Picking a Plan

Posted in Limited Information on January 4, 2011

By Steve Sadin

During my first few weeks drafting Scars of Mirrodin,Chrome Steed was one of my favorite cards in the set. I never had any trouble getting a ton of good artifacts to fill out my metalcraft decks. I would take cards like Chrome Steed, Auriok Sunchaser, and even Carapace Forger quite early because I felt very confident that I would get the support cards I needed to make them great.

Cards like the Spellbombs were being passed around like it was nothing. Equipment like Accorder's Shield and Sylvok Lifestaff were very easy to come by. And even cards like Wall of Tanglecord and Glint Hawk Idol had a good chance of getting passed around for quite a while.

I used to like drafting metalcraft a lot. Now it's very rare that I end up playing with a ton of artifacts in my deck. I still think that metalcraft decks tend to be quite good if I can get the right pieces—but it's increasingly rare for that to happen. Very often I will end up with around sixteen artifacts in my deck, but the only cards that take advantage of the fact that I have metalcraft are a Chrome Steed, a Snapsail Glider, and a couple of Vedalken Certarchs.

While these are certainly okay reasons (well, maybe the Snapsail Glider isn't a very good reason ... ) to run a bunch of artifacts in my deck, I don't think they are good enough reasons to justify taking a Spellbomb or other marginal artifacts over cards that will be legitimately good in your deck on their own.

I'd rather just draft good cards ...

    Linearly Dependent

Linear strategies such as metalcraft and infect require a serious commitment. You want to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-18 artifacts for you metalcraft deck and 12-15 creatures with infect for your poisonous monstrosity (though some versions can get away with as few as 9-10). The problem is, even if your deck gets all the components that you need to make it work, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be any good. And if you don't get enough artifacts, cards with metalcraft, or infect creatures, then your deck is likely to be quite poor.

It's comparatively easy to put together a good, synergistic deck that doesn't require a bunch of very specific cards that everyone else is fighting over just to make it work. Red-green dinosaurs (rooooar!), white-blue control, and black-red beatdown (just to name a few) are all very strong decks that can be put together quite easily because very few people are going to fight with you over your cards.

Cards like Alpha Tyrranax, Sky-Eel School, and Kemba's Skyguard tend to go much later than they probably should because too many people are focused on metalcraft and infect right now.

    Devious Deviations

I was doing a draft at literally the coolest office I've ever set foot in last weekend. My first couple of picks were pretty straightforward, I took a Revoke Existence, a Palladium Myr, and a Gold Myr out of some pretty weak packs.

The first big decision in my draft is when I had the choice between Embersmith and Trigon of Corruption, fourth pick in the first pack. I hadn't gotten passed any red cards of note before that point—and I didn't want to feel compelled to play a bunch of artifacts, so it was pretty easy for me to go with the Trigon of Corruption (if it had been first pick, first pack the pick would have been a lot closer and I very well might have gone with the Embersmith depending on what else was in the pack). The rest of my picks were far less exciting and I rounded out the pack with a Glint Hawk, a Wall of Tanglecord, a Snapsail Glider, a Sky-Eel School, and a Thrummingbird, which I took out of a nearly empty pack.

I was very happy when I opened up a Tempered Steel in the second pack—and set about immediately picking up every good artifact creature that would come my way ... Unfortunately, not very many good, or even decent, artifact creatures did make their way to me in the second pack. I got a Silver Myr, a Chrome Steed and an Etched Champion, but that was pretty much it for artifact creatures. I was fortunate enough to get a late (fifth pick or so) Volition Reins, and I grabbed a Lux Cannon around tenth and began dreaming of combining it with my Thrummingbird to shotgun away my opponents best cards, but at that point it was little more than a dream.

I opened and took a second Trigon of Corruption to start off the final pack, then followed it up with another Revoke Existence. At this point I was searching desperately for artifact creatures to go with my Tempered Steel—but they just weren't getting to me. A Silver Myr, a Neurok Replica, an Origin Spellbomb, and a Memnite were all fine additions, but it just didn't look like I was going to end up with a great artifact deck.

When I got a second Thrummingbird about midway through the pack, I realized that I might not have to play a watered-down artifact deck that was headlined by a single, admittedly awesome, rare—Tempered Steel.

I rounded out the pack with another Sky-Eel School and a Scrapdiver Serpent so I knew that I was going to be able to physically win the game even if I didn't build my deck around, and draw, Tempered Steel.

When I sat down to build my deck, I still wasn't completely sure which direction I was going to go in. I had never consciously chosen to abandon the Tempered Steel plan (though it is indeed possible that I was supposed to jump ship and simply missed my cues to do so because I was so enamored with the idea of attacking for 6 with a Memnite and a Gold Myr on turn three) but merely picked up cards that would fit into alternate builds when there were no on-theme options available to me.

Scars of Mirrodin Sealed Pool

Download Arena Decklist

During the draft itself I didn't get the sense that the packs were all that powerful, and there were very few cheap threats floating around, so I figured that if I put together a deck with a decent early game, and a very strong late game that I would be in pretty good shape against most of the decks at the table.

I was a bit worried about what might happen if I got paired against a good infect deck, or an aggressive black-red deck, but I would be able to cross that bridge when I got to it.

With that in mind, I decided to put together a controlling version of the deck that looked to win with Trigon of Corruption(s), Sky-Eel Schools, Volition Reins, and Lux Cannon (yes, really)—with my Trigon of Corruptions and Lux Cannon being aided by two Thrummingbirds and a Steady Progress.

