Innovations – Reader Mailbag: Elves, Prison, TPS, Finkel, and More

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Monday, January 5th – Today’s Innovations sees Patrick answering a handful of reader correspondence, on topics including Extended Elves, Black/White Prison in Legacy, the demise of Tron, and how to battle against unknown strategies…

Hi Patrick,

Keep up the good work on StarCityGames.com. What do you think of Tron for the current Extended season? I think it has a really good match-up against Faeries and Elves. What do you think?


Thanks for the positive energy. I wish I could keep the positivity about Tron, but sadly, I think its day has come and gone. It has reasonable game against Fae and Elves, yes, but it is just too inconsistent and unremarkable against the field. If you have your heart set on Tron, read Aaron Nicastri great article here.

Path to Exile might have a home in some sort of U/W Tron deck, for what its worth, though the Black may still be better.

I think there are just better ways to play Gifts right now. Why use a Tron shell? What about a Faeries shell? What about a Death Cloud shell? As a side note, I think Ghost Quarter is really good at the moment.


Are you THE Patrick Chapin who placed second at Worlds? I would love to talk with you about Magic sometime. If you are, I just wanted to give you a shout out from Germany, and ask you if you are thinking of playing Elves at Grand Prix: LA…?




I was considering playing Elves in LA, but I think I will probably just play some sort of Faeries deck (though I will surely do things a little different). Here is how I would play Elves if I was going to play with it today.

I think that Weird Harvest is just a superior engine to Chord in this deck. The ability to go off without a Glimpse is just too great to pass up.

The Vexing Shusher and Gaea’s Herald are my concession to the popularity of Faeries. It is possible that it is just better to use two Vexing Shushers, but since I have so many tutors, I thought it might be worth trying the split, so that you can have the right one at the right time.

They each have their advantages. Vexing Shusher is slightly stronger, as he is immune to Spell Snare and can force through Glimpse. He is the more reliable choice. Gaea’s Herald is nice in that he is an Elf for Heritage Druid, etc, as well as not requiring an activation cost. The question is totally whether or not you can stick him versus can you pay the mana for the Shusher.

I don’t love the Boreal Druids, which are currently primarily for fueling quick Weird Harvests. The thing is, I just don’t love the Hivemaster. He plays out okay, sure, but he is sort of a concession to not combo-ing. Without the Chords, it is much harder to justify his presence.

The Horizon Canopies seem better than Forests in my testing, especially since I cut the Black dual lands. I don’t want to expose myself overly to Blood Moon, so Gilt-Leaf Palace is not totally free. Besides, I don’t really want Thoughtseize anymore.

Sideboard cards I am interested in include Jitte, Gleeful Sabotage, Choke, more Shusher, Mycoloth, Fecundity, Imperious Perfect, and Viridian Shaman. I am not yet sure of the right mix. I feel like aggressively pursuing percentage in the Fae match-up, we can give ourselves the edge we need for a major tournament, as many of our other match-ups will offer free wins on account of them underestimating us.

If not for how much I like Blue Control in this format, I would be playing this at the GP.


I enjoy reading your SCG articles, particularly when you talk about Legacy and Vintage (which you don’t do as often as you used to).

What about writing about Eternal formats once a month?

Thanks again, and keep on writing for SCG.

Best wishes,



Thanks for the support. I like thinking about a variety formats and have a history of involvement in Vintage, much more so a few years back, but this interest has waned somewhat in recent years. Right now, I am particularly interested in Pro Tour and Grand Prix formats, as the whole Pro Experience is sort of the subgame I am playing. As such, it is hard to really throw myself into Vintage, considering its lack of relevance.

I would love an excuse to throw myself back into it, and if some significant tournament, such as an Invitational, warranted the time and energy, I would definitely try my hand at it again. Until then, I have too many other formats such as Block, Extended, Standard, and now Legacy to look at.

As far as Legacy goes, I am probably looking at it more closely than is warranted by the one Grand Prix in March. However, I relish the opportunity to think about a format I don’t normally get to play. Besides, a lot of the cards and strategies that are good in Legacy are very enjoyable to me. I enjoy casting Brainstorm far more than Ancestral Recall.

