Xira Arien’s Bug Problem

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Flavor matters. Magic has pretty amazing opportunities to advance flavor between casting costs, art, abilities, and the aptly named flavor text.  When I think of Elder Dragon Legends (and EDH for that matter) I like to envision monstrous creatures of vast wisdom that are descending from on high to crush their foes. When I look at cards like the 55 original legends I can’t help but feel they’re fitting representations from their art, to their abilities, to their stats. When Magic reprinted the original Elder Dragaons in modern styles and forms in M20 it was great to see the cycle return. The cards were flavorful and fitting. I’m spoiled; I expect my Magic flavor to be deep and fitting in all ways. I have been finishing my original 55 legends cycle recently, and I stumbled across one of my old favorites—Xira Arien. The original reads pretty swell: Flying (the picture gives her wings) and the ability to tap her and some mana to make any target player draw a card. She’s a cool Jund style commander option. Drawing cards isn’t something Jund is regularly known for. Yet, there’s a huge problem with Xira Arien. She is an epic flavor fail. Let’s analyze the card to figure it out together why this card is such an flavor flop.

Step 1: Casting Cost Flavors

We’ll take this card apart from top to bottom—literally. Xira Arien’s casting cost is only 3 mana. That’s not even awful by today’s standards for a 1/2 flyer that has an activated ability. Granted, I’m not convinced she’d warrant any rarity higher than uncommon in today’s sets, but still she’s printable. I’m not convinced we can say the same for cards like Axelrod Gunnarson or Gosta Dirk. I think the casting cost seems appropriate given the rest of the card’s layout from the art on down to the power and toughness.

Step 2: Artistic Flavors

Now, the art is by a classic Magic the Gathering artist: Melissa Benson. She’s the one responsible for Shivan Dragon, Nightmare, Lord of Atlantis, Altar of Bone, Halfdane, and Ichneumon Druid to name a few. So, is there anything wrong with the art? Absolutely not. The art is amazing. The flavor text reads, “A regular guest at the Royal Masquerade, Arien is the envy of the Court. She appears in a new costume every hour.” Huh, I guess that means she’s part of the royal court in-crowd. She also must have an army of tailors on hand to provide her with new outfits all the time. Those costume wings look pretty sick. I bet they flap and everything. I guess it makes sense, as she can spend mana to get resources, and perhaps those resources also gain her something other abilities like flying. So, I’m guessing those wings are just part of the outfit. The delightfully detailed insect costume she’s sporting is surely a prime example as to why all those at court envy her rotating outfits. Considering she also can draw us new cards every turn, then we have to consider that the card drawing is also a way for her to reflect a constant and ever changing wardrobe. Our resources shift as does hers. That’s a flavorful card indeed! Well, that wraps things up I guess. There is no issue surrounding Xira Arien when we examine the entire card and how it fits within the contexts of its own flavors. It’s a card that is truly flavorfully designed. We have a legend that flies, uses magic, draws cards in a political manner, is linked with courtly appearances, and clearly has amazing taste in costumes. No problem with this legendary creature whatsoever!

Step 3: The Rub

Oh, wait a moment, I started this article by saying we had an issue with Xira Arien. I actually said it was a huge flavor punt…hmmm. I’m not usually wrong—I mean I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken. So, what’s going on with Xira Arien? The answer lies in a little thing that happened years ago—The Grand Creature Type Update. To summarize that event—Magic retconned all older cards that lacked creature types. This was in anticipation of Lorwyn’s release—a heavily tribal-based set. You can look up on Gatherer what every card’s creature type(s) are, and know exactly what you’re playing with. When you look at that Dakkon Blackblade, thanks to Gatherer, you now know you are holding a Legendary human warrior in your hands. When you look at Ramirez DePietro you know you have a legendary human pirate ready to swashbuckler his way into infamy as a legendary future Ghost of himself (Ghost of Ramirez DePietro is a spirit pirate). These all fit pretty well. The creature type update was, for the most part, a grand success!

And yet…

Xira Arien has two creature types. She’s a wizard, and that seems fitting. She employs magic to create political card draw. That fits fine. I guess noble would’ve fit just fine as well, but I’m not certain that type existed in 2007 when the grand creature type update occurred. I know you’ve been waiting for the punt, so here it is…Xira Arien is listed as an insect wizard. An insect. Rrrrreally…like a bug? She’s supposed to be a bug? The flavor text doesn’t indicate she’s a bug. The casting costs might suggest she’s a Jund bug in a rug, but I’m not buying that those colors couldn’t produce a mage that draws cards. More on that later. But, she’s an insect wizard. Again, an insect. I just want to take a moment to peruse the insects that you may or may not be familiar with in Magic. Thanks to the Magic of time travel I just read through all 186 insect card results. Nothing remotely resembles Xira Arien. Why not? Well, let’s examine why not.

Readily known and clearly buggy insects include cards like Acridian, Broodhatch Nantuko, Docent of Perfection, Fog of Gnats, Robber Fly, Wasp of the Bitter End, and even the new legendary Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp. None of those cards, or any of them I didn’t mention, leave any doubt that you’re looking at an insect.

It wasn’t until 2013 when Xira Arien had another insect join her on the list of Insect Wizards. It was Beetleform Mage. This creature, incidentally, was a human-insect-wizard. That card is a flavor score because it makes sense. The flavor text, casting cost, and art all gel together and the result is a Magic card that feels, well, flavorful. Xira Arien, really an amazing card, has been convoluted by this creature type update. Her true nature has been called into question, and I just can’t imagine she’d be happy about it.

Step 4: Wardrobe Woes


How utterly unimaginative would her costume be if she didn’t manage to hide her wings? Heck, it’s not even a costume worth envying at all if she’s actually an insect. She looks like a bug, probably talks like one in that mask, and if those wings aren’t some fancy gossamer crochet with nano technological fibers, then I’m not a human myself. She may look, walk, and talk like a bug, but if she’s a bug, then how on Dominaria did she even get through the door to the latest Masquerade? I mean Romeo at least put a half mask on to get into the Capulet’s masquerade ball. Xira isn’t making much of an effort here if she’s actually an insect. This is about the equivalent of me slapping a name tag that says “My name is Mike” on my shirt and passing it off as my Halloween outfit. I’m not exaggerating. This card is most definitely not supposed to be depicting an insect. It’s an heiress, noble, or other political entity that also happens to be a wizard. Calling a creature an insect because they wear the guise of one is absurd. By this measure, all dragons should also be creature type lizard. They look like lizards, so they must be lizards.

Step 5: Original Intent?

Now, you might try to tell me that when the card was originally designed it was intended to be an insect. OK, but 13 years went by, and last time I looked at that card, as a whole, I registered her as a human noble wizard. A human wizard at the least, but if we’re going for a full flavor win, then I’m placing her in the nobility. Now, thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I read some summaries of her characters (yes, apparently there are two versions of her) as they appeared in the novels. Her first appearance has her as a clear human. This makes sense. The second appearance has her as an insect. Now, I’m not pointing fingers at interpretations…wait, yes I am…that’s all wrong. The first one got it right, and the second one glossed over the flavor text and just assumed she was an insect. This might make for a fun character for the book, but that character is not the one on my card. The Xira Arien on my card is not an assassin. She’s not an insect, and she’s definitely wearing a costume. So, I guess the real question here is how to get Wizards of the Coast to rectify this oversight. I would love to have Xira Arien as the commander of my “Custom Costumes and Courts” deck, but how can I do that when she is apparently wearing the lamest costume around?

The Last Step: Final Thoughts

Xira Arien is a beautifully crafted and deliciously odd old school card. Her ability doesn’t seem to fit the colors as we see them today, and her flying, art, and flavor text are at odds with her modern retconned creature type. This all makes for a card that is truly fascinating to behold. I distinctly remember opening a Chronicles version of this card in pack I got for Christmas. It made me want to build a Jund deck. I played Xira Arien in my first game with that deck, and I drew quite a few cards using her ability. Heck, I even used Eternal Warrior and Maze of Ith in order to double up activations! Yes, that’s how slowly old multiplayer games once moved. That beautifully clunky combo was a site, but wouldn’t it be great to see Xira Arien’s, but it is nowhere near as necessary as restoring her humanity.

Do you agree with me about Xira? Should we petition WOTC to change her creature type? Are there other creatures from Magic’s past that got the wrong creature types? Do you need help in your own crusade for creature type updates? Let me know in the comments below! Also, no matter your creature type, may the cards be ever in your favor!



Building Enfranchised Fans in a New Age

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

If you’ve read my column for any length of time, then you know it’s possible I’ve been playing this game as long as some of you have been alive (perhaps even longer). The reason why is simple—Magic: the Gathering is the greatest game ever. No, really, Magic offers it all: enduring long-running game groups akin to D&D campaigns, Black Jack style pick up matches that are over in under a minute,  and everything in between. Magic is a game of skill and luck, story and substance, and it speaks to us all in various tones and whispers that draw us back time and time again. With all of this in mind, I tend to wonder what type of Magic players are most prevalent today? What keeps us coming back and will the old guard and the new guard be similar or different in their approaches? Can Wizard’s continue designing a game that provides enjoyment on so many levels to so many people?

The short answer—yes! Yes, the game designers, play testers, art department, and everyone who combines in that beautiful cauldron of creativity that is Wizard’s of the Coast (owned by Hasbro…I know, I know) has been killing it the last couple of years. The sets are amazing. The risk taking is grand, unabashed, inspiring, infuriating at times, and key component of what makes them all such a great blend. They are key to creating new players, and keeping the enfranchised bought in. But, that’s the boring short answer. Let’s dive into what makes modern Magic (no, not the format), so great.

The Blessing and Curse of the Information Super Highway (the internet)

It always seemed odd to me that people were willing to “net deck” and build someone else’s deck in order to win, but I wasn’t grinding tournaments and trying to beef up my DCI rating (Planeswalker Points today?). From reading books and articles I have surmised that this was basically, and still is, an information war at heart. The newest innovations and designs are what keep you ahead of the competition. You need to assess each local meta-game, consider the meta of the larger field, and then plan and execute accordingly. You need lots of practice and dedication. Let’s be honest about that end of things; there aren’t many that can be that dedicated for an extended period of time. I’m not saying players don’t return, but they take breaks, and they’re often longer than shorter. Burn out in tournament land is real, and those that don’t are amazing individuals, but they are not the majority. They inspire, but they do not constitute the majority of players. So, when I was playing in the beginning there wasn’t much of this type of thing going on. Decks and strategies traveled a bit more slowly, and there were only one or two websites that actually discussed Magic. It was a Wild West of tournament builds and competition. Those days saw strange and wild deck lists the world over. I contend that those types of experiences are what has kept many players playing despite the years of increased information influx. The rapidity at which deck lists travel and the speed with which the format can adapt is truly amazing. Hours can go by and the sharpest pros will have already changed their lists and played several matches with the latest tech (Tormod’s Crypt to stop Golgari Grave Troll…I’m kidding).

Magic’s original base of players, the ones that’ve been around for multiple decades, have been here because they are builders at heart. Most of the long-time enfranchised players just can’t stop building new toys, and that’s been a big part of what has kept them in the game so long. The problem with this is that the very innovations that keep them coming back have long been a barrier for new players. Is there an inherent problem with how we are kept in the game, and does that lead to a different type of Magic player in today’s world? The enfranchised keep coming back to mix the new with the old. We are drawn to new mechanics and how they interact with old strategies. New synergies form when old and new are thrown together. Chain of Smog and Professor Onyx is just one currently popular example of this old and ugly meets new and spicy to make a super mix. This is pretty exciting, but also presents problems.

Or maybe even this little two card bit of nonsense?

The newer a player is the less likely they are to have these older odd-ball cards. Now, their local game shops may very well have these cards in stock, and so the accessibility issue is instantly solved for those that have a reliable and dependable shop or two at their disposal. For those that don’t have this luxury they are pushed to the online market. That’s fine, but it can make some newer players salty that they can’t get the older cards for as cheap as the newer cards. I personally don’t think that’s a problem. This is often just one more lesson about the depth that Magic now boasts. There are ultra rare collectible cards called Mythic Rares, but there are older and even rarer cards that don’t even have set symbol color coding to clue you in to its inherent worth. This is a collectible game, and so older pieces ought to be a bit more, dare I say, collectible? I guess you don’t expect it when you’re new, and that’s just another piece of the puzzle that newer players are forced to learn, weather, and ultimately gain ground from. The longer they stay in the game and watch their cards appreciate, then the more they are rewarded with perceived value.

Once a bulk rare (well under a dollar, and currently going for nearly $5…woohoo!)

I use perceived value, because until you actually sell those cards you haven’t gained any actual value. You have to actually liquidate your assets in order to gain their value. My cards are worth basically nothing to me, because I’ve no plans to sell them. That’s not to say I don’t smile a bit when I find out one of my reserved list cards has climbed in value yet again. It makes me a bit happier, but I’m not watching the prices ready to unload once a certain price point is reached. My wife is always quick to point out to me that the cards I just got for a great deal aren’t really worth any more than I actually paid for it. Frankly, she tells me they’re worthless now, because she knows that I’ll never part with the cards I’ve amassed. That’s alright, because the perceived value of your collection can really just be another way in which you are able to appreciate your cards (pun unabashedly intended). It’s ok to take pleasure in your card collection being worth more than what you paid for it. It can be exciting to snag misprints, reserved list rarities, special collector’s pieces, or fancy foil etched treatments to add more perceived value to your collection. Collecting adds another enjoyable facet to your hobby aside from merely playing with your cards. Embrace the challenge of amassing a collection and you will be rewarded with the fine art of balancing finances with pleasure. It can be delicate dance, but cardboard crack does give back in ways beyond the initial rush of acquiring the cards.

While acquiring cards is a long-term goal, it also creates an initial problem for newbies. The problem seems to crop up around newer players getting into the game. This game is complicated. There are over 100 expansion sets, over 20,000 unique cards, and more rules than can easily be included in a 100 page rule book. That’s daunting for even the most seasoned board-gamers. The trick has long been to remove a few of the barriers to entry for newbies. You get people started by giving them a deck. You give them some cards, and you play through some games with your hands open and your gums flapping endlessly. Explaining this phase and that phase and then attacking and block and then passing and then doing it all over again. It can be a tick overwhelming for people, but the promise of mass multiplayer madness and wild plays that leave the table moaning and groaning, cheering and jeering, is exactly the type of thing that we all want to take part in. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to win. It’s fun to lose, and get revenge. Today’s modern players have so many excellent on-ramps to Magic that it seems like we are bound to create a whole new generation of Magic players that will surely be as enfranchised as those that first started in the early to mid-nineties.

Will the new base be different from or as long-standing as the old guard? Unlike other people, I don’t wear my age as a badge of shame, but feel proud of the wisdom that experience has brought me. My wrinkles and my regrets are markers of all that I have to share with others. Scars, both mental and physical, are merely bookmarks for lessons learned. I’m sure all players have stories about the terrible trades they’ve made: Gaea’s Cradle for the cool Berserk or perhaps that set of Alpha Lightning Bolts for this beat up Wrath of God playset. I guess the lesson learned here depends on which side of the trade you were on! I recall paying it forward many years later. I decided to help flip the script on this type of thing, and I would often trade an entire deck to a kid for a single rare land. Double or triple the value in the casual Dragon deck for a $5-10 rare. I look back at those trades, and I’m a little sorry I made them. I’m not sorry that I gave more than I got, but I’m sorry I gave too much.

I gave too much in the form of giving them a deck that was well-oiled. It ran smoothly, and it worked really well. When the Eldrazi came out I built a deck using Cryptic Gateway (it was $1-3 for a playset back then) that pumped Eldrazi out on turn 4 or 5 for free at instant speed! It was possible to be attacking with Ulamog’s Crusher, Artisan of Kozilek and Nest Invader on turn 5! That’s nasty for a casual deck. I traded away at least three of those decks. They were under $20 to make at the time, and I just traded them away like hot cakes! My point though, is that by giving away entire decks I may have actually been doing a disservice to newer players. I equipped them with an entire deck. It ran like clockwork. It was upgradeable, sure, but it wasn’t theirs. It wasn’t something they had struggled and grown with. By taking away the productive struggle of deck building I was enabling them to lean on me and other sources for deck building. I have begun to suspect that this is actually not a good way to help build enfranchised players.

Enfranchised players keep coming back, because they love to mix the new with the old. They have an understanding of the old (or older in any case) cards because they’ve had productive struggles with those older decks. They have struggled to make their older decks, and through trial and error they have developed decks that they can say are truly theirs. This leads to players that eventually want to keep tinkering. They want to build new toys and upgrade their old ones. The problem is, that if they never built their own toys, then why do they care as much about it? They probably don’t. It comes across as more of a game piece or in video game lingo a cartridge, and it isn’t an extension of their own creative minds. That’s why I’m not truly convinced that pre-constructed decks are the best way to create enfranchised players. The argument exists that it’s not to create enfranchised players, and perhaps it’s just to help people start. However, when you only ever have preconstructed decks, how do you get started brewing your own decks? Chances are you might not actually do it.

The idea of building a deck from scratch can be daunting to many players. I know players that have been playing for decades that always reach out for help. That’s fine, but I always wonder if maybe they are overly afraid of failure. It’s OK to fail, and theirs no shame in it when we learn from it. Learning from our failures makes us better at everything we do. Failing to build a well-oiled machine of a deck is fine as long as you recognize that you can keep making it better along the way. I worry that pre-constructed decks have set up an unrealistic standard for some newer players. I think that one way of fixing this is having a Magic mentor.

A Magic mentor is someone that makes suggestions, offers advice, and generally helps other players get better. You might even call them a Magic guru if you know what I mean. These teachers of Magic offer insights that pre-cons don’t give. No insert can easily explain the synergies and concepts behind a player’s favorite synergies. It takes another player to point out to us that we often seem to enjoy a particular strategy. It’s may seem counterintuitive, but mentors provide us with the guidance we need to truly know ourselves and what makes our Magic brains tick. These guides help newbies figure out what they like and then try to steer them into building decks that fit with these observations. The dearth of experience the older player has often enables them to easily help a future enfranchised player find the path to longevity. Perhaps its big ramp into big green creatures, or its using Doomsday to combo off. It doesn’t matter; it’s the guidance that does.

We make our own future. There is no fate but what we make. We, as a community of players, make the future. When new players arrive we need to help them not only select a starter deck, but build their own decks. We need to provide play guidance and deck building assistance. We need to give them tools and knowledge of how to build decks, but not merely build them for them. When we can help acquaint players with deck building theory, then we are able to equip them for a lifetime of building. Give a player a deck and they play for a few years, but give that player the knowledge to build their own deck, and that player will play for a lifetime! I hope that wherever you are on the spectrum from newbie to life-time enfranchised player you are able to play your role well in the great circle of Magic life. Until next time, my fellow magictators, may the cards be ever in your favor!


The Core of Commander

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

EDH & Commander get back to the heart of what makes Magic: the Gathering Great. The original game, as designed by Richard Garfield, was a bit different than today’s game, but ultimately owes the majority of its success to core principals and play mechanics that were introduced with the original Alpha set in 1993. Let’s take a look at the original game description from the original Magic: the Gathering rulebook:

Game Description

Magic is a two-person card game in which the cards in your deck represent the lands, creatures, spells, and artifacts at your disposal. When you play the game, you pit your deck against your opponent’s deck in an arcane duel, and the winner takes one random card to keep from the loser’s deck. Over time, your deck will grow and shrink; it will have weaknesses you can try to fix by winning the correct games, and strengths with which you can barter between games. Sometimes winning a duel can be a lot less profitable than a successful trading session, and it is always more dangerous! Be especially on your guard when playing new opponents. They will likely have spells and artifacts you have never seen before, and they will certainly have unique deck mixes and styles of play. Also, watch out for old rivals — anyone can have a magical encounter with a stranger and pick up some new surprises. No matter who your opponent is, never forget the possibility of learning a trick or two with the same old cards.

Wow, now if that doesn’t help us realize why Commander is so popular I don’t know what will. Unlike defined formats that have defined metas, the Commander format really helps to bring back many of the original elements of Magic that helped make it so popular with casual gamers. The unknowns that abound in this rules book description are centered on encountering new and exciting things! EDH was designed with those same things in mind. I feel, as do many of you more casual players, that this format truly shines in multiplayer. So, how exactly does Commander help to bring about all the best elements of Magic’s original design to the forefront? Let’s break it down and take a closer look.

“Over time, your deck will grow and shrink; it will have weaknesses you can try to fix by winning the correct games, and strengths with which you can barter between games.”

Well, right off we might spy a problem here. Our decks can’t grow and shrink as the format demands we play with a fixed numbers of cards. Yet, I would contend that the deck’s value and consistency will ebb and flow as you and the deck grow. While your deck no longer grows with each victory, you certainly grow after each play session. You learn from your play patterns and figure out new directions to take your deck. You make changes, adapt, and alter the deck based on losses and even a few victories. Perhaps you lost a game to some simple artifacts and now you’ve swapped out a few value creatures like Phyrexian Rager for a card that answers those issues—Phyrexian Tribute? Maybe you found your Lord of the Pit to be a bit too gimmicky and you swapped it out for a Minion of Leshrac, or perhaps Lim-Dul the Necromancer himself? Maybe Commander Legends Competitive Edition…er I mean Modern Horizons 2, sorry, will have a Leshrac card to try out in your new deck. Regardless, the idea that your deck grows and morphs over time is what I’m touching on here. Commander does exactly this. We are constantly tweaking our decks or trying new spells.

When we try out new spells in our decks we aren’t necessarily just using the freshest or most recent sets. Magic has quite the index of cards, and even when you’ve been playing nearly 30 years…well, there’s older cards you may have forgotten about for the last decade or two. Suddenly, you might stumble across a few and then you’re back to making changes and experimenting with cards and strategies all over again.

Sometimes we don’t have the cards we want, and worse yet we don’t have the money to buy them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to acquire cards. No, I’m not talking about doing anything nefarious, or otherwise uncouth. I’m simply suggesting that you trade to get what you want. The good old fashioned bartering system is alluded to in the game’s original description, “…you can barter between games.” That’s the kind of serious fun that Commander brings to us. When your collection requires you to really ONLY need one copy of any given card, well it’s easy to amass additional trade fodder. For instance…you opened up two Jeweled Lotuses! Sweet! Rather than having half a playset, I think you just got some sweet trade fodder, my friend. You can now use the extra one to shore up some of those weaknesses your deck might have had. No matter what silhouette is lurking in the background, you can find exactly the right card once you brainstorm up a few options. Just remember the advice, “Sometimes winning a duel can be a lot less profitable than a successful trading session.”

“Be especially on your guard when playing new opponents. They will likely have spells and artifacts you have never seen before…”

Now, if playing in a regular league is your jam, then you know this type of thing is almost always true. You never really know who is brining what to the table. Sure, that’s a Golos, Tireless Pilgrim deck over there, but what type? Is this a big creatures, big spells, or perhaps some funky Golem tribal action you’re about to encounter. There are so many unknowns when you see a new player. They don’t even have to have a new Commander for you to suddenly be “on your guard”. The new spells and artifacts will surely be something you encounter nearly every time you play with new players. The beauty of this lies in two things: Commander decks invite us to be creative builders and add our own flavor to decks and each commander offers avenues of expression and gameplay that generally differ greatly between the deck builders and even the pilots! The most recent, designed for Commander commanders are great examples of this concept. These cards often require build around ideas that make them stand apart from previous builds. Just look at the incredibly popular Lathril, Blade of the Elves. Sure, there was Golgari elves back in the day with Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, but those two elf decks play very differently. Likewise, we see a very different take on Golgari colors with decks that use Pharika, God of Affliction versus Savra, Queen of the Golgari. The variety offered in colors and deck building helps keep any sort of staleness out of the format. The constant influx of new Commander cards aside, there’s room for this format to breath for a long time. The chances of running into cards you’ve never seen is pretty high. As far as I’m concerned, if I forgot about a card, and you remind me it exists by playing it against me in an effective way, then you have made me rediscover the card, and that is wonderful feeling. Yes, it’s even wonderful when someone clobbers me with good old Goblin Trenches!

Which brings me to my next point, “…they will certainly have unique deck mixes and styles of play.”

Absolutely, we see so much of this every single time we sit down to play a game. Players have various styles, and their styles influence their deck design and their deck builds. Furthermore, watching someone else’s Maelstorm Wanderer deck play out against mine is pretty fascinating. When we both have different play styles it is fascinating to see how two decks that share so much supposed “identify” actually find themselves only tangentially related. We have similarities and close ties, yet we are individuals through and through. Not only that, but whereas I might play a Cryptic Command as a more controlling card, my friend chose to play it as a tempo piece. These types of choices are what make playing Commander so much fun. You don’t ever get locked into particular lines of play. You don’t have to run the match out with a percentage counter for victory ticking closer and closer to assurance of one result over another. There’s no match-up meta knowledge that allows you to edge your opponents out. It really comes down to dealing with unknowns and making decisions on the fly. That’s a beautiful and exciting proposition to casual players. I’m sure it makes the average pro a bit nauseous to consider, but this isn’t high stakes. At least Magic isn’t high stakes anymore.

“Also, watch out for old rivals — anyone can have a magical encounter with a stranger and pick up some new surprises. No matter who your opponent is, never forget the possibility of learning a trick or two with the same old cards.”

