Innovations – Grand Prix: Minneapolis and Data From Magic Online

Read Patrick Chapin every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, November 16th – Patrick Chapin takes a break from making Day 2 at Grand Prix: Minneapolis to bring us a mid-tournament status report. He shares his cardpool from the event before showing us his final build, and then turns his eye to Magic Online, with some interesting statistics from triple Zendikar draft…

Here was my card pool for the Sealed Grand Prix: Minneapolis…

A cursory examination of my card pool reveals absolutely no possible way of playing Red and my White is terrible. I set Green aside, since I never play Green in this format (or haven’t in quite a while). This leaves me with Black and Blue, which seems like the obvious build, since I have Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Vampire Nighthawk. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

With five minutes left, I have my deck figured out and am about to write out my final list, when suddenly, a thought occurs to me

My Black isn’t actually good at all.

Sure, I have a Vampire Nighthawk, and if I can get triple Black then Gatekeeper is great, but my deck really doesn’t have any synergy. I have almost no removal either. I am practically playing a Green deck.


Maybe I should just be playing Green. I am pretty anti-Green in this format, but not having an open mind is obviously awful. I laid out the Blue Green deck, and sure enough I was nervous at the thought. The deck was a weird sort of combo deck with absolutely no removal, no bounce, no tricks, nothing. I had plenty of ways to play, but no tricks and no removal, which is not really how I wanted to play a slow defensive deck.

My intuition was that the Blue Green deck was better, and I laid out the cards, comparing power level one by one, and to my surprise, found that the Green cards actually seemed stronger on independent power, plus the synergy was much higher. Still, I did not want to be stuck with an unplayable game 1 deck if the deck just didn’t work, so I decided to hedge by running the mediocre Blue Black deck main deck, and immediately after registering, set about play testing my Blue Green deck.

Here is the main deck I ended up playing-

1 Guul Draz Vampire
1 Quest for the Gravelord
1 Grim Discovery
1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Giant Scorpion
1 Nimana Sell-Sword
1 Heartstabber Mosquito
1 Hagra Crocodile
1 Bog Tatters

1 Aether Figment
1 Welkin Tern
1 Spreading Seas
1 Cancel
1 Gomazoa
2 Reckless Scholar
1 Merfolk Seastalkers
1 Living Tsunami
1 Sky Ruin Drake
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle

1 Adventuring Gear
1 Stonework Puma

1 Misty Rainforest
1 Sejiri Refuge
1 Piranha Marsh
6 Island
8 Swamp

Here is the sideboard plan I settled on, after playtesting revealed that my Blue Green deck is actually decent.

1 Nissa’s Chosen
1 Greenweaver Druid
1 Grazing Gladehart
2 Harrow
1 Oracle of Mul Daya
1 Mold Shambler
1 Nissa Revane
1 Territorial Baloth

1 Hedron Crab
1 Aether Figment
1 Welkin Tern
1 Spreading Seas
1 Cancel
1 Gomazoa
2 Reckless Scholar
1 Merfolk Seastalkers
1 Living Tsunami
1 Sky Ruin Drake
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle

1 Adventuring Gear
1 Expedition Map

1 Misty Rainforest
1 Sejiri Refuge
1 Soaring Seacliff
5 Island
9 Forest

I was thrilled to discover that I had three byes again, after my finish in Tampa boosted my rating. A few hours of Vintage and breakfast later, and it was time to get down to business. For reference, I am packing this bad boy in Vintage these days:

The Deck
Patrick Chapin

4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
2 Sower of Temptation
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
1 Ponder
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Time Walk
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Cunning Wish
1 Tinker
1 Gifts Ungiven
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Mindbreak Trap

1 Fire/Ice
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Gorilla Shaman

1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Mind Twist

1 Regrowth

1 Sundering Titan
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl

1 Strip Mine
4 Wasteland
4 City of Brass
2 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
1 Tropical Island
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
1 Flooded Strand
1 Island
1 Library of Alexandria or Snow-Covered Island

1 Helm of Obedience
1 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Krosan Grip
1 Mindbreak Trap
1 Misdirection
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Skeletal Scrying
1 Ravenous Trap
4 Leyline of the Void

During game 1 of my first round, it becomes painfully obvious that my main deck sucks. I begin a long day of sideboarding into a reasonable deck every round. I definitely misbuilt my deck, and should not have been afraid to play the Blue Green version, despite how crazy it looked, but I don’t think my decision was the worst, as sometimes you are going to “play it safe” and have it not work out as well as it would have if you had been risky.

