Sullivan’s Satchel: The Snow Mechanic, The Brooklyn Nets, And Strip Mine In Old School

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on the snow mechanic, sports, and Strip Mine.

Surtland Frozenflame, illustrated by Piotr Dura

Hello, and welcome to Sullivan’s Satchel. It’s cool to see the Kaldheim previews roll in. There’s this weird thing that happens when you work on the cards where things are debated and changed, and then the whole thing recedes as the file gets locked and work begins on other sets. And then almost a year later you’re transported back to when the set was a work in progress, watching the conversations and reactions happen that were speculative when the set was in progress. Setting aside the particulars of the strength of cards or the overall balance, I think the feel and tone of the set is incredible and that the people who own the creative parts of the process should be proud of their work.

My rolE has shifted a bit; I’m no longer involved much in the day-to-day particulars of Play Design and am focused much more on the intial-ish phases of design. I think I’m going to be happier with my work and WotC is going to be happier with my output; this was a call that was made mutually and I was already working somewhat in that capacity in 2020 anyway. I’ve been working under the charge of some people with SCG roots and it’s been stimulating and fun.

With that, the questions. As always, you can send in yours to [email protected] or via DM on Twitter @BasicMountain. One question each week will be selected as the Question of the Week and receive $25 in SCG credit. With that,

Josh Vance asks:

What do you think of snow as a mechanic?

It’s a tricky thing to get right. The opportunity cost is next-to-zero assuming you play one color (just play with snow basics instead of regular ones). It starts to get “interesting” once you play more than one color, but it is typically not the most fun thing to balance around people playing only one color, and if you have an aesthetic critique to snow lands showing up outside of snow decks, saturating them with a bunch of multicolor lands isn’t ideal either.

Snow is tough to balance because the “Level 1” counter to it is to design cards that negatively reference snow, but that path is fraught because negatively referencing people’s lands (the vast majority of snow cards a snow player will have) is troubled space. To some extent you have to suck it up and let people play with snow lands even without snow cards in their deck because the alternative of hemming that in with any efficacy is going to be pretty rough.

The upside of the mechanic being sort of amorphous is you can just make some sweet designs with snow that just do whatever, and then the cards that reference snow can be fun and engaging because they are enabled by a bunch of fun and engaging individual designs. I also think there’s a tone to snow that’s been unexplored up until now, and even if snow isn’t the most dynamic mechanic, if there are some fun and flavorful cards around it, I think it can easily get over an acceptable line.

From Ringer, aka Baker Neenan:

A question for the mailbag if you’re interested: Are the Nets a better team now than they were yesterday, and if so is it enough to win a title?

Assuming the Nets are getting a motivated, eventually-in-shape Harden and Kyrie emerges from his sabbatical, the Nets are unquestionably better than they were before. I’m not a big Caris LeVert guy (lot of empty calories in my opinion); Jared Allen is a nice prospect but it’s hard to imagine him play 30 minutes in a game that matters. Whether the deal is worth shaking out the entire savings account for a two- or three-year title run is another question, but the Nets are materially improved.

A lot is being made of their three stars’ usage and general ball dominance, but I suspect they aren’t going to play that many minutes on the floor together. The power of the move is that you have two of those guys on the floor at all times, and any two of those players should produce a Top 5 offense. There’s also injury insurance, perhaps the most powerful argument for acquiring a third star. Brooklyn losing a key player for a second-round series should mean less to them than it does for the Bucks, Clippers, Lakers, or any other ostensible contender.

I think the defense is cause for some concern, but that was an issue before the deal. The optimistic scenario involves all the stars being dialed in, DeAndre Jordan rediscovering some rim-protecting verve, and Jeff Green being able to steal some minutes on the backline against opposing bench units. This is asking a lot, but it isn’t impossible.

I think they needed a third scorer to push past Milwaukee, who are loaded with so much defensive talent that I suspected even Irving + Durant wouldn’t be enough over the course of seven games. They are as talented as any team in the league; whether they can get on the same page in time and get enough collective defensive buy-in are the questions. I now think they are the favorites to win the East, but I wouldn’t take them over the field.

From Anthony LaFlamme:

Dear Patrick,

Where do you stand on Strip Mine in Old School 93/94? 4x or 1x?
Thank you for your time and Happy New Year.

This is a very tough question. Two powerful arguments in favor of 4x Strip Mine are that is the way the game was played back in the day, and that 4x Strip Mine gives a boost to the Ironclaw Orcs / Savannah Lions / El-Hajjaj type of stuff that people love but suck compared to Swords to Plowshares, Moat, The Abyss, and the rest of the busted anti-creature measures.

The argument against is similarly powerful — that playing Strip Mine over and over again is boring and repetitive, and makes the other cards surrounding the game irrelevant. I played Magic back when four Strip Mines was the norm. It wasn’t that fun, except as an equalizing measure against people who had better decks, but those decks often had Moxes to power through it anyway.

I guess my position is that Old School is fun so long as it’s a celebration of what the range of decks looked like at the time, not just beating each other with Library of Alexandria over and over again. I think 4x Strip Mine pushes people more and more to play with the generic power cards, and I’d rather it be restricted even at some expense of authenticity of the format.

Lastly, the Question of the Week, from Ken Kauffman:

Hi Patrick,

Congrats on the new role! I really enjoy your mailbag column and look forward to reading it each week, so I’d love to see it stick around as well. For this week, I have a 2 part question. First, do you have any updates to your Pioneer Burn list?

And secondly, when paper Magic finally returns, do you predict Pioneer will be a format supported by WotC the way it was before COVID? Modern seems to still have large scale interest, but Pioneer seems quite a bit more shaky at the moment using MTGO leagues as my main barometer.

Thank you. I’m working remotely for Scopely and it’s going very well. The duration of the project from my end is still TBD but there’s a ton of work and learning right now, a new challenge, meeting new people, etc. Still doing all the Magic stuff as I mentioned before, but for the time being Scopely is most of my professional attention.

I do have an update for my Boros Wizards list. It’s subtle, but a little different.

I expect Pioneer to have support when paper Magic returns and for there to be a large appetite for constructed Magic generally. I don’t think MTGO is the best indicator of format health, especially Pioneer which is similar enough to Historic to be compromised by the relative popularity of their respective digital platforms. Pioneer got lost at sea a little bit in the last year but I think it’ll be a popular part of the rotation when physical play comes back.