Innovations – My 100th Article: Looking Back

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Monday, November 17th – For his 100th article, Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin looks back at the first half of his prolific output here on StarCityGames.com. He brings us the highs and lows, the great decks and failed experiments. Congratulations, Patrick… here’s to the next 100!

It is at times like this that I wish I could use emoticons in my articles, as I would like to begin this one with a smiley face. This is my 100th article, and I have to tell you, I loved the past two-and-a-half years spent writing here at StarCityGames.com.

This site is on top of the game, the staff has been incredible to work with, and the readers are supportive and positive… and they consistently demand the best us writers have to offer. After 100 articles, my life has changed a lot, but one thing I know is that I look forward to 100 more.

Today, I would like to take a walk down memory lane. I typically talk about crazy new decks, examine how to beat format-defining decks, or write tournament reports about the various events I attend. Today and next week, though, I would like to take a look at my first 100 articles with a couple of thoughts in mind.

First of all, a number of readers are not familiar with my older work (how strange is it that my “older work” in this case refers to work from two years ago rather than tournament reports I wrote twelve years ago…). Hopefully, today we can point out some amusing and useful articles from my body of work that may be of interest to you.

Second, I would like to get some perspective on the road I have taken, and see what things I am doing right and what I could stand to improve. Your feedback in the forums, and in the polls below, will be vital for me to help me improve my writing.

Finally, nostalgia in Magic is a beautiful thing. Who knows what memories you’ll recall when I talk about what was going on during my 4th article, my 16th, my 64th. Again, any contributions in the forums are much appreciated, both from newer readers and from those of you that have been reading my work from Day 1, back in May of 2006.

1. Hybrid Theory and Critical Snakes – My first article here at StarCityGames.com, back on May 19th of 2006. This article had two parts. The first was a theory piece on how Ravnica Block had ushered in a new era of generally good cards instead of strictly linear ones, allowing players to combine aspects of multiple strategies into one deck.

The second part was a fresh and original Standard deck drawing inspiration from Flores’s Critical Mass Block Constructed deck, the Snake tribe, and some ideas of my own regarding Jitte superiority and Gifts Ungiven. It then followed with a humorous fictional tournament report that allowed the reader to get a feel for how the deck would interact with many of the common archetypes in the format.

2. More Necro than Prison – Shredder in Extended – I have been fascinated by Life from the Loam since its printing. This deck was an attempt to craft a Loam deck with inherent strength against Dredge decks.

3. Information Cascades in Magic – One of the defining articles of my career, this article draws material from “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki, and should be required reading for any tournament player. I am particularly proud that a number of non-Magic playing friends of mine have read this article and taken away much from it.

While it does not contains any decklists, this psychology-based article may be more helpful to your game than most, and it’s a great piece to show people who may not play Magic but have some interest in this game you love.

During this time, I did not have access to a computer or typewriter, so Michael J. Flores would type out all of my handwritten articles himself. For this, I am eternally grateful. He is a true friend.

Information Cascades won Article of the Year from StarCityGames.com for 2006.

4. The (Rise and Fall) of the Roman Empire – The Rome Deck – Rise/Fall was a pet card of mine that I felt was never fully appreciated, though it is seeing some play today in conjunction with Eternal Witness.

The Rome Deck was a fun U/B/R Aggro deck that had modest tournament success in some areas, but had some flaws that left it little more than a metagame deck.

5. Classic U/W Control: Karoos > Good – While this article presents a new twist on the U/W Wafo-Tapa style control deck popularized by Flores, the primary point of interest is the discussion on Karoos (Ravnica Bouncelands). At the time, some players had taken to playing Karoos in all of their decks; however, many players were still not up on the new technology.

One of the toughest concepts described in this article is that of implied card advantage. While it is easy to see that Dimir Aqueduct is like a two-for-one as far as land goes, what is not so obvious is that when you can play 23 land with 5 Karoos instead of 25 land with none, you will draw more spells over the course of the game, making the card advantage not just one of land.

6. Playing with Melanie – A R/B/U Deck for Standard – This deck was a new take on Wildfire that I think would have been a strong player for about a month, had it been more widely explored. This deck helped lay the groundwork for my Korlash deck and continued my love affair with Rise/Fall.

The most interesting thing about this article to me is who the “Melanie” in Melanie R/B/U really is…

7. 61 Cards – Magic Russian Roulette – This highly controversial piece was my attempt to present all of the counter-arguments to the theory that 60 cards is the correct number to play. After reviewing the counter-arguments, I went on to demonstrate why they are typically based on one fallacy or another.

