Limited Formats in Magic the Gathering | Sealed and Draft Guide

Magic the Gathering was released in 1993. In almost 30 years since the game was released, numerous different formats for playing Magic evolved. All those formats are divided into two main groups; limited and constructed. When new players ask me how to play Magic the Gathering, I usually recommend playing limited formats. Building a new deck with different cards at sealed and draft events is the most enjoyable way to learn different strategies you can use in Magic the Gathering.

 

What is the difference between limited and constructed formats?


When playing Magic the Gathering at a constructed event, you bring a deck you built before the event, hence the name. You are allowed to use all cards legal in the specified format to build a constructed deck. For example, if you are playing in a Modern event, you can use all legal cards printed in 8th Edition and any set that came after 8th Edition.

Constructed deck must contain at least 60 cards. You may have a sideboard with up to 15 cards you can use to tweak your deck between the games. You can use only 4 copies of any individual card in a deck (basic lands and cards that specify otherwise are exceptions to this rule).  

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When playing limited formats, you will open a specified number of Magic the Gathering products and construct a deck using only those cards and any number of basic lands. For example, let’s imagine you are playing in a sealed Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty event. You will open six Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty boosters and construct a deck using only cards you opened in those boosters.

A limited deck must contain at least 40 cards. All the cards you open and don’t use in the construction of the deck function as your sideboard. There is no limit on the number of copies of any individual card you can use in a limited deck.


What is the difference between sealed and draft formats?


The two formats most common for official limited play are Booster Draft and Sealed Deck events. In both formats, you will construct a deck from the pool of cards you open at the event, but the rules onˇhow you open the card packs which cards you get to use are different.

Sealed Deck event is a format used on Magic the Gathering prerelease events. In Sealed Deck events, you receive a specified number of boosters (usually six) and open all of them independently from other players. You can use only the cards you opened this way and any number of basic lands to construct your deck for the event.

 

A Booster Draft is usually played in an 8 player pod. Each player gets a specified number of boosters (usually three). Players sit in a circle and open the first pack simultaneously. Each player looks at the cards he opened, chooses one of them to keep, and passes the rest of the pack to a player sitting next to him. This process repeats until all of the cards have been drafted. Once the draft process is finished, you will construct a deck using only the cards you drafted in addition to any number of basic lands.

Why are limited formats good for the new players?

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I believe new players should focus more on limited Magic the Gathering events instead of building a constructed one right off the bat. When you start playing Magic, usually you will have either no cards or a small number of cards in your collection. Even at casual constructed events, there are lots of competitive decks. Playing against such decks with a casual deck can become very frustrating for a new player.

Playing MtG at limited events will give you time to familiarize yourself with different colors and archetypes in Magic the Gathering. This is the best way to get good at Magic without having a deck.  Another good thing about playing at limited events is that there is no difference in power level between the decks of people who spend lots of money on Magic, and those who play it more casually.

 

Learning how different Magic the Gathering archetypes and colors work

I believe it is pointless to focus on creating a well-constructed deck before you try out different archetypes and combinations of colors. Each color and combination of colors in MtG is better at some things and worse at others. For example, the Black/White/Blue combination of colors (commonly called Esper) is excellent at controlling the game and winning by slowly draining your opponent or by using a powerful combo. You might think that you will enjoy such a strategy and invest a lot in a good Esper deck, only to find out you actually want to smash other players with bashy creatures common in Gruul decks (Red/Green combination of colors).

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When playing limited, you will build a new deck for each event and quickly familiarize yourself with different archetypes and combinations of colors. An additional bonus is that you will already have a limited deck that you can use as your base for creating a well-constructed deck.

The number of cards you have to learn to play limited is smaller


The pool of available Magic the Gathering cards is enormous. There are over 22000 different Magic the Gathering cards. If you build a constructed deck for Standard (a constructed format with the smallest pool of different cards), there are over 1000 different cards you have to take into account. When playing at a limited event, the number of cards you have to learn is much smaller. You only have to learn the cards that are in front of you.

When constructing the deck, you will have time to read each card and get familiar with it. Once your deck is complete, it will usually consist of around 17 lands and 23 non-land cards. In most cases, you will have more than one copy of some non-land cards in your limited deck. This means you will usually have less than 20 cards you have to be familiar with in each of your limited decks.

Mechanics and interactions in sealed are less complicated


Mechanics and interactions in constructed Magic the Gathering often become intricate. In contrast, the card pool used in deck construction for limited play is small so the resulting decks don’t have complex synergies. This means that all the interactions you will encounter in limited play are much simpler.  With simpler interactions, it is easier for new players to get grip on the basic Magic the Gathering mechanics.

