Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Omar Beldon and I have been playing Magic competitively since Mirrodin Besieged. I have been an occasional Pro Tour goer in the last couple years and my major accomplishments in Magic include a GP finals appearance and a few PTQ wins. I also recently finished in the Top 8 of Canadian Nationals. I originally started out as a Constructed player and a lot of my foundation has been built on that. In recent years I have dipped my toes into Limited Magic and let me tell you it has been quite the process. A lot of what I had learned in constructed didn’t apply to Limited at all and actually hurt me more than it helped me. I think the issue was that it’s much harder to unlearn bad fundamentals than it is to just be a blank slate and learn new concepts.
Magic is a hard game.
Limited Magic can be a harsh mistress sometimes. On one hand you are constantly being put into new situations and the puzzle can be very rewarding to solve, on the other hand it can be very daunting and quite easy to fall into what I think are common traps for most players. In this article I’m going to go over what I think are common mistakes most players will make at some point when playing/building in Limited. Because let’s face it we can’t all be as talented as Canadian legend Rich Hoaen who constantly does well at every Limited event he plays.
I have made all of the following mistakes at some point in the past and am still making them now from time to time. To me, the most important aspect of Magic strategy is that context always matters and what is important can vary from game-to-game and even turn-to-turn. A lot of what I’m going to go over in this article pertains to having a good game plan and trying to correctly implement it as well as being able to understand your opponent’s so you can do your best try and undermine it, this way you will have an easier time correctly navigating any given game of Limited.
Without further ado here are my five common pitfalls to avoid in Limited.
1. Blocking/Trading poorly
Creatures are the pawns of Limited, correctly evaluating and utilizing your creatures to full effect in-game can mean the difference between winning or losing. A common trend that I have been noticing over the years is that most people are very willing to trade creatures given the opportunity. What some fail to realize is that it does not always serve your your best interests to trade creatures off, you don’t want to have to remove every 4/4 your opponent plays and would rather save removal for higher priority threats (fliers, bombs etc). By not trading Grizzly Bears, you run the chance of being able to invalidate it by drawing a 2/3 or 3/3. As a bonus, your pair of creatures can also efficiently double block a 4/4.
Of course a caveat is that this completely flips if either deck has a card like overrun (you don’t want to trade if you have it or aggressively trade if they do). Another example could be that your deck is flush with spells that care about having creatures in play like auras, pump spells and equipment. Something your opponent can also be representing a pump spell and you run the risk of playing into by blocking when it would be safer to wait on blocking to play around the trick better on a future turn. In these instances it’s important to think about if it’s worthwhile to trade for you or your opponent. A good mental shortcut I like to use when I have to make a blocking decision is to ask myself what is the antithesis of my opponents plan is and try to go with that. The goal should be to try and make your opponents cards lineup as poorly as possible vs you.
Here are some extreme examples to help illustrate this concept.
With the above deck list I would neglect to trade off Grizzly Bears on turn-two.
In this scenario It’s a little more context based (cards in hand and what my opponent is playing can factor) but I would again be apprehensive to trade due to not having very many answers to larger creatures and a 2/2 generally being blanked by a lot of my cards as well as the three copies of Giant Growth.
With the above decklist I would be eager to trade-off on turn two due to not wanting to take damage. The late game in this deck is so great that I want to prolong the game as much as possible.
2. Timing Removal Wrong
We are trained to use our spells in hand to answer our opponents “threats”, especially if you come from a mostly constructed background. In constructed, decks are designed to do things in the most efficient way possible and are chocked full of answers to the threats that are commonly seeing play, this is why it is not uncommon for decks to use a removal on the first possible target in constructed. Doing this in a game of Limited can be quite costly however and can lead to some bad situations down the road.
This brings me to the point about the importance of timing removal spells, or answering bombs In Limited. Everybody is going to have bombs in their pools. You’re very likely to play against powerful rares in every game you play, so it’s important to have the ability to remove them before they take over the game.
It’s not easy to come across premium removal spells in Limited. These spells allow you to beat some of your opponents best spells, It is important to go out of your way to use removal spells like these sparingly. This somewhat ties into my first point about blocking, if you trade your creatures for your opponents filler spells then you can line up removal on the bigger fish.
Here are the categories of creatures that I would want to kill:
Flyers/Evasion Creatures- These creatures generally cannot be interacted with in combat so it is sometimes necessary to answer them with removal spells. One catch is that sometimes the flying creatures in your opponents deck are not the best creatures/bombs that they have. In these types of situations you will need supplementary “small” removal (things like shock, plummet etc). Fortunately that class of spells are much easier to come by and will allow us to save our ace in the hole.
Bomb threats- These cards tend to have a dominating board presence due to some game changing effect and are usually either unracable or completely blank your creatures, it’s usually difficult to win when these type of cards stay in play.
