Innovations – A Grand Prix: Denver Tournament Report

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Monday, August 18th – With Grand Prix: Denver now firmly in the books, and Gerry Thompson’s hands wrapped around the shiny trophy, Patrick Chapin regales us with his own personal Grand Prix story, backed with fresh innovations in his Five-Color Control Block Constructed deck…

GerryT, ladies and gentlemen. That pretty much says it all.

I should take a few steps back. Let’s see, where to begin? Perhaps, I will begin at the beginning, and stop when I come to the end.


U.S. Nationals was the week before Grand Prix: Denver and I had spent far more time testing for Standard than Block for this reason. I also had it on good authority that Block (at least before Eventide) was terra-bad.

For Nationals, I mostly worked with my primary playtest partner, Michael Jacob, as well as with Mark Herberholz and Josh Wludyka. We determined that our two best decks were Five-Color Control with Nucklavee and Demigod Red with Skred. In the end, MJ and Josh went with Red, where as Mark and I opted for Five-Color Control.

As Herberholz won the Standard portion with a flawless 7-0 record and Michael Jacob won the title, I am very satisfied with our results from a deckbuilding standpoint. This brings us to Denver, with less than a week to test.

When I last worked on Block, I built a Solar Flare deck that was excellent for a split second in the metagame, as it crushed everything but the Fae. However, going into Eventide, the Fae were winning more than 50% of the PTQs.

I took a good hard look at Eventide, as well as the recent Grand Prix tournaments overseas, to assess what I saw to be the metagame. My conclusion was the most popular strategy would be Faeries, though not by nearly the same margin, followed by Kithkin (on the strength of Figure and Unmake). Doran, Demigod, and Five-Color Control all seemed like moderate players in the metagame too.

Let’s run down those strategies, real quick. Faeries? I hate the idea of playing Faeries in this format. It is not that it isn’t fun, because every time it is my turn to play the Fae in testing, I make no secret about my love for the turn 2 Bitterblossom or a well placed Mistbind Clique. It is just that the entire format is based on beating Faeries. It is not my idea of an approach to play a deck that 100% of the field is dedicated to hating out.

The other problem with Faeries is that the mirror is very obnoxious, as you can read about in just about any article on Faeries in the past 6 months. Paulo’s biggest secret to the Fae mirror? Mulligan most hands without Bitterblossom or Thoughtseize. Think about it…

Kithkin? Don’t get me wrong, I love me a Figure of Destiny, but the Demigod Red deck that MJ and Josh had brewed up is much more appealing. What advantage are you trying to gain by playing Kithkin? Are you hoping that your opponent’s strategy won’t work out?

Sure, it is a way to guarantee yourself a respectable plan of attack, presenting lots of difficult threats for your opponent, but it is so obvious, and so boring. Also Firespout is one of the absolute defining cards of the format, regardless of what anyone is trying to tell you.

Doran was never a serious consideration for me, as I grew bored of random Profane Command decks long ago and don’t just want to attack with Green men, though I respect the gangsta. I might have considered this strategy more seriously, had it not done so well on the GP stage. Since it had, I thought it would be too popular to play and to hate for my taste, so I looked elsewhere.

Demigod seemed pretty sick, and I thought that I might play it once I saw it punishing my latest build of Five-Color Control. It was at that point I went deep into the tank. Before I give up on a control deck and sell out to play agro, I have to be totally convinced there is no other way.

I was desperate. I could never beat a Demigod, obviously, and I was having trouble with all of the creatures, ranging from Gouger to Figure to Ram-Gang, etc. What to do? I walked up to the rare care in RIW and searched desperately for some new piece of technology.

Two weeks ago, would you have guessed that I would try Inquisitor’s Snare?

Well, I didn’t, so if you would have, you would have been wrong.

