Sullivan’s Satchel: Rare Dual Lands, Secret Lair X Walking Dead, And Underexplored Mechanics

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on rare multicolor lands, Secret Lair X Walking Dead, and mechanics he’d like to see explored more.

Whispering Madness, illustrated by Clint Cearley

Hello, and welcome to this edition of Sullivan’s Satchel. Of course, the top billing for this week’s article goes to Cedric Phillips, who was able to secure an invite to the Zendikar Rising Championship by winning a Magic Online Super PTQ with my beloved Pioneer deck, Boros Wizards. I usually float in and out of interest with various formats. I try to convince myself that it’s because of “burnout” or “variety,” but if I’m being honest it’s rare that you can play the same deck for six months without the metagame eventually cycling to a point where the deck becomes bad.

That hasn’t happened here, even with the companion errata, so it serves as some badge of legitimacy to see Cedric take it down. I’d play it until people start taking it seriously and/or Boros Charm gets banned, whichever comes first.

With that, from Kevin Nisperos:

Hi Patrick, with the current pandemic and current structure of the OP system, how do you see the gathering part of Magic changing for the better moving forward?

First, I think I’d be cautious about predicting too much into the future. There isn’t a vaccine yet and even though there’s a rough estimate on when one will be available based on historical precedent, the details matter quite a bit.

I could see things going one of two ways, broadly; either COVID-19 leaves people so spooked of large crowds and indoor gatherings that it has a lengthy chilling effect on such activities even when they are ostensibly “safe,” or people have such an appetite for such activities that demand spikes once it is permissible to do it. I guess I could see it going either way, although the latter sort of assumes a critical mass of such people to make it matter, so who knows?

I’m guessing at least in the short term that the massive GP-type events just won’t have the demand necessary to make those events feasible, but demand for some physical Magic will be that events in the 50-150-person range will be there, maybe even in greater numbers than before the pandemic. But this is all speculative and falls out of how effective and widespread any sort of solution is, which is a wild variable in this and related speculation.

From Chris Heinonen:

How much of the issues in Standard fall on the fact that every set needs to have a set of lands at rare to fix mana in order to sell packs? We talk about how broken the mana was in Khans block with fetchlands, and while we don’t shuffle as much now, the mana feels just as good and allows 4c mythics to be cast ahead of curve.

I largely disagree with the premise. Rare dual lands do help sell packs, but I think they serve two more important features (which I guess you could argue are connected to selling boosters, but feel a little different to me):

  1. Many competitive players are “I’ll believe it is good once it shows up in a winning deck” towards new cards and sets; good dual lands give them a known quantity in competitive settings that gets them to believe things will be different even if they’re less convinced on each new mechanic and seemingly pushed mythic, and more importantly…
  2. Playing multicolored decks is fun and allows for a more robust engagement with the deckbuilding experience. Basic lands on their own do not provide sufficient consistency to play two-color decks, to say nothing of more ambitious constructions.

I think the lands in Zendikar Rising are pretty tame all told; very strong for enabling aggressive two-color decks, not the best for more taxing mana symbol requirements or decks that play more than two colors. Omnath, Locus of Creation was a special case in that the card was specifically strong with the new lands, but if anything I think the current assortment of mana fixing is a bit under what my ideal target would be. Not a disaster by any means, but I think it could be stronger without running into major balance issues.

From Joe:

Do you see the Walking Dead Secret Lair the final type of crossover or do you see entire sets of completely unrelated IPs being made some time in the future? Would an actual, for example, Star Wars crossover set actually be bad for Magic? Thanks, whether you answer or don’t answer.

Walking Dead is an interesting case study because the IP isn’t explicitly dissonant with Magic (both properties deal a lot with Humans and Zombies) but it isn’t exactly on the nose (not high fantasy, set in very different eras, different technological conceits, etc.). So, I don’t know if “completely related IPs” is exactly the right description, but if the Magic fan base has an appetite for something that isn’t right on the nose, that should give greater leeway to explore IPs that are more and more of a “stretch,” if you want to call it that.

I don’t know if this stuff is good or bad for Magic. Balancing drawing new people into the game by leveraging other IPs versus the dissonance it can create for longtime fans of Magic is tough. I’m neutral on Walking Dead and I’m pretty neutral on the Secret Lair and I have to imagine those things are related. I can easily imagine properties that would get me enthused and properties that would make me roll my eyes. Details matter, quality of execution matters, frequency matters. I can only speak for myself though.

Lastly, from Parth, Breaker of Crypts, and this weeks winner of $25 in SCG credit:

Hi Patrick, what do you believe are some underutilized or unexplored archetypes or identities that the color pairs could have?

Some of these are more explored than others, but in no particular order:

  • G/W: Love both “cares about big stuff/having the biggest stuff on the battlefield” and also “cares about critical mass of small one-power/zero-power matters,” Cryptolith Rites as a bigger part of the experience, etc.
  • U/W: “Cares about taking multiple actions in a turn” and also “cares about taking no actions in a turn/only using activated abilities/etc.”
  • R/W: “Battalion/cares about characteristics of attackers/cares about combat keywords.”
  • B/W: “Sacrifice matters, devotion, cares about exile.”
  • G/U: Creature keyword counters from Ikoria meets Simic stuff about moving counters around.
  • G/R: Cares about trample, big spells matter.
  • G/B: Delirium-adjacent “cares about different card types, different stats among creatures in graveyard, etc.” (easier to do in digital, of course).
  • U/R: Big spells matter, prowess exploration that isn’t just about casting Opts but cares about converted mana costs, X-spells, etc.
  • U/B: I actually think cipher is really cool if you could find a way to make it a bit less repetitive – maybe a one-shot hit trigger or some other conditional, and then the ciphered card goes away?
  • R/B: Like the “hedonist party” thing, something that cares about creatures in a way that’s different from battalion? Trickiest one for me to pin down, to be honest.