Innovations – Reader Mailbag (Includes Two Very Different Swan Decks)

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Monday, April 28th – Today’s Innovations sees Patrick Chapin open up his hefty mailbag, packed to the brim with requests for help from the great and good of the StarCityGames.com readership. He brings us two takes on the Swan deck, his thoughts on the current Standard and Extended metagames, and the most important paragraph on improvement at Magic that you’ll ever read…

Hello Patrick

Does a Blue/Red Teachings deck with Sulfurous Blast as an instant/tutorable Wrath have a chance in the current metagame? I loved playing your Teachings deck from Nationals, so I thought you’d be a good person to ask.


Matt, that is an interesting question. My inclination is that a Teachings build is probably wrong for the current format, given the presumed weakness to Faeries, Merfolk, and Red. However, if you are interested in a U/R counterspell deck, what about using Swans of Bryn Argoll as your card draw engine instead of Teachings?

For instance:

Granted, I brewed this while typing, so apologies if it isn’t “ready yet.” However, the point is to give you a starting point. The idea is a weird take on Snow Red. Maybe that element needs to be embraced more. Isn’t it interesting that Swans of Bryn Argoll is almost a bizarre Stuffy Doll?

Mr. Chapin,

I have two questions:

1. What is the easiest way to improve at Magic? I’m a 1605 who regularly attends FNMs and small tournies. I always metagame, but seem to get outplayed a lot. Are there any tips you could give me? What thought process do you undergo before choosing the optimal play?

For example… I’m playing your UWbr Teachings list. A rather routine play, but one I struggle with nonetheless: either I have both Prismatic Lens and Rune Snag in hand, or both Prismatic Lens and Remove Soul in hand. Is the matchup dependant? Do I always want to accelerate? Or do I always want counter mana up?

2. I’m going to PTQ for block… any suggestions for decks that don’t require Bitterblossoms?

Thanks for any help you can give me. I really appreciate it.


Okay, that counts as seven questions, but no problem! In order:

– The “easiest way to get better at Magic” is to practice. The “best way to get better at Magic” is to study people who do what you want to be doing as well as you want to be doing it. This is not just good advice for Magic, obviously, and study doesn’t have to involve knowing them or stalking them.

Do you admire the way Adrian Sullivan builds his own decks and works with them until they are tournament winners, despite not fitting a pre-existing mold? Then read his articles, listen to his advice, and (most importantly) think about why he makes the choices he makes. Why does he say what he says? Why does he do what he does? What is he trying to accomplish?

Read feature match coverage. Follow major tournaments. Try to soak up whatever you can about players that you respect. Then study their moves. Why did they make the play they did? Put yourself in their shoes… why would they try that? Why would they play that? Did they just make a mistake? Remember, everyone makes mistakes, even Kenji. There is no shame in it. The shame is in not admitting you are in error, and refusing to learn.

Practice is crucial for most players who want to become good. Jon Finkel was always world class and has never been anything other than unbelievable. However, natural talent is not the be all and end all. Kai Budde is not naturally as good as he is when he practices. It took him years to get to the top, but through hard work and dedication he is now considered more or less on par with Jon Finkel, the Babe Ruth of Magic.

Kai’s secret? Aside from always playing one more land than everyone else, he simply worked harder than anyone. Practice pays off.

– Yes, there are tips I could give you. Read my articles, heh. It is not that I am unwilling to share here, as I am all about that. It is just that after doing this for 15 years, I can’t really sum up what I have learned in 2000 words, unless you want to miss a lot of the really important details.

– The process I undergo before choosing a play is a very intuitive one, although not all good players play this way. I usually just do whatever “feels right,” although at times it feels like I should be “calculating,” where I imagine that I do one particular option available to me. Then I imagine the entire chain of events that could follow. I happen to be very capable of imagining complex trees of possibilities, but in the event that this sort of thought is not your strong point, developing a strong “instinct” is possible. Practice!

You are (probably) only mortal, so you only have a limited amount of mental energy to use on all of the tasks presented before you. As such, you can’t calculate everything. Since you can’t always think about what you “should” be thinking about, I find it is a good habit to just doing what is technically the “right” play, even when it is highly irrelevant, even in playtesting.

When you go through the motions of doing everything correctly, playing as flawlessly technically perfect as you can, you begin to reinforce the idea in your mind that you are a great technical player. This in turn leads to subconscious decisions on your brain’s part to make tight technical plays… plays you might think wouldn’t matter, but plays that actually make the difference in the long run.

… And that is one of the most important paragraphs related to success at Magic that you will ever read.

– Re: Prismatic Lens and Rune Snag (or Remove Soul). This is not quite as big an issue, but to answer the question… Ask yourself if you “want” to cast the Snag on turn 2. If you aren’t going to be happy about it, even if you do it, then perhaps you shouldn’t pay for the option to be able to do it (a.k.a. don’t spend the two mana on the Lens).

This is part of the reason why charge lands are so good. They let you pay two mana for the option of using a counterspell (or whatever), but in the event that you don’t have to, you get a mana paid back to you (and on a big turn). If you have a storage land, it is usually right to wait and play the Lens on turn 3, especially if you have two counterspells. Then you could play a counter on turn, followed by a Lens on turn 3 that leaves counter mana open for turn 4. Or, if you don’t use the counter you can charge your land, then on turn 3 you may want to leave the charge land untapped. That way, you can charge it again, or if your opponent has that one card you are concerned about, you can pull the charge counter off and Rune Snag the spell.