We win, we learn. We lose, we learn. We play Magic, and we all win! No, really, when we play and observe people’s tricks, synergies, bluffs, and play styles we learn all sorts of things from one another. Baiting me into swinging with the entire team is a great call, and even better when you play your Dawn Charm to leave me open to certain death after I pass. How could I resist swinging for maximum damage? Well, if I learned from my previous mistakes I know that swinging for the amount I need and leaving some reserves behind is probably the best chance I have to both win and avoid disasters I might not have anticipated. Likewise, realizing that you can stack triggers in order to keep your Smokestack around another turn and grind out extra value from your Tangle Wire is good knowledge. It’s painful to acquire, but that old maxim, “no pain, no gain” surely has some truth to it. Have you ever brutalized someone with Stasis or Winter Orb? Forsaken City and Relic Barrier are some sweet little synergies to teach people some interesting lessons with those brutal cards. Lock them down and lock them out. Learning from other’s strategies and synergies has long been a part of Magic. Commander opens up a wild variety of learning opportunities as many decks utilize a central strategy, often utilizing the commander, to build a critical mass of cards around the strategy it is leveraging. This makes each gaming session an opportunity to show off your latest discoveries and observe your friends biggest and brightest additions.

In a way this process has been sped up by both online deck building sites like EDHREC and the existence of preconstructed decks. Ultimately, the sharing and spreading of information is generally a helpful thing for those looking to expand their possibilities and encounter new and different takes on the game. The only downside I see to this is that we often find ourselves with fewer surprises to deal with as we’ve often spoiled ourselves with the awareness of all the cards that released for each set. However, you can try to go spoiler free [article link] and try to regain some of the old Magic, or you can simply be taken by surprise when your friends discover interesting new synergies you haven’t yet seen. Like a riddle, the answer seems obvious once we have the synergy playing out in front of us. That initial surprise is always exciting though, and has always been a standout experience for the best game ever created.

“When you play the game, you pit your deck against your opponent’s deck in an arcane duel, and the winner takes one random card to keep from the loser’s deck.”

The final piece of the old Magic puzzle is that one I’ve been dancing around this entire time—ante. When Richard Garfield created the game he wanted to have a game that was similar to Poker in that it provided opportunities for luck and skill and gambling to shine. He wanted surprises and trading to occur. His initial tests with the game are touched upon in Johnny Magic and the Card Shark Kids (great read). I distinctly remember be very anxious when I anted up my Vesuvan Doppleganger against my opponent’s Force of Nature. We were both playing to keep our best cards, and that made the whole match a serious struggle. I ended up trading the Force of Nature back to him for some blue cards, but we were both worried about the outcome of the match more than we normally would be. Ante cards were interesting, and the most powerful card ever printed is easily an ante card: Contract from Below. Who doesn’t love a one mana personal Wheel of Fortune!? Sure, you have to ante an additional card, but the sheer power and desperation of Contract from Below is so Faustian—it’s just perfect. The power of ante cards was fairly strong, and did offer an interesting avenue for the game, but ultimately it just died out. I think the disappearance of ante was inevitable once Magic took off as a CCG. Having it be collectible makes people unwilling to gamble the very cards they’ve worked so hard to acquire. If you read Arena, the first Magic the Gathering novel, then you remember how Garth One-Eye had a pouch of spells that he would wager against other mages. This wagering was the nod to ante and the way it worked within the novel was in back alley duels and such. I won’t spoil anything for you, because you should go read it…it’s good clean old school Magic fun. Perhaps you could even build a Garth One-Eye deck for the purposes of playing Commander with ante? Nothing’s keeping you from developing an Ante-EDH league where the winner takes all the ante cards. I just don’t expect you’ll get enough people willing to play in it is all. So, ante doesn’t really happen in Commander, but it also turned out to be the aspect of original Magic that was naturally cut.

In closing, it makes sense that Commander as a format has brought back so much of the original formula that makes Magic great. It’s no surprise we all chose to leave ante behind, because it was the least effective ingredient. Until next time, may the cards (and your ante) be ever in your favor. 


Don’t Walk Away from MTG…part II

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Last time we discussed why you were considering quitting Magic. Now, if I didn’t hit on one of your reasons, then this time I’m betting I will. There are plenty of reasons to stop playing Magic, but none of them are good. This is truly the best game ever made, and not playing it anymore is really odd decision. I’d like to offer some insight into why you should consider keeping your cards and your hobby intact. The reasons you have for leaving might not be as solid as you think.

Tolarian Community College (I haven’t seen this video, or I’ve forgotten what he said, but I suspect we agree on several aspects (we usually seem to have share a similar view on most things Magic).

Perhaps you’re considering getting out of Magic because you need cash and you need it now. Listen, quitting because you need the money isn’t really quitting. You’re liquidating a happy hobby to deal with life’s responsibilities. Look, I get it. Life can be hard, and cardboard is not food. Magic is a lot of things, but its not rent, a car, or even a resume. It’s not something that can keep you warm, insured, or help you get to your job. I’ve been down this road before and I’ve sold some expensive cards just to make car insurance payments. That’s right, I wasn’t even paying for the actual car, but just the insurance to drive it. I didn’t even have anything to show for my cardboard. I’m not alone in my stories of parting with cards to meet life’s challenges. Just about every one that’s been playing for longer than ten years has stories of selling their cards for way less than they are worth now. We all find ourselves wishing we had found another way to make that payment. Whatever you need to pay, perhaps you should be a bit more creative in how you drum up the cash for it? There’s plenty of side-job work out available in today’s economy. I wish I had mowed some lawns, or bailed some hay instead of unloading those cards. Some people say they live life with no regrets, but I’m certainly not one of them. I have regrets. I hope and wish that others don’t, and won’t have the same regrets I have. Mike Rowe once said, “Life is full of pain and disappointment.” He’s right. He also knows, like I do, that life is full of overcoming challenges and pushing past the pain. You can find other creative ways to get deal with those annoying bills. Here’s why: you will want to come back to this game again, and when you do it’ll be so much easier to do so with an established collection at your fingertips.

If you have to pare down your collection, then seriously consider keeping at least one of each card. I say this, because at least then you can come back and play casual Commander whenever you’re ready. The opportunity cost of not selling a couple decks or more worth of Commander cards is pretty low when compared to the future opportunities you will lose by shipping off your entire collection. You may think you won’t miss that one dual land, or that one big money card you have, but if you ever come back to this game, then you undoubtedly will. Please, take it from someone that has sold his set of 40 dual lands, Black Lotus, Time Walk, and Beta Mox Jet…you do not want to unload all of your money cards. Selling some of your cash cards may get you through a short term loss, but the long term sorrow just isn’t worth it. Now, if you have to sell some of the collection because there is just no other way, then I’d like to offer a little insight into determining what cards you should try to save from liquidation. To be totally honest, I don’t miss playing with the power as much as I missed playing with the duals. It was fun playing with the power cards, but even if I had them today they wouldn’t offer me nearly the satisfaction that playing dual lands does. I just love the look and feel of the original duals. The ways I originally acquired them and the memories attached them are just so positive. I look fondly on those cards, and you need to take a hard look at each card you plan to sell. Instead of thinking about the money the card can offer, instead look at what nostalgia, play value, and overall emotional connection that card offers. If you find yourself totally unattached to that card, then feel free to sell it off. If you find yourself pining for the good old days of playing it—keep it! Be aware of your emotions, and use them to make informed decisions about what to keep and what to ship.

Too many rules and too much product have been things that keep players away from the game. Magic is not a simple game. Quitting because you are overwhelmed is a real possibility for newbies. The solution to this is rather ironically simple. Just take a step back from the game. Don’t buy anything else. Just play with what you have, and learn only the new cards that are played against you. This might sound counterintuitive. You feel like you don’t know enough about Magic, so you start trying to learn everything about Magic. That won’t work for Magic just like it doesn’t work for any other subject. You can’t just learn everything about something and think it will make it all easier. The more you learn about any complicated subject, like retro video game programming or grammar—the more you realize that it is complex and nuanced. There are subtleties that only become apparent when you combine experience and knowledge. That’s why taking a step back and just focusing on what you have at hand can be the key to unlocking further understanding. People that have been playing this game for over a decade can tell you all about this type of experience. This may seem a bit weird, but people take breaks from Magic, and when they come back they always go through this same “beginner over-load” phase. So much has changed, but Magic is still, at its core, the same. The rules alter slightly, and the cards shift and change, but the basics of the formula remain. That’s the elegant beauty of Magic. Once you’ve learned the game, then you can learn more of the game at any time. Having gaps in your knowledge is totally fine, and most players only know small portions of the entire list of unique cards anyway. Magic has gotten to a point in its index that very few players are actually familiar with most or all of Magic’s catalogue. It’s just too much for mere mortals. So, give yourself the time you need to realize that being overwhelmed is just one of the things you actually get used to. It’s ok to be reading all the time, because once you read the card you know what it does. We’ve always said, “RTFC.” Read the Card. So, don’t quit, but instead, shelve buying cards for a bit. Or, focus on buying cheaper singles that are quirky, fun, or help you complete a pet deck project. You don’t have own them all or even know them all. You can adapt and respond to new cards as you encounter them. This is what helps keep every game of Magic from being the same as the last. The variety and changing nature of the game is what makes it so grand. You don’t need to quit the entire game, but perhaps quit buying cards or quit trying to study the entire catalogue. Focus on a set at a time, and don’t be afraid to skip buying tons of each set. You can simply pick up a few singles that catch your eye, and thereby limit your overall overload.

This last bit is rather sad for me to wrap my head around. I guess what makes it so tough is that I personally haven’t had to experience this in any true capacity. I’m lucky, because I’ve never had to face quitting because I didn’t have a play group any more. This may be the toughest reason. I feel for you. It is awful when you have the greatest game at your fingertips, and no one to play with. I’ve had years where I wasn’t able to play very often, and that’s because I just couldn’t fit play time into my hectic life schedule. I think that Covid sucks, and because it sucks so much I’ve been forced to realize a few things. One of those things is how much I cherish the chance to play Magic with my brother and my friends. I can’t wait to have family and friends over to play again. Those times are precious, and I’ll be sure to record every one of those moments in the Kills Book[article link]. If you don’t have a group, then wait. If you are young enough, then start a club at your local school or college. People will come. Ask for donations from your LGS. I’ve made hundreds of commons only decks over the years just to teach newer players. It’s worth it. Hang on to your collection, and if anything, try to grow it more during the times when you don’t have a group. Sometimes the only way to find a play group is to build a play group. This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. The feeling of joy you get from spreading your love of Magic with others is incredibly fulfilling. I have introduced, taught, and mentored many new players over the years, and I feel blessed that I’ve been able to bring the joy of this game to their lives. Magic has brought me so much, and I know that it will bring just as much to others as well. When you don’t have a playgroup you just have to double down and build one.

I haven’t run across many other reasons why people have quit or tried to quit Magic. If I’ve missed one between this column and the last, then please let me know in the comments section. Ultimately, we each decide what to make of our hobbies. We decide how much time and money to invest in them. However, when you are making the decision to continue your hobby or not, then I urge you to consider how much the hobby gives back to you. How much satisfaction and joy do you get from it? You are worth more than you might think. You deserve to have an awesome hobby with great pieces to it. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t give up on a source of joy. I hope I’ve offered enough rationale to keep you with the greatest game ever made—Magic: the Gathering. Until next time, may the cards be ever in your favor!


Don’t Walk Away from MTG…part I

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Don’t walk away from Magic: the Gathering. If you feel like you just have to, then I beg you to please reconsider. Humor me and answer a couple of questions first. What’s your reasoning for doing so? Is the game too simple? Does it provide you with an unfulfilling experience? Are the cards just too darn cheap? Do you wish your collection wasn’t so easy to organize and manage? Is it no longer as fun because you have access to too many cards?

Quitting because someone else thinks you should…NOPE. That’s nonsense. Live your life, and let others live theirs. If you have someone urging you to quit a hobby of yours, then perhaps you need to take a hard look at why that person wants you to quit. Is it because you are addicted to cardboard crack? Having an actual addiction and joking about one are very different. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, then I suggest you seriously look at what actual addictive behaviors look like. For starters, an addict is always looking for the next fix. If you are always looking for more Magic time, then you’re not alone. However, when you replace important responsibilities and people in your life to get your next Magic fix, then you may actually have a legitimate concern. I’m not talking about the occasional decision to play with friends rather than go out with a significant other. I’m talking about ditching your family for Magic or skipping time important work meetings to get a little more Magic time. That’s a serious sign. Otherwise, simply thinking about your hobby or being a little obsessive about it is totally fine. It’s actually healthy to have an active pursuit that is outside the realms of your other daily activities. Finding time to “unplug” from your other areas and plug into a deep and rewarding hobby like Magic: the Gathering is one of life’s greatest blessings. Don’t let others force you to quit playing a game that brings you joy.

I’ve heard people wanting to quit because the game is beyond their current budget. The wonderful thing with Magic is that you can always play with the cards you own. There are so many eternal formats that allow you to recycle your cards time and time again. The lines of play in this game are such that you can easily never play the same game twice. This is one of the aspects that keeps drawing new players to the game. Why not experience an entirely different game every time you play? Perhaps you felt like you were out of control with buying cards. Then I would strongly suggest you try playing Pauper. It’s an amazingly rewarding format that is built for the poorest player’s budgets. You don’t have to proxy you heart out and cash out your morals. You can actually just play Pauper: an all commons format. It’s wonderfully rich and is very rewarding for skillful players. Additionally, you could consider investing in a Cube. Having a dedicated Cube for drafting is wonderful investment that allows you to slowly build and buy and tweak it to your heart’s content, but also limits your purchasing sprees. You only need one of any given card, and you’re constantly limited to the size of your Cube. Plus, you can get tons of drafts in for free time and time again. And, if you’re a Commander player you know that you can always just slim the collection down a bit and focus on one or two decks. You can make slight alterations, and you can decide to focus on things like Uncommons only decks or even create your own budgetary challenges. The key to finding a comfortable budget in Magic is not over-extending yourself. There will always be new, powerful, and extremely rare cards. You don’t have to catch them all, and you can always have fun with what you have. There’s no rule demanding you own everything or that you will actually find more fulfillment playing with everything. I’ve owned the coveted Black Lotus, and I don’t miss playing with. I do wish I had one…so I could sell it!

Sometimes we think we’re done with Magic. Notice I said “we think” as my qualifier. You may think you’re losing interest. That’s fine. Then consider a pause. Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time I was in college and decided I needed to step away from Magic. It was eating up too much of my time and I wanted to get Dean’s list or higher every semester. I figured eliminating Magic was a good way to do it. So, I packed up the majority of my collection that I didn’t have in decks already (about 6 decks escape this folly). I made a whole container’s worth of envelopes filled with random rares, uncommons, and commons. I doled them out to all the guys on my floor that had started playing or were long-time players. They couldn’t believe I was stepping away. I couldn’t really believe it either, but I figured I needed to. I just didn’t have time for it. Well, I was wrong. I came back to it not even six months later. I mourned the loss of all my “extra” cards. I only had a few decks and absolutely no trade fodder. It was a rough time, but I was so glad I hadn’t ditched all of my decks as well. I guess subconsciously I knew I couldn’t part with them.

Learn from my mistakes. I’ll wager that your collection might be worth a bit now, but it is likely going to be worth nearly the same amount or more 10 years from now. Most of the competitive formats that exist tend to favor particular cards for extended periods of time. Standard powerhouse cards seldom shine only in Standard. As they rotate out and then become popular in other formats they become harder to snap up as the supply has become finite. So, just hang on to those cards for now. Put them in a shoe box in the closet. Stow them under your bed. Heck, hide them in your parent’s attic if you have to! I urge you not to unload all of them for a quick buck. Here’s why. You will probably pick up this game again, and wish you still had that shoe box of cards. Sure, a chunk might just be common garbage. However, some of those commons could have cards like Mystic Remora, Rhystic Study, or other simple commons that balloon up in price or become huge in any given format (in regards to my give-away example, I’m sure I probably gave away around 20+ of each of those cards when I gave away my extra cards).

Some cards fall out of favor while others rise up. The casual market created by the Commander format has brought a clear stabilizing factor to prices and demand. As a traditional casual player I can say that I always had casual demand on my mind. The interesting thing is that the casual demand has become a much more informed group of buyers. There’s tons of content out there speaking directly to the “casual” EDH players. The power level discussions tend to let us know that there are varying degrees of casual Commander. That’s great, because playgroups have always had varying levels of intensity. The thing that’s changed in recent years is the speed at which cards are identified as being great for multiplayer decks. The casual janky combo decks assemble and then disperse themselves much more quickly among the Magic community at large. This is interesting, but also a powerful indicator of just how much EDH can command the market. My point is that your current collection likely won’t lose much value overall. The larger the collection, then the more likely your collection will be something you will miss in a few years. That extra cash you score from it will likely be wasted or recouped in the years to come. Re-acquiring lost cards is much more difficult. Trust me on that note (I did recoup my 40 dual lands and that was bear of task).

A newer reason I’ve heard the last several years concerns people quitting because of some evil cabal that is undermining the game. They cry out that they are quitting because they are morally opposed to something that “the man” is doing to the game.  If you’re like me, then your reaction to this type of complaining is somewhere along the lines of “LOL” to “Wait, what? You’re quitting a game you enjoy because you believe the people that make the game are making mistakes?” I wonder if it’s that they feel the people that are in charge of those making the game are pushing designers to do that which they do not wish to do? I just don’t understand this approach to quitting such a great game. Basically people are deciding that by not playing they are sending the message that they loved this game, but now can’t love it because of…greed? Perceived design flaws? I know this is a lot of questioning, but what the Obsainus Golem is happening here? This is a seriously flawed approach to a problem that is actually fixable. Hear me out. Why quit playing a game that brings you joy? You can vote on how you want Magic to be made every time you make a purchase. When you buy sealed product you vote that you support that product. You support that design team. You support Magic’s current direction. You support the retail plan as well. If you purchase your cards and boxes from a local gaming store, then you are sending the message that you want that supply chain to continue to exist. Every purchase you make in Magic, from singles to collector booster boxes to Secret Lairs are all ways of voting for how you want Magic to exist. Each purchase is a vote. Each single is a vote. If you can’t afford to keep up with a capitalist voting system like this, then the good news is that your voice can still be heard on forums, feedback emails, and other online contacts. We’ve never had a greater voice as a consumer/player base. It’s a wondrous thing, and it’s our responsibility to use it wisely.

I believe that we need to take moral stands on issues that are dear to us. I believe that when we find truth we need to plant ourselves next to that river of truth and refuse to budge. I just can’t see how no longer playing the best game ever created is accomplishing that. You can vote with your wallet, and you can shift your collecting and shift your focus. You do not need to liquidate your collection and abandon a hobby that will bring you years of joy. You do not need to jettison your collection and pass on the opportunity to make lasting friendships and glorious memories. You can keep your cards and your morals too! Vote with your wallet, but don’t sell your free time, and don’t squander the resources you’ve already acquired. Those cards can continue to serve you well for years to come.

Well, I’ve got more to say on this, but I think that’s enough for today. We don’t need to quit because we are being told to do so. We don’t need to quit because we think we’re done…we’re probably just taking a short break! Life can be tough, but Magic should be grand and wonderful escape from life’s difficulties. Use your hobby to find joy and relaxation. Use Magic to help you, and in turn you’ll find that your hobby gives back far more than you initially thought. Consider that you could go to the movies for about $20 once a week. You spend $100 a month for 10 hours of entertainment. Now, I’m certain that you can spend $100 a month on Magic and get far more than 10 hours of entertainment out of it. If you’re going to be a penny about fun, then maybe you need to consider that Magic offers incredible value for your time, energy, and dollar. I’ll wrap up a few other false rationales for quitting next time. Until then, may the cards be ever in your favor!


Djeru, With Eyes Open WIDE

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Djeru, With Eyes Wide Open

Actual deck: https://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/djeru-with-eyes-open-wide/?cat=tcg_avg_price&sort=name&cb=1615173293

Budget Version Link: https://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/djeru-with-eyes-open-wide-budget/?cb=1615175031

I wanted to share with you a little side project I’ve been working on. This little mono-white Commander recently crushed my buddies in a three player game. I am fairly certain it would have done equally well in a four player game as well. I know people tend to malign mono-white, but honestly, it can still be very solid in Commander.

But wait you say. Mono-white in Commander—doesn’t it mean your deck will be awful? White doesn’t have ramp, and it doesn’t have big nonsense like Craterhoof Behemoth or Cyclonic Rift. But you know what white has that the other colors don’t? Balance. Sadly, not the card, because that it is banned. But white has balanced answers to just about anything your opponent can throw at you. It has the best targeted and blanket removal around. With Djeru, Eyes Wide Open as your Commander you also get access to card advantage. Planeswalkers are basically value machines, and Djeru tutors up one after another during the game. I’m not usually a fan of tutoring effects in Commander, but when you’re playing mono-white how powerful can it really be? Djeru can also be a serious beater when you have plenty of Glorious Anthem effects in play. This deck is designed to power out an army, and go wide! The smaller creatures get big pretty quickly, and so you win using a combination of anthem effects, tricks, and mass removal. These are all designed to create card advantage over your opponents. It has a few weaknesses, but what deck doesn’t? This plays like a cross between a white weenie deck and a blue-white control deck. And before you tell me that it can’t play like a control deck without Counterspell, then I think you forgot that white has counterspells (Dawn Charm, Illumination, Mana Tithe, and Rebuff the Wicked). I’m not running all of those, but you could. It’s always cute when the blue mage is tapped out and the green mage taps Craterhoof Behemonth, and you get to say, “in response, I’ll counter your spell,” while tossing little old Mana Tithe onto the table.

Synergize for the Win!

This deck leverages several synergies across its build. The sneakiest one of all is that these creatures are almost all humans. The ones that aren’t humans are there to synergize with the humans. This sub-theme helps make the deck more explosive and gives it an edge that is usually reserved for green decks and their Overrun effects. Champion of the Parish, Angel of Glory’s Rise, Rick Steadfast Leader, and Basri Ket all help to achieve that moment of critical mass.  

Lots of the humans in this deck are also Knights. This works out rather nicely because we get to use cards like Knight Exemplar and Worthy Knight to even greater effect. Having knights mount up for a huge offensive charge on their various mounts is sure to be a satisfying way to claim an honorable victory. Worthy Knight and The Circle of Loyalty help build the army as well. The Circle of Loyalty is one of the best cards in the whole deck, because it does literally everything this deck is trying to do: go wide with tokens, pump the team, and gain incremental card advantage. It’s just so good. Meanwhile, cards like Crusading Knight and Knight of Dawn seem cute, but the payoff potential can be huge. Stopping non-trampling fatties in their tracks and brutalizing heavy black strategies and the occasional Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth with a random rare from Invasion feels wonderful. Sure, cards like this can be sub-optimal, but since they synergize so well with everything else in the deck it doesn’t hurt so much when they aren’t grossly powerful.

Using Glorious Anthem effects also helps to build our unimpressive 1/1’s and 2/2’s into oddly intimidating forces is the secret behind this deck’s success. You can drop a Crusade and follow it up with an Honor of the Pure, and now everything is getting +2+2. Sometimes, you hold back playing one or two anthem effects and then play them all in a single turn to act like a pseudo-Overrun. Cards like Valiant Knight, Knight Exemplar, and Celestial Crusader all help pump the team. Once you have two of these effects in play, that little first striker defense becomes a hard hitting offensive force. Djeru, With Eyes Open helps tie together the anthem effects and token generators. Djeru always tutors up a planeswalker for instant card advantage. Following that play up with a planeswalker we can protect helps us crank out the value and pump up the team.

Humans, Knights, white creatures, and tokens all work in tandem, and we also have many +1/+1 counter effects to help permanently buff up our creatures. Creating a critical mass of both tokens and pumping effects is the goal. People will kill Elspeth on site along with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Gideon will definitely be on people’s radars, because it does everything this deck wants to do. It can create knights, pump the team, and even swing in for some damage on its own. Basri Ket is actually a hidden all-star for this deck. Basri is great at doing the two things our deck needs the most—generating tokens and buffing them. Eventually, people will catch on that Basri Ket is super dangerous as well, and they’ll be happy to spend a card to remove it. Ultimately, this decks looks to gain overall card advantage in order to crush your opponents in big sweeping attacks.

You forgot the life gain.

What about life gain? Isn’t this mono-white? Why aren’t you running Congregate with all those tokens? Well, I chose not to lean too heavily into the life gain sub-theme. I figured that would just make me a target entirely too early on. The deck can handle a little team up, but not for long. The key is to get ahead a bit and then cripple a few others. You don’t want to be the archenemy of the table. You want to swing for plenty of damage and then if things get out of control sweep it all away. The deck has multiple sweeper effects to help cover nearly every situation. I chose sweeper effects that can be either one-sided or at least leave our planeswalkers in play to help us bounce back faster than everyone else. The nastiest little sweeper spice is Ravnica at War. This can tear apart some decks, and can also be a bit lame against others. However, that’s the thing with spicy cards—they can be just right, too much, or not enough. Overall, the mana curve for the deck is very low. This helps you rebuild faster, and gets you swinging in for more damage before people have time to rebuild their defenses.

