Sullivan’s Satchel: Basketball Business, Battle Of The Bad Sets, And Begging For Bans

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on NBA free agency, reviewing bad sets, and why the calls for card bans seem to be louder.

Pyre Zombie, illustrated by Nelson DeCastro

Hello, and welcome to this edition of Sullivan’s Satchel. I am currently locked out of my SCG email account (some internet denizens referred to this as a “boomer problem”) and so I had to solicit Cedric’s Twitch chat for some off-the-cuff questions. No prize this time, much faster and looser. I’ll roll over the $25 until someone at SCG can fix my issue or someone sends a particularly good inquiry through some other medium. Twitter still works (DM @BasicMountain), and I guess send along your questions to [email protected] in the hopes someone helps me out.

From Andersoneclair:

Best and worst moves of NBA free agency so far.

Worst: New Orleans giving up significant draft assets to shed salary, dumped Lonzo Ball, didn’t sign Lowry, then shipped a first to Charlotte to sign Graham. Absolute stone cold lock this compels them to sign whoever at well above market next summer, followed by Zion agitating for a trade shortly after signing his max extension. Just a baffling array of moves that could doom the Zion Era before it even gets started.

Best: No home runs, but I do like the Furkan Korkmaz, Jeff Green, and Rudy Gay contracts in terms of value and team needs. Not the flashiest signings, but nailing this kind of stuff is really important for teams with significant committed salary and championship aspirations.

Imagineasian88 asks:

Was reviewing Mercadian Masques better or worse than Saviors of Kamigawa?

Cedric and I just reviewed Mercadian Masques for The Resleevables, and it was a doozy. I don’t even mind the low power level; arguably something like that was a necessity at the time given how out of control the previous blocks were. But the set bounces back and forth between “uninspired” and “vaguely inspired, but not remotely fun,” and that execution isn’t a requirement in terms of getting the power level back on track. The distribution of rate is way off, lots of extremely repetitive designs like Rebels and Spellshapers, Rishadan Port and Dust Bowl, the list of failings is pretty long.

That said, Masques didn’t come close to causing the level of psychic damage that Saviors did. “Play the same card over and over again” is pretty bad; “don’t play any of your cards at all” is actually worse. Also, Saviors came out several years later, and I put a lot of stock in “we should get better at this stuff over time.” Grading on that curve, Saviors has a case as the worst set of all time. It is possible I have some rose-tinted glasses because Masques was when I was first exploring the competitive scene in earnest, but even controlling for that I think the gap between the two sets is vast, which is saying something.

Bennyhannah asks:

Did you have a good day today?

Medium. Work was fine, kids were great, running on fumes with lack of sleep + stress + very little time to myself. The bad stuff is more a cumulative toll sort of a thing so maybe it isn’t fair to grade the day with that in mind, but it is harder to appreciate the good stuff against that kind of ambient drain.

From Glowinhammerfist1:

Is Merfolk gonna be good in Historic after the printing of another lord and the three-mana legend into Historic Horizons

Master of the Pearl Trident Svyelun of Sea and Sky

Sure? Those cards are plenty good—good enough to show up in Modern if the incentives were a bit different and the format slightly slower. I assume Historic sort of qualifies as Modern with those caveats, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume it could be viable, or at least worthy of exploration. Unfortunately, they’re adding something like 1,000 cards, exploring digital-only space, and constantly tinkering with the permissible cards, so I think it’s unwise to speculate too much on what is or isn’t going to be good. It’ll take a long time to shake out a set of changes this destabilizing. I also can’t say I’m much of a Historic expert, so if there’s some nuance I’m missing here, my apologies. I doubt it though.

Maximilianthe3rd asks:

Why have people become more ban happy over the last 5 or so years

There are a few reasons, but I think the top of the list is that WotC has shifted the Overton window by lowering the burden of proof for bannings compared to ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. I remember being outraged that cards like Disciple of the Vault or Goblin Lackey could be considered worthy of a ban. After all, they’re just creatures, fragile ones at that. You can even block Goblin Lackey to stop it from doing its thing.

Bans were typically reserved for the key hubs of combo decks, not creatures or other cards that spoke more to balance of the format than a particular play pattern problem. I don’t think that approach is correct, and I think the only reason I ever thought it was correct is that WotC signaled strongly that was the underlying logic. I don’t think there’s much question that Rishadan Port, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Bitterblossom would have been banned in Standard using a more modern burden of proof, and I think Magic would have been better for it.

But also, way more games get played now, accelerating the speed with which formats enter their “solved” state. I played plenty of formats that were ostensibly diverse but would have collapsed under more scrutiny. There can come a point where the only way to proceed is to get rid of certain cards, and that point gets found much faster and with more certainty than it did when I was playing.

It is possible there are “cultural” things in play here or some broader sentiment that’s change among an aggregation of the competitive community, or the way that frustrated voices typically speak more loudly, but I think the blend of “lower burden of proof” plus “more games get played” explains the majority of it.

From MBSegal:

I’ve never heard you talk about the MTG HoF. Is it something you care about? Small hall vs. Big hall? If you could start it from scratch, what changes would you make? Additionally, who is first ballot SCG HOF?

I used to talk about it more often a few years back, but the discourse got too exhausting even for me. Because I am petty and enjoy the airing of dirty laundry, the unsolicited and unsubstantiated cheating claims put fire into my belly, but the minutiae of who cares about what stats, etc. was lost on me. I think if the whole thing was managed differently, I would have cared a lot, and being added to the selection committee remains a significant honor for me. But at this point I’m happy to be done with it.

I guess I prefer a large hall. It’s the only way to get a sufficiently diverse mix of people in there, since playing Magic outside of America and Europe is so challenging and people besides PV deserve some shine too. But I always appreciated the “small hall” perspective from people when I voted, even if it didn’t inform my votes very much.

I wish WotC had started with the Hall the vast majority of fans wanted — one of lifetime accomplishments, where the founders of Commander and significant judges and community members were enshrined along with some of the best competitive players. I think the whole thing would be viewed much more warmly if it was a collection of everything the game represents, and if the voting discourse was less about a handful of grizzled pros arguing about how much Pro Tour Top 16 finishes should matter. Hopefully this is more of the spirit of the Hall if and when it gets reimagined.

From Kainslance:

Best story of a cheater getting caught that you saw PSully

Already mentioned on The Resleevables, but a notorious player at my local shop (who shall remain nameless) getting booted from the Planeshift Prerelease for having Blazing Specter, Pyre Zombie, and three copies of Smoldering Tar in his Sealed deck, in spite of the tournament only providing players a single starter deck of Invasion.

Lastly, from YUNG:

Why does Dragon Rage Channeler do all that?

Dragon's Rage Channeler

I love the design of Dragon’s Rage Channeler, and I didn’t have any hand in it. Love that it incentivizes different card types, love the number of stimulating decisions it provides, love how dynamic it is, love that it is aggressive without being as mindless and brute force-y as Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear. Maybe the prowess stuff was already a bit played out by the time it got printed; maybe it is a mistake to do another busted red one drop in the same set as Ragavan. But it is easily my favorite design among the red-one drops that show up in Modern, and sometimes something has to do “all that” to get over the line.