The Long & Winding Road - Rantings on Chapin and the Hive Mind
More specifically let’s talk about Patrick Chapin. Not for the whole article but for our frame work.
I always love when people bash Patrick Chapin in the forums because I just struggle so hard to get into a mindset where that makes any sense.
Okay hold on - let’s not start in the middle.
I don’t know Chapin beyond reading his articles and watching him be the best part of the Magic Show (no offense meant Evan). I started getting back into Magic when Chapin the player was hitting his stride at the same time as Chapin the deck-builder.
Do you remember Korlash Control? I do. Do you know why? Because the guy wrote an article before Regionals and said “This is what I’m playing and will use to win Regionals.” Then he won Regionals.
I know big deal the cynics aren’t impressed by winning Regionals. That’s fine. It’s not just about winning Regionals it’s the entire called-shot aspect of that and having the stones to put that out there into a world as cynical as ours. Then Extended rolls around and he does the same thing again with Next Level Blue. Please note that in this section I am possibly but not definitely attributing entire decks to what may have been a partial contributor but definitely the most vocal and earliest mouth-piece for those decks. If you want to fill the forums for this article with references to people who had 45/60 cards of the decks build a week earlier knock yourself out. The rest of you let’s continue.
Think about that for a second – that deck Next Level Blue is still defining formats today. Sure not all of the pieces are the same but conceptually that deck inhabits other formats to varying degrees three years later.
A guy ripped Chapin for Devastating Red randomly in the forums last week.
Look at this:
That article is from April 26 2010.
Now look at this:
That deck is from six weeks later which is an absolute eternity during Standard PTQ season. The latter deck is what 71/75 of Chapin’s? Six weeks later Chapin’s deck was still performing.
How about this:
Admittedly slightly different but still the “terrible” Summons / Bushwhacker combo in a hybrid with the non-combo version (which seems odd to me but what do I know).
Sure some of these were obviously good but more than most Chapin not only seemed to understand how good but put that understand to work immediately and did so publicly each week. But you know what? Forget all that crap.
Patrick Chapin loves Magic and that’s why I like Patrick Chapin.
It comes through in everything he writes every interview he’s in the guy just wants to live and breathe Magic and experience the game. Do you even realize how hard it is to find someone that has alternately and sometimes simultaneously been one of the game’s top-flight players deck designers and card evaluators? When you have someone who’s done that and who also loves the game not just for winning but for the sake of the game itself you end up with a personality as popular as Chapin.
There’ s a reason why some people burn out so fast. They’re in the game for the winning not for the game. There’s nothing wrong with that mind you but Magic isn’t poker. You can make a living at this game but you’re not sleeping at night on a bed full of money with many beautiful ladies. (This will be awkward in about ten sentences). My read on Chapin could be totally off because as I said I’ve never spoken a word to him in person but I get the sense that even when Chapin the player is in a rut Chapin the designer of decks is still firing on all cylinders most of the time and always there is that love of the game.
You see it elsewhere too of course – LSV PV really anyone with a V acronym I guess – but Chapin’s been doing it longer and more vocally than almost anyone else that has competed successfully at the Pro level and has that pedigree as a deck designer and theorist.
Mind you the guy’s not perfect; not every deck or every article can be a winner. Reverse Read? It’s like two bad articles in one. His overwhelming energy is easy to satirize but damn if I still don’t find it infectious. That recent article with all the references? Pass. I’ll hop over to a Flores article if I want to invest a lot of time in understanding references that will ultimately leave me feeling like I want my 10 minutes back. Your articles reach Phase 3 without the need for that kind of gimmickry although I do honestly respect you for the work you’re doing in expanding the Magic article form (and really the entire delivery method for creating a longer-lasting piece of Magic theory by way of E-book).
Anyway I’m sure you’re asking yourself: why did this guy just write 750 words about Patrick Chapin?
If you haven’t watched it yet I encourage you to watch this.
I have to be honest here: I used to watch the Magic Show religiously but somewhere around 150 or so I stopped altogether. It has nothing to do with the quality of the show which has had nothing but an upward trajectory for a few years now but more about the content. As anyone who reads my work knows I’m more of a dabbler in the non-Eternal formats these days. Evan’s work is mostly involving formats that I’m not involved with anymore. For some reason though I watched this one.
I really like M11. Is it the best Core Set ever? I don’t know because I have no idea how you can define that considering the implications for so many different players – is it the best for draft? Sealed? Standard? Value? Flavor? Is M11 on balance the best at these things? I think it’s a little early to make that call but I will say that on flavor this is the best set they’ve done ever. The fact that there are new Core Set cards impacting Vintage? That’s mind-blowing.
What the heck does this have to do with Patrick Chapin?
First whenever my card evaluations mirror his I feel good about my ability to read a card and snap-judge it’s potential impact in multiple formats because Chapin’s track record is so strong. The Titans are obvious. Grave Titan IS better than the early buzz. It has to be. How can it not be? Ranking the Leylines? I think most people agree there and obviously I’m all about the two that are Vintage relevant. I know Fauna Shaman should be insane in PTQ constructed formats but I struggle with it because I live in Eternal formats one where Survival (which is better than Shaman) is a niche card and another where Survival isn’t good enough to see play period. Still to have that ability on Grizzly Bear and not an 0/1 seems pretty nuts in and of itself.
