When processes changed to digital the natural progression was to still try and get that look we all loved. And digital had a slightly different look that many people didn't like as much. Don't forget a plug in is just essentially a short cut through photoshop to get a look. When I first converted over to digital that first thing I had to learn how to do was to duplicate the look of all the portraits on my wall that I had shot with medium format b&W film. The look I loved.
I think your idea of medium format black and white as a starting point is a great idea, in fact maybe the best idea, of a way to learn and get GREAT black and white pictures. And black and white film will be around for a very long time.