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Sullivan’s Satchel: Lou Williams, Chuck Klosterman, And Relentless Rats

Patrick Sullivan opens the mailbag for questions on the things we do for food, gorillas in the NFL, and the Relentless Rats phenomenon.

Relentless Rats, illustrated by Thomas M. Baxa

Hello, and welcome to this week’s installment of Sullivan’s Satchel. No preamble, no recent events that can be tied into some larger narrative, no personal anecdotes to humanize me or connect me to the reader, so let’s just dive in.

Remember, you too can have the veneer of participating in this by sending emails into mailbag@starcitygames.com or sliding into my DMs @basicmountain. Your question may be answered, which is maybe cool in its own right but also evinces a certain thoughtfulness that might impress some of your friends, and the best question, as solely determined by me, will receive $25 in SCG credit on top of everything else. With that:

From Ryan Potter:

1: Do you think all Lou Williams wanted was some wings?

2: What is the most extreme thing you have done to get certain food?

I doubted that’s all he wanted, but also he just might not have cared very much about being caught. He was one of a handful of players who was at least skeptical of returning to play due to it being a distraction from protests around the country. I’ve been in spots before where I wasn’t trying to get caught but I didn’t necessarily mind the punishment of getting caught very much, and if he already had some reservations about playing, maybe a two-week quarantine after a wing and club excursion doesn’t sound all that bad.

I might be projecting a little bit; Sweet Lou is Top 3 (probably #1, if I’m being honest) players I’d want to hang out with and maybe there wasn’t that much intentionality behind his actions, but this is also my column and we don’t speak ill of Lou around here.

As far as my own extreme actions, I once walked in a blizzard to get Dunkin’ Donuts, and I once walked in a blizzard to not get Dunkin’ Donuts (it was closed, due to the weather). I flew to Chicago once in part to eat at Alinea, but grading on the scale of quality and value over replacement I think walking to Dunkin’ is worse.

From @bagpipeguy:

This question comes from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman:

Genetic engineers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a so-called super gorilla. Though the animal cannot speak, it has a sign language lexicon of over twelve thousand words, and an IQ of almost 85, and most notably a vague sense of self-awareness. Oddly, the creature (who weighs seven hundred pounds) becomes fascinated by football. The gorilla aspires to play the game at its highest level and quickly develops the rudimentary skills of a defensive end. ESPN analyst Tom Jackson speculates that this gorilla would be borderline unblockable and would likely average six sacks a game (although Jackson concedes the beast might be susceptible to counters and misdirection plays). Meanwhile, the gorilla has made is clear he would never intentionally injure any opponent. You are commissioner of the NFL: Would you allow this gorilla to sign with the Oakland Raiders?

I read this book about ten years ago and it engendered a deep dislike for Klosterman, even if his writing is entertaining at times. There’s a lot to unpack, but there’s something I find obnoxious about trying to package a series of mundane thoughts and tap room hypotheticals as something profound or clever. His association with Bill Simmons (the absolute GOAT of talking all the time in spite of having nothing to say) and his fetishization of unpaid college athletics (at least in the past) isn’t helping matters.

I would not allow the Raiders to sign this gorilla. It’s potentially a massive salary cap loophole to allow teams to sign animals who presumably don’t have the same obligations and material desires as human beings, and once the initial novelty wore off I think the sport is less compelling, more of a literal circus, allowing animals to play alongside humans. If the gorilla ends up being better than expected and starts competing in Pro Bowls or winning MVPs, that seems problematic. Lastly, the Raiders are in Las Vegas now and I’m not sure it’s desirable to have the gorilla exposed to the sights, sounds, and temptations of Sin City. Maybe stick it in Green Bay and we can talk.

From Jesse Easter:

Do you think WotC will ever print a competitive card with the Relentless Rats effect

Relentless Rats and its analogs are beloved cards; many sell for several dollars in spite of being uncommons. Going back even farther, Plague Rats was the foundation of the iconic “twenty Plague Rats, twenty Dark Ritual, twenty Swamp” archetype (in retrospect these numbers probably could have been better massaged) that many players built prior to being introduced to the four-of restriction. With that sort of history, it’s a little surprising that none have ever been priced for Constructed. Is that random, something we could expect to see pushed at some point, or intentional?

I would guess the last. The short of it is that I don’t know how you’re supposed to make a card like that produce interesting games. Once you’re talking about pointing for competitive play, it probably means you’re talking one mana, and then it sounds almost impossible for the card to produce games that are fun and replayable. Just teasing out the theory a little bit, I don’t think “45 copies of Goblin Guide, fifteen Mountain” would be a competitive deck, so I’m not sure how you’re supposed to get enough rate into the design to make it good enough.

Maybe it’s a sliding scale thing. Relentless Rats is so loud that you’re supposed to play nothing but Relentless Rats, which doesn’t sound good. But a design like Shadowborn Apostle, which says “play a lot of these, but also play with some other cards, also it’s up to you how many of these to play, there’s no obvious correct answer,” something like that I could see be pointed towards Constructed at some point. It seems so much more likely that it goes wrong than goes right that I doubt it even under the Shadowborn Apostle model, but it’s not inconceivable to me that you could come up with something in that space that would be sweet to be powerful.

From Scot Martin:

Come rotation, do you think the cycling deck will immediately be a problem in Standard?

I don’t like speculating on such things because who knows what new cards and decks will crop up; maybe the whole thing solves itself. But cycling has the hallmarks of something that could be a problem. None of the cards rotate out. The deck itself demands cheap removal for Flourishing Fox and friends, plus some way to close out games quickly or counter spells such as Zenith Flare, and it’s hard for decks to produce both. It wouldn’t surprise me if the deck was underplayed right now. I don’t know about “immediately be a problem,” but if I were testing for a Standard event held a week after rotation my gauntlet would absolutely contain cycling.

Lastly, the Question of the Week, from Ryan Freeburger:

Do you think that conversations about national/international social issues have a place in the Magic community or do you believe that the Magic community should stay out of politics?  

Magic is a for-profit game released by a multi-billion-dollar corporation. It is overwhelmingly played by people in the northern hemisphere, particularly in North America, Europe, and Japan. The game requires certain world-building and creative architecture; that’s likely to pull from real-world influences. Only a handful of people get to direct the creative stuff. The distribution model and Organized Play system isn’t entirely disconnected from conversations surrounding the nature of addiction and compulsive behavior. Go to your local store for a Prerelease and count the number of white men there compared to any other demographic. The game costs a relatively large sum of money to play.

All of the above, and then some, are political issues. That isn’t to say they necessarily have political solutions, but the notion of Magic as a space that’s divorced from politics until someone brings them in is farcical.

At the same time, not everyone is working with a cohesive ideological framework, a bunch of personal experience, or firsthand knowledge. That isn’t meant to gatekeep; I think hashing out your opinions and perspectives is a messy process and people should engage if they think they have something to say. But there isn’t anything wrong (in fact, quite the opposite) with just sitting back and listening, especially if you lack experience or are coming from a demographic whose perspective isn’t at a deficit for being heard.

I think it’s fine to curate the space that you want. Plenty of Magic players on social media only talk about the game itself or random personal anecdotes, and if that’s what you need to keep yourself sane, by all means; I’m not saying to engage out of some sense of duty or obligation. But the game is political as is nearly everything else, and so I’d suggest that a certain class of people is demanding that politics be kept out, rather than a certain class of people bringing politics in.