I can’t really commit to writing about Eternal on any sort of a regular basis, as I just don’t play it as much as other formats; however, I do enjoy it when I can.

Here is a deck I brewed up and played in the Meandeck Open recently.

I was not overly successful, losing to Affinity with Elvish Spirit Guides and a Counterbalance-Top deck. In retrospect, I am not sure the combo does enough. I did have fun winning 19 out of 20 games against Dredge (all game 1).

The Idea is pretty straightforward. It plays like a regular Mono-W Stax deck… however, it kills with the Leyline of the Void plus Helm of Obedience combo. Helm was errated this year to a wording that allows you to deck your opponent if you tap it and pay 1 with a Leyline in play, since it repeats until you put x cards into the graveyard (and with Leyline, you never put any).

I think I am going to focus on Counterbalance-Top-BrainstormForce of Will, such as in my article here from last week.

If I was playing Vintage tomorrow, I would probably play the following deck, inspired by Steve Menendian:

Jon invited you to “4th Annual Lazy Man’s New Year” on Wednesday, December 31 at 9:00pm.

Event: 4th Annual Lazy Man’s New Year – “Because there’s nothing else to do.”
What: Night of Mayhem
Host: Jon Finkel
Start Time: Wednesday, December 31 at 9:00pm
End Time: Thursday, January 1 at 4:00am
Where: Magic Manor


Thanks, but as you know, I was unable to make it to New York for New Year’s Eve. Thanks though, this will make for a great shameless name drop. I look forward to seeing you this Spring. I am proud of the work you have done with Jamie. Finkel draft is the absolute height of Limited Magic on Earth. Bravo!


This is my list. It’s an expansion of a Block Constructed deck I was running.

4 Fertile Ground
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Naya Charm
3 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Ajani Vengeant
1 Sarkan Vol
2 Primal Command
4 Firespout
2 Cloudthresher
4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Kitchen Finks
1 Siege-Gang Commander
2 Archon of Justice
4 Jungle Shrine
3 Vivid Grove
2 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Wooded Bastion
2 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
3 Reflecting Pool
6 Forest

3 Wrath of God
4 Guttural Response
1 Primal Command
1 Siege-Gang Commander
2 Fulminator Mage
3 Wispmare
1 Ajani Vengeant

Any thoughts or suggestions? Should I focus more on a single matchup maindeck and ditch the one-ofs in main or side? So far the deck has little problem with aggro matches, and the power of Naya Charm to tap down their force means I can kill in one turn with Chameleon Colossus. The manabase seems okay, but I want to fit in 2 or 3 Treetop Village (without having too many comes-into-play-tapped lands)… so what to cut?

The Planeswalkers are powerhouses, and Sarkan Vol is overall the weakest, but he is usually worth topdecking, and the big ability is gamebreaking. I almost want to go up to two Siege-Gang main because of the healthy interactions. But Archon and Cloudthresher are solid versus most matchups.

Are 4 Woolly Thoctars worth running in the side? Do they put on pressure in a control matchup?


Heya Jay!

I hope you had happy holidays. Hopefully I will see you at the next Detroit PTQ.

I think I get what you are trying to do with this deck, but I wonder how much we are benefiting from sticking to the Naya colors. What if we incorporated Broodmate Dragon? He seems so good right now, certainly better than Archon or Siege-Gang.

Also, I would prefer a slightly more consistent manabase. That is a lot of basic Forests

Is Civic Wayfinder an option? I mean, I get the Fertile Ground/Garruk interaction, but you aren’t really accelerating into anything. You have no Ultimatums.

I would try Vexing Shusher in the sideboard. He is such a potent anti-Fae and anti-control card.

I don’t love the positioning of Chameleon Colossus and Kitchen Finks in the current format. They are okay, but I wonder if we couldn’t do a little better…

Is there any way that Doran could fit in this bad boy? He is a Woolly Thoctor that means business.

