Innovations – Fast Times in Daytona Beach

Read Patrick Chapin every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!
Today’s Innovations comes fresh from the trenches of Grand Prix: Daytona Beach. Patrick shares his Sealed pool, and hands out a few tips on how to make the best use out of a substandard cardpool. He also regales us with tales of his spectacular week, and teaches us that valuable lessons for both Magic and life can spring from the most surprising of places…

Recently, I found myself in a Kentucky Fried Chicken. This is not an altogether unusual predicament for me, as I try to eat at KFC most days that I actually eat. Don’t worry, I’ll get to Grand Prix: Daytona in a minute. Like Steve’s article today, I only have half an article because the tournament is only half over. As such, I ask that you humor me. I am going to tell a convoluted story about women and friend chicken, then bend over backwards trying to find a way to tie it in to the Magic. Then, I will finish up strong with a Day 1 Report from the Grand Prix (A subject that makes a good 1000 words, but not quite 2000).

My cousin Matt and I were on our way out to the club and thought we would stop in and pay tribute to the Colonel. You may remember this cousin of mine from such adventures as Ten Games of Magic I’ve Lost. Our destination may have been an Industrial/Drum and Bass Club, but the current matter at hand was definitely fried chicken (Original Recipe for life!).

While trying to complete our transaction, it quickly became apparent that the young lady behind the register did not, in fact, actually know how to operate said register. Eventually, she was willing to concede that she needed the assistance of her manager. I can empathize, as she was probably new and I found the registers tricky when I first worked at KFC back in the fall of ’97. (Ah, the fall of ’97… I there a better way to give back to the Colonel then to put in a few hours wearing a KFC uniform?)

Now that there was a team of professionals at work exchanging my $6 dollars for chicken, I was free to attend to other matters. For instance, the attractive woman in line behind me.

LaToya struck up the conversation with me, so I can hardly be blamed (at least entirely). We discussed no end of important matters, ranging from whether or not I am from around here (I am) to whether or not I am Mormon (I am not). Sensing that she really wanted something to talk with me about, I mentioned that I have only recently moved Detroit and was interested in the nightlife the town has to offer.

Now, keep in mind, this is actually factually correct.

1. I did just move to Detroit this Spring.
2. While I may be fairly well-versed in what Detroit has to offer, it is certainly safe to say that “I am interested in the nightlife the town has to offer.”

She tells me a little about the local clubs and bars. I mention that she should escort me, ensuring that I get the best Detroit has to offer. She is flattered, but tells me that she can’t actually get in, as she is only 20.

I may be a fool, but I am not so foolish as to question a woman about her true age, especially when the particular brand of 30 she looked was an attractive one.

I asked her if there wasn’t an 18 and up club in the area, a response that seemed to please her. It turns out she is actually 36 and it is her daughter that is 20. No matter, she has spunk and a warm smile, as well as a positive energy that is simply contagious.

We discuss her daughter, and it turns out the young one is a professional dancer. This rings very close to home, as I am a bit of a dancer myself. It turns out her daughter will be performing at a local venue later in the week. I am given a couple of passes and a flier. LaToya lets me know that she will be there and that if I show up, she’ll buy me a drink. Just to make sure I knew how to get to the venue, she wrote her phone number down on the flier and instructed me to give her a call.

Some people would never have followed through with things. I, on the other hand, was inspired as I often am by seemingly chance encounters. Did I go to KFC expecting to make arrangements to go out with some woman and watch her daughter’s dance troupe? I did not, but if life is going to go to all the trouble of setting this whole affair up, the least I could do is go along for the ride.

Sometimes, it feels like Magic networking and teaming is like that. The people you work with can vary from tournament to tournament and I think they should. It can be tempting to fall into a trap of just working with the same group of players every time, but this leads to situations where your testing becomes inbred.

You learn the basic approaches that the people you work with use and subconsciously build decks that reflect these biases. Also, you learn from each other but if you have already worked with the same group many times, you probably won’t learn as much about how you each approach the game.

Working with a new group, or semi-new group, brings special advantages because it is so much more likely that your ideas and their ideas will come from different fresher places. Even if you work with many of the same people, talking things over with people you don’t normally work with can bring a perspective that may provide insight you would have totally overlooked.

