Rough Drafts

Posted in Serious Fun on August 25, 2009

By Kelly Digges

I have often alluded in this column to my abiding love of Limited, and of drafting in particular. I don't write about it very often because, well, Mr. Sadin has that covered (on the same day, no less). But nonetheless, a large percentage of my time playing Magic, and particularly of my two-player play, has been spent shuffling 40-card decks rather than 60-card versions.

There are a lot of reasons I like Limited; I am, as you might recall, a diversity gamer Timmy, so the fact that it's different every time is a huge draw. This has the neat side effect of letting me see new cards in action, sometimes in unlikely combinations. More than once, a Limited deck has given me an idea for a Constructed deck that I never would have had if I'd just been reading the list of cards in the set.

I don't know that I ever would have taken note of Puca's Mischief and built a deck around it, for example. But I drafted a Puca's Mischief deck once, packing it with things like Torpor Dust and Biting Tether that were awesome to trade away once I'd gotten use out of them. The result was a deck that really felt unique, and I walked away from the table with an idea for a Constructed deck.

    Pack Man

I was on the phone with my friend Andrea recently while she was waiting for her second match to start during a Magic 2010 draft on Magic Online. Once the match started, I ended up mostly just listening to her recite the game log. After all, that's what friends are for. Or something.

Anyway, her opening hand had some really aggressive curve, and it sounded like she was in pretty good shape. Her opponent spent the first turn playing Llanowar Elves, and had nothing on the second turn. Andrea was poised to summon a stream of 2/2s, with a turn-one Soul Warden to win the ensuing race.

Then her opponent cast a turn-three Master of the Wild Hunt, and that stream of 2/2s looked a lot less rosy. And there wasn't a lot Andrea could do about it.

A Wolf token and a Gorgon Flail joined the opposing side the next turn, and that was pretty much game. Andrea's green-white aggro deck couldn't muster anything that would kill or otherwise deal with the Master, and the Gorgon Flail meant that she was going to lose one creature a turn to deathtouching Wolves virtually guaranteed.

That little misadventure reminded me of an idea I'd had when I first saw Master of the Wild Hunt. Now, it's a self-contained combo; in one tidy package, you get a source of Wolves and something awesome to do with Wolves. Just about any green deck would be happy to have it. But as you've no doubt noticed, I like to build decks with a theme, and Master of the Hunt got me thinking about what other Wolves are around.

A Gatherer search reveals the actual Wolves of Magic are not electrifying. Wolf tokens, however, are a little more interesting. Howl of the Night Pack and Fable of Wolf and Owl both provide many Wolves (all at once or one at a time, respectively). Wolf-Skull Shaman pushes in an interesting direction; it wants either Elves or Shamans, and Master of the Wild Hunt happens to be a Shaman.

Down at the bottom of the alphabetically sorted list of cards that make Wolf tokens, we find Wren's Run Packmaster. It's also a self-contained combo; it makes Wolves ... and it gives them deathtouch. Ding!

Wren's Run Packmaster wants to champion an Elf, which pushes us toward Elves rather than Shamans in satisfying Wolf-Skull Shaman. This, in turn, leads us to the Wolf Elf Shaman Wizards, also known as changelings. Chameleon Colossus, Moonglove Changeling, Changeling Hero, Taurean Mauler, and their ilk strike me as fine Wolves to throw at whatever needs killing.

You might notice that two of our main creatures here have a mana-only activated ability (the Packmaster) and a tap ability that taps even more of your creatures (the Master). And if you're like me, you read that last sentence as "Blah blah blah Seedborn Muse blah blah blah." So let's throw that in, too.

This is starting to sound like a deck, isn't it? Any color could pair up nicely with green here, but I'm going to try the mono-green version first.