Draft Deck

Download Arena Decklist

    It Takes Time

Slower, controlling decks should, if things are going according to plan, have the time to find and cast their key cards. Aggressive decks, typically, look to win before their opponents have the time to draw and cast their most powerful spells.

If I had gone with a version of the deck that was based around Tempered Steel, then I still would have had a decent end game thanks to my Volition Reins, my removal spells and my Trigon of Corruptions—but much of my plan would have involved hoping to draw Tempered Steel and enough good artifact creatures to go along with it before my opponent was able to get his or her best cards online.

Would I have been able to consistently beat my opponents before they got their best cards online with the Tempered Steel version of the deck? No. I would need a lot to go right for me to beat my opponent early given how few cheap artifact creatures I was able to pick up for my deck (at the most, I would have had four non-Wall artifact creatures that cost two or less to cast). And if I didn't draw my Tempered Steel, or my opponent had an answer for it then I would have been in a ton of trouble.

I figured that if I managed to survive my opponent's initial onslaught, I would be able to take over the game. Unless my opponent played a really powerful non-artifact rare like Carnifex Demon or Hoard-Smelter Dragon, then I would probably have an answer ready thanks to my Trigon of Corruptions, Revoke Existences, and Halt Orders. And even if my opponent did come at me with a scary non-artifact threat, then I might be ready with an active Lux Cannon—or, even more fortunately, a Volition Reins.

In my first match with the deck I got paired against a pretty solid infect deck and I wound up getting rid of my anti-artifact cards, for a Tempered Steel package. In this case the Tempered Steel package wasn't being used aggressively, rather it was being used defensively (just having more blockers is really good against infect decks). My opponent's draw in the first game was a bit slow, and I was able to win handily (the only clever play that I made was choosing not to cast a creature until about the sixth turn because I was pretty sure that he had a Oxidda Scrapmelter, a Skinrender, or at the very least some good removal in his hand)—and in the second game he mulliganed into oblivion so my sideboarding strategy never had a chance to shine.

In my second and third matches with the deck, I played against two slow, blue control decks—and I made only minor changes to the deck after sideboarding, bringing in my Glint Hawk and my Scrapdiver Serpent over my Steady Progress and my Snapsail Glider (which would have been my main-deck configuration if I could redo things).

In these matches I was extremely happy with how I had chosen to configure my deck. I was able to win these grinding control battles with ease because I had all the right tools at my disposal. My countermagic and removal spells stopped my opponent's best threats and answers (I was willing to go pretty low on life against these opponents in order to hold onto my answers for their biggest plays) allowing me to eventually win with an army of Sky-Eel Schools.

    Bonus Section: How to Leave up Countermagic Mana in Limited

The more things that you can do at instant speed the better. If your only instant is a three-mana counter, in particular, a conditional three-mana piece of countermagic such as Halt Order—then your opponent will be able to heap some serious abuse on you if you try to leave up mana for it at inappropriate times.

If your opponent isn't aware of what is going on, then sure, he or she might walk into all of your traps—but if your opponent is paying attention, then you aren't likely to get away with anything.

Cards like Dispense Justice can be similarly frustrating to play with as your opponent can simply choose not to attack, instead simply casting a creature and passing the turn—leaving you to choke on the three mana that you left open.

If, however, you have both a Stoic Rebuttal and a Dispense Justice, then it becomes substantially more difficult for your opponent to play around them as he or she won't know exactly why you left that mana up. If you are playing a control deck and you can convince your opponent not to attack or cast relevant spells because you left three mana up, then that's a serious win for you.

(Please note that if you are playing against an opponent with three mana available who you think might have Stoic Rebuttal and/or Dispense Justice, then you actually want to cast your spells before combat. If your opponent uses Stoic Rebuttal, then you will be able to attack with impunity. If he or she doesn't cast any countermagic, then you might choose to pass the turn without attacking as it is then quite likely that your opponent has the Dispense Justice).

If you are the one who has the reactive card, sometimes your best option is to hope that your opponent doesn't know what's going on, thinks that you are simply light on spells and wants to kill you before you draw out of your land pocket, or that your opponent thinks that you are merely bluffing that (excessively) reactive answer.

But, in general, if you leave up a bunch of mana in the early-mid game against a discerning opponent, he or she is going to smell something fishy.

However, cards like the Trigons, which give you good things to do with your mana makes it much more difficult for your opponent to punish you for playing reactive cards by playing the waiting game.

If you have a good excuse for leaving up mana, such as an active Trigon of Corruption, then your opponent will be less likely to notice that something might be afoot. And even if your opponent does notice that you are likely to have a strong reactive answer, he or she is likely to be in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. This is where doing nothing will see their relative position gradually deteriorate and doing something will cause them to fall into whatever trap you've laid for them.

Even cards like Lux Cannon (which aren't normally great because of how slow they are), which provide you with an incremental advantage each and every turn that they are on the board, even without consistent investment of mana, also make it quite difficult for your opponent to play the waiting game—again forcing him or her to walk into whatever ambush you've set up.

    A New Years Resolution

In 2011, I resolve to give you more (complete) draft walkthroughs.

Latest Limited Information Articles


January 6, 2016

A Surge of Support by, Marshall Sutcliffe

Last week we blew your mind with five unreal uncommons from Oath of the Gatewatch. This week we'll be scaling things back a bit. After all, we have to leave you with some surprises from t...

Learn More


December 30, 2015

Five Amazing Threes by, Marshall Sutcliffe

I'm sitting in a cafe in Barcelona, sipping on a freshly squeezed orange juice while I go over the Oath of the Gatewatch preview cards for this column. I almost spit some of said orange j...

Learn More



Limited Information Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All