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Arena Open and Outlaws Limited

Outlaws Draft and the Arena Open

Last week, we had the pleasure of watching the best of the best battle at Pro Tour Outlaws of Thunder Junction. This week, we took a crack at high-level Limited with the Arena Open. I wouldn't normally continue with Limited content this late into a release, but we have another Open in a couple of weeks, so it's good to keep fresh. I'm looking forward to battling in the Open again.

I went into this weekend excited to return to a competitive atmosphere. I enjoy competition and have been mostly absent for a few months due to a busy home life.

I was not looking forward to OTJ sealed. It is a recipe for disaster. There is a ton of variance in how many rares you can end up with, you're often restricted by your fixing, and there's more variance if you choose to play best-of-one.

As much as I like OTJ draft, the sealed experience was not much better than I expected. Rares were important, and it was difficult to compete if you didn't have them. You don't need the crazy pools like some people had with multiple Bonny Pall, Clearcutter, but commons and uncommons can't keep up with someone casting multiple bombs in a game. Maybe you can beat one or, if you're in a great position, two, but any more and you find yourself too far behind.

Regardless, I managed to battle my way through on my fourth or fifth attempt with this deck:

A green-white sealed deck, splashing red for Roxanne, Starfall Servant and black for Vanishing Verse.

This wasn't my best pool, but it felt good. I was forced to play white because it had the only mana-efficient removal in my pool with the two Mystical Tethers and Vanishing Verse. It's not the best Ruthless Lawbringer deck, but it's a necessary evil. I splashed Roxanne off two Conduit Pylons, a few ways to find the Pylons, and a Hardbristle Bandit. It may have been a greedy splash, but it worked out well. Roxanne at six mana is still good, and I'd rather be greedy and play my best cards than conservative, especially given I had enough cheap creatures to prolong the game. Frontline Seeker found two of my bombs while The Gitrog, Ravenous Ride, and Ornery Tumblewagg tied the room together.

I went into the draft portion expecting Grixis Colors to be highly contested. I tend to bounce around streams these days, paying attention to trends, and it seemed like aggressive decks were on the downtrend while people tried to draft around crime synergies. My one rule going into the draft was to bias myself away from white cards. I never win with white outside of blue-white. White is mostly for uncommons, removal, and a few curve fillers, while I play blue uncommons and rares. It's not an easy archetype to play, so I avoid white as much as possible.

Fortunately, my first draft was easy:

A green-red deck of mostly 2-3 cost creatures, splashing blue for Plan the Heist and black for Back For More.

I opened one of my favorite rares in "Roxanne, Starfall Savant", Gruul was wide open, and deserts kept falling into my lap. Most of my picks in the early parts of packs were easy, and it was only filler picks where I had some close spots, such as deciding between the second Discerning Peddler or the niche sideboard splash Decisive Denial.

I took something vanilla, like a Sterling Hound, over a Failed Fording because I didn't anticipate I'd want to splash the bounce spell, but I think the correct pick was the bounce spell. I went 3-0 to start, then lost to a mediocre UG deck with multiple Dance of the Tumbleweeds. Large creatures are the bane of any Gruul deck's existence. Had I thought about it, I would have found a spot for the bounce spell and potentially had a clean answer to push through. A large token held off my board until I got ground out by blue card advantage.

I ended up 3-1 and thought my deck was solid. Plan the Heist is still a criminally underrated card, possibly because it plays out better in Bo3 than Bo1, and people are misusing stats from I'm happy to take it in the first few picks, and yet I often get them wheeled back to me anyways. Maybe it's people avoiding blue or the card itself, but it's a good grab at basically any point in the draft.

Draft two was awkward. I didn't see any good rares the entire draft. From memory, the best rare I saw was a Primal Command. You know rares are not that rare if you've played this set. Most, if not all, of my decks up to this point have at least one rare, and I'd guess two or three on average. This deck had zero.

A black-blue draft deck with no splashes, mostly full of removal.

Intimidation Campaign was my first draft pick in a weak pack over a Trained Arynx. It's a funny pick because both cards are overrated. They're good cards, but neither is a reason to dive into any archetype. Intimidation Campaign in long, grindy games gives you inevitability, but it's too slow and clunky against cards like the Arynx.

I followed my rule to bias myself away from white cards and took the stronger uncommon in archetypes I prefer.

After that, there were a lot of close picks between commons and uncommons. I didn't see any strong rares to pull me out of the blue-black uncommon I opened.

Generally, you want your blue-black decks to be more controlling and have a higher power level, but this approach also works: low to the ground, push tempo, use Ravens and Intimidation Campaign along with a few fliers to get ahead, and chip away at the opponent's life total. This is far from a good version of that deck, but the card quality at my table was uniquely bad. I never felt I passed a card better than anything I had in my pool and was often taking the all-around best card in the pack or at least something comparable.

I only played one match, but it was a great one, going up against Limited legend Elias Watsfeldt. Elias won the draft master award in 2018, which qualified him for the exclusive World Championships. We had back-and-forth games that could have gone either way. I won the first game but lost to Crackle in Power in games two and three when it was cast twice with a Lockpicker. This ended my run, but I enjoyed our match so much that I wasn't annoyed. I thought to myself after, "Wow, that was fun."

This weekend taught me that I need to focus on drafting white more before the next Open. This format will churn quite a bit. Whatever the hive mind thinks is best changes from week to week. I need to take my advice to stay open, take the best card, and find my lane. It's important to have rares, but part of that is also finding the open lane so you don't need to open those rares. If you avoid any single archetype in this format, you're handicapping yourself because there are a lot of great rares that are narrow, either being too hard to cast or only fitting into one specific archetype that you need to support.

I am looking forward to getting back into the Arena and trying again. I hope we continue to see Limited formats as deep as this in the future, as I feel I'm still learning a lot about this format after 30 drafts. I feel I can solve the format in the first few drafts because the cards are similar to how they were in the past. If I have one critique of this format, it's that the commons' power level needs to be pushed higher so they can compete with uncommons and rares. While it may end up that formats like this are harder to sustain high win rates, it's also going to be more enjoyable for those of us who have been drafting for over 20 years. I've cast enough Wind Drakes and Lowland Giants, so I'd like to see the commons level up like uncommons and rares have in the past decade.

Speaking of higher power sets, I'm looking forward to Modern Horizons 3 Limited. I'll start my review of the set next week. Until then, I'll be in the lab continuing to learn OTJ, one of my all-time favorite draft formats.

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