Sitting Down with Patrick Chapin
Welcome to the very first interview here on Red Site Wins. As most of you know, we try to touch on every aspect of Magic: The Gathering. And what better way to continue that trend but to interview one of its greatest players. Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin is a four time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, renowned deck builder, author of “Next Level Magic,” writes for StarCityGames.com, and the only player to Top 8 Pro Tours in three decades. Patrick Chapin was kind enough to agree over Twitter to be the first person we’d interview.
[Luis Acosta] How do you feel about growth in websites on magic subjects over the last few years?
[Patrick Chapin] Feels good, man! Magic is at an all-time high and it is great to see Magic culture expanding to the fullest.
Do you feel that there is lots of magic theory left to explore or that it has almost completely been discovered?
Absolutely. Just because we do not yet realize the sorts of theory we have yet to invent, does not mean they are not out there. I have seen no evidence at all that we “know it all,” or even that the end is in sight, so I must conclude there is lots more. This is to say nothing of the ever-increasing complexity of the game and the expanding card pool, as well as new format creation.
What would you recommend to new players on how they can become friendly with other pros? Any specific things not to do?
Being friendly with other pros is easy, just be friendly. I am guessing that is not your real question. If the real question is how to “get it with them,” or whatever other networking, the best default strategy is generally:
1) Introduce yourself to them, but don’t try to take up their time or ask them for anything.
2) Be a friendly, positive, and honest person to everyone, not just the “pros.” You never know who is friends with who.
3) Win their respect. This is the tough one, as you might be thinking that top 8’ing a GP or whatever would be a lot more likely if you could work with the “pros,” but the cache-22 to it is that if you can’t succeed on your own, you generally aren’t going to be perceived as bringing something to the group. Magic is a hard game, but if practice, study, and experience, as well as working with people you do know, your friends, local players, people you meet at events, these can all help you develop your game to a pro level. Rather than just try to jump straight to asking Kibler and LSV to test with you, work with people you know, meet people they know. Network naturally and work on your technical game, and when you are ready, you will have your chance.
You’re promoting the growth of magic in more than just the game. What media outlets do you think Magic has the best chance for growth in at the moment? Music, Video Games, ESPN?
Any, as long as the person promoting it through that media outlet is passionate about doing so. Bill Boulden and I are releasing a Magic Hip-Hop album, May 9th. We are just seeing the surface scratched in terms of what kinds of Magic video games are possible with MTG Tactics. Magic was on ESPN, long ago, but presented wrong. I see Magic returning to a T.V format when someone can explain enough of the rules in thirty seconds, so that a non-player can follow along and the footage is edited to be quick moving with a story arch somewhat similar to Poker. The missing link is the percentage to win the hand stat found in poker coverage. Those little boxes with percentages showing let the random watcher feel like they understand what is going on and become invested in the drama. Someday, someone is going to invent the Magic equivalent, and it will be big.
[Sean T. Patchen] What card or cards from the new set do you believe will be able to unseat Caw-Blade as the top deck?
It isn’t about a card or cards unseating Caw-Blade, it is about the format changing. The format as a whole will shift, which may or may not unseat Caw-Blade as the top deck. First, Deceiver Exarch makes fast combo return and in a big way. Caw-Blade decks, as they are currently constructed, would have little chance against such a strategy. The strain of trying to now be equipped to fight this new angle of attack will be costly. Beast Within is a potent weapon that helps combat many of Caw-Blade’s best plays, especially Gideon. Despise is an awesome new staple discard spell that will help punish decks that rely heavily on key creatures and Planewalkers, as Caw-Blade does. Hex Parasite provides a potent new weapon against Planeswalkers with a variety of applications. The abundance of good new artifacts makes it more possible than ever to play main deck artifact destruction, helping combat the equipment Caw-Blade uses (and it is a good thing, too, as Caw-Blade gains both Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace). All of these factors changing will cause more changes. It is possible that Caw-Blade will be the top deck again, no reason to rule it out. However, there are so many new powerful cards and strategies, we are definitely looking at a whole new world.
[Amanda Stevens] You said your favorite Magic card of all time is Jace the Mindsculptor. The card has currently been under a lot of heat right now, especially on Twitter, as a lot of players feel he should be banned from Standard. How do you feel about the overall power level of the card compared to the rest of the cards in Standard and could you weigh in with your opinion on the Ban Jace debate?
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is not only the most powerful card in Standard, it is the most powerful card since Skullclamp. It is exceptionally unlikely Jace will be banned for a variety of reasons, despite its unbelievable success and power. New Phyrexia is going to radically shake things up, so with Jace rotating so soon, it is less of an issue. Also, Jace is the center of their branding, at the moment. They would bend over backwards to not ban Jace in Standard, which as it turns out, might be the smart thing to do anyway. If they banned Jace today, Valakut would just smash most everyone. Valakut is the real oppressor, hurting everyone that doesn’t play Jace. If they wanted to directly hurt Blue decks, I think they would be more likely to ban Preordain. Do I think that Jace would be a bannable card if we were only going on gameplay? Absolutely, but there is more to it.
