Limited/Draft/Sealed etc. are my best and favorite card game formats. Most of my pre-Epic competitive experience was drafting. At Origins my overall limited record in rounds was 6-1-3 (Loss to Rich Shay, the first World’s Qualifier at Origins, and 1 Intentional Draw). In this article I explain my limited philosophy and provide detailed examples.
Get Ahead, Stay Ahead
In my Epic experience, the most reliable way to win is to get a lead and maintain it. Sounds simple, and at a base level, it is. My fundamentals include understanding what to play when:
- there are no champions in play
- you are ahead
- you are behind
These fundamentals win me a lot of games against newer players. The focus is getting ahead and staying ahead.
No Champions in Play
When there are no champions in play and it is my turn, I either:
- play an Establishing card
- pass holding my gold
An Establishing card is a card that either provides an immediate bonus (such as a champion with Tribute -> Draw a card) or immediate hard to deal with threat(s) (such as a champion with Blitz and Untargetable). In either case, these are the cards most likely to put me into the lead.
Both a lead in cards (card advantage) and a lead in champions in play (board advantage) are valuable. While board advantage directly leads to wins, card advantage enables you to maintain board advantage.
Erase is one of the best cards in the game, and it can punish players for playing a non-Establishing card on their turn.
For example, I play Triceratops, an Establishing champion, and draw a card. My opponent plays Erase to return it to my hand and draw 2 cards. At the end of the turn, we have both spent our gold and increased our hand size by 1. So neither player gets a significant advantage.
If I had played Raxxa, Demon Tryant, another Establishing champion, and my opponent Erased him, I would have 2 demons in play while my opponent has increased her hand size by 1. In this situation, I have a board advantage and my opponent has a card advantage after we both spent our gold.
The worst case scenario is if I play a non-Establishing champion like Burrowing Wurm. If my opponent Erases that, she spent her gold to increase her hand size by 1, and I spent my gold and my turn to gain nothing.
0-Cost Establishing Cards
0-cost Establishing cards are strong because they allow me to get a small lead while holding my gold.
Dark Knight is an example of a strong 0-cost Establishing card. Dark Knight is hard for my opponent to remove or effectively block on my turn without spending his gold. I underestimated this card until it was used against me in a Sage Tempo mirror match in rounds. Since I refused to spend my gold, I had to take the 5 damage. Thankfully I drew Blue Dragon to break it on my turn.
If I do not have an Establishing card, I will pass my turn to my opponent while not spending my gold. By holding my gold, I do not open myself up to a stronger play by my opponent (like in the Burrowing Wurm/Erase example above). Since it is fairly likely that my opponent can effectively and efficiently answer a non-Establishing champion I play on my turn, I would rather let her begin with an open board instead of risking giving her a lead.
In addition, if your opponent decides to play something on your turn while you still have your gold, you can punish her.
Say I pass my turn holding my gold. My opponent ambushes a champion into play. Then, I regain initiative to play any card on my turn. So, since I still have my gold, I play Kong and break her ambushed in champion. If I had played Kong first, instead of passing, my opponent could have ambushed in her champion safely or finished off my damaged Kong (since Kong had to target itself with its Tribute ability).
If, after I pass holding my gold, my opponent decides to spend her gold to draw 2 cards, I can answer with a big blitz champion. In this scenario, my opponent increased her hand size by 1, but I will likely do 13 damage to her and leave a big threat in play. My Lord of the Arenas were respected and feared by the end of the tournament.
So, from the other perspective, if someone passes their turn while holding their gold while the board is empty, let the turn end. If you play something, you open yourself up to the situations above. If you don’t play something, you get to move directly to your turn. This is especially valuable on the first turn of the game. If your opponent passes holding their gold, you can pass and then you essentially get the first turn and the first draw of the game, a pretty nice start.
You are Ahead
When I am ahead I try to stay ahead; I do not try to get further ahead (usually). In Epic, if I can secure a small lead, I can win with that lead. If I try to grow that lead, I can put myself in a position to lose everything.
