Innovations – U.S. Nationals Tournament Report *19th* Part 2: Execution

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Last week, Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin took us through his preparations for U.S. Nationals in Baltimore. This week, armed with his final 75, he brings us all the action from the tournament itself. Match details, draft pick posers, Flores side bets, and fun stories, in one wonderful package! Intrigued? Then read on…

Jeff Cunningham.

If I could have my tournament report written by someone else, so as to maximize my personal enjoyment out of reading it, that is hands down who I would have. Ffej is at such a higher level than his peers it is almost a shame to have to compete against him in a category relating to storytelling. I mean, anyone who knows ffej, or has at least read some of his work, can back me on this. It is not even close. Who do you think Flores voted for? Michael J is even on the ballot!

I urge any of you who have not already voted to select Jeff Cunningham for the Invitational. Aside from bringing so much to the game, not just for play but for writing, he makes the event more interesting for us all. It is a nice bonus that he happens to be the greatest storyteller in the history of the game. Have you ever read “Untold Legends of the Million Dollar Magic the Gathering Pro Tour?” Some day, Mark Herberholz is going to publish a book full of nothing but logged chats between himself and ffej on AIM. This book will be a bestseller, and not just among Magic players.

Ffej is in a category with such storytelling legends as John Shuler, Brian Hacker, and Eric “Danger” Taylor. Aside from living legend Michael J (who thankfully makes things easier by not being able to attend), there are many great storytellers on the ballot this year, including fantastic entertainers like Evan Erwin and John Rizzo, vital theorists like Steve Menendian, and players who just plain make events fun like Gerard Fabiano and Jeroen Remie. The thing is, Ffej is unreal good. So, I guess, for what it’s worth, I am endorsing Jeff Cunningham. If you have had the pleasure of meeting him, then you already know what I mean. If you haven’t, read some of his work.

When we last saw our hero (The Innovator, not ffej), he was about to begin play in the 2007 United States National Championships, in Baltimore. Running with a four-color Coalition Relic deck featuring Tarmogoyf, Korlash, Mystical Teachings, and Beacon of Immortality, The Innovator prepared himself to battle many mighty mages from all over America, attempting to take advantage of the heavy preponderance of mid-range and aggro decks present. Part 1 of the tournament report can be found here. Here is what he ran:

The big debate, moments before the tournament began, was over the singleton Spell Snare. Patrick had added it to help combat Blink. The typical scenario was turn 2 Lens, turn 3 end step Mystical Teachings for Spell Snare so as to not get Time Walked by Remand, then turn 4 four-drop with Spell Snare back-up.

Michael J’s position was that Extirpate could do everything Spell Snare could do, only better. Patrick’s gut told him to go with the Spell Snare. Something about Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf just made Spell Snare sound a little more appealing.

The tournament began with Patrick facing a pleasant mage that thanked him for the Korlash deck that he used to qualify for Nationals. It would have been nice to have the names of each opponent available, but unfortunately, a fair amount of luggage mysteriously up and carried itself to East Lansing (which is where Mark Herberholz happens to live, as opposed to Patrick Chapin who lives in Detroit…), including Curve cologne, 12 Vesuvan Shapeshifters, match notes from the tournament, and a toothbrush.

This first Planeswalker had commented on running Chapin’s deck at his Regionals, so Chapin tried to fish for a little more info. Was he running Korlash again? Perhaps ICE? It was no use. This mage was giving up nothing.

The battle began with a Blood Crypt from The Innovator’s opponent. This is traditionally a good sign. A turn 2 Dark Confidant was met with the miser’s Spell Snare. My goodness, does that seem better than Extirpate.

Lots of card drawing and fatty love later, Chapin takes the first game. Chapin boards in Darkblast for Bob and Pull from Eternity for Greater Gargadon (these Rakdos mages have no fear!)

Game 2 is more interesting, and by interesting I mean that Chapin has to discard cards during his discard phase do to getting pwn’ed by multiple Hit/Runs and multiple Cryoclasms. However, there are certainly worse cards to draw in this situation then Tarmogoyf, and a 5/6 followed by another 5/6. With Chapin at one life, he mounts his comeback. Five Rakdos blanks later, he is has two lethal Tarmogoyfs in play and an opponent at five. Alas, it is not to be. A topdecked Rift Bolt seals the deal. To be fair, Rakdos had about 31 outs in each of those six draw steps, but man does it hurt to come so close and not quite get there.