Some praised this article for presenting such an important lesson so clearly and thoroughly. Others bashed it for being so obviously true that it didn’t need an article. Still others bashed it for being so obviously wrong. The theoretical debate that followed was well worth it, and should be checked out.

8. Shredder v2.0 More Rock than Domain – A remix of my Shredder deck (A Loam deck that tutors for Life from the Loam with Shred Memory). While this deck may have been solid, it did not offer enough new, nor were there Extended tournaments for it to prove itself.

9. A Day in the Life of a Deck Designer – Pitch Necro ’06 – One can read between the lines of article to gather clues about my day to day life. The lines themselves contain various musings on new U/B decks I was toying around with now that Coldsnap was unveiled.

While I tried to make Phyrexian Etchings work, I was left feeling it was merely Etch-a-Sketchy… (that one is for you, LSV!)

10. Better Lucky Than Good – Seven Ways To Get Lucky – Another theory piece, this article aims to present some perspectives that when adopted may help one to appear to get “Luckier” by playing in such a way so as to give him or herself better chances to “get lucky.”

A useful read for PTQ players, and especially for players who have ever struggled with the idea that they are unlucky, or that some people are extra-lucky.

11. Sideboards: Fifteen is Better than Zero – I abandoned my Premium position for this comical article. I could not do justice with a description here, beyond saying that even today some of the in-jokes are just being uncovered, though there is enough general humor to make this easily the funniest article I have ever written.

12. Shredder v3.0- Sixteen in the Clip, One in the Hole – One of my worst hit articles ever, this simply didn’t resonate with readers. If you have ever been sick of reading about five-color decks, imagine my third article about Loam decks for a format that no-one was playing at the time.

This is a shame, since the deck was great, and the new advent of Burning Wish was huge… still, lessons were learned…

13. Right/Wrong – A Non-Vintage/Vintage Split Article – I used to be one of the primary voices in Vintage, back when it was Type 1. I loved the format, and it still holds a place in my heart, but the truth is that Vintage is just not Type 1. The format simply isn’t the format I loved years ago.

Still, it is Magic, and I love all Magic. This article was two articles in one. One of these articles discussed Steve Menendian’s “10 Rules of Vintage.”

The other half discussed theory behind how to evaluate the words that Magic Writers produce. It is all well and good to read article after article about Magic, but how do you decide how much weight to lend them?

14. Ten New Standard Decks with Time Spiral – A fairly self-explanatory article that detailed ten new deck concepts I came up with when Time Spiral was added to the mix.

Chris Pikula used to say that I have all of the good ideas in Magic, but that is only because I think about all of the ideas, and most of my ideas are terrible.

The decks here were hardly the best I have ever produced, but they helped spark conversation about the new format.

15. Grapenuts, Flag Burner, and Turbo Balance – The World of Non-Fireman U/R/W – Three more Standard decks, with interesting bits about each. Grapenuts was the combo deck Wizards R&D was afraid of, harnessing Enduring Renewal. Fortunately, it did not turn out to be problematic. Unfortunately, this was because Dragonstorm turned out to be even worse.

Flag Burner was a great R/W/U mid-range deck that was powered by Ancestral Visions, a card I predicted would change Standard. While I was insulted in the forums for how slow this card drawer was, I would certainly think this is a time where I told you so, and I did.

(Man, I sure would like another one of those smiley emoticons here, maybe this one winking…)

Richard Feldman and Zac Hill actually took the time to try the deck, and went on to have some success with it. More players would really benefit from keeping an open mind about new cards that will change paradigms. You may think Ancestral Visions (Cruel Ultimatum) is too slow, but I am telling you, it will help define the format.

16. Ten Games of Magic I’ve Lost and How They’ll Help You Win – One of my personal favorites, this article tells ten tales of Magic Games that I lost, with a lesson that can be learned from each.

Aside from many useful lessons, the stories are arranged in such a way as to tell a great story from each of the past 10 years of my Magic Career, including an unforgettable story involving Jon Finkel.

17. The Secret to the Gifts/Stax Matchup – How to Gain an Edge From Either Side – A different kind of Vintage article, I did a number of unusual things for this piece. First of all, I examined 1 match-up between two of the most important decks in the format and detailed the games in a new form of notation.

This system may be impractical for most purposes, but should be reexamined to with the goal of reimagining it in a more feasible format, as it was extraordinarily useful in reaching some shocking conclusions.

