Limited Format Standouts over the Years – Commons Edition by Reuben M

(Students have had varying experience coming into the class, and Reuben was one of the more experienced players. He gives a quick recap and analysis of past limited formats)

I’ve been playing Magic since 6th grade, which means I’ve seen my fair share of blocks rotating in and out over the years. I was never huge on the constructed format; as someone with a tendency towards creativity and a desire to do what no one else is doing, it was disillusioning to see my rogue decks go down to Fires of Yavimaya, Psychatog, or Arcbound Ravager.decs. I chose to set my energy on drafting because it was much more under my control. All I had to do was draft something a little sicker than the guys sitting around me and I’d be fine – I never really favored any particular colors (other than black in odyssey block); I would respond to signals and try to send some of my own. This was usually effective for me, other than one time where I first picked a Patriarch’s Desire over Overrun and Wild Mongrel because I didn’t want to compete for green (of course, there was no green in Torment anyway so I’m an idiot.)

The limited format, unlike constructed, is essentially run by commons. Though the bomb rare will win you games from time to time, you won’t have that many of them, and they tend to be slower. So the most important way to win drafts consistently is to have a good feel of the hierarchy of commons, because these are the cards that you’ll be seeing most often and constitute the majority of the draft decisions you’ll have to make. I was originally thinking of making a list of the best draft cards I’ve ever played with, but that’s kinda irrelevant – ultimately, what’s the difference between a huge green fatty and a 6/5 dragon? They’ll win either way. So instead, I wanted to just mention a few awesome commons that you may have otherwise underrated.

GUIDED STRIKE – Instant from Judgment

1W      Target creature gets +1/+0 and gains first strike until EOT. Draw a card.

I would get these passed to me all the time, and I can’t describe how sick they could be. +1/+0 isn’t much of a boost, but first strike means that in combat, this will be a removal spell at least half the time. For 1W. And, draw a card? Are you kidding? Compare this to I would first pick this and value it way higher than anyone – I’m just relieved no one seemed to catch on. Compare this card to second thoughts from odyssey, which exiles an attacker for 5 and cantrip. This is 3 mana cheaper and it can ruin an attacker or a blocker.

TIMBERWATCH ELF – Creature from Legions

2G     1/2     Tap: Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each elf you control.

Legions was the only set entirely comprised of creatures, which is why the best common in this set is a creature (it’s almost always a removal spell.) If this thing doesn’t get killed the turn it came in, it’s going to absolutely dominate. It’s almost sicker than Sparksmith even from Onslaught, which would ping a creature and you based on your goblins, because Twatch can save itself from removal as long as it’s untapped. I never really liked Legions, for some of the same reasons I don’t like Zendikar, in that it’s too offense intensive, but I had to draft Legions in Onslaught block, and Timberwatch Elf was the standout.

Mirrodin block was a little bit strange and featured an insane number of artifacts, as well as the emergence of Equipment as a new card type. The creatures themselves weren’t great as commons, but there was some key removal spells. I’m not sure whether Shatter or Electrostatic Bolt was better (shatter kills an artifact for 2, e-bolt can basically kill a creature for 1). Another really sick card was Viridian Longbow, an eqiupment which cost 3 to equip and make your creature a pinger. Usable in any deck, this card was fun when you had lots of open mana and some untapped creatures. You could deal a lot more than 1 per turn. And as long as we’re talking about Mirrodin, I know this isn’t a common, but the most dominant card in the entire block is Molder Slug. 3GG for a 4/6, beginning each players upkeep they sacrifice an artifact. Absolutely GG.

One of the best commons in Limited history has been printed and reprinted in several blocks, and it’s called OBLIVION RING. 2W Enchantment, When it comes into play exile a non-land, when it leaves play return it to play. This card slows them down so much and can deal with any permanent, including planeswalkers. No one ever main decked any enchantment hate (it’s not worth it), so this could essentially answer anything for 3. The only drawback to O-ring is that they could always kill it at instant speed during combat and bring their guy back and block you for extra card advantage. But it’s still totally dominant; hearkens back somewhat to Faceless Butcher, the face of Torment, with the same ability as O-ring (just creatures) and with a 2/3 frame no less. Butcher is probably worse overall – being a creature is somewhat of an advantage but also makes it much easier to kill, weakening the ability.

Notice a pattern here? The best commons are essentially always removal spells, ideally with some extra inherent card advantage (a la butcher, strike, etc.) A good removal spell is always more valuable than a good creature, because the best removal doesn’t discriminate, it can kill anything. One amazing common reappeared in Alara Reborn, possibly the simplest one I can think of:

TERMINATE    Instant, Ala Reborn

BR            Destroy Target Creature, it can’t be regenerated.

2 mana, no questions. This card was especially insane given the context of Alara Block, where mana fixing is abundant (rupture spire, panoramas, tri-lands, etc) because decks need to be at least 3 colors for the shard theme. I never really got the privilege to draft Alara Reborn because it was during Spring Quarter and I wanted to make a concerted effort to go outside. It would have been tough, the allure of cards like Terminate almost kept me in for good.

As far as Zendikar goes, I am on record as not being a big fan of the set, but there are three commons that could each make a strong argument for being on top. These cards are all removal spells – in white, Journey to Nowhere; in red, Burst Lightning; in black, Hideous End. These cards are so effective because they can all deal with more than 2 toughness. Two of these cards can even stop the least stoppable card in the set, Vampire Nighthawk. Of the three, I’d probably give the edge to Journey simply because it’s the most universally reliable, as well as being quite cheap (1 less than O-ring even!)

That about wraps up the bulk of my discussion. There’s a hierarchy in looking for cards to draft – first comes bombs, basically just rares or uncommons you can’t pass (Shower of Coals, Flameblast Dragon, Path to Exile, Visara the Dreadful), but removal spells are right on bombs’ tail. Keep the mana curve as low as possible while making sure you still have a win condition or two. Find as much synergy with your cards as possible, but that’s not really the priority – combo decks don’t work too well in Limited because they’re too unreliable what with having only 1 copy of most of your cards. And in general, unless you’re drafting Alara, stick to 2 colors, maybe with a splash. Having good mana is so key.

I just wanted to give one last shoutout to what I believe, no, what I know to be the best Limited Card of the Reuben Moss playing Magic era. This card is from Betrayers of Kamigawa…

UMEZAWAS JITTE                        Equipment, Betrayers

2            Whenever equipped creature deals combat damage, put 2 charge counters on this. Remove a charge counter: either equipped creature gets +2/+2 until EOT, or target creature gets -1/-1 until EOT, or gain 2 life. Equip 2

For how absurd these abilities are, what’s most absurd about Jitte is how insanely cheap it is. Play it on turn 2, equip on turn 3 and attack; you don’t even have to get damage through to immediately take control of the game. If you can keep building charge counters, there are no boundaries for the kind of stuff you can pull. Furthermore, it’s an artifact, so it will work (and be the best card) in any single limited deck.

Draft is awesome, and sealed is slightly less awesome, but still awesome.

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