Interview With Adrian Sullivan

“When your deck is different, people fail to understand the proper approach to take to win. If you’re not winning with your different deck, why play it?”

Q: First, could you do a rundown of the basics about yourself — like age, where you live, what you do for work?

A: Well, I’m 24 and I live in Madison WI. I’m a professional slackard (short-hand for freelance writer and temp).  I spend a lot of time traveling (even for non-Magic stuff), so I’ve made a decision to be free to travel.


Q: How exactly did you get into Magic?

A: Back in late 93 there were some starters around.  I bought one.  🙂


Q: Do you play other games — and if so what kinds? Could you point out perhaps the more memorable other gaming experiences that you’ve had?

A: Well, I was recently on the design team for Final Nights (an Expansion to Vampire the Eternal Struggle), and I have a regular playgroup for the board game Titan.  I tend to be very competitive in these things. Scrabble and Chess are another couple of more common household games I’m into, and I’m learning to be a better Go player as well.


Q: You finished in the money at Nationals. How do you feel about that showing?

A: In all honesty, I expected to make Top 8, and have a good shot at winning the whole thing.  So though it might sound a bit arrogant, I practiced so hard and prepared so much that I really expected a higher finish.

My four losses were a double-mulligan to Casey McCarrel (which seems much less ‘unlucky’ than it once felt), one to William Jensen (who changed his decklist to accommodate my mono-blue deck), one to Alex Borteh (my deck should lose to Merfolk), and one to Jason Zila (with a terribly unlucky draw).  Change any one of those to a win, and I made Top 8.

Still, it’s gratifying to show people I can compete.  I think that maybe they had forgotten.


Q: You and Bob Maher Jr. played the”Turbo Chevy” deck, which has been linked with you in some form since the last PT Chicago. Can you talk about that a little including the decks development and working with Bob?

A: Well, Bob didn’t really have a deck for US Nationals this year.  Much like last year, he kind of played a deck that was handed to him.  Last year, he played Napster (“Maher Oath”), the Black control deck designed by Mike Flores, Jacob Janoska, and I — and this year, he played Chevy. Generally, he trusts my deckbuilding.

Turbo Chevy basically came out of development from the old Chevy deck from Chicago (which is basically a Big Blue deck), merged with the 7th edition cards (giving it elements of Magpidian and Turbo-Xerox).  I think you can basically tell descendents of my deck from two elements: Glacial Wall and Repulse.

Q: A little while ago you made a statement about both working to get your rating back up and promising to write more. Does that plan have an order? Are things progressing like you thought?

A: Well, I plan on getting articles out quite regularly starting in the next week or two.  And, my rating is back up again.  I just had them as my New Year’s goals.

Currently, for example, I’m up to just shy of 1970 composite.  My goal is still 2000 composite…  We’ll see.


Q: The original old school of Magic writers isn’t heard from quite so much anymore. Guys like yourself, Eric Taylor, Mike Flores, and others all wrote grand groundbreaking articles on general theory. Do you find it hard to come up with things to write about, seeing as how general theory is a pretty well covered topic in history? Does this explain in part your hiatus from writing, and perhaps why we hear very little from the likes of Taylor? Any feelings on the general state of the writing going on right now?

A: Well, before, theory was something that really took a lot of exploration to do, and the problem that has sprung up is that there isn’t much left untouched in the way of general theory.  Certainly there is very specific strategy stuff that can be written… But in general, I’ve always preferred to write”important things.”  It’s harder to do that right now. Oftentimes, you can come across something that you feel everyone is doing incorrectly, and the easiest thing to do is to keep quiet about it, and try to reap the rewards of the common mistakes and misassumptions at the next big tournament.


Q: It was some news that Mike Long was absent from Nationals and there was talk that he’d”lost the fire” for the competitive game. Can you sympathize?

A: Not exactly.  I felt like I”lost the edge.”  I still wanted to compete, but I wasn’t up to snuff (I attribute most of that with not being in a Mecca of Magic like Madison is).  I never lost the desire for it.


