Sullivan’s Satchel: Standard Reprints, Being A Dad, And The Magic Online Championship

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on cards he would reprint forever, the Magic Online Championship, and balancing gaming and fatherhood.

Despise, illustrated by by Todd Lockwood

Hello, and welcome back to Sullivan’s Satchel. I had the privilege of casting the 2019 Magic Online Championship alongside our own Cedric Phillips and the Wizards of the Coast crew. My only criticism of the event was the pace of play; with expanded chess clocks and no parameters besides “don’t time out,” there were times where players appeared to be frozen, but were merely tanking over plays or even mulligans for five or more minutes. I don’t blame the players and I think it makes some sense as a rules set, but I thought it did appreciable damage to the viewing experience.

That aside, I think the show was great — an extremely high level of play, numerous players with significant Magic resumes, and a well-deserving champion, MTGO’s favorite son, Michael Jacob. Michael is perhaps the most austere person I know and so $50,000 should go a long way in keeping him flush with recording equipment and animal crackers for the foreseeable future. Congratulations.

With that, the questions. Remember, you can submit your question over at [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @BasicMountain.

Jim Davis asks,

You can select one reprint of each color to always be legal in Standard. What are they and why? Bonus points if you want to do a colorless card and land as well.

This is a really great question, in part because shaping the parameters is tricky. I’m assuming that this question is asking for “live” cards, not just five copies of Walking Corpse. However, reprinting any reasonable card in perpetuity is asking for replayability challenges. So, I’d err towards cards that are good backstops against certain undesirable things, and bonus points if they’re especially evocative for the color pie. My list:

  • White: Banishing Light. Staple that does good work at a rate that’s fine for Standard (usually shows up at least a little when it’s legal), and I really like giving white a removal spell that exiles, is an enchantment, and is potentially temporary. All those feel very appropriate characteristics for white’s marquee removal spell.
  • Green: Prey Upon. This might be a shade on the weak side but I think you could create metagames where this card has a home, the gameplay is really good, it makes you care about the specific characteristics of the cards you play and your opponent plays, and it gives green some interaction that its occasionally lacking. Hard for this one to go wrong, easy for it to go well.
  • Blue: Negate. Important backstop against a number of things, good incentives, good for blue to have at least one counterspell that’s priced to move.
  • Red: Abrade. This one might be too powerful to have in perpetuity, but I think the fact that the damage doesn’t go to players or planeswalkers means this card doesn’t invalidate stuff like Volcanic Hammer. Good to make something powerful that gives opposing players a reason to play big creatures, nice for red’s marquee design to destroy artifacts for color pie purposes, nice best-of-one tool on Magic Arena.
  • Black: Despise. Color pie, good backstop, the type of discard spell you play if you care about specific cards, not just a rate monster like Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek.
  • Artifact: Pithing Needle. Good backstop against a number of things that can be tough to interact with at a baseline, big fan of reactive cards that your opponent can get out from under by interactive with themselves.
  • Land: Radiant Fountain. Lots of rare lands push people towards multicolored decks, nice to give something appealing and low-complexity to push in the other direction. Helps push back against all-in aggro decks, subsidizes popular lifegain strategies, etc.

From Jesse Easter:

Do you expect to print more Standard focused ‘if your opponent has more x than you’ in white? feels like it would help solidify it

It would be unwise for me to talk about “what I expect to print” when I kinda know already, but I do like the tone, the color pie, it is something different, etc. Unfortunately, I’m deeply skeptical of mechanics that pay you out for playing an extremely passive or defensive game, or incentivize your opponent to not attack you when they can, etc. One Death’s Shadow can be okay, Spawn of Mayhem has a little bit of that experience sometimes and is just fine, but I don’t think you could build it out into a handful of designs per set without engendering major play pattern issues.

From Anon:

Hi Patrick, first time long time. I just found out my wife is pregnant and we are obviously excited. One thing I have been trying to grapple with is how to balance gaming with having a family. Any tips for prospective dads out there?

I have a couple of rugrats of my own, the youngest of whom is five months old, so I have a bit of experience here. I try to tread lightly in these spaces because every baby is different, every family situation is different, but some advice, in no particular order.

