Innovations – Ninth on Breakers, and Talk About Shards

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Thursday, September 18th – Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin is safely back from Italy, and gearing up for the release of Shards of Alara. Today, he looks over some of the sweeter cards spoiled so far, and brings us the low-down on his Italian extravaganza. Patrick thinks Shards of Alara promises to be the best new set in years… do you agree?

Where am I?

This room seems oddly familiar, like a distant memory. Wait… this is my bedroom, and I appear to be working on my computer. What is going on? I look at the clock, and it says 3:15. That isn’t strange, as it was 3pm a minute ago. What is strange is that it is dark out now. Is it 3am?

I go wash my face and try to get my bearings. It is 3am. Why was I asleep? Last thing I remember, I was in front of my computer trying to catch up on everything now that I am back from Italy.

I got back to Detroit at 5am Tuesday morning, after 33 straight hours of travel involving planes, trains, and automobiles (and buses, and walking, and…). During that time period, I slept in five short naps, so it is safe to say that my sleep schedule is on wack status.

I arrived home and found that there was no way I was going to sleep. I downloaded the internet and stayed busy all morning, willing the sun to come up. Eventually, the day rotated back in… I went out into the world and continued with the theme of productivity.

While at lunch with my best friend, I mentioned that I was on the “awake during the day” plan. I placed the over/under on its lifespan at 3 days. She guessed 1. I got home and sometime in the middle of the afternoon I was working at my computer when I just passed out face first on the keyboard. Does that count as being still on the daytime plan?

Italy was insane (which, as I had to clarify to a lady friend recently, means good). I stayed with Italian Stallion David Besso and 39 of his closest friends in a two-meter by three-meter walk in closet, at least when I was in Milan. Then we trained our way to Rimini and stayed in a dope apartment.

When we last left our hero, I was at the Eurovino Vintage Bonanza in Milan which you can read about here. I didn’t end up winning, getting Stax locked twice. My deck needed a little bit more against Stax, since Counterbalance Top just isn’t effective against them. Also, Grudge alone isn’t enough since they power out a Chalice for two.

Speaking of Vintage… is it just me, or does Shards seem to be one of the best sets for Vintage ever made? I am gonna get back to my Italian adventures; I just want to mention a couple of cards while we are on the topic. (Also, my talk of Shards will not be on the Vintage spells alone…)

First of all, Tezzeret the Seeker is obviously hot, but has been discussed at length by other authors so I will merely link to Menendian and Silvestri‘s great articles.

Manaplasm is 1G for a 1/1 creature that gets +x/+x until end of turn, where x equals the converted mana cost of every spell you play. This guy seems so abusable. Outside of cute tricks like Fury of the Horde, he seems like an interesting alternative or addition to Tarmogoyf. Just think of it… you play Manaplasm on two, and any three-cost spell makes him a 4/4 for two. That is sick, and he only gets sicker.

I think this guy will be huge in every format. I would strongly consider this guy, as I think he has the potential to be a break-out monster. There are bells going off in my head on this guy. Two mana? He just seems so cheap for such a powerful effect. This is me going on record as liking him a lot without having played a game with him.

Hellkite Overlord in Oath is worth mentioning, but it’s old news at this point. Still, this guy is so freaking big. He might be the second most “powerful” creature ever printed (debatably above Akroma and behind Sundering Titan).

Mindlock Orb was recently spoiled on the Mothership. Thank goodness it is 3U, and not 4 as originally thought. It is an artifact that, once in play, means players are unable to search their libraries.

While it has a different set of implications in Vintage (another quick lock component for Workshop decks), it is not particularly scary, as it may prove tough for those decks to consistently get early Blue mana. Still, stopping fetchlands and tutors in their tracks is a strong effect. Interesting.

In more reasonable formats, there are plenty of obvious combinations for this card, such as Maralen of the Mornsong. However, it is unlikely to be Tier 1 since Maralen will often kill its controller before finishing the job.

Relic of Progenitus may have an impact of Vintage, but it’s really just another tool at your disposal depending on what you are trying to do.

Okay, enough of the Vintage. Sorry, I’ve just got the format on the brain since Eurovino 3. Man, those Italians take Vintage seriously! It was awesome to see such a gathering for the format. When a Vintage tournament is so major that it gets Pros like Paul Cheon, Luis Scott-Vargas, David Williams, and Michael Jacob to fly thousands of miles to compete, you’ve gotta sit up and take notice.

After the Vintage tournament was over, we set about perfecting our Block deck. It is no secret that Manuel Bucher and I are firm believers in the Five-Color Control archetype, and our testing was just reinforcing what we already felt.

Looking at the last Grand Prix, we saw that 91% of the field on Day 2 was playing Faeries, Kithkin, or Five-Color Control, so we tuned our list to beat those three decks. Overall, I think we did a great job there. I beat Manuel B in the last round to finish 9th on breakers. Cheon ended up 10th (thanks to a badly timed draw). Manu finished 22nd and Leo finished 25th. The other two pilots didn’t money. Still, not a bad showing for the deck.

