This weekend, the World Championships are upon us, and we'll get to see world-class drafters battling in WOE Limited.
I got to play the Arena Open this past weekend and easily made day two on my first try with a naughty BR Rats deck.
I did not fare too well on day two in a tough seat where I took black cards early after a first-pick Specter of Mortality in a weak pack. I had to pivot my initial plans of an RB start into Bant, which made for a tough spot, and I ended up with this deck:
The draft was tough because I saw four or five copies of Sharae of Numbing Depths in pack one. To boot, the packs were a little weaker than usual, so I knew UW would be contested. I managed to find a lane in Bant wheeling two Sharae. While my deck wasn’t great, I could have won all four of my matches instead of two if things broke a little better for me. We’re talking one more or less spell for me or the opponent or drawing spells in a slightly better sequence. I was mostly happy with my play and needed a bit more luck after a rough start to my draft.
Regardless, this format can be tough to both play and navigate the draft. The format is tempo-heavy, and combat is exciting. Tokens that can’t block have never been better thanks to roles.
Initially, I said that Torch the Tower was my favorite common and that something that I was likely undervaluing would likely surpass the card. I’ll now go on record with confidence saying that Torch the Tower is indeed the common you want to open. Breaking serve in this format is tough if your opponent draws well. Torch the Tower and, in some cases, Rat Out are the best ways of doing so.
Flick a Coin and Rat Out are moving up in people’s pick orders, which generally means they’re going to be in a lot more decks. This means we should be deprioritizing cards with one toughness that cost more than one mana. It’s tough to come back from a big tempo loss early with aggressive decks. Scarecrow Guide is an example of a card I try to avoid playing in most of my decks despite it being a decent-rate creature. Decent isn’t good enough when you can avoid playing into cards people are picking more.
I haven’t gone up on either Rat Out or Flick a Coin. I don’t want too many of these cards because you really feel when things line up poorly in this format. The cards can have some huge tempo swings, but Flick a Coin is overrated. I don't take Rat Out aggressively, but I'm happy to play a copy because of its utility as a combat trick.
I want to play to the board in this format and make sure I’m spending my mana proactively. I don’t find spots for Flick a Coin all that often in the important turns of the game in my aggressive decks.
This deck is an example of how I want my decks to look. It has solid removal and creatures that get on the ground early and hit hard. Notice Armory Mice in the sideboard as an example of a card to deprioritize because of the Flick a Coins and Rat Outs you often come across. The best way to win with aggressive decks, and in Magic in general, is pressuring the opponent and making their turns awkward. You can pull out to a massive lead if the opponent's interaction doesn't line up. By forcing the opponent to play a blocker instead of using removal early, you can use a cheap combat trick or a card like Cut In to push through more damage as they play catch up and eventually close out the game.
My current favorite two cards in the set, also both red, are Cut In and Grand Ball Guest. The secret's out on Cut In, but Grand Ball Guest is still wheeling to me. It might be the best common two-drop in the set. To add some context, Ratcatcher Trainee is more of a three-drop to me, but it's a card I'd take over the Guest. You shouldn’t be taking the Guest over the Trainee, but because of cards like Rat Out and Flick, you should be casting Trainee’s Adventure Pest Problem first. Curving Grand Ball Guest into Pest Problem is exactly what you should be looking to do, especially if you can follow it with a Cut In.
Red is incredibly deep, and I’m curious to see how many players dip their toes in red at Worlds. Worlds will have more inexperienced drafters than usual because of the OP system, so it should be exciting to watch new talented players dive into Limited on the big stage.
Red is great, but on the other hand, blue is bad. This is not a format you want to take turns off and draw cards. You want to play creatures every turn whether that’s to stay proactive or gum up the board when you’re on the back foot. Blue benefits from a lot of cheap removal, and if you can bury them in cards early you can occasionally out-grind the aggro decks, but blue still has a problem blocking Rat Tokens effectively and spot removal may not line up well.
Because of the pace of the format, removal that may have been good in older formats is mediocre. You want to kill your opponent and be proactive, so cards like Frantic Firebolt and Feed the Cauldron usually end up in my sideboard unless I’m playing blue and then Firebolt goes way up. The big problem with Feed is, at best, it trades even on mana and you want your cards to trade up on mana in this format as often as possible. Cheap removal is at a premium, and expensive removal, which most of it is, is at a loss. Even Cooped Up is better than the unconditional removal in black like The End or Taken by Nightmares because it's two less mana. It triggers Celebration, so its downside of being a permanent that can be removed is outweighed by enabling Celebration.
In general, I try to avoid blue. Many of the players at Worlds will take hard stances on avoiding blue, and we’ll see some last-minute scraped-together blue decks in potentially weird drafts.
Overall, this is a great Limited Lovers format. If you like scrappy games with tons of decisions both in the draft and gameplay, then this set has not disappointed me yet. The set isn't deep with archetypes, but it is deep with playables. Combat is huge in this format. While blocking is difficult, it’s important to know how your position lines up, do combat math, and line up blocks. It wasn't a surprise to see a lot more great players get to day two of the Arena Open with far fewer attempts than average because the format, while fast, doesn’t reward you much for opening a bunch of broken rares.
I'm excited to see some high-level Limited play at Worlds.