As it turned out, I won a lot of games in three, but my two losses came from a match where I was crushed 2-0 and a match where I was totally manascrewed in two games. The crushing 2-0 loss actually involved an interesting situation…

My opponent attacked me, and a very complicated combat ensued. At the end of it, my opponent moved his die that he had been using as a Baloth token over to the end of his creature row. I did not think too much of it at this point, and just took my turn. I was dead to the board and had to decide whether to bluff a trick or just play my last guy and hope he somehow messed something up.

Then my opponent took his turn, moving around the creatures that were not the Baloth token, and decided to pass without attacking to kill me. Keep in mind the attack back would kill him, but I am dead on board with no cards in hand. This was the signal that he clearly did not realize his die was a beast.

I took my turn and drew Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Doing it!

I looked and saw another creature coming. So now the question is, when it is my turn again, do I play my guy, attack, and be dead to the board with no cards in hand if he realizes that his die is a beast? Maybe he knows and just did the math wrong last turn, but will do it correctly now. He was at 7, so my Sphinx would put him on a one-turn clock. I would have to block every single creature. What do I do?

I decided that my best bet was probably to play as though he did not know about his beast. I passed the turn. During his turn, he picked up the die, looked at it, then set it back down in the same spot. There was no reaction on his face, but I was thinking that he might have just realized and didn’t want to reveal to me that he now knew this.

On my turn, I saw my top card was another creature, and I had a legitimate chance of establishing control then killing in one hit. Do I attack? If I do, I am dead to the board with no cards in hand. I decide against it.

He drew and played a Woodcrasher Baloth. I couldn’t take a hit of Trample, this was bad. I think my play is to attack, play my blocker, and hope he doesn’t draw a land (which I can’t beat anyway), and hope he doesn’t realize he has a Baloth token. On my turn, I drew a card. Then my opponent exclaimed, “Oh man, I have a beast! This is a beast token. I can’t believe I played so badly!”

I guess he knows now, and at this point I have to stay home. A landfall trigger later and I am dead. Good beats.

What do you do there? It is tough to attack into a on-board loss with no cards in hand, just on the hope that my opponent continues to fail to realize what his die is, especially since the Sphinx has me believing I might actually be a favorite. Still, I had a one turn window where it would have worked out, though who knows. If I attacked, maybe he would have gone into the tank on his turn, fearing that he was dead on board, and looked around and put it together. It is hard to say.

The most interesting other match I played was my final match, a feature match to determine if I made Day 2.

Game 1 reached a climatic point where my opponent had a Rampaging Baloth, three Beasts, and a host of other creatures. I was trying to hold things together with Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Merfolk Seastalkers. During a critical moment, my opponent spent a couple of minutes deciding whether to attack or not. He did attack, leaving himself onboard dead.

On my turn, I read him for the Pitfall Trap and it turned out he had it. The bad news was that I punted the attack, as I momentarily allowed a judge’s involvement to distract me from the matter at hand. It is definitely my responsibility to not let a judge’s words take my off my game, and after losing on board to the swing back, I resolved to redouble my focus for game 2.

Game 2 started with me keeping a two Forest hand on the play. I played a Forest on each of the first two turns, then made no play at all turn 3. My fourth turn saw a Seacliff. Figures. So typical, right?

Still, I was determined to not tilt. I was going to give this game my absolute best possible game. On my fifth turn, I still had no land, but I had two Harrows in hand and decide to play my Hedron Crab.