Spice is Nice

What’s in here that you might not stumble across naturally? What cards did I decide to include because they are fun, radical or surprise people time and time again? Illumination is one for sure. I really need to get an artist to alter one with a little minion on it shouting, “ILLUMINATION!” Now, white is not known for drawing cards, but I felt I would try out using a white draw seven enchantment: Pursuit of Knowledge. Have you ever run? It is both risky and rewarding. So, naturally, I’m in because, “What could possibly go wrong?” Could someone nail you for using it, sure. But, you could also live the dream with it. I think that dreams are worth risking a few draws, don’t you? Additionally, I chose to include cluestones and a banner to help add a few late game draw effects. Unlike other decks, we tend to drop creatures turns 2, 3, and 4, and then drop ramp and creatures turns 5, 6, and 7. The option to sweep it all away is there too, so perhaps you will want to ramp into a sweeper to start building your army double-time afterwards. Either way, you have choices with this mono-white build, and choices are what make decks good. I also felt that including Debt of Loyalty would be pretty fun for this deck. It’s nice to snag someone’s awesome creature when they were expecting it to merely die. The -1/-0 counter it gets is usually negated by all of our various anthem effects, but even if it’s not, it’s still targeted creature theft in white. Additionally, I would definitely consider playing History of Benalia and Silverwing Squadron as well. I chose not to include them as I felt that History makes you a bit too much of a target for too many turns, and Silverwing Squadron didn’t fit my need to keep the mana curve super low.


Being able to be flexible in your approach is key, and white allows you a surprising amount of flexibility. It has balanced answers to so many of the problems that can arise during a game. The ability to sweep away artifacts, enchantments, or creatures is awesome. You can use spot removal to exile problematic permanents and not worry when your tokens or smaller creatures die to removal or other people’s sweepers. You can usually replace your tokens rather easily by recasting Djeru and picking up another one of your value engine planeswalkers. Djeru really helps take this deck from something that can putter out to a deck that has a surprising amount of late game potential. It may seem like you’re playing white weenie, but when you shift into the control portion of the deck’s late-game strategies you will not be disappointed in what you’re capable of doing. This deck demands to be answered, and it can meet other deck’s demands for removal. This is what makes this a strong, flexible, and fun mono-white Commander deck. Plus, this mana base is the cheapest around! You can go all plains or maybe mix it up with an Emeria, the Sky Ruin to have some extra late-game potential. Overall, I think this build is pretty solid, and it does allow you plenty of wiggle room to build your own with whatever you have laying around. This deck can easily be made as a budget build, and so I’ve included a budget list link as well. I hope that you get to sling some spells sooner rather than later. I know that Time Spiral Remastered is around the corner, and it has a few of these cards in it as well. Time to expand the collection! 

I originally wrote this before Strixhaven. So, if you’re wondering why it’s not updated with a few new card draw spells, well, now you now why. Have fun tinkering if you decide to try this build out! I have really enjoyed it so far! Until next time, may the cards be ever in your favor!


How Many Players Do You Need to Play Commander?

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

How many players are needed to make the perfect Commander game? If you said four, then you are wrong. Five? Nope. Three? Wrong again. Two? I didn’t say cEDH, did I; you’re wrong again. The answer is easier than you might think. But why take the easy way, when we can get there the hard way? There’s so much Commander content now that I can’t help but think that everyone has the correct answer. But, how can that be? If we’re all correct, then we’re all also wrong. It’s like a tie…no one and yet everyone wins. Are we all losers if we play with the incorrect number of people? Do we only win if we play with the optimal number? How many people do I need to play Commander with to have fun is actually a bit complicated. Let’s walk through the group numbers and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of setting up a Commander game with a variety of group sizes.

The Core Four

Those of you that say four players is the optimal size are probably in the majority. While those that say two are probably looking for a competitive duel style experience. I’m going to ignore cEDH, as I’d like to dive into the cases that include multiple players. These types of groupings offer some room for both analysis and discussion. A four player group enables politics with cards like Expropriate, Play of the Game, and other undaunted style spells to shine. Using cards that have will of the council also makes sense in these groups. These politically motivated deck strategies get better with a larger number of opponents. Likewise, spells with higher casting costs tend to be more playable as there is a larger damage cushion in these games. People tend not to just pick on one person and eliminate them early on, but instead spread the pain. These four player games often allow people to “do their thing” during the course of the game. This is usually the argument for having four players. The games go longer than smaller groups, and the spells and turns favor bigger plays. Godzilla taught me that bigger is better, so shouldn’t these decks and these games be the best? Perhaps.

Four Player Commander Game downfalls

Yet, the very strengths of a four player game are also its weaknesses. The downfall of games with four people is that the politics and actual turns slow down the pacing. Slowing down the pacing means you get to play less magic. There’s more stuff on the board, so people take longer to make decisions. Yes, you can play some big spells, and have some big turns, but the emphasis is on some. You can only spend so much mana during the course of the game. When we lean everything into our big spells, then we don’t cast multiple spells a turn. We toss out a few haymakers, and wham, game over. These games can tend to build to a crescendo that ends with big slamming turns and ridiculous combos that have finally been assembled. This is great if that’s what we want. What if you don’t want this style? What if you want to get in more than one game in three hours? What happens when you have a time restraint or you just can’t focus for that long? Well, you find another way.

Three Player Commander Games

Having three players at the table allows the action to move much more swiftly. The pace of the game increases, and slower decks are often punished even more. The need to punish slow starts arises from the danger of those decks being able to take out both opponents at once. Seeing a deck crush two opponents at once is much easier to imagine than seeing a deck crush three players or an entire table at once. That fourth player adds just enough cushion. However, removing that fourth player means that slow starters get punished much more readily. This is great in that it keeps the game advancing, and also makes it easier to punish people for overextending. Alliances can still happen, and politics can still exist, but they don’t necessarily play as heavy a role in the trio. We usually feel awful teaming up on the weak guy at the table. Meanwhile, teaming up to defeat the clear front runner is something that can happen very quickly and be undone just as fast. Alliances are fleeting, but still possible in this smaller pod. Does this mean that a trio is actually a better group to play with? Perhaps.

When Trios fail

The problem with the trio is just that if one deck jumps out ahead of the rest, then that one player can easily demolish someone with a slow start. If only one person has a decent start, then one of the slower starters gets eliminated too early to matter. This leaves someone in the unfortunate position of watching a duel unfold while they wait to play Magic. The hard part is that they never really got to play in the first place. Sure, they’ll end up playing another game in more or less short order, but when your first game never really happened, well, that sucks. Who wants to shuffle up, draw cards, play no spells, die, and then shuffle up and wait to do it all again? Yeah, I didn’t think I’d see anyone’s hands up for that one. What happens when your trio gets highly specialized? The games become hyper competitive paper, rock, scissor matches that involve knocking out the biggest threat early on and then duking it out with the deck that poses the least threat. Perhaps that is what any well navigated multiplayer game evolves into, but when you start with three you skip the whole process of evolution. An evolutionary leap in play style isn’t required, but it certainly feels inevitable when playing in consistent trios.

EDH/Commander with Five or More Players?

Yes, this is actually how it was intended to be way back when. The original Elder Dragon Legends were meant to be the original commanders that lead the five different decks at the table. The balance and politics are widely available in the beginning of larger games. The spells and variance are tremendous. The turns and development that occur during the course of the game is truly an epic saga of Magic storytelling. Watching a table with five or more decks at once is a pretty big deal. The clashing of various decks and personalities is always fun to watch. It’s even better to be involved in. While playing games like this you can expect that it will take anywhere from 3-5 hours to complete a game. Seriously. This type of legendary game play is what urban legends are bred from. It’s a veritable breeding pool in which the survival of the fittest is truly put to the test. I can’t emphasize enough how crazy and wild games like this can become. An arms race just doesn’t do it justice. It is more akin to a Colossus of Sardia blocking a Force of Nature that has banded with a Benalish hero. Does this mean that five player or larger pods are the best way to play EDH/Commander? Perhaps.

The Epic Downfall of Five Player EHD/Commander Games

The biggest draw to games like these is the way it builds to tremendous turns that include things like an insurrection followed by someone else grabbing the reins of power only to have a holy day. Yet, this takes an awful long time to happen. Sure, someone might help things along with a group hug deck, so perhaps it only takes four hours to play the first game of the night. Yet, unless you have ten hours to devote to playing at a clip, then the epically long games are actually a downside. Four player games require plenty of attention to the complex board states that develop, and when you add one or three more players the board state basically gets two or three times harder to follow. I don’t always play for this long, but when I do, I try to remember it really is a Magic marathon. I applaud you if you have time for these types of games. I look back at the years and I don’t think I’ve played a game like that in over a decade. The crazy part about it is that I do remember playing that last marathon of a game. I can even recall plays that were made during it (someone Conquered my Tundra). So, perhaps that’s a good thing. I worry that too many marathons will lead to some epic burnout and not to routine play. So, the very thing that was its strength shall be its downfall? Perhaps. 

What is the right number of players for a Commander Game?

The right, optimal, correct number of players for an EDH/Commander game is clearly whatever number makes you happy. I hate to take the easy way out, but what other way is there? We just took the hard way by analyzing what makes each group size good. We’ve taken a hard look at what the shortcomings for each size group entails. It really seems a matter of what you’re after when you play. Do you want a well-balanced game with political potential that should be done in 1.5-3 hours? Then you’re looking for a four player group. You want a faster pace and less politicking? Get a Vendilion clique styled trio together and you’re ready for action. You want truly large and epically long games? Go five or more and you’ll be signing up for a marathon. The matter of finding what your playgroup wants is simple, but also a little bit complicated. Sometimes it’s just a matter of whoever can get together. It’s not so much about choosing the right group size, but knowing what to expect from the group before you get into it.

Knowing is half the battle. 

Do you have the right decks for the size of the game you intend on playing. When you look at your collection do you have enough decks to meet all of these situations? Can you find a cEDH deck for duels? Have you built a ridiculous battle cruiser deck that eschews most cards under 6 CMC? Do you have a balanced or slightly faster deck? Heck, I remember when I only had one deck, and I played it whenever I could. I knew I’d lose 1 v 1 games. I knew I only stood a chance when there were more than three players, but I was OK with that. I wanted to win when there was a bigger audience. I wanted to just play whenever I could. My suggestion to you is that you should play with what you have. Enjoy the games you get, and plan to build for your games in the future. This helps you find maximum enjoyment no matter the playgroup and no matter the time constraints. Building your collection and preparing for all groups sizes is a great way to approach potential games nights. Here’s to hoping that this summer will hold many game nights for you all at whatever group sizes you manage to muster. Take care and best of shuffles to you.


Commander Legends 2? Please, not yet.

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Mark Rosewater was recently posed the question, “If or When? Commander Legends 2, and his response was a question itself: “Would you all like that, yes or no?” By asking this question we have a great indication of how Wizards really is dedicated to listening to the players and trying to accommodate what we, as a community, want. That’s a wonderful and beautiful thing in this age of giant corporations using other companies to do market research on what their player base desires. While I’m sure focus groups and studies are still occurring these impromptu asks by Rosewater and others at Wizards (Verhey comes to mind) can really get the community very excited at times. As Commander players, we’ve been blessed enough to see that there is now dedicated focus on the most popular (strictly numbers wise) multiplayer format ever. So, the question Mark spins back on us is if we would like this. Well, I guess I’ll take a stab at answering that…

In short, no. I loved Commander Legends before it was even printed. So, there’s no need to read any further as we all know that the rest of this article is just an explanation about why this “no” is really just a “yes” in disguise. To be technical, no, we “all” will not want a Commander Legends 2. Despite Commander being the most popular format for multiplayer it isn’t played by the entire Magic community. Thusly, it cannot be wanted by “all” of us. Yet, I suspect that most of us that play Commander would welcome another Commander Legends. I think we can say yes, but only with a few caveats. So, here’s a list of demands concerning the possible or dare I say inevitable printed of Commander Legends 2:

  1. Give us time and give us space.
  2. Give us quality foils (I don’t even like them, but I don’t want useless untradeable cards either).
  3. Give us less power and more tribes.
  4. Make reprints a priority.
  5. Give us a draft/sealed environment.

Our number one demand needs to be time and space. It’s not you Wizards and Gavin Verhey, it’s us. We just need time and space to see our current Commanders in a more intimate setting. We need time to get to know our current pool of partners. We haven’t even had time to spend a few hours at our local gaming stores to get to know each other better. We need time to see others, and we need some space before we get introduced to a larger pool of possibilities. There are plenty of Pokemon (read Legendary Commander Creatures) in the sea, but we don’t need to catch them all. If we end up getting another Commander Legends set in the next year or even two, then I would say we could experience some serious burnout far faster than we may suspect. We need time to expand our collections. The legendary creatures “as fan” (number of times legendary creatures appear in packs) has been pretty solid for the last several sets. We have had no shortage of Commander centric leaders for several sets now. In addition, we are still getting yearly Commander decks with new cards, and plenty of cool staple reprints. It does beg the question, “Do we really need another dedicated Commander product?” Perhaps we don’t right now, but we are coming off the “year of Commander”, so I don’t think we will be for such a spoiled time in the near future. Hopefully, this call for feedback is in order to plan a long term goal. So, yes, we want a Commander Legends 2, but only if it takes awhile to come out.

Now, I don’t often harp about quality control issues. I hate piling on to obvious criticisms. It’s pretty clear that there are some serious issues with the average foil cards from Commander Legends. I bought a Collector’s Box (and lots of regular boxes) of Commander Legends and I was horribly disappointed whenever I opened a traditional mythic rare or extended art rare that was foil. I knew it would be difficult to trade, not worth as much as non-pringled foil cards, and it wouldn’t shuffle well in my decks. In contrast, I loved opening the foil etched cards. Those foils have not curled a wink, and they look unique enough that I actually run them. The foiling treatment is just much more fun than a traditional shiny laminate. This is saying a lot considering I’m the guy that has tried to trade away every foil rare or mythic I have ever opened. Seriously, I open foils and they go to the trade binder. Now, if we can get a Commander Legends 2 that capitalizes on foil etched cards, and eschews the issues from its other poorly foiled cards, then we have a recipe for some seriously collectible and fun cardboard! We need Commander Legends 2 to fix the problems from Commander Legends 1 and capitalize on its successes. That’s a simple statement, but not a simple thing to execute. So, yes to Commander Legends 2 as long as the quality control issues are fixed (of note…they appear to be as of Strixhaven J).

Another way to capitalize on prior success and continue innovating could happen by giving more tribal support cards to popular yet underserved tribes. I’m looking at tribes like Samurai, Treefolk, Kithkin, or Drakes, as a few examples of tribes that could use a little extra love from R&D. The power level for Commander Legends was spot on. The cards allowed draft to actually work and create a fairly balanced and swingy end game. Big spells actually had a big impact, and people were forced to build with a long game in mind. There was no way to rush the table and crush everyone in some sort of Zergling rush (StarCraft reference) where everyone is defeated before they can even get anything fully developed. Many people feared that a dedicated Commander set would be full of cards like Opposition Agent and Hullbreacher. It was not. Those are perhaps the two most maligned cards in the set. Jeweled Lotus hasn’t been the format warper that its original inspiration has always been. In casual pods it doesn’t even place as big of a target as a turn 1 Sol-Ring has. The boogey-men of Commander Legends was really just a couple of cards that were a bit pushed…as in two. Commander Legends 2 will need to emulate this style of design. The cards will need to be balanced, but not overpowered. The worst thing a Commander Legends 2 set could do would be to create some sort of Urza’s block power creep. The Combo Winter that crushed many people’s days of fun revolved around incredibly powerful cards like Tolarian Academy and Time Spiral. I remember losing on my oppoent’s turn 1 before I even got to play a card. That’s not what I expected to see in a Standard format. It’s definitely not what I want to see in a Commander game. Commander Legends was not like that at all. We have since seen that Commander Legends was creative, fun, and non-format warping all at the same time. So, yes, we need more of well-balanced design in Commander Legends 2.


One way to keep the format from being warped is to provide plenty of reprints. I’ve gushed over the beauty of the artwork and the utility that Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive provides, and I feel that Commander Legends could easily do something similar. A foil etched slot dedicated to format staples would be a really cool concept for Command Legends 2. Imagine that every pack comes with 2 Commanders (Legendary Creatures), 1 rare/mythic, and 1 foil etched reprint (or some other cool artsy alternative). How exciting would a pack of that be to open? How exciting would drafting a set like that be? People would have more access to great cards like Mana Drain, Swords to Plowshares, Demonic Tutor, Doubling Season, Sneak Attack, and Mana Crypt all without sacrificing the ability to play them in a limited environment. If any limited environment can absorb these powerful pieces it would be the multiplayer draft environment. This even solves the power-creep problem by using powerful reprints in place of pushed cards to drive up the value of boxes. So, yes please to a Commander Legends 2 that takes advantage of its unique ability to provide powerful reprints.

I’ve heard a few rumblings about not desiring the limited format for Commander Legends 2. I don’t get that. I’m assuming it’s mostly because people didn’t get a chance to draft it. I’m assuming they couldn’t even play sealed using remote technologies. I’ve played Commander Legends sealed, and it’s seriously a good bargain. The boxes have been cheap enough that drafting it feels similar to drafting Double Masters, but without the hefty price tag. Granted, the value may not be as high, but when you get to draft and keep cards, who is complaining? I think the draft format could benefit from borrowing even more mechanics and maybe even reprints from the other seriously fun mutilplayer draft sets—Conspiracy & Conspiracy Take the Crown. Conspiracy 1 & 2 were great fun. Those cards are also great fun in Commander. They have that political flair to them, and a politically oriented design which is a perfect fit for Commander. We need the next Commander Legends set to offer a good limited experience for both draft and sealed deck. It allows us to crack packs, play with “janky” cards, and rip apart the draft chaff decks and actually build with the same “janky” cards that allow us to beef up old and new synergies. This type of multipurpose set is a great deal for players. Including premium foil and premium artwork within the draft experience is another way to hit both the set boost pack crackers and the drafters all at once. Considering that it’s a Commander-based product the limited environment doesn’t need to offer superb competitive flair. It just needs to have the right feel and the right ebb and flow for Commander games. This is clearly something that Wizards has shown they are capable of doing, and we will definitely need it from Commander Legends 2. So, yes please to a well-balanced Commander Legends 2 sealed experience.

Whether or not we will see a Commander Legends 2 isn’t quite a question of if, but when. I would expect that the earliest we would see Commander Legends 2 will be in about 2 years. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it surface a few months before. It shouldn’t require as much play-testing or development as say a Standard set. Wizard’s doesn’t have to worry about drastically warping eternal formats, because they’ve said they aren’t worried about it. That alone helps cut the time down from development to print. I think the two year timeline is honestly the earliest we might be “ready” for such a set. However, with the growing call for nostalgia and reprints being constant threads in the Commander community we can bet that Wizards will be anxious to offer us exactly what we are asking for. I expect that we will see many of the current cards people are calling for now to reappear in a set like this. It will need to innovative in the same ways that Conspiracy Take the Crown innovated on the original Conspiracy mechanics. Partner Commanders and a plethora of legendary creatures will definitely need to exist. The question is what sort of mechanics we will see tribes and abilities being focused on. I’m hoping we see a whole myriad of possibilities! I wish you all the very best of deck construction and mulligans, and may the cards be ever in your favor!


Strixhaven the Set A Quick Run Down

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Strixhaven is here, and what cards should be on your Commander format shortlist for each color, school, and rarity? What’s going to be the most fun to play in the most social format ever? Let’s find out. There’s some clear standouts and a few “sleepers” here, so I’d like to dig into this piece by piece. We’ll go through the best commons, uncommons, and rares/mythics by color. I’m going to focus on the uncommons and commons over the rares and mythics. The rares and mythics are usually pretty clear as to what decks and strategies they speak to, but the others hold the key to how much playable value is lurking beneath the surface.

White has some interesting cards in this set. Several Magic designers have openly stated that they are trying out new things for White, and whatever they throw at the wall and sticks is what they’re going with. For the sake of excitement there’s Secret Rendezvous. This is not Alan Seeger’s excellent poem, “I have a Rendezvous with Death”, but a secret card draw spell for white. It’s similar to Homeland’s Truce. You and an opponent each get to draw cards. You are spending a card to cast this, so you are being “disadvantaged” when compared to the opponent you are sharing the gift with. Perhaps that’s a good way for white to get card draw. It helps others while helping itself? It seems mostly on point. There’s certainly precedence for it. Meanwhile, the other white mechanic being attempted here is the one on Mila, Crafty Companion. This isn’t a monowhite cards, so it doesn’t get to be slotted into mono-white decks. That’s the biggest downside to this card. If it was something that could be jammed in any mono-white build, then perhaps we’d find out a lot faster how flavorful and effective a taxable draw is in a white deck. I suspect that this mechanic will fit nicely in white. There’s some precedence for white taxing other colors with cards as early as Karma, and more recent cards like Ghostly Prison. Seeing white get the taxable draw mechanic seems like a decent way to go. I’m certainly not opposed to white being able to do this. The last addition to white card draw is Introduction to Prophecy. Scry 2 and then draw card. Wait, that’s a colorless card you say. Well, my friends, I don’t expect a single mono-white deck in existence not to suddenly jam this in the 99. I’m not kidding. While other colors have other options for drawing cards, this is now one of white’s best options. To be blunt, Introduction to Prophecy will be everyone’s mono-white introduction to the philosophy of cycling through their decks and selecting the best cards for each situation. It’s a pricey cantrip, but the scry makes it worth it in a color so starved for worthwhile cantrips and card selection.

I love the not so great original Sea Serpent. I also enjoy modern takes on sea serpents like this new Wormhole Serpent. Wow, this going to be fun in an Arixmethes the Slumbering Isle or other sea monster build. Making giant sea monsters so slippery they are unblockable is very fun for their controllers. It might be painful for those dealing with the unblockable serpents. The best part of this is that it will draw removal away from the more serious threats that you have on the board. Wormhole Serpent makes all those random big creatures without evasion into terrifying game-ending beat-sticks. I’m so looking forward to sliding this one into a deck.

Speaking of playing for fun, Snow-Day is wonderful. I’m a teacher by trade, and I look forward to snow days more than my students. I cannot wait to cast this during my next snow day and declare myself an auto-winner for flavorful play of the day. Of course I’ll probably feel someone’s wrath shortly afterward. Feel free to keep one handy on snowy nights. Snow Day is no Ingenious Mastery (which is so silly good and silly flexible), but it really feels like a fun card to run. Meanwhile, Curate looks to be a fun card as well for sifting decks and reanimating strategies. Meanwhile, Multiple Choice, much like its real world counterpart seems so flexible and useful at first glance. However, it really is just another disappointing and limited tool. I wasn’t overly excited about anything mono-blue in this set. The MDFC cards that have blue in them, and the traditional multi-color cards with blue are definitely exciting. It’s nice to see that mono-blue isn’t getting all the love, but then again it really hasn’t for many years now. It seems to get the randomly or inexplicable powerhouse every now and then. I can’t help but point to cards like Hullbreacher or even the once hated True-Name Nemesis (who doesn’t seem quite so broken these days). Blue has some decent stuff lurking below the surface.

I’ve had my eye on Eyetwitch, and I’m just so happy to see another creature that can attack when I have my Evil Eye of Orms by Gor in play. That combined with Evil Eye of Urborg, and we’re inching closer to Sauron’s Evil Eye Tribal. Perhaps when the Lord of the Rings set releases we will get a Legendary Eye to helm that absurd deck. Keep your eyes peeled for those spoilers. Ok, sorry, I have the puns out of my system now. Anyway, Eyetwitch looks like great fun in reanimator strategies. It provides a sacrifice outlet for cards like Victimize while using the Learn mechanic to dump reanimation targets into the graveyard. Another grossly good common is Plumb the Forbidden. That card looks seriously strong in any tokens deck or anything running Gravepact. I have a feeling people will be plumbing the depths of despair with this seriously solid common. Crushing Disappointment feels like it won’t be as good as we hope it to be. Making everyone lose life while drawing two cards is decent, but I just don’t love leaving up four mana to draw two cards. Blue black decks will struggle to find room for this, and I doubt it will actually slot in, unless you just don’t have other alternatives in your collection. The best place for Crushing Disappointment will be life-loss decks, like Rakdos, Lord of Riots decks, and a few others of its ilk. Of course, it being an instant doesn’t mesh all that well with casting creatures unless you have your pall the Vedalken Orrery out. Now, Tenured Inkcaster looks grossly powerful for Marchesa builds. Any black and X deck boasting +1/+1 counters is slotting this thing in and stealing games with it as well. It’s a bit like casting an Overrun that doesn’t require you to actually deal the combat damage. If you go wide with this in a black white tokens and counters deck, then this card is a dangerous and powerful finisher. It laughs at Spore Frog and that Constant Mists that keeps being bought back. This is the type of uncommon I love to see, because it functions like a mythic rare in the right decks. As for Mage Hunter, I’m impressed with its hateful mechanic. It feels like a modern  take on Ichneumon Druid. Granted this helps punish people doing more than just casting extra spells—you get to nail them for each copy they place on the stack. It feels like using Chain of Smog, Professor Onyx, Hive Mind, and Mage Hunter will be a Johnny Combo Player dream come true. Meanwhile, Unwilling ingredient might be the cutest and most flavorful one mana black creature since Blood Pet. I’m loving the design on that card. There’s a surprising depth of usefulness in black’s uncommons and commons. The problem is that the cards are really only good in particular archetypes and shine only when coupled with synergistic cards. I don’t really believe that’s actually a problem, but a pretty great thing. Don’t be afraid to plumb the depths of darkness in black’s Strixhaven offerings.