Attacking before spending your gold on your turn is almost always the correct play, especially when you are ahead. If the only champion in play is my White Knight and both players still have their gold, I can attack and force a response from my opponent. He can either take the damage, play a 1-cost card to disrupt the attack (ambush in a blocker, use removal, etc.), or neutralize the attack with a 0-cost card (Fumble, Hasty Retreat, etc.).
Take the Damage
If your opponent takes the damage, you just did 9 damage, and you still have your gold. Trying to end your turn is generally a strong move because you have already done damage, and you are still ahead. If your opponent then uses her gold, you can follow up with a strong blitz champion or another Establishing card to regain the lead. If she also passes, your turn was worthwhile even though you didn’t spend your gold.
If your opponent plays a 1-cost card to remove your White Knight, you can once again play a blitz champion or another Establishing card. You didn’t do damage with White Knight, but now you can more reliably play cards like Gold Dragon for damage and health gain.
This is the most interesting situation and frequently the best play for your opponent. In this scenario, you are back in the Hold Your Gold scenario above. Passing is still a solid option because you already have the lead. If you do play a 1-cost card, your opponent is safe to use his. Say you put out another champion, they can now use off-turn board clears like Wave of Transformation without fear of a big blitz champion. In most situations, I would just hold my gold and force my opponent to act first on my turn, since I have the lead.
When you are in the lead, fast targeted 1 for 1 (or better) removal is incredible. Fast targeted removal like Drain Essence, Erase, Bitten, Temporal Enforcer, etc. are excellent because they neutralize most champions your opponent might play. For instance, if you attack with White Knight and your opponent plays Lurking Giant, you can play Chomp! on the Lurking Giant, maintain your lead, and deal 9 damage with White Knight. In this scenario both players spent their gold, nothing on the board changed, but you did 9 damage and maintained your lead.
As soon as you have a lead, if you can answer every threat your opponent plays 1 for 1 (or better), you will be difficult to defeat. If, however, you try to extend your lead, you potentially open yourself up to losing everything without being able to regain the lead that turn. Then, on your opponent’s turn she can take the lead and begin holding it from you.
You are Behind
When you are behind, the best cards are Reestablishing cards. These cards frequently remove a champion and do something else. Kong and Sea Titan are the 2 best champions for this scenario. With both of them you remove your opponent’s lead (if it’s just 1 champion) and gain the lead for yourself. These are generally the best champions for limited. I value these cards incredibly highly (just not as highly as Lightning Storm, Amnesia, and off-turn board clears like Wave of Transformation).
Most of these champions are slow, but this is fine because it is safer to play them on your turn (unless your opponent left an opening by spending his gold first on his turn). On your turn you are less vulnerable because you can’t be attacked. Due to this, you can more afford to spend your gold first.
In addition, when you are behind if you pass your turn holding your gold, your opponent has little incentive to play anything, since he already has the lead. If your opponent plays this maintain-and-not-grow-my-lead style, it can be incredibly difficult to come back when behind. Without these Reestablishing cards it can be nearly impossible. This is especially true if your opponent has strong fast Reestablishing cards like Temporal Enforcer and Medusa.
Once you understand these fundamentals, the next level of play involves adapting to your opponent. Adapting to your opponent comes in many levels. The most important adapting involves playing around cards you know your opponent has in hand or in deck. The best way I can depict this is through examples.
Origins Thursday: Soul Hunter, Ceasefire, Ice Drake (Max Jacob)
On Thursday I played a very memorable match that involved the 3 cards above. I believe I lost the first game and won the second two. This 3 card combo was the primary means of shutting me out entirely in game 1.
In that game I had Raxxa, Demon Tyrant, at least 2 demon tokens, and possibly 1 or 2 other champions. Max had Soul Hunter in play, and I had no way in hand to deal with it. So, on my turn, since I had significantly more champions in play than my opponent, I attacked with a 6/6 demon. My opponent blocked and then played Ceasefire. My attack still happened which broke the Soul Hunter and did 5 damage to me. Since I couldn’t attack anymore, my army had to sit back and do nothing.
