Sullivan’s Satchel: Spike Mentality, Supply Chain Management, And How To Beat Infect

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on developing a Spike mentality, beating Infect, and… supply chain management?

Food Chain, illustrated by Craig J Spearing

Hello, and welcome back to this edition of Sullivan’s Satchel. If your feeds are anything like mine, you’ve been absolutely inundated with America’s election results, the conclusion of which obliterated whatever remaining sanity the nation had. My politics weren’t really reflected in any of the candidates of the “major” parties but that doesn’t make me a bystander, nor does it dampen my empathy for the people passionate about the results, even if I don’t share their perception of the efficacy of one outcome over another. All of this is to say: with COVID and the economy a house of cards I think we are in for tough sledding no matter what, and I feel the defining characteristic of what I’ve seen from our body politic is a systemic inability to engage with extraordinary circumstances with the severity they merit. If some of my friends can (temporarily) breathe a bit easier, that’s something at least.

Magic-wise, I’m happy to announce that I’m back doing commentary, with the MOCS this coming weekend and then some SCG events to fill out November. For me, all of this isn’t a substitute for physical tournaments; I’m a sucker for the trappings of paper Magic and as time has passed I’ve only gotten more wistful for it. I’ve been hot-and-cold with it over the years, sort of the verge of “retiring,” so that I never considered a lengthy hiatus as some sort of an issue, but it feels different when everything is involuntary or a product of circumstances. I figure most people are coping with something at least a little bit similar.

With that, a quick reminder about the column — you can submit your questions over at [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @basicmountain. One question is selected as the Question of the Week, and that person receives $25 in SCG credit. With that:

Craig Krempels asks:

Hi Patrick

During the peak of our competitive play experience and the years of grinding leading up to it, I was often a very poor ambassador for the game.  I was far more interested in building good decks than I was with building a good community. 

As we have moved away from placing our personal worth on competitive results it is easier to have more perspective and a new attitude.  However, at a younger age I was not open to constructive criticism about my conduct. 

There are points during my engagement with the MTG community when I see these same problems manifested in the next generation of gamers.  Is there advice you would give to the current crop of up-and-comers to guide them in a better direction?

Love you, bro.


Love you, too.

I think about a lot of the same stuff. It’s easy to attribute it to being young, and that’s part of it, but not the entire story. Competitive Magic selects for some weird stuff — anyone who pursues the game at the highest levels has to be smart, dedicated, and introspective as a prerequisite, but almost anyone with those sets of characteristics could almost certainly make more money doing something more conventional.

So why Magic instead of something else? It’s fun and social and a lot of other pursuits aren’t, so that’s some of it, I think. But more importantly, Magic gives a very defined set of rules and parameters, and the game declares a winner and loser at the end. “Real Life,” more broadly, doesn’t work that way, and the times in my life I threw myself into Magic the most were the times that my personal life was in the most disarray. At those times, certainty and agency felt stabilizing. It felt good to be good at something, and for other people to perceive me that way. I wasn’t getting a lot of that kind of feedback in other areas.

So, there’s this notion that “professional Magic players can be mean/low empathy/etc.” but my perception is that, by and large, competitive Magic is appealing to people whose lives are bringing out the worst in them in other areas, and there’s no way to totally divorce those feelings from the tournament experience, especially when the losses and misplays trigger the emotions from other arenas. Without divulging too much, Craig and I grew up together and I know his home and academic lives were sources of friction and frustration. My life was a mess. Drop-outs, un(der)employment, issues with drugs and alcohol, undiagnosed or untreated mental illness — I can’t think of a single person I grinded with that wasn’t dealing with at least one thing in that camp, and often more than one thing. This thing probably isn’t going to be forever for you and it means a lot if you can reflect on it as positively as possible.

I’m not sure what the call to action is for the younger grinders. By and large, they seem to be thriving relative to where I was in my early 20s. I guess my advice would be… escapism and hobbies can be fun, and I treasure a lot of the people that I met over the years, Craig included, but all of this isn’t actually a substitute for engaging with your life outside of Magic. I know the regrets I have surrounding my career are way more about being unnecessarily mean or cruel and not, like, playing badly with a GP Top 8 on the line, and I have a lot of examples of both to pull from.

From Kayla Cartaciano:

Questions in regards to running a TCG store:
1. How do you choose a price for a card before a given set releases?
2. What started Star City Games?

