One time someone asked me why I like basketball so much.
My response was that it’s like watching math unfold in real time.
They rightfully looked at me like I was an idiot.
But I can’t explain it.
I enjoy sports like some people enjoy scratch-offs, I suppose.
I mean, just look at this shot:
Curry, way downtown—BANG!
Oh, what a shot from Curry!
With six tenths of a second remaining!
As if there wasn’t enough pressure on next turn, there is looming doom.
A Rift Bolt and a Lotus Bloom, set up for next turn for Gabriel Nassif; trying to win
this game off a mulligan to four.
Can Patrick Chapin do eighteen damage?
This is Gabriel Nassif, eleven years ago, at the World Championship in 2007.
Before the streaming, before the hall of fame, before winning a Pro Tour with a sixty-one
card deck, before Amaz didn’t know who he was-
Yellow what is now raiding with a party of 180, wait, who’s that
he was just a guy.
A guy on his eighth Pro Tour Top 8 with his back against the wall on a mulligan to four.
Oh, and he’s playing against this guy.
This is Patrick Chapin.
Worlds 2007 marks his third Pro Tour Top 8, so, y’know, he’s doing pretty well for
He’s also on his way to the Hall of Fame, and he’s in pretty good shape here.
His opponent mulliganed to four, and he’s about to combo off for the win.
A semifinal exit gives one of these players about fourteen thousand dollars, while making
the finals guarantees them twenty-two thousand dollars with a shot at forty thousand dollars
for winning that match, so yeah, despite the look on his face, he’s probably feeling
I mean, yes, these guys built this deck together, and yes, they’re close friends… hm.
I'm telling this story completely out of order. I should back up.
Okay, back in the day, Pro Tours weren’t broken up into ten rounds of Constructed and
six rounds of Draft.
They were just 16 rounds of one format.
The once-a-year exception was Worlds.
and in 2007, it was
split into three formats: Standard, Legacy, and Lorwyn Draft.
Five rounds for each constructed format with two drafts and six rounds of Limited.
For Worlds 2007, Patrick Chapin, Gabriel Nassif, and a third very powerful wizard by the name
of Mark Herberholz teamed up to try and break the format.
The Standard metagame was made up of only a handful of decks: Faeries decks without
Bitterblossom because Morningtide hadn’t come out yet, black-green midrange decks with
stuff like Garruk Wildspeaker and Hypnotic Specter, and pickles decks named “pickles”
for the “brine” in Brine Elemental.
Those were the decks.
a week before the tournament,
Chapin threw the team a hail mary in the form of something he pieced
together based on a deck he saw in a Standard side event at Grand Prix Daytona built around
Spinerock Knoll and Dragonstorm.
The way it typically won was by casting three spells and then a Dragonstorm as the fourth
Thanks to storm, four copies of Dragonstorm would go on the stack, each searching up a
copy of Bogardan Hellkite that would each deal five damage to their opponent upon entering
And if that didn’t work, well, those dragons get to attack the very next turn.
Dragonstorm decks existed in Standard before this version, but they relied on Seething
Song to simultaneously add to the storm count and make a bunch of mana to cast the Dragonstorm.
Once Ninth Edition left Standard, Seething Song went with it, and players mostly assumed
the Dragonstorm deck wouldn’t work without it, because making enough mana to cast a Dragonstorm
without Seething Song is tough.
At this point, Lowryn was a brand-new set, and Spinerock Knoll turned out to be the missing
piece for the Dragonstorm deck.
With all the burn in the deck, casting whatever gets hidden under the Spinerock Knoll isn’t
very hard, and lots of times, you’re just casting Dragonstorm or a Bogardan Hellkite
for one mana.
Spinerock Knoll was the real deal.
The Storm mechanic was introduced in Scourge, and, uh…
I really have no idea why.
Here’s the rules text for Storm, as printed on a Grapeshot from Modern Masters: When you
cast this spell, copy it for each spell cast before it this turn.