Red commons seemed less than exciting to me this time around. Sure, Heated Debate is neat in that it is uncounterable. Three mana for four damage at instant speed is an interesting version of Flames of the Bloodhand. I’ll probably skip running Heated Debate in just about every Commander deck I have. I struggled to find anything exciting in the red commons. The Blood Age General seemed neat in the right Boros builds, and that’s it. Oh, wait, I did notice a dragon card—Dragon’s Approach. That seems like a meme deck, and I fully expect several more versions of it to keep getting listed by people. This is a deck that demands some mathematics. I’m not super interested in building it, but I know I will. I have pages of red dragons just waiting to be cheated in with something other than Dragon Storm. I love that this card actually makes Spell Weaver Helix something that can be played in Commander. I had a sweet Crush of Wurms and Life from the Loam deck that I ran back when Ravnica first came out. I’m excited to build something with Spell Weaver Helix again. Imprinting Dragon’s Approach and Dragon Storm on that Spell Weaver Helix seems like a really fun thing to do in Commander. Spell Weaver Helix is a card that I’ve longingly looked at and wished I could find a way to abuse. Thankfully, the door is open, and dragons will be coming! Maybe I’ll try and do something gross with Balustrade Spy, Bladewing the Risen, and few other sneaky tools. This is another Johnny Combo Player beauty. It feels like this set was made for the combo player in us all. The red uncommons feel pretty narrow, and where the other colors seemed to have some real solid synergies that enabled a few of the cards to be worth serious consideration, I just don’t see it in red. Academic Dispute is maybe a cool and spicy combat tool? The rest just feel very clunky and not particularly exciting. Sorry red, but you’ve gotten plenty of love or should I say treasures, lately.

Green is usually gas. Green gets the most love in modern Magic, and I don’t think Strixhaven (the spells matter set) disappoints for the “creatures matter most” color. Before I speak about a couple neat creatures I’d like to say that the spicy life gain that green is seeing really harkens back to original green’s love for life gain. Stream of Life was the original big life gain spell, and it wasn’t until Alabaster Potion was printed that we got to see white take on a dedicated life gain role. Fortifying Draught (pronounced draft) is a sneaky and wonderful tool for life gain decks. I can totally see someone activating a wellwisher or sacrificing beasts to Ravenous Baloth to one shot someone out of nowhere with this. That’s the type of ridiculous play I love to see. Also, don’t forget that if your creature has lifelink and double strike you can cast this after the first strike damage is dealt, and then pump your creature for gross amounts of damage. Just a fun trick that was first pioneered by Umezawa’s Jitte users back in the days of Kamigawa block. Devouring Tendrils is no Tendrils of Agony. It’s OK, but it’s the type of conditional green creature dependent removal that can be OK, but can also just be utterly useless. To wrap up the spells I’d like to mention how nicely flexible Tangletrap is. Flier hate that hits most fliers that matter, and artifact hate for all those equipment that run wild on everyone. Blow up those swords or knock out those pesky angels with Tangletrap. Now for creatures the standout at common and uncommon is definitely Reckless Amplimancer. I mean elves definitely needed another two mana elf that scales grossly as the game goes longer, right? It’s a solid include in most elf builds, and a fine filler for early builders. Bookwurm is an intriguing card, but even though it replaces itself, I’m not sure I want to spend 8 mana on a 7/7 trample that draws me a card. It does have potential to be annoying, and so by replacing itself and gaining 3 life it could be a decent enough filler in decks that need card draw, big creatures, and perhaps cheap (monetarily inexpensive) reanimation targets. Overall, green leaves most of its grossly powerful cards for the set in the rare and mythic slots. However, overall, the cards are just more narrow.

Getting buffeted with “good-stuff” in every color set after set makes building decks a bit less exciting. However, when good cards show up for particular strategies, then we are allowed to brew and tinker and make our decks our own. So, I feel that despite seeing so many decent cards in the common and uncommons slots for reach color we actually have a decent quality set for Commander play. The rares and mythics are no exception to the design theory in this set. The set, as a whole, appears to be very mechanically driven. The cards in the set work very well when they are allowed to synergize with other cards. If you take most of the mythics and rares from this set and randomly slot them into decks of the appropriate colors you may find yourself disappointed when you draw them. When you look at the elder dragons you’ll see what I mean. They don’t just go in any deck running those colors. They either demand a deck built around them as the commander, or they require a deck that leverages the same mechanics and abilities that they possess or enable. This set is really a breath of fresh air for a standard set.

Most cards in the set are not good in a vacuum, and don’t slot into “good stuff” decks. That’s quite the accomplishment when you consider just how many cards a set like Throne of Eldraine allowed us to just toss into any deck of that card’s color. I could go on about each individual mythic and rare, but I’ll just wrap things up by saying that the cycles that were made in this set are a great example of what I’m talking about. I just touched on the elder dragons, but let’s look at the commands for each school.

Lorehold Command isn’t something that every Boros deck wants or needs to run. At five mana it’s a bit intensive, and it can work in go wide strategies, but not necessarily an equipment based build or even a more controlling build. The same thing holds true for the

Prismari Command. It really needs ways to take advantage of its abilities and finds itself at a competitive mana cost where there are mana three mana card draw and removal spells that make this thing seem just OK in builds that don’t leverage it to greater effect. Spell slinger decks or phoenix type strategies seem the best place for this particular command.

Quandrix Command feels like an odd-ball hoser card. It can punish people running enchantment and artifact spells and recursion. The other modes seem to be a little lackluster for three mana, but they do offer options, and options are a powerful part of Magic.

Silverquill Command is another mediocre offering for black and white builds. It does have some interesting options, but I’d like to point out that this spell is not an instant. It’s a sorcery, and at that speed it really feels a lot less appealing. I’m not saying it should have been an instant, because then it’s a much more powerful card. Yet, as is…well, it’s got options.

Witherbloom Command is the cheapest of the bunch at only 2 mana. It’s probably also the most limited of them all, and really seems like something most Commander decks will be totally fine not running. I mean it does have options, but a slew of poor choices adds up to a poor card. I’m not saying it won’t be good in other formats, but in Commander…well, I’m not enamored.

The best parts of this set are still great things for Commander—Mystic Archive and synergy focused mechanics. The Mystical Archive cards are wonderful. This is probably the best way we’ve ever gotten reprints. They appear in every booster pack, offer unique art, and help break up the monotony of cracking packs for a set. Old reprints and new cards in the same pack is the perfect way to cater to both new and established players. The Mystical Archive isn’t part of the main set, and it may sound like a slight to the set when I say it’s the best part. I don’t mean that the base set itself is awful for Commander players. It does have plenty to offer, but its offerings are more in line with what a Standard set should offer to Commander players. This set gives us mechanically focused cards that slot well into mechanically similar decks. There are cards that work great when they synergize, but fall mostly flat without support. This helps keep power creep from becoming power leap. Overall, Strixhaven is a set that is Standard legal, has great flavor, and offers Commander players interesting and unique tools. That’s great set design, and I hope that we see more sets like this in the future.


Three Card Buying Tips from a Magic Card Addict

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

My major new year’s resolution/collector’s quest was to buy a card a day every single day during the year of 2021. With the first quarter of the new year over I figured it was time for a check-in. So far, so great! I’ve learned an awful lot about purchasing cards. As a player and collector with 25 years of experience, buying cards is nothing new to me. I am a bargain hunter at heart, so much so my wife calls me “penny” when I’m being extra cheap, so this has been a real test of my frugality. I have spent many hours over the years researching prices, waiting for buying opportunities, and trading cards to gain incremental value. I’m no card store owner, and I’m no MTG day trader, so I’m not claiming I have all the answers. If anything, this quest has humbled me many times already. I have learned quite a few new tricks and I’d like to share three big lessons with you from the three months I’ve been at this quest. I’d like to offer my new three major Magic card buying tips that anyone can benefit from. If you’re looking to get the most out of your card buying experience, then please keep reading to find out what makes the most sense in today’s modern market.


This is the first big rule that I’ve always clung to, and it has always paid off. You need to educate yourself about what the current prices for certain cards are. Thankfully, this is really pretty easy with all the apps, websites, and internet access we now have. Back in the 90’s you had to reference Scry Magazine or  Duelist or other printed guides, and those could easily become out of date after a major tournament or development had taken place. It was pretty cool if you had the inside scoop, because I remember picking up some cards for ridiculously good prices when the seller wasn’t up to snuff on the current prices. I managed to pick up a Force of Will once for a Force of Nature trade-in offer. The Force of Nature was popular with the local players, and Force of Will was too much life and too many cards to justify playing. In today’s market it is much more difficult to find deals like these, but they do pop up now and again. I was at a Flea Market a few years ago, and I managed to pick up Alurens, Food Chains, and even a foil Arcbound Ravager for fifty cents each. They were in the unsorted bulk bins, and I pulled them out and stall owner didn’t even bat an eye as I forked over a few hundred in cash for the hundreds of cards I had pulled out. In today’s fast-paced market, I often find myself visiting MTGstocks to see if there’s a current pricing trend for a card or even to see if I’m buying a card at its current peak price. This research assures that you don’t end up over-paying for the cards you want. Also, it helps you realize when someone is offering a deal that needs to be snapped up.

I have over-payed a couple of times, but not by more than a dollar or two, and not more than three times so far this year. The times I ended up over-paying this year were a direct result of me not doing my prior research and hurrying up to buy my card for the day. So, when you are ready to buy a couple cards or maybe even 99 cards, I highly suggest you research the current prices first.


I have found that dealing with people is different from dealing with computers and video games. Games and computers have hard and fast rules, only respond to logical inputs, and often leave me feeling unfulfilled and annoyed. Meanwhile, talking with a fellow player or store owner is usually much more rewarding. Sharing your story about why you’re hunting cards down is often fun for others to hear. I love hearing about what plans people have for particular cards they are buying. These types of human interactions have been woefully absent from far too many of our lives for far too long. It is sad that we haven’t been able to gather for Magic, but half a million deaths is far sadder. I don’t want to be doom and gloom about what’s happened, but it has. Covid has temporarily crushed the gathering aspect, but I stress temporary. It’s sad, and I’m hopeful that our future will be far brighter. We will see a safe return to in-person playing, and we can enjoy our hobby with our fellow humans soon enough. This is a wonderful thought, and sharing our stories about what we bought during our time away from one another will be a way to share some joy with each other.

However, if you have the chance to chat with the dealer you’re working with, then they just might cut you a deal. The ability to haggle is something that not everyone has. I’m not really much of a haggler myself. My father-in-law loves to give salesmen a hard time, whereas I like to give them a good time. I guess I just figure that if we all enjoy one another’s time, then perhaps the seller will offer me their best price. People can buy cards anywhere, but you can’t talk turkey just anywhere. Going to your LGS, chatting about cards, sets, and ideas is great for everyone involved. This often leads to all of us building human capital. We appreciate each other more, and as a result we respect one another a bit more. In mutual respect comes mutual acknowledgement of each other’s needs. We know our store needs to make money, and our store knows we only have so much to spend. When these two things meet in the middle it is a beautiful thing. I’ve even found this helpful when placing orders through online dealers by making contact with my store through email.

Humans have always told stories, and it is our stories that connect us. I know we don’t all have the gift of gab, but perhaps gifting a little gab about our passion will get us all farther in the end. Wisdom through experience and knowledge through absorption. Talking about what joys we anticipate and what cards bring us fond memories is a great way to begin our face to face transactions. When making offers online it can be easy to eschew our human nature for expedient communication. That is not the way to gain human capital or further your network of friendly Magic players. Tell your story a bit, and you may end up with another good deal to share.


I’ll be honest that there are days I can’t get to my LGS to make my purchase. There are days that I don’t find what I need on my LGS’s website, and so I’ve turned to eBay and TCG player to find the cards I want. Now, I remember using eBay when it was normal to buy from non-power sellers. I often bought from other people, because that’s who was selling cards. It would take up to a month to get cards, but they almost always came. I only ever had to file 2 complaints during the first decade I used Ebay. When I began this quest I had made several predictions. One of which was that I would have no mailing or delivery issues. I had high faith in the systems. I was proven wrong. I saw a seller with no reviews, but several cards posted for sale. The cards were all very cheap, and the pictures were all original. They were taken with a cell phone, were blurry, and all had the same hand holding each card that was for sale. This told me this was probably just a regular person trying to sell extra cards for a little extra cash. The cheap prices probably just meant they wanted the money now. So, I took the bait and bought four cards. I waited, and waited, and waited. I kept wondering if it was too good to be true. Could I be getting ripped off? Man, I really wanted to play with those cards. I had to play games without the cards I had planned on having. I had decks ready to go and couldn’t run them because the commander wasn’t here yet. Finally, I contacted the seller and then shortly afterwards filed a claim. It stunk. I felt bad about it, but realized that I shouldn’t be the one who feels bad. I’m not the one scamming someone. I got my money back, eventually, and then set off to re-purchase the cards I had originally bought. Thankfully, I was able to replace all of the cards for even less than I had payed for them initially.

The lesson here is that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. A simple lesson, and I had to learn it the hard way. I will say that I’ve never had this problem when I go to my LGS, pick out a card, pay for it, and then sleeve up within a few minutes of arriving home. Heck, my PayPal payment doesn’t even clear before I sleeve up a card from my LGS. The consistency, safety, and convenience of buying in-person should never be under estimated. Once you factor shipping and the hidden time cost of buying online, it can be easy to see the advantages of picking up your cards locally.

In this digital age people often believe that nothing tops the convenience of online ordering. I can actually imagine a world where people pay for MTG PRIME and have cards shipped in one day to their homes. It sounds awful to me. It destroys the very things that keep our gaming traditions and our gaming cultures alive and developing. We don’t evolve when we isolate. Like any species that is isolated we turn to specialization in order to thrive. Yet, when our specialization turns us away from the foundational elements of success, how are we to ever continue to evolve. I would think that de-evolution is the only course that could arise from this state. We could very well become morlocks from H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, only playing Magic on Arena and never gathering again. A simple series of button emoticons will express our only thoughts while playing…yuck! We could allow our gathering skills to atrophy and ultimately disappear. The game would evolve, but the course of its evolution could lead to an elimination of what brings so many of us to Magic. Gathering is key, and when we support our local stores, then we support our own ability to gather.

I have more often played with my friends at a kitchen table or other home furnishing than at my LGS. That doesn’t mean I don’t love going to the store and spending time there. I do. It’s awesome. I just find that the play group I’ve developed over years has been a result of people I’ve met through Magic, and so I know that without those stores that story and that cycle of players and friends developing life-long connections from Magic will cease to exist. As someone that has found amazing friends through Magic, I can say that Magic: the Gathering has made my life better, and that any way to help support this subculture (supporting a local store whenever possible) is more than worth doing. In a world where we vote with our money, I choose to vote locally, and I choose to keep this game alive and running.

Keeping your research current, sharing your stories, and avoiding crazy good deals are the top three tips I have to offer at this time. I’ve learned plenty of other lessons from buying a card every single day, but for now I’ll leave you with these three. These three tips can help anyone out there get the best bang for their buck. I have more tips and tricks to share, but for now I think these three should be enough to keep your collections growing without pillaging your wallets. Until next time, I hope Magic brings you as much joy as it keeps brining to me. 


Mystical Archives’ Artistic Advancements

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

The Mystical Archive cards are really pretty cool. They’re not like Secret Lair cards, and that’s a good thing. These bonus cards are exactly the type of bonus that Magic needs to include in their regular packs as often as possible. These cards are no where near as rare as the inventions from Kaladesh or those pretty cool Expeditions we’ve seen twice over now. They are even more plentiful than the most recent “bonus slot” that we saw with the time shifted cards in Time Spiral Remastered. The frequency at which Mystical Archive cards appear is honestly a boon to most players. I don’t foresee these becoming super collectible, as the supply should be super high on these things. Cassie, on Cassie’s Calls for TCG player, had a great take on these cards, and I agree with her as for their future projected values. I’m more excited to discuss the aesthetic effect these cards create.

Let’s go back a few months to when Commander Legends came out. Opening packs of Commander Legends was just awesome. As a Commander/EDH player I just love seeing legendary creatures in my packs. I love seeing big flashy spells. When flashy spells, multiple legendary creatures, and bonus rares show up in my packs, well, I’m over the moon about it. I just feel like I’m getting more for my money. The playable value of commons and uncommons for my Commander/EDH collection just continues to grow. Avoiding chaff and bolstering my ability to build multiple decks from pack cracking is where I want to be whenever I peeling foil wrappers off packs. I love buying singles, but the rush of cracking a pack—well, you know. Everyone loves that fresh ink smell.  I wrote about the playable value that Commander Legends had, and that is similar to what we find in Strixhaven. There’s some solid value at the rare and uncommon range for Commander players, and there’s a few commons that come to mind as being potential staples for deck building. So, cracking some packs and walking away with usable cards is pretty likely. The commons and uncommons don’t overwhelmingly seem to be great fits for varieties of Commander/EDH archetypes. This is no Commander Legends 2 (it is a Standard set after all), but it is still a pretty solid set for the Commander community. We can look forward to getting a decent number of legendary creatures and several worthwhile spells for all levels of competitiveness.

Even more than the playable value or legendary as-fan (how often a legendary card appears in a pack), the variety of art is what I’m most excited by in these Strixhaven packs. Too often I find myself a bit bored with the homogenized art style in Magic’s recent sets. Now, I’m not at all trying to say that the artwork isn’t excellent. It is. The art is great, the artists are fantastically talented, and aside from the random cards by a few of the older artists with unique styles (Rebecca Guay comes to mind, obviously) the art is very similar. I guess my gripe might be aimed more adequately at Magic’s art director? I’m honestly unsure. Yet, I am a lot less “gripe-y” about having these unique looking cards in every pack. They really serve to break up the art style. I mean, sure, Seb McKinnon and a few others have styles that differ a bit, but it really isn’t like it was back in the 90’s. I’m not saying that the 90’s was perfect, or anything near perfect to be totally honest. Yet, the art had a variety about it. When you opened packs of card the artwork wasn’t super similar. The Mystical Archive provides artistic variety similarly to those great comic book showcase treatments that Ikoria did. Ikoria did a lot of things right for a set released when a lot of things were going wrong the whole world over. It provided people with many of their favorite non-Magic IP property treatments (the Godzilla-skinned cards) and it utilized showcase treatments to provide a unique art style within the context of its overall world. The Mystical Archive fills this gap in a unique way.

Over the years, it seems like there’s a push to ensure that we feel the cards and characters are all from the same world. Yet, does that mean they all need to be styled alike? I wouldn’t think so, but if you look at Magic’s art direction it clearly seems to point in exactly that direction. Making all your creatures of a certain type look similar in a given world helps lend it consistency. The horned elves of Lorwyn or the Merfolk of Ixalan seem to be solid examples of that style of art direction. The crystalline themes throughout the Ikoria set also brought this home. Yet, I’m not convinced the entire art style needs to be adopted in order to sell us that story. Those Ikoria cards with the showcase treatments still incorporated crystals and feel of the plane, but managed to provide a variety of artistic treatments that were stylistically unique. It seems that in selling us a story we’ve lost that fine art feel that Magic could once give you. You could open packs where artworks were wildly different, and you could debate with your friends about which artist had the best style. I’m not sure this debate can even exist as it once did. Today’s art is all so hyper realistic—which is fine when it’s a few artists styles, but becomes a bit repetitive when it’s all we see. I don’t want to sound like I’m being negative. I love Magic, and I love Magic card art. I enjoy the modern hyper realistic art style, but I also miss cards that were after Quintin Hoover’s comic book style. I miss the artistic variety that could once be found in a normal pack of cards. Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive cards bring that back. They do it in a way that’s very similar to Ikoria’s showcase treatments. However, they do it all while combining people’s requests for reprints. It’s the beauty of “the list” reprints and showcase treatments combined.

I guess that’s another reason I loved these Mystical Archive cards. You could get totally different vibes from a variety of creatures or spells, and still believe that it was all the same “world” or “plane” without issue. By using this lithographic or manuscript style and making the cards have their own feel and way of existing in the world of Strixhaven is really a stroke of genius (why wasn’t that in the mystical archive…hmmm). I mean, they must’ve untapped their Tolarian Academy and had a real turnabout in order to come to the conclusion that providing reprints, utilizing showcase treatments, and still tying it all back to the current set’s plane is just phenomenal. Really, when I step back and think about how that all works together I’m so pleasantly pleased by it all that I’m shocked it didn’t happen earlier. Whoever had this brainchild deserves some serious KUDOS! When you look at the evolution of cards and treatments from Ikoria through now the evolutionary line seems pretty clear. I’m even accounting for the “out of planned order” release of sets. This progressive build to making reprints highly available in each pack while still linking them with the plane and yet creating visually unique versions is awesome. In short, Mystical Archive cards get everything right. I know that not everyone will like the border treatments or even the art style. That’s not the point. The point is that we can have cards that buck the current trends, create unique takes, and still work within the greater framework of the game. This is wonderfully positive news. These spells of the past bring unprecedented hope for the future of Magic: the Gathering.

It is going to be very cool when we get a chance to reflect back on this set and see what it helped lead to in the next ten years or so. These series of advancements in art variety, reprint accessibility, and story inclusion are promising indeed. Being able to discuss and talk about this is really cool. I hope that we are in an even better space a year from now, and that we will be free to discuss this at our tables–together–while shuffling and debating who has the best Brainstorm art in their 99.


Building with the Brainstorm Box

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

I like to keep my cards organized. I wasn’t always good at it, and everything I’ve learned about organizing I’ve learned the hard way. Having a system to organize your Magic card collection is important. Organizing Magic cards is a tricky business for players. I have written on this topic before, and if you’re ready to take the deep dive into deck building, then I highly suggest you go read my other article about sorting for brewing. Today I’m going to provide you with an alternative way to build your Commander decks. Building a deck all at once can be instantly satisfying, but you might not always have a few hours strung together to do it. Perhaps you have several ideas for building Commander decks, and you just can’t finish them all. Whatever the reason, I have the deck building solution for you—the brainstorm box. I started doing this back in January. I needed a way to build multiple decks at once, but also be able to come back to them whenever I had time to spare. The brainstorm box allows you to build several decks at once without having to finish any in a single session.

The reasoning behind doing this particular style of deck construction is really two-fold. One benefit of the brainstorm box is keeping track of your ideas in a tangible and obvious location. It helps keep ideas from getting lost in the shuffle. I try to write my deck ideas down in my brainstorming notebook, but I don’t always remember to look them back up in time to build them. I sometimes stumble across them while I’m searching for a blank page, and then I’m down the Brownie-Tribal meets Kithkin alliance rabbit hole again. Basically, you need a place to physically keep your deck ideas while you are building them. The box helps make sure your decks have a shot of actually being finished. Forgotten deck lists do exist, and they are often buried beneath piles of paperwork. As nice as it is to unearth your Draganimation (Dragon Reanimation) decklist from 2003, it’s just a bummer to realize you never actually built it in the first place. The brainstorm box fixes this issue. You begin building even when you haven’t finished planning. It functions like a brainstorm session; you put your cards (read ideas) in a deck as you go. Your decks don’t have to be finished and you don’t have to abandon your paper plans. Use them together, but also allow yourself to begin building prior to finishing your planning. The deck begins to come together in an organic and natural fashion. 

The other main function that the brainstorm box fixes for building Commander decks is the time crunch. Responsibilities intrude on our Magic time more often than not. Unfortunately, some of us may end up abandoning deck building altogether, as we never have more than an hour or two free. Whenever we have more free time, then we’d prefer to actually be playing Magic, rather than building the deck to play the game. I get it. Not everyone has the time to build a deck from start to finish, and so we plan and plan and then forget. We pine for more time, and we may or may not get it. Having your deck physically waiting for you to finish it is highly motivating. Having a few cards and maybe all the lands it needs set aside in your brainstorm box really helps to visualize your goals. The idea behind this is simple, if you start building it, the deck will come. It’s a veritable field of dreamhalls waiting to happen. Being able to drop a few minutes here and there always helps to build your deck ever closer to its first form. I’ve built over eight decks so far this year using this very method. I currently have about twelve more in various stages of completion. I’m inching, in some cases quite literally, closer to completing my new decks each day. When you have small amounts of time that you can utilize well, then you are able to maximize your results. We all want to maximize our free time.

The reason for needing a brainstorm box is really something that can be blamed on Commander Legends. That set is amazing, but it also has given us so many new tools, new Commanders, and new tricks to play, that an explosion of deck building is still occurring over one set. That set has really helped explode the variety of Commanders that people have easy access to. Sure, you could play Ur-Drago or Tolsimir Wolf Blood, or even Gosta Dirk, but you probably prefer to play the newer “designed for Commander” legends instead. So, it’s no wonder that we all have so many more decks we want to build. Having such an explosion of unique and mechanically inspiring legends is wonderful. Thus, I started using the brainstorm box.

