Initial Operations

Posted in Limited Information on May 1, 2013

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.

I've never been in this position before. When I came back to Magic around the release of Shadowmoor, we were on the eve of a true, three-set, multicolored block: Shards of Alara. I cut my Limited teeth during that block and learned a lot from it.

Things were different back then. We drafted the packs in the same order they were released. For example, after Alara Reborn was released, we drafted it last in the order of packs. Nowadays, we will be starting with a Dragon's Maze pack and moving in reverse chronological order. This system has many benefits and I prefer it to the old way. But that also means I haven't been here before. Not quite like this.

We have a challenge on our hands. I do a big set review show for the podcast whenever a new set comes out. For this one, I feel like I need to go back and do full reviews on Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash as well. Everything has changed, including how we look at the cards from these two sets.

As the set is still fairly new, I haven't been able to dive too deep into the myriad interactions and synergies we will face, but every time I look, I see them. I see cards that had been dismissed as unplayable suddenly spring to life as solid sideboard cards or even main deck inclusions. I see potent synergies, goofy combos, and unchained cohesion that I haven't witnessed before.

It's an exciting time to be a drafter.

Put on Your Lab Coats

As Limited scientists, we began a study at the Prerelease that will continue for the duration of our time in Ravnica. Not only do we have to figure out the cards in Dragon's Maze, we have to reevaluate all of the cards (and I do mean all of them) from both Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. And even then we aren't finished. We have to take our eye away from the microscope and look at things from a wider perspective. We must start mixing guild formulas to see what the most fruitful combinations are. This is going to require a lot of trial and error (read: drafting) and an open mind, too. Those who are ready to adapt will prevail over the ones who are not.

To Brew

Experimenting early in a format is a controversial topic among Limited aficionados. Some believe it's best to sit back on proven strategies and smash the people who push the boundaries. It's a reasonable argument; once the new archetypes and synergies are unearthed, you can simply copy them.

Others think that it's best to push the envelope yourself in the early stages of a format. This gives you the upper hand and keeps you one step ahead of the competition. It does come at a cost, however. Trying out new cards and strategies means losing more than you normally would during the early stages of a fledgling format. Sometimes you go a little too deep into the knowledge well and come out soaking wet.

But sometimes you find gold at the bottom of that well. And, for a while, you get that gold mostly to yourself. This is a huge advantage, and I have always found that when I am ahead on the information race, I experience more success. You can see this happen every time a new set comes out, in fact. The people (like you) who read articles, keep up on the Card Image Gallery previews, listen to podcasts, write forum or Twitter posts, and critically think about the new changes will generally smash in the early stages of a new format. When your opponents have to read every card they draft, while you are thinking about what guild combination you want to go for, you are in a great position.

The next step after everyone has caught up, though, is to have tried out some niche strategies and cards so you know what to avoid and what really works. Again, you will give up a bit of advantage early but for big gains down the road. And when you know what you want, and when you can get it, that is a great place to be.

I advocate trying out new things early and often. I wasn't always this way, but now I love to brew new decks during a draft. Dragon's Maze looks to be an absolute brewer's paradise. I have high hopes for this format, and based on the feedback I have been getting, you do too.

Drill Down

I want to take a look at some of the awesome new cards that I can't wait to play with from the new set. We will be going over a lot of things in the coming months right here in this column. In the interest of integrity, I don't like to make sweeping generalizations about things that I don't fully understand yet. I prefer to keep it honest with my readers. Having a draft or two under one's belt does not make that person an expert.

Sure, I can throw out some educated guesses about the new format, but until I have actually played it a bunch, they would be just that: guesses. Instead, we will walk that path together. And it starts here, with the cards. Let's look at sample of the spicier additions we have to the plane of Ravnica.

Ascended Lawmage

I was excited at first, and then kind of sobered by this card—3 power on a four-mana flier is pretty decent, and hexproof is a proven ability. But hexproof doesn't affect combat, and the fact is that 2 toughness will trade with essentially anything that can block this.

Which brings us to the meat of the point: if it's not being blocked, this card is going to go the distance. If it is being blocked, it's a bit better than most of the other Azorius fliers, and worse than a few of them.

Blast of Genius

This card has so much going on it's hard to process all at once. First, it's six mana for a removal spell—or kill condition—which we may not even know what it's going to do before we cast it.