In this case, the correlation between Mishra’s Workshop and victory was so tremendous that mulligans should be used aggressively by the Stax player, plus the Gifts player could gain valuable information about what sorts of hand he or she will need (a Mox plus any card drawer was typically optimal).

Also of note, Vintage authority Steven Menendian was skeptical of my current perspective on Vintage on account of his arch-nemesis Michael J. Flores invoking my name in heated Vintage debates. However, this article undid most of the damage Flores had caused my name (I still love you, Flores!) and helped lead to a friendship with Menendian that has proven invaluable, both in terms of talking theory and enjoying good times at tournaments.

18. Gauntlet of Power in Extended – Another comical article, this one takes a break from series testing to have some fun and mess around a little with a fun Extended deck.

19. A Vintage Chapin Vintage Article – A theory piece on Vintage, this article mostly talks about the banned and restricted list, suggesting that cards like Mind Twist and Black Vise might be safe to unrestrict.

I raised the possibility of a “Vintage Ultra” tournament, but unfortunately I had too much going on in my life to organize the event. By the time my life settled down a little, WotC had made most of the Vintage Ultra changes real.

20. Innovator.dec – Got Hate? – To this day, Flores expresses his displeasure at my writing about this Vintage deck that I had designed to beat the current metagame of Gifts, Long, and Stax. It is just the type of hate deck Flores likes and would have been a perfect move in the metagame, even if only for one week.

Some of the ideas incorporated in this deck were being developed independently by players working on unusual Fish variants, eventually leading to the Bazaar, Chalice of the Void, Dark Confidant, Leyline of the Void, Grim Lavamancer style aggro that enjoyed some success before the unrestricted of Gush (back before the re-restricting of Gush).

21. Extended – Rainbow Rock and Discard Tog – A couple of new takes on existing archetypes. The most interesting thing about this article is seeing some of the theory that eventually lead to my Next Level Gifts deck that I brought to Berlin a year and a half later.

22. A Great Deck, Some Deck Ideas, and Hot Girls – This article started out as a piece on a Domain Zoo deck with Sensei’s Divining Tops I had built that helped Mark Herberholz make Top 8 at Grand Prix: Dallas. After covering the basics of the deck, I threw out some ideas that I thought might spark interest.

The thing is, I had only been back in the real world for a very short while and had other things on my mind… namely, girls! The second half of the article are two true tales of a couple of girls I have known. They may not be the most on-topic stories I have told, but a good story is a good story.

23. The Innovator Leaks the Real Block Decks – Here, we talk about the Time Spiral Block format that was coming up. Up until this point, writers were universally avoiding talk about the true face of the format. Whether this was from lack of understanding or from people just keeping tech quiet, I felt it was time to point out just how strong White Weenie and Teachings were, though I admit I missed the strength of Mono-Red.

The most important points in this article were suggesting Wild Pair as a combo engine and Aeon Chronicler as one of the defining cards of the format (where, up until this point, very few ever used the card).

24. Working Title – A sort of pot pourri article that touches many bases, the most fun of which is a look at the best cards in Magic at each casting cost. The most notable mistake on this list was Carnophage as the best Black one-drop instead of Disciple of the Vault, a card I suggested have its casting cost reduced to 1 instead of 2 during my time at R&D (In my defense, Ravager cost 3 at the time…).

25. Interview with Resident Genius Michael J. Flores – The funny thing about this article is that, when it came out, it initially received rave reviews. However, when Flores’s half came out a few days later, both of our articles were remembered in a light that left us the butt of many jokes for weeks to follow.

While I stand by the written work, the format, and the relevance, I do acknowledge that it was more helpful to learn about the line you walk when you reference the players with which you associate. I may be talking about Finkel and Flores like it is nothing, since they are my friends; however, there comes a point at which name-dropping detracts from the goal of the article. This article reached that point.

26. Road to Regionals: A Look at the Korlash Deck – This article went up the day before Regionals 2007. I had created an original new deck I had tuned to a point where it could be a major player in a field dominated by U/R Dragonstorm, as well as R/G, Solar Flare, Project X, Lightning Angel Decks, and so on.

The article was a full-on primer for anyone that was looking for something new to bring to Regionals. I knew I was taking a big risk publishing this the day before the tournament, but Regionals is not how I pay my bills so I thought I could do the greatest good to the StarCityGames.com Community by sharing it in time for people to bring it to their Regionals, should they feel the urge.

27. The Innovator Regionals Report ’07 *1st Place* – One day after publishing the new deck that I would take to my Regionals, I won mine with it. I even lost round 1 to someone that had added Threatens to his Gargadon based R/G deck, as I had suggested, as a way to beat Korlash.

