Innovations – Solar Flare and Cryptic Inversion, Plus a Return to Rationality

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With eyes set on Spain and Pro Tour: Valencia, Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin has set the Extended cards aside for a look at Lorwyn Standard. Today, he presents two decks, one of which he took to the infamous Mockvitational this past weekend. So how did he do? You’ll have to read on to find out… And if that’s not enough, Patrick also has a few ideas on how to get out of those all-too frequent crippling slumps.

Solar Flare has come to describe just about any U/B/W control deck featuring some sort of reanimation strategy backed by mana accelerators, sweepers, and card draw. Permission, discard, and spot removal all appear from time to time, but are not always present. Now, with Ravnica rotating out, the deck needs a facelift. Obviously the manabase has to change, but the creature selection has to shift as well. Lorwyn offers some interesting synergies, and I decided to try a little experiment while competing in the Top8Magic Mockvitational (I promise, this article is mostly about relevant formats, stay with me).

Let me rewind a few days. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I ran around like a madman (as opposed to a mad poet…) taking a route to New York that actually took about 32 hours of driving. Don’t ask.

I end up arriving Friday night and get ready for the “Invitational Formats” that BDM has devised. This particular tournament will be ran as 4 rounds of Build Your Own Block, 3 rounds of Lorwyn Draft, and 3 rounds of New Standard. Build Your Own Block involves using a first set, like Urza’s Saga; a second set, such as Planar Chaos; and a third set, for instance Coldsnap. You use the Legacy and Block banned lists, and none of your sets can be from the same block.

I like this kind of special format, though I admittedly have been too busy to prepare much. I bounced some ideas off of Ben Lundquist and some of my other friends like Rich Hoaen (Limited Specialist), Mark Herberholz (who asked if I was stupid), and LSV (Our National Champ). See, I can name drop with the best of them.

The day before, I talk to Flores on the phone and it is revealed that he is running Cranial Extraction and Sphere of Resistance, among other disruption spells like Bog Down (he was running Survival Recur with Top, Kokusho, and some Planeshift hotness). Well, I guess I am not running my Panda-Burst Replenish deck, nor my Dragonstorm. Flores helps me come to realize that I am driving 1000 miles to battle in an exhibition with no cash prize. There is no way I am losing to him.

I decide that the best way to have fun and not lose to Flores is to play a conservative strategy. I was considering playing a Tradewind deck with Tempest-Nemesis-Dissension, when I stumbled upon the fact that Urza’s Destiny is very strong for Blue. I was originally going to drop just swap it in and stick with Tradewinds, but after toying with the list a little, decided on the following Te-Al-UD:

4 Whispers of the Muse
4 Counterspell
4 Dismiss
4 Force of Will
3 Capsize
3 Treachery
2 Legacy’s Allure
2 Lat-Nam’s Legacy
4 Sapphire Medallion
3 Powder Keg
2 Masticore
3 Stalking Stones
4 Wasteland
18 Islands

3 Bottle Gnomes
3 Steal Enchantment
3 Ertai’s Meddling
3 Temporal Adept
1 Stalking Stones
1 Grindstone
1 Interdict

Saturday, I showed up and was paired up with MJ round 1. It was a fun, interesting match, filled with laughter and trash talk. Going into game 3, I had three minutes to win. A lesser man would not have attempted such a feat with a Mono-Blue draw-go deck. However, I quickly kept my hand a prepared to beat down. Flores takes a mulligan.

Very suspicious.

When we finally start, I drop the turn 4 Masticore and am just all in. I Force to protect it and just start bashing. When the final turn of time elapses, MJ is at four, though to be fair he could have stalled much longer. Obviously, I played bizarre, just trying to win in time. Still, who knows what would have been.

I play against Donate-Illusions, Orzhov Midrange, and the Bye, ending up 2-1-1. We draft Lorwyn and I end up with a solid U/W Merfolk deck, though I scrub out on play mistakes by myself and excellent play by Michael J’s Apprentices. This means the Standard portion would be an opportunity to experiment.

While I endorse playing U/B or U/B/x control at States this year, I thought I would try something a little different. A U/B control deck. Hoho.

In the first round of Standard play, I face an Elemental Red Aggro deck, splashing for Tarmogoyf. At first, I must admit, I underestimated the Elemental Tribe, but upon discovering that Storm Entity and Lightning Serpent are Elementals, I came around. I end up taking it to three, but in the end, some clutch direct damage was too much for me. Pendelhaven was actually extraordinary versus my 2/2s and 3/2s.

The second round saw me face another Red Aggro deck, this one piloted by the one and only Jon Becker. His was a more traditional build, though also splashing for Tarmogoyf. I got wrecked. Where were my giant monsters? What I needed was Aeon Chronicler or something. Oh, what I’d do for a Skeletal Vampire!

It was at this point I realized I had seen enough. I conceded my final round and kicked it with newly inducted Hall of Famer, Zvi Mowshowitz. Flores, Becker, BDM, Zvi? What a great time.