I think you are onto something with the Treetop Villages, though I don’t think you are really in danger of having too many comes-into-play-tapped lands. You don’t have any one-drops, and I would try to just make sure you have at least 14 lands that come into play untapped. That means you can safely add three Treetop Villages for Forests, right off top with no problem. You don’t need that many Forests anyway.

Also, why does our deck revolve around 4 Naya Charm? What is worth spending three mana to regrow? What about three mana to Bolt?

Basically, I would try looking at some Jund Ramp decks, such as the strategies Michael J. Flores was espousing before Worlds. Personally, I prefer Five-Color Control, as I don’t see why you wouldn’t just play Cryptic Command, Cruel Ultimatum, and Mulldrifter… however, I think there are some interesting things going for that archetype.

Thoctor seems like a bad Doran, but why would you sideboard him against a deck full of Condemns (and Terror)? I think the better way to fight control with this deck is with Shushers and Mind Shatters.

Sorry to be adding Black to this deck, if that wasn’t what you had in mind, but I just don’t see this deck succeeding without Blue or Black in the mix. I’d say add Blue, but you know where that is going…

One final comment: I would pick a better assortment of Planeswalkers. Sarkan Vol seems totally wrong, whereas Ajani Vengent might be a three- or four-of.


I read your articles on StarCityGames.com. You are one of my favorite writers on the site. Can I ask you a question? I play in a lot of PTQs and have made Top 8 in a couple, but I have never won. I always play good lists published by you or GerryT or Sanchez, but I always seem to find myself in a situation where my opponent knows my strategy, but I don’t know theirs.

What can I do? I am not very good at making decks from scratch, so I don’t think I can plan on having more cutting edge technology than my opponents. What can I do to make up for this?

Thanks for your time.



This is a tricky position to be in. One of the prices of playing netdecks is that often you will find yourself paired against someone who knows your strategy as well as you do, if not better.

If you happen to face an opponent who is playing a strategy you are not familiar with, try to identify common characteristics between it and strategies with which you are familiar.

For instance, ask yourself, who is the beatdown? Is your opponent trying to beat you down, or defend? What colors does he seem to be playing/focused on? What will he try to make the game look like when he wins? What will he do to try to push the game in that direction?

What other decks have you seen that seem similar in some way to this deck? For instance, lets say you are up against a U/B/R token deck with Grixis Charm, Bitterblossom, and Goblin Assault, you can compare it to the B/W and B/R/G tokens decks you are familiar with.

After you analyze the common traits, you should have a better idea of how to handle this deck. For instance, sweeping the board every couple of turns and eventually clocking with a Broodmate Dragon is the key to beating B/W tokens with Standard Five-Color Control. This guy may have a different color scheme, but can you think of a compelling reason why the Broodmate plan would be less effective against him?

Try to identify general strategic tools employed by your opponent. Is he playing permission? Is he likely to have answers to an active Jitte? Can he race three Mutavaults? Does he plan on playing some game-winning cards like Death Cloud, or is he more interested in incremental advantage with Dark Confidant?

He has Incinerate, Rift Bolt, and Lightning Helix? Well, what other cards do you suspect he has based on this information? What is he capable of? Can he attack your hand with Blightning, or perhaps destroy your land with Molten Rain? If so, perhaps you should hold an extra land back.

The biggest thing is to identify his plan.


If you deduce how he plans to put the board in a position that will lead to his victory, you can plan on how to make sure that his plan never comes to fruition.

Watch for the cards he seems to care about out from your side of the table. Study his facial expressions and see what his words betray. Did he just Force of Will your Sphere of Resistance despite have several lands in play? Maybe he has some sort of combo.

Did he sacrifice his Polluted Delta on his first turn to get an untapped island? Beware of Stifle!

Really, though, you just need to be observant as possible and try to compare his strategy to those with which you are familiar. At the end of the day, control is control, aggro is aggro, and combo is combo (although combo can be control or aggro). Everything else is just derivative.

Also, read as much as you can. You may read about twenty random fringe strategies that seem like junk, but when you face one in a PTQ, you will be glad you are familiar with the sorts of things they may be up to.

Thanks again for the mail, you guys. As always, feel free to PM me or talk to me in the forums if there is ever anything I can do for you.

See you guys next week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”