Okay so card evaluations done like that are fun to me because when I watch something like this you can see how Chapin evaluates these cards. He’s not a Standard player or a Vintage player or whatever – he’s a MAGIC player. He looks at these cards and sees applications across all of the formats of Magic. That’s something that only a small handful of masters are able to do.
While interesting (hopefully) the reason I wrote this has nothing to do with the M11 talk. It’s about the Hive Mind talk the deck designer talk.
Let me take you back to August and September 1997 at the end of Mirage Standard. The last summer I played Magic before shelving the game for the better part of a decade I played this:
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Llanowar Elf
4 Rogue Elephant
3 Ghazban Ogre
4 spectral bears
3 Whirling Dervish
3 River Boa
3 Harvest Wurm
2 Jolrael's Centaur
4 Giant Growth
2 Bounty of the Hunt
4 Winter Orb
2 Heart of Yavimaya
Wow look at all those threes! I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Still playing this deck I split in the finals of a $1 threes be damned. This exact list came a little later; the first time I played a Stompy deck I copied from the Dojo. It was the first time I’d ever “net-decked” something card for card. I felt pretty weird about it at the time because building decks brewing decks was always one of the most appealing parts of Magic for me. That deck had Nature’s Resurgence in the sideboard which was awesome against decks playing Wrath of God.
The next week I won another tournament. Two weeks later I played the deck again (as listed above) at a Grey Matter Standard in Philly and made Top 8 beating Jon Finkel and Dave Bachmann on the way. Ah memories.
Before this tournament actually started I played against an acquaintance one Michael J. Flores who had seen my Dojo report on this deck and couldn’t believe it could actually beat Necro. We played like 20 games and he gave up at 0-20. The back-end of those games involved him sideboarding and me sticking to my main deck. You can actually read about these escapades on the Dojo archive if you know where to look. How amazing is it that I can find something I wrote about thirteen years ago on the internet today? Maybe that just shows my age but I find that to be pretty cool and I think it also speaks to the longevity that this game is starting to demonstrate.
One of the hardest parts of playing Magic in 1996 and 1997 was just wielding a deck that wasn’t complete and utter trash. You think today’s decks are bad? You have no idea. You couldn’t go online and get intricate pieces of technology built by pro players and tested and honed in hundreds of thousands maybe even millions of games by players all over the world before being fed back into posted tournament results and dissected by those same pro players weekly on Magic sites. No sir you just split your creatures into threes and twos apparently. That deck is like an awkward picture from junior high school where you know you thought you looked cool at the time and now you realize… nope.
The part of the Magic Show that made me want to write this was Patrick’s thoughts on what is becoming the lost art of deck-building. When I left Magic in 1997 a lot of people the majority even would give you crap for copying a deck from the internet. Today when I play a deck people ask “Whose deck is that?” and make a weird face if I tell them it’s mine.
The only part of that segment I disagree with is that Chapin says the Hive Mind is good at tuning decks. I actually kind of disagree. This becomes obvious for example when Gerry Thompson says Prophetic Prism is bad one week and then the next week posts a deck-list (not his yes I read the article) that includes two and people complain about it and say “what gives Gerry!” You know what? Today Magic moves that fast. Prism may be garbage one week and acceptable the next. That’s how fast the PTQ metagame shifts. Faster even with daily events on MTGO. By comparison months go by between iterations of the Lands deck in Legacy because sometimes months go by between relevant events or between relevant events that the right people attend.
What I find interesting now is how the best players manipulate formats with their deck design and deck choices. Turbo-lands breaks and U/W becomes questionable as Jund and Mythic change targets so many people wisely turn to Mono-Red and win some tournaments. The Hive Mind sees Mono-Red winning and people pick up the deck just as others change their sideboards to beat it. Arguably in some areas the non-Summons build becomes better and suddenly Chapin is a failure. Interesting. Other people just played Red the whole damn time enjoying success during some weeks and failure others and not realizing WHY this was the case.
I don’t think many people realize how much of your performance in a tournament is determined before you even sit down. Let me tell you something again that I’ve never hidden: today I am not a very good Magic player. I don’t claim to be. On a good day I am slightly more than proficient. With some decks I can actually play pretty well when I put in the time. I think if you watch my finals match from the Philly Open you’ll see some solid Zoo play. AJ gave very good coverage during the match from a strategic stand-point and noticed the things that I did while playing the game; he noticed some faster than I did but generally what he said was the right play I was acting out in the game. Then again most of us are better Magic “players” when we observe and don’t actually play.
When I do well in tournaments it is usually because I have a better deck than most of the other people in the room or I have made a better deck decision than the other people in the room. In today’s Magic world it is much easier to do this in Eternal formats than in Standard because of how many people are playing and tuning Standard and how much high-level information is accessible at your finger-tips for Standard (and any other PTQ format) compared to Vintage and Legacy. Across all formats though people have lost their ability to ask the right questions let alone answer them.