When you come to the decision about if you need to use your removal spell you should ask yourself if you think that creature is going to kill you if it remains in play for a few turns? Using your life total as a resource is important in these scenarios, what’s taking a few points of damage if the creature is going to be blanked in some way eventually?
So the next time you go for terminating that 3/3 don’t! It will likely increase your win percentage if you hold your removal spell for later.
3. Not Playing Enough Creatures
This ties in with my first two points quite nicely, I get that some creatures are quite bad to play but the issue is that when you play too few “vanilla” creatures in your deck, this really puts a lot of pressure on your removal spells.
To elaborate take this situation: your opponent has a fast start and plays Grizzly Bears on turn two. Would you rather have your own and trade or would you rather take 6-8 damage from it before you can play a bigger creature? This cascades so you suddenly have to use your removal spells on worse cards all because you were too proud to put good ole 2/2 for two into your deck.
Another situation where having a higher concentration of creatures can be great is that it gives you the benefit of taking advantage of tempo. Take this example: you have an early curve of creatures and on turn four, you play a bounce spell and attack then follow-up with another creature or you attack and play a combat trick vs your tapped-out opponent, either sequence can be quite devastating for your opponent.
Lastly having a good number of creatures allows you to take advantage of when your opponents will stumble. Let’s face it, not all games play out in a perfectly interactive way. Sometimes especially in Limited your opponent will not have the perfect curve and being able to exploit that will get you a fair number of wins.
4. Not Trying Build-Around-Cards
We are taught to think about certain types of cards as being outright bad and while most of the time they just are it’s important not to have tunnel vision. These cards are usually quite alluring and everyone wants to be the genius who broke the card that everyone said was crap. Unfortunately, build-around cards have a bad rap for a reason. Many build-around-me cards just never have the support they need to work or require way too high of a set up cost.I think years of this type of thinking being instilled into us has made us complacent, now nobody is willing to take a risk with things that are unproven.
Early on in most Limited formats a lot of our evaluations are skewed toward previous experiences , so it’s easy to misunderstand new and unique cards. I think it’s important to try these wacky cards (they are usually rares so you wont get a ton of opportunities to try them). What I think may be correct approach when it comes to evaluating Limited build-around-cards is that you take on some risk by putting in them in your deck but generally the pay-off is much greater than most spells because when they actually do work they are playing on an axis that not many things can compare to.
I’m guilty of this too. One recent good example of this happened this past weekend at the Dominaria pre-release. I opened two copies of Helm of the Host and I neglected to include any of them in my U/W sealed pool on the basis that it “cost nine mana” and I already had a high curve (two blessed Light, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Serra Angel, and In Bolas’s Clutches). Lucky, I know. I think this is a bad reason not to try Helm anyways over one of my more marginal spells i was playing. In retrospect I’ve come to the conclusion the the Helm is an excellent card and it would be a mistake for most decks not to include it and my reluctance to play it was a mistake.
Here’s my sealed pool:
This is how I built it:
Let me know if you can figure out what to cut for the two copies of Helm, as well as any other cards I should be playing.
5. Not Utilizing you Sideboard
I think the sideboard is a drastically underutilized tool in Limited especially in Sealed. Sometimes you will find that you need to bring in some conditional cards to answer what your opponent is doing such as bringing in a disenchant to answer a specific artifact or enchantment.
But often your starting 40 will not lineup super well with what your opponent is doing, it is important to keep track of the cards you see in game-one so you can have a better idea of what to do to combat your opponent. Did you see a lot of Grizzly Bears in game-one? Then it would be prudent to bring in any 2/3 creatures in your sideboard, Limited is mostly about creature sizing so try and make your opponents creatures non-threatening. If you lay out both 40 card decks — yours and your opponents — you should try and make it so that your cards line up as well versus them as possible.
During post-board games It is common practice to lower or increase your curve (against a fast and slow deck respectively) this allows you to better combat what your opponent is doing and is much more nuanced than simply sideboarding a Plummet in vs your opponents U/W Skies deck.
Again what your opponent is doing is very important to keep track of. If what your opponent is doing outclasses your deck in a way the cannot be fixed with a few cards then don’t be afraid to completely swap to a different colour combination if it will serve you better. A lot of the time in sealed you will have more than one option for a deck and your B deck might just be better vs what your opponent is playing.
If you can take away anything from this article it should be that most important thing in Magic is having a good game plan. Knowing what your game plan is as well as your opponents is will give you the tools you need to make the most educated decisions possible when the decisions are close.I think recognizing these types pitfalls and catching yourself before you make these mistakes will go a long way towards improving your in game decision making process as well as helping reach towards the goal of correctly navigating games of Limited.
Thanks for reading
If you have any questions I’m happy to answer any. I’m on twitter @real2_b.