If not for the fact that it would give my intentions away I wouldn’t even bother with rolling for option in most limited matches. Most commonly I find myself wanting to be on the draw and my opponent almost always elects to play if they win the flip. It’s not a matter of format for me either. If I have a deck that wants to draw first then I want to draw first. Unless I find myself on Zendikar or Rath I’m pretty convinced of this position.
It’s not necessarily a matter of being “correct” to play or draw, at least, I don’t think it is. I believe that a big function of why I choose to draw has to do with my approach to drafting.
Laying the Foundation
If you haven’t read it, a timeless piece of Magic strategy lies in Zvi Mowshowitz’s writing on fundemental turns. It’s a piece that should be on most player’s short list of greatest Magic articles of all time, but some are unfamiliar and for those familiar a refresher is always worth the time it takes to read.
When it comes to limited I pay a lot of mind to what my turns two and three are going to look like. For aggressive decks this is the turn that I should be forcing my opponents to start playing a reactive game and for slower decks this is the turn I should be able to start relevantly interacting with my opponent.
Having a curve that’s heavy on two drops allows aggressive decks to abuse cards like Act of Aggression, which have an impact somewhere between “useless” and “game-breaking”. Now, I like attacking on occasion, but the purpose of this article is to explore drafting decks that beat the decks that are good at attacking. That’s going to mean finding the best way to push the situational cards that aggressive decks love as far into the “useless” half of the spectrum as possible.
Rule #1: Only Play Spells That Matter
So, this sounds like a no-brainer but it’s the sort of thing that I see done wrong all the time. If you’re trying to play the control then your spells need to relevantly impact the board. Discard doesn’t do anything. Spells that damage your opponent but not creatures don’t do anything. Mill spells don’t do anything. Creatures that can’t block don’t do anything. “Threaten” effects don’t do anything. All that you want are removal, spells that draw additional cards, creatures that block well and enough creatures that can attack to somehow win the game.
Rule #2: Only Play Creatures if They Block Well on Curve
To go deeper on the issue, let’s break down what we expect our opponents to do. It’s not uncommon to expect aggressive decks to start playing two power creatures on turns one and/or two, and likely something larger or at least on par on turn three. Meanwhile, we need to either kill these creatures or block them. Seeing as it tends to be much more difficult to draft removal than it is to draft creatures that trade with cheap creatures I like to have a healthy amount of Gutter Skulks and the like to keep myself alive in the early turns.
The reason that Gray Ogres don’t really work anymore is that if you’re starting on turn three there is a pretty substantial chance that your opponent will be attacking a 3/3 (or maybe even something larger) the turn that you play it. If you can’t block effectively on curve you’ll take unnecessary damage and Bedlams and Threatens will get the better of you.
Another important aspect of playing the blocking game is that Horned Turtles tend to be of lower value than Blind Phantasms. If you can’t block and kill things or at least force your opponent to burn a trick you don’t actually discourage attacking and you will take damage that you don’t need to, and we all know where that leads. Wall of Denial is right out.
Rule #3: Go Big
The idea of wanting to draw first necessitates having a low-end to your curve, but if you want to actually win you’ll need to have spells that have higher impact than your opponent’s at some point. I don’t necessarily mean anything bomby, but having a monster or two that costs six or seven will go a long way. I don’t love Axebane Stag as much as a lot of people, but I understand that it’s a pretty tall order for fast decks to beat if and when the game goes that long. I’ve cast a ton of Horncaller’s Chants and it almost always just feels unbeatable.
So What Does Drawing Do for Us?
If our intention is to have a curve that matters early, and goes big, and we want to draw the spells that stop our opponent from killing us, then it stands to reason that we just want to draw more cards. We’re trying to play a control game. We need lands and we need options. We need cards.
If our deck is doing what it’s supposed to do we’ll curve out on answers and be able to handle threats. If our deck isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, how do we expect being on the play to help us win?
In my experience I have found that I want to play first if my deck is very aggressive and I have a lot of low-impact or high-variance cards that I need to maximize or if my deck is just too slow to start interacting to want to be on the draw against a decent aggressive deck. However, if I have any semblance of confidence in my deck’s ability to combat aggressive decks then I have a great deal of confidence when I tell my opponent I’ll be drawing first. This will increase my odds of drawing what I need against fast decks and the extra card is often all that matters against the slower ones.
Thanks for reading.
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter