Decision Point

Posted in Limited Information on April 15, 2015

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

You'll always have choices when it comes to Limited. The theme for this week is technically geared more toward choosing two different things, I thought we'd start off by broadening the discussion a bit to choices in general. There are some major misconceptions about choices and how they affect your win percentage in our game. Today we'll talk about choices.

And yes, we'll also talk about the Commands for Limited as well. How could we not?


Hard Mode

Playing Magic at a high level is hard. It's been said many times, but it bears repeating as it's so easy to forget just how many variables our minds are juggling while we play a game of Magic. The beauty of the game, of course, is that the basics are easy enough to grasp to allow people to play without a ton of experience.

But the sheer depth that Magic provides as a game is unequaled. If your intention is to put on the scuba gear and see how deep you can go, you'll have to prepare. Part of being prepared is being realistic. Simply accepting that our game is difficult is itself a solid step.

Many talented gamers fall victim to hubris in the early stages of their development, after they see that they are quicker to pick up fundamental concepts than their counterparts. This leads to overconfidence and can stunt development while more patient, harder working players eclipse them.

Hubris | Art by Seb McKinnon


Why?

If Magic is difficult to excel at, the next question is "Why?" There are many answers to that question, but one short answer is simply that there are so many choices. Cards like the rare Command cycle from Dragons of Tarkir are but a mere taste of the myriad choices one faces in just a single game of Magic.

And every choice counts.

In Limited, the choices start when you open that first booster pack. They then continue through the card selection and deck building process, and right into the games themselves.

One thing you'll often see from newer players is that some seemingly lesser choices don't get the respect they deserve. From which land to play first all the way up to complicated blocks, every choice matters.

It's funny to see the difference in reactions to certain plays while talking to relatively new players versus the hardened veterans of the game. A new player may miss an attack for 2 damage, have it pointed out to them, and just shrug it off as small potatoes.

What's the big deal? It's only 2 damage.

Brago's Representative | Art by Anthony Palumbo

That same play made by an experienced player will often be called a "punt," which is slang for a mistake in a game of Magic that ultimately results in losing the game. While missing 2 damage won't always result in losing the game, it's interesting that the hardcore players take a seemingly small mistake to such an extreme, while the more casual crowd dismisses it as minor in nature.

As usual, the truth lies in the middle. Missing 2 damage can earn you a loss where you would have had a win. Other times it won't matter at all. If you read this column, you know that I'm going to recommend not being results-oriented here. Focus on the process and the plays. Decisions, not results. Results come later, after the decisions improve.

One common phrase that you'll hear getting tossed around is that there's only one correct play in every scenario. It's comforting to consider, in a way. Somewhere out there, there is always the right play waiting for us, we just have to find it. But while this statement is technically true, it doesn't help us much on our trek for self-improvement.

Why not? Mainly because it isn't verifiable. Even if there is that one perfect play in every scenario, we can't know what it is.

Or what it was, even. You see, in many other games, it's possible to go back and check your work. You can plug in some variables, and some more variables, and run a decent sample size worth of iterations, and then out pops a number. You can then compare that percentage number to your play and see if you were "correct" to make the play you made.

Magic has too many variables for this type of calculation. We've talked before about the Time Traveling Super Computer. This is where that would come in quite handy. But since we don't have it (yet), we have to work with our experience, logic, and brains to help us come to the best conclusions.


Commands

I'd be remiss if we didn't talk about the cycle of rare Commands in this set. Even though they are rare and therefore don't come up that often, it's important to look into cards like these because they are quite complex as well as being two-color cards that can force you down a specific path.

I'm going to go over these in the order I rank them for Limited, starting with last and working our way up to first.


All of these Commands are playable in Limited. Let's get that out of the way up front. That said, their power levels vary dramatically and I have Atarka's Command in last place. The problem comes in the fact that the first three abilities aren't really great in Limited. They do come up sometimes, but generally they won't matter enough to be a big factor in most games.

Which is kind of a shame, because that last ability is quite powerful. Especially good with tokens, but even just pumping a pair of attackers past their respective blockers can be a big swing. And don't forget about the reach snuck in there too. When that is relevant, it's really relevant.


Ojutai's Command shows just how powerful these Commands are. Even at fourth place, it's still a flexible, potent spell. The default mode will probably be to counter a creature spell and draw a card. There are plenty of creature spells to counter in Limited, and drawing a card is, well, drawing a card. It's great.

One cool thing about Ojutai's Command is that you can cast it without any targets at all. You can just choose to gain 4 life and draw a card if you ever run out of action and need to get through your deck. Bringing back a two-drop isn't bad either, but most two-drops in Limited aren't super exciting to get back by the time you can safely cast an Ojutai's Command.


Make no mistake: The "deals 2 damage to target creature or player" part is the real selling point on Kolaghan's command. Cheap(ish) instant-speed removal is good, especially when you add the other options to the mix. It's nice that there isn't a restriction on which kind of creature to get back to your hand from the graveyard, as you can get your big bomb back if it gets killed.

Destroying an artifact won't come up too often. The discard mode isn't super powerful, but the fact that it's on an instant opens up some interesting scenarios. If your opponent is topdecking, you can actually make them discard the card they drew for the turn while it's still their draw step.

Even though Kolaghan's Command isn't over-the-top in any of its modes, it's trivially easy to get a two-for-one with this card and that makes it ok in my book.


Dromoka's Command is a great card in Limited. The last two modes are the most important, as it makes Dromoka's Command a fantastic removal spell with upside! Most often, you'll be doing the whole +1/+1 counter and fighting thing. Remember, for modal cards, the modes resolve in the order they are printed on the card. So for Dromoka's Command, your creature will pick up the counter and then will fight another creature. That's like a two-mana, instant speed Hunt the Weak.

There are other good options as well, like firing off Dromoka's Command during combat, using the +1/+1 counter as a combat trick and then having another creature do the fighting.

The damage prevention side is situationally good against red, and even against white occasionally (Sandblast). The enchantment part is even more situational, but when it does come up, it will often hit a Siege of some sort, which is great.


Silumgar's Command is the most expensive of this cycle, which makes it a tougher sell for Constructed, but in Limited, it's not as big of a deal that it costs five mana. Especially when you consider that once you get to five mana, the card is so often a two-for-one. Then you won't care how long it took you to cast it.

The default mode will be to return a permanent to its owner's hand and to give a creature -3/-3 until end of turn. This has the highest upside in both the card advantage and tempo departments. But the value train doesn't stop there. You will sometimes have Silumgar's Command ready for when your opponent plays a key removal spell. You get to counter the removal spell and probably kill a creature of theirs in one fell swoop.

If you get to destroy a Planeswalker in Limited with Silumgar's Command, you get your very own Tasigur necklace to go along with all that sweet, sweet value. Hurray! (…and sorry Tasigur)


Choices

You'll face a lot of choices when it comes to Magic. You made the choice to read this column. This is a big step toward becoming a better player, because it means you are willing to put in the effort. And like many things in life, Magic rewards effort. It doesn't require it—you can still enjoy the game without putting in extra work. But if you're like me, you'll enjoy it even more if you do.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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