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Drafting Control in Fate Reforged

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In a previous article, I talked about how to go about drafting an aggressive deck in Fate Reforged. As I mentioned before, Fate Reforged Draft is a “prince” format, meaning it is often defined by powerful rares and uncommons. One way to adapt to such a format is to play an aggro or tempo deck that doesn’t allow your opponent to effectively use his or her best cards.

The other way to take advantage of a prince format is to maximize your ability to use your own powerful cards to win the game. The way to do this is to build a slower, controlling deck with defensive creatures, removal, card-advantage spells, and bombs.

Now that most people are going for two-colored decks, one way to gain an edge is to take the fixing that is going later than it used to. Five-color control was a powerful strategy in Khans of Tarkir before everyone started drafting it, and it looks to be more open than it used to be. Some of the pro teams, including the Pantheon and TCGplayer, used this strategy well at the Pro Tour. Because the power level of the commons in Fate Reforged is generally lower than those in Khans of Tarkir, taking lands out of those packs comes at a low cost, and it allows you to take the more powerful gold cards in the next two packs.

The Many Colors of Control

Sultai Emissary
One mistake people make when going for this strategy, though, is just playing five colors by taking all the lands and all the good cards and throwing them all together. Most of the time, you’d be better off sticking to a shell of two or three main colors with one or two splashes.

The color pair that works the best as a base for this strategy is B/G. While green typically lends itself to aggressive strategies, in this format, it works better in control. The best 2-drops for these decks are cards like Whisperer of the Wilds and Archers' Parapet because they allow you to cast your more powerful spells and stay relevant in the late game. Black provides good early defensive creatures like Typhoid Rats, Sultai Emissary, and Hooded Assassin. These cards don’t attack particularly well, but they really shine in a control deck. Many people find the Assassin unexciting because it’s “just” a 2/3 for 3, but that’s exactly what you want in this format. I hardly ever cut the card, and it’s almost always right to just play it as a 2/3.

After starting with a B/G base in pack one, I like to move into either Abzan or Sultai in the next pack, maybe splashing white or blue depending on how many lands I pick up. In these control decks, there are very few red cards you really want, so sticking to the other four colors is usually the best approach. Gerard Fabiano used this strategy in both of his day-two Drafts on the way to winning Grand Prix Baltimore, and Reid Duke is a known proponent of the strategy as well.

After stabilizing the ground with your early creatures, you want to use your removal and card-advantage spells to take over the game. Grim Contest is a card that most decks don’t want but is very powerful in a slower deck, and Return to the Earth is also very underrated. I’ve found that white has the best removal in the format, as its common removal spells (Sandblast, Kill Shot, Smite the Monstrous) kill the things they need to at the lowest cost. This means that ideally I try to be Abzan, maybe splashing blue.

Sam Pardee of Team Face to Face Games used this strategy in his first draft at Pro Tour Washington, D.C. Here’s his decklist:

Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Pardee has a strong B/G shell, splashing white for removal and Sorin, Solemn Visitor and blue for Silumgar, the Drifting Death and a morph. There are a few reasons to play blue in a deck like this. The first is that it has some good defensive creatures, such as Dragon's Eye Savants and Monastery Flock, which hold the ground and go well with cards like Grim Contest and Kin-Tree Invocation. It also has good evasive threats like Abomination of Gudul that can close out the game. The flaw with playing blue as a main color in a control deck, though, is that it doesn’t have any hard removal spells.

For this reason, I think blue is better as a splash color for gold cards and card-advantage spells. You have Bitter Revelation in black, but it usually takes your whole turn and makes you lose life in the process, allowing your opponent to pull too far ahead on tempo. Blue gives you better options like Enhanced Awareness and Treasure Cruise. Enhanced Awareness allows you to hold up mana for morphs or removal—and then play it on the opponent’s end step after he or she doesn’t attack. Treasure Cruise is the best option since it often costs only 1 blue mana and draws you more cards. There’s a reason it’s now banned in Modern and Legacy.

Finally, if you go into this deck, it’s important to have a card that is likely to win the game if it goes unchecked. First-picking a Siege is a good reason to go control, but a gold Dragon or another strong rare is another good incentive. If you have a rare enchantment or you’re lucky enough to open Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Sorin, you can probably count on them to win the game. If not, a strong creature or two will have to do. The best way to ensure this strategy works is to play a card like Rakshasa's Secret. It strips the last remaining cards from your opponent’s hand, making sure the coast is clear for your Whisperwood Elemental, Temur War Shaman, or whatever your finisher of choice is.

Pascal Maynard of Canada recently won Grand Prix Mexico City with a four-colored control deck. Here’s his decklist:

Temur Sabertooth
Maynard is a bit light on removal spells, but Duneblast helps make up for that. With bombs like Daghatar the Adamant, Necropolis Fiend, and Temur Sabertooth, it’s easy to see how he took down the Grand Prix.

Here are the takeaways for control decks in this Draft format:

  • Prioritize fixing in pack one to make sure you can play the best cards you are passed.
  • Early defensive creatures are key to making sure you make it to the late game.
  • Make sure you have ways to answer the opponent’s bomb.
  • Play one or two card-draw spells.
  • Have an endgame that’s better than your opponent’s.

A good drafter will adapt to whatever is open, so it’s important to know how to draft many different strategies. I hope this guide will help give you a sense of direction while exploring this new format. Thanks for reading.


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