Breaking Down Some of the Best Limited Articles of All Time

Study Break Art by Cristi Balanescu
Study Break Art by Cristi Balanescu

Boy do I have a treat for everyone! Today I am going to be breaking down some of my favorite points from a few of the best limited articles of all time. We suggest you read this in conjunction to our Beginner’s Guide, in particular Appendix C: Improving at MTG:

I have been playing Magic since I was about six years old, and after my first few years of playing I began to seek out articles, videos, and whatever other Magic content I could get my hands on. I tried to absorb as much as possible, and by doing so, my understanding of Limited and overall Magic fundamentals improved dramatically. After all, following the advice of the best players in the world is one of the best ways to become one yourself!

I’m confident that checking out these top notch resources will make a significant difference in your limited abilities. Lee Sharpe also announced on Twitter that draft Arena Opens would be making their way onto Arena in the near future, so it’s definitely in your best interest to start levelling up before all these high stakes limited events start hitting the client!

Drafting the Hard Way by Ben Stark

Winding Way Art by Adam Paquette
Winding Way Art by Adam Paquette

Short, simple, and to the point. One of, if not the best limited articles of all time, which is not surprising considering that it’s written by Ben Stark, one of the best limited players of all time. I base a lot of my initial limited philosophies off what Ben taught me through his draft videos and articles. Ben’s articles and videos specifically excel at breaking down every Magic lesson that he is trying to teach into the simplest form of information possible. It makes him incredibly informative and makes it simple to retain what he’s teaching.

You’ll see that a commonality exists between the four articles being discussed today in that all of them are simple and easy to follow whether you’ve been playing for two weeks or two decades. This is probably my favorite limited article of all time because it addresses what I believe are the most common issues people face while drafting: being affected by previous format biases, being married to your early picks, and not knowing the importance of studying a format if you’re serious about succeeding in.

His article breaks down drafting into the easy way and the hard way. “If you draft the easy way all the time, you can spike when things line up your way and you are perfectly live to 3-0 and draft good decks when they do, but around half the time you will not end up with a good deck at all and will be liable to 0-3 or 1-2” (Stark). By committing to the hard way, you give up your previous format biases and any attachment to your early picks in order to stay open and consistently draft powerful decks, regardless of what you open or are passed. By not predetermining your draft decks, you give yourself the ability to almost always have a solid deck instead of only having a great deck when specific cards are opened and certain colors are available. Even if you open a Glorybringer you can still get a train wreck of a draft by forcing red when red is not open.

Ben also highlights how important it is to study a format and to consider what keywords, abilities, stats, and colors are good or bad in that respective format. Doing this is what allowed me to top 8 Mythic Championship II in London. The limited format for the event was triple War of the Spark, and the set had just been released so no one had played physical games with the cards yet. Fortunately, that didn’t matter for me because I had spent the previous two weeks in my World History class studying every card in the set (Editor’s Note: Priorities)! I evaluated the cards based on some of the criteria that Ben brought up in this article and it led me to the conclusion that Dimir would be one of the best color combinations in the set. That knowledge paid off handsomely when I was the only one at my table that was properly valuing the Dimir spells and I ended up with great decks in both of my drafts. I came to my conclusion about Dimir for multiple reasons, but the biggest reason by far was how busted the blue and black commons were. Spark Harvest, Toll of the Invasion, Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty, Aven Eternal, Callous Dismissal, Tamiyo’s Epiphany, No Escape, and Spark Reaper are all really powerful commons for example. I also identified that the abundance of powerful Planeswalkers meant that getting on the board, developing a dominating horde of creatures, and ensuring that the opponents Planeswalkers could always be threatened would be of the utmost importance in the format. Historically blue and black tend to have the worst creatures in limited, which made me worry if Dimir could actually accomplish this. Putting past format experiences to the side was essential so that I could realize that the powerful Amass spells made it so Dimir had access to solid creatures. It meant that while I was countering spells, killing creatures, and thoughtseizing my opponent, I was also developing my board.

I ended up going 6-0 in the limited portion of that event, and I remember during my pack one pick one of the first draft instantly snapping off Tamiyo’s Epiphany over Tomik, Distinguished Advokist despite Tomik being an inherently better card. I was confident in my research and was not interested in Selesnya Populate like other players in the table were. That epiphany won me multiple games and I am positive that I would not have top 8’d  had I not done my research leading up to the event. To this day I think back to this article, and how without it I would never have top 8’d my first Pro Tour or ever made it into the MPL.

The Four Reasons You Won’t 3-0 Your Next Draft by PVDDR

Dismiss Art by Donato Giancola
Dismiss Art by Donato Giancola

Paulo is obviously an unbelievably good player, but he is also one of the best Magic writers of all time. People who follow the tips and advice that he gives in his articles are often the players who often become Pro Tour regulars. A lot of that solid advice can be found in this article that details some of the biggest mistakes players make while drafting. I find that a lot of people will ask me some of the same questions that he brings up in his fourth point so I wanted to address one of those. “I have the choice between a solid red card—Valakut Invoker or Catacomb Sifter. I took Catacomb Sifter. A lot of people approached me after asking why I had taken that, and the reason was that I thought Valakut Invoker was an acceptable cost for the chance to play Catacomb Sifter.” (Damo Da Rosa).

