“Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted.” – Bartol

Abe and Hugh are excellent teachers, each in their own right. Most of the time, their lessons are provided by birding them during a match. This season of Team Draft League, however, I was gifted the opportunity to gorge on these silent performances. I sat between them, a third man, made myself porous, and absorbed. After weekly matches, often nearing midnight on walks home through Williamsburg, we talked over the Dragons of Tarkir format, and more importantly, about the greater landscape that is limited.

This time last year I was disastrously uncomfortable with drafting. A constructed-only player since childhood, I never paid any mind to developing my skill at limited. More to the point, I didn’t understand what developing that skill even meant. I was a decent enough player, but I never had anybody to really walk me through exactly what was different about Limited from Constructed magic and why these differences were true. I simply fumbled. And as my peers around me started to get better, I didn’t, and began to think myself a failure. I spent Khans of Tarkir in a near depression-state. What is to many one of the best limited formats ever, I have a wretched taste in my mouth over. By the end of Fate Reforged I was almost ready to pack it up. I was filled with negative thoughts about limited and wanted out. Out of TDL, out of understanding limited.

Then, I had my moment of clarity.

If I am going to continue to grow, I must strip away what is unnecessary and focus on what I can change. It was around this time Hugh and I were talking more about me learning how to draft. He promised me that, if we were on the same team next season, he’s teach me what he knew. And Hugh knows something. I stopped thinking about constructed and buckled down.

What I learned from these two has developed me to where I have begun to actualize my potential at limited magic. I’ll going to go over some of the golden moments I took away from both Hugh and Abe.


Being a primarily constructed player first, the transition to limited is particularly difficult. Card evaluation and play style are different. One of my big ‘level ups’ was losing what I have deemed ‘The Fear.’ This concept refers to removal spells and sweeper density in constructed magic. How it plays out is something like this: I have two creatures I can cast this turn. I am afraid my opponent will be able to ‘answer’ them both with removal spells immediately. So I play around removal spells I haven’t seen. I grow timid. I begin to trip up, sequence things wrong. I’m thinking too much, worried about too much. I’ve got The Fear.

The Fear also presents itself when you have a removal spell and your opponent casts a creature. Instinct says, ‘Opponent has cast a creature. Remove it.’ I am used to being afraid of all my opponents’ creatures.


This segues into my next bit, on interaction. Interaction is the core of limited. When my opponent plays a 2/2 on turn 2, I can interact with it by playing, say, a 2/2 for 2 myself, or by playing a 2/3 for 3. I do not necessarily have to kill it, but merely have to interact with it. Seems pretty rudimentary, right? Well, it is. But I couldn’t see that. So caught up was I on rares and removal spells, on raw power and card draw, I neglected to understand the value of the rock solid common.


Someone asked me at my LGS recently, “If you could give advice to someone who is new to limited, what would it be? Or, what’s the issue a lot of new players face in limited?”

“Sequencing,” I stamped firmly. A lot of my trouble came down to not knowing how to sequence my cards correctly. To know when it’s correct to fire off the removal spell—for those who play Legacy, firing off removal feels like firing off Brainstorm—or how to build your board out. Each deck is trying to achieve a board state or a combination of cards that will get you the W, and how we sequence our turns should play directly into that overarching game plan.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I am widening the scope of my lens as I address topics. There is a macro level at which limited decks should be drafted and knowing how to design a game plan for your deck will help to guide your games into the minutae of each turns framework. Interaction, Seqencing, Having a Plan. These are all in effect the same idea presented at different strata.


Every turn, especially in the developing stages of each game, having something to do each turn, whether adding to your board or subtracting from the opponents board, is crucial. Without these plays, we risk time walking ourselves and allowing the opponent to gain tempo.

Hall of Famer Ben Stark recently said in an interview with Marshall Sutcliffe that most games of limited are won by curving out with maybe one combat trick or removal spell. This is a comment regarding tempo, where every turn we are pressing our objective forward and impacting the board. Therefore, it is crucial that our limited decks have consistency, a good curve, and a game plan.