The brainstorm box is a physical plan for drafting your Commander decks. The plan for organizing Commander decks is simple. You start with a card or two that will represent your idea. If you are inspired by your Commander, then sleeve it up and toss it in the box. You can use a bundle case, a fat pack box, or any other card box that is large enough to house several Magic decks at once. Once you have a box dedicated toward Commander deck brainstorming, then you go ahead and start breaking it up into sections. I suggest using either dividers, sleeved cards, or paper slips with notes scrawled on them. I honestly prefer using my scraps of paper, because they are easily read, and feel a bit primitive. I like to consider myself an educated brute. So, when I open the lid of my brainstorm box I am greeted with scrawled names that denote which sections are dedicated to my budding dreams of Commander glory.

Once you have labels and dividers set, now you can start tossing together the cards for each deck idea. You can have as many or as few cards as you want to start the deck building process. I have deck ideas with as few as five measly cards and others that need only five cards to finish them. The way the box helps you move toward completion is highly satisfying. Seeing your decks get built feels good. A little tip for seeing added progress is to fill in the basic lands your deck needs so that it starts looking like a stack of cards early on. Seeing a wider stack makes you more inclined to keep it going and finish it up as soon as possible. Nothing quite like tricking you into doing work, which is fun, to avoid thinking of fun as work. Yeah…that was a bit much, sorry. Whenever I get cards in from a mail order, or a pick up from my LGS, then I come home and drop them into their appointed slots. I don’t even need minutes to do this sort of organizing. This takes moments. I may not have the time to even sleeve the cards into a rare binder, but I do have the time to drop them into the appropriate brainstorming slot in my Commander deck-building box.

Using the brainstorming box is fun. I highly suggest you try it out and maybe do so by snagging those uncommon legends you have from Commander Legends and start brewing those decks today. All it takes is a few scraps of paper and a spare box. This is a great way to maximize your time and efforts when you are deck building with limited free time. I know that several weeks or even a month can pass by, and I’m unable to carve out a multi-hour session for deck brewing. However, the brainstorming box allows me to chip in a few minutes whenever I have them. I am able to build multiple decks simultaneously. I can even clean up an entire brewing session early if I have to run off somewhere. I simply scoop up the deck, toss it in the box with its brutish label attached, and I can pick it up later right where I left off. A few additional pointers I’d like to suggest include keeping sleeves or basic lands in half the box to help fill it out when you are just starting off. As your number of decks increase in number and size then you may not need the filler space, and you can adjust accordingly. Also, as you finish builds it’s nice to have a checklist taped to the underside of the box to help you keep track of all your deck building accomplishments. I hope you find this useful and I know that the brainstorming box keeps me motivated and excited about deck building even when I’m crunched for time. Keep on magictating my friends, and I’ll see you at the Commander table again soon enough. 

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Should you play infinite combos in your Commander decks?

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

If you are a die-hard combo player, then I think you’ve already found your answer. However, I’m more interested in parsing out if it’s acceptable to have an infinite combo in your Commander (EDH) deck. I’m not talking about cEDH mind you, because I’m pretty sure if it’s not banned, then it’s all good over in that sub-format. I don’t play Commander for cut-throat competition, but instead for friendly competition. I’m more of a social player, as are most Commander players, and as I’ve been over that avenue before I’d like to spend some time instead teasing out the issues inherent when employing combos in traditional Commander circles. For the sake of clarity, when I refer to infinite combos in this column I’m referencing game-ending combinations of cards that end the game. The complex question about their validity in casual Commander is comprised of many layers. Should we, as casual players, allow ourselves to employ the infinite combo? Is it right to have a deck that should otherwise have lost a game, suddenly win because we’ve assembled a two or three card combo? Do we need decks to have access to combos in order to avoid stalled board states? Is it against the spirit of the format to include combos that crush your friends while denying them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams? These are valid questions, and the answers are trickier to assemble than you might think.

Should we allow our friends to play infinite combos in their Commander decks? The answer here is found by rounding up some more questions. Is your idea of a good game one where players expand and develop strategies over time? If yes, then combos may still be acceptable. Do you want the game to progress and reset and progress again? If yes, then combos may still be acceptable. Do you want the game to end suddenly, and at times without warning? If yes, then mobilize those combos. Do you want people to win in ways that are clear and allow traditional answers to stop them from winning? If you answered yes to this, then you probably don’t want to see infinite combos in your games. Infinite combos win games, and they do so instantly: the game is over once the combo is initiated. I don’t necessarily have an issue with someone creating unlimited mana with their Basalt Monolith and their Power Artifact. This can happen fairly early, but unless the deck is solely built around capitalizing on this, then the table should have an opportunity to stop it. Traditional answers can be utilized and the game can be saved from the calamity of the combo. The key here is the vulnerability of the combo, and the viability of it to win the game on the spot. The ability to create an advantage that is difficult to overwhelm is far different from ending the game. I see no reason to scoop my cards up until I’m dead, and when other players run up an advantage that’s the opportunity for the rest of the multiplayer and political avenues of the Commander format to shine.

It may seem to some that combos are better when they end games, but it really depends on when and how that is happening. The difference here is subtle, but I don’t like losing to someone when they win using the same two or three cards every single game. This is one of the many reasons I don’t usually like having tutors in my decks. Sure, tutors can be used as a tool box concept, but I really don’t like seeing a deck that has fifteen tutor effects, a two card combo, fifteen pieces of recursion for the combo, and proceeds to follow the same lines of play every single game. I feel that is just not in the spirit of Commander. In fact, I would go so far as to say that game-ending combos destroy the soul of the casual Commander format. The format is casual, political, multiplayer. The infinite combo is inherently anti-casual. It is competitive to a degree that can lock out many decks from ever winning. It brings back memories of old tournament formats that ran along the lines of rock, paper, scissors (aggro, combo, control). The casual scene is not the place for hyper competitive combos. Additionally, combos ignore that there are multiple players (or in the worst cases ignores all other players). The worst offenders are decks that are essentially playing against themselves in an effort to assemble the pieces as quickly as possible. I don’t mind combo decks in other formats, but I’m fairly certain that those decks are breaking the social atmosphere of Commander. They crush people’s dreams and syphon away the fun that comes from the ebb and flow of a traditional multiplayer game. The last piece of the puzzle is the political aspect. The infinite game-ending combo eschews all political pretexts. When the combo player goes off it doesn’t matter what you wanted to do the next turn. It doesn’t matter how you could have helped one another to a first and second place victory. It doesn’t matter what your name is, because the combo just stole the game. In essence, the infinite game-ending combination crushes the soul of a Commander game.

I know that some of you wonder at why we would want to play games that have “stalled board states”, and I shake my head in response. What is the definition of a stalled board state? Stasis lock? Stax decks employing oppressive tactics with Goblin Welder and Smokestack? People having developed armies of creatures and waiting to attack each other? Those are pretty different circumstance. Ultimately, the only stalled board states exist when people are playing that sub-game of politics within the normal bounds of Magic. A stalled board state doesn’t require an infinite combo to break it up. It simply requires some bravery, a bargain perchance, or even a little stupidity or gullibility. It requires an over extension, a leap in faith, or perhaps simply a wrath effect. These states do not require a combo to end the game. When creatures have stalled the game we don’t have to turn to a combo. Those players have been fighting and maneuvering to position themselves into defensive states with the hope of taking the offensive. The armies and resources amassed have been building all game long, and then when they are a turn or two from breaking the “stalled” board, the combo says, “it doesn’t matter what your plan was, because the game is over.” The clash of armies, and the activating of artifacts doesn’t matter. There are no repercussions for an attack, and there is no further drama. The game is over. Anti-climatic really. I mean all that fuss and Heliod, Sun Crowned and Walking Ballista just ended it all. That’s a salty ending indeed.

The ease with which a player can call together the pieces of their combo also helps to determine if it is something that seems viable and acceptable by the table at large. The more pieces required to make the combo work, then the more exciting it could potentially become. A two card combo isn’t nearly as exciting as watching someone pull off a four card combo to win the game in a very unexpected and ridiculous manner. When someone pulls off a win with The Cheese Stands Alone…er I mean Barren Glory or even Happily Ever After it is much more satisfying than seeing someone cast Approach of the Second Sun for the second time in the same game. It also feels a lot more exciting when you can interact with that combo and keep it from fusing into that game-ending synergy. This requires work on both the combo player’s part and those that play with the combo player. We need to have interactive cards in our decks in order to avoid stalled board states and instant losses to coalitions of cards popping off. A little interaction goes a long way. It helps build drama and requires the combo player build some redundancies into the deck to account for people interrupting their ability to muster all elements required for victory. However, we still have to wonder what that combo looks like. Is it a focused two card combo to snatch games from having climatic finishes? Or are those combos in the deck merely synergies that allow further development and encourage interaction and the ebb and flow of the game to continue. The way a deck plays helps decides how fitting it is for the casual Commander environment.

How do you get a player in your group to move past their infinite combo kick?

I don’t mind if someone wins with their Commander every time, but I certainly don’t enjoy playing against the same combo every play session. That grows stale for others even faster than it does for those that are playing the combo. I remember playing regular multiplayer. We had eight or so of us playing. My friend Jeff was on an infinite combo kick. He would proceed to take a twenty minute or longer turn in which he would either fizzle out and kill himself (those were the glory days of mana burn), or he would kill all of us as once. That was miserable. So, we figured out a way to stop him from doing this. After he announced his combo, played it out, and then “won” the game, we all decided we would continue playing for second place. We would include him in our next game. The game would invariably stretch on for at least another hour or so (or hours if we managed to live the dream and cast multiple Forks on someone’s Shahrazad). He got the message pretty quickly that we hated playing against that deck. It was fun for him, but the rest of us didn’t have any fun. Am I advocating that you should solve your own play group issues by playing for salty seconds? Yes, yes I am. Does this make me a sore loser and more importantly, are you if you employ this tactic? No. No, you are not. You are attempting to fix a problem. The problem of infinitely repetitive play in a format that people often come to in order to find variety and dream fulfillment. I have never experienced a format where I was able to hard-cast four ultimatums in a single game, and still lose. No, I did not lose to an infinite combo, because if the combo had existed, I suspect I never would have made it to casting the third ultimatum.

Is it against the spirit of the format to include combos that crush your friends while denying them the opportunity to live their dreams? Yes. You may not agree with me, but everyone is allowed to be wrong now and then. If you feel you must build an infinite combo oriented Commander deck, then I highly suggest that you make it as a side project. Do not make that deck your only deck. This style of deck building, at least in Commander, is something that should be approached as a secondary project. Sure, this mistress may become your little obsession, but it could burn you worse than Scorch Thrash with a Mana Flare and Over Abundance lending a hand. Using this style of deck building as a mad scientist’s side project will keep you from becoming Mr. Hyde and allow you to command the kind of respect Dr. Jekyll deserves. The decision to employ game-ending infinite combos is a personal one, but it is also one that will affect your friends. I’m not convinced that casual Commander is the place for game ending infinite combos. So, should we be playing them in our decks? No, but don’t let that stop you. You can do whatever you want, but don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself waiting while your friends play for salty second. 

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40 at 40: A Childhood Wrong Righted

My best friend Doug once said to me, “How many chances do you get to right a childhood wrong?” To be forthright with you, this is an indulgent little article. I turned 40 yesterday, and I finished my dual land quest. I’ve written about this quest before, and I’m happy to say that I’m going to finish it today. I sold off my play set of all 40 dual lands nearly 20 years ago. About ten years ago I made the decision to right that childhood wrong. I can finally say that I have fixed my childhood regret.

Doug came over to drop off a gift for me. It is one of the most thoughtful and amazing gifts I’ve ever received. I was crying as I was reading it and going through it. It was so unexpected and incredibly thoughtful. I’m posting pictures of it below so you can appreciate how special it truly is. He presented me with a little book of cards taped together using hard case sleeves. As I opened it up, it was just amazing to see. He had cut up a few Savanah Lions and a plains, and hid an amazing present inside in order to bring me one step closer to my goal. So, now I would only need a single Bayou to “right my childhood wrong”…and so I have.

It was really an incredible gift. I’m a Magic nerd, and I’m an English teacher. He gave me a book that was Magic cards turned into a haiku with a Savannah hidden in plain sight…NAILED IT!

Yesterday, I traded in a couple cards I had extras of to make the purchase a little easier on me. The current prices for dual lands are a bit higher than when I started my quest. Plateau’s were $40 a piece back in 2011. Savannah, Scrubland, Badlands, and Taiga were around or below $50. I was gifted many lands over the years from my wife and friends, and those gifts have gone a long way toward helping me rebuild the collection. In 2012 Andrew gave me an Unlimited Scrubland. I imagine the market price at the time was around $70. Looking at today’s market puts it close to $600-900. It’s worth nearly 10x what it was 10 years ago. That’s a bit mind boggling. I’m so glad that I started this quest when I did. It would be so much more expensive to rebuy them all if I started out today. I remember seeing auctions for all 40 when I first started, and those auctions would go for anywhere between $1500-$3500 for all 40. As I’m writing this I looked over at eBay to see if any auctions were up for a set of 40, and I found this:

Dual Land Auction for 40 Duals…$30,500

Condition and edition influence prices an awful lot, but overall it comes down to the simple economics of what you are willing to pay. Often times you would see a couple unlimited duals thrown in with people’s mostly revised sets. My original set had at least one unlimited for each land, but I made the concession early on that I would be totally fine just getting revised copies. I have still tried snagging an Unlimited copy here and there whenever it was close in price. However, the gap between Revised and Unlimited copies has widened considerably in recent years.

This little yellow paper was my records sheet for keeping track. It isn’t fully updated, but it’s a nice artifact to symbolize how special and how meaningful this collector’s quest has been. I recorded most of it in pencil so I could update whatever the current prices were as I went. Trading cards in to acquire others has been one of best ways for me get the cards I’ve wanted without sacrificing too much of my budget. I used to love trying to trade my way up to more and more value. I have found that most of the time I can manage to trade away cards at their peaks and snag others at their lows. That’s not to say I haven’t made a few foolish trades, because of course I have. Trading away my Gaea’s Cradle for a Berserk a long time ago was one such instance. I also traded away my Shaharazad and Ali from Cairo too I don’t remember what I traded them for, and that means it wasn’t anything with lasting value. The best items for me to unload were easily the foil basic lands and promo cards that I had functional replacements for. I didn’t lose any play value. Even if I had lost a little collector’s value (which I didn’t) it would have been worth it for the amount of play value dual lands have given me. Seeing the old dual land text box is something that has always brought me joy. I never should have sold them the first time, but I’m happy to say I have them back.

The final card I needed was a Bayou. Today I went to my LGS, and I picked up a Bayou. I traded one of my Serra’s Sanctums to ease the price tag a bit. I had bought four Serra’s Sanctums quite some time ago. It was shortly after someone managed to top 16 a Legacy tournament with a Leyline’s deck that used Serra’s Sanctum to cast Opalescence on turn 1. It was a silly deck, and I played it at a few Legacy tournaments, but overall I figure I’m probably not going to play that deck again. If I do, then I will probably run it with just three Sanctums or perhaps I’ll actually play a “real” Legacy deck. I have all the pieces for quite a few Legacy decks that are far more competitive than the Leylines deck. It just makes good sense to take something I only paid $25 for and use it to buy a dual land at more or less half the price.

Serra’s Sanctum approx. worth $300

When I started this quest I prioritized getting the blue duals, because they were the most expensive. I figured they were the most likely to go up in price first. I wasn’t wrong, and I’m glad I decided to take that path. Looking back, I was able to purchase 3 Tropical Islands for $250 in July of 2011 and the 4th was a gift from my wife. I think she basically stole it for around $45. Compare that to the current cheapest price of $610 for a heavily played Tropical Island, and I did pretty well. The NM Unlimited Tundra I picked up for store credit trade in (foil lands and a foil Jace Beleren book promo) was totally worth it, because that same Tundra is worth more than 10x what I traded for it. Blue duals have long been the best, but the others have all crept up in value too. I also figured that picking up the cheapest ones whenever I saw them was a good idea as well. I always made a point of trading for them if people were willing. Yet, when I began this quest in earnest it was 2011 and most people were either unwilling to trade duals or would only trade duals for duals. Basically, no offers were worth taking. It seems likely to me that trading for duals is not an easy task. Buying them is also difficult, but can easily be worth it if you prioritize your mana base or just simply want the best lands ever made. I know that I enjoy playing with them, and they can certainly be the type of card that is appreciated by all. The fluctuations in the prices among the lands have usually correlated with whatever Legacy decks were best. With Legacy on the decline and Commander on the rise I wonder if that will no longer be the case. It’s certainly possible. Either way, I suspect that duals will probably just keep increasing in price. They are on the reserved list, so collecting them seems pretty safe to me. I can’t say that I’ve ever regretted a single moment on this path to reacquire them.

This quest has been a special one for me. I always loved playing gold/multi-color spells. I have loved legendary creatures since I first got swampwalked by the king himself–Sol-Kanar the Swamp King. So, it’s no wonder that I regretted shipping off those cards. I say this, because I’m not sure I would want to try and buy back every card I once owned. I used to own an Unlimited Black Lotus, a Beta Mox Jet, and an Unlimited Time Walk. I bought those for their going rates and sold them each for a slight profit around the same time I shipped off the dual lands. I miss them more as collectible pieces than as play pieces. It would be cool to still have power, but I’m not certain I’d be playing with them anywhere outside my cube. Actually, I would probably not even put them in the cube, because they’re just worth too darn much. It’s great to be able to play with the old cards, but I don’t have a burning desire to own them just yet. Perhaps that will change, but for now I’m supremely satisfied to have all my duals in decks, and another collector’s quest complete. Next up is probably finishing my original legends from Legends, but with a fun little twist to make it even more of a challenge. Best wishes and happy shuffling my friends!


The 2021 Card-A-Day Challenge

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

I’m a collector at heart. I also love to play games. Magic the Gathering offers me the best of both worlds. I love Magic, and I love hunting for bargains. Those of you that know me are well aware of some of my more epic finds while bargain hunting: eBay misspellings, garage sales, flea markets, and even that quarter ton of cards my wife found on Craig’s list. I am always hunting for bargains and good trades. In the spirit of the New Year, and exciting resolutions I am taking on a new Collector’s Quest. I have done several of these during the last couple decades, and I highly recommend that you do one yourself each year. The sense of gratification that comes while feeding your need for more Magic is indeed wonderful, but I find that the hunt itself is where most of the joy lies. My challenge for this year is as follows: I am going to purchase a Magic card every day during 2021.

I never have the appropriate sense of dread whenever I start anything, be it big or small. You can call it dumb or you call it optimism, but in the end it’s just who I am. I love taking on challenges, and the harder they are the more excited I am to tackle them. My wife warned me that it may sound fun, but it will eventually become work. I am more than happy to find out if that’s the case. I’ve decided to follow some simple guidelines to ensure that the journey is as fun as possible. I must purchase a card each day specifically for this collector’s quest. This means I can’t buy seven cards on a Monday and be set for the week. Each day I will need to make a conscious decision about what card I’m buying to complete the 2021 card-a-day challenge. It takes effort to buy a new card every single day. As I’ve said, I’m a bargain hunter, so I’ll be sure to be budget conscious while I make my selection each and every day. Any large purchases I will be attempting to make through my LGS, and so I may need to schedule curbside or store visit hours accordingly. Again, it’s worth it to me to take that extra step. I will not be taking short cuts or opting to purchase random cards or packs or any other sealed products to complete this. It’s actually really simple: select a single card to purchase each day, and buy it.

I have several other collector quests going on, and I may be able to kill two birds with one stone on a few of these days. I anticipate that I will also be combining this with other collecting quests that I have made for myself throughout the years. I never did complete the set of original legends from Legends, but perhaps this is the year that I make that happen. This may be the year I finish the task of building a Commander Cube for drafting. I will surely inch closer to completing my quirky artifacts collection, and my Mega Cube could use some rounding out and updating as well. I am only one Bayou shy of righting that childhood wrong, so perhaps I finish that quest this year as well. All of those and more are possibilities, but I think that each day will bring new surprises and new revelations about collecting Magic in the 2021.

I anticipate being able to share many of the lessons I learn about purchasing, collecting, prioritizing, and executing this challenge. I intend to keep all of you updated with a monthly summary of my experiences. There will surely be many things I stumble across while doing this, and I can’t anticipate what hurdles will arise, but I’m going to let you know what it took to get over them, and what you can do to help guide your own collector quests throughout 2021 and beyond.

The biggest challenges that I can foresee would be the ability to purchase a card each day when and if I go on vacation. The answer here is simple, but I may be wrong. I think the internet and 4G/5G access should allow me to make a purchase anywhere on any given day. My LGS even has a way for me to set up buying online and doing curbside pickup! How sweet is that? Answer—very sweet indeed. The other way I anticipate this challenge to be difficult is if I have a lot going on in my life and I just don’t think about Magic for an entire day. That’s technically possible, but unlikely. As Billy Bean once said, “I hate losing more than I want to win.” That’s my favorite quote from Money Ball, but essentially this means I will be motivated to buy a cards simply not to lose. Losing to yourself is still losing! Well, at least for me it might be. I think the act of being on-it every single day could make it less fun, and especially if I start seeing it as a chore of sorts. I am not overly worried about that, but we shall see if it truly becomes an onerous task. I suspect that my inherent collector’s greed will power past such feeble obstacles!

Now, to make this even more fun to look back on, because who doesn’t enjoy looking back at the zeal they had at the start of a New Year’s Resolution? I’m going to make a few predictions. I’ll be sure to check how I did at the end of the 2021 calendar year, and we can see if I was right or tapped-out.

1. I will complete the quest by actually purchasing a card every single day.

2. I am going to struggle finding cards during the Summer months

3. I will have zero shipping, delivery, and pick-up issues with the cards I purchase.

4. I will spoil myself on my birthday.

5. I will find at least one card from Beta to purchase.

6. I will buy more black cards than any other color.

7. I will purchase from unique stores while I’m on the road.

8. I will be sad to be done with this quest and will choose to repeat it next year.

This quest is a way to feed the greed. It’s going to be fun to find a card on each calendar day in 2021. Discipline will be key—I have to utilize my instincts, and mobilize my inner greed monster. As I write this article it is December 30th, and I’m so excited to start down this path. I am looking forward to sharing the progress and the insights I gather from this mammoth collector’s challenge. I think that we will have many stories to share during the course of 2021, and I hope that we might even be able to return to some normalcy. I’m hoping that we can play Magic in-person again, and trade cards in-person, and meet at our local game stores in-person. I want 2021 to be a year of triumph. I am aiming to do so myself by completing this ridiculously annoying challenge. In summary, I am still collecting, still playing (using Spell Table, and it’s awesome), and I’m still writing. I love Magic the Gathering, and I really believe it is the best game ever made. Happy New Year to everyone, and I hope you create your collector’s challenges and that you find fulfillment while completing them!


The Bubble Effect

The Bubble Effect…and what to do about it.

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

What is the Bubble Effect?

I’d like to talk to you today about a phenomenon I call the bubble effect. It pops up from time to time in Commander playgroups (well, any multiplayer play group really). It typically shows up when new players are joining the fold, but can even occur among established groups and total strangers. A player, for reasons we will dive into shortly, essentially ends up playing in a bubble, and manages to escape unscathed for most of the game or games you play together. This player is effectively in a protective bubble that allows them to hang around far longer than most players and make it to the end game state more often than not. This seeming Bubble Matrix occurs for many reasons, and they are not necessarily bad reasons. However, knowing and identifying when and where the bubble effect is occurring allows you to better evaluate its validity. In short, if you can correctly identify when the bubble effect is occurring you are able to determine when it’s best to burst that bouncing beeble’s bubble.

When the Bubble Effect is Best:

Everyone starts playing somewhere and somewhen. Whether you’re the kid that just picked up your first cards with the Commander Legends precons or you are the bigger kid that has been playing since Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” topped the pop charts in 1993, we all have a time that we started playing. When you first start playing, you can often find yourself losing and losing often. That is fine as long as you are playing among many other newbies. As a self-admitted “bigger-kid” who has been playing for decades, I try to enact the bubble effect for whoever is the newbie. This means that I try not to attack, pick-on, or otherwise hinder their development. I will keep them from winning if I must, and I won’t simply give them the game, but I don’t actively stomp them out early on. Why? Well, it means the newbie lives for longer. This allows them to develop as players. We all get better by gaining play experience.

I’ve watched my share of Magic matches, and that can help improve your play a little. However, nothing is a substitute for lived experience. The longer a newbie plays, engaging in the thought process of the game, the longer they are able to develop their play skills. They learn more cards, more tricks, more etiquette, and they get better all around. If that means they end up winning a few games here and there early on, then all the better! They will cherish these early bubble effect victories when the bubble bursts in the weeks or months to come. Eventually, they will have to claw, tooth and nail, for every kill and win they can get. In short, don’t curb stomp new players, but allow them to develop in a bubble of bliss. Once they are more experienced players, then you pop that bubble and crush them at the same time. It’s just the right thing to do.

Bubbles aren’t just for Newbies:

The bubble effect can occur amongst strangers and established play groups as well. Interestingly enough, they occur for the same reason. The reason is actually quite similar to the reason why the newbie gets to live in a blissful bubble while the table’s shark is often double-teamed early on. The bubble effect gets granted to the least threatening player at the table. This doesn’t mean the worst player is always in a bubble. If you sit down with Atraxa as your commander, then you can expect people might gun for you early on. You are instantly perceived as the most threatening player at the table. Meanwhile, the person sitting down with Nahiri, the Lithomancer as their general is often regarded as the least threatening (no Commander damage threat, and you’re playing mono-white). This can lead the “best player” at the table to be taken far less seriously, and as a result could even grant them a bubble. This happens because people want to have their last opponent be an easy kill, and are willing to risk their powerful spells in a bid to finish off the most threatening players. The idea is they trust that what they have left over is enough to crush the weakest looking player. This is a fine and often successful strategy. However, when the bubble player knows this and has planned for this, things may turn out differently from how everyone expects.  

