Preparing for any Pro Tour is potentially a mammoth endeavor, with formats that are new, and cards that need to be quickly assimilated into existing archetypes, or even built around. Constructed isn't the only area to consider though. The best in the world also need to have solid strategies in place for the draft part of the Pro Tour if they are to have any chance of holding the trophy.
With Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, we have a new tool in the hands of players. Turnaround times on sets becoming available on Magic Online, which is currently collecting feedback on the beta of its latest client, have improved to the point that now there is a special window in time where players can play with all the cards at the Pro Tour online before the event itself. This last week the online community has been abuzz with events running, especially in the new draft format, which we will be enjoying for the next six rounds.
We will bring you details of some of the top strategies working for the pros in the next few rounds, but before that, I took to the floor to get an idea of how this Magic Online opportunity had shaped the testing routines of various of the game's best players. Ben Stark of team Channel Fireball was one of those who had been grinding out matches online in draft with startling (Starkling?) regularity.
In the last three days, he has been something of a drafting machine, hammering out matches online and getting a feel for the format to pass on to his team mates. While things were a little bit like the wild west during release queues, he rated the 8-4 drafts that have been running recently as competitive and helpful for building his understanding of the format. "I actually have a better win percentage for Pro Tour drafts than I do in 8-4 queues," smiled the Floridian as he explained how he had taken up residence online during his preparation.
Meanwhile, some of the members of the StarCityGames teams had found themselves doing much of their testing in "real life" drafts. Brad Nelson has drafted 50 or so times thus far, along with some online drafts, and feels happy that he is about as prepared as he can be for this draft part of the day. Reid Duke, the reigning Magic Online World Champion, has somewhat bizarrely not done a single online Return to Ravnica draft... yet. With a big live testing team, Reid has been making the most of a whole mess of drafts using actual cards, though he chuckled a little at the idea of his efforts being rewarded in the weeks and months to come when he is playing online.
Surprisingly, Reid Duke has not yet gotten any drafts done with Return to Ravnica on Magic Online yet. But he's done plenty of prep in real time and is looking forward to putting his skills to use both at the Pro Tour and online in the coming weeks.
Gerry Thompson referred to the Magic Online drafts as feeling a little like "stepping back in time" compared to the large amounts of reps he'd put in with paper drafts. While he'd found the online drafting a lot of fun, he'd come at it from a position of having already put in enough hours to feel a little ahead of the curve.
We'll see how people's testing has served them in the next six rounds. If nothing else, it seems likely that with the wealth of information that will be shared about the format this weekend, there will be a lot of clued up drafters online by Sunday night.