If you don’t have a charge land, the real question is what are you accelerating into? If you are all four-drops, then playing the Lens on turn 2 is a Time Walk (for you, which is a Good Thing). If your deck is mostly countermagic and card drawing, or a lock, you may want to wait.

With questions like this, the best policy is usually to ask the opinions of people you respect, then hold the general advice they give as the default and think about if there is a compelling reason to go against the rule. Magic, like Chess, is a game of rules that are only true 70% of the time (or whatever). The point is, these are just guidelines.

It is a rule to play with a legal deck. It is only a guideline that your deck have creatures, victory conditions, Blue, Tarmogoyf, whatever. Everything that is not a rule is negotiable. Certain guidelines, such as playing with 60 cards and not playing Mono-White, are pretty useful and are rarely disagreed with, but nothing legal is against the rules…

– I haven’t looked at Block at all, but Bitterblossom is obviously the defining card in the format. (For reference, see my set review of the card versus michaelj’s….) If you are committed to not playing with it, I guess I would try to find a strategy that exploits the predictable lines of deckbuilding that people will use, and take advantage of it. Block formats rarely have more than three major archetypes. Figure out what the archetypes are and find a strategy that preys on the two most popular.

I could be insane, but it seems like there could be a rather good Wild Pair deck in Standard right now… it’s got all the cards to make it resolve, and there’s just something about Murderous Redcap comboing with Primal Forcemage that tickles me in ways that I can’t describe. Anything to add to this ?


One or more of these three things is probably true. Either:

1. You just haven’t been tickled in a manner so tantalizing, so teasing so as to inspire you to reach new levels of articulation. That would be an unfortunate state of affairs, but not one that cannot be rectified.
2. You may just not be being imaginative enough. Being able to put your thoughts together regarding a subject such as the pleasure you derive from being tickled might be a step towards reaching your fullest potential as a Planeswalker.
3. Maybe you are just insane. Insane people often have trouble communicating ideas, such as the ways they are being tickled, whether by women in leather that happen to be “real” or by women in leather who merely appear “real” to the crazy person. Wild Pair? I mean, it is pretty crazy to think combo could be good…

Primal Forcemage plus Murderous Redcap is pretty freaking sexy though. Why bother Wild Pairing? Why not just do things like that? That is so hot. I mean, I suppose you can still get Hellkites, etc. Heck, it might be nice to be Shushing and not have to deal with much permission (which, outside of aggro control decks, is not real). I would simply recommend you use a lot of cards against Merfolk and Faeries.

Whatever happened with your Chiquita? Anything? Of course, I can’t really keep track with all your ladies coming and going… That’s great about the sponsorship deal. I hope it works out for you. What a great way to make money.

M is doing great but I’m sure you already know all about that and how he’s become obsessed with his job, etc. I’m happy to see him interested.

I’ve missed you! Maybe I need to find a new penpal. JUST KIDDING! What have you been up to? I can tell you where I’ve been, changing stinky diapers, plodding back and forth to preschool, and writing my page a day for the musical. Hooray!

How is your dad doing? Give your parents my best. So, till next time…


– K

Much love. I am glad to see your family doing well. Your warmth and support has been a constant comfort these past many years. You and M are true friends.

The sponsorship deal could turn out to be a great thing for a lot of Pros, so I hope it comes together and not just for my benefit. You know me, though. I am not just endorsing the beverage. I love it!

I am greatly looking forward to the final result of your musical. I have had a lot going on regarding personal affairs, however, and I should be done with the restrictions holding me back this summer. That would see me traveling to International PTs and G’s, as well as handing me the time to return to the series of novels I am working on. Hooray!

My parents are doing well, and I will give them your regards. Take care K.

Hi Chapin,

My good friend Magnus played Next Level Blue and got steamrolled like there was no tomorrow. Do you still think the deck is viable?


I think LSV and Mateusz Kopec did a pretty good job of demonstrating that even at the very end of the season, NLU is still not only a viable strategy, but the other pillar of the metagame (along with Dredge). I can tell you that this strategy is going to be pretty sick post rotation…

(RE: Seismic Swans)

Nice Deck. A couple of weaknesses (Sudden Death, Extirpate, Pithing Needle). I am building this deck and playing it ASAP… Are there any changes you would make to the deck (main and sideboard) now that Shadowmoor is here?


I think this concept has a lot of potential, but obviously needs some work. I am working with some great players for Pro Tour: Hollywood, and so I must choose my words carefully so as to not violate anyone’s trust… but suffice to say, this concept is pretty filthy (in the best possible sense of the word).

Where are the Krosan Grips, Sudden Deaths, and so on? You think Sudden Death isn’t sick technology, and not just for this match-up…? Why do people keep wanting Mistbind Clique to get them?

This list is crazy fast, but too vulnerable to hate. A happy medium must be found. This deck could slow down almost a full turn and still out-race almost anything. The question is… what can be done to take advantage of this incredible speed to give you the resiliency you desire?

You are my favorite Magic Player. I really like you a lot. A LOT. I mean, you are even friends with Jon Finkel. I want to be you when I grow up. I know you like winning at Magic. That is SO cool. I like winning too! It is like destiny. We should hang out. I like you a LOT. I don’t know everything about you, yet, but I am working on it. I usually just watch you when you eat at that soul food restaurant next to your apartment, but I think tomorrow I will make you talk to me. I love you.



Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”