Game 3 is fairly lopsided, with Rakdos getting the double Cryoclasm draw and Chapin getting the River of TearsTolaria West draw. Good times!


Round 2 matched Chapin with a wizard employing the Pyromancer’s Swath plus Storm synergy. Game 1 was a blowout, with Chapin drawing a fistful of Damnations and Slaughter Pacts while his opponent drew a fistful of Lotus Blooms and a Hatching Plans to go with his Perilous Research.

Fortunately, sideboards are still legal, and Chapin digs deep to see what he has available. Haunting Hymn, Extirpates, Pulls, and Krosan Grip all come in. Korlash, in what would become a recurring theme, left, as did some removal.

Game 2 saw the Pyromancer “go for it” on turn 5 with an Ignite Memories for five (usually a good play versus Chapin’s 4cc.dec). Chapin responded with a Beacon of Immortality, targeting himself. To say the Pyromancer had not anticipated this particular maneuver would be an understatement. With forty hit points and a six-drop out of his hand, Chapin managed to survive and begin the process of disrupting his opponent. A Spell Snare, An Extirpate, and a Krosan Grip later, a Tarmogoyf finishes off the Pyromancer.

Game 3 involves a great deal of bluffing on the part of Chapin, attempting to convince the Pyromancer that it was just not safe to “go for it.” With a combined casting cost of thirty, Chapin’s hand was just not ready for an Ignite. Chapin Extirpates Remands and does the math. His opponent will surely go off next turn, as he will have mana to Pyromancer’s Swath and Ignite. He weighs the options. Basically it comes down to either casting Beacon on himself, or Haunting Hymning the Pyromancer.

With his opponent at six cards in his hand, he was fairly sure that he could have easily been killed two turns previous, and that even if he doubled his life from 18 to 36, he would die to a double Pyromancer’s Swath plus Ignite for five (holding a grip of all four-drops, save the Beacon and Haunting Hymn, as well as a lonely Tarmogoyf). He elects to go with the Hymn, knowing his opponent will keep a Pyromancer’s Swath and an Ignite. This means that any spell will allow an Ignite for three, which when combined with the Swath is fairly awkward, but his best bet.

The Pyromancer draws, and sure enough plays a Hatching Plans that can’t be sacrificed, but at least builds the storm count to the unfortunate total of three. The Swath means that each Ignite copy will do X+2, which pretty much sucks for Chapin, considering that his hand is four-drop, four-drop, four-drop, four-drop, six-drop, two-drop.

Ignite #1 resolves. Damnation. Okay, we’re fine.

Ignite #2 resolves. Careful Consideration. Frown.

Ignite #3 resolves. Tarmogoyf! There is an Urza!

Chapin untaps and begins the process of dismantling the Pyromancer. Extirpate nails Ignites and a Beacon doubles his life from 2 to 4, putting him out of range of a Grapeshot for one. Several turns later, Chapin is victorious.


Round 3 featured a U/G/W Blink player who is friends with Gerry T and Gabe Walls, running an identical copy. Game 1 is a blowout, with Blink on the play simply running over Chapin with insane amounts of tempo.

Game 2 goes very much the other way, with Blink unable to compete with a Damnation three-for-one, followed by a Tarmogoyf backed by multiple Careful Considerations.

Game 3 was a heartbreaker, with Blink actually drawing insane rip after insane rip. Somehow a lonely Tarmogoyf was struggling to win a seemingly impossible race. Finally, with Blink on two and Chapin on eight, Blink draws his fourth Blink of the game and tenth of the match (as opposed to Chapin’s zero Mystical Teachings…). This is unfortunately the perfect card to draw in this situation, and Chapin takes his first loss. Still, whenever a race is this close, it is often the case that the loser could have perhaps done something a little differently. Two hit points is not a lot. Another untapped shockland by the Blink player, perhaps one less from Chapin, it really seems like it could have gone another way with tighter play. Still, the Blink player was victorious and earned it. If there was a better road for Chapin to take, he certainly didn’t see it, so a loss is in order.


