The Ties That Bind

Posted in Limited Information on January 2, 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.

What is up everybody? Welcome to another episode of... Limited Information?

That's how I start my podcast, Limited Resources, every week. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Marshall Sutcliffe and I am a drafter.

Limited Resources | Art by Keith Parkinson

I draft every day. I organize my time in terms of drafts. When I go out to run errands, I don't think about hours or minutes; I think in drafts.

"This should take about one-and-a-half-drafts."

Seriously, though, I love Limited Magic. It's a great passion of mine, and I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I record a weekly podcast with my friend Jon Loucks about Limited, and I draft on Magic Online seven to twenty times per week. I produce a weekly draft video for I draft at FNM, and sometimes on Saturdays. And I am in a draft league in Seattle, where I live. I "sky draft" in-flight on the way to provide video coverage of drafts for Wizards of the Coast at Pro Tours and Grand Prix.

I draft.

Before jumping into strategy, here's my quick Magic history. I played "back in the day," like so many of you. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, but I loved the game. Eventually, life got in the way and Magic and I drifted apart.

Enter my close friend and mentor, Ryan Spain (now a member of Wizards of the Coast R&D). Ryan has been an avid Magic fan since I introduced him to the game back in 1995. He repaid the favor, reintroducing me to it in early 2008.

This time, however, there was this thing called "Limited." I instantly fell in love, and with Ryan's guidance, I got up to speed pretty quickly. I found Magic Online shortly after. We started the podcast about a year later, and things have snowballed from there.

I am an up-and-comer, probably a lot like most of you. My goal is that this column is going to be a way for both of us to improve our Limited game together.

I take a "Nuts & Bolts Spike" approach to the game. This means that (A) I want to win, because winning is more fun than losing, and (B) my approach to the game is analytical, logical, and always focused on the decisions instead of the results. I am also a lover of value, as you will no doubt discover in the coming months.

I'm excited for the opportunity to (attempt to) fill the very large shoes of my friend Steve Sadin here on Limited Information. As an avid reader of his writing, I will do my best to provide you with content of the same caliber that he did week after week.

Now let's talk some Magic, shall we?

In Limited, I have two favorite kinds of card.

The first are creatures that have Man-o'-War-type effects, which return other creatures to their owners' hands when they enter the battlefield.

The second are looters like Merfolk Looter or Enclave Cryptologist. I love me a looter. I loot essentially every turn when given the option.

My Gatecrash preview card this week falls into the former category: tempo advantage. Let's take a look at it now.

Would you play this card in Limited?

This is a pure tempo play. This means that we are sacrificing some amount of our resources to stunt the development of, or use of, our opponents' resources. In this case, we are using a card from our hand with the purpose of tapping down one of our opponent's creatures for a turn cycle.

Not bad. I don't think I would happily play this as is, however. The effect is just too fleeting to warrant an entire card slot in my forty. If only we had a way to repeat it...

>> Click to Show

Now we're talking!

So now, if we have a way to repeatedly get in for combat damage, we can keep one of our opponent's creatures indefinitely tapped down. Sweet!

Martial Law | Art by Tyler Jacobson

Deciphering Hands of Binding

First, even if you never get the cipher effect from this card, you are always getting at least some value for casting it. Hands of Binding can be used offensively, defensively, or (ideally) both. Tapping your opponent's biggest blocker so you can get in for damage while simultaneously preventing it from attacking the next turn is a solid tempo swing in your favor.

If we are able to repeatedly cipher this bad boy, however, things can get very bad for our opponent. Imagine a turn where you cast Hands of Binding, targeting your opponent's biggest blocker, attack with your two fliers (one them encoded with Hands of Binding), and then copy the spell and lock down your opponent's other creature. Now your opponent has no attack for his or her turn and you are nicely set up to start ciphering this once per turn for a sort of conditional Martial Law effect.

Not bad for a mere two mana.

Window of Opportunity

Soulsworn Spirit

Hands of Binding rewards evasive threats. Being able to encode this onto a creature with flying or unblockability is the way to go. This will allow you consistently hit your opponent and get the cipher activation turn after turn. Hands of Binding plays best in aggressive decks designed to attack evasively, and often.

Risky Move

So is this card all upside?

No, it's not. There is considerable risk associated with the cipher mechanic.

If you were to simply cast this and attempt to encode it onto one of your better creatures—only to have the creature killed—it could be a sizable setback for your game plan. It's not a disaster—you still get the original effect from casting the card—but the true appeal is to get multiple cipher activations over the course of a game.

If your opponent casts a creature that can block the encoded creature later in the game, Hands of Binding won't tap down that creature. You only get that initial effect once. Afterward, the burden is on you to maintain the effect by repeatedly getting in for damage with a creature.

We have established that there is some risk to playing this card. If you never get to cipher it, it would likely not be worth running in the main deck.

Faith's Reward

The upside, however, is pretty huge. Keeping your opponent's best threat tapped down turn after turn while you attack is powerful.

Hands of Binding is similar to a populate card. Your brain will recognize the awesome upside of getting a reasonable effect plus potentially extra value, but experienced players will be aware that you don't always get the cake and the icing too.

Cower in Fear | Art by Nils Hamm

Got to Hand it to Them

You are playing in a Limited match. Your opponent had a quick start and your back is against the wall. Is Hands of Binding a card you want in your hand?

Not really.

This card is maximized when you are attacking. So put it in decks that want to attack. Build your deck to take advantage of the cipher mechanic. This card in particular seems like an enabler of the mechanic as a whole.

Since it's blue, I assume there will be some creatures with flying in the set. If your opponent only has one creature that can block your flier, Hands of Binding can be the card that not only breaks open your attack step and keeps your opponent's blocker pinned down, but it can also open the flood gates for any other cipher cards you have in hand.

If there is a cipher deck in Gatecrash Limited, I expect that Hands of Binding will play an important role in it.

You could potentially set up some super-cipher creature with multiple ciphers encoded onto it. This is the only card from Gatecrash I have seen so far, but assuming there are multiple cipher cards around, you could build some sort of devastating cipher-tron machine. Hands of Binding could be the enabler to get you in for that key attack and get a bunch of cipher triggers going.

One technical detail to note about cipher is that you are actually copying and casting the spell, meaning that it can be countered. This is likely an edge-case scenario but it's not just a triggered ability. You are putting a copy of the spell itself on the stack.

Ideas Unbound | Art by Mark Tedin

Ideas Unbound

Will we be playing Hands of Binding in most of our blue decks after Gatecrash is released?

I don't know. Without the bigger picture it's too difficult to predict, but I foresee the blue handcuffs coming down again and again in many Limited matches. Knowing our friends in R&D, they will provide us with many sweet creatures onto which we can encode ciphers to our hearts' content.

I know I can't wait.

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