The only real area of the metagame we missed was the popularity of Merfolk. I ended up 3-1 against it, but a number of my teammates had more trouble with it than I. I think it is a pretty bad match-up for this version, though not as bad as Demigod Red. We made a metagame call and ran without Runed Halo this time, which lead to many great moments (such as one of Cheon’s opponents keeping a hand with multiple Wispmares after sideboarding).

Here is the list, created by Manu and myself.

Enough has been said on Toast that I won’t get to into this version here. Suffice to say, River Kelpie is sick, especially against the mirror. If I were going to play this format again, the only major changes I would make would be to add a maindeck Mind Shatter (my MVP), and maybe change one of the maindeck Kelpies into an Oona.

Keep this build in mind for after the coming Standard rotation. Five-Color Control will be one of the dominant decks in the new format, no question. Man, there are so many spicy new cards in Shards to try.

For instance, those Charms are filthy (which, as I had to explain to the same girl as earlier, also means good).

Esper Charm, the BUW version, is an instant that lets you destroy target enchantment, or lets target player draws 2 cards, or forces target player to discard 2 cards. That is hot.

First of all, slide some of those bad boys in your maindeck and consider the implications. You need more card drawing than just Mulldrifter, and Careful Consideration leaves big shoes to fill. This card is efficient at drawing and combines well with the current permission.

Then, as a discard tool, it is an interesting way to disrupt people. When someone holds back a card, as they always seem to do, you hit them with this during their draw step as a sick beat. It is also a potent end of turn threat.

Finally, the fact that it beats Bitterblossom is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Esper Charm is the future. Bitterblossom isn’t the only relevant enchantment either. Seismic Assault much?

As exciting as the Esper Charm is, the one I am most excited for is the only unconfirmed Charm in the cycle. There is talk of a UGW Charm with the following modes: counter target spell, destroy target artifact, or put target creature on the bottom of its owner’s library. This card may or may not exist, though I hear the source is reputable. If it does, the implications are huge.

Three-mana counters are not exciting in their own right, but it is perfectly reasonable at that. The ability to destroy artifacts without having to dedicate narrow cards is great. The ability that really shines is the Unmake.

Wow. Just wow. Such a versatile defensive card is just what the doctor ordered. I can easily imagine a new Five-Color Control deck with some number of both of these Charms. The only real problem is the glut at the three-spot on the curve.

Between these cards, Firespout, Kitchen Finks, Mulldrifter, and more, there are just more three-drops than you can play. Speaking of which, that new lizard, Sprouting Thrinax might be the new Kitchen Finks. BRG for a 3/3 that, if it goes to a graveyard from play, gives you three 1/1 Saprolings. That is so busty.

Watch this guy. He has enormous defensive and offensive implications. He might not be quite Kitchen Finks, as he’s not quite so versatile, but he is at least comparable.

One more Charm I want to mention (though they are all noteworthy) is the RGW variant. It is an instant that gives you the following modes: deal 3 damage to target creature, return target card from your graveyard to your hand, or tap all creatures an opponent controls. This is an exciting tool for many people, for many reasons.

If you use it in a combo deck, it can be a Moment’s Peace, a back-up combo piece (or a card to put in a Gifts pile), or an answer to Gaddock Teeg style threats.

If you use it as a defensive tool, it is passable removal, a way to buy time towards a wrath, or a way to get back which ever answer you need to the current board state.

As an offensive weapon, it is removal, a way to get back whichever threat is best against the opponent, or just a way tap their team so you can attack for lethal.

I want to talk more about Shards, but there is more to say on Italy. Who am I to write in a logical and consistent manner?

The GP was a little late to start, but once it got going it was run well. The judging staff did a great job at what is always a daunting task: running a GP where the competitors speak five different languages.

After the Grand Prix, Manu, Cheon, and I took over the gunslinging booth and had a blast. The tournament goers lined up to take shots at us for hours, and I mean hours. We were given some boxes of product to give out a pack at a time to people who beat us. We originally planned to play for two hours, but ended up having so much fun that we didn’t tap out until the crowd had won every single pack we had.

My most memorable match was my first sanctioned one against Wafo-Tapa. What a master. We were playing the Five-Color Control mirror and had a marathon game 1. I didn’t play a land on turn 4 and ended up discarding, but he just didn’t do anything.

I worked and I worked and I eventually found a way to disrupt him (Cryptic Commanding his land every turn for four straight turns) that allowed me to force through a Kelpie. This allowed me to take control of the game when combined with Oona’s Grace.

Any lesser man would have given up in Wafo’s position, but he studied my graveyard and saw that I may be plus 20 cards, but most of my good cards were already in my graveyard. He diligently struggled on and eventually arrived at a position where he could deck me with a Broken Ambitions (though he had already used two).