Benefitting from the Bubble effect:

Imagine that you are the one who has planned to benefit from the bubble effect. Now, I bet you’re interested in hearing how playing a Commander like Nahiri, the Lithomancer is better than playing Atraxa. You can purposefully build an underwhelming Commander deck with an underwhelming commander in order to garner the bubble effect. Once you have your bubble, clinching the game in later turns is your goal. You just need to keep yourself alive long enough and not present yourself as too much of a threat. You can do this by keeping yourself from engaging in spell slinging wars with others until you are all trying to stop the main threat, or you are trying to shift the focus away from you. You preserve your resources as much as possible, and trust that an under-developed board state will lead you to living longer, thus enabling you to come from behind for the win. Let others do your dirty work. This is not a strategy for those seeking to win with the lion’s share of the kills while marching toward an epic victory. This strategy is for those that desire a sneaking, calculated approach to abuse people’s perceptions. So, enjoy whenever you can pull it off!

The finer points of Bubble making:

If you are attempting to build yourself a little bubble, then start with a non-threatening commander. Once you’ve done this, then you need to try and find a balance between solid cards, and game swinging spells. Generally, you will be winning off the backs of sub-par creatures or some other critical mass style of creatures using either enchantments, equipment, or pump spells. These tend to work best as having creatures that don’t present dramatic threats leaves you low on people’s to-kill lists. However, you also need to do your part in shifting the attention away from you and pointing out how dangerous other players are. This does not work if you are presenting yourself as a serious threat. Instead, you need to put dash of honesty in your distraction. You are concerned about other power-house players, and you need others to help you deal with them. Meanwhile, the power-house players aren’t going to target you since you’re the one begging for help. Generally, asking for help makes you look weak and therefore the ones you are asking for help become juicier targets. The alpha threat usually views you as the one they will deal with once they’ve killed off the ones you are begging help from. They figure that you wouldn’t be asking for help if you didn’t need it, and thus, you are the weakest one. Therefore, you will be the easiest to crush in the end. If you can manage to play the table with a combination of politics and slow building, then you are on your way to riding a bubble to victory!

When and How to Burst Bubbles:

I feel like I’m playing Bubble Bobble while writing this article. I’m asking you to put people in bubbles, use bubbles, and now burst those bubbles. The time to start bursting newbie bubbles is once they seem to be taking down a few too many games in a row. That shows you they are more than ready to feel everyone’s full might. The newbie will no longer be allowed to slide along unnoticed. This is a healthy time to burst the newbie bubble and allow them to become a regular. Meanwhile, the much more difficult bubble to burst is the one that someone is using to their benefit. The existence of this bubble is difficult to notice. Often we are far more focused on the opponent that is actively trying to win or who is the biggest and most immediate threat. One way to avoid falling into a bubble trap is to keep a close eye on people’s life totals and hand sizes. If you notice that someone has a grip full of cards, is deflecting attention away from themselves, and is trying to get people to take care of all the threats for them, then you just might a bubble to burst.

Once you notice the bubble it can be tempting to call attention to it. You may wish to blurt out to everyone that Mike is just creating a bubble effect, and if we don’t band to together and crush him, then he’s going to steal this win from all of us. I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work out too well. You are often the crazy person who is just carrying some old vendetta, or if you are playing with strangers, then you’re the jerk who’s asking everyone to beat on the weakest player. Rather than play politics, you need to just begin applying a little pressure on that bubble. You don’t need to exert maximal effort to destroy the bubble blower, but you should begin to try and whittle away their answers and life total. By pressing them bit by bit you deny them the advantages they need to gain a late-game victory. Sure, you might find yourself in a bit of a battle, but remember that they likely won’t be able to kill you without first revealing what a threat they truly could become. That’s all you really need to do. Once you’ve exposed them, their bubble is burst, and perhaps you can now assume their old role. Or you could crush them along with everyone else!

Bubbles Bounce:

I didn’t bring up this topic to burst your bubbles. I want us to keep using the bubble effect. I think it’s great, and I think that if we recognize it more often we can all benefit from it. Allowing newbies to ride their bubbles until they are tenured is great. Allowing them to ride the bubble longer than they ought to is not. Once you recognize bubbles occurring in your Commander games, then you can choose if you wish to burst them or play along. Having that knowledge is important, and knowing what to do with that knowledge is even better. The most intriguing aspect about the bubble effect is that we can abuse it to meet our own ends, while still preserving it for the benefit of a new player’s long-term development. Now that you know how to recognize, abuse, and burst those bubbles, you should bounce yourselves into a game as soon as possible! 

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Unwarranted Backlash for The Secret Lair X The Walking Dead

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed the furor that has developed over the Secret Lair X The Walking Dead, but it is unwarranted. I feel that this outcry is both misguided and absurd. As these cards will be legal in my format of choice—Commander—it is my duty to provide people with some perspective and guidance. The arguments being made do not warrant this sort of outrage. The new Secret Lair drop, for those of you that are unaware, will include mechanically unique cards, and the names and artwork are The Walking Dead characters. I do have other issues with Secret Lair in general, but I will address those last. For now, let us dive into why people should not view this as something catastrophically bad.

Commander players need to calm down, stop being upset, and see this latest Secret Lair Drop as the small limited set that it is. There are plenty of other things going on in the Magicverse, and focusing your energies on The Walking Dead being featured on black bordered Magic: the Gathering cards is definitely not something to spend your energy on. The issue people seem to have with this Secret Lair Drop is that it is a limited edition (like all of these things). People are concerned that Wizards will be unable to reprint these cards again, because they will only have copyright access for a limited time. If this upsets you, then please, relax. Wizards can simply do a functional reprint of any of these cards at any given time. Furthermore, they may even be able to do the Ikoria subtitle Godzilla treatment. Sure, the names and artwork might not be the same, but the functionality of the card will be identical. It could cause issues by giving people multiples of a single card, once they are functionally reprinted, but we are far away from that scenario. I’m not convinced that these are overpowered cards in Commander, and therefore the call for a ban because something is too collectible is just absurd.

Magic: The Gathering is the original collectible trading card game (CCG). The first “C” means that the cards should have value. These are not merely game pieces, and to view them as such is a disservice to the game itself. It destroys the integrity and mystique of the game. I have seen people referencing Nalathni Dragon as an example of what happens when Wizards makes cards that are too rare. I remember the Nalathni dragon incident, and even as young kid who could never afford one, I thought it was awesome. The existence of a card that was beyond my reach made me feel like this was a game that had depth and value. Wizards had given them out at Dragon Con, and until it showed up in a magazine promo a few months later, it was the hottest card around. Everyone wanted one, and not everyone could get one. It is OK not to be able to afford every card in the game. This is even more true when playing at a recreational and non-tournament level—Commander. Nalathni Dragon wasn’t even overpowered at the time, but it was really rare. Honestly, I get the comparison between the two, as these Walking Dead cards do have the potential to be like Nalathni Dragon.  Yet, Nalathni Dragon was a great talking point and a collector’s target. It is not a bad thing for a collectible game to have rare items. By definition the game needs items that are “chase” pieces. 

Furthermore, The Walking Dead cards are not overpowered for Commander purposes, and they will most likely become interesting odd-ball cards that show up at the kitchen table from time to time. Even if they end up being expensive, that will simply be a result of supply and demand. I’m leaning toward them becoming odd-balls and forgotten after a year or so. Sure, it’s hard to predict, but ultimately the way it shakes out is all part of having a collectible game. If these were grossly over-powered this would be a different conversation, but these cards are not Commander pushed. They are fun collectibles, and should be viewed as such.

People are calling for these cards to be banned from the Commander format. Seriously? I was shocked when I read it. I was perturbed when I found strings of people piling on about this. I was disturbed to find influencers agreeing with this. There are reasons not to want to support Secret Lairs, but this rationale falls short of anything rational. Rather than calling for a ban or griping about the potential limited nature, or more accurately the highly collectible nature of these cards, we should be voting with our wallets instead. If you do not support these cards, then do not buy them. Just because you think something might price you out, calling for a ban is not warranted. I think the Magic community forgets that this is one of the best parts of being in a free market economy. We get to vote every single day. We vote on what products we support by buying those products. When we skip sets, releases, or other events, we are letting Wizards and our local gaming shops know that we do not support a product. When you want something banned, then it should be for play, and not monetary reasons. This is especially true when dealing with a casual format, or as many like to say—The Casual Format aka Commander. So we may find that this product does not sell well, and when supply is low and demand is high the price goes up. Or, perhaps they tank completely as no one wants them. I’m inclined to think that they will be fun to play with, but not any more fun than the latest Commander cards from any given set. 

If you are a collector, then you are probably going to pick up one of these. If you are a player, then you are deciding how fun these might be to play with, and if they are worth the investment. If you are a Walking Dead fan, then I’m sure you will be looking to pick these up. I am not a fan of The Walking Dead, but that is really because I find the whole zombie trope (great unwashed and uneducated masses yearning to devour the intellect of others only to spread more ignorance) a bit tired. Otherwise, I might pick this up just to try playing with some of the mechanically unique cards. I guess it depends on price point and how much you are willing to spend on five new cards. As with any product, you evaluate what you want and what you get and base your decisions on wants vs. needs.

The gripe about these cards being legal is simply not warranted. These are not even close to as powerful as the new Omnath or really any of the new powerful Mythics from Zendikar Rising. Wizards has been printing broken cards left and right in standard sets! If you have $60 to spend on Magic, then you would probably be better served buying some sweet new singles from your local gaming store. Have you seriously looked at Zendikar Rising’s cards? They are very powerful, and super splashy for Commander. The Walking Dead cards are really just a flash in the pan. Since it is a Secret Lair, people are letting their “fear of missing out” overrule logical reasoning. Commander should never be viewe as a format with “must-have” or “must-include” cards. That attitude and approach is in direct opposition to the very spirit of this format. The restrictions Commander requires are there to help you be a more creative and more fun deck builder. We should not be trying to homogenize Commander decks into finely tuned archetypes. This Secret Lair Drop is a neat little experiment, and if the loudest among us have their way, then we may not see other interesting non-Magicverse cards showing up in Magic: the Gathering. As a guy that loves Magic among other geeky endeavors, I hope this is not the case. I would love to see TMNT cards, but if Wizards listens to this ridiculousness that may never happen.

Some people have been calling for these to be printed in the Ikoria fashion. Magic card names subtitled beneath the Walking Dead names. That could have very well worked. I assume they did not do that, because they are experimenting with other IPs (intellectual properties). I find this experiment to be interesting. I am interested in not only the collectability of these types of cards, but how they might add a different feel to someone’s deck. It allows you to lean into a particular build or flesh out your own story that may not necessarily be Magicverse centric. I think that is a fine thing, but I may be part of a quieter crowd. I would not mind if these were printed as some sort of Future Shifted concept cards, and that someday they may be reprinted in a fitting set. That would be fine. However, the way it is being done currently is just fine.

The majority of the outrage seems to be focused on the potential for limited supply, which I have discussed, and the idea that selling these is somehow predatory. That word choice is simply absurd. The oversimplification and the name-calling needs to stop. This is more a perspective issue than a supply and demand issue. I fear that far too many Magic players, or at least far too many vocal magic players, believe that Magic is simply a game with game pieces. I am going to be unpopular perhaps, but that’s something I’m used to since I played Magic: the Gathering in the ’90s. Magic cards are collectible trading cards. It is the original CCG. Collectible card games, by definition, need to have some cards worth more than others. I know we should all know this because every card is printed with a set symbol and that set symbol has been color coded for a very long time. The color coding of the set symbols corresponds with the rarities. While it doesn’t always shake out to be exactly correlative to the prices, the rare/mythic cards tend to be more expensive. When we extend this thinking to foils and alternative printings, then we can see supply and demand determine the prices of cards. This is why when a mythic rare is desirable in every format in Magic, the price of that card tends to skyrocket. Will the price of these The Walking Dead cards skyrocket? Well if I could predict that, then I would not waste my time writing about it, and would instead make millions by buying them all. Seriously, though, it is totally fine to not own every single item that Wizard’s makes. There are over 20,000 unique cards in Magic, and this is not Pokemon. You do not need to catch them all, and you can play without owning every card. Commander is a format that thrives best when people dig through their collections and utilize cards that have been collecting dust for years. 

Is there a legitimate reason for Commander players to be upset about The Walking Dead Secret Lair drop? Yes, but not what you might think. The real problem is that these cards are sold directly by Wizards. Cutting out the middle man might be a good business practice for business owners. However, with Magic you are cutting out the very people that enable your buying base to help exist and play the game. The issue with Secret Lair stems from undercutting your local game store. These products are not a way for your LGS to make money, but at least the big box stores are left out too. I personally wish that I could order these Secret Lairs from my local game store. I wish my LGS was the go-between for these products, or that they had access to them at a discount they could then pass on to me. However, that is not the case. If you believe in supporting your local game store at all costs, then you have already made your decision about The Walking Dead cards: hard pass. You will continue to pass on every single Secret Lair drop, because you cannot order from your LGS. I respect that decision. I admire it.

I wish you the best in your own decision making process over the next several days. However, I urge you to seriously consider why cards should be banned, and others unbanned. The rules committee for Commander made the right choice. They did not ban cards that are not problematic for play. They did not cave to cancel culture and its irrational cries. Use the Commander Rules Committee’s rulings as guidelines for playing with new people. You can abide by the rules with your regulars or choose not to. That’s the beauty of House-Rules. Heck, I play a deck with Chaos Orb, because my hour-rules say it is legal. However, if I come to your house, and you tell me my Forcefield is banned, because they are too hard to get, then I am taking my ball and going home. Banning cards because they are expensive is a horrifically slippery slope. I do not support that at all. So, remember to vote with your wallet, make decisions rationally, and play Commander to crush your enemies—I mean friends. 


Spicy Reserves on a Budget

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

A Hidden Spice Drawer:

There is a thing called the reserved list, and if you do not know what I mean by that, then I suggest you read up on it later. The reserved list, to put it simply, is a list of older cards Wizards has promised not to reprint. This exists so players can feel free to buy and collect older cards, knowing those card’s values will not plummet from a reprint anytime soon. There is a debate about whether it should exist or not, but I am not weighing in on that today. No, today I want to use this list to show you how much spicy Commander goodness lurks within it for under $5. You read that correctly. I am talking about cards, rares mind you, that are promised not to be reprinted, and are still under $5. There is something here for every player, so let us get to unlocking this particularly savory spice rack.

Wave of Terror

Wave of Terror is such a wonderfully named card. People quake with fear when it is cast. The upkeep age counter goes on first, so it will not hit tokens, but the slaughter gets ramped up faster this way. Each upkeep you send wave after wave of terror washing over the battlefield. The casualties just keep piling up. You could potentially use this to keep tokens in check by using either Clockspinning or my favorite token eater, Chisei, Heart of Oceans. Give in to your inner Nicol, Bolas, and use Wave of Terror to put your foolish enemies to a permanent rest.

Rainbow Efreet

Blue has many cards that could be considered tricky, but this original Draw-Go win condition has been forgotten. For blue decks, Rainbow Efreet was the original unkillable creature. It dodges instant and sorcery removal of all kinds–targeted or sweeper. Rainbow Efreet simply leaves the game and comes back swinging on your next turn. I remember winning games by activating my Nevinyral’s Disk, on my opponent’s end step, and phasing out Rainbow Efreet in response. The beatdown that this beautiful little monster delivers is not to be underestimated. Remember that equipment and auras attached to Rainbow Efreet stay with it as it phases in and out. This is one Rainbow that does not promise hope for your opponents. 

Subterranean Spirit

Subterranean Spirit is criminally underutilized. I know that a five mana 3/3 is not very exciting. Adding protection from red is mildly interesting. Yet, adding the ability to tap for a Tremor effect is pretty sweet. It is immune to the damage it deals, as it has protection from red. You can use this keep Pyrohemia around no matter how much damage you dish out, or have something left over after a massive Earthquake. Subterranean Spirit can help do some work controlling small token generating strategies, but I want to break it a little too. I love the idea of using this with equipment like Gorgon Flail, Gorgon’s Head, Basilisk Collar, and Quietus Spike. Enchanting this with things like Charisma, or Aspect of Gorgon is also fun. Tapping Subterranean Spirit to wipe out or steal every creature on the board seems pretty amazing. Who does not enjoy killing everyone’s creatures with some fiery card that has not seen print since 1996?

Natural Balance

Natural Balance is seems to go against what green wants to do. This allows you to take advantage of other people’s ramp. This works great in decks that rely on artifact ramp, rather than land ramp. Having ways to sacrifice your lands or play them from the graveyard only makes this better. The Gitrog Monster is a commander that would benefit from this ambrosial include. Natural Balance helps tone down other people’s threat potentials while ensuring you keep your lands flowing. This is a great card to pass around the table. While your opponents are binning their extra lands, you can rest easy knowing those battle-cruiser cards are going to stay out of play for a few more turns. 


Before there was Silence, there was Orim’s Chant, and before Orim’s chant there was Abeyance. Abeyance is a great “gotcha” card. However, I love Abeyance best of all those gotcha cards because of its ability to replace itself. It can essentially be cycled, but with a fantastic upside. Combining this with Isochron Scepter and Seedborn Muse is clearly the dream. Being able to draw a card on each opponent’s turn and not allow those opponents to ever cast instants or sorcery spells is ridiculously good. This can also be great against free spell commanders like Joira and Narset. Sure, they can exile those cards or think about casting them, but Abeyance says, “NO SPELLS FOR YOU!”

Powder Keg

Powder Keg was once a tournament sideboard staple. Now it is a forgotten relic, so why not bring it back? This wrecks tokens for a mere two mana, and can be built up to deal with most early and mid-game threats. It also hits artifacts, and that can be a great way to clean up Sol Rings or the increasing number of two mana cost artifacts that tap for mana. If you have friends that are abusing mana rocks and overpopulating the battlefield, then it is time to blow up everything with Powder Keg

Unfulfilled Desires

Unfulfilled Desires is a misnomer in any decent reanimator deck. Gyruda Doom of Depths decks will love this card! This enchantment fills your graveyard with your darkest dreams. Paying one mana and one life to loot at will is an excellent rate. The card selection this offers is ridiculous. Drawing and discarding at instant speed with any left over mana–every single turn–is an incredible way to get ahead of your opponents. This enchantment allows you to easily dump your creatures into your graveyard while digging you into the reanimation spells you need. Additionally, this is a good draw early on, and it is still a solid top deck in the late game. If you draw it later on, then you can pump loads of mana into it to dig down to that game-winning card. Fulfill your most vile needs, and keep your opponents guessing with the zesty include that is Unfulfilled Desires.

Circle of Despair

Circle of Despair is another multicolored reserve list spice that offers a very powerful effect. This is an amazingly powerful sacrifice outlet in Aristocratic and other sacrifice oriented decks. These decks need repeatable sacrifice outlets, and this one is harder to kill than the average creature. Additionally, this enchantment gives you the ability to play politics. You can easily make an alliance early on by sacrificing a few tokens to help someone else stay alive. Circle of Despair’s ability, much like the original Circles of Protection, does not target. This allows you to prevent damage from a hexproofed, trampling, unblockable, double-striking, 12/12 commander. There is no “one-shotting” you with commander damage as long as you have a creature to sacrifice to the Circle of Despair. Coupling this with token generators like Sacred Mesa or an Elspeth (just about any of them) puts you in a fantastic position. I love the idea of putting this into an Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim deck (creature type cleric for those excited about the new Zendikar party mechanics). 

Closing Thoughts:

Those are the most interesting and exciting cards you can find on the reserve list for under $5. There are other interesting cards there too, but they do not offer the same distinctive effects as these. I love being able to play a card that most people are not aware existed. It has always been a joy of mine to pass my spicy cards around the table for everyone to appreciate their zesty effects. The reserved list has become a contentious item lately, but it still exists, and so why not take advantage of it as a budget collector? The cards on the list are all older, and so their effects tend to be odd or strange. The reserved list can function as a short-list for unique and underutilized cards. So what are you waiting for? Go pick up some new spicy cards to jank out friends!


Buy lands, Not Spells

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

As Zendikar Rising is set to release in a few weeks, and it explores lands, I am going to explore the best lands for my fellow Commander players. Lands are the resources that provide the drama in Magic. So many games hinge on mana–how much you have and what colors you can access. As a Magic player, you should invest in the best mana base for your deck. When you are a Commander player, you should prioritize lands above almost everything else. Your format does not rotate, and so your rare lands will always be playable. Nothing is more fun than casting your amazing and incredible Commander spells. However, you cannot cast incredible spells like Last Stand with a shoddy mana base. You cannot cast anything consistently without a well-tuned mana base. In short, you must buy the best lands for your budget. 

Which lands are the best?

Basic lands are the best lands. They always come into play untapped. There is very little hate printed toward them, and they are practically free. If you want the best lands for multi-color Magic decks, well, now we have something to explore.

The original dual lands from Magic are the best. They check all three boxes–basic land types, come into play untapped, and incredibly expensive to purchase. Oops, wait, they are not budget friendly. I would still contest that, as a Commander player, it is still worth picking up a dual in your favorite color combination. It will never disappoint you, and it will always bring you closer to victory.  

For the budget conscious, there is a vastly more affordable option in the Ravnica shock lands. These actually check all three boxes: basic lands types, can come into play untapped, and mostly budget friendly. The Ravnica shock lands require you to pay 2 life to have them come into play untapped. Commander does start with 40 life, so this is not too large of a drawback. Currently, there is nothing that comes in this close to the original dual lands. Plus, you can pick up all 10 for around $100! 

The Amonkhet lag lands or bicycling lands are just OK (bi=two, cycling because they cycle, sigh). These lands come into play tapped, so that is not good, but they do have basic land types, and they are super affordable. They are inferior, so that is why they are cheap. I would recommend you pick up the set, because they have the basic land types, and they are super cheap.

The Ikoria Triomes are also guilty of the same sins as the Amonkhet lands, but at least they provide three different colors. It is hard to find a land that provides three different colors that does not come into play tapped. These lands are, as of this moment, perhaps the best budget land on the market. 

Why do basic land types matter on non-basic lands?

Fetch lands are pricey, but they are really good with duals. Fetch lands make your mana base so much smoother. You have more choices for lands to fetch, and dual lands with basic land types on them are amazing to have in a deck with fetch lands. If dual lands did not exist, then fetch lands would be inexpensive. Once you own a few dual lands, of any type, you need to prioritize buying fetch lands. If you are budget conscious, then might I suggest picking up the vastly more affordable, though slightly slower, Mirage fetchlands? They work best with the original duals and the shock lands as you can have them come into play untapped. However, if you are desperate for mana fixing, then perhaps you could fetch a tapped bicycling land or even a Triome. If you are in the correct colors, then you can even take advantage of Krosan Verge as a sort of super fetch land.

Are there more budget lands that I can’t fetch?

There are many options for lands that do not contain basic land types. The other two boxes we need to check would be coming into play untapped, and being affordable. 

The Battlebond lands are also good at what they do, but they are a bit pricier. If you can afford them, then you should probably pick them up. They are actually amazing in multiplayer and feel incredibly close to playing an actual dual land. They are not fetchable, but if you do not own fetches, then these do a good impersonation of a dual land for most Commander games. 

Magic also printed some interesting check lands. These lands come into play untapped if you have a basic land type they produce already in play. These are good, cheap, and usually enter untapped. What are you waiting for? Put them in your decks.  

If you cannot afford duals or expensive fetch lands, then I suggest you pick up a few of Clubber Lang’s favorite lands: PAIN LANDS. The pain land cycle, which began in Ice Age and finished in Apocalypse, are excellent mana sources. You can tap them for colorless mana when you do not need color, and then allow you to take a point of damage to get the color you need. These tend to shine in decks that have plenty of basics. You use them for color when necessary, and then keep them as colorless filler later on. 

The filter lands from Shadowmoor help to smooth out mana bases too, but also require that you have colored mana to activate them. The Odyssey filter lands do not require colored mana, but lack the mana options provided by their Shadowmoor counterparts. These are fairly equal in terms of playability, and really depend on your deck’s casting costs. However, they are both excellent budget options. 

The Ravnica bounce lands are where you start to dip into the comes-into-play tapped variety of budget dual lands. They are deceptively good, as they allow you to get an extra land drop by returning your land to your hand. They also tap for two mana each, so they have a significant pay-off for their downside. There is no reason you should not own at least one of each (I might own thirty of each). 

Man lands from Worldwake offer another great payoff for their tapped downside. These lands smooth things out and offer a body when you might need one. These have fluctuated in price over the years, but they seem relatively cheap now, so pick them up and be happy about it. While you’re at it, check out the completion of the cycle that was printed in Oath of the Gatewatch.

The temples are super cheap, come into play tapped, but give you a quick scry. These are fine lands. They are cheap monetarily, and they give you a little reward for the pain of having them come into play tapped. I do not love these in Commander, but they are serviceable and budget friendly. 

