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"Back to Basics"
By Keith Ouellette

Here is an article to help improve overall game play, but especially "limited" formats. It is relevant to upcomming PTQ's and PlaneShift Pre-releases as well. I apologize for my lack of WORD or a spell checker

Hope you enjoy it.

Keith Ouellette

KeithO on mIRC

"Back to Basics"

Hello M:tg Community,

We have come upon a new, "Limited Format" PTQ season. PlaneShift will be pre-released soon as well and there is no doubt many players enjoy "Sealed Deck" online with NetDraft or at the local gameshop. My goal in this article is to help improve your "Limited Format" play which will in turn help your overall game. I have around 7 years of M:tg under my belt and have watched and learned from some of the games most innovative and experienced Pros. I have also been an avid study of the Net since the original DOJO and have read countless articles on M:tg. I hope that this helps you bring your game to a higher level of enjoyment.

You have seen countless articles reviewing cards and color combinations, and you will probably pour over top decklists from GPs and PTQ's. I am not going to go into the best cards or colors, or even the best draft strategies. What I am going to cover here are the basics of limited play. In the proccess I'm going to bore the hell out of the Pro's and experienced players who follow these guidlines in their sleep. I am hoping to reach the broader base of players and improve the constantly growing pool of quality gamers.

First off, the top limited players in the game build decks and play with the same cards as everyone else. So why is there a fairly definitive line between Pros and amatuer players. Game play is a factor but also the proccess of deciding what cards to put in your deck needs to be examined. Limited formats are the most skill intensive and challenging formats you can play. Unlike constructed where you can run into your Meta-gamed adversary and have little hope of winning, "Limited" play allows more exciting games where the, sometimes "Lucky" but most often, best built deck wins.

Sanctioned Sealed Formats:

1. Know the rules of the set. If you have access to a spoiler and have questions about a card or mechanics, ask a judge BEFORE you start to build. If you don't undestand how a card works It will waste a lot of time asking during your builing process and you dont want to misinterpret and be stuck with poop in your deck. I can't tell you how many times I've said or heard "Oh thats what it does?..this card is poop!"

2. Carefully register. Alphabeticaly by each color is best. This is not just to help the person building the deck you register. It also helps prevent you from making registration errors.

3. Read the card. Read the card. Read the card. If you think this is obvious and are saying "duh, I always read and understand the text perfectly after a glance", then you can stop reading and budget how you will be spending all your Pro-Tour winnings.

4. Work Quickly, so you aren't pressing the time limit. The last few cards should be very carefully chosen. Don't make rash decisions. If you go to the time limit the first few times, try and cut corners next time and get a feel for the time it takes you to build. Better yet, open some packs or generate a sealed deck on apprentice and time yourself. Ample time is given but there are always players pushing to the end.

5. Have a system. Sort and build and decide land ratios using a deliberate and functional procedure. The moment you think that a deck just shows up as you read every new card is the moment the judge will be calling round 1 pairings. I will review my personal system later in this article.

Everyone has favorite colors and certain styles of play. One of the most challenging elements of limited play is finding the best deck in your card pool. Sometimes you will have to move away from your comfort zone when a sealed pool reveals cards that are foreign or when you are forced out of your colors in a draft. I believe it is best to try to build a deck which fits your play style, however if you try to force that, you will likely only be successful part of the time. The fundamentals in quality card choice are given below.

Overall card choice, any limited format:

1. Know the commons. You will see these cards in every match you play. You should not be suprised when they are cast or caught offguard by them. When selecting your cards think of the pool of commons and see how your choices stack up.

2. Mana Cost. When it comes to spells its important to base cost on "when" the card will have optimum effect rather that the cheapest possible cost. Certain cards will have devestating effects late game so a high cost is ok as you will be hanging on to it for a few turns.

Mana Cost of creatures is based purely on Power/Toughness, abilities and drawbacks. Tempo comes in handy as well, as it is perfectly acceptable to get a guy out and win the game as fast as possible. Try to get the biggest bang for your buck. Don't pick a creature for your deck based on cool art or snappy flavor text.

Mana symbols. loading your deck with lots of cards with multiple colors and spells with multiple mana symbols makes it hard to cast based on land ratios. Try to use single mana symbols when possible and limit multiples to your main color. Splashing for cards with multiple mana symbols can be dangerous. Getting "Color Hosed" is no ones fault but your own! please learn that and quit whinning every time you play. I'm sure everyone around you has heard enough about your amazingly "bad luck".

2a.Mana Curve. The concept is simple but can be complex with the addition of mana acceleration and card drawing. The basic idea is to have more cards in your deck that cast for less mana, with the concept that your should be able to lay cards early and consistantly while your high cost flows evenly when you reach the later turns and more Mana. A good curve provides early "Tempo" and can put a slower clunkier deck without a curve on the defensive.

3. Card advantage. Does your 1 card kill multiple cards of your opponent? Does it help you draw more cards than your opponent? does it prevent your opponent from drawing or using his cards? Card advantage can be very subtle. Sometimes a card that simply replaces itself can be card advantage as you now have more played cards in the same amount of turns. Card drawing and board sweeping spells are obvious card advantage, but cards that tie up an opponents resources, have continuous effects, remove cards from your opponents hand, or enable you to reuse or search for your cards are also card advantage. Library manipulation and search tools which enable you to get cards are card advantage also, in that even though you may have the same number of cards you most likely have better card quality.

