You're sitting across from your opponent in a tense game of Midnight Hunt Draft. After falling behind against a Red Aggro deck, you've clawed your way back, but you're sitting at a precarious 4 life. You know that all of the Common and Uncommon burn spells do 3 or less, and you have multiple blockers up so you finally feel like you are going to win. Then your opponent draws their card, smiles... and casts
Abandon the Post! They flash it back and the game ends. You ask yourself, "How could I lose to such a terrible card?"
The focus of today's article is how to treat "bad" cards in Limited. It always feels terrible to lose to a card that you feel is poorly suited for the format or that looks straight up unplayable, but there is always a lesson to learn and these oft last-picked cards can sometimes be just the place to look for an advantage. Instead of calling our opponents lucky and moving on, we can use this sort of scenario to learn valuable lessons about the format.
First Impressions Can be Wrong
There are some situations where a card is just clearly bad, and even if you lost to it you know it won't change your evaluation. However, these sorts of cards are less frequent than you'd think, and unfortunately, this mindset is easy to have even when a card isn't as bad as we think it is.
There is a natural tendency to blame luck, say we lost to a card that shouldn't be played and then move on, but that logic just keeps us rooted in our ways and stuck at square one. Sometimes a card is better than it looks, and if you see a consistent performance or find the same awkward situation coming up again and again, try to evaluate if your initial assumptions are correct. A great example from a recent set is the Mystical Archive
Negate in Strixhaven. I found myself consistently getting wrecked by it, and I also consistently shook it off saying, "I can't believe I got beaten by a maindecked Negate when that is such a bad thing to do."
It wasn't until I took a step back, recognized that maybe Negate was actually good, and gave it a try myself that I realized Negate was a powerful addition to a deck. It would have been much easier to constantly blame bad fortune, but when the same card keeps popping up and keeps performing, maybe your opponents are on to something!
The Worst Cards Present the Biggest Opportunity
At a certain point it becomes easy to identify the good cards. It sometimes takes the drafting community a couple weeks to do it, but eventually get solved. Right now that means most drafters recognize
Organ Hoarder and
Diregraf Horde are great cards. The edge that a skilled drafter gains by proper card evaluation early in a format disappears over time, but there is still an advantage to be gained by finding a use for the bad cards.
If you can identify the best home for cards you get late in packs, you can leverage these tools to great success. Examples of these can be archetype-specific cards like
Shipwreck Sifters or
Ominous Roost which only fit into narrow decks, or overlooked cards for which you have discovered a good use. One card that falls into the latter category for me is
Might of the Old Ways which I have often taken with only a couple cards left in the pack. In fact, I actually built a deck with 5 copies and managed to get to the full 7 wins on the Arena ladder!
This was mostly as an experiment (5 combat tricks is not always optimal), but I got passed Might incredibly late and I wanted ample opportunity to test their mettle. If I can get 5 copies of a card nobody else wants (over 20% of the cards in my deck), with picks that are essentially free because they are so late in a pack, I can leverage that to get extra playables where others see only chaff. By keeping an open mind about cards that others dismiss, you can find hidden gems and it is a great feeling when you find one!
The Mindset of Finding Underdogs
If you've ever seen the movie Moneyball (or read the book on which it's based, which is fantastic), you know it is the story of how the Oakland A's used a shoestring budget and a ragtag group of players nobody else wanted to assemble one of the best teams in baseball. If you haven't seen the movie, that's basically the premise so you're all caught up!
This framework can be applied to Magic as well, and there are certainly opportunities to identify good cards no one else wants if you keep an open mind. One of the keys is to not let assumptions get in your way. Just because a card looks bad doesn't mean it has no special relevance in the format. If every time my opponent casts
Snakeskin Veil it is a game winning blowout, maybe I should start playing it myself! If I live in constant fear of a combat trick that I initially thought was bad, maybe I should have the confidence to admit I was mistaken, change my evaluation, and start playing that card. Changing our mind can feel bad, like we are admitting defeat or that we were wrong, and it can be a blow to our ego. This is especially the case if you have gone on record saying that a card is bad or have given advice about it to one of your friends. Often as a content creator I have felt worried about changing my mind, as it means my older content could be misleading, but I think it is far more important to send the correct information now than to worry about being mistaken in the past. If you want to be able to find the uses for bad cards, you should adopt that mindset too. It does not help anyone to double down on incorrect assumptions, so be willing to change your mind!
Bonus Tip: Data can be a fun tool!
If you really want the full Moneyball experience, there is a website called 17lands.com that can let you feel like a baseball scout looking for underrated players! It collects data from thousands of matches on MTG Arena and then gives you tons of different stats and lenses to use to evaluate cards. If you are trying to find underrated or overrated cards, it is a great place to look if you enjoy numbers!
Anyway, that is going to do it for today's article! Midnight Hunt has been explored quite a bit at this point, so finding a way to use the cards that are not obviously good is a great place to turn if you are looking for an edge. It is always a blast when you can cobble together some extra wins with a ragtag crew of cards nobody else wanted! Hopefully this article has given you the tools to find them, and until next time, happy drafting!