Three Biggest Leaks in Your Limited Game

Mana Leak Art by Christopher Rush
Mana Leak Art by Christopher Rush

Hopefully everyone is doing well! I figured since Midnight Hunt has been out for awhile that now would be a good time to start breaking down key limited mistakes that I still see a lot of players struggling with. Avoiding these mistakes is also going to be especially relevant once in-person play returns fully, which I’m hoping is as soon as it’s safe to do so!

It took me a long time to overcome these pitfalls, so I want to thoroughly break down exactly what helped me move past them. Hopefully by sharing my experiences, you’ll be able to recognize which mistakes you’re making and the best course of action in order to correct them. Let’s dive in, starting with my personal favorite!

You’re Getting Way Too Tilted (Especially From Your Opponent’s Rares)

Anger Art by Svetlin Velinov
Anger Art by Svetlin Velinov

I’m sure that we can all recall a time where we’ve rambled on to our friend (or even opponent) after a match where you got killed both games by a Pack Rat, The Scarab God, or some other bomb rare. Magic is a very high stakes game at times, so it makes sense that a lot of players absolutely lose their minds when they get squashed by a bomb rare in Limited. It’s common to feel cheated or for it to seem like everything is going wrong for you.

“Of course they had Pack Rat turn two all three games! Oh yeah, sure, obviously you have the Treasured Find too to get it back after I killed it! Unreal, good luck in day two because your deck is so busted!”. Please get this nonsense oughta here because I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of hearing it from my opponent. I am here to tell you that getting so worked up mid-match while also mentally preparing your bad beat story is incredibly detrimental to both your win rate and the amount of enjoyment that you’re getting from playing.

Magic is such a great game because it is variance based. With that variance of course comes the possibility that you’ll get land screwed, mulligan into oblivion, or get demolished by a bomb rare. Players need to realize that everyone faces this bad variance and their share of bad beats, and that the shuffler or booster packs ain’t out to get ya. You’re not especially unlucky, and it’s as simple as that. Once you throw that excuse out the window, you’ll get way more out of your playing, improve significantly, and find yourself ending games with a smile instead of the urge to ramble on like a lunatic.

Now I’m not saying to bottle up the negative emotions that come from losing to a Pack Rat in three minutes during your win-and-in to the top 8 of a Grand Prix; what I’m saying is to leave those emotions on the sideline until your match is concluded. Put that brain power towards figuring out every possible thing that you can do to solve the problem at hand. You have more or less four deck building options and potential solutions after getting thrashed by a single card: change decks, change game plans, sideboard in answers, or just hope they don’t draw it. What makes the great limited players great is that they’re often able to pull miracles out in the post-board games from some of the most unassuming cards.

I remember a Khans of Tarkir Grand Prix where I found myself down a game in the last round of day one, where the winner would advance to day two and the loser would be eliminated. You know that I was hungry for that win and that I wanted to participate in the drafts the next day more than anything! I had a decent, but slow Mardu deck, whereas my opponent had a crazy powerful five color deck. The first game he crushed me after casting Sage of the Inward Eye, Ankle Shanker, Mantis Rider, Siege Rhino, and then finishing me off with a Duneblast (one of the best cards in the whole set).

I felt hopeless after that first loss because it seemed like I had no options. What could I possibly do to answer all these bombs? I didn’t have access to any counterspells, and my pool could only support a Mardu deck. After poring over my board,  the stars aligned and the solution finally hit me. I had to throw my deck quality out the window and board in my three Valley Dashers! Valley Dasher is an atrocious card, but it has some high upside, especially when it’s being played against an opponent with a shaky manabase and not a ton of early game. Long story short, my ponies plus removal plan panned out, I won the match, and I felt really good that I didn’t pre-emptively give up against my opponents vastly superior deck!

So devote that brain power to solving the problem at hand, and if you happen to lose anyway, well at least you can walk away from the match knowing that you played your best and gave it your all. I found that I began to love Magic way more after I focused on my improvement and game play instead of the outcome of each match. Also as an aside and for emphasis; please stop being cranky to your opponent after they beat you! Always be cordial to your opponent and don’t take out your moodiness because you think that you were entitled to the win. I’ve seen so much of this over the years, and frankly I’m sick and tired of a 30 year old acting like a toddler because their opponent drew well.