Two straight Cryptic Commands bought him time and eventually he drew the Broken Ambitions for my lethal Cloudthresher. I had made a small mistake, playing Cloudthresher on his endstep instead of my mainphase, giving him one more turn to draw the Ambitions, which he did.

We clashed… but he already knew I had a land from earlier clashes. What a master.

I also want to take a minute to point out the class that Wafo displayed in our match. After our epic game 1 left us with only 12 minutes, it was clear that time would be a determining factor and Wafo is know for being one of the slowest players on the tour.

Still, he sideboarded in 30 seconds, shuffled in 1 minute, presented, then cut my deck without even shuffling it.

We played, and every one of his turns took under 15 seconds. I played ultra aggressive, tapping out for a creature on my own turn, which lead to me getting Mind Shattered. Then, rather than just play defensively and time me out, Wafo attacked in not-totally-secure board positions, going for the win on damage, not time. I am truly impressed. Wafo is a true champion.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the other true master at this tournament, Shuhei Nakamura. Is this guy even real? He has 52 Pro Tour Points… and there are still two more Pro Tours to go! Wafo is unreal (which, I should mention, also means good), but Shuhei is too. Man, I just don’t know out who’s the king out of these two. Wafo plays more to my style, but I have so much respect for Shuhei. Both are dedicated beyond belief. Much respect.

One of my favorite cards rumored to be in Shards is the Knight of the White Orchid. It is a human knight for WW that is a 2/2 first strike. When it comes into play, if you control fewer lands than an opponent, you may search your library for a plains and put it into play. That seems bonkers to me.

This is the type of card that will change things, and it is too hard to tell right now just what that means. Seriously though, that card is hot. You are paying almost nothing for such respectable card advantage and mana acceleration.

Another card that will have an enormous impact is Wild Nacatl. It is G for a cat warrior that gets +1/+1 if you have a Mountain and +1/+1 if you have a Plains. That guy might be the sickest one-drop of them all. Imagine him, Kird Ape, and Figure of Destiny all fighting together. An entire of deck full of cards worthy of hanging with Tarmogoyf. Wow. Zoo is gonna be sick.

This set is so sweet. After a lukewarm Eventide, Shards looks to be one of the strongest sets in a long time. It will impact every format, and it has tons of fun, versatile cards that can go in many decks. I have not been so excited for a set in years. Nothing I have seen looks broken, but there are so many interesting and powerful cards… plus, they are not all rare (or worse, mythic).

My hat’s off to the all-star design team. This set is cool story-wise, visually, mechanically… it seems to have everything. Morningtide was really powerful, but many of the cards were narrow and very linear, forcing you down predictable paths. Most of the cards in Shards look like they give you all the freedom in the world to play whatever strategy you want.

I love that.

So, what’s next? Grand Prix: Kansas City is next month, but that’s Limited. Berlin is in seven weeks, bringing the new Extended to the forefront. This time around I am working with Manuel Bucher, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Paul Cheon, LSV, The Ruels, and Guillaume Matignon. I think we have a strong group, and hopefully we will work well together.

One of the most important things I learned in Italy these past two weeks is that Manuel Bucher and I are totally on the same wavelength regarding deckbuilding. This has me only more excited about Berlin, both to compete and just to see what we come up with.

I am just about out of time, so let me leave you with 10 interesting things about Italy…

1. The women of Milan are all so beautiful. Mathematically, they can’t all be models, can they?

2. I like American Pizza better than Italian Pizza. Surprisingly, Italian hand-made Pizza just doesn’t do it for me like a random delivery pizza in America.

3. Italian Pasta… now that is another story! Wow, so good.

4. They don’t eat very much meat in Italy compared to America. First thing I did when I got home was go to McDonalds and order four double cheeseburgers plain.

5. The Italian Magic Community is alive and well. What a great selection of gamers. It was truly a pleasure to play cards with so many pleasant Italians for a few weeks. I look forward to the next Italian event that I can attend. They were good players that made games a great time.

6. Public transportation in Italy is so much better than the U.S… I guess that is true for all of Europe.

7. Since when did air conditioning go out of style? In Italy, it is not that common. Ouch, seeing as Italy is pretty warm in the summer.

8. Speaking of which, Ice is not cool in Italy. McDonalds is Americanized and actually gives you three ice cubes with a large drink (which is the size of a medium in America), but no-one else served ice the whole trip.

9. The exchange rate will destroy you. Most things cost more Euros there than they cost dollars here. That is particularly rough when you factor in the worse than 1.5 to 1 exchange rate working against you…

10. Italy in the Summer really is that beautiful. The buildings, the weather, the people. If you are ever considering a vacation to Italy, I highly recommend it.

The sun is up, so I guess I am out for today. I will be back to my regular time and place, Monday next week, so I’ll catch you then. Later.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”