Magic is your game. One of the defining attributes of this 25-year-old card game is that it gives you countless options to customize to your liking. Whatever format you play, each time you shuffle up your deck, you get to create a unique gameplay experience which has likely never been experienced by any other Magic: The Gathering player ever.
In most formats, this unique gameplay experience begins with building a deck. You may skip over this step by using an online decklist from ABU Games or another source, but the decision to play with that exact set of cards still falls under your control. Today, I’m going to discuss how you can personalize your experience in the most limited of formats, Sealed Deck and Booster Draft.
It’s easy to say, “but Sealed and Draft are completely random, and I don’t have any choice in what I play!” This statement is incorrect, and this misunderstanding is one of the most common reasons why players dislike Sealed and Draft. The fundamental randomness and limited nature of these formats are precisely why they offer some of the most skill-testing experiences available to Magic players. However, in my experience, they are also one of the most fun ways for players to experience the game.
It took a long time for anyone, with myself being my biggest critic, to consider me to be good at playing Magic. After years of playing with hand-me-down cards from my elementary school best friend’s older brother, I finally made it to a gaming store where I bought my first preconstructed deck: the 7th Edition Way Wild Intro Pack containing Thorn Elemental. It was also during that visit that I first observed players drafting. I was hooked. My mother eventually had to drag me away from the table of older players slowly choosing cards from more booster packs than I had seen in my life.
I didn’t draft that day, and it actually took years before I made it to my first sanctioned draft. When I did, a new world of play opened before me. There’s an expression in the art and design world that “restrictions breed creativity.” This, I think, is what makes me love playing Limited. I never had many cards to choose from when I learned to play and playing Limited triggers that creativity and nostalgia.
I have to give credit where credit is due, and Wizards of the Coast has designed some incredible Limited environments over the years. There are certainly some that could be improved, but I find that variance to be healthy for Magic in the long run. Over the years, I’ve found several ways to keep even the “worst” Limited sets exciting and personal:
Make it your own – This weekend, I played in a Return to Ravnica Block Draft at ABU Games in anticipation of the midnight release of Guilds of Ravnica. After first picking a Sin Collector, I was passed a Watery Grave, the second most expensive card in the set. Now, the woman passing to me may have been unaware of its value, or simply mistook it for a Dimir Guildgate, which I almost did as I glanced through the pack. After the draft finished, however, I asked her why she passed it, and she told me, “It wasn’t in my colors – I don’t play blue.” Without debating the merits of money-drafting, I thought this was a perfect answer. She knew what she liked to play, and she seemed to have a wonderful time with the Selesnya deck she drafted. She made it her own.
Find build-arounds – There is a rich history of great build-around cards in Magic’s history: Burning Vengeance, Spider Spawning, Secret Plans/Trail of Mystery, Vent Sentinel, Sphinx’s Tutelage, the Honden cycle, and many others. In recent sets, many multi-colored mythics, rares, and even uncommons are designed to be pseudo build-arounds that synergize with other cards in their colors. These types of cards that inspire an entire deck around them excite me because they often play out alternative strategies that opponents aren’t prepared to face. Some build-arounds I’m excited to try in Guilds of Ravnica include Drowned Secrets, Experimental Frenzy, and Gruesome Menagerie. These cards each provide unique challenges to build around that are slightly different than what their colors will typically be doing in GRN Limited.
Make it a challenge – Draft an archetype you’ve never drafted before. There’s value in knowing what you like to play and what you’re good at playing, but branching out will improve your skills dramatically in the long run. Limited is the perfect time to challenge yourself. Especially at the beginning of a new format, nobody really knows all of the cards and how they interact, so try playing with cards that you’re uncertain about. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find the next great draft archetype!
Build against the common wisdom – Late in a Limited format is sometimes the best time to be innovating. Once all of the “best” strategies have been decided upon by the Magic community, you can occasionally build a format-defining deck with the leftovers. At a Pro Tour not too long ago, the format had become a midrange grind-fest with cards that gave card advantage being highly sought-after in draft. One team’s ingenuity led them to draft aggressive red-white decks with the cards that were going late in every draft. Not only did these cards not provide card advantage, but some auras and other spells risked losing card advantage easily. These decks proved too fast and unexpected for many of the grindier decks to handle, giving that team of risk-takers a huge advantage in day one of that Pro Tour.
So, take risks and discover your own personal flavor of Magic, whatever it may be. If you’re unsure where to start – try Sealed or Draft with the new cards from Guilds of Ravnica! Later, share what you liked with your friends. After all, the real magic of Magic is the gathering.