People want to sit down and ask “Kird Ape Loam Lion Steppe Lynx?” The answer is “yes.” The question is contextual. Until you understand that you’re playing the game but not getting the game. I wouldn’t have won that Legacy Open without Steppe Lynx but right now you probably don’t want to play that card. Think about it if I open on Kird Ape in game two in the finals does it meet a Force of Will? If it doesn’t what are the chances that I lose game two because my opponent can actually Force my Path to Exile? Steppe Lynx is the only creature in that deck that can pound in there for 9 damage by turn three. There’s a reason why I played it. I tested it. It did what I needed it to do all day long even though plenty of opponents clearly chuckled on the inside when I led out with it. I’m sure the GGS chat room had a field day. Do you think those folks get it?
Because I can’t invest the time I used to in the game I don’t really try to brew new decks very often and when I do I stay far away from Standard. What I’m always doing however is tweaking and tuning existing archetypes in Legacy and Vintage. I love to do that. I can always recite my deck-lists from memory in Legacy and Vintage because I’ve spent time with them. I’ve agonized over card choices. They aren’t random. If you go through my tournament reports with Oath the number of games I won last fall with the one Krosan Grip in my sideboard is staggering. I’ve had success at Vintage because I play good decks that other players refuse to acknowledge are good and don’t respect in their sideboard. I test those decks and tune them because you can’t just go to the internet and find many up-to-date Vintage decks. There aren’t any Vintage events on MTGO no PTQs hardly any functional metagames to speak of. In a way Vintage is a double-dose of nostalgia for me because it’s a format where those who can tune react and adapt are able to win on deck strength as well as being a reminder of the game I fell in love with seventeen years ago.
Whenever I hear someone say Zoo is just a dumb aggro deck I chuckle. Zoo is an aggro deck but it isn’t dumb; there’s much more to Legacy Zoo than Wild Nacatl because the format was already heavily inhabited by other creature strategies and is likely to be more so going forward. Each creature strategy in Legacy that has success has a framework of interactions Zoo is just less obvious because it isn’t based on Tribal.
Steppe Lynx suggests access to White mana on turn 1 without using a fetch land. This also suggests Loam Lion. It leads to Knight of the Reliquary because you want Steppe Lynx to be “live” beyond turn 2 or 3. These cards all feed Grim Lavamancer. Knight and Lavamancer are friends with Horizon Canopy who also lets you cast Steppe Lynx without cracking a fetch and finds more fetches later. The fetches support Fireblast by ensuring you have two mountains when you want but also let you play basics to dodge Wasteland Back to Basics and support Price of Progress. They may lead you to Sylvan Library given the amount of shuffle effects. These interactions aren’t dumb and they aren’t automatically understood by everyone who picks up the deck. The lands you fetch matter. The order in which you play your cards matters. The cards you reveal during the match and the ones you don’t – that matters. The burn spells you play and when you play them – that matters. The cards you exile with Lavamancer matter. Understanding your opponent’s deck that definitely matters.
For whatever reason most of the time when I play Zoo I’m “getting” all of this stuff and the game comes easily and I have success. When I force myself to play Counter-Top even though I like it I’m not feeling the game on the same level. I don’t have the years invested in that type of archetype that let me instinctually feel out the right play through the rust the atrophy.
Most of you are never going to be good enough to win tournaments regularly on the strength of your play alone. That’s just reality. Parity is rampant. Welcome to the club the sooner you realize it the faster you’ll be able to leverage the strengths and opportunities you do have. You have to get an edge before the tournament starts by understanding your deck and you have to be able to move a step ahead by adding components the other players don’t use or haven’t experienced yet. You have to choose a deck that bucks the popular trend if you know it gives you a strategic advantage (how many writers told you to play Zoo a month ago?).
Or you can just get lucky once every few years I guess.
Listen to what Chapin said last week and take it to heart. Understand though that you don’t have to be aspire to be the next Conley Woods. Most people couldn’t be no matter how hard they tried. You don’t need to be GT shoving a wedge into formats and breaking them open. You just have to at least get that little edge by understanding the components of your deck and not just copying them down so that you can make those small changes and adapt in an intelligent way. For those of you with the right skill set and available time investment that could very lead you to be the next Flores GT or Chapin. All of those guys started somewhere too.
One of them may have started by losing twenty consecutive games to this very writer.
Whenever I do well in a tournament I try not to write just a report. I try to explain why I played the cards that I played. I hope some of you find that useful. Those of you that just want a deck for a Vintage or Legacy tournament I’m fine with that too. If you think I don’t get a rush out of seeing people top 8 with 75/75 of one of my Oath decks or Two Card Monte or the sudden reemergence of Price of Progress in Legacy Zoo well you don’t understand why I still play the game.
So that’s what I’ve got for this week.
Next week: deck lists for Legacy and Vintage.
Oh the irony.
This article written while listening to TV on the Radio and Method Man.
Voltron00x on SCG TMD and The Source