Q: Recently Flores was very kind to you in his”Finding the Tinker Deck” article.  Do you feel like a legend of the game, or just a guy that happens to play the cards? Could you talk about when it struck you that you were a better than average player? As a noted deckbuilder, what is it that you think sets you apart? Your history is both successful and rogue and I think many fledgling deck builders would like to know what the essence is that you strive for in your builds.

A: I don’t feel like a typical legend.  Not like a Zvi or Comer.  (More of an up-and-Comer — The Ferrett, who knows it’s inaccurate but can’t resist the pun) But I think that that is because I’ve always fallen just short where they’ve had their moments in the sun.  I do know that I’m a famous member of the community, but I feel a lot of that fame comes from a cult of

personality effect.  I just stand out a lot.

I think I started to feel better than the average player when I started to find success with my own decks.  I knew that I was doing something that most people couldn’t do well.  When I became confident of my own abilities, I think that’s when I really came into my own.

I think what sets me apart is a healthy ability to discard decks that aren’t working, even when I’m thinking outside the box.  The common failing of the rogue deckbuilder is the constant desire to be different for different’s sake.  I want to be different because different wins. When your deck is different, people fail to have sideboard cards or understand the proper approach to take to win.  If you’re not winning with your different deck, why play it?  I get most of my ‘fun’ from being competitive and winning.

Getting into the deckbuilding process is real work. It takes a lot of research into the metagame (by checking websites, listening to ideas that seem to be on the forefront of popular opinion), research into deck history to figure out what decks have already tried to do what you are trying to do (and find out where they failed and succeeded), and see where the new cards fit in.

I’ve found that I work best in a mostly established metagame. Most people are incredibly conservative when it comes to the decks that they choose for tournaments. When people are conservative and choose very good versions of decks from within a metagame, you can do a surgical strike on the most popular decks and make things to beat it. For the Rebel ProTour, Cabal Rogue made Roshambo (the Death Pit Offering/Natural Affinity/Massacre deck), and it gave Sol Malka his highest PT finish to date and Mike Hron a tie for Top 8. The deck destroyed Rebels. When you can surgical strike, it is very good.

Q: We understand you keep a playtesting binder. How much playtesting do you do and how do you collate the data?

A: I tested several thousand games for Nationals, not counting all of the drafts. Collating the data happens when I relay the information to my playtest circle, and we just keep the information in our mails. As we add to it (and challenge each other’s playtest results), a good sense of why things happen in matchups will come up.

Q: Have you ever felt that someone cheated you at Magic? I ask this because of your experience as a player at the highest levels. Also, because my teammates met you at PTQ Normal this past year and were terribly impressed with your ability predict hands for many turns based on a Duress opening. I would think that it would be hard to cheat you.

A: Well, I just followed his hand based on reading his tells and knowing what his deck would behave like. I’m pleased, though, that I impressed your teammates.

I have felt cheated in the past, though.  I know that I was cheated in Grand Prix Kansas City.  In one of the late rounds of the first day, my opponent managed to cast Force of Will fourteen times in one game off of my various Time Spirals.  I still almost managed to win, but wasn’t quite able to pull it off.  I found out later from a spectator that my opponent had started stacking his deck midway through the match when I stopped cutting his deck (very, very naively) because I was rushed for time to finish the round. 

I try to be vigilant to it, but, who knows.


Q:”Mike Turian pointed out in his tournament report on Mindripper.com, that in every one of Casey’s feature matches, Casey’s opponent’s mulliganed, so it seems more likely than not that he was doing it all through the tournament.” – Gary Wise

In light of that quote, could you talk about your match with McCarrell? Did you have to take a mulligan? If you did, did it seem out of line for a base blue deck running eigtheen lands? His shuffling technique has been described in several places with basics that he held the deck kind of high,”at a funny angle,” and was doing side shuffles with clumps of cards. I think the number that I saw was something like he was taking around ten cards and pushing them into the rest of the deck. Did he do those things against you? He already had a sanction against him from the DCI prior. Did that enter into your mind at all before or during the match?

