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Subject: Limited Play Strategy: Deck Building rss

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Hello everybody,

as I'm kinda aware of that Revelades article features most of what I'm going to say, I feel urged to explain, why I write this guide about Limited Deck Building:

First of all, I'll give some of the aspects a bit more flesh to the bones. I hope for the interested ones of you to be able to remember a bit more if a single topic is explained in more detail.
Second is that I will include some words of which you should have heard to improve your deck building and play in general, which may or may not be covered in future articles.
Third is, that I'm simply writing my first article and I want to make a good one, so I stick with something of which I know of.

So lets go in medias res. Let there be a card pool of which you can choose the specific cards you want to play in your deck. Either obtained through draft or given to you in sealed packs.

First step to do is to survey your cards, and therefor sort them. Otherwise, the survey will take most of the time you are given to see which cards are useful to be played.
As the three basic pillars on which you will build your deck are lands, creatures and removal, sort the cards at least by color and within a specific color to creatures, removal options and rest.

As a general rule of thumb (which may or may not have to be adjusted to the specific block you are using) there are the following guidelines to respect:

*16 to 17 cards should be lands (~40%).
Lands produce the mana you need to cast spells. While this might be obvious, you want to be sure that *at least* during your first three turns you are able to drop a land and play the strongest spells you can with the mana you have. Missing a land drop can put you in quite a disadvantage, because you must stick to low cost spells to play, which may be inferior to the ones your opponent casts.
If you are unsure wether to play an additional land: Play it. For the above reasons, its better to be slightly flooded with mana than be slightly dry on mana. You may still sideboard the land out after the first game or first set of games if you see that you have no problems to achieve the mana you need.
There is an empiric rule that lets you play one land less for each two other cheap mana producers you include in your deck like Birds of Paradise or land fetchers or artifacts that produce mana.

*13+ good creatures.
Creatures are the guys that do the dirty work for you while playing limited. Most often, this rule is right in constructed play also, but with more cards at hand, you may play fancy strategies that features decks that run not even a single critter. A no go in limited. You need them to attack your opponent and to defend yourself from the enemy attacks.
Now, what are "good" creatures? For the purpose of smashing your opponent that would be creatures with some kind of evasion ability like flying, fear and the likes. If a creature is evaluated by its power compared to its price, most plain creatures have a power of around their casting cost. Evasion creatures are slightly less powerful in terms of pure violence, but they tend to do the damage and don't stick at the enemy defense.
Creatures with more power than their casting cost do usually have a good lack of toughness. They can be taken out with ease, but at least they tend to take their offenders with them. (They are, in a way, both removal and thread to your opponent.)
Utility creatures may lack even more power compared to their casting cost but come in with handy benefits such as tapping creatures, doing damage to creatures and opponents by an activated ability and so on.
While walls (defenders) usually have high toughness compared to their casting cost, they lack for one important ability in limited play: they. can't. kill. Your goal is to reduce your opponents life total to zero. Walls may help you to stay alive, but you could also have included a creature or spell that kills your opponent a bit earlier. So walls in general aren't good.

*Play removal.
So you are heavily based on creatures and so will be your opponent. It would be a shame if you lost to a certain creature because you can't block it or would use your main army in order to do so. Therefor: play removal to take out that guy(s). Use it if you are in serious trouble or to disarm that creatures you are sure of you can't handle. DON'T use it to shoot at all that moves on the other side of the table, lesser creatures can be taken out by your guys instead. Of course, the more removal you have, the more you can afford to wreak havoc among minor creatures, but don't say I didn't warn you if the fatty comes out and you run out of fuel.

*Stick with 40 cards.
41 is ok, 42 should have a good reason. 43 and above: If you like to play many cards, you should rather play constructed.
The less cards you play, the higher the probability to draw the card you need. It's that simple.

*Try to restrain yourself to two colors.
Usually, your card pool will not allow you to play just a single color because you don't have enough cards of a specific color in general or you don't have enough good cards of that color. Thats why two colors are mostly the set option. If you consider to add a third color to your deck, you need to evaluate why you are doing this. Is there one card that can turn the tables? Those so called "bombs" are a perfectly fine reason to splash another color. Splashing means that you take in the additional color, but with very few cards both in the color itself and the lands supporting that mana. You don't want the card early and you don't want to play it early. 6 or 7 lands for a main color are good if you plan to splash. The splashed color could recieve as few as three slots for their lands. If you have options to search for mana, that can be less.
If you use more colors, you will run into the problem that you have to thin out your mana base for your main colors, eventually drawing the lands you don't have the cards for in your hand.

Now, with all those basic guidelines in mind, look through the sorted colors you made in step one. If there are any two colors that can give you enough good creatures, those colors are high candidates for providing your deck. If at least one of those colors features removal spells, you will get near the fine tuning step. If there are a few (say up to three) cards of another color you want or must include into your deck, consider this color as your splash.
With that grip to your colors, sort at least creatures and removal by the mana they cost. The time is ripe to consider the so called "mana curve". If I were to explain it in my one words, the mana curve is the mana you want to spend in a certain turn compared to the mana you can spend that certain turn. You want to use your mana to its best, using almost all mana you have available between two of your turns.
that means, you have to play some cheap spells for the first few turns and shouldn't remind much on heavy costing spells because you won't know if you really hit your fifth or sixth land.
By sorting your spells by mana, you have an overview of which "slots" you can fill. You should consider a bell curve on spells to play, with a maximum amount of cards at two or three mana. The reason is simple: In the later game, one mana spells might not be strong enough to provide what you need, but you need to drop some at the beginning of the game.
While spells that cost four are totally fine (if they don't provide the majority of your spells), spells costing more should give you a good advantage for playing them. You need to get to that high amount of mana to use them, otherwise they are dead weight to your hand. So you have to ask: Is it worth to have a dead card in my hand? Is the card - once I manage to play it - strong enough to repay me for having it sitting in my hand?
Other cards you should not consider to play are cards that need a great amount of specific mana to play. Belonging to one of your main colors, two or maybe even three mana symbols of that color are ok, but you won't splash a card that needs two mana of its color, because it will simply be a pain to get out that one splash land, not to say the second.

With lands, you might now be around 40 cards. If above, you need to cut some cards out of your deck. Keep those that are flexible or powerful and are less restrained in casting (cards that cost two specific mana are a good choice to take out if you have a similar card that only costs one specific mana). If below, you may add additional creatures of your colors, which is never a mistake, or use more removal or combat tricks.

As removal is most obviously settled in black and red, you might end up playing one of that colors very often. Thats not a bad thing. If you play competetive, you want to win and not play with style.

With all of the above said, those are guidelines, not stone carved rules. Experience some games with those guidelines and you will start to get a feeling for yourself what is good, what is not so good and what fits your play style most. And adjust it to the block you play your limited format in. For example, Ravnica was a block that featured a strong multicolor theme. There were means available to get out many colors, so decks with three colors as main participants were quite standarized at that time.


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