Drafting is great for expanding your Magic the Gathering collection


When you play limited, you get to bring home all the cards you open. As you get better at playing limited, you will win at more events resulting in more prizes. This makes playing at limited events a great way for expanding your Magic the Gathering collection while having fun.

How to play limited?

To become good in the limited formats it is important to understand strategies you will encounter are different from those often used in constructed play.  While some constructed decks win by dealing damage with creatures, many other decks win by utilizing powerful combos or milling the opponent’s library. In limited play, most of the decks will win by dealing damage with creatures.

Board control and creatures with evasion

The most common road to victory in the format is creature damage. This makes cards that control the board among the best cards for limited decks. The importance of such cards is further highlighted by the scarcity of board wipes in the format.

Your strategy will also most likely be focused on creature damage. Bearing this in mind, efficient creatures with evasion are what you should be aiming for. Creatures with powerful effects that require synergy with other cards to work well usually under perform in drafts. For example, Scrap Welder has great combo potential in constructed play.  Mothrider Patrol, on the other hand, will never have a place in constructed play, but it outperforms Scrap Welder in limited decks.

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Scrap Welder needs other cards to make it efficient. Mothrider Patrol is always useful in limited. Your opponent needs a way to deal with flying creatures to stop him from dealing damage. With a simple +2/+0 equipment on him, this will deal 3 damage every turn. It is useful both on offense and defense because it can control the board by tapping your opponent’s strong attackers or blockers. For just one mana, Mothrider Patrol is an excellent example of an efficient creature with evasion and the ability to control the board.


Card advantage

Card advantage is important in both constructed and limited play. Cards like Thirst for Knowledge are good for card advantage in both formats. The key is to recognize card advantage cards that are bad in constructed formats but are good in limited ones. Common examples are creatures that draw you a single card when they enter the battlefield and cards that see little play outside specific archetypes in constructed.

card advantage guide magic the gathering limited

Spirited Companion will rarely see play in constructed, but in limited it is an excellent card. You get a disposable blocker that replaces itself with another card when it enters the battlefield. Compared to Spirited Companion, Tempered in Solitude is more likely to see play in the constructed format.  However, it is still a card that will see play only in a small number of decks. In draft or sealed, I would put Tempered in Solitude in almost every red deck. The situation when you and your opponent are in a stalemate waiting to topdeck a card that will change the tide of the game is common in the limited format. Cards like Tempered in Solitude can help you remove useless lands from the top of your deck and find that game-changing card put you at a huge advantage in such situations.

How to get ready for a prerelease or draft?

Although you won’t know what cards you will have available on sealed and draft events, there are still ways to prepare beforehand and increase your chances of winning. Wizards of the Coast publishes all the cards of an upcoming set before the prerelease weekend. You should check the cards before you get to the prerelease event to familiarize yourself with the cards your opponents might be playing.

Experienced players usually write about archetypes in an upcoming set before the set even hits the shelves. A prerelease guide like that can help you decide which archetypes will be fun and fit your playstyle. This will also prepare you for the decks other people will use.

You should also check out a draft guide that lists the most powerful commons in the set. There are only 3 uncommon cards and 1 rare/mythic card in each draft booster. This means that commons will decide the outcome of the most matches. Knowing what are the best commons in the set can help you decide which cards to pick and include in your limited deck.

Which cards to avoid in a draft?

Some cards that dominate constructed play are bad in a draft. There are cards such as Flash that are obviously terrible in limited. More problematic ones are cards that are bad in limited, but they look incredibly good to a newbie.  When an inexperienced player drafts Phyrexian Obliterator they usually consider him an excellent card for limited. What could go wrong with using a 5/5 trample creature for 4 mana that your opponents don’t want to damage?

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Phyrexian Obliterator is an absolute monster when you manage to get him on the board, but the problem is getting him there. It costs 4 black mana. Most of the decks in the draft will be 2-colored. This means that you will usually have only 8-9 black mana sources in your limited 2-colored deck. Phyrexian Obliterator will usually just sit unplayable in your hand while your opponent is attacking you unopposed with a card like Mothrider Patrol (yes, I know I love Mothrider Patrol, by the way, Mothrider Patrol can effortlessly stop Phyrexian Obliterator).

Mana fixes are scarce in the draft, so you should avoid cards that have too many colored mana symbols in their costs (everything more than two is usually too many). While we are on the topic you should also avoid using cards that require three different mana colors to be cast.

There are lots of cards that aren’t very useful in a draft. Cards that are good only if you manage to draft other cards that are uncommon or rare should be avoided. Counterspells and discard spells that target non-creature spells are bad since most decks are creature-based are often useless.  Most mana ramp cards aren’t as good in limited as in constructed. There are more examples, but these are the most important ones you should keep in mind as a new player.