You may choose new targets for the copies.
So what this means is I can play a bunch of spells on my turn and build my storm count
I drop a giant Tendrils of Agony on my opponent.
Or Empty the Warrens.
Or Mind’s Desire.
You get the idea.
The thing about storm is that it’s hard to track.
The mechanic also wants you to play it with stuff like Dark Ritual, so most of the time,
when you’re storming off, you’ve gotta keep track of a billion things, like how much
mana you’ve got floating, how many spells you’ve cast this turn... they don’t make
storm cards anymore.
Probably because they never should’ve been made in the first place.
Chapin and Nassif both Top 8d Worlds that year, meeting in the semifinals.
A best of five with the winner moving on to the finals of the World Championships.
Game one: Chapin won despite Nassif resolving a Lotus Bloom first.
The next card down in Nassif’s deck: a lethal Dragonstorm, meaning if he’d had one more
turn, he would’ve won the game.
So we’re off to a good start.
Game two, Nassif snaps off a Dragonstorm for two, gets two Bogardan Hellkites, and wins
the very next turn.
Here’s the call for game three:
Nassif looking at a draw of with a couple of shocks and a Rite of Flame?
That draw’s garbage.
That’s gotta be a mulligan.
He kept that.
He lost the game, but he kept it.
I mean, it wasn’t a bad keep, at least in hindsight—Nassif was a turn away from winning
when Chapin comboed off with Grapeshot and Pyromancer’s Swath—but he lost.
So we’re on to game four, and, uh, uh oh.
We have mulliganned to five.
Alright, Nassif has two lands, a Shock, a Swath, and a Dragonstorm.
I think you gotta keep that one.
Meanwhile, Uri Peleg has two different Planeswalkers.
He’s displaying his Planeswalker collection.
His collection of Planeswalkers and beads.
This draw is not actually better than the six-card draw, right?
Would it be easier if I just showed you three Rites of Flame and a Dragonstorm?
I mean, he could still go to four and get Lotus, Lotus, Dragonstorm.
Four can be better than that.
I don’t know if it’s better than that often enough, but, like, what is he trying
to—he cashes it in.
He’s going to four.
Oh my gosh.
So, real quick, if you’ve ever played Magic before, I want you to think about how many
times you’ve mulliganned to four ever.
It doesn't need to be exact.
A rough estimate will suffice.
Now—how many of those games do you think you won?
Everyone in the audience, cheer loudly if his hand is
Chapin’s broken the format.
With no games left to give in the 2007 Worlds semifinals, Gabriel Nassif kept a four-card
hand of Molten Slagheap, Grapeshot, Rift Bolt, and Rite of Flame.
It’s not the worst, all things considered.
In the Dragonstorm mirror match, the two decks don’t really have a way to interact or attack
each other’s resources, it’s just a race to see who can combo off first.
Eventually the game comes to this: Nassif has a Snow-Covered Mountain, a Molten Slagheap
with two storage counters, a Fungal Reaches, and a Spinerock Knoll with a Bogardan Hellkite
hidden away underneath it, along with a suspended Lotus Bloom and a suspended Rift Bolt, each
with one time counter apiece.
His hand: A Rite of Flame, a Grapeshot, and an Ignite memories.
He’s at eighteen life.
Chapin untaps with two Fungal Reaches—one with four storage counters—a Snow-Covered
Mountain, a Spinerock Knoll with an Incinerate underneath it, and a Rift Bolt on suspend
with one counter on it.
After sending the suspended Rift Bolt at Nassif’s head, putting him to 15 life, and drawing,
Chapin’s hand is two Bogardan Hellkites, a Dragonstorm, a Rite of Flame, an Ignite
Memories, a Grapeshot, and a Tarfire.
Tarfire puts him to thirteen, Rite of Flame adds some mana, and a Grapeshot for four puts
Nassif to nine, clearing the way for an Ignite Memories for five.
