proper card evaluation skills, and if you’re serious about becoming a better limited player, you’ll be able to drop those pipe dreams of crazy build-arounds. (And later on, once you’ve reached a certain skill level, you’ll know when the wind is just right for you to build a strong deck around those off-the-wall strategies!)
Learn formats intimately
One of the reasons your opponent beat you at FNM last week was that they knew you had Aven Reedstalker in hand, so they didn’t attack with their 2/2 that turn. How did they know? Many players like her try to give themselves every advantage they can, so they memorize all the cards in a set before they draft it. This helps them in a couple of ways.
First, they know how to avoid walking into ambushes like the one you had set up for your opponent last week. It also helps them know which strategies are viable in a given format, so they know how to start drafting their decks toward a specific goal. Finally, it removes the pressure of learning what all the cards do while drafting and playing so they can focus instead on what their options are. For these reasons, any limited player who wants to have success in a competitive environment will spend some time after spoiler season familiarizing themselves with the cards in the set.
Know how to read signals and find your lane in a draft pod
Learning how to read signals is probably the most significant step up in any limited player’s journey to draft better, and I would even argue that that skill is the mark of a good competitive drafter. If you don’t think reading signals is important, think about all the times you started off a draft with an awesome first pick, but then your deck never really came together the way you pictured it.
If you had noticed that the drafter to your right was taking all the cards in that color, you would have thought to pick all the strong cards that were coming to you in a different color and ended up with a much more powerful deck overall. Even though it would have been tough to let go of your cool bomb, the feeling of winning all your matches more than makes up for it- trust me.
Be able to identify who the beatdown is in a game
Just like reading signals is one of the most important skills to develop while drafting, recognizing your role is one of the most important skills you can train while you’re playing your matches. If you don’t know what I mean by that, there are tons of resources online that explain this foundational strategic concept, especially the original groundbreaking article by Mike Flores dating all the way back to 1999.
Essentially, at most points in a game of Magic, one player is trying to win quickly, while the other player is trying to last long enough to not lose. Much of the time, this concept applies to entire decks, where one deck is almost always the beatdown in a matchup against another deck. Knowing when you’re the beatdown will help you feel more confident when you sacrifice resources like cards in hand for aggression, and knowing when you’re not the beatdown will prevent you from making costly attacks that end up losing you the game.
Always play to your outs
There are lines of play that are almost always correct, except they have a lower chance of winning you the game relative to another line when you need a miracle to take the game anyway. Too often do players take the conventionally sensible line in these situations, or worse, concede before really thinking about it. While Hail Marys will only win you a small percentage of games you would have lost, those percentage points add up over time to real differences in results between competitive and casual players.
Practice drafting frequently
Remember that just like any hobby, the best way to get better at Magic is to play it. A lot. Once you reach a critical frequency of drafts, if you’re paying enough attention, some of the other concepts on this checklist will just start to come naturally to you. At that point, there’s nothing else to it.
I hope you enjoyed this look at some tips and tricks to make you a better limited player. Drafting well is a skill that takes a ton of time, but the rewards are great.
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