Finding the Right Home

Posted in Limited Information on July 27, 2010

By Steve Sadin

Some cards, like Silence, Pyretic Ritual, and Haunting Echoes just don't have practical applications for Limited. Sure, they might be put to good use in Constructed, but in Limited it is pretty much never worth it to spend a card for the effects that any of these cards offer.

But then there are plenty of cards that might appear unplayable at first glance, but can actually be put to very good use in the right situations. While other cards just need a little bit of help to achieve their full potential.

Looking to maximize the effectiveness of some of the often dismissed cards in M11? Then read on!

What Makes a Card Unplayable in Limited

Back in the day, sets used to be full of "skill-tester cards"—cards that were so bad that even the most novice players would be able to figure out not to play them. Chimney Imp was a prime example of a skill-tester card. At the hefty price of five mana, even the mention of the name Chimney Imp would elicit some chuckles.

But today, skill-tester cards have been almost entirely eliminated. There are very few cards that are strictly unplayable in Limited in each set. And the majority of those cards actually have some applications for Constructed.

Silence, Pyretic Ritual, and Haunting Echoes are all cards that have seen their fair share of Constructed play in winning decks. But they just don't have what it takes to make their way into forty-card decks.

There are a couple of marks that can reveal that a card is less useful in Limited. A card either costs too much mana for the effect that it offers, and/or it isn't worth investing a card for the effect that is being offered.

Out of the group of cards that are truly unplayable in M11 Limited, Silence probably comes the closest to being playable. But even in a hyper-aggressive deck where it would be at its best, it still isn't worth including—because, for every game where you curve out perfectly and use a Silence to put the final nail in your opponent's coffin, there will be two, or three just like it where you ultimately lose because you drew a Silence instead of something that could affect the board in a relevant way. There will be times where your Silence does next to nothing because you drew it late in the game, or because your opponent had a good instant to cast on your turn or in response to the Silence.

Pyretic Ritual might be worth running in an absurdly powerful combo deck, but in Limited that one-mana boost simply isn't worth investing a card for. And if you need Pyretic Ritual for the mana-fixing, say to cast a Cyclops Gladiator, or possibly even an Ancient Hellkite, then I would encourage you to reconsider your choice of splash cards before I would encourage you to play a Pyretic Ritual.

Haunting Echoes has the potential to be effective in Constructed formats where players tend to load their decks up with three and four copies of most of their cards. Haunting Echoes can be an absolute backbreaker after a Mind Sludge, a Day of Judgment, or, for players who are looking to do something particularly cute, after a Traumatize. But in Limited, players simply don't have enough duplicates to make the five-mana Haunting Echoes a card worth considering.

Barely Playable

After you get past the handful of cards in a set that are strictly not suited to Limited, you then get to the much larger realm of cards that are barely playable. These are cards that you typically do not want to see in your main deck, but there are some corner case scenarios where you might actually want to, or need to, start them. There are other situations where a card will be worth playing because it combos particularly well with other cards in your deck. And there is an even wider range of situations where a card that you typically wouldn't want to touch with a ten-foot pole will be worth boarding in.

Let's start off by looking at a couple of cards that are typically unplayable, but can be worth boarding in.

There are some obvious cards for this category, like Demolish, that are good at dealing with specific types of cards that you don't see often enough to justify playing your answer in the main deck. But Demolish can be well worth boarding in if you can use it to kill your opponent's Platinum Angel, or Sword of Vengeance, or even his or her Crystal Ball.

But then there is a lower tier of cards that can still be used to great effect in post-boarded games.

Hunters' Feast is a card that I would pretty much never choose to include in my main deck—I would generally prefer to run a nineteenth land than this green life-gaining sorcery. But if my opponent is trying to kill me with his or her five Lava Axes, then I will likely try to figure out a way to sideboard in a Hunters' Feast or two.

Hunters' Feast

Is this a common enough situation that I would go out of my way to pick up a Hunters' Feast? Not in the slightest. But if it came up, and I had my Hunters' Feasts ready, I wouldn't be afraid to use them even though Hunters' Feast is considered a "bad card."

Dryad's Favor

Dryad's Favor is another card that I would raise an eyebrow at if I saw someone cast it, but that I wouldn't be completely above playing someday. If I'm playing a red-green mirror match and neither me nor my opponent have a good way to break through, then I would be actively happy to have access to a Dryad's Favor. I might be able to put it on a Sacred Wolf early and start clocking my opponent for 3 every turn with my unblockable, untargetable (by my opponent at least) wolf. Or, if I don't have as easy a target as a Sacred Wolf, I might wait until late and put it on a humongous Duskdale Wurm and end the game in a couple of quick, big attacks.

