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Forcing Colors

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There’s more than one way to successfully approach Draft. I occasionally choose to force colors in Draft. When I mention that fact in an article or on Facebook, I typically receive several comments indicating that I’m making a big mistake by forcing a color or colors. My girlfriend Rada and my best guy friend and fellow Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty always read Drafts in order to choose their colors, but by now, they rarely criticize my methods because they’ve seen them work so many times for me.

I suspect that the people who usually criticize my approach either haven’t tried it or aren’t good at it. I’m definitely not saying that it’s bad to read the Draft; I’m just saying that there is more than one approach to a successful Draft. I’m asking people to keep an open mind. If you’re winning every Draft that you participate in, you should keep doing what you’re doing. If you feel that there’s room for improvement in your results (which should be true for most people), perhaps you should consider giving a new approach a try. While I’ve discussed some of the advantages and rationale for forcing colors in past articles, Rada suggested that I should devote an entire article to it so that people could have the best opportunity to consider the pros and cons rationally . . . rather than just reacting based on assumptions. I suspect that Rada suggested the idea also so that she could understand my viewpoint better, but I decided it would be a good idea either way.

When I was at Worlds this year, I saw so many good players with awkward three-color decks and complaining about their troubles finding enough playables. I chose to force W/U at Worlds, and I was happy with both of my decks. I went 2–1 in my first pod and 1–1–1 in my second pod, missing another 2–1 finish by just a single turn. This wasn’t the first time I’ve forced a color or colors in a Draft at a Pro Tour either. At Pro Tour: Los Angeles in 2000, I forced W/U in every pod on my way to a tenth-place finish. White featured Rebels, and Blue featured commons like Waterfront Bouncer and Stinging Barrier. Even sitting behind Terry Tsang, who drafted W/U in front of me, I still had a good enough deck to go 2–1.

There are four main reasons to force colors:

  • To avoid wasting picks – It may vary from set to set, but in most sets, if you never waste any picks while trying to decide your colors, you will always have enough playable cards, and you’ll usually have some good sideboard options, too.
  • To always be able to play the best archetype . . . or at least the best archetype for you – In almost every Draft format, there are one or two archetypes that are just better than others, with all things being equal. Usually, the leveling factor is popularity. The under-drafted archetypes gain power through availability. Unfortunately, this isn’t reliable—what if some rares end up pushing more people into the weaker archetypes and fewer people into the powerful ones? Don’t you want to be among the lucky people drafting a top archetype in that situation? Cutting off an archetype immediately can help make this a powerful reality. Even if you’re not sure what the best archetype is, you can still pick the one best suited to your skillset and play style.
  • To be able to become an expert with a single archetype – Even if you believe in your ability to become an expert at every archetype, imagine how good you’ll become if you narrow your focus.
  • To be able to send very clear signals – Given how popular it is to read a Draft, this can pay big dividends in Pack 2. The fact that your plan might seem to be going poorly in Pack 1 doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon ship.

In order to illustrate how one can successfully force colors in a Draft, I entered an 8–4 Innistrad Draft on Magic Online to force W/U:

Pack 1, Pick 1:

While I’m a big fan of Silent Departure in W/U, I don’t want to nudge someone else into both White and Blue by passing the Haunt. This is in part because Feeling of Dread is among the main reasons I love W/U so much. I’m fine with people drafting just White or just Blue near me; I’m just hoping that a Feeling of Dread or two will slip through to me. Besides, the Haunt is a strong card, and it will allow me to main-deck more playables than if I play all basic lands.

Pack 1, Pick 2:

I have mixed feelings about this pack. In having so many good White and Blue cards, it might push more players into those colors, but it might also provide me with another playable when this pack circles back to me. The Claustrophobia is usually just hard removal—something in scarce supply in W/U, so it’s the pick here. My only reservation is that I usually like my W/U decks to be base-White, which means that I usually try to avoid too many uu cards.

Pack 1, Pick 3:

This is a much weaker W/U pack, but at least I pick up a decent 2-drop, something it’s hard to have too many of. In some decks, I might prefer the Mob, but it’s too soon to know if this will be among those decks.

Pack 1, Pick 4:

A fourth pick I’m very happy with. It flies, beats most 2-drops, and only costs a single colored mana.

Pack 1, Pick 5:

This is a weak pack for me. I have played Curiosity in other formats, but rarely in Innistrad. I’ve seen it be effective, though, and it seems that it should be a good fit in my strategy, so I take it. There’s a pretty good chance I’d be U/R at this point if I was just reading the Draft.

Pack 1, Pick 6:

Clearly it’s not the best card in the pack, but I want to encourage the players to my left to draft anything but White or Blue. The Exorcism might also make a good sideboard card.

Pack 1, Pick 7:

It’s a tough pick between Cathar and Apprentice, but 1-drops are scarcer than 2-drops, and I like to go base-White.

Pack 1, Pick 8:

While I’m sad to be whiffing with my eighth pick, at least I’ll be sending the right signals.

Pack 1, Pick 9:

While not a game changer, I’m happy to run the Traveler in the types of up-tempo, racing W/U decks I prefer.

Pack 1, Pick 10:

While I respect the power of the Delver, he rarely makes the cut in the more creature-based decks I draft. At least I avoid sending a Blue signal.

Pack 1, Pick 11:

Lumberknot is the best card here, but the Purebloods might end up being sideboarded in once in a while, and if the Draft goes poorly, maybe even main-decked. It was the last playable I saw in Pack 1.

