Innovations – Michigan States Report (Yeah, 66 Cards… What of it?)

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Yeah, you read that right. Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin chose to play a 66-card deck at States. There’s innovation, and then there’s INNOVATION. Today, he looks back at the genesis of the idea, and walks us through the tournament itself. Was it genius, or was it madness? Read on to find out!

Luis-Scott Vargas: You are either crazy or a genius.
Gerry T: Your reasoning is sound, but I don’t think I’d have the guts to run it.
Herberholz: What are you? Stupid?
Rich Hoaen: I don’t care, even if it is right. I wouldn’t run it.
Eric D. Taylor: Your logic makes sense, it is just that it has never actually been right before, so it seems very possible that it is wrong again.
Brian DeMars: So you’re saying we get to play decks that are more like Five Color?

Seriously. Sixty-six cards. I played sixty-six cards this weekend in the Michigan State Championships. There, I said it. I have confessed. But I am not sorry. Go ahead. Get it out of your system. Whatever you have to say about that particular maneuver, go ahead and say it so we can move on.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s just go ahead and suspend our disbelief for a moment. Let’s imagine, just for the sake of argument that it could be possible, just possible, that I am not crazy. Maybe, just maybe, there is a method to the madness. You may recall in “61 Cards – Magic Russian Roulette” that I basically rebuked every common ill-advised rationalization for playing more than sixty cards. Well, it turns out, I have finally came to a scenario where I honestly concluded that it may be correct to run more than sixty. Yes, Jeff Cunningham, I am aware that you are laughing all the way to the bank on this one. For some interesting thoughts on why the minimum deck kernel could conceivably be greater than sixty, check out Jeff’s comments in the forums for my 61-card article.

This weekend I competed in Champs piloting my Grim Teachings deck, updated to reflect the realization on my part that I want to play 65 or 66 cards. See, the thing is the argument has been made in the past that mana ratios and spell ratios are reason enough to play more than sixty.

The thing is, never before has anyone ever presenting a compelling reason that the improved ratios are worth the added inconsistency caused by a thicker deck. It is a fine line you walk when you are adding cards that are by necessity worse than sixty cards in your deck and diluting your chances of drawing your best cards.

With Grim Teachings, though, the difference between the 60th card and the 1st card is very small. It is basically the difference between Frost Marsh and River of Tears. I don’t even really want 4 Damnations, I want about 3.7 or so.

I know that I want 4 Mystical Teachings in the deck total, but as anyone who is familiar with this archetype can attest, it can really slow things down to draw two against an aggro deck.

By going to 66, I am making room for all of the bullets that I want, while actually improving my mana ratio, slightly. I have room to play more card drawers in the deck total to retrieve once I stabilize, without being as bogged down by them early.

Why 66?

The biggest reason, one I struggled with endlessly, is that it “feels right.” I have played hundreds of games with Grim Teachings, which is no small feat, considering how long games can go. I can honestly say that it felt like 65 was the right number. Wait, didn’t you say 66? Well yeah, but in order to make the mana work, I had to go to 66. I am still struggling with that even as I sit here typing this up, at 4am the night before the tournament. If 65 is the right number, isn’t playing 66 like playing 61 cards in a normal deck? Maybe. I am unsure of that even now, as I do my final preparations. I suppose I can do nothing more than prepare for tomorrow and see how I feel in the morning.

Beyond that, I can find other reasons, but they seem like mere rationalizations, such as how 3.7 Damnations out of 60 is more or less equal to 4 Damnations out of 65 or 66. The thing that convinced me though is that the smallest deck I can build that contains everything I want, while maintaining the proper ratios of spells, land, card drawers, and removal, is a 66-card deck.

I discussed this subject at length with the above mentioned, as well as numerous other play-test partners. In the end, I decided that I had to run it. I had to see if my real life results coincided with my playtesting experience. Besides, it would be a hell of a story if I made it work.

Without further adieu, I present:

For a card-by-card breakdown, see last week’s article here. Changes since then include Venser (in place of Psionic Blast), Extirpate, and an adjusted mana ratio, as well as a Bottle Gnomes and a second Careful Consideration.

Venser solves problems, combines with Grim Harvest, and is just a useful card to have access to, as well as to randomly draw. Extirpate in the main causes huge gains in percentages against some opponents (see Masked Admirers). Bottle Gnomes is huge against Red, which is admittedly not the match-up I want to see. The second Careful Consideration is a bullet of sorts when going long, but is also a concession to the 66-card nature, as I wanted another card drawer now that the existing ones were diluted. It is a slippery slope…

The Flashfreezes were added to the board once it became apparent that R/g is actually really hard for us. The Eyeblight’s Ending is a nod to Doran, the Siege Tower, who has gained some popularity in our area.

My apologies to my opponents whose names I do not list here. My notes are in a car 65 miles away, and with an hour of sleep, my memory is less than great.

Round 1 — I face a U/W control deck based primarily on 4 Jace and 4 Ajani. His strategy also featured Faire Trickery, Rune Snag, Cryptic Command, Condemn, Oblivion Ring, Forbidden Watchtower, and Wrath of God.

