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Attention to Detail #14
Stick and Move
by Jordan Kronick
March 24, 2006

I'm back after a busy month with a lot of time spent in the hospital. I won't trouble you with a lot of details, but suffice to say that everything is fine here. While I haven't had much time for playing Magic in the last couple weeks, I have had plenty of time to think about Magic. Sometimes that's just as important. One thought that I had was about an important issue in any draft – forcing colors. So that's what I'm here to talk about this week. I think it's an especially important issue in a format like Ravnica-Guildpact drafting, where planning your colors ahead of time can make all the difference.

Let's start right at the bottom of the issue. What does it mean to force colors? Those of you who already know the answer might want to skip this section. Forcing colors quite simply means choosing what colors you're going to play early on in a draft and choosing the best cards of those colors regardless of what other options present themselves. There have been some formats where color forcing is very effective. Invasion Block drafting, with it's myriad multicolor cards, was a fine example. Many people would try to force blue/black/red or black/red/green decks due to the extremely deep picks of those colors in the first and third packs. It wasn't strange to see five out of the eight players at a draft table all playing either G/R/B or B/R/U, with the remaining players trying to make do with the remnants – including the entire color of white. Sometimes color forcing is less effective, though. Odyssey, which had very few multicolor-friendly cards and which seemingly fewer playable cards in each pack than Invasion block before it, was a bad time for color forcing. The format was often thought to be very bomb-oriented. That is to say that many drafts were determined by who got the biggest nastiest rare in their pack. Anyone who ever got hit with a Kokusho during Kamigawa block drafting knows what that's like. There have been other times when color forcing was less popular that didn't have to do with a smaller pool of playable cards. Forcing seemed less necessary during Mirrodin block due to the colorless nature of the block. Although it was very easy to pick a color and play it, picking any color at all was often secondary to making sure you had the right selection of powerful tools to build around.

So that's a bit about the history of color forcing. How does it play out in the current Ravnica-Guildpact draft environment? I'm glad you asked. Multicolor friendly formats have one big problem. With so many colors in each pack, it's sometimes hard to signal correctly. If you open a pack of Ravnica and the only mono-white card is a Faith's Fetters, that can be a very good pick. However, if there is a lot of multicolor white stuff happening in the pack – say Watchwolf or Lightning Helix or Selesnya Evangel – then that can send a strong signal to people down the line to go white in some combination. Color forcing is useful here because passing strong non-white cards can tell the people next to you what you're doing. And with so many directions to go with white in RRG drafting, you're not pigeonholing yourself from the start, quite so much as you would be in a very monochromatic environment.

Of course, color forcing doesn't always work. Sometimes you'll try to force a color and after a few strong picks the color completely dries up. Or maybe you get passed something which is seemingly way too late. It's important to know when it's time to cut your losses. And remember that just because something better comes along, that doesn't mean you're going to abandon the rest of your picks. There are few color combinations which don't work particularly well in Rav-Guildpact drafting. Once Dissension comes out, the presence of all ten guilds will mean that switching colors midstream is often a non-issue. So what kind of things should you be on the lookout for? Well, the first thing to watch for is if mid-range picks from your color seem to be non-existant. If you're trying to force blue and the only things you're seeing after pick 5 are Drake Familiars and Muddle the Mixtures, it's probably not your day. These packs could just be particularly bad for blue cards, but if things recover you can always switch back without losing too many picks. It's important to remember that even when you're forcing, picking something that you will almost certainly not play – like a Quickchange – over something that's playable in another color is just bad Magic. People next to you might notice the lack of blue cards more readily, but by the same token, the presence of a Quickchange isn't going to tell them you're not in blue.

The other side of that coin is the ultimate temptation. Sometimes you're trying to force a color and a very powerful card of a different color comes along at the same time as something positive in your color. Let's go back to that Faith's Fetters situation. Suppose you've made three decent white picks. Now you see something very strong. There's two types of “very strong” cards in this situation of course. For instance, if you see a Moldervine Cloak – clearly a high pick – that's a pretty huge signal. Fortunately for you, green and white are guilded and quite playable. There's lots of wiggle room with a green/white base. So even if there's something decent in white next to that Moldervine Cloak, it's absolutely right to pick the aura. The other situation is when you see something that's not going to fit your colors. Let's say a Followed Footsteps comes around. That can be a very strong card. Multiple copies of any creature are good. And blue has some fantastic options to choose from. Unfortunately, blue and white don't work together very well (until Dissension comes out, anyway). So what do you do? Do you stick to your guns and pick something moderately good from your color? Do you pick the Footsteps and try to turn blue? Or do you write it off as a hate draft? Well, there's lots to consider. First of all, think about a situation where your blue and white cards can play nice. Do you have anything that makes the Footsteps particularly favorable? Did you pick up an Auratouched Mage in your first three picks? Have the black or red cards been decent? That's right. Black and red. The only way you're going to make blue and white play together is if they are joined by red (for the Boros and Izzet respectively) or black (for the Dimir and Orzhov). If the strongest cards have been white and green, then I wouldn't advise pulling the Footsteps. It's unlikely that you're going to be able to make a deck work with those colors. Instead, it's better to stick to the white and try to find an easier road.

If I could only give one piece of advice to a novice Ravnica block drafter, it's that taking chances is a good thing. Like the Mirrodin and Invasion block formats before it, this is a very forgiving pool. Don't be afraid to pick your colors early. I know that it's tempting to pass up strong multicolored cards early in favor of less powerful single-color cards, but I advise taking chances. Think back to all the best draft decks you've ever had. They probably weren't full of mediocre cards. So pick the good stuff, take a stand and force for what you want – but know when to fold.

 

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