In fact, I go so far as to work with an extensive network of people from many circles that are all separate from each other. It is amazing to see the varying points of view, that’s for sure. I work with people from all over until crunch time comes, and I actually make some sort of formal arrangement and then place that relationship on a priority above all the others. Some events, I never end up in such an exclusive deal, but other times for whatever reason it offers the highest EV.

For instance, I regularly consult with Michael Flores, Luis-Scott Vargas, and Adrian Sullivan, which provides a fantastic array of viewpoints, as none of them regularly work with each other. As such, I am able to get each of their viewpoints without the bias that would be caused the others.

In addition, I work with the local RIW guys, the dominate force of Magic in our area. Phil Cape, Eric Taylor, Paul Nicolo, Josh Wludyka, Mike Jacob, Kyle Boggemes, DJ Kastner, and Brian DeMars are just some of the players that play here besides Heezy and myself. Those guys are a great resource, both in terms of quality playtest opponents and in terms of different viewpoints from which I can learn.

Of course, there are always going to be your primary test partners. This time it is Mark Herberholz, Gabriel Nassif, and I versus the world. Still, the random encounters can add much to your life if you follow up on them.

Like LaToya at KFC, I am constantly randomly meeting Magic players from all over, often in places where you would least expect. While I am a very busy guy, I love being able to talk to new people. There is always something you can learn from everyone. Everyone.

Kyle Sanchez was a recent LaToya, to me. We played at Nationals this year in an extraordinarily entertaining feature match. After I crushed him like the small child he is, he tried to make something of an enemy of me in print (or at least his character tried to make an enemy of mine…). This so-called rivalry was short-lived, as I love his writing, plus we really appreciate the way each other thinks. On top of this, he is a gangsta and I have mad street cred, yo. (Recognize.)

The point of this is that rather than get into some war of words or just blow him off, I looked to see what I could learn. I came to discover that not only was he source of innovative technology, he was a cool guy that added to my enjoyment of this game. We worked together on Grim Teachings and I will continue to consult him in the future. The greater gain, though, was having a context by which to get to interact with Kyle more. Now I am proud to call him my friend.

I was contemplating setting the world record for name drops when I start listing players that I am now blessed to have as friends, ranging from Finkel and Kai, to Kenji and Erwin (how is that for a foursome?!), but I think that the point is clear. If you are constantly on the lookout for what you can learn from each person that comes into your life, you will go so much further, in duels, and in friendships. Everyone and everything happens for a reason.

The best players in the world are not isolationists, refusing to talk real tech with anyone outside their circle. Basically, long story short, if you want to move up through the ranks and on the Pro Tour, then to continue to improve and start making Top 8, MAKE CONNECTIONS! Do NOT stop networking.

I flew down to Florida Monday night, of last week. My plan was to stay with a long time non-mage friend of mine for a few days, then get a ride with him to Daytona. As he lives in Orlando, I do not get to see him often and was obviously excited. We had been planning this trip for months. The whole point of my coming to Florida four days early was to kick it with him. He had said he could take off some work. He knows the town. It looked to be a good time.

We made tentative plans two months ago. We made final plans when I bought my ticket a month ago. I confirmed everything with him one month ago. I talked to him about what we’d be doing one week before. I reconfirmed everything a couple days before the flight. I called him the night before. I talked to him the day of. He is who I was on the phone with five minutes before boarding the plane.

He said everything was fine, he would pick me at the airport. He had my flight info, everything.

You can probably guess where this is going.

I land in Orlando around 11pm and call him. No answer, so I leave a message.

I go to baggage claim and get my bag. I check my messages. None. I pull up a seat and call again. No luck. I text him where I am at.

I hang out for a while. I try calling him again half an hour later. Still nothing. This is strange, as it is now midnight and his phone is ringing, but no answer. You would guess he could be asleep, but in the past, whenever I would call, it would wake him and he would answer.

I log on to the net and try looking around for anyone who might live in the Orlando area that knows someone I know. It is so awkward that I don’t know where he lives, nor do I really know anyone else in Orlando.

I try calling every 10 minutes for a little while, then eventually find the number for his brother (who lives in Michigan). I call the brother and he says he will help call around. He calls me back half an hour later and says he couldn’t get in touch with the guy or their father (who does live in Orlando), but he gives me the father’s house number and instructs me to call after 6am, as Dad should be up by then. If all else fails, I now have the address of where my friend works, so come 8am, I can call up there.