The victory was sweet, no question, but even sweeter was seeing ten players make Top 8 at their Regionals with the deck, half of whom got invited to Nationals. Truly, there is little greater joy in deckbuilding than to see your work not only put in to practice, but taken to great success. A huge thank you to those of you that put Korlash on the map that Spring!

The most memorable aspect of this tournament was the recognition from players who appreciated that I am willing to tell it like it is, to put my money where my mouth is, not only playing the strategies that I advocate, but winning with them.

28. Ten Decks for Block Constructed – Another article full of fish, this time presenting 10 possible decks for Time Spiral Block Constructed. While many fun new concepts were covered, like Spellweaver’s Volute, in the end, the Teachings deck turned out to be the best.

29. Innovator Aluren – Quite Possibly the Most Powerful Deck in Legacy – I had developed a powerful and potentially broken deck revolving around a two-card combo that won the game for only four mana. After weeks of testing, we had a bomb dropped on us. Flash would allow for a two-card combo that won the game for only two mana.

The Flash Saga played out and was eventually banned. Was it time for the Aluren deck to re-emerge? Unfortunately, Tarmogoyf was just too strong of a new weapon for Threshold and the rise in popularity of Counterbalance was too problematic, making this article a little too outdated.

The most notable part of this article was that a couple of players in the forums suggested that I was conspiring to drive up the price of Imperial Recruiters so that I could make a healthy profit. I only wish I’d bought one…

30. Don’t Call it a Comeback – My first Pro Tour Tournament Report with StarCityGames.com, this tells the story of my first Pro Tour in five years. While the circumstances I had to deal with during this five-year period were challenging, I had the support of many great friends to help me through my hardest times.

One such friend is Mark Herberholz, who invited me to play on his team for this Two-Headed Giant tournament. This is the story of our adventures.

31. X Marks the Spot, or Some Other Clever Tenth Edition Pun – A fairly typical set review that talks about some cards I thought we should keep our eyes on.

32. Innovator Control for Nationals – A look at the Teachings deck I was developing for U.S. Nationals. While I eventually evolved the deck even further, the deck described herein seemed to interest a number of players.

33. Confessions of a Rebelgoyf – A rundown of what I was going to play in a PTQ that weekend. Unfortunately a G/W deck built to beat the mirror is not exactly the most exciting subject in Magic.

34. The Greatest Deck that Never Was – This is an amusing and educational story of how Flores and I had broken the format… until we discovered the actual rules text of the cards involved in our two-card kill combo, Rain of Gore and Beacon of Immortality. A great read that is both fun and a useful reminder of all that goes into developing a deck that is radically different.

35. U.S. Nationals Tournament Report *19th* Part 1: Preparation – The story of how I built the deck with which I went on to win the Standard portion of Nationals. The deck was a fun and exciting take on Teachings, an engine that many players thought was dead on account of the popularity of high-tempo Blink decks.

This was an entertaining tournament report, and well worth checking out.

36. U.S. Nationals Tournament Report *19th* Part 2: Execution – Continuing the saga of The KorlashX deck that I did well at Nationals with (if only I could draft…). The most interesting discovery was that the Korlash aspect of my deck (which I thought my deck was based on) was actually bad, and that I learned to sideboard out my Korlashes every round during the tournament.

It obviously sucked to have to play game 1 with a deck you feel is built wrong, but fortunately, Teachings was so well positioned that I was able to make up for it. I just wish I had four Spell Snares instead of one.

A good read, you should check out.

37. The GenCon Article – This is basically a tournament report for the Legacy and Vintage Championships, plus some fun stories. It would appear Imperial Aluren had missed its chance. While I certainly am not afraid to point out when I am right (Bitterblossom, Ancestral Visions, Runed Halo, Cruel Ultimatum, etc), it is only fair to point out some of my misses.

I maintain there was a time and place for my Imperial Recruiter Aluren deck. Unfortunately, that place was playtesting back in March of 2007.

38. Half a Dozen Insane Cameos – An incredible article that featured six special celebrity guest writers who each wrote a mini-article on a subject of their choice under “special restrictions.”

Check it out and see if you can identify the theme for each sections. If nothing else, it was an excellent showcase for some of the most talented writers in the game.

My apologies for Evan Erwin section, as it is a little difficult to digest, though his constraint was by far the hardest.

39. Extended Decklists and the Metagame to Come – A useful starting point for the Extended format that was going to be upon players preparing for Valencia. It is a great example of an article that was practical and helpful, though it offers less value when taken outside the context of that time and place.

