/ Limited

Rotten to the Core: Struggling with M20 Limited

It’s the first week of a brand new limited format! The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and the spells are slinging! As a content creator, it’s the most exciting time. There are archetypes to explore, pick orders to revise, and an entirely new limited landscape to discuss. But I have to confess something to you, my dear, sweet readers:

I am struggling hard in M20 limited.

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After about a dozen drafts, I am having a hard time feeling confident in this format and have a much lower winrate than I normally sport. Usually, I would love to come to you after a week of drafts and dump as much information as I can about how to succeed with the new set, but I don’t have that to offer. And while I could repackage what I’ve seen from others winning at an incredible rate, I thought I’d take this opportunity to dive into my failures at the beginning of this format and what changes I've made to try and turn the corner.

Making Core Set Assumptions? In 2019?

M19 left a bad taste in my mouth. I struggled in that format as well, and didn’t enjoy the kind of snowbally, aggro games that Pegasus Courser, Star-Crowned Stag, and Angel of the Dawn led to. And I came in to this format assuming that similar things would be true. With no new mechanics, and all of the archetype synergies being creature based, I figured curving out and beating down was the way to go. Centaur Courser and Moorland Inquisitor were cards that often ended up in my early draft decks and just became so outclassed so quickly in the first few turns of the game. The amount of good, high toughness creatures that exist make it hard for on-curve ground pounders to do very much. I’m still finding it difficult to get excited about Raise the Alarm, but I’ve been told that it’s a key card to the Selesnya go-wide strategy, which is a deck I’ve yet to draft. I’ve started to care less about my curve and found more success because of it. Not to say that cards like Chandra's Embercat, Yarok’s Fenlurker, and Metropolis Sprite aren’t cards I’m interested in, but those are the kinds of early plays I want to have: ones that have an effect on the game at any point and/or have synergies across multiple decks. Blood Burglar is a great example of a two drop I’m much lower on. Coming in, I would have thought this was pretty analogous to Bishop’s Soldier, but it has felt much more replaceable.

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With Synergy and Value for All!

M20 had only been out for a few days when many regulars in my twitch stream and folks in the Lords of Limited Discord were telling me “This is very much an Ethan format, it’s all about value and synergy.” It became fairly clear that the Sultai color pairs were just head and shoulders above the other decks in terms of the way they could pull ahead on resources as the game went on. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find my way into those decks. I drafted Gruul and Orzhov a lot early on even though I tried and tried to draft any deck with blue in it. All I wanted was to cast some Cloudkin Seers and I finally did with my first trophy deck: a Simic value build with an Elemental sub-theme (my goodness is Risen Reef a ridiculous card in limited.)

The amount of value loops this format presents is incredible. Scholar of the Ages with Blood for Bones, Soul Salvage or Unsummon feels fairly unbeatable at a certain point. Green even has ways to add to the mixture with Pulse of Murasa and Loaming Shaman. Moldervine Reclamation is a card I was very skeptical of in my initial review of the set, but it has proven to be a game warping card in a lot of decks.

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But is that my only option? Hope some Sultai color pair is open, that I have a fighting chance at assembling it and if not I’m going to do poorly? There have to be other routes through the drafts that lead to successful decks, I just need to find them. I am in a fortunate position to be able to pick the brains of some of the best limited minds in our community, get sage wisdom from twitch chat (babyKappa), and access the wealth of information contained in the Lords of Limited Discord. If you want to improve, consuming content and asking questions from your peers or those better than you is the best way to do it. Getting feedback on my draft logs from my podcast co-host Ben Werne was encouraging as he said for many of them he’d have navigated them similarly. Though I think I wasn’t valuing interaction nearly as highly as I should have been. Even though I have Cloudkin Seer as the best common in the format doesn’t mean I should be taking cards like Master Splicer over Murder. Premium, efficient removal is king in this format, just beyond synergy and card advantage.

Aside from improperly evaluating these absurd late game card advantage engines, the other major thing I missed in this format is the power of the 5 Color Good Stuff Deck. I know this is shocking considering my penchant for these decks, but I was still stuck in my preconceived notions of what this core set was going to be like. In M19 we had dual lands at “common” and Gift of Paradise and Rupture Spire at uncommon and it was very much not a splashing format. M20 feels much different and I think this is for three reasons:

  1. The format is slower so there is time to set up your mana base.
  2. There are a lot more ways to generate card advantage to make up for the inherent disadvantage in playing cards that only ramp or fix.
  3. Green has a very deep roster of commons to be a strong base color.

In my past few drafts, I’ve been valuing dual lands higher and been happier because of the options its given me.

Building and Playing

The last thing I’ve done is try to evaluate my stock deck building and gameplay decisions. First, I’ve been leaning more towards 18 lands and playing first in draft. The power in this set largely starts at 3 mana, and because there are a lot of ways to gain card advantage or card selection, I’m happier playing more lands. With land drops being so important, I’m inclined to play first so that I can get to my more expensive cards before my opponent to render a number of their earlier plays more or less useless.

And lastly, I have found this to be a difficult format to play! There is a lot of complexity here and I sometimes move too quickly through things (like not casting Unsummon on my opponent’s Risen Reef in response to their Scampering Scorcher.) I’ve been having difficulty trusting my read on my opponent’s telegraphed Bone to Ash and what the tempo advantages and disadvantages are in playing into it or not. And I’ve been slower than usual in picking up on subtle interactions like Rapacious Dragon growing Woodland Champion. Gameplay is something I’m really going to focus on moving forward as I think its where I have the most room to improve with M20.

What have your experiences been like? Are you crushing it so far or have you been struggling like me? Would love to hear what you’ve been having the most success with. Let me know on twitter! And, as always, Happy Drafting!

Ethan Saks

Ethan Saks

Ethan, AKA LordTupperware, is a magic streamer on twitch and co-host of the magic strategy podcast "Lords of Limited."

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