Reforging the Format

Posted in Event Coverage on February 1, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Fate Reforged has done more than change the history of Tarkir. Swapping six packs of the set in to join six from Khans of Tarkir meant the lessons from previous events may no longer apply.

At Grand Prix Nashville a couple of months ago, No. 22-ranked Tom Martell and No. 4-ranked Shahar Shenhar had played with Hall of Fame member Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa. With Da Rosa providing video commentary all weekend, the duo needed another standout to stand in.


Champions Tom Martell (left) and Shahar Shenhar (right) wanted a great third teammate. Another champion in Alexander Hayne (middle) would have to do.

No. 23-ranked Alexander Hayne stepped up to the plate. Was it an upgrade? A substitution?

“A lateral move of greatness,” Martell put it, and the three smiled.

“I just want to say how great Tom [Martell] and Shenhar are,” Hayne said.

“We’re still looking to improve on our last Team Sealed event,” said Martell, referring to their second-place finish at Grand Prix Nashville.

Shenhar nodded. “We’re not looking to get second again.”

Could these three provide us some insight into what Fate Reforged had done to the Team Limited format?

“This is our Team Sealed Prerelease,” Shenhar admitted.

“We’ve played a bunch with the format, just not Sealed,” Hayne clarified. “I think Team Sealed decks often resemble better draft decks.”

“That’s probably true,” Shenhar said.

There were some big differences felt upfront. “The rares are better. There’s way less tri-lands,” Shenhar started.

“The mana’s worse,” Martell said. While each pack of Fate Reforged was guaranteed to have either a common dual land (like Blossoming Sand) or one of the reprinted “fetch lands” (like Windsweapth Heath), there were typically fewer nonbasic lands in packs than Khans of Tarkir.

“There’s also the dash mechanic that’s going to be in one deck,” Shenhar continued. “The red aggro deck only had Valley Dasher in Khans, now the rest of the red deck got better” Dash, while returning the creature to its owner’s hand at the end of the turn, gives more options with haste to attack unexpectedly. “There’s a lot less morphs,” he added. “There’s no more Secret Plans deck.”

And emphatic “Yeah…” came from Hayne.

“Secret Plans were one of the really good plans,” Shenhar said. “Now it’s gone.” What else has changed? “I feel like the format might have slowed down compared to the previous format,” he said. “Now you need to have some late game strong cards where before you could just play morphs early and have them late. Three drops trade a lot more often here.”

Another set of returning heroes is the triumvirate of Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Luis Scott-Vargas, No. 12-ranked Eric Froehlich, and Paul Cheon. With years of friendship and play between them, they’ve gone on to consistent quality performances at team events.


Froehlich (left) and Scott-Vargas (right) flank the hungry core of the ‘Pork Bun Oath’ trio.

What had their experience thus far revealed about adding Fate Reforged to Khans of Tarkir Team Limited?

“I think there’s slightly more two-color decks,” Scott-Vargas said.

Cheon agreed. “There’s less incentive to go three colors since there are less of the powerful three-color cards.”

“Your deckbuilding is still going to be set by what rares and what lands you open, in that order,” Scott-Vargas continued. “You want to play all your rares, and your lands determine how you’ll do that. Sometimes you don’t.”

The conversation evolved by itself. “Do you think the power level had gone down?” Cheon asked.

“No,” Scott-Vargas said, and Cheon paused a minute before explaining his position more.

“The uncommons feel less powerful,” Cheon said.  “There’s just more powerful rares.” Unlike Khans of Tarkir, rares in Fate Reforged only need one or two colors to cast. Powerful cards like Alesha, Who Smiles at Death don’t need their secondary off-color ability to be a standout.

It’s that point Froehlich drove at. “All the rares are one or two colors. In Khans of Tarkir there was a good reason the rares were good: They were three colors. You could open twelve great rares in Khans of Tarkir but you couldn’t play them because they were spread across the wedges. In Fate Reforged you’ll likely to be able to play them all.”

“You can play one as “just” a black card, like Tasigur,” Cheon said, “and it’s fine.”

“The average power level has gone down, but the top end’s gone up. A lot of uncommons you could take over rares.” Froehlich said, referring to Khans of Tarkir Draft. “Now take the top thirty cards of the set there’s like two uncommons.”

“You’re just more likely to open a good rare,” Cheon continued.

Scott-Vargas returned to his earlier point, the one he still felt the strongest about. “Deckbuilding is still really hard. You’re still going to have to make a bunch of tradeoffs. For example, we have a bunch of Savage Punches we had to bend over backwards to play, and a bunch of Kin-Tree Invocations we couldn’t support.”

The early lessons here are eerily similar to those from before: Play the rares you can with the mana you have, look towards two-color decks to ease consistency issues, and have a solid plan for the late game.

Solving your team’s individual pool, however, it an entirely different problem that only you can work through. Good luck.

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