Sullivan’s Satchel: Role Players, Tarmogoyf, And LeBron’s Guild Alignment

Patrick Sullivan opens the mailbag to answer questions on role-player cards, Tarmogoyf as a Standard reprint, and NBA players’ guild identities.

Tarmogoyf, illustrated by Ryan Barger

Hello, and welcome to this week’s installment of Sullivan’s Satchel. As you may know by now, last weekend we had the honor of watching Mono-Green Cards take down the SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier last weekend, and while Sultai Ramp still made up two of the Top 4 decks, it was a welcome break from the previous weekends, during which Sultai Ramp won the event and composed a disproportionate amount of the Top 8 as well.

I’m not sure if this signifies a step towards something more balanced or just a one-week blip on the radar; if Ari Lax peeled a haymaker instead of a land on his last draw step, this column probably reads quite a bit differently. But in any case I’m not surprised by the success people had with Pelt Collector and Gutterbones. I think Growth Spiral significantly contributed to beatdown being a dead end against Simic strategies. One of the best ways to fight low-end aggro is ramping past the middle stages of the game straight to the end, and now Sultai Ramp needs to keep its head above water on three or four mana, not something the deck does particularly well.

Maybe this result will give midrange creature decks a little bit more to breathe, but whatever that looks like has to be good against cheap aggro, Priest of Forgotten Gods, the ramp stuff generally and Extinction Event specifically. Might be asking too much.

With that, you know the drill. Questions come in either through [email protected] or my DMs over @basicmountain, I answer a few of them, and then the best question, as determined by me, wins $25 in SCG credit.

Travis Allen asks:

Do you plan to move to another country if Trump is re-elected?

No, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, like most people, the place where I live is a function of familial and cultural relationships; I’m not just a labor widget. The only language I speak fluently is English. If I were single, maybe I could move to Canada or Ireland on a lark, at least temporarily. Now with a family and small children who are deeply bonded with members of their extended families, it’s a non-starter.

This is part of the reason I find calls to “Just Move!” in response to regional poverty (rural, Ssouthern, whatever) so noxious. The people and institutions one associates with (your family, your church, your neighbors, etc.) often provide more material value than drawing extra salary (which isn’t a guarantee) and definitely provide more material value than state institutions, and this is especially true if you are poor and/or live in less populated areas. The people who live there aren’t stubborn or stupid. If you care about these issues, fight the urge to be arrogant and condescending and focus in on letting people live with a modicum of dignity and security wherever they happen to live.

Also, whatever the results of the election are, they will be the product of a democratic process (not really, but that’s a question for another time), and what’s the promise that some result I’m unhappy with won’t happen in whatever utopia I’m imagining? Is America some unique case, or are voters responding in a variety of ways to global economic pressures and institutional rot? If you think it’s the former, I’d suggest investigating the relatively recent political and electoral history of the United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary, Brazil, India, and several others.

The problems of our lifetime are going to be global, and there won’t be any hiding from them. I’m going to hash it out here, with my people, and try to make do as best as I can, and this applies to just about any foreseeable domestic event.

From Rein Vorlind:

I regularly hear the term “role-player” assigned to cards, but I’ve never had a concrete understanding of what that means. What are the roles?

“Role-player” can broadly be applied to any card that one thinks has a shot of showing up in Constructed but in a way that isn’t particularly ubiquitous or powerful. Some examples:

  • Sideboard card with broad, generic applications: Duress, Wear. I would argue Negate is too ubiquitous, too frequently in maindecks, and too powerful to apply here.
  • Next-best options for decks looking for critical mass: Tin Street Dodger (Standard), Wolfwillow Haven (Pioneer), Skewer the Critics (Modern), Preordain (Legacy). Obviously some of these cards are way more powerful than others, but same point — some decks are looking to do a certain thing and are willing to play with the fourth-best option after the first three are accounted for.
  • “Best in slot” for a genre of card which usually sucks and which has loud enough diminishing returns such that the “next-best” options are non-starters: Baneslayer Angel, Dream Trawler, Elder Gargaroth, etc. Stuff that’s big and dies, mostly.
  • Cards that are good but the rate is just right on the line, or only fits into a very particular style of deck: Dauntless Bodyguard; Thief of Sanity; Chandra, Fire Artisan.