Next turn, I played a Harrow, followed by a Glazed Gladehart and saw what I need to do. My opponent had a bit of a slow draw, but continued his beats in earnest. My next turn involved another Harrow and the Oracle, and I was kicking it into high gear. My opponent dropped a Rampaging Baloth and a land. This was going to be tight.

I continued to throw whatever I could in front of beasts, gaining about 316 life from my Gladehart. I guess this is what people want out of Green. My opponent played a Nimbus Wings on my Crab, and I immediately realized he was planning on Oran-Rief Reclusing it. On my turn I dropped Mold Shambler (after bashing for one, sending my opponent a message, heh).

Eventually I won the race by a turn, after losing my entire board as chump blockers. On to game 3!

This game began with my playing a turn 2 Crab and him playing a turn 2 River Boa and a turn 3 Beastmaster Ascension. I was fortunate to have that Soaring Seacliff again, as well as a Living Tsunami, so I had a plan. I was milling and milling and trying to hold off his guys, but obviously things were going to get awkward when his Beastmaster Ascension triggered.

I do the math and do the math, and I realized that I was probably going to succumb to his natural line of play of playing a guy each turn and attacking. I had him on a clock, but I was behind and didn’t have many ways to get ahead. I realized that I would be in much better shape if his Ascension had two fewer counters, but so far he had been just attacking with the River Boa. He was playing a little loose with the Ascension trigger, but I decided to wait on the Jedi until he was attacking with more than one creature, since it would only work once, if at all.

He deployed a Recluse and a Steppe Lynx, and I follow with my Tsunami. Things were looking grim, and it was now or never. He attacked with his three creatures and said nothing for a moment, then two. I said “May I block?” to which he responded yes. I put my Tsunami in front of his Recluse and he said “Wait.” He wanted to put the counters on his Ascension, to which the table judge ruled he could not.

He was obviously very perturbed by this turn of events, but was a class act and told the judge honestly what he had said and didn’t try to lie to get his way out of it. He did have a Harrow though, which meant a boatload of Steppe Lynx damage.

The following turn saw chump attacks from him to get the Ascension up to five counters, with his only creature being a River Boa. Meanwhile, I had long since picked up my Island and refused to play more. On my endstep, a Baloth Trap meant that I was already looking down the barrel of a pair of lethal attackers, but I managed to chump long enough to mill him out with my Crab. The game was crazy.

I apologize for not having too much in the way of technology today, but I am occupied with the Grand Prix at the moment, as well as final testing for Worlds next week. There is no doubt that my article next week will be one to catch, as I will be unveil the decks I am playing/played at Worlds, and it is possible that they may surprise people…

I do want to say a few more things about Zendikar limited, while we are on the subject. First of all, play Black/Red! I am sure most of you know this, but I was surprised about how many people at the GP didn’t even know that Black and Red are miles better than the other colors. I am not suggesting they are bad for not realizing this. I am just surprised at how many people did not know by now.

If you’ll recall, I shared my thoughts on the format when the set first came out, and I initially thought Red and Blue were the best, and that you could play defense or offense and that the format was balanced. My perspective on this has definitely changed. The point, though, is that I totally understand. I still remember when I was playing some Blue deck in a practice draft in Austin, and Hall of Fame Legend Ben Rubin beat me down with some Black Red deck and asked me what I thought of just forcing Black Red aggro.

That was the beginning of the transformation in me.

Recently, Michael Jacob showed me some fascinating statistics scraped up from MTGO that show the rankings of how often a card was first picked by someone that posted a 3-0 result in a Zendikar draft..

Top 10 cards picked first by drafters that 3-0 MTGO Queues:

10. Kor Skyfisher
9. Malakir Bloodwitch
8. Plated Geopede
7. Disfigure
6. Trusty Machete
5. Marsh Casualties
4. Journey to Nowhere
3. Vampire Nighthawk
2. Burst Lightning
1. Hideous End

Keep in mind that commons are going to show up a lot more than uncommons and rares, so the list being mostly commons is hardly surprising. A few interesting things jump out at me. First of all, Hideous End over Burst Lightning is a little surprising, but I guess I can see the argument for Hideous End being better, as it is definitely better against every non-Black deck.

