“Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?” – Matt Damon, Rounders
This is the most fun I’ve had playing limited in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I virtually always like limited formats – I even liked Theros, which a lot of people slated because of the bestow mechanic. This one is pretty special though, it seems to me. Morph is a really interesting mechanic, the relatively high number of 3 colour gold cards compared to Shards of Alara really pressuring mana bases, the slightly awkward nature of the removal spells and the discrete nature of the mechanics (e.g. they require/benefit from building synergistically more so than – say – bestow, although less so than heroic) all contribute to what seems like a really deep format.
Naturally I was more than keen to get going with it and by the time last week’s PTQ had rolled round I had 7 drafts and 4 sealed decks behind me.
In the event I opened a very good pool with multiple Mardu rares a curve and a little removal. I went 7-2 pretty comfortably with the only games I lost coming down to mana issues (both volume and colour).
I will write a couple of articles on draft and sealed in a few weeks when I have more under my belt, but I thought I would share some general thoughts on the format as a whole at this point.
One of the biggest things I learned this weekend was that the rules for revealing morphs after the game have changed in a fairly major way. Before, you got a game loss if you didn’t reveal them at the end of the game such that if you win your first game, then you would be 1-1, and if you lost you would be 0-2 e.g. you lost the *next* game. Now, you lose the current game. This means that if you lost the game anyway, nothing changes other than it going on your record (so if you keep missing it bad things might happen to you), but if you *win* and fail to reveal, you will in fact lose.
The bottom line remains the same – don’t forget to reveal your morphs – but this is a fairly major change from how it used to be, but it does lead to some interesting situations for judges. What if someone remembers (genuinely or otherwise) their opponent forgot in the next game? Judges didn’t seem massively sure on this, but it might be that they would *then* lose the middle game. It reminds me of the changes to triggers a bit, which ultimately ended up being pretty easy but were confusing at the time.
From a game play point of view, it’s worth noting that the cycle of wedge ones at common are all 5mana to turn face up. This means that if you make one on three and attack on 4 on the play, they can block with their morph and kill your good guy with their morph. They obviously get to choose to block or not, meaning that they’ll probably lead with a weaker one so they can trade with your potentially good one. This will mean that you should probably make your wedge morphs second so you can (assuming you don’t miss lands) flip when they do block. There are going to be plenty of times you should trade to get a chance at killing one of the wedge morphs, as they’re all quite difficult to kill and you want to be able to keep your best removal spells for their bombs.
Another thing about morphs is that you can easily end up fumbling them as you attack and give the game away. Pick them up from one of the back corners, so that you show their front facing to you, not your opponent. Playing with sleeves will likely help with this.
How Fast is Khans Limited?
Most people who I have spoken to about the limited format have compared it to other multi-colour sets, and I even did this in an article a few weeks back. A more appropriate comparison might have been between Khans and the other two blocks which had Morph (Onslaught and Timespiral) both of which were very fast. Having expensive creatures which double as three casting cost creatures allows for decks to have more men early in the curve and even requires this; as you can tell from the comments I have made about morph above, I think that in many ways the early game is dictated by who is on the play and the draw, and how that impacts morphs.
Naturally, cards like Grizzly Bears will shine here because they effectively shift you onto the play as far as this dynamic is concerned, allowing you to trade off your 2cc dork for their Abzan Guide, saving you from having to use up a Throttle which you can instead save for another creature. Because you’re going to end up wanting cards like this anyway, you’re committed to an extent to drafting with aggression in mind even if you’re not going to be aggressive yourself.
Raid and Prowess both favour aggression; Raid for obvious reasons, and prowess because the cards that have it tend to have either aggressive casting costs or power/toughness or both. Ferocious is a little bit more midrange in nature, but some of the bonuses include sorcery speed pumps, panic attack effects and looting on a bounce spell (tempo card) so this deck does a fair bit of attacking too. Delve and Outlast are more controlling abilities, and these decks should be drafted with this in mind.
The decks that have done well in my experience though are the aggressive ones. Our drafts were almost exclusively won by Mardu, Jeski and Temur, while Azban had it’s good mono colour outlast men picked up by all the other decks, and the sulti decks were full of ambition and promise, but always fell short.