A: I had to mulligan against McCarrell in the Limited portion of the tourney (getting my only match loss in the draft). I honestly wasn’t paying too much attention to his shuffle of me.  In the future, I think I’m going to make sure to legally randomize my deck after my opponent randomizes.  While I was aware of his history, I think I kind of felt safe from him because we’ve hung out at events occasionally, and it didn’t occur to me it could happen.


Q: In a recent Seth Burn article on Mindripper, he basically says that he and others felt that perhaps as many as six of the top eight players (including McCarrell I believe) were”savage cheaters”. Does that coincide with your opinion of top-tier Magic? Is there that much cheating going on?

A: I like to think that there isn’t.  I’m honestly not sure.  Sadly, I think I’d list the number at four.  I hope it isn’t so, though…

Q: You also had an interesting opening in the standard portion of the tournament. Upon being paired with Billy Jensen, it seems Jensen altered his deck immediately prior to making his decklist going with the pro: blue maindecked YavimayaBarbarians. Could you talk about that and how you felt? Would you like to see the opportunity for this play closed by the DCI with deck lists being required before pairings?

A: I think that the fact that such action is legal is absolutely ludicrous.  While Jensen was just taking advantage of the system (which I don’t fault him for doing), it really sucked for me.  I saw his decklist later on (one of the top 8 showed it to me), so my thoughts were verified on his changes. 

I knew I still had a slight edge for the matchup, but it was still very very slight.  It’s kind of frustrating, because the work you do for the tournament presupposes you make judgment calls.  To be able to not have to make as many… Kind of ludicrous.


Q: Colin Jackson is being called the”new sheriff” and guys like yourself, Bob, and Dave Price are generally known as the good guys. Do you need to team up? I mean does there need to be perhaps a concerted effort on the part of the players’ side of things to really clean the game up. Is something like that necessary?

A: I hope not.  I know that we look out for each other.  I sat next to Dave Price one round, and he let me know to look out when I played my opponent, because he had heard things about him.  I just think that the penalties for cheating should be stiffer.


Q: You did an extensive piece on New Wave on what you thought 7th edition should look like. (We’d link to it, but we can’t find it on New Wave right now — The Ferrett) Could you talk about 7th edition in relation to that? By a quick scan I know that you predicted Static Orb, but not Ensnaring Bridge. A broken link keeps me from seeing your Seventh edition ideas on Blue, but did you have Opposition in yours?

A: I didn’t have Opposition.  I honestly think the card is stronger than the power level of the rest of the format — I just haven’t found a deck I particularly like it in, yet.

I generally like 7th Edition.  There are a number of things I don’t like, but these are fundamental to WotC’s paradigm of believing in printing useless cards (a concept I’m wholeheartedly against).


Q: You pulled the Magpies and a few other things from 7th for the latest”Turbo Chevy” build. As a mage who favors blue myself, do you have any insight as to where a deck like that might be going during the next set rotation? I’m thinking specifically of the loss of Thwart and Foil, and the Invasion blocks lack of mono blue oriented counters. There is also the loss of Power Sink from the base set, which I found quite interesting. Do you think we’ll see a mono blue counter appear right away in the Odyssey block?

A: I think that Blue, as it currently exists, will disappear without the (Masques) block.  Even if Fires loses Blastoderm and Saproling Burst, Blue can’t stand up to a strong beatdown deck without Thwart/Foil.  It needs powerful new cards.  By the time the whole block is out, Odyssey should make blue good, but don’t expect anything right away.

Q: It’s been admitted that the blocks tend to stretch the abilities of certain aspects of the game. Invasion block is obviously about gold cards and it’s been admitted that Urza’s block was about combo. You’ve played the combo decks — is combo necessarily bad because of the solitary nature of the win condition, the lack of interaction relative to creature combat?