I value multicolor cards incredibly highly in modern drafting because they are often the best card in their respective archetype. For example, let’s take some current cards and tie them to Paulo’s point. I start a draft with Hunter’s Mark, Owlbear, and Spoils of the Hunt. Fourth pick rolls around and there is a Bruenor Battlehammer and an Underdark Basilisk as the only desirable cards in the pack. In that instance I would take Bruenor because of how powerful and irreplaceable it is for Boros. Underdark Basilisk on the other hand is a fine playable, but it’s unexciting and is not something that I will miss at the end of a draft. If I notice that Boros is open later in pack one, my deck will be missing and be significantly weakened by the lack of that Bruenor. Paulo felt the same way about Catacomb Sifter, so it’s important to be aware of which cards are replaceable and which aren’t.

That also highlights how important it is to be flexible. Modern sets are loaded to the brim with playables, and Paulo’s article explains how staying open and not marrying your first few picks is essential for consistently having a good draft deck.

Quadrant Theory by Marshall Sutcliffe

Square Up Art by Manuel Castañón
Square Up Art by Manuel Castañón

I’ve already discussed Quadrant Theory in multiple of my articles, but it really is that important! Evaluating a card during development, parity, winning, and losing helps hone your knee-jerk reaction to a card’s limited power level. Doing so accomplishes two major goals; it prevents drafting from being daunting while also ensuring that you’re only playing cards that actually accomplish something.

For example, take a card like Wilderness Reclamation. It got banned in Standard because it was so unbelievably powerful, however, it’s nearly unplayable in conventional limited sets. During Ravnica Allegiance draft, many of my opponents would play it against me. If you evaluate that card using the Quadrant Theory, you begin to get a basic understanding of what makes Wilderness Reclamation and so many random limited cards so bad. It does not help you develop in the early game because it is a four drop that does not affect the board in any way or give you mana that can be used for casting creatures. It’s not good when you’re behind because it does nothing against a creature that’s killing you or a board state where you’re getting outmuscled. Taking the fourth turn off to cast this over a creature could even be what causes you to fall behind! It does not push the advantage when you’re winning because it’s effect is incredibly situational and does not impact the board. It does not help break parity in your favor because there are so few instances where being able to cast more instants and flash spells will end up mattering. This theory further cements how important it is for your spells to either be a creature, some way to push through a creature in combat, or some way to answer a creature or threat. Once you get used to evaluating cards like this, you’ll be able to think this through and avoid these trap cards just from glancing at them. 

Also this article has one of the single greatest Magic strategy quotes in it. “When it comes to Magic, I’ll listen to almost anything anyone says. Sometimes I disagree with them, and sometimes I will make them aware that I disagree with them. Other times I just listen. It’s important to see how different people approach this game” (Sutcliffe). Put that ego aside and keep your mind open to all possible sources of knowledge!

Drafting 101: Understanding Signals by Melissa DeTora

Signal Pest Art by Mark Zug
Signal Pest Art by Mark Zug

This article by Melissa Detora is a fantastic introduction to drafting because it is crystal clear on what signalling is, how to utilize it, and why it is important. What’s so impressive about this article is that despite Detora being a professional player with vast knowledge of the game and competitive play, she’s able to break down a fundamental drafting concept in a manner that could be easily understood by even a brand new player. That’s an incredibly rare teaching skill because once you become so entrenched in something, it can be difficult to remember it in its simplest form. Sometimes it feels impossible for me to break a concept down into specifics that could be understood by all types of players. Reading this after the release of Shadows over Innistrad drastically improved how I conveyed Magic skills and knowledge while also making me appreciate the content creators who are able to remember what it was like when they were a new player and still be able to channel those thoughts into their content. It can be incredibly daunting to dive into your first booster draft, and this article also just provides excellent advice for beginner drafters.

I remember doing my first powered cube draft after the release of Shards of Alara and how I panicked over the first pick of my first ever cube pack. Most players feel overwhelmed in these situations because there is so much to decide in your first pick, especially when it’s a cube draft. A lot of veteran players forget how terrifying that pack one pick one information overload situation can be! It’s also sadly why a lot of newer players don’t enjoy booster draft. Fortunately during my first Cube draft, I recognized a powerhouse in the pack and snapped off the trusty ace of my Naya midrange standard deck, Ajani Vengeant. He had just gotten me into the top 8 of FNM the previous night, and it felt right to take a powerful Planeswalker as my first pick. However after passing my pack, the player who got it began to chuckle. They scoffed at me for passing them a Black Lotus and told me that they were surprised that I didn’t know that it was one of the best cards in the entire Cube. Hearing that made me feel embarrassed and initially turned me off from cube drafting and playing formats that I had little to no knowledge of.

That’s ultimately why I love this article. It shows that even if you’re a fantastic Magic player, you need to remember where you came from and what it was like when you first started playing limited. Doing so will make you a better teacher while also preventing you from making the same game errors that you made in the past.

There are way more excellent Magic articles out there, but these are some all time greats that will all seriously help up your limited game. I credit these sorts of authors and content they produced towards helping me achieve some of my wildest Magic dreams. If you’re a student of the game and are hungry to get better at Magic, keep reading content like that and you’ll be surprised how quickly you improve and how much more easily you achieve your Magic goals.

As always, thanks for reading and hopefully a draft open is on the horizon!

Chris Kvartek

While Chris Kvartek technically kicked off his career in 2012, he burst onto the scene in 2019 like few before him. With an early season Top Finish at Mythic Championship II and narrow miss for his second at Mythic Championship IV, Kvartek earned invitations to two more Mythic Championships through online qualifiers. He secured his second Top Finish of the season at Mythic Championship VII, and now this rising star must prove he can stay among the elite of professional Magic.

3 Responses

  1. 20pesos says:

    Thanks for providing links to these great resources!

  2. Teddy says:

    Great articles, thank you for sharing