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Tim Stoltzfus on Magic
Ninth Edition Limited

September 7, 2005

This past weekend, Ninth Edition finally fired up on Magic Online with a series of release event leagues, drafts, and sealed deck tournaments. I made time to play in a couple of leagues and draft a couple of times to get a feel for this new format.

Ninth Edition limited play is definitely a huge leap over its predecessors in Eight and Seventh, which were also played fairly heavily online. There's more cards that fit the style of play in limited, less ridiculous ground stalls that cause games to drag out for extended periods of time, and just a generally more balanced card pool.

The biggest thing to remember with 9th Edition Limited is that there is not a lot of opportunities for card advantage. This isn't like an expert-level expansion with dozens of ways to get small amounts of card advantage and tempo advantage. It is a pretty straightforward environment. You play creatures, you attack, you cast the occasional spell. The point is that you will have to create card advantage one way or another, and in an environment where there are few ways to get that advantage, blue's card drawing becomes spectacular. Let's run down each color's strengths and weaknesses in sealed deck and draft.

As always, Black is all about removal. However, Black quickly runs out of creatures and is also very demanding on your mana base with removal like Enfeeblement costing double black mana. Black's discard shines in this format, and running one or two discard spells will almost always get at least one major threat into your opponent's graveyard. If you do not have at least two removal spells, though, Black usually is unplayable. Its creatures tend to not give a lot of bang for the buck, and the discard is a good supplemental strategy, but only if you manage to have removal to get creatures off the board that already hit. In draft, you will be fighting with others for Black very often, so you don't want to go into the color unless you have already picked up the removal aspect of it, since the creatures are so generally sub-par. Being passed Serpent Warrior isn't a sign you're being passed Black, it is a sign your opponent probably picked Dark Banishing.

Blue is very good in Ninth Edition with several very good common flying creatures like Aven Windreader, Wind Drake, Aven Fisher, and Sage Aven. Counsel of the Soratami and Sleight of Hand are excellent commons that get you access to more cards than your opponent. Sea Monster is always playable, as it is a giant killer wall against opponents not playing Blue, and against opponents playing Blue, it becomes the most efficient common creature in the set for its size. You'll want to most often pair Blue with White or with Black, aiming for a solid ground control and flier strategy in the White pairing, or a suite of removal and discard spells in the Black paring. Do not underestimate the countermagic available at the common slot in blue! A well-timed Mana Leak or Remove Soul in the mid-game can create a massive swing in your favor. Don't pick the countermagic early, but if it floats by you in the 6th to 9th pick rage, snatch it up and run one or two in your deck.

Green's weaknesses really shine in Ninth Edition. It has huge creatures, no doubt, but very little else to offer. Its tricks, like Giant Growth, rely on the opponent blocking. I am not a fan of Llanowar Elves. They are just 1/1 creatures that get your fat creatures out faster, yes, but that Craw Wurm and that Scaled Wurm are easily nullified by Black or White for only a few mana, and you end up with a group of small creatures easily nullified by cards like Lumengrid Warden and Kami of the Old Stone. If you draft Green, pair it with Black or Red. You'll need the removal to force through your fat creatures. In theory, Blue's card drawing can help you sustain an assault, but in practice, it never works out that way because you are lacking the ability to get troublesome creatures off the board permanently. In sealed, Geen is fine to run because it is a slower format and you're less likely to run into multiple cheap removal spells in your opponent's deck.

Red got the absolute shaft in Ninth for sealed and draft. Its creatures fall into two categories. They are either efficient, but small, like Goblin Brigand and Rogue Kavu, or large and overcosted like Hill Giant or Sandstone Warrior. The removal doesn't kill the fat creatures running around all over the place. In my opinion, red might be good if you're getting passed all the red at the table, or if you crack a ridiculous rare like Shivan Dragon or Wildfire. Otherwise, I generally avoid it. The small creatures quickly become non-factors on the board, and the large creatures just can't fight a good battle. If you must draft red, there's really not a pairing that is bad with it, because every other color fills Red's weaknesses.

White is either the best or second best color in the format, right up there with Blue. It has reasonably costed fliers like Pegasus Charger and Aven Cloudchaser. It has good creatures across the spectrum, from Honor Guard to Aven Flock. It has a bit of removal in Pacifism, and several good combat tricks like Samite Healer, Crossbow Infantry, and Mending Hands. In addition to that, it has the excellent Master Decoy. The only trick to drafting White is being able to figure out which creatures work best in what combinations. White and Black is a more aggressive color combination, Kami of the Old Stone is going to be suboptimal. However, pairing White with Blue, if you are getting passed the cards, will often yield great results.

I've primarily discussed commons above, because that is what you will end up building most of your deck from. However, always keep in mind a good common or rare completely changes the entire look of your deck. A Vulshok Morningstar makes Red creatures much better. A bomb rare like Wildfire or Verdant Force may force you to play a weaker color, but its sheer power makes up for the color's failings.

Keep in mind, this is just an initial overview, I may change these rankings at any time, but right now I'm pretty happy with them. If I discover anything new, I'll be sure to pass it along!

Tim Stoltzfus




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