Innovations – Untold Tales of a Pro (Me), and Thoughts on Eternal Players being Pros

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Worlds is fast approaching, and Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin is excited. Today’s issue of Innovations sees Patrick share some entertaining stories from Magic’s glory years, before striding manfully into the No Man’s Land that is the Pro Player versus Eternal Player debate. No matter which side of the fence you set yourself, you’re inevitably caught in the crossfire. Can Patrick bring peace to the table? Read on to find out!

I gotta start somewhere.

See, here is the trick. I am writing this a week before it is to be posted. Our esteemed editor Craig has to go represent for us in Valencia this week and my article needs to be in Monday night. [So much for that… – Craig, passport-less.] Last Monday. The difficult part is that I am still in New York, during my trip to compete in Top8Magic’s Mockvitational.

So, what to talk about today? By the time you read this, the Pro Tour will be over, so Extended is a no go. I have nothing on Standard that I didn’t have earlier in the weekend when I wrote last week’s article. I am not talking about Limited (Despite being on the winning team 6 – 0 in Finkel drafts this weekend…)

How about we take a trip back a decade or so…?

The year is 1997. I am in Toronto, in Pro Tour Legend Eric Tam’s basement.

Eric was the original rogue deckbuilder to achieve Pro Tour success. While his peers Top 8’d with Necro, Erhnam-Geddon, U/W control, and Prison, Tam made Top 8ed with a sort of Erhnam-Geddon that featured 3 Lightning Bolts and 2 Incinerates (because he did not want to lose to Thrull Retainer, allegedly) among the Red cards to compliment his Green creatures and White removal.

In fact, his Erhnams were among the best in the tournament, as I believe he had no Forests, just Karplusans and Brushlands and City of Brass. The secret weapon Tam used to lock more than one opponent would have brought a tear to Flores’s eye. This bad boy is spicier than any Spice even the great Mark Herberholz has ever slipped into a deck.

Eric Tam had Cities of Brass and Birds of Paradise which he used to power out the miser’s Zur’s Weirding. That’s right, despite something like 12 painlands, Tam just ran that beast out there and went all in. I think it is fair to say that no one ever saw it coming.

I am in Eric Tam’s basement and we are playing around with the new cards, which happen to be from the Weatherlight expansion set which had just been released. Keep in mind that this was a few days after Canadian Nationals, which was the week before U.S. Nationals, so Abeyance was not understood yet.

See, under the way the rules worked back then, someone could cast Abeyance on you during your upkeep and you wouldn’t even be able to attack or tap your lands for mana to cast creatures or anything. Abeyance was literally the closest thing to a true Time Walk that Standard has ever seen (for two mana…)

Back to Eric Tam’s basement (Man, are we ever going to get out of here?)

We are playing around with Weatherlight and the card that catches our attention is Buried Alive. Our idea is to Buried Alive for three Ashen Ghouls. Then, if your opponent ever kills one of your creatures, you start bringing back a never-ending supply of Ashen Ghouls. In addition, if you ever get a second Buried Alive, you just go off.

We build a Suicide Black deck (which has its roots in Brian Hacker’s Dallas deck that revolutionized Magic by showing that you could build a deck of efficient beaters and just swarm your opponent with out doing anything really fancy), but with Buried Alives instead of Necropotences.

The deck we build is composed primarily of Knights of Stromgald, Black Knights, Hypnotic Specters and whatnot, with our Ashen Ghoul engine thrown in. We play around with it and come to realize that it is actually good. The decks that existed at the time had a lot of trouble dealing with a resolved Buried Alive. The problem we encountered was what to do if we didn’t draw Buried Alive, or worse, drew Buried Alive late. We kept running out of gas. This is when a moment of inspiration (or an attack of the obvious) struck me. I asked Eric, “why don’t we just play Necropotence in our Buried Alive deck?”

We both immediately started laughing at how silly we had been, made room, and that was that. I had my Nationals deck. It would not have mattered if we had come up with it earlier, as Weatherlight wasn’t legal yet and would not be until the first day of U.S. Nationals. Before I get to U.S. Nationals that year, let me go back a second and reflect on the Canadian Nationals that had just past.

