Sullivan’s Satchel: The Great Outdoors, Something To Prove, And Halls Of Fame

Patrick Sullivan answers questions on outdoor pursuits, the dangers of having something to prove, and the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

Wasteland, illustrated by Una Fricker

Hello, and welcome to this week’s installment of Sullivan’s Satchel. I just returned from camping somewhere off Highway 211 (a treacherous dirt road which would not be permitted to be called a highway in New Jersey), which was an excellent experience.

I’m not much for camping historically; I don’t find the positives to be particular noteworthy, relative to other ways one can spend time and money “getting away,” and the downsides can be both terrible and unique to camping. But it turns out going with people who know what they’re doing (my in-laws, in this case) can mitigate some of the common issues I’ve encountered, namely freezing and starvation. It was beautiful, and the kids had a good time, and it wasn’t particularly isolating relative to our normal day-to-day during these times. Would recommend, by which I mean I would recommend trying to corral your friends and family with experience camping to take you out sometime.

Being off the grind means I missed the ban announcement as it happened, which was also probably net-upside for my mental health. I don’t have many thoughts here, other than I’m happy Wizards of the Coast (WotC) — We? I dunno how to talk about this yet. Anyways I had very little input on the announcement — took aggressive action towards Pioneer, a format whose popularity seemed to dwindle to a dangerous level in the last few months.

I’m not sure the list is perfect, but I think the format really needed a radical upheaval to counter the malaise that had seeped in. It isn’t the most scientific analysis, but the Magic Online (MTGO) Pioneer League had about 220 people in it when I left on Friday, and about 370 when I logged in this morning. I think that’s a very good sign.

With that, Bryan Gottlieb asks,

Given that you’ve just returned from the wild, it seems like a great time to pose this question. I don’t think it’s a stretch to paint you as disillusioned with modern society, but what’s your relationship with the natural world like? Any desires for long nature expeditions or fantasies of living off the grid?

I grew up in a conservative family in a relatively rural part of the country. My dad is the eldest of seven, and I believe there are sixteen total children (now adults, of course) in my generation. My uncles and my dad all hunt and so do many of my cousins. My dad kept a hunting dog in a kennel in our backyard, and he sold antique or otherwise precious hunting rifles as a lucrative side hobby.

My dad tried to get me to fish (hated it) and shoot bow and arrow (kind of cool, but less fun than football, basketball, or Magic), but something about me made shooting guns and hunting game an obvious lost cause from an early age. I don’t think I ever expressed any radical animal rights sentiment but I know I found something about hunting cruel and stupid at an early age and I’m sure even if I didn’t say something it was obvious how I felt.

So, my relationship with the outdoors as a child was really enjoying being outdoors, and bonding with a lot of family members for whom being outdoors was a large party of their personal and familial identity, but finding a lot of the actual activities to be either silly or nasty.

I think I’m too extroverted to enjoy being in solitude, out in nature, for very long. A day or two at the time is nice. Being off the grid has its charms, but I guess I derive too much joy from collectivism (in a lot of different forms) to be happy living that way for an extended period of time. The occasional break from the usual grind is good for me though.

From Michael Warme:

As an avowed burn player, your opinion is relatively unbiased by notions of “fun” or “fairness” because you live life by fading the topdecked land.

1. Which of Veil of Summer and Teferi, Time Raveler was the worst-designed magic card, and why are both somehow still legal in modern?

2. Would standard, modern, and pioneer over the last six months have been better, worse, or unchanged as formats if Counterspell had been legal?

I think Veil of Summer is the worse design. Not necessarily the more powerful of the two, though I think it’s reasonable to argue that position, but Veil has a bunch of strikes. It costs one, it’s hard to understand, it has a bunch of weird interactions that don’t have much to do with blue or black cards, it tries to get over by drawing a card (something I strongly dislike on instants that cost one mana), and I think it casts a wide enough net in terms of what it interacts with that I think there’s some color pie bleed as well. Teferi has a long list of issues but it’s easy to understand, costs three mana, and very much feels like an Azorius card.

As far as their continued legality, I guess I could take it or leave it. Neither card is especially fun from my perspective, but I think Modern has not been kind to three-mana semi-investment plays and situational interaction, even the kinds as powerful as Teferi and Veil, and I think it’s worth subsidizing some amount of it so the format isn’t just a bunch of ships passing in the night.