Remember, we choose the target for Blast of Genius first, and then we do the rest. Oh, the rest, right. We also get to draw cards! Three of them to be exact, but then we have to discard a card too. But that card doesn't have to be one of the ones we drew. So we might know how much damage we are going to do, or we might not. We might know the minimum amount of damage we are doing, but maybe there is some big expensive bomb waiting in the top three cards of our library.


If we draw that big expensive bomb (remember, we already have at least six mana available), wouldn't we want to keep it in our hand so we could just cast it? Unless we targeted our opponent (this does hit players, too), in which case we are going for a big Lava Axe. Or maybe we don't care about the damage anymore and just figure we can win with a "draw three and then discard one."

This card has a lot going on, indeed. I really like it, and I can't wait to play it. Dramatic moments are sure to be present whenever this is cast.

Bronzebeak Moa

When you see a gold 2/2 for four mana in green and white, you should have really high expectations for the rules text. A 2/2 for four is basically unplayable, and in green-white, it's far below the expected stats. Bronzebeak Moa can deliver, though, as there will be many games where it's essentially a 5/5 on your turn for the duration of its stay. In combination with cards like Eyes in the Skies, Selesnya Charm, and Centaur's Herald, this bird can get really huge at instant speed. Remember, it doesn't have the "once per turn" clause. If this is unblocked and we resolve Eyes in the Skies, our opponent is taking 8 damage.

Tiny dinosaur indeed.

Although it probably won't block very well.

Carnage Gladiator

And I thought Hellhole Flailer was aggressive. This guy is insane! It has great stats as a 4-power creature that is hard to block profitably thanks to regeneration. And if your opponent decides to block it (or any of your creatures), he or she is still losing life. Imagine this card alongside Rix Maadi Guildmage. Absolutely devastating.

This card is also an excellent blocker. Sort of.

A 4-power regenerating blocker is a huge stop sign for your opponent, but remember Carnage Gladiator's first ability also counts against you. If you block with it, you are losing 1 life. Even then, this situation would seem to favor us as we are likely the aggressor and our opponent can't realistically keep attacking with his or her creatures into our 4/2 regenerator.

Deputy of Acquittals

A lot of people have been buzzing about this card. You would think I would be one of them, being a huge fan of cards like Mist Raven, Man-o'-War, and Voidwielder. But the truth is, I'm not. I think this card is good, and I'll play it for sure. A 2/2 with flash and no downside is a solid inclusion in a Limited deck. I like that part, but it's not really that exciting.

Its special ability is pretty cool, but in Limited it's often too difficult or not worth the tempo loss to get proper value from it. Two recent examples are Faerie Impostor and Keymaster Rogue. Many thought these were high-pick cards, but they ended up being mediocre playables most of the time.

Bouncing one of your own creatures is a pretty big drawback. Deputy of Acquittals, however, breaks this mold in two ways.

  1. Its ability is a "may" ability. You can just choose to not use it.
  2. It can happen at instant speed.

These two things really help set the card apart, as you can use it to save your creatures from removal or combat death. Or you can just cast it as a creature when you just need a creature.

Again, I don't hate this card or anything, and I'm sure I'll play it more than most; I am just attempting to keep it in reasonable view when evaluating it. This ain't no Mist Raven.

This was the first fuse card that really caught my eye.

I love Unsummon effects. Even though they are usually just pure tempo plays that leave you down a card, I have found the flexibility of cards like this make it worth including in my deck. Sticking an edict effect—forcing our opponent to sacrifice a creature—on it, and allowing me to do this all at instant speed?

Yes, please.

Sometimes you will just cast Far on a creature being bloodrushed. Or enchanted. Or combat tricked. Or acting as a second blocker. Or you'll kill a token with it. Or save your critical bomb from removal. All these things, and more, and you still have the option of casting Away to just take out another creature on your opponent's side.

Doing both of these things for five mana is a bargain, and I can't wait to play this card.

Journey Onward

I have now been writing this column for the duration of one full Magic set. My first preview cards were for Gatecrash, and we just finished the run of preview cards for Dragon's Maze. I have been enjoying my journey with you, and I hope you have gleaned some useful information from reading the column.

Dragon's Maze is going to be one of the more challenging and intriguing Limited sets to figure out, and I'm happy that we get to do it together.

Until next week!


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