I had gone up to Toronto to hang with some friends of mine, Paul McCabe (when he was a somebody), Gary Wise (when he was a nobody), and the aforementioned Eric Tam. Their Nationals was a lot of fun and was head judged by the inimitable Jeff Donais (I miss you Jeff!)

A lot of good times were had and there were some crazy misadventures. At one point, Gary and I were walking to my car and we sort of got lost. First of all, you have to realize that at this point in my life, I was not very good at directions or concepts like not getting lost.

I would like to blame Gary entirely, but it is probably only fair to split the blame with him, seeing as he didn’t actually have any way to know where the car was. After all, I had driven up alone.

After walking around the streets of Toronto for an hour or so, we end up somewhere with about 20 or 25 hookers working the street. This was quite the boon, considering what we were trying to accomplish. We ask them for directions to get back to the tournament site and head on our way, though not without kicking it with two young ladies for a moment or three about the Toronto nightlife.

We make it to the site (where we started) and proceed to circle it on foot, which was Gary’s idea. This turns out to be a good idea, as I was only parked two blocks from the site.

I apologized at the time, for wasting so much of Gary’s time, and he was certainly more than a little perturbed at spending the night before Day 2 of Nationals in this fashion, but what are you gonna do? Besides, I am pretty sure Gary still owes me one.

See, at Pro Tour: Dallas, the previous year, I was playing in my first and had a bit of success. Gary had, however, scrubbed out to a tune of something like 0-fer. I think at this point in his Pro career, he had never won more than a single match, if even that much. The Sunday after Dallas he told me he was throwing in the towel. He was literally about to jump. He was so depressed and convinced that he just didn’t have what it takes. I believe his exact words were:

“I just don’t have what it takes.”

I talked it over with him as best I could (keep in mind, I had just turned 16, so I didn’t speak with a lot of authority). I pointed out to him his strengths and weaknesses and the pros and cons of giving up. This is something that mattered to him. We talked for half an hour and by the end, he agreed to give it a little more time.

Ten years later, Gary Wise was inducted into the Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame is a beautiful thing and we have an incredible class coming in this year. Just to be on the ballet would be an honor.

I have playing since Year 1 of the Pro Tour, though obviously have had to watch the Pro Tour from afar for much of that time. Still, I wondered how many lifetime Pro Points I had. Remember, you need 100 to be put on the ballet.

How many do you think I have?

Go ahead. Just guess. Seriously. Just guess.

And I am by no means suggested I would get voted in. I have a few Top 8s and a number of strong finishes, as well as a good average, but I still need to put a little more under my belt to match up to some of the resumes that my peers have put together over the years.

So, how many lifetime Pro Points do you think I have?



While I am invited to most Pro Tours on rating, I can’t go to overseas ones right now. Fortunately, Worlds is coming up in December and will be held in NY this year. Good Times!

Unfortunately, I am not yet invited. I didn’t quite make it at Nationals and my composite rating is a few points short. I am going to try to find some tournaments to play in over the next couple of weeks before the ratings get locked in, but it will be hard. I really hope I can pull it off. Competing in the World Championships would mean, well, the world to me. I am gonna give it the ol’ college effort.

Wish me luck guys!

It is going to be very interesting to see Worlds competitors playing Legacy, this year. This is not going to be the first time this has been the case, although it is the first time in modern Pro Tour history. Legacy is a wild animal that is feared or despised by some because of its blatant degeneracy. It is beloved and championed by others because of its incredible pool of cards to draw upon, as well as it offering an opportunity to play with all your favorite old cards from Masques and before.

To me, the most interesting aspect of Legacy is the fact that the Legacy metagame is almost entirely composed of non-Pro players. What will happen when the Pros get their hands on this extraordinarily over-powered format?