Game 1 lasts 35 minutes before my Factories eventually overcome him. It should be noted that I could have arranged for this game to lasted much, much longer, possibly even to time if I would have simply just spent resources sculpting the perfect permission grip and started looping Bottle Gnomes instead of making tokens.

The thing is, I must have gone soft or something. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I finished him and moved to game 2, where I double mulligan and die to a Serra Avatar before casting a spell.

We move to game 3, and I am obviously in hurry. Unfortunately, a mulligan combined with stalling at two land leaves me victim to quick Teferi beats. Despite numerous misplays (surely a result of time pressure), my opponent defeats me soundly.

That was not how I wanted to start off the day. I mean yeah, I get it, when you run 66 you can’t really complain about getting a bad draw, but still…

That is okay, though, I started off Regionals with a “Grand Master Loss” (a corruption of the chess term for obtaining favorable positioning by drawing early, or in my case, losing early), and it worked out for me. Let’s see if I can recapture the magic…


Round 2 — I face a young mage running a G/b Elf strategy featuring some unorthodox card choices, such as Immaculate Magistrate, Lys Alana Huntmaster, and Lys Alana Scarblade. Things get interesting game 1, when he has 4 Prowess of the Fairs in play, but Teachings for Cryptic Command holds him off long enough for Triskelavus to win it.

Game 2, his draw is slow and Flashfreeze is crucial. I win.


Round 3 — I am paired with U/G/w Blink

Nothing too special to report. My opponent’s draws were weak and I think the match-up is favorable. Two easy wins.


Round 4 — Eric “Danger” Taylor is my adversary. He is on G/b Elves. Game 1, he double mulligans. Still, it is close and I barely take control when he runs out of gas.

Game 2, he mauls me, turn 5 or 6 kill.

Game 3, I am on the play and Eric has three comes into play tapped lands. As a result, I am able to turn 2 Lens into turn 3 Cryptic Command a land (forcing the discard). This tempo is too much to overcome.


Round 5 — I face B/g Tarmo-Rack. His build features maindeck Thoughtseize and Smallpox. Game 1 last forty minutes, but I stabilize on two life, fighting the Rack with Teachings and Careful Considerations. Game 2, I take complete control, but there is no reason to try to win in the last three minutes so we end 1-0-1, my way.


Round 6 — my opponent is on R/g. Frown town. Long story short, this is not the match-up that I want to see. I get poor draws, but would have trouble competing anyway. This was a blow-up, but what are you gonna do? My 66-card odyssey looks to have ended anticlimactically.

In the words of Brian DeMars, it is most certainly going to be a Grim Harvest this year.

(To put things in context, we had been discussing the Grim Teachings deck while at a Goth/Industrial Club, and we were surveying the dance floor filled with scantily clad “freakishly adorned” women, musing over our chances of finding romantic interests.)


Round 7 (yeah, playin’ it out, mise) — I face the mirror. My opponent is playing my list from last week’s article, complete with Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] in the board and all. It is clear that he is not as familiar with this match-up as I am, and I am able to maintain Dreadship Reef advantage long enough to take control, then I eventually win the Factory war going long.

Game 2, we have very little time, but I double mulligan and get wrecked by turn 4 Shriekmaw beats. How embarrassing!

Game 3, I am playing in turbo mode and quickly force through a Haunting Hymn to leave him defenseless. A Triskelavus takes over the board and my opponent graciously bows out, seeing that the game is inevitable and there will be enough extra turns.


In the final round, I find myself squared off against another R/g aggro deck. Ouch. Game 1 goes for a good twenty or twenty-five minutes, but I eventually succumb to direct damage.

Game 2 I take control, but can’t actually attack. By the time I am in a position to attack, there are only fifteen minutes left and I am torn. Do I play to keep the game going, or do I finish quickly and try to win game 3 in time? We have two losses already? Who am I kidding, of course I go for the win.

Game 3 is a sad one, as I once again draw an erratic hand. Yes, I can safely say, I lost multiple games as a result of playing 66 cards.

I admit it.

I was wrong.


40th place (prizes given out to top 40, go PES!)

What did I learn? First of all, Grim Teachings is definitely a good deck. It is soft against R/g, that is for sure, but that can be worked on.

Second, this deck needs to be cut down to 60 cards. All this rationalizing is just wrong. I am not sure what all cards to cut, but I know that I want to draw my good cards more, as well as get better mana draws.

To start with, we can cut a Mind Stone, a Desert, a Careful Consideration, and a Venser. I am not sure what the last two to cut are, but one can probably be a mana source. The sideboard was excellent, but still not enough to beat R/g.

Yes, I know, I know, it is not front page news that 66 cards turns out to be wrong, but you know what, I am not willing to just blindly follow every piece of dogma, no matter how sound the reasoning behind it. Sometimes, I just need to see for myself.

For the record, once again, it was right to play 60. There may come a day when it is right to run more, but that day has not yet come.

See you all next week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”