Sullivan’s Satchel: Preview Cards For Content Creators, Pips, And Swim Trunks

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on the value of preview cards, why certain casting costs are color-intense, and…swim trunks?

Force of Nature, illustrated by Greg Staples

Hello, and welcome back to Sullivan’s Satchel. I am COVID-symptomatic and went and got tested, and fortunately the results came back negative. On top of everything else, it is harrowing to respond to a cough and some muscle aches with thoughts of “maybe I’m dying,” and it has been clarifying how much ambient stress is floating around that I’m not even really aware of. But I’m not dying, and Cedric has been accommodating of the late turnaround on this, so it is basically like nothing happened.

America is on the verge of passing a $600 direct “relief” package to individual citizens, which is so woefully inadequate that I broke down for a short period of time. My only additional comment at this time is that the notion that you, atomized, helpless individual, is somehow responsible for your current circumstances if you’ve been particularly devastated by the pandemic is in fact propaganda, and if you spend your $600 on junk food or a Tundra or whatever, you shouldn’t feel bad and no one should try to make you feel bad, either.

With that, the satchel. As always, you can send your inquiries to [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @BasicMountain. If I’m feeling particularly charitable your question may end up in here, and as always the personally selected question of the week receives $25 in SCG credit. With that,

From Tim Rice:

It’s preview season, which means once again people are upset that WotC offers members of the Magic community opportunities to reveal new cards without financial compensation (#freePreview). The discussion around this has me curious how much a preview card is actually worth.

Consider this hypothetical: if given the chance, do you think a large Magic content entity (say SCG) would pay for the right to exclusively preview every single card from an upcoming set? If so, how much do you think they would be willing to pay? Is it closer to $100, $1000, or $10,000? Assume that WotC hands SCG the entire set file a week or so in advance and sets some minor stipulations, like the order and pace that the cards need to be revealed.

I don’t know the exact value a site would place on having full exclusivity on previews, but my intuition is “over $1,000, under $10,000” of the range you described. I think part of the issue is the diminishing returns — one preview card for a content creator might get new eyes onto their stuff that they otherwise wouldn’t get; the second preview is far less valuable in that respect. I think if it was open bidding, an individual or website would easily pay $100 for a preview card. But that doesn’t mean that they would pay $10,000 for a hundred preview cards; at a certain point the stuff stops adding, though I guess there’s potential value in exclusivity. Still, with the way information populates nowadays, I don’t think that holds up. People could just go to the same aggregation sites they use now.

My experience is that while the value of a preview card is a bit nebulous in direct financial terms, there is a lot of value in legitimization from the official channels, and setting that aside it is seen as a major stepping stone for people trying to create content. It is a fraught ethical space because there is obviously no end of people who want to preview cards at no compensation (maybe would even pay some nominal amount for one), but the act of previewing a card is still labor, still leverages followings that a website or creator made themselves, and generally that sort of labor is expected to be compensated. I’m not sure there’s a way to formalize the whole thing, with compensation, and with transparency, that would produce an outcome other than WotC giving everything to massive creators and sponsored institutions outside of Magic, but the stakes are low enough that maybe it’s reasonable to expect WotC to take a small bath here and do right by the people who promote their game for subsistence (or often less) levels of compensation.

From Peter Leja:

Hi Patrick, How much focus is placed on how many pips of a single color a card has vs. how powerful it is when designing a card? Are there any cards that would’ve been better with having more pips to reduce the ability to splash or less pips to possibly allow it to see more play?

It definitely gets some scrutiny. Some of it is about “ease of splash” in combination with known stuff; some of it is due diligence about the potential ubiquity of a card. The efficacy here often falls out of the mana fixing (especially dual lands) than the cards themselves, so there’s a fair bit of guesswork here. For example, the mana fixing options in current Standard – Fabled Passage, Pathways, Temples, Triomes, etc. – are all very good at facilitating things like Omnath, Locus of Creation but aren’t optimal for casting both Phoenix of Ash and Questing Beast in the same deck. Other mana fixing cuts the other way. So how much this actually impacts the real world is hard to predict.

I’m a big fan of pips to convey flavor; some cards “feel” more like their color than others. There’s no question that Ball Lightning is cooler as RRR than 2R, even though the latter design is more powerful, maybe opens up other decks, etc. I bring up the example of Force of Nature versus Child of Gaea a lot — one feels like you’re channeling a ton of elemental energy to tame an uncontrollable monster, while the other feels like paying your phone bill (and Child of Gaea appearing in the same set as echo doesn’t help here). Setting aside rate, I think Vampire Nighthawk is cooler with two pips than one. This sort of stuff is a bit less visible and open to debate than the balance considerations, but I think some designs are more viscerally awesome as they become more prohibitive to cast.

From Anita Mijic:

I know I’m setting myself up for failure but it’s worth a shot – ANY chance you are interested in parting ways with your Budweiser swim trunks for a price?

I received a pair of Bill Murray’s iconic Budweiser swim trunks for Christmas a few years back, perhaps my favorite scene from any movie, full stop.

They are extremely not for sale.

Lastly, the question of the week, and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from Lawrence Harmon:

With card design being more and more driven by a want to appeal to the casual crowd more and more, how do you feel about the future of constructed Magic from both a gameplay and community standpoint.

I’d start by saying that the desire to make the game appealing to the casual crowd is both necessary and not intrinsically at odds with making a fun, balanced competitive game.

I point to Lochmere Serpent as a good example. It’s big and does a bunch of attractive stuff; I think it would have been one of my favorite cards when I started playing had it been in Revised or The Dark. In the competitive ecosystem, it has to get above all the other good six-mana cards to show up in the first place, which is no small task.

There’s a ton of game to it — it has play inside of combat, it gives the controller an array of options, there are a bunch of sideways methods of navigating it as the opponent that don’t reduce the game to a single binary, it gives people some graveyard interaction at a very modest rate, it incentivizes other people to play with a little bit of graveyard interaction, and on and on.

That’s only one card, but often these conversations shape around the implication that casual Magic is supposed to be one thing and competitive Magic something else, and Lochmere Serpent threads the needle in a way that’s satisfying to both demographics.

I think Commander is big enough that it makes sense for a non-trivial amount of each file to be pointed in that direction without trying to weave it into competitive play somehow. Some of that is about stuff that plays especially well there but not necessarily in one-on-one. Some of that is references like “each player” that naturally have more context in that sort of setting. But I believe it is possible to marry more and more of the cards together with both elements in mind, and not turn competitive Magic into something that isn’t palatable to its most devoted fans.