To close out Day 1, the competitors drafted Time Spiral block and played four rounds with the same deck. Yes, obviously playing four rounds with the same deck to close out a day is ridiculous, as dozens and dozens of players would be paired up in such situations as a 4-2 facing a 3-3 and even a 5-1 facing a 3-3. I don’t see any potential for abuse here. Do you?

Chapin first picked a Viscerid Deepwalker, as he has a natural affinity for Blue and the other three best cards were all Black. Six Red cards later, Chapin’s options were wide open, though not a lot of hot action was produced by the Time Spiral pack.

Shaper Parasite appeared in his Planar Chaos pack, bringing him back to Blue, despite surely having to fight several people on his right. A second pick Enslave complicated things. By the end of Planar Chaos, Chapin had picked nothing but Black and Blue cards. Awkward.

Pack 3 brought a return to the Red cards, as well as a little Blue. Going into deck construction, Chapin could not be sure of any color he might be playing.

In the end, he managed to construct a solid U/R deck, featuring a pair of Dreamscape Artists and a Dreadship Reef for the Enslave splash.

Round 4 saw Chapin in a feature match against a R/W aggro deck. Game 1 was a blowout thanks to R/W being manascrewed. Game 2 was much more interesting, although R/W did take a mulligan. A timely Enslave on a Magus of the Arena was too much.


Round 5 was against a G/W mage splashing Bogardan Hellkite. Some mana troubles plagued Chapin, finally leading up to the deciding game where Chapin kept a hand of Viscerid Deepwalker, Dreamscape Artist, Grinning Ignus, Aquamorph Entity, Coal Stoker, Mountain, and Island. The third land did not come until turn 7. Still, a comeback was mounted, although a Bogardan Hellkite eventually finished Chapin the turn he set up a massive Empty the Warrens.


Round 6 saw Chapin square off against one of the defending Pro Tour Champions. Chris Lachmann was very pleasant to play, and came wielding a strong B/U control deck. Game 1 was a struggle, with Lachmann’s removal and fliers just too much for Chapin.

Game 2 came to a head when an interesting situation arose. Chapin Riddle of Lightning’ed a Dodecapod and was forced to reveal Enslave. Lachmann is obviously going to play around it now, but what is Chapin’s play? Lachmann had a lonely Rathi Trapper to hold off Chapin’s Grinning Ignus and Dreamscape Artist. Chapin draws the Enslave, and after much deliberation, elects not to use it, figuring that he would use it on a stronger creature… and if Lachmann refused to play more creatures, he would be overrun by all the men that Chapin drew and played in the turns to follow. Lachman still had twelve hit points remaining, so an Enslave now would hardly be lethal. In addition, the Dreamscape artist should help Chapin to draw better.

Unfortunately Chapin drew two consecutive lands, and Lachmann drew a creature that he chose not to play and then a Candles of Leng, ensuring that his draws would be superior to Chapin’s. Obviously Chapin had to play the Enslave at this point, but Lachmann was holding an Aven Auger. Did holding back the Enslave cost him the match? It is hard to say, but likely he was going to die anyway, eventually.


Round 7 was extremely tense, with Chapin’s opponent being nowhere to be found. The round was delayed ten minutes with everyone already seated, only adding to the tension. With the round finally beginning, Chapin was awarded a game win, but was told that he would have to wait ten minutes for the second game win.

Ten of the longest minutes of his life passed, and no one ever showed. One can only assume this was the result of a 2-4 player forgetting to drop or some such.


With a record of 4-3, Chapin was still technically in contention, although, realistically he would need to go undefeated Day 2 to make it to the Top 8.

That night, many crazy events took place. However, Chapin did not partake in them, instead elected to get some sleep. Chapin and Michael Jacob, who at this point was 7-0, discussed strategy for Day 2 and hit the sack early.

The most important strategy to be discussed was the sideboarding out of Korlash. Michael Jacob maintained that Korlash was actually bad in Chapin’s deck and should be sideboarded out every match. Chapin had come to agree.

Day 2 began with another draft. Why couldn’t this one be four rounds?! Chapin’s table was definitely tough, with him sandwiched between future Hall of Famer Ben Rubin on his right and current star Gadiel on his left.

