Traditionally, my Wildcards rarely made it past Gameweek 3 but in the past couple of seasons, I’ve been experimenting with holding on to it for as long as I can.
Since that’s also my current position and, I imagine, a few other Fantasy managers too, I thought I’d share what I see as the pros and cons of this strategy.
Probably the most obvious benefit of holding onto your Wildcard is the greater opportunity it offers you to interpret the nature of the season and its protagonists.
For example, I managed to swerve some early season (and quickly-derailed) bandwagons such as Burnley’s Ashley Barnes (£6.3m) or West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko (£5.6m) and largely avoided the brief hysteria around Norwich’s free-scoring Brazil-82’-esque attacking form. In general, I feel like I’ve now got a more well-rounded view of how this season might go.
I’ve also now got the freedom to take advantage of the significant shifts that have occurred as a result of managerial changes, the most notable so far being the apparent resurgence of Dele Alli (£8.7m) as a Fantasy option under Jose Mourinho. I can also see how Arsenal and Everton assets evolve under new management.
Less Time Between Wildcards
Holding your Wildcard until later will also mean that you have a smaller window between your first and second Wildcard, something which is perhaps all the more significant since the winter Wildcard was abolished.
Given that many of us will now hold our second Wildcard in anticipation of some double Gameweeks occurring towards the end of the season, for many that could mean 30-odd Gameweeks between Wildcards, which is a pretty long time to rely on just free transfers. This gap may well translate into missed opportunities or hits for all but the most fortunate.
Freedom to be a Maverick
A key but not often talked about benefit of holding onto your Wildcard is the extra freedom it affords you when it comes to your transfers, both it terms of when you make them and who you transfer in.
My normal strategy is to try and ignore price change and leave my transfers decisions until as late as possible to avoid the risk of injuries etc… However, having a Wildcard means you can take those risks and capture the price changes with early moves, affording you a bigger budget for when you do eventually Wildcard.
It also means you can be a lot more aggressive with who you transfer in and play to shorter Gameweek horizons. I generally tend to look about four-to-six Gameweeks ahead when assessing a player but, when I’m getting closer to when I Wildcard, I allow myself to be much more short term and much riskier in my thinking. I’ll get in players who I would probably not want long-term but look great for the next few fixtures. If it pays off, those players, and the speed at which a manager can move on them versus their opponents, can translate into real differential benefits.
Generally I think patience is a virtue for Fantasy managers and holding onto your Wildcard really encourages that discipline, however, it can also lead to missed opportunities.
For example, I only caught the tail-end of Norwich’s Teemu Pukki’s (£6.6m) early-season run of scoring form and, likewise, missed out on Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne’s (£10.2m) early season double-figure-fest almost entirely.
Had I played an early Wildcard, there’s a really good chance both of those players would have been in it and I would have benefited from that.
Following on from that, because I missed a lot of the early-season bandwagons (good and bad) I also missed out on price-rises at a point when they were most volatile due to more Fantasy managers being active.
As mentioned, this can be off-set by making earlier transfers, something I believe a later Wildcard better affords, but this method does require a fair amount of luck to truly pay off.
More significantly, perhaps, is that, when I Wildcard, my team valuation will take a hit and I’ll have less time than earlier Wildcarders to build it up ahead of the second one.
Pressure to Make it Count
My final negative for playing a later Wildcard is the added pressure that it puts on you mentally to do something really special with it.
At that stage of the season, it’s possible that you may have built a squad that you’re actually pretty happy with, but the presence of a Wildcard can convince you that you need to make maverick or wholesale change regardless.
For example, last season, I held my Wildcard until Gameweek 17 and, feeling I needed to maximise any advantage I had from leaving it so late, I ended up ditching all my Liverpool assets ahead of what was, admittedly, a pretty difficult run of fixtures.
Of course, Liverpool ended up performing really well in those difficult fixtures and I ended up not only missing out on huge scores from the likes of Mohamed Salah (£12.2m) but, also, I had to use my free transfers to undo my Wildcard. Something nobody ever really wants to do.
In conclusion, I think there are some unique advantages to holding onto your Wildcard, not least the greater perspective and flexibility it affords you. The opportunity to be more aggressive and experimental with your transfers can also have real benefit, though it requires a bit of luck to pay off.
However, much as I’m sure everyone would love to have a Wildcard right now, I also think it has the potential to be a poisoned chalice, particularly if holding onto it has forced you to miss out on earlier opportunities or if its presence causes you to make changes that are actually detrimental to your team.
There’s an axiom in game theory which states; ‘if you’re going to make mistakes, make them early on’ (or ‘fail fast’ in Silicon Valley parlance) and this may well apply to Wildcards.
I think/hope that there are real benefits to sitting on a Wildcard, however, I must admit that a failed Wildcard is far more preferable early on in the season than halfway through it as you have longer to correct it.
Being reasonably happy with my squad for this week, I’m currently looking at a Gameweek 18 or 19 Wildcard with one or two punts between now and then.
The positive fixture-swing for the likes of Spurs, City and Leicester which occurs around Gameweek 19 looks a particularly ideal time to finally push the button.
But, having said all of that, 2016 FPL overall winner Dimitri Nicolaou didn’t use his first Wildcard at all. So, maybe, that’s the secret…
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