Next turn Soul Hunter comes back from the discard pile. I still have no way to answer it, but I still have the board advantage. So, on my turn I send my demon in again to begin the onslaught. My opponent blocks, plays Ice Drake, and my army gets halted again. I don’t remember the rest of the game, but I died shortly afterwards. I did, however, make a mental note of those 3 cards since they caused me so much trouble, especially since my deck could go fairly wide (get a lot of smaller champions into play as opposed to 1 or 2 bigger champions).
In the next 2 games, I made sure to constantly hold onto at least one of my only 4 cards that could banish champions, specifically to deal with Soul Hunter. In both of the games my opponent drew and played Soul Hunter, but I had an answer ready both times. Since I knew my deck was weak to Soul Hunter (most of my damage was non-airborne and blockable), I had to specifically adjust my play to prevent myself from getting blown out by that one card.
After dealing with Soul Hunter, I still had to worry about Ceasefire and Ice Drake. To play around these cards, I did a significant amount of group attacking. I frequently had multiple demons in play at a time. Since I knew that my opponent had both of those cards, I almost constantly attacked with 2 demons in a group. This would allow me to get 8 damage through if he Ceasefired (significantly more than 4), and it was enough offense to break Ice Drake if he dropped that in to block. In addition, I slow rolled out some 0-cost blitz champions after attacking with my demons for some extra damage. I did over-extend a bit when I was ahead on the board, and I got punished for it. But, since I got those demons through for damage, I was able to barely edge out game 3 before dying to burn (damage from cards like Flame Strike that can directly target a player aka direct damage). I gained a rival that day, and I look forward to the rematches.
So, in order to come back from a 1-game deficit, I specifically held onto answers for a known threat, and I adjusted my attack pattern to suit the situation.
Origins Saturday: Aggressive Mulligans (Kyle Coons)
In the semi-finals I drafted a demon deck in the dark draft. I believe I lost the first game, but I learned a lot from it. My deck was fairly controlling with a heavy demon and board clear focus. Kyle’s deck had a lot of burn, decent control, but minimal board clears. In the first game, there were probably around 3 turns where I couldn’t apply any pressure because I had no champions or tokens I could put into play. During that time, my opponent was able to draw his burn, and drop me from around 24 health.
Due to this, I realized that I would have to put the pressure on early and either win quickly or deny him as much opportunity to draw as possible. To achieve this, I mulliganed 4 cards in game 2 even though I knew I was against burn. The 4 cards where all control cards that I knew wouldn’t be terribly strong in the match up. I then drew into some major demon threats like Spawning Demon and Demon Breach. With these cards I was able to go wide enough to bypass his defenses and win game 2.
Game 3: I aggressively mulligan 3 or 4 cards again and get a strong starting hand. I am able to expand quickly and get some damage in, but a timely Stand Alone clears most of my board. Kyle then follows up with a top decked Raxxa’s Curse to clear out my remaining Spawning Demon. Luckily, I have Demon Breach, and I am able to reapply pressure 3 demons at a time. In this match up, I focus on recalling Demon Breach instead of drawing since Demon Breach is one of my most effective threats. 12/12 spread over 3 bodies is solid.
Kyle does manage to slow me down a bit with Ceasefire and other disruptive cards, but I am able to prevent his answers from sticking. I am going slow enough that his burn is becoming a real issue, and he’s getting close to decking himself as well. On one of the longest and most pivotal decisions of the game, he plays Memory Spirit and, after much consideration, takes back Ceasefire. I then take a long time on my turn and decide to go all in on lethal (enough damage to reduce my opponent to 0 or less health in one turn). I have 3 demons in play with a Lash in hand. So I Inheritance of the Meek to remove his Memory Spirit (and my Medusa), and then I attack with my 3 demons as a group.
Unfortunately for me, I play right into his hands, or, more precisely, his Hands from Below. This was a card I knew he had in his deck, and I possibly new was in his hand, but I was blinded by lethal and crippled myself trying to win. My opponent masterfully baited me into that group attack, and it was brutal play.