Just to give you a little background, Chapin and BRubin had discussed strategy before Nationals, and both knew the other would look to force Blue. Ben was on the right, though, so Chapin knew he would likely have to look elsewhere if he knew what was good for him.

Chapin busted a Bogardan Hellkite and a Sulfurous Blast, and was immediately torn. What do you pick there? After polling ten Pros, the results came back eight voting Hellkite obv noob, Rich Hoaen with Hellkite is probably better but Sulfurous Blast is understandable, and Mark Herberholz with Sulfurous Blast for sure. After so much 2HG, Chapin had it in his head that Sulfurous Blast was the actual nut high, so he made a “mistake” that paid off big time.

Gadiel was visibly disgusted by the pack Chapin passed him. It turns out this was for two reasons. First of all, Gadiel doesn’t like Red. Second, he deduced that the only uncommon I would have picked over Hellkite had to be Sulfurous Blast, and he didn’t want to fight me for it. He shipped the Hellkite and went Blue/White.

After Time Spiral, Chapin was in R/G, with a bit of a controlling strategy. His Planar Chaos pack brings a Rough/Tumble and a second pick Dead/Gone. The third pick was where things got interesting.

There was a Pyrohemia in the pack.

It turns out that the player who took Bogardan Hellkite was not playing much Red and thought an Enslave would better suit his deck. Gadiel took a Shaper Parasite for himself and never looked back. Just think, if Chapin would have taken the Hellkite, Gadiel would have taken Sulfurous Blast (having no clue that I was Red) and Chapin never would have been shipped a third pick Pyrohemia.

Interesting. Did Chapin get lucky, or was it actually right to take the Sulfurous Blast? What do you guys think?

Chapin stuck to his guns and stayed R/G, despite seeing many Dreamscape Artists, Foresees, and a Shaper Parasite. This political move paid off, as Future Sight brought with it two Sprout Swarms that were not hated. Ben Rubin, like most top drafters, is not going to hate you if you don’t hate him. Obviously you can’t collude, but cooperation really is the best strategy in booster draft, among good players.

Chapin’s deck featured one of the finest first sixteens ever seen, although the next six were certainly suspect. Rough/Tumble, Sulfurous Blast, and Pyrohemia were obviously the main plan, with Weatherseed Totem, Hunting Wilds, Imperiosaur, and Kavu Predator (with two Healing Leaves!) with which to win.

Round 8 saw Chapin square off with a G/W mage that came down to a Sulfurous Blast mostly being countered by a Thrill of the Hunt. Chapin attacks with his Imperiosaur despite it having three damage on it. His opponent calls his bluff and blocks. Healing Leaves FTW!

Pyrohemia makes short work of him game 2.


Round 9 featured more Pyrohemia action. Nothing too exciting, although the opponent was playing with an interesting strategy of Putrid Cyclops and one- and two-drops, as well as a lot of Blue and Black tempo cards. Fortunately, the abovementioned Pyrohemia and Sulfurous Blast are very good against this strategy.


Round 10 was the biggest heartbreaker of the weekend. Game 1 came down to Chapin’s Weatherseed Totem attempting to block a Nihilith four turns in a row and being destroyed at instant speed each time.

Game 2 began with Chapin’s Kavu Predator going large with Healing Leaves on turn 3 after being blocked by a Keldon Marauder. A topdecked Dead/Gone save the day after one more hit from the Predator. The game reached its climax with the B/R mage representing eight points of unstoppable damage and Chapin on nine. After much deliberation, Chapin decides that he is dead to burn, no matter how he plays it, so he swings with the team.

Did I mention the guy was B/R? Obviously he was holding Henchfiend of Ukor. Who doesn’t leave a guy to block in case of haste? Chapin: you are the worst.


Okay, so Chapin was now out of the Top 8, but he could still money, and more importantly, win a dollar off Flores.

Round 11, Chapin was matched with the unique and entertaining Kyle Sanchez in one of the more enjoyable feature matches in recent memory. Kyle ran with U/W/R Touch/Blink.

For a recount of the match, look here.

Kyle was as much fun to play as he is to read. Game 1 was closed out by Triskelavus plus Academy Ruins, and Game 2 went to time, although Chapin had complete control by the end of the 5th extra turn. Spell Snare was vital to this win.


