Sullivan’s Satchel: PTR, Biggest Blowouts, And Draft Metagames

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on degeneracy in California, a Mindslaver blowout, and the enigmatic art of Draft metagaming.

Mindslaver, illustrated by Volkan Baga

Hello, and welcome to this installment of Sullivan’s Satchel. Strixhaven previews are in full swing, which was the first set I was around more mostly start-to-finish. I remember combing through the file on an in-office trip in February of last years, which now feels like a lifetime ago. Seeing the cards “in print” is always a weirdly disassociating experience in regards to one’s sense of time, but that experience is extremely amplified now (for me at least).

I think the thing I appreciate the most about the set is translating “guild” combinations into an entirely different tone and vibe. The two-color combinations are so defined by the Ravnica executions that you really have to start from scratch to make something that doesn’t feel derivative. I think the tone, vibe, and fully new mechanical definitions makes Strixhaven feel like its own thing instead of teenage Ravnica, which I think would be an easy trap to fall into.

With that, the questions. As always, you can send in yours to [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @BasicMountain. On top of an opportunity to have your question answered here, one lucky (?) person will have their question selected as Question of the Week, and win $25 in SCG credit on top of my implicit praise. With that…

From Ben Seiztman:

Would you please regale us with a poker story from your Ocean’s 11 days? If you need more of a prompt, I’m particularly interested in stories that involve drunk whales (cc: Matt Sperling), angle shooting that is akin to MtG angle shooting, and anything involving Latin Night at the bar. Thank you, sir!

Ocean’s 11 is a card room and “casino” located in Oceanside, California, where I lived (both in Oceanside and Carlsbad, a town south) off and on for about eight years. I haven’t gone in many years, certainly since COVID, but the confluence of cultural and economic factors make it among my favorite places on the planet for a very specific type of experience.

Coastal North County San Diego, and Oceanside in particular, has seen an influx of money come in since I’ve been paying attention (almost twenty years since I originally moved to the area) as one of the remaining areas by the Pacific Ocean that was relatively affordable. These changes are slow and incremental, and so the entire area isn’t totally captured by LA sleazebags looking to live somewhere “more relaxing” (at least not yet).

Ocean’s 11 rests on what is essentially the economic fault line by the I-5 exit — go further west, and you’re right on the water, with all the amenities you’d expect. Drive a little east, and it’s different. My recollection was the building was across the street from a gas station, a check cashing/payday loan type of business, and some club I never checked out. I’d be shocked if everything was still the same, and equally shocked if anything was different.

Ocean’s 11 is also in close proximity to Camp Pendleton, a massive military base that stretches for miles in between the northern parts of San Diego County and the southern edge of Orange County. This also attracts a certain clientele. I was briefly in cahoots with a few Marines for some post-poker (and blackjack, in many cases) beer pong or pushup contests, until I became too suspicious after inviting Magic Hall of Famer Ben Rubin to one hangout (“your boy with the scarf has a mouth” I believe was the death knell.)

I don’t have a singular story — there’s the usual array of drunken string bets that are impossible to resolve, near-fights, people accidently spilling soup on the table, check-raising out of turn, racial slurs, bad urinal etiquette, and just constant, unshakeable dread that defines these sorts of places, but I never got into any fights and got along with the staff just fine. I guess I did see someone throw two $1 chips at a dealer as a tip, then pull one back once they realized the pot was chopped. If I had my druthers, I would spend exactly ten hours a year there.

From Ted Beardsley:

Hope you and family are doing well. Are there any PTR stories you can talk about/address in Sullivan’s Satchel?

Peter Szigeti aka PTR was a longtime Magic pro from Los Angeles who passed away about ten years ago. The circumstances are still a mystery to me, though people used the word “sudden” when talking about it at the time. Jeff Cunningham spoke about him at length on this website a while back, and I don’t want to unpack his entire “legacy” here — he was wildly charismatic and charitable at times, and also occasionally cruel and abusive, and so either deifying or condemning him is inappropriate, and all of this was so long ago anyway.