Sick 'Em

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There are some cute tricks in here, particularly with the champion ability on Wren's Run Packmaster and Changeling Titan. With the enters-the-battlefield trigger on the stack, you can activate Master of the Wild Hunt's ability while Wren's Run Packmaster is giving all of your Wolves deathtouch (even if you're going to have to sacrifice it), use its power to qualify for Mosswort Bridge, or activate the ability of the Packmaster itself to get some Wolves. The inclusion of Dramatic Entrance means that you can actually use champion to rescue creatures that are about to die, so that's a neat bonus.

Those weird rules tricks aside, this deck has tons of flavor. Here's this guy with horns, and this elf with horns, and they're both leading packs of wolves into battle. I picture them slowing, regarding each other, and nodding, as if to say, Yeah, we can work with this.

    X Patriots

In a recent two-player Winston Draft, I drafted a pretty mundane white-blue deck that tried to control the board with not one, not two, but three tappers. My friend Laura, on the other hand, had drafted the big green creature deck that I tend to favor, with black for lots of removal and Rise from the Grave.

At one point, Laura tapped all of her lands and cast Protean Hydra, which ... well, which I Canceled, actually, like a total jerk. But that's not the point. The point is that I did the math and realized just how much trouble I would have been in if that thing had hit. If I had Pacifism, Ice Cage, Entangling Trap, Divine Verdict, Doom Blade, or enough power to block and kill it, I would have been fine; my deck contained zero of these things.

Most decks will contain at least one of the relatively simple methods of taking care of a Protean Hydra. And that's fine; everything I love is flammable, and I have no problem with running out a kill-it-or-die creature. In fact, politically it can be expedient to make sure it's harder to kill you than it is to kill your threats; after all, the quickest route to killing your shrouded indestructible monster often goes right through your vulnerable life total.

But mostly I just like doing it.

Anyway, the point is that seeing Protean Hydra hit the battlefield—or, well, the stack, then the graveyard—reminded me how much I like that card and want to see it in a deck. After the draft, the Hydra ended up in the pile of Magic 2010 cards from recent drafts, and it happened to settle alongside Earthquake.

"Huh," I thought. "Protean Hydra rather enjoys surviving Earthquake, doesn't it? It gets bigger, everything else gets deader, all is well.

Then I noticed that both cards have in their mana costs. And it was only shortly after that that I decided to build a big mana Rosheen Meanderer deck packed with spells, to be home to Hydras and Earthquakes and Blazes, Oh My.

The other major direction that had occurred to me to pursue with Protean Hydra was +1/+1 counters—Doubling Season, Gilder Bairn, graft creatures, and so forth. But that's a different deck. This is an deck.

Hydras tend to have in their mana costs, and I peruse the most recent Hydras to find Feral Hydra and Apocalypse Hydra. In terms of more traditional spells, Banefire is pretty exciting, as is Molten Disaster, in addition to the more traditional Earthquake and Fireball. And with all those spells running around, Wort, the Raidmother can do some fun stuff.

Earthquake and its ilk strike everyone, so I'll probably want some life gain to stay ahead of the game. Enter Oracle of Nectars, whose tap ability goes beautifully with Rosheen's. And that's another sentence that sounds a lot like "Seedborn MuseSeedborn MuseSeedborn Muse," isn't it?

X-Treme Rosheen

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The end result is a deck that I can't quite build yet—more Protean Hydras please!—but that looks like a lot of fun. Note the inclusion of Shield of the Oversoul, which turns any of the Hydras into indestructible monsters, but is especially awesome on Protean Hydra. Citanul Flute is also kind of fun, sitting as it does at the intersection of "costs that contain " and "things that like creatures with low converted mana cost."

There are enough spells in red and green that I suspect this could form the skeleton of a cool Elder Dragon Highlander deck starring Rosheen as its general. The plan would be casting her on turn three or four, then (hopefully) untapping and doing something crazy—which is, basically, the plan here.

    Warping the Format

Traditionally, Limited is played with sets from within a single block—just Shards of Alara Block, say, or just Magic 2010 on its own. This is sometimes for the best; the developers in Wizards Ramp;D took great pains to balance those formats, unlike (say) Morningtide / Eventide Winston Draft (which is, utterly unsurprisingly, terrible).