Just to reiterate, when you cast a spell with storm, it looks to see how many other spells
were cast before it.
So this turn, Chapin casts four cards, then the Ignite Memories, making four additional
With Ignite Memories, Nassif has to reveal a random card from his hand and take damage
equal to its mana cost.
Thanks to storm, he has to do this five times.
To recap, Nassif’s at nine life, with a hand of Rite of Flame, Grapeshot, and an Ignite
Memories of his own.
In poker, you can calculate the odds that a hand will be the best hand.
Obviously, the best hand can still be beaten if it gets folded, but part of the rules of
poker is that certain cards beat certain cards.
That means a telecaster can still look at two hands going heads-up and deduce the odds-on
favorite in the event that both players go all-in.
This is impossible to do for Magic.
Sure, cards can beat each other straight-up, like in poker.
An ace beats a deuce like a Terror beats a Craw Wurm.
Pro Tour coverage tries to convey odds with that advantage bar, but ultimately cards can
be played in too many ways.
Precisely calculating a game’s odds is impossible under normal circumstances.
This turn we’re looking at is one of the rare games it’s not.
After Chapin casts Ignite Memories, his hand is three cards: Two Bogardan Hellkites and
If he doesn’t win off this Ignite Memories, he’s going to lose to Nassif’s Ignite
Memories on the following turn, so this Ignite Memories dictates the outcome of the game.
Alright, one more time: Nassif’s hand is a Rite of Flame, a Grapeshot, and an Ignite
Memories, but the text on the cards is irrelevant at this point—all that matters is their
So Nassif has a one, a two, and a five.
He’s at nine life.
Since Chapin’s got five copies of Ignite Memories on the stack; if one of those Ignite
Memories finds Nassif’s five-mana card, Chapin wins no matter what; he can hit a five
and four ones and it’ll still add up to nine.
Likewise, if Chapin hits more than three twos, Nassif loses, because two plus two plus two
plus two plus one equals nine.
So that’s where we’re at.
Nassif’s looking at a 10.7% chance of survival.
The two use a die as a random way to figure out which card each Ignite Memories hits,
so away we go.
And the first reveal is:
Gab’s still in it.
Gonna have to shuffle every time.
If Pat ever hits the Ignite Memories, I believe this game is over.
As we already covered here, Randy is indeed correct—if one of Chapin’s Ignite Memories
copies hits Nassif’s Ignite Memories, the game is over.
With only four copies of Ignite Memories left on the stack, as opposed to five, Nassif’s
odds of winning have improved dramatically.
He’s looking at a 13.58 percenter.
Oh, there’s the Grapeshot; he’s at 5 with three more coming.
Okay, still same rules, still can’t hit Ignite Memories or we’re dead on the spot.
The odds of surviving the three remaining copies of Ignite Memories jump up to 14.81%.
In other words, the odds still haven’t moved significantly one way or another.
Just miss the Ignite Memories and Gab’s still got a shot.
Peels it up…
What is it?
What is it??
You have how many copies left?
No, this is the third, this is the third.
Grapeshot, he’s still in it!
It’s gotta be rite-rite.
Can Nassif go runner-runner?
Alright, so what Randy means there is that the remaining two copies of Ignite Memories
are only allowed to hit one out the three cards in Nassif’s hand: Rite of Flame.
There’s an 11.1% chance of survival now; Nassif has to hit one out of three twice in
One-two, three-four, five-six.
He’s still alive!
What started out as a 10.7% chance of survival is now a clean 33.3 percent.
One out of three.
If he hits the Rite of Flame…
And you gotta flip it though.
No peeking; I gotta see it too.
Slam it, slam it.
Oh my goodness!
Gabriel Nassif survives five copies of Ignite Memories!
He’s got one point of life left!
Pat Chapin was looking at that seat in the finals; he thought he had it!
Those odds were absurd!