  • Put a pin in it for a while. Seriously, this is going to be extremely cool, hard, and exhausting, and you’re going to have to build your life around what the family needs, not the other way around. My middle child is three and it feels like the time went away really quickly. My baby, who feels like she was born yesterday, actually started to crawl yesterday.
  • Whatever expectations about what your daily flow is going to be like, throw it out the window, because everything is going to fall out of the temperament and especially the sleeping habits of your baby, and everyone involved is going to have to react to that.
  • It’s good to find games that you can digest in five- or ten-minute chunks. Mobile games, stuff like Hearthstone, whatever, can scratch a little bit of the itch when you have brief periods of time. Carving out an hour can be really challenging.
  • Lastly, even if you’re conscious about this stuff it’s very likely, maybe even a lock, that a disproportionate amount of the workload is going to fall onto your wife. Men are socialized into this stuff and even if you’re mindful about it it’s hard not to fall prey to it, especially in this case because you’re going to feel like you’re working hard, too. You’re going to be tired, too.

I flew to a GP at the last minute when my wife was five months pregnant; it was teams and my friends lost their third at the last minute. I had a good time and it felt nice to come through for my friends, but in retrospect I wish I hadn’t done it. Essentially, I would recommend trying to shift your perspective at least for a little while from “What do I want to do?” to “What do I need to do?” — sometimes that does mean some personal time or engaging with old hobbies, but it can be problematic to start with that as a baseline assumption that can be provided each week or even each month.

From Henry Mildestein:

After the MOC, where do you see the future of Magic Online heading in relation to Arena?

I don’t know anything internal, but from my outside, mostly uninformed perspective — Magic Online does service a demographic of player not served by Arena because the monetization models are so different. I am one of those players. I want to play in Leagues that cost money to play in, and I want to win prizes I can convert into dollars if I do well. I want to “own” the cards on my collection and sell them when I don’t want them anymore. These are characteristics unique to Magic Online, and even if Arena services more people (or services them better) with the other model, it isn’t trivial for them to convert players like me into Arena users, and I’m guessing the average MTGO user spends a lot more money on the client than the average Arena user.

Short version is, I think they have a lot of incentive to keep MTGO attractive and put actual resources into its Organized Play. With that said, I was frankly stunned by how much money the MOCS gave away, and with some belt-tightening sort of happening across the board I would be surprised if a quarter-million-dollar purse was happening in the near future, or maybe even ever again. I think they can preserve much of the same Organized Play model (which I broadly like, pretty easy to grok what’s going on, frequent mid-level tournaments, etc.) and just scale back a little on the actual dollars going in. Arena can focus mostly on the ladder grind and the occasional shots at qualifying for something big; it seems popular enough and is a different enough model from MTGO OP that players can just pick the thing that makes the most sense to them.

Lastly, the Question of the Week, and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from Sigmund Ausfresser:

I’m sure you’ve gotten a question like this already. But I’m curious to hear your thoughts on whether recent price inflation on older cards will hold once the pandemic is over, and whether supply on latest Standard sets will be constrained when we look back a couple years from now.

Also, nice to say “hi” again it’s been a while!

I don’t do a ton of speculation on Magic cards and I find most analysis to be retroactive rather than predictive, which is to say people have a lot of reasons for explaining what happened but little accuracy in guessing what’s about to happen. My read of the room is: cards like dual lands and power have always been the playground for relatively affulent people and that selects for people who can work from home. With less competition for entertainment dollars, people in that position can allocate more money towards Magic cards, and that in turn has created a swell in those markets.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bubble burst on Commander staples or cards with a certain pedigree, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a chill in those markets if and when things return to normal. I wouldn’t short dual lands if such a thing was possible but I wouldn’t be buying at these prices, either (in fact, I recently converted all my dual lands into power, partially because I like owning it more but also because I think it’s a better relative long-term hold),

I’m off physical product as a spec; the timeline for holding it, the transaction costs, and the physical space required to hold it make it a worse place to store wealth than just about anything else I could think of doing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if physical product from 2020 and early 2021 turned out to be a very good ROI. It just won’t be me touching it.