Welcome to the first edition of 23/17, a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name of the column refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. (Don’t get too attached to the name, though, as it may change if I can think of something better.)

As Dr. Tobias Funke said, “Let the great experiment begin!”


Over the next five weeks, as Return to Ravnica finishes up on Magic Online, we’re going to force-draft the five non-RTR guilds: Orzhov, Boros, Simic, Dimir, and Gruul.

Crazy? Can’t be done? A waste of $15? Maybe. But one thing which has bugged me about Return to Ravnica is that the set forces you into very specific archetypes—the guilds.  Sure, there are sub-archetypes within each of the guilds, but for the most part you are choosing to play either GW centaurs, RB aggro, UW fliers, BG scavenge/durdles, or UR combo-out.

I’ve played and won with them all, and now I want something different. I also don’t like being told what to do. Don’t tell me what to do, Magic R&D.

On Tuesday night I sat down for the first of these five drafts. I figured that, since this was my first off-guild draft, I would not commit before going into the draft to, say, Boros. Rather, I would let my first few picks dictate which Gatecrash guild I was drafting, and then next week, I would have one fewer option to choose from. (I also decided to run this as a swiss event, in the interest of entertainment value.)

The pack cracks, and already it’s a bit of a beating for me: I’m forced to not pick Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice. But I do have a few good options in either Boros or Gruul, including a Bloodfray Giant and a Phantom General. There’s also a Dynacharge in the pack, along with an explosive Impact. I take the Giant, as he’s the most purely powerful card, and also it leaves me open to drafting either Gruul or Boros.

The pack cracks, and already it’s a bit of a beating for me: I’m forced to not pick Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice.

P1P2 I have to pass a Skymark Roc in favor of an Eyes in the Skies—which, hey, is fine; but passing the Roc hurts. Maybe the Phantom General will wheel! Next picks include Trostani’s Judgment over Brushstrider and Dynacharge (having pretty much abandoned Gruul at this point); Viashino Racketeer over another Dynacharge; Bellows Lizard over Armory Guard; Armory Guard; Rogue’s Passage over Towering Indrik in a pack without any red or white cards; a Dynacharge (but not the General); and some chaff, including a Rakdos Shred-Freak that I didn’t know whether or not I was allowed to play. (I would be casting it for just RR, right? So is that kosher, or no?)

P2P1 offers me Cobblebrute, Sphere of Safety, Ethereal Armor, Rootborn Defenses, and another Dynacharge. It was tough to decide between the Armor and the Brute, but I went with the Armor. Next I snagged a Goblin Rally—huzzah, the Boros linchpin!—over a Swift Justice and a Tenement Crasher; a Chaos Imp over a Splatter Thug; a Concordia Pegasus; a Cobble Brute over Traitorous Instinct (right choice or no?); another Splatter Thug; a Lobber Crew over a Racketeer; an Armory Guard over a Lizard; a Tenement Crasher; Bazaar Krovod; and a Survey the Wreckage (got there!).

Pack three opened with a tough choice: Explosive Impact, Racketeer, Keening Apparition, or a five-ticket Vraska. I took the Vraska, in the interest of value. Subsequent picks saw me take Splatter Thug over Sunspire Griffin (and—oof—Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, which would come back to haunt me); Chainwalker over Arrester; Eyes in the Skies; Security Blockade; a very late Guttersnipe; and another Ethereal Armor.

Here’s how the deck turned out. I was happy with it! My kingdom for a Phantom General, though.

Boros deck wins

Round one I faced Izzet guy, aka ALL YOUR GOBLIN ELECTROMANCERS ARE BELONG TO US. In game one I mulled to six, keeping a slow hand of Ethereal Armor, Dynacharge, Racketeer, Eyes, Plains, and Mountain, while he went Chainwalker, Electromancer, Electromancer, Cackler, Electromancer, Ash Zealot. Woof. A timely land on T3 allowed me to play the Splatter Thug (very much leashed) I’d drawn earlier, followed by the Racketeer (pitching Armor to try and find my fourth land) and the Chainwalker. I traded my Thug with his Ash Zealot, and proceed to stall and trade, stall and trade—he got me down to five life with a Dynacharge of his own—having in the meantime drawn both of my Eyes in the Skies; I’d had to spend my Dynacharge to trade my Guttersnipe and a bird token with his last two 2/2s. After that I basically had run him out of gas, and I was able to drop him from 17 to 12 to 6 to 3 to dead courtesy of Tenement Crasher, with an assist from several bird attacks.