Looking round the top tables of the PTQ was a little different in that it was mostly mardu and azban. This is likely because they are the decks which are relying least on critical mass; the mardu decks just want aggressive men with raid as a bonus, and the azban decks mostly want the age old ideal of sealed decks – good creatures and removal.
Because of the aggressive nature of some of the decks, and because of the dynamics about morph, it seems to me that this is a format in which you will always want to play. Choosing to draw is choosing to be behind to morphs; if you’re not able to cast your spells without drawing an extra card you need to re-examine your pool, or expect to get beaten down by bears. It’s tempting to think you’ll just get there with a little life off your come into play tapped lands, but the reality is that they make you even more vulnerable to aggro – they’ll often mean you make your spells off curve, and the aggro decks are preying on that indulgent splash your land enables anyway.
Lands and Spells
It’s good idea to play 18 lands in this format, even if you’re pretty aggressive. There are quite a few activated abilities which will place demands on your mana in addition to casting spells, but it also gives you a little room to breathe in terms of the number of sources you want for each colour as this can often be pretty tight. Drawing more land gives you some options about which to play too, meaning that you will be in a situation where you have to make a tapped land, and not make your morph on three less often, for instance.
When you build your mana base, you should take into account how many instants of given colour you have as this can lead to a situation where you are bottle necked on prowess because you only have 1 red source, and 2 red spells you want to cast for instance. This is compounded by activated abilities, and applies to them as well. It’s frustrating to have to choose between activating an outlast man and casting a removal spell, and this can be mitigated.
Restraint is key. Just because you *can* play four or five colours, doesn’t mean you should. a lot of people have said to me “oh I’m splashing X because it’s basically free off my tri or dual land”, and this is just not true; these lands come into play tapped! Every time you draw a splash tri or dual and it stops you casting your 3 or 4 drop, you’re losing value on your other cards.
That doesn’t mean you should never splash either, though. It just means you need to look at your mana carefully, work out if you *can* splash, and then work out if you even need to. I splashed Flying Crane Technique in my Mardu deck at the PTQ off 3 non-basics. Sure, I didn’t need to play any basic islands, but it did stop me casting things on curve from time to time, and my deck was pretty exceptional even without the card, so in retrospect I wouldn’t have bothered. If my deck was a bit worse, I might have to try and pick up some extra wins.
People sometimes fall into the trap of thinking a card is universally good when it’s actually archetype dependant. Savage Punch is good when you can turn it on, but in a format full of x/2 men you often won’t be able to cast it favourably until the late game in a lot of sealed pools. Similarly, Singing Bell Strike is good in the prowess decks in draft, but sealed is a bit slower, and they’re much more likely to be able to pay at some point throughout the game, so the card goes down in value. Killing Shot isn’t great outside of Azban because Jeski ideally wants to be casting spells in its own turn to trigger prowess and Mardu want to be casting spells when it’s attacked, not when it’s being attacked. This means that a lot of these cards are not really worth harming your manabase to cast. Nor are cheap creatures who will not be viable casts when you have the mana for them, even if they are great on turn 2 or 3.
It’s also ok to cut a slightly better spell like a Summit Prowler for a Mardu Shrieker in your predominantly Blue/White Jeski deck in order to ease the strain on your land. The same thing applies to otherwise very high quality cards like Arrow Storm.
Draft and play sealed as much as you can. The day after the PTQ I went round Neil Rigby’s house at about 2pm and he was already playing sealed. This is something I’ve said in various different ways in loads of different articles, but if you want to be more than just proficient or good at something, if you want to master it, you need to give it a bit of your soul; practice, practice, practice.
Speak to people about your decks and pools. Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken to various people across the country and they’re all saying slightly different things about the format; try the things they suggest in your drafts!
Now is the time to do it, too. Not just for the PTQ season, but also for the UK limited GP this year, and for the sealed regional PTQ when that comes up. When you’ve played loads of limited, and thought about/discussed it loads, it really shows.
That’s it for this week; enjoy watching the UK guys at the Pro Tour this weekend!