There are some other examples, but the term is much more colloquial than scientific. Some of these cards don’t show up, some are quite prevalent for reasons, so there’s a range, but I usually save the term for something with either a very specific “role” that it serves but not in a way that’s overwhelming, or something good but for a more niche style of deck.

From Peter Leja:

Hi Patrick! In the 8/24/2020 Making Magic article from Mark Rosewater, it discusses several cards from Future Sight and the likelihood of reprints of cards and/or mechanics from the classic set. In it, Tarmogoyf is mentioned as unlikely to be reprinted, with the biggest obstacle being its power level.

I thought about the bad reactions to casting damage-based removal like Shock on a 1/2 Tarmogoyf with no matching card type (instant, in this case) in the Graveyard or just tracking card types, in general, as a problem, since you check both Graveyards, but I feel like its power level is likely OK for a Rare/Mythic Rare for the Standard format. Disregarding whether it should be reprinted in Standard, I was wondering your thoughts as a game designer on whether Tarmogoyf is too powerful for Standard?

Thanks for reading, and hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy during this time.

In my opinion, it’s too hard to separate Tarmogoyf from the context of the formats it shows up in. It seems obviously an issue alongside something like Thoughtsieze or Inquisition of Kozilek. There’s a good chance you wouldn’t want to make it legal at the same time as something as innocuous as Fabled Passage, and once you’re casting that wide of a net, maybe it’s too big a risk alongside a bunch of cards you’d really want to print for other reasons.

That said, it is just numbers on the battlefield, and while you can argue about overall rate there’s no question that Mono-Green Aggro in Standard wouldn’t go near Tarmogoyf compared to Barkhide Troll, Scavenging Ooze, or a variety of Standard-legal two drops the deck could play and doesn’t. I think you can create a lot of fun incentives by making a variety of pushed two-drops that do different stuff or help out differently strategies. It’s unclear to me if Tarmogoyf helps or hurts this, on balance, but I could see it going the right way in some realities.

I think the biggest strike against Tarmogoyf is the risk of it being overpowered (it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing, given its history) combined with the fact that Tarmogoyf mirrors can be slogs. If the card was instead a 1+x/x and they traded with one another more often, I think it would be enough rate reduction and enough bad gameplay reduction such that I’d green-light it without hesitation. As it stands, I can understand it being good to stay away even if it doesn’t match my intuitions; the biggest strike against reprinting sketchy designs is “you can always just make a new card,” and with WotC having enough reprinting vehicles such that the secondary market argument doesn’t ring true, maybe it’s just better to leave it alone.

Lastly, our Question of the Week, and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from YungC:

Have you ever done color alignments of NBA teams? like where would the following players fall on the color pie (incl. pairs and shards) LeBron Jordan Kyrie Durant Steph Curry James Harden

  • LeBron: Cerebral chess player, most comfortable dissecting defenses with perfect information, seems to teleport on occasion: Dimir.
  • Jordan: Single-minded and abusive towards enemies and allies alike, Hall of Fame speech just a recitation of perceived insults spanning 40 years, black and red jersey: Rakdos.
  • Kyrie: Preternatural blend of strength, speed, agility, and situational awareness. Deep distrust of hierarchy but not exactly egalitarian, lover of conspiracy theories: Gruul.
  • Durant: Physique more arboreal than most NBA players, chill dude, good vibes, crazy regeneration powers: Selesnya.
  • Curry: Evolution, transformation, shapeshifting, simultaneously shifts his environment and is shifted by it in an act of basketball symbiosis, pretty obvious: Simic.
  • Harden: S Tier combination of “math” meets “rules lawyering,” spends a lot of time dribbling the air out of the ball (“holding priority” in Magic parlance), his game is an obvious function of rules exploitation, wouldn’t get invited back to pickup games with his friends: Azorius.