Pack 2, Pick 1:

A tough pick between Spirit and Priest, but good cheap flyers are a more critical part of my strategy.

Pack 2, Pick 2:

Speaking of cheap flyers . . . I haven’t played with the Mindshrieker much, but I’ve seen it be amazing.

Pack 2, Pick 3:

A weak third pick, but a fine card for my aggressive archetype.

Pack 2, Pick 4:

A perfect fit for my deck. It’s almost as important to my strategy as Feeling of Dread.

Pack 2, Pick 5:

See above!

Pack 2, Pick 6:

Things are starting to coalesce at this point. As long as I find a Feeling of Dread, I’m pretty sure I will be able to at least 2–1 with this deck. I don’t have to have one to be successful, but it sure helps, and I’ll need some more good picks to improve this deck otherwise.

Pack 2, Pick 7:

I don’t need many (if any) 5-drops for a good W/U deck, but the Warden will definitely make the cut in this deck.

Pack 2, Pick 8:

Yay! The Draft is only half over, I don’t have any gross rares, and yet I’m already sure my deck is going to be quite good. Finding this card as my eighth pick is probably due to a combination of it being underrated, W/U being underrated, and my early cutting of White and Blue.

Pack 2, Pick 9:

I have enough cheap flyers that I may actually be happy to play with two copies of Curiosity.

Pack 2, Pick 10:

I’m happy to find another 2-drop.

Pack 2, Pick 11:

It doesn’t really fit my style, but I have been wrecked by it.

Pack 2, Pick 12:

Given my other more versatile options to blow up enchantments, I’m unlikely to ever bring it in.

Pack 2, Pick 13:

Pretty awesome for a thirteenth pick; looks like my color-cutting in Pack 1 might have helped.

Pack 3, Pick 1:

Sending signals doesn’t matter in Pack 3, and I don’t really see myself running two Haunts. I’d also rather have a first Departure than a third Heroism.

Pack 3, Pick 2:

In Pack 3, I’ll take a second Feeling of Dread over just about anything.

Pack 3, Pick 3:

The Spirit is another solid flyer and another good target for Curiosity.

Pack 3, Pick 4:

In order to maximize the power of my spells—Feeling of Dread, Moment of Heroism, and Silent Departure—I need a lot of pressure. Spectral Rider is a great fit for this and among the reasons I like to play base-White. It can also be another good target for Curiosity.

Pack 3, Pick 5:

This is a tough pick. Cathar would be better for my Unruly Mob, but Assistant can be good with my Flashback, good with the Haunt, and good for progressing my mana.

Pack 3, Pick 6:

I have enough Humans, and my deck is aggressive enough that I’m fine with a second Elder.

Pack 3, Pick 7:

It could be just the card I needed to finish my deck. It has good synergy with Unruly Mob, Elder Cathar, and Doomed Traveler.

Pack 3, Pick 8:

While I’m sad to give someone an eighth-pick Boar, the Stalker will be awesome with my two copies of Curiosity.

Pack 3, Pick 9:

I don’t expect to use any of these cards, but the Blade has the best chance.

Pack 3, Pick 10:

The Crab will go well with my flyers in some matchups, but it doesn’t go well with my main deck’s strategy of aggressive creatures that go well with Curiosity and Feeling of Dread.

Pack 3, Pick 11:

It’s hard to have too many flyers.

Pack 3, Pick 12:

If I didn’t have so many better, less situational spells, I could main-deck it, and it will still make a good sideboard card. I consider it a sign of how well my color-forcing strategy has gone that I’m getting the Smite so late and that I won’t need to main-deck it.

The Deck

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

1 Deranged Assistant

1 Doomed Traveler

1 Gallows Warden

1 Invisible Stalker

1 Lantern Spirit

1 Mindshrieker

1 Moon Heron

1 Selfless Cathar

1 Silverchase Fox

1 Spectral Rider

1 Stitcher's Apprentice

1 Unruly Mob

2 Elder Cathar

2 Voiceless Spirit

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

2 Feeling of Dread

2 Moment of Heroism

1 Silent Departure

1 Claustrophobia

2 Curiosity

[/Spells]

[Lands]

7 Island

8 Plains

1 Moorland Haunt

[/Lands]

[/cardlist]

One of the reasons I like forcing W/U in this format is that it doesn’t need uncommons or rares to be good. Also, some of the cards I like for my deck I can find pretty late. I’m quite happy with how this deck turned out and even happier with my results. I won all three of my matches 2–0. Curiosity was excellent, especially on the Stalker. Feeling of Dread was my MVP as usual, and Moment of Heroism filled in nicely in games in which I didn’t draw my Dreads.

 


You don’t need to force more than one color for it to be useful, but in this case, I’m forcing both colors because of my love of Feeling of Dread and because of my strong preference for this specific archetype. If W/U isn’t the right archetype for you, that’s fine. Find the one that is, and see if you can get better results by knowing you’re going to draft it before you’ve even opened a pack. If you can’t stomach that much inflexibility, try just forcing one color. There are those people (like Rada) who find much of their enjoyment of Draft from seeing what deck will come on any given occasion. If that’s the case, you just need to ask if you might have even more fun if you were winning more Drafts. At the very least, try to be open-minded. I’m open to the fact that my strategy isn’t the best for everyone; now you should be open to the possibility that my strategy might be awesome, too.

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