That’s why it’s so important to have a good group of Magic friends that you can chat with in between rounds or Discord with after getting squeaked out in a pivotal online qualifier match. There’s nothing wrong with venting to a friend so long as you aren’t doing it frequently and you’re tilting off in a respective manner. There’s been a ton of times where I’ve babbled on to Bob Lee (DoggertQBones) or my entire friend group about the spectacular fashion in which I got pummeled. We would both talk the bad beats over, get the negative emotions out in a healthy manner, and then brush it off and move on.

I still remember how hilarious it was to watch Bob lose his win-and-in to day two of an Amonkhet Grand prix after he expended all of his resources to answer his opponents Liliana, Death’s Majesty, only for them to promptly follow up with another one (that of course crushed him). We still laugh about times like that! You’re going to enjoy the game so much more if you embrace the variance and laugh off when the Magic gods spit right in your face.

You’re Not Sideboarding Often Enough

Boarding Party Art by Sidharth Chaturvedi
Boarding Party Art by Sidharth Chaturvedi

I feel like this issue is a byproduct of two things: laziness and most people’s limited experiences being mostly in the best-of-one queues. Best of one on Arena is great because that’s where you’ll face the best competition. It’s also incredibly efficient, convenient, and the fastest way to play as many games as possible. However, you’re going to see your sideboarding skills begin to atrophy if all you’re doing is throwing down in the best-of-one queues. Eventually, once in-person play returns and you’re back at your local store or whatever big events there are next year, you’re going to start paying for that sideboarding skill deterioration with way more losses. 

Sideboarding is so important in Limited because modern sets are packed to the brim with niche playables that exist as a safety valve to keep certain commons/uncommons in check. Just look at Midnight Hunt for example; there’s Plummet, Rotten Reunion, Sungold Barrage, Thraben Exorcism, Return to Nature, and a ton more cards who’s value fluctuates dramatically based on what cards your opponent is playing. Sure it’s easy to board in your Return to Nature against an Unnatural Growth or your Sungold Barrage against a Liesa, Forgotten Archangel, but what will put you head and shoulders above your competition is if you know how to fully adapt your deck and strategy in the post board games.

Boarding prowess is especially important when it comes to playing Sealed. It’s common in Sealed to have access to two playable decks since you have access to so many cards; yet I rarely see players boarding into a different deck or color combination in between games. I’m sure that a lot of this is laziness or the fear of being able to properly build an entirely new deck in two-three minutes, but the point of practicing this is to get yourself to the point where boarding into a new deck can be done with ease.

During the Kaldheim sealed Arena Open (arguably my least favorite sealed format of all time), I found myself stuck with the option of playing a mediocre four color snow deck or a bad Gruul aggro deck. Despite having a poor pool, I was able to snag five wins during day two because I was able to steal game two from my slow snow opponents with my Gruul deck, and then have them left guessing on how to board for game three. I’d always take the full three minutes to give no information, and then try to capitalize on whatever improper boarding I hopefully tricked my opponent into doing. You often need to get scrappy and risky if your opponent has a significantly better deck than you, so always be cognizant of your options and don’t ever feel like there’s nothing you can do to improve your chances of winning game two and three.

I highly recommend that you start to include best of three drafting into your Limited experience if you’re solely a best-of-one player at the moment. I get that it’s fun to try and go for that number one ranking, but Arena Opens, Qualifiers, and pretty much every high stakes limited event is going to be best-of-three, so don’t leave yourself pigeon-holed into best-of-one and lacking the necessary sideboarding abilities to succeed in these big events. I for one know that there have been plenty of times where I’ve been playing on autopilot and have felt way too lazy to be doing some extensive sideboarding, but try to fight that laziness because it really is that important!