Some articles are timeless (Who’s the Beatdown). Others are very much for one particular time. This is one such article.

40. A Scepter Chant Primer – A look at a constant mainstay in the Extended format until Orim’s Chant rotated, this primer not only presents a quality decklist with sideboarding plans, it also examines the theory behind one of the best decks to never receive the attention it probably deserved.

41. Dredge – A Serious Problem and How to Deal With It – While most players and theorists were ripping on Dredge, talking about how much of a gimmick it was, I put my neck on the line by saying that it was not only good but possibly broken, and that it would warp the entire format around it.

At the time, I was ridiculed much like when I predicted that Gush would dominate type 1 (back in 2001…). However, I would like to think that the results from the PTQ season that followed vindicated me. The most important thing to take away from this article is that sometimes when people say the sky is falling, it is because it is.

42. It Always Hurts When One Gets Away – A random collection of stories that flow together on account of the common theme of how it always hurts when one gets away. While the Magic contributions are mostly incidental, the stories are entertaining nonetheless.

Since this article, I try to keep my articles a little more Magic-oriented. While this article did receive great reviews, it was on account of readers who found the non-Magic stories fun.

43. Cryptic Relic and G/W Aggro-Teeg in the New Standard – With the addition of Lorwyn, I predicted exciting changes. My claim was that Cryptic Command was the not only the best Command (not Profane Command, as most claimed), but that it was one of the best cards printed in years.

In addition to a deck that takes advantage of this powerful new bomb, I presented an aggro deck that was a notable precursor to “Little Kid G/W.”

44. Solar Flare and Cryptic Inversion, Plus A Return to Rationality – While I continued to evolve my Standard deck, this time incorporating the Haakon engine, I also presented a little food for thought that was aimed to stimulate thought on helping transcend whatever plateau you may be trapped on.

The theory half of this article turned out okay, but I was somewhat disappointed as it was not as powerful a piece as some of my others.

45. Untold Tales of a Pro (Me) and Thoughts on Eternal Players Being Pros – I suddenly found my deadline moved up on account of Craig taking off to go to Valencia for the Pro Tour [let’s not talk about that — Craig], so I decided to share some up until now untold stories from my PT history.

In addition, I examine the Vintage sub-culture a little and debate the concept of Vintage experts being “Pros” as they consistently make money from their format, despite not being qualified for the Pro Tour.

46. Spotlight On States – Grim Teachings – Here, I present the basic deck that I would go on to take to States. While this article is hardly groundbreaking, it does feature nice new technology, and again presents my best technology the week before the PT.

47. Michigan States Report (66 Cards, Yeah What of It?) – I tried breaking the 60-card rule, going so far as to play 66 cards. In my defense, I was hardly the only one, with other great players like GerryT adopting 63-66 card decks. Check it out to examine the theory behind why we made this move.

I would like to say that this was a case of it being right to play more cards, but the truth is that we almost certainly would have done better with 60-62 card decks, rather than 63-66…

48. Goblestax in Vintage – A bizarre new Vintage deck that had some new ideas, but in practice was nowhere near tier 1. Not the most interesting article I have ever written; I was just not as heavily involved in the Vintage community as I was the Standard and Extended scenes.

49. Thermodynamics in Magic – I had great hopes for this article, and still stand by the principals detailed in it, but the execution was not what it should have been. I would like to think that perhaps this article is too far ahead of its time, but perhaps I don’t do a good enough job of describing this way of viewing the physics of Magic.

To this day, I maintain that this model is extraordinarily accurate and such a useful way to put Constructed into perspective that someone should go back and rewrite this article in a more reader-friendly way.

While I was praised by several Pros for putting into words such an important concept that hadn’t been handled, the majority of readers did not connect with this one at the time. I still highly recommend going back and reading this one. Maybe the time to talk about these ideas will come sooner rather than later.

I fear the title may have distracted from the content, as some readers did not feel that it was an accurate way to describe the model I presented, but to me the most important aspect of the work is beginning to put words to abstract Magic concepts that few players have ever conceived of, but all players fundamentally use.

Join me next week when I indulge a little more in my walk down memory lane. I hope this article has been a helpful guide that may be able to point you to useful material to learn from, enjoy, or perhaps even just remember fondly. It was a blast writing these articles, and going back over them again fills me with much warmth.

Do me a favor and take a minute to complete my polls below. It would be a great help to me on my quest to improve as a writer. See you next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”