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Improving at Limited: Part 1

Hello fellow Limited enthusiasts! This article is the first I've written that is specifically about getting better at Limited. Last week, I wrote about generic techniques for getting value out of Magic Online, but today I'll be focusing on ways to actually improve your play during games. I've labeled this "Part 1" to indicate that there will be follow-up articles similar to it sometime in the future. Without further wait, here are seven easy things you can start (or stop) doing today to improve your Limited win rate.

1) Don't play tapped lands pre-combat

Here's a hypothetical scenario: You're playing a Jeskai midrange deck against Temur aggro in a Fate Reforged/Khans of Tarkir draft. You lost the first game of match one to a pair of Frost Walkers and now you're in game two, turn three. Your opponent has two Mountains in play and is attacking you with a Mardu Scout. You don't have a blocker on board or in your hand; do you use the Pressure Point in your hand to save some damage? You were really hoping to save the spell to kill a Frost Walker, but you need to survive to the late game to be able to win this matchup. Maybe you pull the trigger, but maybe you wait to see if a Frost Walker is played in the second main phase.

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Now let's change the scenario and say that your opponent played a Rugged Highland in their first main phase before attacking. You now know your opponent can't play a Frost Walker this turn and also won't play one next one without having an untapped blue mana source. Your decision just got that much easier and you go ahead and tap the Mardu Scout. By playing the tapped land pre-combat, your opponent gave you information they didn't need to give you.

There are various reasons not to play tapped lands in your first main phase before combat:

  • It tells your opponents the limit on the amount and type of mana you can spend on spells in your second main phase.
  • It decreases the number of possible non-land cards your opponent needs to worry about (including combat tricks).
  • If the land gains life for you and you're racing your opponent, it could tell your opponent that the number of attacks they need to defeat you has increased. This could help them decide to make a block that they wouldn't have known they needed to make. 
  • You can choose to discard the land instead of another card if your opponent plays a Kolaghan's Command mid-combat and chooses the discard option as one of the modes.

If you do decide to do this and change the way you play, just remember to play the land after combat in your second main phase. Much worse than playing a tapped land pre-combat is forgetting to play a land for the turn at all.

2) Don't concede

Just a few days ago, my opponent had lethal on board and didn't attack me for the win. Maybe they miscounted, maybe I did, or perhaps they were playing around a Kill Shot that I didn't have the mana available to cast. Whatever the reason, it reminded me of a lesson I've been taught: never concede. I ended up winning that game, a possibility I would have erased had I conceded.

Your opponent might forget to attack, might miscount, or might play around a spell that you've forgotten even existed. They might cast extra unnecessary spells before sealing the win, informing your sideboard decisions. Your opponent could run down the time on their game clock while trying to beat you, giving you the edge you need in a lengthy game three. There are many reasons to stick around and make sure your opponent is able to (or remembers to) win the game.

The corner cases where you should concede before the game is over are much fewer in number. If letting the game continue reveals too much information to your opponent to be worth it (maybe your opponent has just cast a Diplomacy of the Wastes to check your hand before attacking for lethal) or if you need to save time on your clock to complete subsequent games, it may be correct to go ahead and concede.

3) Delve correctly 

This is the only one of these suggestions that is relevant only for the current Limited environment. Although Khans of Tarkir will not be in the new draft format, there are still eight cards with Delve in Fate Reforged that will be in the draft environment. Oftentimes players will delve away whichever cards in their graveyard are closest to the top without thinking about the implications of the remaining cards in their graveyard. The following is a comprehensive list of cards that make your decision matter.

More obvious cards include Deathmist Raptor, Flamewake Phoenix, Marang River ProwlerRisen Executioner who would really like to remain in your graveyard and not be exiled, and Torrent Elemental who wants the opposite.

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If you don't have any cards in your deck that care one way or another, you should play around spells your opponents could have that interact with your graveyard including Ghastly ConscriptionHedonist's Trove, Mardu Woe-Reaper and Dragonlord Kolaghan. As a general rule, if you don't care what's in your graveyard, exile the creature cards first.

4) Play 40 card decks

Playing the minimum allowable number of cards in your Limited deck is the best plan and the most strategically sound. Every additional card you add after the 40th lowers the average power level of spells in your deck and makes it less likely for you to draw one of your bombs.

Although more than 40 cards main deck is almost inexcusable, it can be correct to add more cards during sideboarding. If your opponent's main plan is to mill you out (almost impossible in Khans block), or each player's deck is slow enough that running out of cards is as likely as running out of life, you may be in the rare situation where you are favored by adding extra cards.

5) Spend time on non-obvious plays

Imagine you're nearing the end of a long game. Each player is out of cards. Your opponent is at 3 life, you're at 6 life, and the only creatures in play are your face-down Hidden Dragonslayer and your opponent's Colossodon Yearling. Your draw for the turn is Artful Maneuver. Hooray for you! You force your opponent to chump your 4/4 this turn, and you'll have a 4/4 next turn that can unmorph into a 5/4 lifelinker with a free Smite the Monstrous

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If you think this doesn't sound quite right, let's back up a second. Read the Artful Maneuver and the Hidden Dragonslayer again. Glance at the Colossodon Yearling on the other side of the table. Think about the play for just a few seconds. You can easily see that you can target and pump your opponent's creature to a 4/6, then flip up the Hidden Dragonslayer to kill the Colossodon Yearling this turn and attack for lethal.

The moral of this story is twofold. 1) Don't let finding a good play keep your from looking for great plays and 2) Think about different ways to use familiar cards. While Artful Maneuver may target your own creatures 99% of the time, you still have the option to target your opponent's creatures with it and that is sometimes correct.

6) Stop using F6

This tip and the next one are only relevant for people playing on Magic Online. F6 is a powerful tool that allows you to yield priority through an entire turn. Unfortunately, with a bit of lag, one can easily skip the turn after the one they meant to skip. Missing an early turn's land drop this way is an easy way to set yourself far behind in a game.

F6 can help if you're behind on the clock and in danger of running out of time, but if that isn't the case, I recommend not using it. Some combination of F2 (equivalent to hitting "OK" once) and F4 (yield until you can respond) will usually be sufficient.

7) Download draft logs

There is a tool that is built into Magic Online that allows you to record each pick you make in a draft. Simply go to the Account tab, check the box in the lower left that says "Auto Save Draft Logs", and use the "Change Location" button to choose where you want to have your files saved. After a draft, you can go check on your newest file in that location. If you open up the text document, you'll be presented with something like this:

Magic Online Draft Log

You can use this file in conjunction with a site such as or to review your draft visually or share your draft with friends.

To see an analysis of what cards you pick the most or pass the most, you can upload a collection of your files to

You can also just review the unmodified text file to check what cards you passed during a draft to help you decide what cards to pick.

If you know of other good sites that read in these Magic Online draft files, please share them in the comments below.


I hope you learned something about Limited today or at least enjoyed the article. If you did enjoy it, I'll be writing more "Improving at Limited" articles in the future in which I'll likely focus on fewer but more complex topics.

Don't forget that Dragons of Tarkir Magic Online Release events start today (April 6th). I'm super excited for them, and I imagine that all of you are too. If you need someone to show off your sweet deck or lucky pulls to, I'd be happy to take a look if you tweet to me @JakeStilesMTG.

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