I think Modern could arguably be improved by Counterspell for the reasons I just listed above – it’s the type of thing that isn’t good when formats get faster and more extreme, and even if I would have had nerves about it five years ago, the format is much more powerful than it used to be. I think the exact opposite is true of Standard and Pioneer, which are formats that don’t struggle as much with pure speed inflation and in which Counterspell would significantly collapse the number of viable cards due to rate and how hostile it is towards expensive cards and synergies.

From an absolute legend, Alex Majlaton:

Hi Patrick,

What do you make of the feeling of having “something to prove”, with respect to Magic? Have you ever felt like you had something to prove? What advice would you give to anyone that did feel this way?

In my younger years, the interior of my life was a catastrophe and competitive Magic was one of the few places, maybe the only place, where I felt a sense of purpose, inclusion, and agency. I was also playing with and hanging out with a bunch of National and PT champions, and wanting to feel a sense of legitimacy with them was huge; it is hard feeling like you’re the worst player in your inner circle, even if that circle happens to be extremely good. All that drove my competitive fire, maybe in some ways that were good (a sense of focus, aptitude, the experience of learning and growing) but mostly bad (rules lawyering, petty social behavior, and all the rest of that).

Later, when I was sort of playing and sort of doing commentary, wanting to feel not washed up was important. I don’t think my earlier results were emblematic of my actual talent but I never had the requisite humility or work ethic to see it through. Feeling like I could hang with the new wave of younger pros and grinders meant something. I remember thinking before I played Ross Merriam in that Legacy Open that he was posting a bunch of good results and that this match would be particularly nice to get because of that, and I had similar thoughts pretty frequently.

There’s nothing wrong with all that in the abstract, but I would warn against two issues. First, the competitive drive can lead to unpleasant and anti-social behavior, so keep that in perspective. Second, Magic is pretty random, so while placing some self-worth in things like your sense of improvement and aggregate results can be good, hinging too much on any particular match or tournament is not a recipe for a healthy relationship with the game.

Lastly, our Question of the Week, and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from Kevin Bell:

Hey Patrick,

Do you think the MTG Hall of Fame would be improved by an additional way to get in based on “contributions to the game”? I’m thinking people like BDM, Chris Pikula, the Professor, Saffron Olive, maybe the odd tournament commentator. Also, and related, how much has the richness of the Magic ecosystem been diminished by WOTC’s move away from Pro Tours to whatever muddled mess they have now?



In theory this is sort of the case now, in that the Hall of Fame vote is influenced by elements other than just results. Even though Chris Pikula hasn’t made it into the Hall of Fame, his candidacy is more powerful than that of many players with more tournament success, and as a voter I’ve weighed geographic location as a factor. I believe it is much tougher to reach the game’s highest echelons playing out of Japan or Brazil than the United States or Europe for a variety of reasons, and I also think community contributions are more significant in less socioeconomically privileged parts of the world. As a specific example, I voted for Willy Edel for the Hall of Fame a few years ago when I think he was short purely as a statistical exercise.

But that isn’t exactly the question. Should these things be weighed more heavily? Should there be a “contributors wing” where Brian David-Marshall and Mark Rosewater can be discussed? I think there’s merit there, in large part because of the dissonance between what the pro community and the public at large think should determine who is enshrined. I’m in this weird middle position, and though I vote with stats largely in mind, I can sympathize with the average Magic fan finding a bunch of old boys screaming about Pro Tour Top 32s while Chris Pikula, the face of Meddling Mage and an early advocate for clean play, is on the outside.

Still, the original charge of the Hall was to be a shrine to Pro Tour Magic, and I think it would be a wild deviation over a decade in to start ushering in judges, streamers, and designers alongside Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Luis Scott-Vargas. But those contributions matter a lot, arguably way more than whoever did well in some events, and I hope one day WotC finds a way to give those people a more public enshrinement.

As far as the “new direction of OP” or whatever, I find it a bit alienating in part because it is so hard to track, but there’s a new multi-million dollar digital client along with a pandemic. Some change was going to happen. I don’t know if the digital events are less resonant in some historical way than events in person, with the sort of archiving that goes along with it, but I don’t see it as an impossible task to get the sort of richness you’re describing. A few years without major upheavals to the system would be helpful to that end.