How do you go about picking a deck for a tournament? I know in Next Level Magic you talk a great deal about the importance of play testing and having a good Magic team to be a part of. But outside of play testing, how do you decide this is the deck you want to even start running the gauntlet with?
For me, it is intuition, which is not generally the most helpful answer. Developing this intuition is often a matter of practicing things and imitating those that are successful at what you want to do until it becomes natural to you. For instance, when picking a deck, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. If you are trying to win the tournament, ask yourself what deck gives you the absolute best chance to win the tournament. The majority of players consistently play something other than what they think would give them the best chance to win the tournament, then wonder why they aren’t winning tournaments. People also seem to gravitate towards one of the poles of “Always Netdeck” or “Always Brew.” A good balance between innovation and imitation leads to the most success. Also, when you are learning a format, be realistic with the results you are getting. Keep track of the records you are getting with each deck so as to learn what gives you the best win percentage.
What is your opinion of the huge New Phyrexia spoiler?
Do you mean that it was leaked early? This is obviously bad for the game. It hurts the smaller sites who really count on the one preview card they get to spike traffic and raise awareness, but it also hurts Magic sales, as it diminishes excitement from burnout, leading to lower attendance numbers for prereleases and decreased box sales. It is not the end of the world, but it is a really Bad Thing. For instance, I am sure Wizards of the Coast would have rather have paid a hundred thousand dollars than have it happen.
What cards in New Phyrexia are going to be Standard break outs right out of the gate and why? Are there any cards that you can see being sleeper hits?
Answering this question would take a lot longer than I can do justice to here, as this set is awesome, but I do have a series of set reviews during the first week of May on StarCityGames. Despise, Beast Within, Batterskull, Sword of War and Peace, Deceiver Exarch, Lashwrithe, and Hex Parasite are some of my favorites.
So you’ve written a book, Next Level Magic, and now there is a Magic-themed music album coming out. How did you even come up with the idea to do a Magic album?
You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Whatever you enjoy, whatever you love, you make more and better ways to experience that if you are fearless. We all have countless ideas all the time, but most people never really consider most of their ideas, afraid to look stupid, or afraid they would fail. Bill and I just had the same idea a lot of people have had, combining two things we love. We just aren’t afraid to look stupid or fail, lol.
You talk a lot about your earliest memories of playing Magic. Is there a game from your early days of playing that really stands out to you?
I was playing a R/G Channel-Fireball-Kird Ape beatdown deck and I was riding high on myself, as I had not lost any games with it, pretty much figuring I was invincible. Back in those days we played for ante, but I didn’t think anything of putting up a Taiga for ante, as I thought I was unstoppable. I played a Forest and a bird of paradise. He followed with an Island, I simply dropped a Mountain and passed the turn, so excited, I could hardly stand it, as I had the Channel-Fireball combination in hand. He played a Tundra and shipped the turn. I could barely contain myself as I proudly Channel-Fireballed him for 20 (putting myself at 1 life). He calmly Mana Drained the Fireball, untapped and played a Volcanic Island as well as a Fireball of his own. It was then that I realized, “No matter how much you think you know, there could always be something you haven’t thought of.”I have a ton of great memories from my early years in the game outside of just learning insights into the game though, such as my first game against Richard Garfield and my first game against Brian Weissman, as well as winning the finals of my first PTQ or my first Mox Tournament Win.
You are known for coming up with break through deck ideas, hence the nickname The Innovator. What is your thought process like when you are creating a deck for a new environment? How much of it is gut feeling and how much of it is hard research?
When there is a new environment to explore, I often start by trying to imagine what the rest of the field will look like. I try to imagine every “stock” deck I can, such as burn, fast combo, control, or rock. In addition to basic archetypes, I look at the most powerful cards in the format and try to make sure each one is being used in a deck. After that, I look at the mechanics and see if there are any mechanics (such as Madness) that are not being used and consider if it is worth building around them. Once I have an idea of what I think most other people will try to do, I try to imagine where I want to be positioned. What cards do I think are underrated by the community? What cards are overrated? What strategy do I feel is best positioned? This is often a reflection of playing all of the decks I have come up with against each other and getting a feel for the results. Gut feeling? Hard research? It is hard to say where you draw the line. I probably use half gut feeling and half hard research, but interpreting the hard research is half gut feeling as well, so it is much more about intuition then numbers, I think. Still, gut feeling is probably a bad way to say it, since it is often logic, not just intuition, which isn’t exactly research, but isn’t feeling either.
Following that line of thought, you’ve covered in your book Next Level Magic the necessity for play testing. You akin it to practicing for a sport. Sometimes, your card decisions for decks are viewed as questionable or, at the very least, outside the norm. How do you consider bringing in certain cards to your deck that are different
from the other deck lists out there?