But that's boring, and I am always on the lookout for interesting combinations of sets to use in my frequent two-person Winston Drafts. Perhaps my favorite so far consists of three Shadowmoor and three Alara Reborn; the sets dovetail in some surprising and beautiful ways.

More recently, I've discovered that Magic 2010 is a sort of universal donor. Aside from very insular sets like Lorwyn and Coldsnap, M10 fits reasonably well with just about anything. It works fine with Shadowmoor, and should work equally well with Eventide. And it's awesome with Time Spiral block.

I love Time Spiral block Limited, and somehow the addition of M10 makes it even more appealing. It's like taking a tour of Magic's history from two different tour guides with very different priorities. And in the end, it all just feels like a great big serving of Magic at its best.

It was during a recent M10 / Time Spiral block Winston that I drafted one of my favorite Limited decks ever. Take a look:

Warp Winston

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This deck showcases everything I like about Limited. If I brought the 60-card version of this pile to a game, I wouldn't feel too good about it. It's just so ... awkward. But because I managed to cobble this thing together in Limited, I feel like a genius. And the weird ways in which the cards interact gave me all sorts of ideas.

There are lots of little synergies here. Grinning Ignus helps build up the mana to cast the big spells. Most of the deck is permanents, so Warp World is at close to maximum effect. One of them, Utopia Vow, is even removal. Akroma's Memorial is awesome with all of my efficient "just dudes" (not to mention Howl of the Night Pack), awesome alongside Gaea's Anthem, and pretty great to flip up with Warp World. Gaea's Anthem is crazy alongside Phantom Wurm (for the same reason it's great with Protean Hydra), and pretty darn good when Howl of the Night Pack makes all those tokens. And in a pinch, if multiple Wolves are not getting it done, the tokens count as permanents on the starting end of Warp World. Stingscourger is great post–Warp World.

The deck did a lot of neat things over the course of several games with my friend Laura. I beat down with a turn-three Imperiosaur and a turn-four Clone of said Imperiosaur. I made a bunch of keyword salad creatures and killed her—you really don't know how devastating Akroma's Memorial is until you've seen it in action. "Yes, I just attacked you for 12 in the air, and I still have 12 first-strike power on defense with protection from two colors. Your go."

Also in evidence was the wacky fun of Warp World. The physical mechanics of the card are a little awkward, but it creates such great moments that I can't help but love it. In this case, I had laid down several must-deal-with creatures, and Laura had neutralized them in ways that kept them on the table—Eternity Snare and Ice Cage. That sounded like the perfect time for a Warp World.

I flipped up some creatures, including Shivan Dragon, as well as a Utopia Vow; the wording on Warp World ensures that Utopia Vow comes in last, so I can put it on any of the new creatures. On Laura's side of the board, there was a Razorfoot Griffin, an Infiltrator il-Kor, and a Mirri the Cursed that I hadn't seen previously, plus one Island, several Plains, and some Swamps.

Feeling awfully clever, I slapped Utopia Vow on Mirri, then tapped two of my fresh lands to cast Ignite Disorder and kill her other two creatures. Then she tapped a Plains, tapped her lone Island, tapped Mirri, who has haste ... and cast Cancel.

In the history of Magic, what are the odds that that sequence of events has ever occurred before? Not ... high, I should think.

Anyway, this one I'm not quite sure how to translate into a 60-card deck. And other than a renewed interest in building around Warp World and Akroma's Memorial (probably not at the same time), I'm content to let this particular deck remain as one of the unique experiences of Limited.

Not that Limited has a monopoly on this sort of thing. Weirdness happens. The unexpected and staggeringly unlikely occur on a regular basis. In the end, that's kind of the point. And if I can build decks that create these strange and wonderful moments as often as this little pile does, I'll count myself lucky.

    Limited Inspiration

So what about you? Do you play much Limited? Have any Limited decks jumped out at you and demanded translation to the world of Constructed? I'd be curious to hear about them.

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