The common gain lands from Khans block offer the best and cheapest option. They come into play tapped, gain you a life, and then function just like a regular dual. They are not fetchable, but they are cheap. I would caution you against running too many lands that come into play tapped, so just keep that in mind (less than 25% is ideal).

Wait, isn’t there anything cheaper?

Do you want something for nothing? Well, then I guess you should check out a few other odd ball lands. Tempest and Champions of Kamigawa have a series of lands that can tap for colorless or when they are tapped for colored mana do not untap the following turn. These are actually an improvement over the Ice Age lands that did the same thing with depletion counters, but did not have the option of tapping for colorless. I ran Land Cap in my blue white deck, and it was the best I could get until Homelands gave me tri-lands. It was a rough time for mana options outside the original duals. 

The next best option to using duals is using fetch lands with basic lands. This does not mean you have to have Prismatic Vista (though it is the best at doing this). There is also Fabled Passage. If you want better budget options, then I highly suggest Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. Beyond that obvious pair lurks the often forgotten Panoramas from Shards of Alara. These fetches allow you searchable access to three different land types. In addition, you might consider Terminal Moraine and Warped Landscape for fetching basics. 

What about these new dual lands they spoiled?

I did not see any dual lands. Oh, those flip lands? Those are not dual lands. You cannot search for them, and they can only tap for the mana on the side you play it. At least they come into play untapped. I am a little surprised they are rares, but perhaps I am undervaluing them? I suspect they were made rares for drafting purposes, and not because they really stand up in any sort of modern rare land comparison. They really will function like a fetchland, but will lack the time-consuming searching and shuffling process. You will have to choose when you play it what type of mana you want from it. There are ways to reset the lands and either blink them or replay them after bouncing them with a Golgari Rot Farm, but they will usually just stay how they are played. I love that they come into play untapped, and that they allow you access the color you most need, at the moment you play it. I would play these over just about every other land that comes into play tapped. However, if I am running a deck with fetchlands, then these are inferior to fetchable options. These will usually provide an easy upgrade to a basic land you planned on including. Overall, these are probably worth picking up, but I cannot see paying overly much for them.

How do I prioritize what lands to buy?

I can tell you that you should decide which deck is your favorite, and start getting the best lands for that deck. Starting with a deck you already enjoy, and making it able to consistently cast all of its spells on-curve, is truly blissful. I love being able to cast my favorite spells the turn I draw them. It is awful when you need just one more color. Then, you draw a land, but you have to wait another turn, because your land comes into play tapped. Aargh! It only gets worse when someone casts Windfall while you are waiting (I speak from multiple experiences). Having a few lands that come into play tapped is fine, but make certain you are getting a good deal for what you are sacrificing.

Final Stand on Lands

There are other lands that I did not discuss, but I am out of time and space today. I am certain more Zendikar Rising spoilers will come, and with them more lands. I will take this opportunity to explain a few more ideas about which lands to play and which to avoid. Lands are often neglected by players. Decks are built with spells, and then we just find lands to toss in. While the deck does determine the lands we choose, the lands determine how well the deck plays. If you have an amazing five color deck, but your mana base is off, then you are not going to be playing much of anything. Do not suffer from color screw. Get yourself the lands you deserve, and make your decks the finely tuned machines they deserve to be. Crush your opponents, and make it all possible with mana that never lets you down. 

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Commander Deck List and Deck Tech

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.


I used to have many sixty card multiplayer decks. One of those decks was based on Hondens, and another one was based on Arboria. When new shrines were printed in M21, I knew I wanted to combine ideas from both decks to create something new for Commander. I just love the idea of making a dangerous pilgrimage into the late game, and then winning with my holy shrines. The deck needs a five color commander, and while Golos, Tireless Pilgrim’s name seems to fit the idea of the deck, I wanted to utilize Sisay, Weatherlight Captain’s ability to pull shrines from the deck and put those shrines directly into play. Playing a five color deck is one of my favorite things to do, and winning without creatures can be sublimely satisfying.

Check out the deck list HERE.

Notable Synergies/Combos:

This deck is loaded with cards that work well with one another. The shrines stack well together, but this deck dives a bit deeper. Many of these enchantments just serve to slowly tighten the screws and make my opponents unable to reach me from my privileged position [add link to Privileged Position card here too]. This deck takes some divine turns, and it helps to analyze some of its synergies and combos. 

Enchanted Evening and Calming Verse blow up everyone else’s permanents, so that often provides instant scoops from the table. If you are a fan of this interaction, then consider adding Cleansing Meditation. You could also consider adding Aura Thief and killing it with a Honden of Infinite Rage activation, thus stealing everyone’s permanents (gross, right?). I opted not to include Aura Thief, as thievery does not strike me as an acceptable practice for a holy shrines deck . 

Arboria has long been a card I enjoy playing. Leyline of Anticipation, Vedalkan Orrery, and Sisay all work with Arboria. Once you have enough lands in play, you choose to play cards only on your opponent’s turns. This lets you maximize Arboria’s protection. Other players may take advantage of Arboria, and that is fine, because this deck wins with shrines! Be careful when you play Arboria, as it is a World enchantment, and if you play Cavern’s of Despair after it is already in play, then you must discard Arboria (whichever World enchantment is newest gets to stay). 

Paradox Haze is great to keep the old fashioned Hondens cranking out extra value. Use Copy Enchantment on Paradox Haze to double the righteous activations! Do not try to copy a Legendary or World Enchantment, because that would be sad. 

Dream Tides combines sublimely well with Kismet, Frozen Aether, and Sanctum of Tranquil Light. This will wreck any green deck, and give all other creature-based decks absolute fits. Your opponents’ board development will be so stalled, that you are sure to make it to the late game. Shrines shine in the late game.

Pendral Mists taxes creatures and stalls development. It helps to make every other taxing effect in the deck even stronger. I have cast Copy Enchantment targeting this, and it makes life miserable for creature decks. 

While playing this deck, I am often heard saying, “You cannot attack me unless…” The Propaganda-style enchantments all stack on each other, so if you resolve a Ghostly Prison and a Sphere of Safety, I doubt anyone is attacking you anytime soon. Being able to toss Copy Enchantment on something like Collective Restraint is just gross. In addition, Island Sanctuary is great once you have either of the blue shrines in play.  

Sterling Grove, Privileged Position, and Cloud Cover help keep your hallowed enchantments protected, and if they do get destroyed, we have recursion enough in Replenish, Crystal Chimes, and Open the Vaults. Be sure you leave a mana open whenever Sterling Grove is in play (then tutor up the best enchantment for the situation).

Eidolon of Blossoms and Mana Bloom combine to create a bouquet of cards in your hand.

Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, synergises with every legendary permanent in the deck (including the Legendary Land, Serra’s Sanctum).

Draw–how the deck keeps the cards flowing:

The draw package in this deck is all enchantment based. I felt it was all on theme, and I like the idea of playing Song of Creation. I do have a couple mass recursion spells, so discarding a few enchantments is not necessarily a permanent problem. Rhystic Study, a clear powerhouse, might be the best it has ever been in this mana-taxing deck. People will almost never be paying the one mana.  

Ramp–how the keeps up on mana development:

This deck utilizes Glacial Crevasses and Winter’s Chill as spicy includes, so I need to put snow-covered lands into play. As such, I chose to go with Rampant Growth effects, which maximize the number of snow-covered basic lands I have in play. Collective Restraint is godly when we have five basic land types being represented (Dryad of the Ilysian Grove smooths things out as well). 

Answers–the cards that deal with particular situations:

This deck eschews traditional targeted removal in order to adopt an approach that uses shields. I just want to keep people from killing me with their nasty creatures. If they are going the artifact route, then I want to play Titania’s Song and make those pesky artifacts into creatures that are easier to deal with. This does hit my two artifacts, so I have to be careful not to turn those items off when I still need them. Calming Verse answers enchantments, while Karmic Justice and Martyr’s Bond help to make people pay for any items they destroy.


Winter’s Chill is a card I have always wanted to pull off. This is the deck that uses it to great effect. After an opponent has spent all their mana enabling all their attackers, then you nail them with this little beauty and freeze out those pesky creatures. In the same vein, Siren’s call is an interesting way for blue to kill creatures. If your opponent cannot attack because they cannot pay the mana, then their creatures still die. Meanwhile, Glacial Crevasses makes people not want to even bother attacking you. And lastly, Katabic Winds is hilarious. I bet your friends will be impressed by your old school jank. 

Notable Exclusions:

I try not to play Sol Ring in too many of my decks. I hate having to give up a slot to auto-includes, and so I actively try not to include Sol Ring, unless it synergizes with the deck. I will usually use it in a deck that is lacking other forms of ramp too (read non-green decks). 

I did not include Dance of the Manse, as I do not want to win with combat damage. That is also why Opalescence is absent. I decided not to include any more than the two tutors, as I prefer to let the game play out a bit more randomly. I do want this deck to be consistently “going off” on turns 6-8. I want to focus my efforts on worshiping under my shrines, while keeping all non-believers away from me. If I have to go the beatdown route, then I will do so with Genju of the Realms or Sisay (if we are forced to win through commander damage). I really made an effort to keep creatures out of the deck. It is a nice upside having all of my opponents’ creature removal spells mean almost nothing against my deck. During development, I even toyed with using Umori as a companion, but decided I enjoyed my spicy cards too much to sacrifice them for Umori’s flimsy upside. 

Approach of the Second Sun is not in the deck because it does not fit the shrine theme. That may sound silly, so feel free to try it in yours. People will surely be desperate to try and kill you, and you can be the archenemy for several turns before they succumb to your second sun. 

Gravity Sphere and Mystic Decree are not included either. I did not want yet another World Enchantment, and I do not own Gravity Sphere (I might have included one if I owned it). Perhaps there is an enchantments collector’s quest [link to collector’s quest article] there?

Maelstrom Nexus seems like it would be pretty good in this deck. I just could not fit it in my 64 at the time, and I have it in other decks too. I hate to swap cards out, so I just let them live in certain decks. 

Chromatic Lantern seems like a good mana-fixing ramp choice, but when combined with Titania’s Song it is a non-combo I want to avoid. For this reason, and that I want to be able to keep the snow-covered land count high, I opted to exclude it from this build. 

Budget Considerations:

I have an alternative budget build for this deck as well. The priciest parts of this deck come from a few cards, so I managed to build a similar style version for about $70 (half the cost of one Serra’s Sanctum).

<div class=”deck-list” data-stub=”taking-a-shine-to-shrines-budget-build”>&nbsp;</div>

Early Game:

Do whatever you can to survive! This is often accomplished by being non-aggressive and playing out Propaganda enchantments. Additionally, you can feel free to ramp and mana fix in the early turns. I often choose to either mana fix or play out some less aggressive enchantments, like the white Sanctum. Do not run out your Sanctum of Stone Fangs or Honden of Infinite Rage in the early game. Those are actually finishing spells, so save them for the middle or later turns. The deck is running two tutors effects which should be used to tutor up answers to problematic board states. Usually, you want either Enchantress’s Presence or Dryad of the Illysian Grove early on. 

Middle Game:

This is where you need to build up a bubble that will protect you. Be certain to play any Ghostly Prisons, Propogandas, and other attacker taxing enchantments during these turns. People will either be locked out of attacking you, or they may spend their mana sending attackers your way. This is actually not that bad, as your life total may dip a bit, but not anything Honden of Cleansing Fire cannot fix. A little damage may help to keep people seeing you as less of a threat. 

Feel free to drop Sisay into play even when you cannot immediately activate her ability. When you do activate her ability you should prioritize getting Sanctum of the Fruitful Harvest, Sanctum of Shattered Heights, and Sanctum of Tranquil Light. Those offer you the ability to move toward your end game without people getting overly alarmed. They also allow you to quietly build up Sisay’s tutoring abilities without raising alarms. It only takes a turn or two for you to effectively lock people out of attacking and killing you. Do not forget that you can cheat Serra’s Sanctum in with Sisay! Dropping Paradox Haze with a couple Hondens in play puts you ahead very quickly. 

Also, if you manage to hold an Empty the Vaults, Replenish, or Dance of the Manse (budget version) in reserve, then you can feel free to completely overextend. Those simpletons will be so pleased that they have crippled you, and they will not expect you to completely rebuild your entire board with a single sanctimonious spell.

Late Game:

This is when you put Sanctum of All into play. This card enables you to close out games. This is the reason to play this deck, and the reason Sisay is the Commander. Cheating this into play before your turn is the ideal path to victory. You should also be certain to activate Sisay’s ability during your upkeep to snag another Sanctum, so it will activate twice on your first main phase. Do not worry about drawing too many cards. I have drawn 15 cards in a single turn, and that usually leads to a quick victory via Sanctum of Stone Fangs. You will be the archenemy, but your holy shrines, mana taxing, and creature tapping will allow you to easily brush aside any uprisings from unworthy heathens (I mean, friends). The ability to negate all attacking creatures solves most problems. 

Final Reflection:

Taking a Shine to Shrines is a faultlessly fun deck to play. It may not be super fun to play against, but it does have weaknesses. My friend, Andrew, absolutely wrecked me with Kederekt Leviathan and Restoration Angel. These types of weaknesses keep the drama going, and allow you to focus on the journey to victory. The deck allows your opponents to beat on each other, but keeps you safe from their attacks. The promotion of non-aggression leads people to build armies and potentially overextend themselves. All of the little synergies in the deck makes the deck function like a series of mini-combos that assemble and build toward a final moment where you are able to Enshrine yourself in victory!


A Collector’s Quest

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

As an adult, you can look back at the childhood mistakes you have made. You may try to pass your wisdom on to the current generation, or you may chuckle as they make the same errors you did. 

Hopefully, we learn from those mistakes and gain valuable experience. I want to share with you one of my regrets that I made as a young adult. I was in college, I was young, and I needed to make my car insurance payments. I started by selling my Black Lotus. I sold it for $50 more than I bought it: $350. It was a good price at the time (1999). I also proceeded to sell my Beta Mox Jet, and my Unlimited Time Walk for small profits as well. However, to this day, I actually do not regret selling those cards. 

I truly regret selling my playset of all forty dual lands. I had spent a chunk of my childhood collecting each of them over the course of about two years. Each week I would save my lunch money, save my allowance, save the coins I found on the lunch room floor, and then ride my bike to the local game store and buy a new dual land. At the time, they were about $10-15 each. When I sold my collection of dual lands, I got $350 for them. That was a fair price, and, more importantly, it paid for my car insurance. The following year, the prices, for a myriad of reasons I am not going to expound on, started to climb (and they are still climbing).

Now, fast forward about 10 years when I was telling this story to my best friend, Doug. I half-jokingly told him I thought I should try and buy them all back. Doug replied with, “How many chances do you get to right a childhood wrong?” That sentence sparked a fire. I turned to my wife, and she just shrugged her shoulders and agreed that who can possibly argue with that logic? This logic became a spark that started a quest. I am currently still in the process of acquiring the final three lands I need, but I would like to outline how this decade-long quest has gone. 

With the blessings of my wife and best friend, I set out on a collector’s journey. As with any goal, I got out some paper, made a chart, and proceeded to plan the reacquisition of my beloved dual land collection, and in the process, right a childhood wrong.


April 11, 2011:

I started collecting Plateaus first. I had traded the hottest Standard cards for two Plateaus, and so I had a headstart on the playset. It was the cheapest land to start with, and they were going for about $40 each. I picked up two by sniping an auction on Ebay for $63.50. The seller was not a power seller and had recently changed his username, so people were a bit shy. I was not. The first set of four was thus easily completed.

April 15, 2011:

The next lands I went after were Taigas, as they were among the cheapest to buy. I figured that I should pick the cheapest dual lands up first, so I could keep my momentum going. When you are on a long quest, it is important to keep yourself motivated by setting milestones. I picked up two Taigas from an Ebay auction that was again from someone with barely over 100 feedback. I paid $94.60. This was pretty close to the average price, and despite the description stating the condition as “used”, I was happy to see they were really much closer to NM/M condition.

I went a few months without buying any more duals. I tried to win a few auctions, but people were willing to pay more than I was. I was a little nervous that I might not keep up the quest, but Doug’s words rang in my ears, “How many chances do you get to right a childhood wrong?” I decided that I should shift my focus to the lands that were always the most expensive–blue duals.

July 2, 2011: 

Underground Sea NM for $170 (but I used credit card rewards points to make it only $100). This was overpaying, but it is in true NM condition. No one had ever played with this card.

July 17, 2011: 

Underground Sea Unlimited Edition $111.75 (way below the going rate). This card was dirty, as in flecks of dirt were all over it. I bought it expecting that I could carefully clean the dirt away and significantly improve its condition. The pictures of it made it look like it was in terrible condition, but the corners, borders and back really just looked flecked with dirt. I was right, and a little careful cleaning with a q-tip removed nearly every issue, and the card seems only lightly played.

July 12, 2011: 

Tropical Island $77 ($13 below the going rate). Again, this was a seller with almost no feedback, and it was worth the risk.

July 16, 2011: 

Tropical Island $73 ($17 below the going rate). This was an auction that was only two days long, and people were not paying attention. I was paying attention every couple hours during every single day. Hurray for summer vacation! I also won another Tropical Island that night for $100 ($10 above the going rate). I thought I was getting a deal at $60, but the money was in British pounds. It was late, and I did not read carefully enough. Despite that, I have no regreets about buying this card from across the pond. It was in NM condition.

July 24, 2011: 

Volcanic Island and Vesuvan Doppleganger were my first rares, so I was itching to get my hands on Volcanic Islands. The nostalgia was high. When there were two big Ebay auctions ending on this day, I was ready, and apparently no one else was. I won three revised Volcanic Islands for $140.94. That was a steal! The condition was listed as VG, and that was a bit harsh, so I totally made out as the going rate for them was about $60 ($20 below the going rate). The real prize was the Unlimited Volcanic Island I picked up for $56.01. This auction was from a person that had only 94 reviews on Ebay, and so I won where others were afraid of scams. That unlimited dual is in great condition. 

December 25, 2011:

My wife gifted me four dual lands. She packaged each one inside a shirt box, and so I believed that I was getting four different dress shirts for work. Imagine my elation as I opened land after land after land after land. I was over-the-moon! I called all my friends and immediately planned a Magic Day at my house to celebrate. Apparently I should have had her buying the lands for me all along, as she was able to pick them all up for around $30-40 each!? She had gone to a struggling card store, which ended up shutting down several months later. The duals she had bought were the last ones they ever had in stock. She had gotten me Savannah, Scrubland, Badlands, and Tropical Island! 

Year One Progress

Plateau: 4/4   $63.50

Taiga: 2/4 $94.60

Underground Sea: 2/4 $211.75

Volcanic Island: 4/4  $196.95

Tropical Island: 4/4   $285

Savannah: 1/4 $35

Scrubland: 1/4 $35

Badlands: 1/4  $35


March 2012:

My birthday is in March, and I got spoiled. My wife gave me two duals, and both were ones I did not have yet–Tundra and Bayou . My friend, Andrew, gave me an Unlimited Scrubland as well. I never asked how much they paid for them, but I am guessing they both did better than the going rate. The two of them are always good at finding deals. 

September 2012:

I saved all of my credit card rewards points and used them to purchase a NM Revised Underground Sea. It was so worth it. 

Year Two Additions

Tundra: 1/4 Gift

Bayou: 1/4 Gift

Scrubland: 2/4 Gift

Underground Sea: 3/4  Free (with points!)


December 2, 2013:

Money was tight this year, and I traded in some of my cards for store credit. I had a Jace Beleren book promo and other promo cards that were in high demand. I traded them in for store credit, and turned those extra cards into three dual lands. I picked up an Unlimited Tundra in NM, an Underground Sea in NM, and a Taiga in NM for $30 (my credit covered the rest). It was a good year despite being lean on cash. The possibilities of trading in the fancy version of cards I did not need was a great way to shift the value of my collection. I moved the value I had in foil cards into cards I actually cared about.

Year Three Progress

Taiga: 2/4  $10 (trade-in credit)

Underground Sea: 4/4  $10 (trade-in credit)

Tundra: 2/4 $10 (trade-in credit)


March 2014:

I bought an Unlimited Tundra off Ebay for $160. This was probably toward the higher end of the going rate, but it was for my birthday, so why not? I have really enjoyed playing with it.

August 23, 2014:

Making memories with cards starts with the purchase. We went for a day trip to Burlington, Vermont. Whenever I go on a trip, I check for local game stores to find my own magical souvenir. This gives me a side-quest every time we go somewhere. It is really fun to scope out the local gaming scene in new and exciting areas. In this case, I picked up a Badlands. When I play that Badlands, I always think of that store, and the rest of our day in Burlington. The Badlands was $70, and the nostalgia is priceless.

November 10, 2014:

This was the year that I traded basic foil lands for dual lands. I have never cared for foil lands, but I noticed that many other people would trade for them. I had a three-inch binder that contained every foil land I had ever owned, over fifteen years worth of foils. When I got to my local game store, I found they were giving credit for foil basic lands. I could not believe my luck. I promptly emptied my binder of lands, while a small crowd gathered to watch the pile of shooting star foil basics grow. I had several foil snow-covered lands from Coldsnap, and a few Unhinged foil basics, too. 

I completed part of my basics for duals trade by scooping up the only dual they had in stock that day–Scrubland. I saved the rest of my store credit for a day when they had more duals in stock.

Year Four Progress

Scrubland: 3/4 Free (store credit)

Badlands: 2/4  $70

Tundra: 3/4 $160


January 2, 2015:

My local game store got in some new dual lands, so I went in and spent the rest of my $258 in store credit and $27 in cash to pick up a Tundra, a Badlands, and a Taiga. I had managed to turn basic lands into dual lands. I was so proud of my trade-ins. I must have bragged about this to everyone, and I am sure plenty of people went asking if they could trade their foil lands in (I doubt they needed anymore after the binder full I gave them). 

January 15, 2015: 

I had some rewards points and Amazon gift cards, so I picked up a Savannah and a Scrubland for free! The Amazon list price was more than the going rate, but nothing beats free money. 

Year Five Progress

Taiga: 4/4 $9 (plus store credit)

Savannah: 2/4 Free (rewards points and gift cards)

Scrubland: 4/4 Free (rewards points and gift cards)

Badlands: 4/4 $9 (plus store credit)

Tundra: 4/4 $9 (plus store credit)


March 21, 2016:

I bought a Savannah for $58.64. This was an excellent deal. I now only needed one more Savannah and three more Bayous to complete the collection. 

Year Six Progress

Savannah: 3/4 $58.64

YEARS 7-10:


I did not buy any dual lands this year. I really did not buy that many Magic cards during this year either. I seemed to have plenty of duals for all my decks, so the pressure to complete the collection dropped off an awful lot.

December 25, 2018

My wife gave me a signed mint condition Bayou for Christmas. It is beautiful, and so is my wife. It cost her $262. However, the story behind her buying it is worth hearing. When she walked into my local gaming store she asked the clerk if they had any Bayous. The clerk looked at her dubiously and said slowly, “Yes…” It was clear the clerk did not really want to take the card out of the case to show her. It is not like these are cheap cards, but also, my wife does not look like your typical binder-schlepping, Friday night Magic player. The clerk slowly began to get the key for the case. As he walked over, my wife explained who she was buying it for, and when he recognized my name, the whole thing went much more smoothly. It was clear the clerk was skeptical and a bit bothered to sell such a valuable card to someone who might not understand its real value, or who might be buying it for some clueless net-decking kid.

Year Eight Progress

Bayou: 2/4 $262 (gifted)


I did not buy any dual lands.


As I am writing this article, I have decided enough is enough! I need to finish this quest. I am going to go through my collection and see what I have extras of, prepare to trade those items in, and then I am going to buy the last three duals I need to finish this quest. The quest has been great. I loved updating my sheet and pulling the folder out each time I bought one, or several. I am very close to erasing my regrets about selling them in the first place. 

Current Needs:

Savannah 1

Bayou 2 

Total dollars spent to rebuild this dual land collection: $1,749.44

Approximate value of this dual land collection: $15,000 (using current Ebay pricing)

Concluding Thoughts

This dual land quest has been fulfilling but expensive. Really, though, can we put a price on righting a childhood wrong? I have already begun to map out my next collection quest for rare artifacts, and though it does not have the moral justification that my last quest had, it will surely also be a fun and satisfying journey. Evaluating your collection and deciding to take the steps necessary to shape it is a very rewarding and involved process. Having a focused goal for your collection is also a great motivator. 

I love the collectible nature of Magic the Gathering, and I hope you have learned from my experience, and take these lessons as a guide in your own collecting. First and foremost, learn from my mistake and hang on to those cards you love playing. There are other ways to come up with cash for trivial things like car insurance. This journey has been rewarding, but it is a mistake I should never have made. If you do have regrets, then know that it is sometimes possible to right a childhood wrong! 


Magic without the Gathering, Via Zoom

“Magic without the Gathering, via Zoom”

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Have you missed playing Magic during these difficult times? I have, and I found a way to play paper Magic the Gathering despite the quarantine. I would like to take a little time to tell you about my experiences. At the end of the article, I will give you links to everything you need to start playing Magic this way. My friends and I primarily play Commander. I could not figure out a way to play cube or draft, but I nailed down how to play Commander via Zoom with great success. Being able to leave the world behind and immerse oneself in a game of Magic the Gathering is a therapeutic experience. I always find myself re-energized after even a short play session. I wanted to share this with all my fellow magictators out there, so everyone can play Magic without the Gathering. 