  

How to decide what are the best cards to draft?

Sometimes it will be easy to decide which card to pick. If you open a card like Goldspan Dragon in your first pack, the choice is obvious. Reality isn’t that nice. More often than not, your first few picks won’t be obvious.  So how to choose what’s a good card to pick in a draft? 

There are several guidelines you should consider when you can’t decide which card to choose.  The first of those guidelines is to pick removal. I already told you about the importance of board control. The best way to control a threat is to remove the threat.

 best cards to pick in draft 2022 magic the gathering

Next on the pick priority should be efficient creatures with evasion or other useful abilities such as reach and first strike. Decent colorless cards like Icy Manipulator and Bonesplitter are usually good picks because you can include them in any deck, but not every set comes with such good colorless cards.

If none of the above applies, always remember that creatures win most of the limited plays. When you have to choose between an average creature and an average non-creature card, always choose a creature.

Tips and tricks to making a good 40 card deck


Now that you know how to pick good cards for a sealed deck, it is time to learn how to build a sealed deck.  The first rule of constructing a limited deck is to never have more than 40 cards in your deck. You are allowed to create a deck with more than 40 cards, but you don’t want to create such a deck. Each card above 40 reduces your chances of drawing a better card.

The other big mistake you can make is playing too few or too many lands. So, how many lands in a 40-card deck is a good number of lands? The answer is 17. Some decks with a lower mana curve can get away with 16 or even 15 lands. Decks with more high-cost cards will want to play 18 lands. However, if you are asking how many lands you should play in a limited deck, you are probably not experienced in sealed and draft. Stick to 17 lands until you get some more experience.

While we are on the topic of sticking, let's answer another common question. How many colors should you use in a draft deck? Stick to two colors in a draft. Most of the Magic the Gathering sets don’t have enough mana fixes at common rarity to justify building 3-colored decks in a draft. Unfortunately, in sealed you won’t always have the option to build a good 2-colored deck, so sometimes you will have to build a 3-colored sealed deck. 

You can’t have too many good removal spells, but you can have too many bad removal spells. If you are lucky enough to draft 7 good removals like Cast Down, you should run all of them in your deck. On the other hand, if you already have several good removal spells, you don’t need high-cost conditional removal like Enduring Victory.

mtg best removal for limited play in 2022

Decks that don’t have lots of removal spells can use combat tricks to lower the impact of lack of removals. The trick with combat tricks is that, unlike with removals, you can have too many of those in your deck. Combat tricks are useless if you don’t have creatures on board.

Don’t forget that creatures are the bread and butter of draft and sealed decks. Creatures are the most prevalent card type you should have in your limited deck. The exact number of creatures you should have in a 40-card deck will vary depending on the set and archetype you are playing, but the rule of thumb is that creatures should be 75% of spells in your deck.

 

Best sets to draft in 2022


To avoid this sealed guide turning into a small book, I will wrap up how to part and leave you with advice on the best booster box to buy when drafting with your friends. Bear in mind that there isn’t a single best set to draft, and in the end, the best set for you will be the one with the cards you enjoy most.

 

Modern Horizons 2

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Modern Horizons 2 is a set full of modern staples and powerful cards you can use in eternal formats and commander decks. The drawback of the set is the price, but everything else about Modern Horizons 2 is amazing. The set has a great balance between aggro and control. Although it is more expensive than the other sets, cards you can pull from the set are also more expensive. If you usually play modern or commander, there are plenty of cards you will enjoy in this set.

 

Commander Legends

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Commander is my favorite Magic the Gathering format, so I might be biased here, but I find Commander Legends an amazing set to draft. The set is packed with interesting legends (every booster contains 2 legendaries) you can use as your commanders and cards exclusive to this set that work excellently in the commander format. Drafting this set is an experience unlike drafting any other set. Boosters come with 20 cards, and players pick two cards at once before passing the pack to the next player. It is important to mention that this set might not be interesting to players who don’t enjoy commander.

Strixhaven: School of Mages

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For players who want to expand their standard collection while drafting a fun set, I recommend Strixhaven: School of Mages. I enjoyed drafting this one more than any other set in the current standard. The thing mechanic that makes it so enjoyable to draft is learn/lesson. Draft games often come to a stalemate when players have no cards in hand. With learn/lesson mechanics, both deckbuilding and playing the deck become more flexible. Situations where neither player has anything to play are not as frequent as in other sets.  



Author - Ante Radoš

Card gamesMagic the gathering