Questions in regards to MTG:
1. What determines what article gets made about a given card or format?

In order:

  1. Everyone who prices cards has their own process, but when I was tasked with doing the work it was a blend of my own intuitions about how powerful the card was, how much “pre-sale hype” was surrounding it, and trying to match the market as much as possible to avoid getting arbitraged. It isn’t a perfect science, but you also want to make sure you’re shooting for “plus” value on a given box, because people pay a premium when the cards are new and because you could just flip the sealed product otherwise.
  2. I’m not sure “what” started SCG, but Pete Hoefling has been there since the beginning, as far as I know, and I believe it used to be a bingo hall on top of everything else back in the day. I’ve been writing for the website off and on for about fifteen years but I don’t know when that launched in earnest.
  3. Cedric Phillips can speak to this more precisely, but I’m guessing it’s a blend of: topics that are popular, topics that each individual writer is especially well-suited to discuss, and having a wide enough range of topics, such that, no matter how you engage with Magic, there’s a good chance there’s something on the site of interest each day. No small task.

From Carla Luu:

Hi starcitygames.com team,

My name is Carla. I came across your starcitygames.com store (top-ranked on Google search result for Game BigCommerce stores) and honestly, I was amazed by your interesting MTG collectible card game.

The Holiday seasons are coming, soaring demands on starcitygames.com are very likely. I believe that Supply Chain & Inventory Management must be one of your top priorities like other retailers that we are working with.
I’m convinced that this ebook: 7 Best Practices for Optimal Inventory Management for the 2020 Holiday Season will come in handy for starcitygames.com.

For this ebook, there’s #7. Prepare for Selling out, which is one of the main issues for many BigCommerce merchants. We have come up with the BackOrder solution that helps your team at starcitygames.com automatically put your product on BackOrder when product inventory reaches 0. (For your better reference, I’m attaching the app’s one-page brochure)

Would it be helpful if we scheduled 10 minutes to discuss how the BackOrder topic may align with your plan for starcitygames.com inventory?

I’d really appreciate it if you could share your thoughts on the material by replying this email, or pick your best time for our discussion here.


Appreciate you think so highly of the site, but I’m posting this mostly to call attention to Microsoft Outlook’s somewhat soft spam filter heuristics.

From Matthew Duplantis:

What are some habits or tips you suggest for players who are looking to increase their win percentages or transition to a more “spike” player mentality?

Engage as much as possible with people who are better than you. I’m a big believer in “practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent,” and it’s easy to develop a bunch of bad habits if you’re only playing against and talking with people as good as or worse than you.

Read articles and watch streams, and then try putting that stuff into practice yourself. Try to thread the needle between “respect what these people say and do” with “don’t take it as gospel that they’re right 100% of the time” — use the information they provide as a springboard, but make sure the burden of proof is with you, not them.

Try just playing the best deck every now and again. I know plenty of players on the SCG Tour who are not the most impressive when the game gets choppy or unfamiliar but they rack up at lot of 11-4s playing the best deck with solid heuristics. I know that makes it sound easy, but it is not. Otherwise a lot of people would do it.

Lastly, and the Question of the Week and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from Marc-Andre Pelletier:

What is the best way to play against an Infect deck?

A few things to keep in mind:

  • They only have a few Infect creatures. The easiest way to beat them is just to run them out of stuff. If you can survive the initial push, they will usually be drawing to very few cards that matter, most of which will be quite fragile.
  • Block as much as possible, barring cards that provide significant leverage if you untap with them, like Grim Lavamancer or Soul-Scar Mage.
  • Engaging with spells inside of combat is extremely risky, because Infect has a lot of cards (like Vines of Vastwood, or any pump spell if the removal is damaged-based) that play over the top and then add more damage. To the extent it’s possible, take your hits and try doing stuff at the end of their turn.
  • Pendelhaven is something to keep in mind on the fringes; sometimes they can pump with something that doesn’t put a spell on the stack.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, use your mana efficiently. You can almost never beat Infect by outfighting them on the stack; they have a critical mass of zero- and one-mana interaction such that it’s a losing battle to try to fight on that axis. The easiest way to lose no matter what you’re playing is to lose with a bunch of stuff left in your hand, so err on using all your mana and cards judiciously instead of holding resources back and hoping to outwork them at some critical juncture.