Today I have a special guest: deck building great Patrick Chapin. You may know him for his work on StarCityGames, his Top Level Podcast, or his tournament Magic success and Pro Tour Hall of Fame induction.
Patrick is arguably the most influential Magic Deck Builder of all time, and a very interesting character. As a fan of the game with great respect for his work, I thought it would be a great idea to bring him in and pick his brain on Magic related topics. Fortunately, he said yes!
1) You are extremely prolific. You attend tournaments, pour out article content on SCG, co-host Top Level Podcast, have written two books, and even released a Magic-themed music album, and you’ve been doing it since nearly the beginning of the game. This seems like it takes a lot of time, and I’d be interested to hear how Magic fits into your schedule (or how you fit into Magic’s schedule). Walk us through a composite weekday for “The Innovator.”
I don’t have a fixed schedule at all, really. One week to the next can be very different. I default to doing design work for Direwolf Digital during the week, a video game company in Denver.
- Monday is the day I miss the most at DWD, as I was getting too run down by trying to fly back in time for work every time. Monday night I am often writing Magic content.
- Tuesday night, I’m recording Top Level Podcast with Michael Flores.
- Wednesday evening I am getting caught up on miscellaneous activities from various businesses, but often am out to dinner.
- Thursday, I try to play basketball or do some other physical activity (this week it was volley ball), with more miscellaneous business work (or figuring out what I’m going to play in the upcoming weekend).
- Friday evenings, I am usually flying somewhere, though if I’m ever not, I try to spend it with friends.
- Saturday, I’m often playing in a tournament, but if I’m not, there’s also a good chance I’m doing something else exotic, like recording music in Buffalo, playtesting in some faraway city, or attending weddings (which is basically every other weekend, this summer).
- Sunday, I’m hopefully playing in Day 3 (or Day 2) of an event, but otherwise, I’m writing a Magic article. I typically think about Magic and write about it nearly every day, but Sunday is often when I write the most words. When I play Magic on the internet, it’s usually Sunday, but I’m bigger on playing in whatever city I am going to be competing (or testing) in, and typically always take 2 weeks off before a Pro Tour to prepare.
Another important part of what I do is read. I read very quickly, and a lot. I try to absorb as much information efficiency, as possible, and limit how much time I spend talking. I also spend a lot of time thinking—about decks, about improving tournament Magic, about rationality, about game design, about efficiency, and about self-improvement. I try to minimize the amount of time and decision-making I spend on things that aren’t useful for what I’m trying to accomplish. For instance, I have one dish at each type of restaurant that I always order and try to avoid reading menus. I have 12 identical black shirts, 8 identical pairs of jeans, 16 identical pairs of underwear, and 100s of identical socks.
2) I am an example of the life-changing power of Magic: the Gathering and I imagine you to have a similar, if not stronger feeling. You have been good for Magic, but it is clear that Magic has been good for you. How do you think it has changed your life, and what do you think you would be doing without it?
Magic has been overwhelmingly positive. It saved my life. Twice. As a kid, I was depressed, anti-social, didn’t mesh well with humans, and felt totally alone. Magic gave me a world where intelligence was valued, instead of shamed. A world full of amazing people, both role-models and friends, that could teach me so much. A world of infinite imagination and a never-ending supply of things to think about. Magic means never needing to be bored again.
Many years later, I found in Magic a return to life, a purpose, a way to have a positive impact, a creative outlet, and a culture I cared about. It’s hard to know what I’d be doing without it, but there’s little chance it would be half as amazing as Magic.
3) You’ve released two Magic books, Next Level Magic and Next Level Deckbuilding. I have a copy of your deck building book, which is both a great practical resource on the topic, and also probably the most complete historical tournament deck list resource available. I know you get asked about your deckbuilding process, but I am interesting in your book writing process. How long between conception and completion, and what happened in between?
Next Level Magic has been updated several times, but the initial writing took a very focused 9 months (including a month of lost work when a computer died, prompting me to switch over to Google Docs for basically everything). Next Level Deckbuilding took much longer, two and a half years, I think, but I was also allocating a lot of time to game design.
4) The overlying theme of my year has been an exploration of how we can use “Magic for good.” Magic has been good for me, and we’ve discussed how Magic has been good for you, but I want to get deeper into how Magic is good for the whole. What makes this game so special, and how can we use it purposefully for the greater good?
Magic isn’t just fun, and it isn’t just a community. It’s also a system by which logic and reason are built upon and spread. It is a system of thinking about optimization, efficiency, and logic that doesn’t always have words, but has major applications in a variety of fields. Even for people that only ever play Magic “for fun,” the way of thinking about the game and the problem solving have wide-reaching applications. It’s also REALLY fun.
5) Finally, I want to take a look into the future of Magic. The game was released in 1993, and I don’t know if anyone would have expected where we’re at 22 years later. In particular, since 2008 the game has reported 20-35% growth every year, even during a time of worldwide economic recession. Can the game keep this up, and for how long? Is the game still going to thrive in 50 years as a kind of corporate chess? And if the game does collapse, will the game itself implode or would it only coincide with the collapse of civilization?
Well, games actually typically perform inversely to the economy (as they are often more cost efficient as entertainment than movies or sporting events); however, I attribute the larger portion of Magic’s prolonged success to 1) New World Order 2) FNM 3) Duels of the Planeswalkers 4) In-store prereleases 5) The reconcepting of tournament Magic away from the Poker model. I think the biggest question regarding Magic’s survival is what The Singularity looks like. Hopefully, our Super AI Overlord will be OK with people playing Magic!
Thanks to Patrick for his time and I hope you found this interview as fascinating as I did. Show Patrick some love and share your thoughts in the comments!