I did try Runed Halo. I remembered some R&D members telling me in Hollywood that they were surprised Runed Halo never took off, as it was always heavily played in FFL. I always store away conversations like this, as in my experience R&D often comes up with certain pieces of technology much quicker than real life (they miss a lot to, sure, but there are some technological advancements built straight into sets, which they are on to from the jump).

So I imagined what it would be like to cast Runed Halo, and it seemed incredible against Red. Then I started discussing the idea with MJ and Josh, who made fun of me but humored me, the good testers they are. Once we realized how solid it was to name Mistbind Clique, Mutavault, Chameleon Colossus, or Doran, I decided the idea was worth trying.

By the way, contrary to popular belief, Runed Halo is not from Eventide. It is actually a Shadowmoor Rare. You probably already own a few.

Before returning to the table for another round, I also added an Archon of Justice to give me a little more edge versus Red, a less flashy upgrade, but an important one just the same. Also, let’s be honest, “Justice” is probably the second hottest slang word in Magic (second only to “Variance”). How much fun would it be to use the word over and over all weekend?

I started battling against our National Champion to be, and five games in he quit and vowed to never test the match-up again. It was unreal how much a few unassuming White cards had changed things.

Confident that the Red match-up had been turned around, I began testing other match-ups and was very pleasantly surprised to find that it was all coming together. Nucklavee was sick at Nationals, but the Block format was different, and different things were needed this time around.

In the end, I was pretty confident that the Five-Color Control deck had edge over every Block Constructed deck I could think of, except Elementals (or any other deck with Reveillark and Fulminator Mage). Fortunately, I was assured that no one would be playing that.

Fast forward to Denver itself. I show up the day before and meet up with Paul Cheon and Luis Scott-Vargas. After chatting it up, we decide to game a little. For the story on how Cheon, LSV, GerryT, Steve Sadin, Sam Black, Sheil, and more all audibled to (or modified there list to match) my deck, look here.

Man, it was wild to see the prices of Runed Halo and Archon of Justice climb as the weekend progressed.

Tournament Section

I had three byes. A strong start, no doubt.

Round 4, I have a feature match against Adam Yurchick playing Elementals with Reveillark and Fulminator Mage. Awkward. I took him to three, but couldn’t quite get there. I was chastised for not “arranging for the game to end in a draw” when we were running short on time, but I don’t know, maybe I don’t have what it takes since I didn’t stall him out.

Round 5, I play against Elves. Let’s just say that Heritage Druid plus two Nettle Sentinels and a Talara’s Battalion is amazing, though Firespout is more amazinger. [Hmmm… – Craig, amused.]

After this, he played a Snow-covered Forest, which I don’t call him on, though perhaps I should have. I just point out to him that after this match he should change them all to be the correct type.

In the end, the match-up seemed to greatly favor me, as eight sweepers plus lots of removal and card drawing was just too much.

Round 6, another Five-Color Control deck. I keep the all Filter Land draw and never get there for one game. Finally, I lose when I keep a loose draw.

Round 7, I play against a strange Kithkin variant with tons of Unmakes and Crib Swaps. I keep exceptionally poor hands due to some sort of medium life tilt. I am kolder than kolderson on Christmas Eve. It was here that I realized that the deck really needed a 27th land and a second Oona’s Grace.

Round 8, my opponent is on Demigod Red. Game 1 I Runed Halo a Demigod in play while I know one is on top of my opponent’s library. It turns out he has another in hand and draws the fourth by the time I finish him off. Game 2 is not so interesting, as he doesn’t draw enough land.

Round 9, I end the day against another Kithkin deck… this time, I am victorious. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Still, it is too late. I am just a Feral Thallid living in a Thunderblust’s world.

End Tournament Section

I was out of the tournament and out of my mind, but not out of opportunities to have a blast with awesome people. After eating my daily dose of cheeseburgers, I go to “dinner” with Team Deckbuilders, including the unforgettable Kasandra and Shannon who ensured that the evening was far too entertaining to trade in for sleep.