Round 12 was against a R/G mage who also thanked Chapin for the Korlash deck that qualified him for Nationals. It is a small world, and it surely felt good to be paid such a high compliment.

The match went to three games, with all the technology being needed to pull out the win. Mystical for Pull on Gargadon, Tarmogoyf following a Damnation to control the board, and Tendrils plus Beacon to stabilize. Thank goodness the Gruul mage did not have access to Ancient Grudge.


Round 13 began with Chapin’s opponent mulliganing. After drawing his next hand, it was discovered that he had accidentally drawn seven again. Both players agreed that this should be looked at as another mulligan, and upon looking at his five-card hand, Chapin’s opponent locked on his plan.

After not playing a land on turn 1, it was fairly clear that Chapin’s opponent was on the info-gathering mission, and had probably conceded this game in his head already. Chapin’s hand was not great, although he tried to not tip his hand too much. Chapin’s was forced to show Relic, which no doubt would help his opponent sideboard. He could have opted to slow roll to the max so as to hide all info, but his hand was weak and he didn’t want to risk losing to a good draw that just needed one land to start.

After his opponent conceded the turn he would have had to discard, Chapin had no idea what his opponent was playing. Still, he went with a conservative sideboard strategy of taking out four Korlash and replacing them with a Terror, a Pull, an Extirpate, and a Muse Vessel. Might as well try to cover all the bases, am I right?

Game 2 was a close battle, but a Disenchant on a Relic won it for the opponent, who turned out to be playing R/W/U Blink/Riders.

Game 3 was decided by a Spell Snare on a Disenchant that would have stunted Chapin’s mana. Man, if only he had more Spell Snares


Round 14, the final round, saw Chapin face StrWrsKd himself, armed with a U/G/W Chord of Calling/Arcanis/Crovax deck nearly identical to the one piloted by our new U.S. National Champion.

Game 1 took forever, but eventually Chapin’s Mystical Teachings engine was too much. Crovax could only hold Korlash off for so long.

Game 2 was played at a rapid pace, with Chris obviously very aware of the time constraint over his head. He came out blazing with a turn 3 Loxodon, but a timely Extirpate for Vesuvan Shapeshifters proved to make things very difficult. Eventually, Triskelavus plus Academy Ruins closed the deal.


4-3 in Limited, but 6-1 in Constructed. All in all, a fine showing, especially considering Chapin is just getting back into the swing of things with this whole Magical Card Tournament Thing.

This thing is already getting out of hand in terms on length, so let me cover a few things and then roll out. I’ll be back next week, so it’s not like I will never get to talk about the things I didn’t get into in this tournament report.

A $3,000 Mental Magic Money Match is in the works, hopefully to take place at World’s in New York. I successfully defended my title in Baltimore, and will defend it against anywhere any time.

Michael Jacob, of Team R.I.W, made the National Team with Mono-Green. Mono-Green in a great metagame call, and it is excellent to see him doing well. He is quite possibly the best drafter in Michigan and to my knowledge, the best Vs player ever. Now that Vs has died down, he will be spending more time on Magic. Watch for him!

DJ Katsner made Top 8 of the MSS and could have finished much higher. A complicated situation arose that ended with DJ getting a game loss for having a sideboard that was not bent as much as the maindeck (due to aggressive shuffling), with what amounted to lethal on the stack in game 3. While a game loss may have been appropriate, the timing and handling of the situation were very poorly executed and some questionable choices were made by judges, such as helping DJ bend his sideboard in an effort to make it match the maindeck (which turned out to be insufficient) and issuing a game loss on approximately turn 19 for marked cards being cut to the top… despite DJ playing zero shuffle effects and not having had his deck cut or shuffled since the opening seven. Still, the judges are only human, and mistakes are not unforgivable. The bigger mistake would be not learning from these mistakes. DJ is an incredible up-and-coming player, and will not be deterred by this unfortunate serious of events. Watch for him in the Pro Tours to come.

The weekend was a blast, with everything from side drafts and basketball with BRubin and company, to parties by the pier and Gerrard’s birthday.

I will be unable to attend Valencia, but I am looking forward to GenCon, Grand Prix: Daytona, and Worlds in NY. It’s been fun. See you guys next week.

Congratulations to Mark Herberholz for winning the North American Ballet. Remember to vote for Jeff Cunningham!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”