Finding the Right Main Deck

Bloodcrazed Goblin is a terrible card in an aggressive Limited deck. Sure, you might occasionally cast a Chandra's Outrage and then attack in for 2, or maybe you will have an active Prodigal Pyromancer that will allow your Goblin Berserker the opportunity to go sideways every turn. But if your deck is not full of Chandra's Outrages and Prodigal Pyromancers, and let's face it few decks are, then you are going to have a lot of difficulty figuring out ways to let your Bloodcrazed Goblin attack regularly.

Bloodcrazed Goblin

But if, instead of playing an aggressive deck, you are playing a slower controlling deck that needs some early defense on the ground, then look no further than the Bloodcrazed Goblin to help fill out your curve.

I can understand why it might feel weird to try to domesticate a goblin that is bloodcrazed—leaving it on defense all the time until it eventually finishes its chores and goes to the 'yard—but it isn't like you are going to let it into the house. Sometimes you just need it as a guard goblin.

Call to Mind

Call to Mind typically won't be good enough for you to run. At three mana, you aren't exactly getting a steal of a deal for your Regrowth effect. But if your deck is loaded with top-notch instants and sorceries like Doom Blade, Jace's Ingenuity, Lightning Bolt, Chandra's Outrage, and the like, then Call to Mind becomes a pretty attractive option.

Yes—it is strange that some cards only become playable when your deck is already very good—but in the case of Call to Mind you have a card that is pretty much unplayable unless you can surround it with a good number of high quality instants and sorceries.

Working Together

Viscera Seer. Brian David-Marshall highlighted the Viscera Seer + Reassembling Skeleton combo a couple of weeks ago but it's definitely good enough for me to draw some more attention to it.

Viscera Seer
Reassembling Skeleton

On its own, Viscera Seer does very little, but if you combine it with cards like Act of Treason to give you a way to permanently deal with your opponents' top creatures, and/or Reassembling Skeleton to allow you to dig through your deck in a frighteningly effective way, then suddenly this little Vampire Wizard becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Ajani's Mantra

Ajani's Mantra is not a card that I want to play on its lonesome. Gaining 1 life a turn for two mana and a card just isn't a very good deal. Sure I might board it in if I'm playing a slow control deck and my opponent is looking to burn me out or kill me quickly. But otherwise, I would actively look for other cards to play in my starting forty.

However, if I have multiple copies of Ajani's Pridemate, I will have no problem putting an Ajani's Mantra or two in my deck—and I will even actively look to draft the life-gaining enchantment.

Goblin Tunneler

Goblin Tunneler isn't all that great on its own. You might want it for your sideboard if you are playing a particularly slow match-up where both you and your opponent are a bit light on removal, or if you are playing a particularly controlling strategy. If you are only using it to punch in for 2 damage a turn with a Goblin Piker or a Gravedigger than you really aren't getting that much value out of your card.

But if you are instead using your Goblin Tunneler to make your Scroll Thief and your Fiery Hellhound unblockable, then watch out!

Just Barely

I don't like Phantom Beast, not one bit. But I am willing to play it. At four mana, you are making a pretty sizable investment in your creature. A 4/5 is more than worth that kind of mana investment, but a 4/5 that can meet its death at the hands of any targeted spell or ability is just barely good enough for you to run when you have to pay four for it.

While it isn't a pleasant thing to do, there really is no shame in running a Phantom Beast. Sometimes you don't have any better options for the middle of your curve.

While Phantom Beast is obviously at its best against decks that have few or no ways to target it, the next best place to have a Phantom Beast is against decks that are full of high-quality removal spells like Doom Blade and Chandra's Outrage. If your opponent uses a versatile removal spell that could kill pretty much any four-drop on your Phantom Beast, then you are coming out ahead on the exchange—whereas if your opponent uses something kind of mediocre like a Hornet Sting or an Ice Cage, then you are actually taking quite a beating on the exchange.

Like many of the other cards that we have looked at today, Incite isn't a great card by any stretch of the imagination, but if your deck is full of large green creatures than it could be just the extra removal spell that you are looking for. No, it isn't quite an Alluring Siren (which isn't great to begin with), but it can certainly be used to help you keep the board under control. I am willing to include an Incite in my main deck if I simply have nothing else—but I would far prefer to sideboard it in against foes who are wielding Ice Cages and Phantom Beasts so I can shatter them at the low, low cost of a single red mana.

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