After drinking a little dinner and playing a little patty-cake, I end up in the Deckbuilder’s hotel room till the wee hours of the morning.


1. Getting a neck injury from a very large man attempting to leap frog over me while I was tying my shoes. Turns out I am tall, and his vertical is not what he thought it was. Let’s just say the part of his body that crashed into my head with several hundred pounds of force was never meant to touch me at all, let alone with that kind of momentum.
2. Gindy is awesome. Seriously, this guy cracks me up.
3. A back massage from expert hands.
4. An interview with Brian, their team captain for the Deckbuilder webcast.
5. Some late night games of 20 questions.
6. The waitress and I get in a dance battle. Let’s just say, after she “got served,” she served me a Strawberry Daiquiri.
7. Many very cool new friendships were formed, and for real for real; that is one of the perks about this line of work that I absolutely love.

We also played a lot of 20 Questions. The way 20 Questions works is that you get 20 yes or no questions to try to come up with the Magic card that someone is thinking of. Some people also play that you get 12-15 questions and the set is provided for you, seeing as the same questions to determine the set are typically the beginning of every game.

If you ever find yourself playing this game, remember, the basic strategy is to continually cut the possible cards in half as best you can.

The basic strategy for coming up with a difficult-to-guess card is either to pick an obscure card that they have probably never heard of (or at least are not familiar with, such as Adon Oakenshield), or pick pretty much anything from Portal Three Kingdoms. Outside of Legends and P3K, the best plan is to pick a card that has several other cards in the same set that share characteristics with it, but are higher profile.

Eventually I wander off to bed, only to awaken a few short hours later to check out. I wander back over to the site and root my friends on. I ended up spending the better part of the day hanging out with the Magic School Bus crew and various guests ranging from Brian Kibler to Sam Black, GerryT to Paul Cheon. Podcasting with those guys was a blast.

In the end, it was GerryT’s day, as he rose to challenge after challenge, finally besting the dreaded Fae in the finals. Gerry, you were always my favorite of all my children. I think that Gerry may have finally moved past the in-real-life jitters that have held him back thus far. At this point, Gerry is one of the absolute strongest forces in American Magic. His combination of technical play, work ethic, networking, and deckbuilding prowess make him a player to watch seriously in Berlin.

Unfortunately for Gerry, life is never so easy. While getting his photo taken with the trophy, someone walked off with his bag containing two decks and an iPod. Stealing is pretty bad, and I know that if I ever found out that someone I was hanging out with stole another gamer’s backpack, I would not hang out with them anymore. That is the sort of stuff that we need to not tolerate at all. Seriously.

After talking it over with Gerry and LSV, we came to a few conclusions as to how to improve the deck. Here is our list as of this past weekend.

The 27th land and the second Oona’s Grace were added to increase consistency. The Hallowed Burials replaced the White Commands as a small upgrade in efficiency. The Oona herself replaced an Archon, to help with the mirror (which is all about decking).

Speaking of the mirror, remember that many of the games will come down to decking, particularly at the hands of Oona’s Grace (which can actually target the opponent). Be mindful of this throughout the marathon that is sure to be game 1. Sideboarding Chameleon Colossus is a strong strategic weapon, and a couple Wispmares for the other guy’s Halos can be a nice surprise.

As the season winds down, I still think that Five-Color Control is a strong strategy, but now that it is the top dog in town, it is being far more heavily targeted. This makes me cautious of recommending it, especially considering the difficulty that entails piloting it. I predict an increase in Reveillarks as a result of the Grand Prix, which is very bad news for Five-Color Control.

Maybe Faerie Macabre is the solution. Maybe Counterbore. Both are interesting. If Reveillark does experience a resurgence, you will need something.

If you are trying to beat 5cControl, I have a few suggestions.

