Sticking to the Plan

Posted in PRO TOUR FATE REFORGED on February 7, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

Fate Reforged is still new, but players at the Pro Tour must be fast learners. When drafting a new set, to help, players develop systems and ideas about the format. Maybe those plans are not the optimal ones yet, but if the system works well enough, you can still put up good win percentages in the draft rounds. And as Paul Rietzl and Matthew Sperling believe, though there are fewer draft rounds than Modern rounds, there's more win percentage gain available in draft, especially so early after a set's release.

So what are the ideas people have about Fate Reforged? Certainly there are some powerful rares, but what about particular colors? After pack one, do you want a wedge solidified? Two colors? The Pros have varying expectations going into the draft, and various levels of follow-through on those expectations.

Two-time Pro Tour champion and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member, Brian Kibler believes that "Most good decks are two-color, maybe with a light splash." To set that up with enough good playables, you have to find the right two colors. This affects where Kibler wants to be after the first pack.

"At the end of the first pack, all I'm looking to do is be settled in a color." Kibler said. Then he'll speculate picks from there, netting the best cards in the pack that aren't in his color. "Usually I'll end up with like six or seven cards in one color, like, a red card, a blue card, then a bunch of land." He laughed.

Hall of Famer Brian Kibler's approach to the draft format is to stick to two colors, perhaps with a splash.

Catching up with him after the draft, Kibler said, "I stuck to it, and I think I've got a good deck." Plan executed.

Some players think there is a specific archetype that you want if you can get it. Matej "Big Z" Zatlkaj said that his team had the most success with anything Mardu affiliated. "This could just be our team," he said, "but White-Black and Red-White were the best." He continued. "Black-Red did really well in our testing too, and anything Green? Not so much." He said that anything paired with green fared the worst, so he looked to avoid that if he could.

For Zatlkaj, ending pack one with any of those two colors identified, with an eye for the third in Khans of Tarkir was the recipe for success. Of course, after the draft I looked at his deck, which had a strong green base. He shrugged, and qualified his plan change by saying, "This is the only good green color combination."

Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Jon Finkel also has an eye for a specific color pair. He mentioned in passing yesterday that White-Black is the best archetype. "But you can't always get it," he said. But Pro Tour Gatecrash finalist Joel Larsson looks at it a bit differently. "White-Black is trap," he said. The way he sees things, the format is a series of archetypes that have certain roles filled by certain types of cards. If you don't fill those roles, the deck becomes suboptimal at best, and unplayable at worst.

"White-Black is powerful, but it's hard to assemble." Larsson continued, "Every archetype is like a model. If you don't have a certain part, it's going to harder to drive." He looks at the required parts of each model, and wants to sleeve up the most powerful archetype that's also the easiest to assemble correctly.

Larsson views each component of the draft as a system. Because of this, it's not surprising that Larsson has a specific set of colors, and even cards to have filled by the end of the Fate Reforged pack.

"I want to be in Sultai," he said. "So after the first pack, I want to be solid Black-Green with a splash of Blue started." He said that combination "has it all. Black-Green is a really solid base, and the blue cards just fill in all the gaps." He continued, explaining how the archetype wants thirteen creatures—four of which are two drops—and five pieces of hard removal. The last few cards can shore up places left based on the gaps of the cards themselves, either ways to finish the game, card draw, etc.

Because Larsson believes that archetype has the fewest parts, some of which are quite interchangeable (it's the color combination that can most often get away with playing mediocre creatures), it's the best way to go if you can get it.

Larsson executed his plan well. Though he said, "I'm missing exactly one two-drop." We'll see if that's the difference between success and failure. Or if Larsson can drive his machine even if it's lacking power steering.

So Kibler says one-color with speculations, Zatlkaj wants two, and Larsson's leaning toward three.

Then there's Jelger.

When I asked Pro Tour Hall of Fame member and four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Jelger Wiegersma about drafting the first pack, his first response was to chuckle. "I just take all the rares and lands in all five colors."

Hall of Famer Jelger Wiegersma's draft strategy is to have it all.

Going deeper than Kibler's "One Color + We'll See," Wiegersma's strategy seems to be "Take the Power; Figure it Out Later." That was his strategy the first day and it paid off in spades, going a straight 3-0. Maybe there's something to this idea. Players are bending their pick orders to accommodate many of the powerful cards in Fate Reforged anyway, and Wiegersma just takes that to its logical extreme.

Four different players, four different strategies. In the first weeks of a new draft format, nothing is as settled as it might seem. Pick orders move around; color rankings change; things vary. But as long as these players are confident in whatever plan they've developed plan, even if it's not the optimal plan, they should trust their instincts and testing—I mean, they got here, right? But sometimes that's easier said than done.

When I caught up with Wiegersma after the second draft, I asked how it went. He looked at me and said simply, "Not good." He paused for a moment and concluded, "I should have stuck with the plan."