I have one memory that sticks out. Back before the SCG Tour was what it was, there were scattered one-day events every now and again. One was in Los Angeles, and so I came out. Peter came by the site (I believe still permanently banned not only from sanctioned Magic but also from even entering the site) on Friday and tried to get a group together for the Magic/Lakers game (“Dwight Howard!”, back when that was a draw.) Of course we got snagged in rush hour traffic on I-10, and so Peter sped on the shoulder of the freeway (in spite of our protestations), then he pulled off and parked in front of his parent’s house for maybe two hours (obviously we missed the game), and then we wrapped up with dinner at Roscoe’s before heading back to the site.

I woke up Saturday morning to Peter screaming; he had some sort of brace on his knee and he said he was in pain and needed someone to get it off of him. I could barely muster the will to get out of bed. Once it became clear that there was no chance of me going back to bed until this was settled, I got up and took it off of him without saying a word, then went back to bed. When I woke up, Peter was gone. I don’t think I saw him again.

It stands out because he was obviously unwell, but Peter had built up such a history of performance and histrionics that it didn’t even occur to me to pull him aside and ask him how he was and if he needed anything. All of this feels more amplified now. I don’t know if this is “addressing” anything but it is the first and most powerful thing that comes to mind.

From Ryan Potter:

What is the worst blowout you can remember that you experienced/saw in a game of Magic?

Player beating Mindslaver lock with Dauthi Slayer.

Mindslaver Dauthi Slayer

From Michael Warme:

Mailbag question: are the pathways going to become a stable long term part of 2 color manabases in modern? Why or why not?

I’m bearish, but they will be good for certain decks. A few issues spring to mind. One, there are just so many good dual lands to choose from. I play a two-color deck in Modern, and even though my deck is a special case (lots of red mana symbols + double white cards, about the worst architecture for Pathways) they aren’t in the ZIP code of playable for me or for plenty of other two-color decks.

Second, the major incentives to play two colors in a format with so much good fixing is either one-mana cards in both colors, incredibly demanding colored mana obligations more broadly, or both, and those decks would probably rather play even the Ice Age painlands, to say nothing of more powerful options.

They aren’t bad, and lands that can make either color of mana, untapped, on any turn, no questions asked, will probably slot in here and there. But the bar is very high and I don’t think the Pathways reliably clear that bar for most existing or theoretical decks.

Lastly, the Question of the Week, and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from Nicholas Owen:

I always find it interesting to see how draft format metagames evolve over time. The slow nature of snow and foretell decks in Kaldheim create an opportunity where very lean aggressive decks can get underneath, which should in turn raise the value of other cards, and so forth. Do you have any heuristics or methods that help you to reevaluate cards as limited formats evolve? Sometimes I am slow to recognize cards that were previously winning for me have passed their expiration dates.

This is just my process, not decisive, and I’m sure there are better ones.

The very first thing I do is check the mana fixing at common, particularly if there is a set of common dual lands. If they’re present, it’s extremely likely that soupy, four- and five-color decks are significantly better than two-color midrange decks (see Kaldheim, I would also argue Ikoria), and when the five-color decks crowd out the midrange decks, some all-in aggro decks come in to capitalize on unreliable mana and lands that enter tapped. When those lands aren’t present, you actually have to do some work.

I do think too much is made of “draft metagames.” Mostly people are extrapolating from very small samples sizes plus Tweets from like seven different people. We learn more as we go, and some of the granular interactions that inform certain picks become more clear, but I think the whole “This card was good Week 2; it’s bad in Week 4; it could be good against in Week 6” Constructed metagame-style conversations are mostly gibberish.

The biggest thing for me is sideboarding. Some color combinations or archetypes will bear out as better than others over time, and those decks will usually share defining commons, tricks, etc. and so you can be much more surgical about drafting and playing sideboard cards as time goes on. I don’t think enough attention is given to sideboarding in Draft in a general sense and I definitely think it doesn’t get enough scrutiny as an immature “metagame” takes shape.