The 6-0 Drafters of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar

Posted in Event Coverage on October 17, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

When we checked in Friday afternoon at the conclusion of the first draft of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, we learned a few things about the format from those who understand it best: The undefeated drafters from the first day.

While opinions differed from player to player, there were a few things that stood out, such as an aversion to green decks, the belief that synergy was the backbone of the format, and that drafting synergy-forward strategies is trickier in Battle for Zendikar than many formats before it. How would those conventions hold up to a second day of drafting at Magic's highest level of competition?

Four players can answer that question well, and with the newly-created "Draft Master" title being awarded to the player with the most match points in draft at the Pro Tour along with an invite to the Magic World Championship, their expertise is more important than ever. Brandon Burton, Will Erker, Don van Ravenzwaaij, and 18th-ranked Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa all followed up their perfect start to the tournament with another 3-0 draft on Saturday.

So how did they repeat the performance?

"You don't want to commit early, because you want to be open if something is coming to you," Damo da Rosa explained. "That's one of the differences between the good drafts and the not-as-good drafts in this format. What that means when you're drafting is, you don't take an early Kalastria Healer or Mist Intruder, but you try to take cards that could be good in any deck to stay open to those late. I'll take a seventh-pick Kalastria Healer over a card in my colors just in case that's the deck I'm being passed and supposed to play, even though I may not play it. If I miss out on a Belligerent Whiptail I would have played, that's okay, because missing out on and passing a great deck you could have gotten is devastating."

The Hall of Famer put his own advice to work. While he succeeded with a fairly straightforward blue-red deck on Saturday, Friday's 3-0 performance was a bit trickier. Already in green and black, Damo da Rosa found himself pivoting when presented with a late Radiant Flames. Not afraid to change lanes, he took the Flames and ended up piloting a four-color deck that he navigated to an undefeated finish.

"While the focused, two-color decks are what I prefer and are really strong, you can also have success with some of the different three or four-color decks if you can get the right mana-fixing," he said. "It's not as obvious but it can work."

We also have some data to reconcile with the commonly-held beliefs about the format, including the stance among many pros that green is a color to avoid. For reference, here's the data breakdown from Day One.

Color # of Decks
Black 24 (52%)
Blue 23  (50%)
Red 17  (37%)
Green 17  (37%)
White 16  (35%)

And here's how things broke down from the 28 undefeated decks from Day Two.

Color # of Decks
White 13 (46%)
Black 13 (46%)
Blue 12 (43%)
Red 11 (39%)
Green 7 (25%)

Combining Day One and Day Two drafts, the final numbers looked like this:

Color # of Decks
Black 37 (50%)
Blue 35 (47%)
White 29 (39%)
Red 29 (39%)
Green 24 (32%)

Numbers don't lie, and in this case neither does the conventional wisdom—those who decided to avoid green in draft had it pay off.

It's not that success couldn't be found across all archetypes. Damo da Rosa's four-color deck in the first draft centered on green, and Don van Ravenzwaaij's decks did the same on both days. Brandon Burton's success came with white-blue and then black-red, while Erker went undefeated with blue-red and then white-blue.

Regardless of how you choose to approach Battle for Zendikar draft, it's clear after two days in Milwaukee that there are a variety of strategies and plenty of room left to explore.

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