A: Combo isn’t necessarily bad. Combo is only bad when it is so powerful that it doesn’t allow time for player interaction.

Q: So was Urza’s bad because it was just too powerful that way? I guess what I’m trying to say is this. This environment is pretty much combo-less. Would a little bit of combo maybe make the format more diverse and therefore better or do you think it’s possible to get combo balanced into the game?

A: There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of combo. It is when combo is so powerful that players have to justify spending maindecked cards to defend against it that are otherwise useless against other deck styles that there begins to be a problem.


Q: Since it’s summer, can you give advice on buying sunglasses? Should one go cheap or expensive?

A: Choose frames that fit your face.  🙂


Q: How big of a music fan are you? What kinds of music do you like? What are you listening to now? Do you listen to it at big tournaments and what is the effect?

A: I love music, but music doesn’t really impact my tournament play. The last thing I listened to is a band named”Snowy White.”


Q: Even from knowing about you almost solely from the internet, I’ve gathered that you are quite the coffeehouse maven. Is that true? If so, what is it that you like about that scene? Is it the coffee, the scene, or both? Will any coffeehouse do, or are there things that separate them? Do you have favorite shop? What are your favorite menu items or advice on coffee selections?

A: Well, I spend entirely too much time in coffeeshops.  It’s gotten to the point that I can often tell the blend of bean from taste (though I haven’t perfected it yet).  I get free caffeine from more than one shop (mostly, I think because I’m too much a regular to actually have to pay).  I love the scene.  Different cafes have entirely different moods.  I’ve found I really like the ones that have a motley assortment of regulars who slowly become a part of the local flavor.

As for a favorite drink, try a Chai Tea Latte with a double Espresso shot.  Very good.


Q: In general, where do you see yourself and this great game going?

A: Well, I expect to become a fixture on Pro Tour once again.  In the next year, I’d like to make another Top 8 (even at a Grand Prix).  As for the game, if WotC keeps putting out sets like Invasion Block, I think the game will be fine.  If they keep doing Urza’s Block, bye-bye Magic. The heartblood of this game is a happy populace.  Good sets make people happy.




offNet: Adrian Sullivan        @#$ Game Theorist – Coffee Addict $#@

_EFNET: Corrupter              @#$ Writer – Eccentric – Ta’veren $#@

USENET: The Corrupter          @#$ Romantic – Hedonist – HSTHSTS $#@

e-mail: [email protected] @#$ Super-Genius – Geekboy – Fool $#@

Post-Interview Thoughts

In leading up to doing this interview with Adrian, the situation concerning Casey McCarrell’s cheating at Nationals was (and still is) a hot topic. I believe it was Greg Smith who put forth on badmagictech that all of the players that McCarrell played should be something akin to upset. I countered by looking at the list of his opponents, with the likes of Sullivan, Turian, and a host of other PT vets, that I thought it was unlikely that they would allow themselves to be cheated; now I’m not so sure.

What I seem to see is that often even these top players were not terribly concerned with protecting themselves from being cheated. Sullivan was aware of McCarrell’s previous sanction from the DCI, yet because he and McCarrell were somewhat friendly, he played on from a perspective that McCarrell wouldn’t cheat him. Turian wrote as well that he wasn’t paying much attention either to McCarrell’s shuffling. McCarrel was seemingly feeling pretty bold that day. How many did he cheat and who else was feeling as bold?

When one ties those things up with what was presented by Seth Burn, which is that groups of top name pro players believe that as many as four to six of the top eight players at Nationals are cheats or have cheated in DCI sanctioned magic, the picture, in my opinion, becomes almost surreal.

In the end, I think that if the top pros who aren’t cheating want to clean up the game the DCI is now giving them their chance. It seems that things have changed perhaps a bit of late, and that the DCI is more willing to enforce the rules and enact penalties. It would seem to be a time for those that aren’t cheating to perhaps get together and be proactive in watching for those who do cheat and then involving the DCI.

Will Rieffer