4. Conditional cards. Color hosers, cards that target certain things like artifacts or only work if your opponent is tapped out or plays and island are examples of conditional cards. How often will you be able to use it? Using rule #1 can help determine this. If the condition is met will the card be "game breaking"? This will help you decide if its worth maindecking.

4a Combo-rific-o-licious. Did you find 3 useless cards that once combined together transform into an unstoppable weapon!! Good for you! Do us all a favor and show us your neato combo before we get up and report our match win.

On the other hand, if you happen to have individually solid cards that happen to "Voltron" into PURE SWEET LUBIN', then by all means give us that funky stuff!

5. Synergy. What does the majority of your deck do, or what do you want it to do. Put cards in that focus your deck in one direction. If you have a few "Bomb" cards then your deck can be tuned to get to them quickly and your playstyle can also be tuned towards the cards in your deck. Every card should work toward the common goal of dishing an A$$ whoopin'!

6. Break the rules. When a card effects the basic rules of the game, ie: draw 1 card during draw step, 1 attack step, 1 land per turn, 1 Mana per land etc. Look for it to be very good. These rules equalize the game, when you can get advantage here you are in good shape.

6. Do Damage. In most cases a card that hurts your opponent is better than a card that gives you life, so...BRING THE PAIN!

7. Creatures and permanents win games. Put lots of them in, and secondly put in ways to deal with your opponents. I believe that you should produce threats as often as possible and tax your opponents defenses. However sometimes you get heavy defensive cards and can gain a games easily by shutting down everything your opponent does and beat him with very few weapons. Decide based on the cards at your disposal, but remember the object is to reduce your opponents life to zero, NOT prevent him from reducing your life to zero.

7a Avoid Magic masturbation. "I draw, untap my permanents, tap my artifact targeting my creature which gives me the ability to untap my artifact which allows me to target mysefl with the ability to untap my creature. Ha Ha !" "Go." "er no I forgot to play a land...damn" Doing things that don't lead you along the path to winning are Magic masturbation. Nothing wrong with that but do you really want to do it in a room full of people?

8. Mana, Mana, Mana! Play lots. If I ever hear someone say "I have too much land" then shame on them. Bad draws do excist but at least be able to cast what you do draw. If you never draw enough land, don't blame the game or the Magic gods. There is no rule that limits the amount land you can play. I think it's better to hope to draw good cards then hoping to draw lands, but that's just my opinion.

Lastly my personal system. This is simply a template, I encourage everyone to come up with what works best for them.

1. Sort cards into Creature and spell piles. Set spells aside.

2. Sort creatures and review quality and quantity. At this point I can usually zero in on main colors that I will play.

3. I start to put the absolutely unplayable horrible junk back in the box as I dont want to have to keep looking at it. Carefull, I sometimes go back and wonder why I didnt play the good stuff I put in my box.

4. The creatures I am left with are further considered. I usually aim for around 18-21 and set them into order of best to worst.

5. I grab up the spells. Browse through. If I have already eliminated creature colors and there are no "bombs" worth splashing. I will chuck an entire color or 2.

6. The remaining spells of my colors are purged. The "poop" goes to the box.

7. With whats remaining I go to my most common creature color and set aside quality spells. Then I hit my secondary colors and see what I have in quality spells. I start weighing the creatures at the low end quality with the spells remaining. At the mid way point I generally side with the mediocre creature over the mediocre spell.

8. Next I lay out my cards by casting cost to see how the deck will flow out during a game.
if I have no curve I go back and maybe flip some cards out to get an even flow. I try to flip the "B" cards to improve my curve. A deck with all hard to cast "A" cards can burn out very quickly.

9. I use this curve layout to determine my Mana. I hope to see the majority of my tempo setting spells in my main color at the low end of my curve. while my "splash" colors or "late game" cards at the top. I usually count up all my Mana Symbols and get a ratio and apply that same ratio to my lands. ie: 13 purple mana symbols, 8 Orange Mana symbols and 3 yellow mana symbols would probably go, 8 Grapelands, 6 MinuteMaidLands and 4 SunLands.

OK I very much realize that isn't perfect math, ratios, or even a real formula. But it IS a system and it's the one I use, If you have a better one..please let me know. I can use all the help I can get.

I also realize that I didn't use REAL M:tg colors or mana. I am trying not to tip my hand toward any color preferences as this article should be relevent through different sets and many eras of color dominance.

9. As a guideline I play 40 cards. 18 mana. 16 creatures and 6 spells. I adjust this by card quality and casting cost. And I have run 10 great creatures and 12 great spells and done fine. I just like to go in with a plan.

Whew! I probably missed some points and elaborated on others too much. What I've done is show you some of the ideas I use to build my Limited Format decks. I have been taught these things by many different players who I won't mention but they know who they are. The game is about learning, memorizing, having an open mind, and mostly having fun. It is very difficult to master and some players have more natural talent at determining the best plays or the best cards. I can't claim that natural talent yet I would put my skills against the best for the thrill of the game, because I love the competition, and I have learned that if you prepare yourself, play without errors, and concentrate on the game there is no reason you can't win your next event. Just remember there are others in the room that feel the same way.

Take care all,

Keith Ouellette

KeithO on mIRC

Read More Articles by Keith Ouellette!

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