If you are playing Demigod Red, Runed Halo basically makes your deck obsolete, though Michael Jacob came up with a beautiful and elegant solution: Everlasting Torment. Just as one Runed Halo shuts down all the Demigods or all the Figures in your deck, one Everlasting Torment shuts down all the Runed Halos in their deck.

Everlasting Torment’s ability to shut down damage prevention negates Runed Halo’s protection, at least from creatures. Flame Javelin can still be stopped, as Halo also makes you untargetable by the card.

Everlasting Torment’s other abilities are also relevant, such as Wither against Finks or Thresher, and the ability to deny life gain, again, against the Finks.

Most are aware of the Torment as a Red sideboard option, but some forget that it is just as much a Black card, making it a fine option for Doran/Colossus decks that are also severely hurt by Runed Halo.

Faeries doesn’t have to really worry about Runed Halo as much, though you must be aware that Mistbind Clique is not as strong a card in your opener as it used to be. If a Faeries player wants to gain some percentage against a Five-Color Control field, I suggest a combination of Puppeteer Cliques and Mind Shatters.

Kithkin can actually get their best game by including Unmake, but not worrying about enchantment removal for the Runed Halos. The Halo is not going to make or break this match-up. Instead, focus on things like maindeck Forge-Tenders to fight Firespout (plus to combat Mono-Red) and answers monsters like Oona and the Finks, which Unmake is tailor-made to do.

The Elementals have an inherent advantage as the Fulminator into Reveillark plan is very effective, and you must be aware of whether or not you can play around Faerie Macabre. The whole game is sticking a Reveillark and it is worth losing many fights if that is the one you win.

Sunday night rolled around, and the teams I was on were undefeated on the weekend in drafts, so Kyle Goodman, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, and I challenged Saito, Wludyka, and Owen Turtenwald to a draft, which came down to drunken master Kyle Goodman pulling out a clutch battle in the final game.

It is not so much the game or the draft that is the interesting part, but rather what became of it. See, a number of players from this draft and others all decided to go to a strip club. They asked me if I wanted to come. I said I did not. They begged me to come. I said, “no, thank you.”

Finally, I was bribed with several lap dances, and off to the strip club we went (almost twelve of us). As it turns out, we knew some of the people there, and it turned into a party.

My first dance was with a cute Korean girl, who was beautiful no doubt, but there was no connection between us, so I asked Paul Cheon to keep her company while I moved on.

The guys wanted to get me another dance and asked me to pick a girl, so naturally I asked a girl that was at least 6’1 without heels. We went back into the VIP lounge and chatted a bit. She gave me the dances that were paid for by the gamers. I told her I wasn’t really trying to buy dances, so she gave me another one on her.

Things had gotten kind of intense, so we chilled out a bit and just talked (and talked!). An hour and a half later I came out of the VIP lounge, much to the amazement of the gamers that could not figure out what I had been doing for 90 minutes. She was really cool, though lonely in Denver.

Sorry, but this is the PG version. Who do you think I am? Kyle Sanchez? Seriously though, sometimes you can meet friends in the strangest of places.

As a side note to any 18 year old kid that goes to a strip club with a fistful of cash and a debit card he is prepared to max, you need to make sure that you have an exit strategy. I left far before most of the crowd, as I was just not into the infinite lapdance plan and felt like a change of scenery.

Later, I found out that one kid spent every last dollar in his wallet and completely emptied his bank account. By the time he got out of the back, everyone else had left, not realizing that he was still there. Everyone just assumed he was with someone else, since no one had seen him in so long.

He was more than a little stuck and ended up getting kicked off the property. Apparently, bouncers don’t take kindly to 18 year old kids hanging outside the club at 4am…

While I wish I was able to go to Copenhagen, I am getting another passport soon and should be able to attend GP: Rimini, which I am looking forward to. I haven’t been able to travel internationally in almost seven years, so I am very much looking forward to another opportunity.

See you guys next week, when I go straight off the deep-end and any semblance of sanity is set on the shelf for a week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”