Sullivan’s Satchel: Studying Game Design, Slivers, And Sports Logos

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on the best North American major league sports logos, studying game design, and covering Slivers players.

The First Sliver, illustrated by Svetlin Velinov

Hello, and welcome to this edition of Sullivan’s Satchel. I’ve gone through about a half-dozen or so Strixhaven drafts, my usual quota after a set’s release. I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means, but between learn providing a bunch of extra material (much of it in the “23rd playable” space, not just negligible on rate) and the relatively modest nature of the high-rarity cards, it has felt like removal is not that powerful.

Even seemingly premium cards like Heated Debate have played worse than they read, and I can recall very few games that felt like they came down to having a removal spell for a singular threat or not. I don’t think this is bad; I think it’s very boring and repetitive when the best picks are all destructive interaction, and removal just being one thing among many to optimize for is more interesting than it being an infinitely valuable good, as it frequently is. I don’t know if this opinion is widely held but the experience stood out to me.

I’ve found my best decks to be soupy three-color decks, mostly Jeskai and Esper, and white to be the strongest color in general terms (not the most useful way of describing a Ravnica-style structure, but still). I haven’t found very aggressive decks to be that good, with or against them. None of this is meant to be binding or even useful, just the early returns from one player (most dominant player in SCG Tour Draft Open history, but still one player all the same). The games are also fun and different — like I mentioned before, the incentives are weird and the pick orders are non-intuitive and fluid, and if nothing else I appreciate the experience feeling different from set to set.

With that, the questions. As always, you can send in yours to [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @BasicMountain. If your question is decent and/or funny and/or flattering towards me, it will likely get answered. The best question will also win Question of the Week™ along with $25 in SCG credit.

From Anderson LeClair:

Was watching old coverage, got me thinking of a possible mailbag question, top 5 sports logos (in the coverage match you commented on the players brewers hat)

Going to limit this to four major American leagues (sorry MLS, you don’t count). I’ve found some dope ones in things like Russian minor league hockey (gotta bet on something at 5 AM), but to do a good job I have to narrow the range. I’d also like to exclude logos that are fully out of rotation, so the Brewers logo alluded to before is fine, but the Padres “friar swinging a bat” is excluded. I’d also like to make the list “serious,” so even though the Raptors’ “dinosaur dribbling a basketball with its talons exploding through its sneakers” makes my personal Top 5, I’d like to stay away from it here.

5. Portland Trail Blazers

I think this is the only fully abstract logo in the NBA. The iconography implies speed and motion, and it is both cool and feels like something that would never get approved in 2021.

4. Seattle Mariners

See the source image
This threads the needle really well — hard to have a lot of stuff going on without being too busy, and this logo is geometric to the point of feeling abstract while also being a cool allusion to a compass. Bonus points for the team name being awesome.

3. Washington Football Team

This unironically rules. Oh, your favorite team is named after an animal or something? How childish.

2. Milwaukee Brewers

The “m” and “b” seamlessly crafted into a baseball glove is brilliant. Absolute masterpiece.

1. New Jersey Devils

I know there’s a ton of bias here, but this is badass, perfectly captures the weird and aggressive nature of the sport and state in question, and definitely wouldn’t fly for the first time in 2021. The Devils punch above their weight class in terms of how much they capture of the New Jersey sports zeitgeist and I believe this logo has a lot to do with it.

From Conor Salinas:

Hey. If I wanted to learn more about game designing do you have any recommendations of things I should watch/read to learn more. Anything helps. Thank you!

If your interested in Magic or anything similar, you can’t beat Mark Rosewater’s many articles and podcasts. His credentials are beyond question, and as someone who has worked for decades on an evolving project, he has a unique perspective on the successes and failures of design in a way that’s hard to capture on games with less longevity or greater employee turnover.