Before game two I boarded out the Lizard and Cobblebrute for two Armory Guards. I keep double Dynacharge, Guttersnipe, and Security Blockade with two mountains and a plains. My opponent immediately proceeds to drop a Frostburn Weird and suit it up with Pursuit of Flight. Uh-oh. (In retrospect, having that Keening Apparition that I skipped in favor of Vraska would have been nice.) He gets in chunks of damage here and there with his 3/6 Weird—he also at one point blocks and kills my Pegasus, which I stupidly just run in there, forgetting that he can totally jump his Weird and eat my horse-bird. BOO.

I’m at nine life and he gives his Weird flying and swings in with it, with enough mana on the table to pump his guy to be an 8/1 without killing it. On the table I’ve got Guttersnipe, Arrester, Splatter Thug, and four untapped lands, with Eyes, 2X Dynacharge, and Security Blockade in hand. I decline to cast Eyes and block. (This might have been reckless.)

He elects not to pump his Weird, and I take three, putting me to six. He fiddles about with his mana for a bit, and then does nothing, passing the turn. I cast Eyes on his end step, and he Dispels it. But I still get the trigger off Guttersnipe, dropping him from 13 to 11. He has a tapped Weird on the table, alongside a Cobblebrute and an Electromancer. Next turn I swing in with my team and he blocks everyone except my 3/3 unleashed Thug. So I go Dynacharge, Dynacharge, making Thug a 7/3, and getting two triggers off the Guttersnipe, for exactsies. GG. 1-0.

Double Dynacharge win

That one really felt dirty and good. Sorry, opponent, whoever you are. In retrospect, he totally could have killed me with tighter play, I think; he just needed to pump more mana into his Weird, and I would have died. Still, that would have only been game two.

Round two, well—round two did not go so well. I lose the roll and mull to six, keeping Chainwalker, Armor, Racketeer, and three mountains. My opponent is on some strange blend of Azorius/Esper, and is even splashing for Electromancer (I guess not all the Electromancers belonged to my last-round opp.) and freaking Rakdos’ Return, as I find out on like T4 with two cards in my hand. Oof. Soon he follows up Isperia’s Skywatch with Sphinx of Chimes (seriously?) and my lonely Concordia Pegasus gets made to look like a chump. I die with double Dynacharge in hand.

On T6 I play my Chaos Imps into his one island, one plains, and one mountain. I hadn’t seen any countermagic from him yet, and I figure, I need to go for it.

Game two I elect not to board into my Armory Guards, figuring I just need to try and beat this guy as quickly as possible, given his late-gate big game. I keep three plains, two mountains, Ethereal Armor, and Splatter Thug on the play. He thankfully has a slow start, dropping only Soulsworn Spirit and Dramatic Rescue-ing my Thug in his first five turns. On T6 I play my Chaos Imps into his one island, one plains, and one mountain. I hadn’t seen any countermagic from him yet, and I figure, I need to go for it.

He has Syncopate. Oh well. That’s literally the only thing he could have had, and he had it.

A turn or two later he puts Knightly Valor on his unblockable guy, and things start to go badly south for our hero. I do manage to continue developing my board, though, and get out, in addition to my Thug, a Racketeer, a Guttersnipe, and a 2/2 vigilant knight, courtesy of Security Blockade. I put Armor on the knight, and have Dynacharge as my last card in hand. He’s at 16 life, and I’m at 8.  Could I possibly combo him out, like I did in the last round?

On his turn, an overloaded Cyclonic Rift put an end to those dreams of glory (which were probably out of reach anyway, as he had three vigilant guys on his side of the board, including the Valor-ed Spirit, his own 2/2 knight, and a Hussar Patrol. Again, GG. 1-1.

Death by Cyclonic Rift

In round three I face Azorius. Game one we get into a pretty big board stall, but I’ve got eight creatures out (to his seven), and he’s swinging in pretty regularly with his two fliers, leaving him with just five blockers. So I’m trying to set up a state where I can break through with a big turn, and maybe kill him from 15 life. I have Dynacharge, Concordia Pegasus, and Trostani’s Judgment in hand, with five mountains (one of which is Security Blockaded) and a plains in play. After he swings in with his fliers, I’m at four life, and he has zero cards in hand. Unfortunately, I just straight-up forget to tap my Blockaded land to prevent one more damage, which would have kept me at five life. This turns out to be significant.