We saw the absolute absurdity that was Grand Prix: Columbus, where the Pro influence was strongly felt. It is easy to complain that Flash was the cause of the upheaval at that GP, but remember, it is all relative. There were three Flash decks in the Top 8 and all three were piloted by Pros.

Still, there were some strong finishes by respected members of the Legacy community, such as second place finish by Owen Turtenwald, which demonstrates that while the Legacy community may not be composed of Pro Players, they certainly can compete with Pros when it comes to their own format.

Some Pros and some writers speculate that Eternal players would get wrecked at their own game if forced to compete with the top Mages on the Pro Tour. I think Grand Prix: Columbus showed us that while Pros may make huge waves and even perhaps lead the field when crossing over to Legacy, there is no question, the Legacy community knows their format and will be a force to be reckoned with.

It has not been tested in modern times, but I suspect the same is true for Vintage. If there finally was a Vintage Grand Prix, I think we would see something like half of the Top 8 would be Pros, but on the other side of the coin, the other half of the final 8 would be members of the Vintage community that have little or no Pro Tour history. It says a lot when amateurs can compete with professional card players and competitive results.

I should clarify, I am using the term amateur loosely, as many members of the Eternal communities can hardly be call amateurs, as many of them win more money in the form of Black Lotuses and Moxes than many so-called Pros.

I know someone who considers himself a Pro Magic Player because he won over $3,000 on the Pro Tour last year. That is great for him, no question, and I am not knocking his achievement, but I know for a fact that there are Eternal players who won more than that “just” competing in “non-Pro” events. This doesn’t even take into consideration the profit available to an Eternal player that is a capable trader.

I think it is unfair to compare the Eternal players to PTQ level players. Again, there is nothing wrong with being a PTQ player, nor an Eternal player, but if you look at it on paper, you have to compare how much money PTQ players are making and how much money Eternal players are making (If you are trying to deduce the “Pro-ness” of one or the other).

If one is trying to make it as a Pro Magic player and they win a fourth of the PTQs they play in and then go on to win money in the Pro Tour a reasonable amount of the time, then they can probably make a strong case for being a Pro, despite not being on the train.

What about the player who plays in a lot of PTQs and rarely if ever wins? If one has won one or two PTQs lifetime and no money at the Pro Tour, are they a Pro? Surely you would agree they are not.

What about the Vintage player who makes Top 8 of half the Vintage tournaments they play in, winning at Moxes, Mana Drains, and Beta Dual Lands? There are more than a couple Vintage players playing at a level where their Positive EV at a Vintage tournament is actually high enough to justify playing the tournament just straight up as a job, even if they were not having the great time that they are.

That is one of the misunderstood secrets of the Eternal Community. These are not random scrubs that like to feel good about themselves by casting spells that cost 2 or 3 mana less then they should. I am confident that Pro Tour Players would probably be able to cross over to Eternal easier than the reverse, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. There is a lot of room beneath Kenji that I would still consider good.

The secret is that these are highly competitive mages exploring a deep format that they know many levels of complexity about that outsiders don’t even realize exist, but at the same time, these are friends that drive a whole other Magic Sub-Culture (two, actually) that have found another way to have a great time together playing Magic.


Eternal Players, get over yourselves. Pros would do well if they played your formats.

Pro Players, get over yourselves. Eternal Players would do well at their formats, even if you played them to. You would be surprised at how much of Pros these Eternal players may be…

It would be harder for everyone (more competition) but it would be (and will be!) interesting. A little humility, people! Don’t get me wrong, I love a little 1337-ism too, but does this elite attitude really help you win more matches?

I know this week’s offering has been pretty random, so thanks for sticking with me. You guys are the best. I’ll see you next week when I bust Standard right in two. We took Regionals by storm. States is next!

By the way, any help you guys can offer in the forums, particularly about U/x control deck in Standard, would be much appreciated. I am pretty sure I am playing a Cryptic Command control deck and am looking for helping perfecting it for the Championships. You guys helped me go 6 – 1 in the Standard portion of Nationals this year. Please, help me out again! It is always appreciated.

I’m outtie, so check me.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”