I don’t agree with 100% of his prescriptions or conclusions, but that’s part of the point. Magic is so complicated as a design challenge and has changed so much over the decades that it implies that will continue to occur, that there’s a good chance that something that’s seen as best practices today will be regarded as a mistake ten years from now. The information there is excellent, and the nature of his work frames the enormity of the challenge. He’s also written and said so much that you can absorb information for months by digging through his archives.

I very strongly believe in cross-pollination, that the challenges of game design are so similar to the challenges of design more broadly, of art, of crafting collective experiences, that I don’t think you should isolate your study. Much of the language I use to describe concepts in game design I’ve gotten from professional wrestling, cooking shows, interviews with musicians, and a million other endeavors. Listening to or reading interviews, articles, studies, etc. from any musician, artist, director, etc. is very useful, because the success these people have in terms of their art influencing people is orders of magnitude greater than the influence of the most successful game designers. So if I were starting from scratch, I’d try to digest a combination of MaRo’s work and similar content from artists in other fields, even (especially?) seemingly unrelated ones.

From Friend of the Satchel™ Ben Seitzman:

Satchel Q: What is the most fun Modern deck you’ve covered at an event and why is it Adam Bowman’s Slivers list from the Splinter Twin era?

Adam Bowman’s run with Slivers circa 2014? 2015? stands out for a few reasons.

  • Deck was completely out of nowhere. I believe he had several cards in his deck unique to him in that tournament, and did well. That just doesn’t happen very often.
  • Adam seemed a combination of humbled by his success and also confident in his deck. Didn’t seem like he felt he broke it or that he was getting lucky, was just going about his business.
  • If memory serves, this was the Sharonville, OH “Cincinnati” venue. I haven’t gone in several years, but this venue stands out as particularly bleak even among SCG’s most notorious venues – the old Philly murder warehouse in Valley Forge, that place Overturf got a sandwich from an hour outside Charlotte that one time, etc. I typically ate 2.5 meals per day at a gas station down the street. Moments of unexpected joy are particularly valuable under these circumstances.

As great as that was, nothing compares to Tom Ross’s early Boss Sligh days, absolutely demolishing people with roughly $30 worth of cards, most of which you would cut from a Draft deck. His play was technically precise while also being bold and daring, and I honestly would bet against a run like that ever happening again. That he did it over an extended period of time counts for a lot too, both because it wasn’t a fluke and also it indicates I would never get tired of it. As a one-off, Adam is a great choice, but I’m voting for Tom here.

Lastly, the Question(s) of the Week and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from Steve Bowden:

Do you have any more information about that stream you were thinking of doing? Apr 14, 2020,

Who are your Top 5 or so players you least enjoyed covering? May 21, 2020,

Would you be able to weigh in on a theoretical mechanic for MTG? I dont know if there are any rules that prevent you from doing so but I just wanted to run one by you and see if you thought it might be viable, would help settle a debate with my friend if you could.

Including the date stamps to show that this person has been sending in questions for over a year, which I really appreciate. All of them are reasonable but never quite got over, but I wanted to show some love, so here they are as a bundle.

  • I was going to stream a Burn Orbit™ (four Mono-Red decks in Standard, Pioneer, Modern, and Legacy Leagues, rotating through the formats until all Leagues are complete for twenty total matches) for charity around that time, but then the interior of my life collapsed and also the tech seemed like a low-level barrier. Neither is a blocker now, but time is at a premium. I think I’ll do it one day, but it’s a fairly big time commitment and I’d want to make sure I got it right.
  • Really hard to make a Top 5, lots of good candidates. I don’t want to put anyone on blast, trying to be a new me and all that, but a combination of slow, technically sloppy, and battlefield askew is asking for my condemnation. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to guess. Fire off your guesses online! Make sure to tag the people you believe I’m talking about; any reckless speculation about cheating is an added bonus now that the Pro Tour Hall of Fame isn’t a thing anymore.
  • Who knows? My situation with Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is unique so I’m not sure there’s any protocol, but I do enough work that speaks to design without reprimand that I assume everything is above board. Feel free to shoot me a message and maybe I’ll parlay that into more content next week.