You’re Marrying Your Rares and First Picks

True Love's Kiss Art by Donato Giancola
True Love’s Kiss Art by Donato Giancola

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you watch PVDDR’s draft and check out the article that I wrote on it: World Championship Draft Breakdown. Paulo navigates his draft near perfectly because he takes powerful cards early on, looks for what’s open, and then adapts based on what the table is doing. If you open a sweet rare like Liesa, Forgotten Archangel and force it, you risk competing with too many players for black and white cards, which could leave you with not enough playables and a trainwreck of a draft.

A lot of players make the mistake of putting their brain on autopilot after their first couple picks. After all, you have two great black cards and one great red card, so why should you not go Rakdos? Well because you’re not drafting the hard way and giving yourself the highest chances to win if you go all in on your first picks! By locking in on two colors early on, you not only risk your colors being overdrafted, but are also lowering the chances of being able to take and play whatever powerful rare you open or are passed in pack two and three. Ideally, I like to be in only one color after the first pack so that I can take and play The Meathook Massacre, Moonveil Regent, or Morbid Opportunist that I was fortunate enough to open in pack two.

The only exception I would make when it comes to forcing the color of your first pick is if your first pick is only one color and is near unbeatable when you draw it. Good examples of cards that I would pigeon-hole myself into one color for are: The Meathook Massacre, Intrepid Adversary, Consuming Blob, and Tovolar’s Huntmaster. However, if I end the pack with no other playables in that respective color, then I’m still more than willing to jump ship to a more open color. I’d much rather have a consistent, functional deck that has a good game plan than a pile of mediocre cards that are barely held together by a couple bomb rares.

It often feels impossible to not make a ton of mistakes when playing Magic, especially Limited. The game is so complicated and not even the best in the world can make it through a tournament with flawless play. However, that’s why it’s important to highlight the most common and costly mistakes being made so that players can recognize them and begin to work on avoiding them. Especially the first point about not getting tilted during the match from your opponent’s bombs and deck. Put those emotions into something useful, focus on the match, and then vent and hopefully laugh about it afterwards! Remember that you’re not entitled to the win just because you think you’re a better player than your opponent.

Thanks for reading!

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.

2 Responses

  1. Draugdur says:

    Excellent points on leak two and three. In particular the sideboarding – after playing nothing but a ton of Bo1 drafts on Arena (thanks, Covid :-/), I finally got around to play the MID prerelase, and at some point I caught myself completely forgetting that I even *had* a sideboard xD And I of course only realized it when my opponent started boarding. I don’t do it as much as I should either, but I can still totally recommend throwing in some Bo3 drafts on Arena every now and then. It might not be the most efficient way for average players to get gems (or at least it feels to me that going 3-3 in Bo1 is much easier than 2-1 in Bo3, not to mention 5-3 and 3-0 respectively), but I think it can do wonders for one’s game long term.

    I have to disagree on number one though, in fact it’s beginning to get quite annoying to read that regularly from the Pros. Not saying the point is wrong per se, and the actual advice (don’t get tilted) is actually good as well, but I think you should consider a bit more that your playing experience may be significantly different than that of an average Joe. See, it is true that the variance in Magic evens out at some point…in the long run, if you play hundreds and thousands of matches. That’s the law of large numbers. But the thing is, most of us don’t play that much most of the time, and with a lower number of games, it’s absolutely possible to have a bad run that sticks. Again, not saying that the advice itself is bad – in fact, it’s the best one can learn to do because the variance isn’t going away – but I am asking for a little more understanding please. For a person who plays maybe 10 Bo1 games per week or even per month, it is not nonsense to be screwed and/or flooded in like 8 or 9 of those in a row, to the point of not being able to play the game, it’s hard reality (been there, done that, kept track). And the fact that that is going to even out is little consolation if the period over which it evens out is like a year or a decade (or a lifetime).

    • Ancalimas says:

      I get what you mean, I am a tilter in sealed myself more often that I should. But the truth is also that a lot of it has to do with confirmation bias: when the opponent draws that one bomb that saves him the game I am sometimes angry about that for days. When I myself have a totally lucky draw and perfect hands (ruining the experience for my opponent) I tend to think that I simply built a very nice deck or made good lines of play rather than being lucky. I guess that is just how the human brain works, but it causes us to overestimate our badluck and underestimate our lucky draws.