So the deck was a failure. First of all, it has too much mana/not enough draw. This engine has some problems. I am not sure how to fix it, but some kind of muscle is needed. Maybe Aeon Chronicler, maybe Akroma? I am not sure. I tell you though, it sure would have been nice to be packing Tarmogoyfs and Cloudthreshers. Also, this bad boy did not need Damnation or Cryptic Command, which is probably the sign of a suspect Dimir deck itself.

However, it was not a total failure. I learned a bit about the format and got to watch in action a lot of random ideas from people outside my usual play circle. Here is what I might play if States were tomorrow:

But I don’t know…

I do know the Haakon Engine is a sick one (Nameless Inversion, etc). If you are not familiar with this combo, read about it in Flores’s article here.

I am not sure what all to put in the sideboard, but I know it must contain at least one Tormod’s Crypt and a lot of Extirpates. Breaking up graveyard combos like this will be very important.

Topic Change!

Here is an interesting question. A friend of mine asked me recently why he wasn’t good at Magic anymore. He had played on the Pro Tour a fair amount and was on top of his game a year or two ago. What happened?

That is a good question. Not so much for him specifically, but for mages in general. How do you know when your ability is temporarily high or low? Was he just abnormally high for a year or two? Is he just abnormally low now?

Here is a question I asked myself that hit a little closer to home. Am I as good as I used to be? That leads to all sorts of lines of thought if allowed to grow. Is everyone else just far better than they used to be? There is no question the answer is “yes” to that in many regards. Still, what about me? How do we know if we are in a high or low?

Part of the problem is that people have a tendency to overestimate their own ability. Whether a player makes Top 8 of his first Pro Tour or final table of his first big poker tournament, he is at risk of developing an irrational perspective on himself and his abilities. This can actually be a very useful trait, as discussed in Information Cascades in Magic. However, it is surely a weakness if left unchecked.

One of the best examples I can think of is, ironically enough, myself playing Roulette a number of years ago. I was on vacation in Sydney, Australia with my girlfriend, and we decided to hit up the Casino. They kept bringing us free drinks and we kept partying. Eventually, I was completely trashed and playing Roulette.

Yeah, nice combination.

I sit down with a grand or so and develop some elaborate system that was in reality nothing more than a clever way of disguising the redoubling method, with a little bit of random behavior thrown in for good measure.

An hour later, I have four or five thousand bucks and am so drunk that my memories of sitting at that table make me spin. I ask the young lady accompanying me what to do. It turns out she is as drunk as me and can’t even comprehend the question. I repeat it, this time slowly, and she answers with a fairly safe, “what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” I answer.

“Do you think you can win more?” she asked.

Of course I think I can win more. I am blasted out of my mind.

The next morning I awoke in the second biggest suite in the hotel (and at $2560 a night, I would hope so) not remembering much of how the night ended.

Yeah, I bet this is a good set up, on the average.

I look around to assess the situation. Yep, there is no question… this suite cost a bundle. I hope it’s paid for. I look in my pockets.

Ten thousand dollars.

Must. Be. Nice. (And it was)

I go look for my girlfriend to tell her the good news. I find her passed out on the balcony, sitting next to a pile of waffles.

It turns out she was actually slightly less gone that me, and was at least aware enough of our good fortune to arrange the situation we were currently in. She swears that we only got this suite because when checking in, we were asked what room, and I answered with The Presidential Suite. I was then asked to put down the $10000 needed for my first night there. It was at this point that I decided I actually wanted the seconded biggest suite, despite my unreliable condition.

So what does this have to do with anything? A lot, actually. I developed a small irrational perspective on roulette. Despite winning $10000 my first time playing (more or less), I went on to slowly lose money playing Roulette. I mean, no question I convinced myself I was just having fun, but there is certainly a part of me that though I should be ahead of the game. What made things worse was that under my system, I would win $500 90% of the time and lose $5000 the other 10% of the time. That doesn’t actually add up well, when you crunch the numbers, though it does create the illusion that I would win a lot.

Now, fortunately, I was blessed to have a $10,000 cushion to begin with, but when all was said and done, I am probably only up about $4,000 lifetime, and I plan on playing little if ever again. Basically, I eventually broke my irrational picture caused by the gambler’s curse of early success. Now when I am at a Casino, I behave rationally and find smart bets to better utilize my talents and resources.

I think that Magic is like that. You need a certain amount of bad beats before you eventually have to force yourself to return to rationality. Once you have realigned, you can better act to further your agenda, whether it be win at Magic or bring into your life whatever it was that Magic was doing for you in the past.

You haven’t been putting up the numbers lately and want to return to rationality? Then take a step back and consider the possibility, if but for a moment, that you are “temporarily” in a low. Once you give yourself permission to acknowledge that you are in a low, it is amazing how much to which you will open yourself up, and the sources from which you’ll consider learning.

I am not proposing that you should view yourself lower than you really are. I am merely suggesting that if you haven’t been getting the results this year that you have in previous years, try a little humility. It’ll do you good. I know it worked wonders for me.

I’ll see you cats next week. Good luck in Valencia, those of you qualified, and good luck in States to everyone competing.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

PS: Come to the forums for the next installment of “Mark Herberholz: Mysteries of the Pro Tour,” courtesy of Heezy himself!