I do manage to draw my Amnesia before he can deck out (my first pick of the draft), and I launch a lethal 15 damage Reap or Sow into The Risen group attack (avoiding Ceasefire). But, he manages to disrupt enough of that damage with Rain of Fire and Smash and Burn. Then he burns me on his turn, and when I pass initiative on my turn, I lose.
By aggressively mulliganing I was able to put significant pressure on Kyle, and I almost pulled out the win. The Ceasefire Hands from Below play was both clever and brutal, and I walked right into it. I lost that match because I didn’t stop him from getting all of the burn in the draft, I didn’t take any health gain to mitigate that fact (Drain Essence), and I was outplayed. He was able to recognize my strategy and counter it.
With regard to mulligans in general, I always ideally want a strong Establishing card for my turn and a fast card I want to play on my opponent’s turn. In this matchup I pitched my almost worthless control cards.
Against non-burn control decks, I would probably pitch my Inner Peaces when playing my Combative Humans deck. Against a deck with no targets for certain removal, Lightning Strike for example, I would pitch that card. I also generally mulligan 0-cost recycle cards because I am unlikely to want to use them in the first couple turns, unless I need a card like Blind Faith specifically to counter an opponent’s cards/strategies.
Origins Sunday: Selective Loyalty Reveals (Hampus Eriksson)
In the constructed Finals on the last day of Origins I was playing against Hampus Eriksson. The matchup was me on Combative Humans, him on Sage/Wild Control/Tempo/Burn. My deck had a few tricks that my opponent was not expecting, and I kept it that way until the time came.
I knew my opponent was running Sage/Wild, and I was expecting discard effects. My deck relies heavily on combat tricks such as Brave Squire. So, when I play, I usually try to avoid revealing my Brave Squires for my Loyalty 2 effects. This lets me attack into bigger champions because my opponent doesn’t know if I have a combat trick in hand. Against the Sage/Wild deck though, I was willing to reveal my Brave Squires because I had a more important card to hide: Markus, Watch Captain.
The first game went fairly poorly for me because I couldn’t establish much momentum against his control. It got to the point where I was far behind and needed to draw specific cards to win. I had 2 unrevealed Markuses in hand, a White Dragon, and a Triceratops. My best chance of drawing what I needed would have been to play a Markus into White Dragon, but I was so far behind, that I decided it was more important to hide my Markuses for game two. However, Hampus played Psionic Assault on me. I debated conceding or discarding my non-Markus cards to see more of his cards before I lost game 1, but I decided to go for the win. I went to end step, dropped my 2 Markus on the board, revealed 2 Good cards, and drew 2 cards.
Because I had hidden my Markuses, my opponent played right into them. If I had shown even 1 of them earlier, it is highly unlikely the Psionic Assault would have been played. I did still lose both that game and the next (1 health), but I was able to make the big play because I adjusted my reveal strategy.
This article describes my current understanding of Limited Epic as of 7/2/16. Epic is a very nuanced game which means everything I’ve said here has exceptions. The most interesting parts of playing a game of Epic for me are understanding my opponent, understanding my opponent’s deck, and understanding when I need to break my own guidelines.
With regard to Establishing and Reestablishing champions it is more important to understand why a champion is one than it is to memorize which are which. Therefore, I did not include lists above, but for those interested, I include the lists down here.
Dark Knight, Demon Breach, Infernal Gatekeeper, Murderous Necromancer, Necromancer Lord, Succubus, Raxxa Demon Tyrant, The People’s Champion, White Knight, Markus Watch Captain, Paros Rebel Leader, Blue Dragon, Djinn of the Sands, Forcemage Apprentice, Juggernaut, Steel Golem, Warrior Golem, Knight of Shadows, Mist Guide Herald, Cave Troll, Jungle Queen, Pack Alpha, Raging T-Rex, Sea Hydra, Triceratops, Anylosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Draka’s Enforcer, Fire Spirit
Overall, I hope this article was helpful for explaining my general and evolving strategy. This strategy is less relevant in constructed as will be demonstrated when I discuss Derek Arnold’s Lesson Learned deck.
Feel free to let me know any topics you would like me to go into greater detail about in the comments below.