Next, we see that Vampire Nighthawk finishes third, despite being uncommon, giving it a legitimate claim to best card in the format since you can only really compare Rares and Mythics to it based on this chart. Marsh Casualties and Trusty Machete up there is no surprise once we see Nighthawk, but this is further evidence that Nighthawk over Machete is the right pick.

While it is a little surprising that Kor Skyfisher cracks the top 10 list, it is Malakir Bloodwitch that really calls out to me. That card is rare! First of all, why is it on the list over Sorin? Well, he’s a Mythic, so I guess that makes sense. How is it such a winning card that it would make the list despite showing up a fraction as often as Plated Geopede or Kor Skyfisher?

I always knew the Bloodwitch was awesome and never passed it, but I usually didn’t mention it in the same breath as Sorin, or even the rare Hellkite Charger. Maybe it deserves to be among them. Sphinx of Jwar Isle is totally insane as well, but it is Blue, so it can’t be as good as the rest.

The fact that this list so closely follows my pick order for Zendikar makes me think that the list is probably totally accurate (with weight respective to rarity) about the true card order. I was picking Burst Lightning over Hideous End, but maybe I shouldn’t. There is so much raw data being accumulated by MTGO. I wonder what technology people will invent to try to take advantage of this data?

If this list is representative of how good the first pick cards really are (though obviously this is just a measure of how well they lead to 3-0 wins), that would seem to suggest that the only true candidates for best card are:

Vampire Nighthawk
Hideous End
Malakir Bloodwitch
Hellkite Charger
A Mythic (most likely Sorin Markov)

What is your vote?

It is crazy how much more successful Black and Red have been than the other colors. Did you notice how every single top deck in Paris was Black/Red, and how most of the people at the top had Vampire Nighthawk…?

As you can see from my pool, I ended up thinking it was right to play neither Black nor Red, and I still did okay, but let’s be clear: playing Blue/Green was damage control. I couldn’t build a Black/Red deck, so I had to make the best of things, meaning a 7-2 finish is respectable. All I needed was to stay alive long enough to draft.

Speaking of draft, by the way, remember that the draft format is quite a bit different than the sealed. White, Blue, and yes, even Green are much better when everyone is fighting over Black and Red. I personally still avoid Green, but after my experiences today, maybe I will consider it tomorrow.

It is late and I need to get some sleep before Day 2 of the GP. Wish me some retroactive luck!

By the way, I want to take a minute to thank Magic Cruise creator, Steve Port of Legion Events, as well as his fabulous staff, for running yet another top shelf event. I wish tournament organizers everywhere would take notes. For instance, at this event, in order to register, I just walked up, paid $40 and typed my DCI number onto a pad. That was it; it took under 15 seconds. At most events, you have to wait in line for half an hour, then fill out a paper slip.

Also, the venue was nice, well-located, and clean. The rounds were prompt, and the staff was knowledgeable and friendly. Keep it up, you guys. It is a pleasure to play at one of your events, and I have to believe that the example you are setting will help raise the bar.

I have to call it a night. See you in Rome!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

PS: If anyone tells you Jund Stinks, don’t believe them. I am probably not playing Jund at Worlds, as you might imagine, but to sleep on the Jund deck is like sleeping on Faeries. Don’t be that guy. Do you think Jund wins almost as much as everything else combined because it is a bad deck?

I am not trying to attack anyone that would suggest this position. I am just saying that there is no way in the world that Jund stinks, and I would be remiss in my duties if I did not add another voice (of reason) to the argument. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think playing the Jund deck is miserable. I hate the mana, it is too predictable, everyone is hating on you, etc, but the deck is inherently strong and can still be considered tier 1 despite all of this. Just play some games. What are your results telling you?