Hugh wrote about this a little in his GP Atlantic City Farticle, but I want to reiterate this concept as it’s been an eye opener. Drafting is not a science of pick orders, but is in fact closer to an art form. There is a sliding scale on all cards at every point in the draft. Accessing your experience and knowledge of the format is always important, but the beauty of draft is the fluidity at which your picks progress, and the actions taken at each intersection to construct a game plan. Being open to what comes our way, shifting evaluation against what is important to our deck when necessary… these are all tools to paint the picture that is our draft deck. Color Pairs, BREAD, This is better than That, Best Archetypes. These are not axioms. When we paint the picture before we sit down, our preconceived attitudes about limited can hinder our evaluation of a card. Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted.


What is the value of a card in a constructed format? What about in a limited deck? This has become a key question i’ve had to ask myself over and over again each time I draft. Because both selecting cards for your pool and the manner in which you evaluate them within your deck contribute to your game plan, and to your ability to extract value from each card you play. The example I proposed earlier, when our opponent plays a 2/2 creature on turn 2. Let’s say it’s a Kolaghan Skirmisher, and in our hand we have Twin Bolt — because our deck is pretty good — and Screamreach Brawler. We have two untapped lands, and will untap into our third turn. We can interact with our opponents 2/2 in two separate ways. Do we really want to use our Twin Bolt, a premium removal spell, on our opponents first creature of the game? We have a stronger interaction in Screamreach Brawler that will extract value for us, as our opponent is presented with a creature that effectively blanks his 2/2. This allows us to control the board without blowing value on our Twin Bolt by firing it off early.

Knowing when to cast your spells, and how they can be used to your benefit, has been a severe lesson learned in understanding limited. The intricacies of creature combat is something I could never have learned by playing a thousand constructed games.

Cards that don’t affect the board directly — the poster child of these would be card draw spells — are the more dangerous cards to play in limited. Any card that cannot add a creature to the board or remove a creature from the opponents board has to have an effect so profound that it is worth an entire slot in the deck. Unless it is capable of winning the game in its own right, I’d shy away from playing any card that doesn’t have any meaningful impact. In a tempo-based format like limited, the value in paying mana to draw cards when you can just play another solid creature that has a presence and develops your game plan can set one far behind. Unless we are drawing into an answer, into a way to catch up with our tempo loss, i’d rather have a meaningful turn that plays to the board.


Another aspect of value is considering the power of a card against the consistency the card presents. Several of my constructed friends — and myself, of course — have commented on limited through the lens of ‘There are bad cards, and then there are rare cards. The better your rares are, the better your deck is. Get lucky, draft bombs. Win at limited.’ There is a similar attitude to Sealed. And you know what? To a degree, having power is really important to a successful limited deck. But even when we get a bomb, we still have to draw it, we still have to play out the game well around it, and we still have to win the game when we cast it. Decks can answer most bombs — except Citadel Siege, I mean, come on — these days and leaning on your power cards to win your games is, for the most part, a sketchy deal. Sometimes, sure, we open well and our colors are open and it’s Christmas in Magic Land and our card quality is insane. But when we play enough, and we learn how to construct a game plan, a real solid and consistent plan when we draft, our decks consistency is arguably more important than its power.

As Ben Stark said, most limited games are won by curving out. 2 drop, 3 drop, 4 drop. I’ve focused a lot of energy into drafting consistent decks. When i’m not focused, my decks have no game plan, no consistency, and even though I built the deck I really don’t know how to play it. I’m no surgeon yet, but i’m getting in there. Cuttin’ into the meat.

Tonight is the finals of this season’s Team Draft League, and I’m  happy to report that Hugh, Abe, and Myself made it. It’s been my best personal season ever, with my first-ever above 50% win-loss record. And, my teammates, no slouches, have been slaying the competition. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have these guys at my side all season, talking me though everything. Deckbuilding, sideboarding, conceptual limited tactics. I want everyone to learn from these guys as I have learned. I want to continue to grow, to start seeing things on my own, to hone my ability to evaluate cards on the fly.

I have opened my mind to limited this season. My previous through proven unworthy, I am now in a negative space, a non-space, where each draft spreads open as the sun breaks across the sky. There are no truths. There is only nothing, and then the first pack. Everything is permitted.

Wish me luck everyone.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. 

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