I really don’t care that much if other people are playing cards or not. I mean it does change the equation a little, but I will play anything. A card that doesn’t get played much as a certain allure as others won’t be prepared for it. On the other hand, if I am deciding between two options and everyone else always uses 1, I certainly at least want to understand why everyone else does it that way. Still, at the end of the day, I really don’t that much of everyone else doing or not doing something. If you do something no one else does and it works, they will all copy you next week, so why would you think they are infallible? Once you know they can be wrong, you have to ask yourself about each card. Every card is a tool. We may not use every tool every time, but we certainly want to have it “in our range” to use every tool.
You’ve made some great predictions about how strong cards were going to be. One good example of this is your prediction on Vengvine. How do you come to these conclusions? Has there ever been a call you’ve made
that you were way off the mark?
I have actually been talking a bit about Future Sight with regards to Looking into the future recently in my articles. The jist of it is to use logic to try to imagine the effects of new cards, then the effects those effects have, then the effects those effects have, and so on. Additionally, looking at how much mana value something gives you can suggest if a home is going to be created, even if you don’t see it yet. A 4/3 haste for 2GG is a good deal anyway and the ability to rebuy it is essentially drawing a card, and giving you 4 mana and for what cost? Having to set it up? The having to set it up is at most two mana “worth of work.” A creature that gives you a reasonable amount of value straight up, but offers 4 mana in value every time it dies? That is truly epic. Even though people didn’t know where to put it yet, I knew it would revolutionize the format. The key is not just the mana value it is producing, it is also looking at the natural forces in the format, like Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning and Terminate, as well as Jace the Mindsculptor set at 3 with Day of Judgement backup.A call that I have made that was way off the mark? Well, I have made some calls that took longer than expected, such as Murderous Redcap not being immediately adopted as much as I thought he would or Ad Nauseam taking two years to get a card in it banned in legacy (instead of only a year, as I would have guessed). Still, I have been pretty fortunate, I guess, as my accuracy of picking cards has been one of my strongest areas for quite some time. I guess my first reaction to See Beyond was that it was going to be good, but after a week, I realized it was ok, but not great, though I had already sang some praises for it. My pick from Lorwyn was Cryptic Command, my pick from Morningtide was Bitterblossom, my pick from Shadowmoor was Fulminator Mage, my pick from Eventide was Figure of Destiny, my pick from Shards was Cruel Ultimatum, my pick from Conflux was Noble Hierarch, my pick from Alara Reborn was Bloodbraid Elf, my pick from Zendikar was Misty Rainforest, my pick from Worldwake was Jace TMS, and my pick from Rise was Vengevine. Some will say these picks were “obvious” but hindsight is 20/20. It is always interesting to go back and read articles and forums from long ago. It is kind of funny just how many people doubted each and EVERY one of those cards.
You have been in the MTG blogging scene for a while now. How did you get into writing articles? Where do your article ideas come from?
What does it mean to be in the MTG blogging scene? I don’t write a blog, but perhaps I am being obtuse, lol. I wrote a couple articles many years ago, but it was not until Michael J Flores got me a slot at StarCityGames.com in 2006 that I really got into it. I was in a position where I could not actually use a computer, but MJF would have me mail him my articles written out by hand and he would type them up and submit them for me, which is especially insane when you consider just how busy of a guy Flores is.My article ideas generally stem from whenever there is something I think is useful that I see some or many people not see. Whether it is a new deck idea, new card evaluations, my recent experiences in a tournament, or ideas on how to understand Magic better. It is all about having something worth saying.
Two core sets for a few months is great. More interesting changes to the format is fun and it lets us use the cards a little longer. Sure, it impacts the way people build in the sense that those cards are still legal, so there is a bigger card pool to draw on, but I don’t think it is that strange of a dynamic.
What is your favorite block in Magic history?
I think Zendikar is probably my favorite block of all time.
While this may be the same question, but is your favorite set of all time? I mean for me, my favorite Block is Shards of Alara but my favorite set is Invasion. Is there a separation for you?
My favorite set? Hrmm, I am really not sure. I guess maybe Rise of the Eldrazi? Although, I kind of think that Jace, the Mindsculptor and 144 different John Avon Islands would be unbeatable.
Do you have a favorite mechanic?
My favorite mechanic might be scry, or perhaps haste. I love haste.
How do you think Planeswalkers have changed the game?
They have continued to increase the importance of creatures (the natural answer to planeswalkers) and have pushed the game towards more of a chess match, which I love. Planeswalkers are probably one of the five best things to have ever been invented in Magic.
Do you have a personal favorite Planeswalker? If you could make a Planeswalker what would its abilities be?
Jace, the Mindsculptor is my favorite card in Magic.
Is there any other games you play besides Magic?
I am not currently active in any other game besides Magic, though I like Chess, the World of Warcraft CCG, Basketball, and “What does Johnny Lodden think?” (to name a few)
What is the next innovation for the Innovator? Is there another book in the works or something even more out there?
Right now the album is the focus, but there will definitely be more exciting stuff this year. I am loving getting to travel, play, and write about Magic so much, and I am loving working with other players to kick down doors on what is possible with Magic culture. May 9th, “Tha Gatherin” Check it out!