Inspiration: “If I can teach this way, then can I play Magic this way?”

I am a teacher by profession, and during the school shutdowns, my life was less than ideal. I had to rapidly prepare materials for digital formats and engage with distance-learning tools like Zoom and Google Meets overnight. It was a challenge to get my curriculum shifted to an online format, but I managed to do it. While I was recording videos and making materials, I realized I could use my document camera to play Magic with my friends! The document camera I was using to go over literary texts seemed perfect for showcasing my Magic the Gathering battlefield.

The Research: “What is the best and most cost efficient way to get everyone playing?”

I began researching what other people do to play paper Magic online. I found that many others use a Discord server and digital video calls to play. I did not have any experience with that, but I had plenty of experience using Zoom and Google. I figure Discord probably works in similar ways. The next phase was researching set-ups people use to show their cards. Built-in webcams, in short, are awful options and are not practical. Instead of a built-in webcam, you need an exterior camera with 1080p resolution which connects to your computer. For around $60-100 each, my friends and I could all play Magic again. That is a price worth paying.

Testing Phase: “Is this practical, and does it actually work?”

Early on in the quarantine, I sent my brother a link to some webcams and a document camera. Initially he ordered a webcam, but it got cancelled, and then so did his other order too. Finally, a month later, he was able to get his document camera there with actual two day shipping. I suspect document cameras are usually easier to come by and not in such high demand. My brother is not a techy guy, but he had it set up in no time. It went as smoothly as we could ever have hoped. We could easily see each other’s cards and play games with ease. I quickly contacted my college buddy, who lives a few hours away, and asked him to look into getting set up as well. He is a total brain, and after doing his own research, settled on using his phone as a document camera by using a paid app. My brother sent his document camera Amazon link to a couple of his friends, and now we have five of us that can all play remotely whenever we have free time.

Using Zoom to play Magic is easy. You barely need any computer literacy to fumble through using it. Just pick the most “techy” person to be the host for your meetings. That person will send the invite to everyone else’s email, and from there all that is needed is three clicks to start playing. There is no learning curve when using it to play paper Magic. I am also including a YouTube link to a recording of this in action. 

Tweaking Your Set-up: “How did I polish this process?”

The lighting is perhaps the trickiest part of the whole process. If you want to avoid glare, you need to pay attention to your lighting. The built-in lights on the document cameras usually create a glare spot in the center of your battlefield. You can diffuse this if you add other light sources that are closer and coming in from different angles. I do not use the built-in light, and instead use a lamp angled at 45 degrees, pointed at the front of my battlefield. I have the lamp about a foot or so away, which allows me to eliminate most glare. You can also simply place your cards outside of your glare spot. Experiment with lighting to see what works best in your room. 

Cost/Benefit Analysis: “Was it worth it to invest in this technology?”

Of course it is worth buying these items to play Magic with your friends during quarantine, and beyond! What is the grand total for a setup like this? If you already own a computer, you only need to purchase a document camera. If you have a webcam, then you should be able to do this easily by only investing in a goose-neck style mount to help aim your camera. I would say a sweet set-up is about $100; you can get by with a budget setup of about $50. I feel getting a setup like this is similar to the expense of buying sleeves. Sure, it might cost a little, but it is so worth it. This setup will be useful beyond quarantine as well, as it will allow you to play a quick game or two on a random weeknight. My brother and I have played many short pick-up games without having to travel. This setup will facilitate more opportunities for you to play Magic in the future, and the overall cost is very low. In reality, can you really put a price tag on fun chances to play with your friends across town or across the country?

Reflections: “What issues have come up, and how did I solve them?”

I have actually played more often lately, because we can play a quick game here and there more easily. The Zoom setup allows you and a friend to turn any block of mutual free time into Magic the Gathering time. As far as issues go, my list is rather short. Sometimes the document camera auto-focuses on the deck instead of the cards, so you may need to move your deck out of the shot. There are times Zoom closes the meeting out because the free version has a forty-five minute time limit, but starting a new meeting and picking up right where you left off is no big deal. We are not holding a professional meeting; it does not matter if we need to pause for a minute to restart. There are times I have to hold a card up to the camera and get it to focus, but that is similar to passing a card around the table so people know what it does. While recording for the YouTube video, we had our first ever WiFi issues with my friend’s camera setup, but even that was minor. Overall, after playing Magic without the Gathering for several months via Zoom, there have been few issues.

Recommendations: “What should you buy?”

I highly suggest that you watch the video on my YouTube channel to assess which set-up you like best. Your space and place and budget all matter. I am listing the set-ups and pictures for each below, so you can choose which style you prefer. If you have any questions or suggestions, then I highly encourage you to comment here. 

Here is a link to see what all this looks like in action: 

Mikeal’s setup: Uses his existing laptop and a document camera to show his battlefield:

Ipevo VZ-R Link https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0784RZNKT/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_u6HbFb66DDV1V

Philip’s setup: Uses his existing laptop and a document camera to show his battlefield:

INSWAN INS-1 Link https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PQJZK66/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_54HbFbV8794CJ

Andrew’s setup: Use his existing laptop and his phone (transformed to become a document camera by using an app and WiFi) to show his battlefield.

Gooseneck Bed Phone Holder Mount… https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07S9JXQP2?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share

The app is called iVcam. Andrew paid the $10. We think the free version works too, although there are ads, a watermark, and over time some features potentially become disabled. The app works to stream the video over your network’s WiFi to computer (and Zoom). You need to download the app on both your phone and the client to computer.

Thank you for checking out today’s article. Do not forget to subscribe to the Blog to get all the latest Magictations! I have some special meditations coming, and I can not wait to share them with all of you. Thank you very much for reading and engaging. In addition, if you are reading this article here, then perhaps you could visit FlipsideGaming too, and leave a comment there as well. It helps me keep my blog and my writing going! Thanks so much!

No Lotus? No Problem, Play with Garth One Eye!

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

If you just want to look at the list before reading…here it is.


Let me begin by saying that Garth One Eye is the protagonist for the first Magic the Gathering novel entitled: Arena. You could, back in the day, buy the book and then clip out the coupon in the back and mail away for your very own copy of the card Arena or other potential cards. It was basically the very first Secret Lair, but let’s stay focused here and get back to the story. The book reads like an homage to classic Magic, and if you’ve been playing for longer than 15 years or have any nostalgic feelings for cards from fourth edition on back, then you should really read this book. It’s a quick fun read, and it’s such a cool thing to see a character like this come to cardboard life. Garth One Eye is a real tough son-of-gun and he has an ax to grind as well. So, building a deck focused on him feels more like a task that should be inspired by flavor rather than archetype or mechanics. I initially thought I would build an Eye deck and use changlings, Evil Eye of Orms by Gore and Evil Eye of Urborg and Eyetwitch, and go with a stacked eye theme. However, it just didn’t feel like I was doing justice to Garth One Eye. He represents the quintessential everyman-planeswalker. So, I figured I should build a deck that is both an homage to classic Magic, and something that ties into the modern design mechanics of Garth as well.

Elements of Consideration

Garth One Eye loves being blinked, having haste, and untapping as often as possible. So, some cards that allow us to do things like this are all over the place, because he’s a FIVE COLOR COMMANDER! Woohoo! The hardest part is balancing blink and untap effects while generating enough mana to actually cast the spells Garth can make copies  of and sling around. The beauty of it all is that once we enable haste (often via Anger) we are capable of casting Black Lotus for free, untapping our Garth with one of our untap effects like Djeru’s Resolve and netting two extra mana for free. Ornamental Courage also works to help untap Garth and potentially buff him up for blocks and possibly casting a useful removal spell as well! Tidal Bore is a fun one that most people don’t expect either. Free untapping feels pretty sneaky. Also, it’s a nice way to get yourself ready to crank out free spells while keeping your hand full of action. Granted, we are basically trading the untap spell for one of Garth’s signature spells, but let’s take a look at how the deck breaks down into its component parts.

Blink and You’ll Miss Him!

Now, as for the spell selection Garth grants us, it’s a tool box approach overall. One representative spell from each color and the most famous artifact in the game combine nicely to give us easy access to cast just about anything we need to win a game of Magic. Now, using his regrowth spell to get back any of the cool untap spells is nice, but I also like the idea of resetting Garth to allow us another spin on each of the spells…including regrowth to keep the loop going all over again. The spells that help us loop and blink Garth into reuse include all-stars like Ephemerate and Momentary Blink. Why not also include Cloudshift, Justicar’s Portal, Essence Flux, and even Acrobatic Manuever? These all help you blink Garth and start off with a Lotus all over again. This helps you crank out the extra Disenchant you might need for someone’s unsavory enchantment plan, or kill an annoying creature, or even let you sink a ton of mana into a Braingeyser to refill your hand. Of course, the real sweat spot is making more Shivan Dragons whenever you want to! That is a wonderful way to win. Take it from anyone who played from 93-96…Shivan Dragon and Mahamoti Djinn were the kings! When you run out of cards to cast just recast Regrowth targeting one of your blink spells, blink Garth and then repeat his cycle of spells all over again. Don’t forget that you can hold up a blink effect in order to help keep Garth safe from other’s people’s removal spells as well. Try not to be too hasty with using these blink effects until you can get maximum value.

On second thought…yes, be hasty!

This plan for Garth and utilizing his spells and maximizing the number of Black Lotus spells you cast per game is super fun, but it would be more fun if we did it faster. Like hastily. And maybe with some Anger? Using Anger, Fires of Yavimaya, Fervor, Cyclops of Eternal Fury, Garna, the Blood Flame, Madrush Cyclops, Samut, Voice of Dissent, Temur Ascendancy, Hammer of Purphoros, and even Hellraiser Goblin enable a very hasty Garth One Eye. Once you combine haste and blink and untap effects we really are able to cast two or three of his spells each turn. Considering that Garth with an untap effect allows us to cast Black Lotus each time he blinks back in and taps, then we always have three free mana available to help enable other spells—say even a 5/5 flying dragon with firebreathing. That’s not a bad rate at all. The only rub here is how much mana we have for casting spells.

Ramping into more Magic

Ramping up to and beyond Garth One Eye’s mana cost is pretty important. You can win the game fairly handily if you have a flight of Shivan Dragons at your disposal. However, you’re not making it that far unless you first ramp up enough mana to support casting those dragons. For the ramp package I’d like to suggest a budget conscious version using mostly green, but if you’ve got the duals, fetches, and shocks you know you’ll be using those in place of my suggestions. You can start with a set of Triomes as they are fairly inexpensive and help to fix the mana requirements rather nicely. The ones that are forests also help with cards like Ranger’s Path or Skyshroud Claim which are very powerful ramp cards when combined with non-basic lands with basic land types (duals, shocks, and triomes). If you aren’t running the duals, shocks, and triomes then you’ll be going for a more Circuitous Route on your way to some Explosive Vegetation. If you want to explode all over an opponent there’s always Exploding Borders as well. All-star green ramp cards Kodama’s Reach and Cultivate should find their way into this deck as well. Rampant Growth is a classic, and I’d suggest snagging a Tempest one as well for some real classic ramp feelings. If you end up leaning more heavily on basic lands, then Harrow is a solid include as well. Harrow into a Garth One Eye activation, into a Disenchant targeting that annoying Sword of Feast and Famine is definitely satisfying. Don’t forget to run some solid artifact fixing as well. Cards like Chromatic Lantern, Coalition Relic, Arcane Signet, Mana Geode, and Commander’s Sphere are great fixers as they give us not just what we need for one turn, but any turn.

Answer me this

Now that we’ve covered untapping, blinking, and ramping, it’s time to round the deck out with card draw and answer spells. Now, Garth One Eye is cool in that he’s got an answer for almost everything. The problem permanents are those pesky planeswalkers. Oh, and those Terror dodging black and artifact creatures (though disenchant does deal with those golems rather well). So, perhaps we will need answers that are both flexible and hit black creatures. Maelstrom Pulse seems like an easy include, and any of the following seem like decent answers to cards that might pose problems: Vindicate, Utter End, Swords to Plowshares, Dire Tactics, Urza’s Ruinous Blast and Crib Swap. Now, as we’re also playing blue I’d suggest tossing in a couple counterspells. I understand it can make others salty, but keeping someone from winning and being a spiteful jerk are two different things (well, most of the time). I would suggest running two or three counterspells that are light on the blue requirements, so that you can actually cast them when the need arises. A few solid choices include Arcane Denial (hey, there’s a nice consolation prize for the countered), Delay (three turn cycles is a long time in Commander), Disdainful Stroke (most problematic spells fit the restrictions for this and make it essentially an easier to cast Counterspell), Saw it Coming (foretelling this is just one more way to keep extra spells handy, but not in the hand), and Unwind (free is free, and most creatures can be dealt with in other ways). Between all of these answer spells we should have ways to deal with every board state that comes our way.

Draw up a plan

We have answers, ramp, Garth One Eye synergies, Garth One Eye himself, and mana. We don’t have much for card draw. So, since this is five color we can literally just toss in whatever you have for your best card draw spells. Garth doesn’t benefit from any particular style of card draw, and looting effects don’t gain us all that much (maybe try abusing his access to Regrowth). So, I’d suggest tossing in whatever you feel you enjoy most! I’m choosing cards like Rhystic Study, Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, Fact or Fiction, and Ponder to smooth out our draws and avoid top-decking. Having enough draw spells is about as critical as having enough lands. Without lands you can’t cast your spells, and without cards in hand you can’t do anything. That is unless you have an active Garth and mana to sink into your Braingeyser.

Wrap Up:

When you go to play a Garth One Eye deck you’re not here for primarily new stuff, but to celebrate the old. So, in order to maximize my nostalgic feelings I decided to cram a few other spells that Garth actually casts in the novel. These help bring about the simple joys of what it means to be a rogue planeswalker like Garth. I did also include a little secret synergy with Panharmonicon and Isocron Scepter…which seems really solid. Just saying.

 The Deck List:

If you’ve had enough of my pontificating, or you just scrolled to the list, I want you to consider this a starting point for your own Garth One Eye deck, and I hope you have as much fun with it as I know I will. Black Lotus may be banned in Commander, but I’m going to be playing plenty of them in the future via Garth One Eye.


Time Spiral Remastered–A Guide for Commander Players

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

**I originally published this back on March 19th for the LGS I write for…so I apologize if it’s a bit dated, but I figured it was worth looking at as a retrospective of sorts.**

Is Time Spiral Remastered worth a look? YES!

Wow, my fellow Commander players. If you haven’t drafted Time Spiral, then you are probably under the age of 30. No, seriously. In October of 2006 the Time Spiral block began, nearly 15 years ago.  So it may still be considered new to the “old guard”; it is clearly an older set by today’s standards. As someone that often likes to teach others to play Magic for their first time, it is always a joy for me when those new players start to realize just how deep the catalogue of Magic cards truly is. They often ask how long I’ve been playing, but that doesn’t quite send the message as seeing them realize just how many sets have been released. When Time Spiral was originally released it was around the 45th expansion set or so. Now, there are over 100 expansion sets, and that’s not even counting the ancillary products or additional collector sets. There are so many sets now that seeing an older block get remastered as a single set is actually very cool.

If you’re worried that this set isn’t going to be super fun because you never played Time Spiral, well I guess you never played Time Spiral. Time Spiral was awesome. It was the original Dominaria block. If you enjoyed the nostalgia and coolness of Dominaria, then you’re going to love Time Spiral. I felt like Dominaria was a Time Spiral set without all the crazy effects and abilities. The story and vibe just felt like old-school magic. Not that Magic needs to feel old-school or anything. Magic is constantly innovating and always introducing new mechanics. However, it does feel good to play Magic based around its simplest and oldest mechanics. It never ceases to amaze me that newer players can continually enter this game. The rules are complex and only get more so with each set. There are always new sets of mechanics and rules that expand or break old rules. The longer you’ve been playing the easier it gets, but when Time Spiral released it managed to pack more mechanics into it than all previous sets combined. No, really, it was ridiculous. Yet, it was also very fun. So much fun to draft and collect and build with. Time Spiral Remastered is going to be a nostalgia packed goodie bag for old and new players alike.

The choices the design team made concerning what to reprint appear to be basically perfect. Now, I haven’t drafted the set yet, but just looking through the spoiler sheet I fondly remember both winning and losing to a variety of those cards. Losing to Angel’s Grace in draft when I over-extended was an epic way for my buddy Andrew to defeat me. Beating my friends with Teferi was pretty sweet too. Playing Akroma as a morph and then flipping her against my opponent’s blue-white draft deck was some crushingly good fun. Living the dream and drafting a five color sliver deck is a wondrous thing (just go for it). If you’ve never drafted slivers, then I suggest you do it. Living the sliver dream is really a thing of beauty. The set seems like what it promises to be: a “best of” reprint set that refines the entire draft experience. That’s pretty sweet. Heck, even if you are just cracking boxes this set seems like good fun.

The old school time shifted borders are also a pure treat for older players. These intriguing reprints run the gamut from chase mythics to staple commons. Every pack comes with a time-shifted card in the old border, and I have no doubt that if you don’t want the card you open, someone you know does. These cards are going to be highly sought after. I’m telling you now, because I want you to trade them to me. No, seriously, please trade these to me. I can’t imagine a simpler way to appeal to older players that also doesn’t leave out the newer players. The list of reprints hits on every single format. These cards will be wanted by many people. Even if you’re someone that doesn’t like the older look, then you are almost assured that you can trade up for the older version with someone else who has the same cards plus a little extra. I have no doubt that these will trade for more than they are worth. People will want them that badly. In a way this is like opening a foil and being able to trade it for the non-foil plus more stuff. Who doesn’t like more stuff? The older borders are nice bonus trade fodder. As a cube owner and a Commander player I can tell you that people like me will be looking to pick up at least a set of each one of these. I honestly don’t think there’s a single time-shifted card I don’t want to own. This old-school treatment for new school cards seems to hit on all the cards that traditional enfranchised players play with across all formats. I was drooling when I saw the old-school gold card treatments. I just love that old gold look. Seriously, this is an awesome idea. I hope they do this with other blocks and remaster them with some other “gimmicky name” in the time-shifted slot. “Guild-gates” for Ravnica or “War Inventions” for Urza’s block, or perhaps “Coalitions Relics” for Invasion? The possibilities aren’t endless, but with over 100 expansion it seems like the mine is pretty rich.

Time Spiral remastered has many strengths. The biggest may very well be its variety. The variety stems from having both the extra slot and the fact that it spans what was originally three different sets. Combining the block of sets that were Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight into one remastered set is pretty ingenious. Instead of spreading ideas and mechanics and draft choices across three sets it all gets condensed down into one set that is basically a highlight reel for the block. Rosewater has spoken about condensing blocks and eventually we got to see this and live with a reality that is a one set block or the occasional two set block. It was easier for design to build good draft environments that fit with a story line by having fewer sets to connect together. So, when Wizard’s applies today’s design approaches to yesterday’s sets we end up with these cool remastered items. They function like watching a best of highlight reel. That’s exactly what this set is, so I’m pretty excited for other people to finally know just how amazing this block really is. It’s both fun and flavorful.

Which cards do I think will be the best new pick-ups for Commander players? Well, let’s take a gander at the colors for a moment and see which rares, uncommons, and commons are the best for including in your 99 or inspiring a new 99. I won’t belabor the mythics, because mythics are usually awesome.

I’m sure you noticed the usually clause about mythics, so let’s talk about Crovax, Ascendant Hero. Crovax has been upshifted to a mythic…ugh. Well, it should end up being a cheap mythic, but this is going to be a great card in your go-wide humans decks. I might even reconsider including it in my Djeru, With Eyes Open deck. Mangara of Corondor is an amazing card for answering literally anything on the board, so I imagine most decks will be excited to have this card as well. Uncommons are also a tough call as there are plenty of cards that slot into many go-wide strategies and plenty of tribal support cards as well. Overall, I think it’s a toss-up between Stonecloaker and Lost Auromancers for best pickups in the uncommon slot. Now, as for the commons I think that Children of Korlis is a very interesting card that makes math a bit more complicated for your opponents. It can do some sneaky things if you have ways of paying life to set up ridiculous turns.

Blue’s ability to take extra turns is amazing. Add “buyback” to an extra turn spell, and the game is usually over in short order once you cast Walk the Aeons. It’s an amazing card, but the card I’m most excited for people to be introduced to or maybe even reminded about is Draining Whelk. That card is amazing. This is the perfect time to reprint the whelk as the inspiration for this card, Mana Drain, was just reprinted in Commander Legends. You have to look at the original Mana Drain artwork, but once you do, then you’ll totally understand what I’m talking about. That’s just one small instance of how interconnected Time Spiral is with Magic’s entire history. The uncommons are the place where you can see the power of split second. That keyword is amazing, and it’s always fun saying no to people when they try to respond to a split second spell. That’s why Wipe Away is the uncommon I’m most excited to see from this set. For blue’s commons I’m giving the nod to the sweet duo that is Reality Acid and Dream Stalker. It has a whole archetype built after it in pauper, but using either card in your 99 in Commander is still a legitimate consideration. Especially if you’re running any sort of blue deck with fan favorite Capsize (with buyback).  

Black’s mythics are cool, but it’s super exciting to see people being introduced to Sudden Spoiling (split second is brutal) and Tombstalker. Tombstalker is probably underplayed as a beatdown device in most decks, but how often are you actually utilizing every card in your graveyard? Being able to drop a respectable threat in Commander for one black mana is very powerful indeed. The uncommons have plenty of depth as well, but I really like Minions Murmurs for all those decks looking to just refill their hand without spending six or more mana to do so. Life is cheap, so spend it on drawing cards. The commons have two cards that are criminally underrated—Pit Keeper and Enslave. They are both better than they seem at first. Enslave seems overpriced, but stealing is not what people expect from black. Meanwhile Pit Keeper is a super cheap card whose upside is very easy to turn on.

Red has some fun stuff, but seeing people picking up more copies of Reiterate is going to be an absolute blast. The flavor behind many of the uncommons is just so cool, but I really loved seeing Basalt Gargoyle in there. I’m not sure it’s worth playing outside draft (perhaps even questionable there), but seeing Granite Gargoyle’s aggressive sibling is just good fun. The true excitement comes from another red spell in the uncommon slot. Haze of Rage has storm and buyback, so it’s going to be a great surprise finisher in quite a few red decks. Red’s commons are ridiculous. Two spells with storm: Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens are both good in the right decks. However, Ancient Grudge is Gruully excellent.  

Green has a couple cool cards outside the obvious fungus among us theme. Heartwood Storyteller is a card I’m excited for people to start playing with a bit more. This card enables an awful lot of card draw and usually replaces itself at the very least. Two cards in the uncommon slot really draw me in for completely different reasons. If you’ve read this far, then you know I’m going to mention Krosan Grip, because it has split second and allows you to destroy pesky artifacts and enchantments without letting your opponent get one last use out of it. I love split second, because it essentially brought back the idea of “interrupts” in Magic. They functioned as instants, but they were faster. Split second is really just the fastest interrupt ever. I love spells with split second. Now, Gaea’s Anthem being downshifted to uncommon is a bit silly. It’ll be nice to have plenty of copies of that lying around in the near future. Green’s commons are basically devoted to slivers and thallids, but Utopia Vow is a great piece of removal for mono-green strategies.

Multicolor has amazing stuff, but nothing as amazing as all the slivers being there. Well, not all of the originals or anything, but plenty of strong slivers are there—Sliver Legion! Now, if you haven’t been brutalized by a deck running Jhoira of the Ghitu, then you’re lucky. If this is your first introduction to that card, then please, go grab every large cmc spell you can find, toss them in a deck with Jhoira, and watch your friends groan every time you announce your commander.

The artifacts and lands are cool, but easily the most exciting cards to see here are Coalition Relic and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. That both of them are merely rares is very fortunate. It would have been awful to see them upshifted to mythic status as they are hard enough to come by now. Thankfully, these should be easier to come by, and people will be expanding their access to mana in truly exciting ways.

I know that the mythics are all pretty exciting, and I spoke about that earlier so don’t think I’m ignoring them, but you don’t need me to point out Akroma’s Memorial or cards without casting costs are incredibly powerful. Overall, this set has many cool tribal sub-themes I didn’t dive into, but I’m sure you’ll see as you peruse it. Those types of things are cool, and should not be underestimated from either a play perspective or collector’s perspective. Getting all the pieces for your tribal decks can be difficult, but when a set is fresh and pieces are abundant, then you should snap up what you can while you can.

Overall, I have to say that Time Spiral Remastered seems like a no-brainer of a pick-up for most Commander players. If you happen to be able to draft this with friends, then you should absolutely get a box or even two. No, really, it’s so much fun to play as a limited experience. The cards you have left over after the draft can easily be put to good use as either Commander deck filler or trade fodder. I just don’t see a world where you can draft this with friends and then not have it be worth the price of admission. Buying this simply to crack packs can be worthwhile if you don’t own these cards. There’s so many sweet reprints in here that you are bound to stumble upon plenty of play material for your gambling efforts. In short, this is a set that has serious depth for Commander players.  I caution you not to dismiss it as a draft only product. While I do consider it a no-brainer for Cube enthusiasts, drafters, and collectors, it is really a set that offers Commander players many cards worth playing.