On my turn I swing in with my team, including 2X Splatter Thugs, one leashed and one un-, and more or less wrath his board with a big Dynacharge, getting in for 11 damage besides, putting him to four life as well. But his tapped fliers are still alive, as well as a Selesnya Sentry that he was able to block with and regenerate. I drop my Pegasus, and pass the turn—realizing that I’ve lost.

If I had tapped my Blockaded mountain the turn prior, I would have been at five life. Then, on his last turn, I would have chumped his 3/4 flash drake w/ my Pegasus, and let through the Tower Drake and Sentry, preventing one damage, taking four and putting me to just one life.  Unfortunately, I didn’t play tightly, and I died.

Unfortunately, I just straight-up forget to tap my Blockaded land to prevent one more damage, which would have kept me at five life. This turns out to be significant.

I sideboarded out the Lizard and the Crasher for my two Armory Guards. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure why I did that. I think it was because I wanted to be able to profitably block his Stealer of Secrets, his Justiciar, and his Sentry—but really I think I needed to just try to stay on target and creature-burn him out quickly.

I choose to play first, and I keep Armor, Guttersnipe, Armory Guard, Lobber Crew, 2X plains, and mountain. Not the best hand, but not really mull-able, either. Unfortunately, he drops that dreaded Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage on turn two, followed up on T4 by a Justiciar, which puts a stop to my follow-up plays of Guttersnipe + Ethereal Armor and an unleashed Splatter Thug; racing this guy is the only way I’m going to win, I think.

Then a Detention Sphere exiles my Snipe, and I can’t find a second mountain in time to cast my Bloodfray Giant or the Goblin Rally (which I think was the only time all draft I’d drawn that card), nor a sixth land to cast Trostani’s Judgment on his Guildmage (which I had a brief window of time in which to do, when he would have had only a couple of 3/3s on the table). His Vitu-Ghazi mythic uncommon is, at this point, way active, pumping out two centaurs per turn.

Adding insult to injury, on his next to last turn he dropped a New Prahv Guildmage with like nine mana on the table, so there wasn’t much I could do after that. I did get him down pretty low, though, to seven life, and with my Lobber Crew and 2X birds on the table, plus 2X Armory Guards (which were holding off the centaurs as best they could), it was possible that I could have drawn a Dynacharge and managed to get there, somehow—but no. I never drew that sixth land, and died to a sea of centaurs. 1-2.

Death by centaurs

Not my best showing! But, it was fun—and that R1 combo-out win against my Izzet opponent (turnabout is fair play!) was worth it. I made a couple of misplays—running my Pegasus into his jump-able Weird, plus missing that Blockade activation; but, for the most part, I felt like I just faced much better decks, at least in rounds two and three—perhaps even better than the average draft deck? My second-round opponent certainly had some big bombs. Or maybe it was just that my deck, having zero gold cards, was simply worse.

Having 2X Racketeers is really an argument for running 18 lands, rather than not running them.

There were a few key points when I really needed to find a fifth or sixth land, and didn’t, so I was wondering if maybe I should have been running 18 lands (that might have been a good option, considering I was also running the Rogue’s Passage, which I never saw once all draft); but I did have two Racketeers, so I figured I would be able to find the lands I needed. However, now that I think about it, I guess having 2X Racketeers is really an argument for running 18 lands, rather than not running them, if that makes sense.

So here’ s a question: When and how often do you run 18 lands? Recently I listened to a Limited Resources podcast wherein the guest, Gabe Carleton-Barnes, who’d recently won a RTR sealed PTQ, said that he quite often runs 18 lands, and is almost always looking for an excuse to do so (Rogue’s Passage being one especially good reason, he noted).

Finally: Am I allowed to run a Rakdos Shred-Freak in a Boros deck, or a Vassal Soul in an Orzhov deck? What’s the ruling on that?

Tune in next week for an RTR Gruul, Orzhov, or (god save me) a Simic or Dimir draft, both of which I think are going to be pretty grim.

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