At this point, I am just worried about my friend. Was he in a car accident? Was he arrested? What if it was worse? Why would he just not show?

I have an entire night to kill, so I call the Highway Patrol, The County Jail, The Sheriff, and 10 Hospitals. No luck, although I did get a scare when a Hospital told me that he had been discharged from the cancer ward the previous week. It turned out that this was a 54-year old gentleman with a very similar name. Man, it wouldn’t be so bad if I just knew he was okay.

The moment it hits 6:05, I call my friend’s father who is very distressed to hear my story. He tells me he will check my friend’s house.

It turns out, my friend had a mental breakdown.


He is clearly in no position to entertain guests and his father has to attend to him.

I am left to fend for myself in Orlando four days before the Grand Prix. What could I do?

I did the only thing I could do.

I called a girl I used to hang out with 6 years ago.

Patrick: Heya Stephanie, it’s Patrick. I am in Orlando for the week. Want to hang out?
Stephanie: Actually, I am “hanging out” with my boyfriend…
Patrick: Well, umm, could I hang out with the two of you…?

Thankfully, she is an angel and her boyfriend was understanding. They took me in for the week and showed me a great time. At one club, I had the good fortune to meet Trystine (that is her stage name… you think I am telling you guys her real name?).

Trystine: Are you a professional tap dancer? (She had been watching me dance.)
Patrick: No, but I used to take ballet, but now I mostly break, mime, and pop….

Ten minutes later…

Trystine: Here is my number and myspace. Come see one of my shows.

It turns out Trystine is a dancer as well. She dances in an S&M Fetish show. Some of the performers walk on broken glass and fire, some whip each other, she sticks actual nails through her face.

I should have figured something was amiss by the 16 piercings in her face (8 studs around her mouth). Still, it’s all good. She has pizzazz and is very hot (see last week’s article…).

Anyway, I finally meet Herberholz and Nassif at the airport on Friday and Gabriel’s friend Alex picks us up and gives us a lift to Daytona. Time to GP for the first time in over five years.

Here was my card pool:

Overall, while not the worst, I am pretty sure this is a weak card pool. I can’t possibly play my Vigor. My White had some promise, but is just too shallow, except as a splash. My black is just downright terrible. I do have a fair number of fliers and some strong removal, as well as some fixers, so I decide to go with a U/R Elemental Deck, splashing a little White, as well as an Eyeblight’s Ending. My hope is that I can mise some games with Smokebraider and win the rest with my fliers backed up by all my creature elimination.

This is what I registered:

After talking to Rich Hoaen and Herberholz, I started sideboarding in Ponder, Familiar’s Ruse, and an Island every game, typically for Faultgrinder, Flamekin Acolyte (or whatever else was worse), and a Mountain. Against some of my quicker opponents, I added an Ego Erasure and kept a Mountain and Acolyte in, taking out a Plains, Balloonist, and Avian Changeling (which I think is probably the best plan).

When you are given a substandard pool of cards (which I was pretty sure I had, as I went 0-10 in fun games against friends), it is so vital to build a deck that actually has a plan. Just putting the 23 best cards together is no good if you are building a deck that just doesn’t have the power to compete with other Sealed decks unless you can attack from an angle (vector…?) that the opponent is unprepared for.

One way to do this is to just build a quick, consistent two color deck and hope to come out the gate quick — a.k.a. hope to capitalize on mana screw that is so prevalent in Sealed. Other routes include attacking the air, sick combos, card advantage (even with bad cards), or cards that are situationally insane. There is no question I knew that my deck was all in on Smokebraider and that I was going to make Smokebraider as insane as possible to insure that I would get random wins from playing him uncontested turn 2 (perhaps with help of a Harbinger).

I even seriously contemplated making Vigor work!

Well, I gotta go play my round. As of my deadline, I am 7-1 (helped by two byes). Thanks for cutting me some slack this week. Hopefully it was worth the read. I have had a helluva week, heh. I am just a poor boy from Detroit trying to make it in Sunny Florida.

Tune in next week for my full tournament report including my misadventures with Heezy and company out on the town, and hopefully drafts from Day 2.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”