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Building an EDH/Commander Cube part 4

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.

This is the final installment in my series on how to go about building an EDH/Commander Cube. Parts 1-3 dove into the theory, compilation, and actual record keeping for building an EDH/Commander Cube. This last installment is focused on what my current build of my personal EDH Cube looks like. I’ll provide links to a Google Sheet of the cube and I’ll also be discussing the overall archetypal choices I made. This is meant to help you kick start your own cube, and does not need to be taken as a definitive list that you must copy exactly. As we’ve discussed, there are many ways to build an EDH/Commander cube. I’ve spent well over one hundred hours developing, refining, playing, and writing about this cube. I love my EDH Cube. I’m proud of its progress, and I’m happy to share it with all of you. So, let’s get into it!

Link to Tappedout.net list: https://tappedout.net/mtg-cube-drafts/edhnostalgia-cube/

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1l6FRznQaIcY9ZPbP4q3_89Hk2sYbRbV5y68mYlCF2D4/edit?usp=sharing

Commanders

Well, it is an EDH/Commander cube. The commander choices I made were actually simple: only the 55 original legends from Legends would be available as your commanders. This choice had a ripple effect throughout my cube. It basically eliminates the need to support enemy color archetypes. The only way to have an enemy colors in your deck is to draft a tri-color legend; this means that you don’t naturally have anyone playing two enemy colors together. The third color will always be present in enemy color builds, so I could simply try to support archetypes that cross-support one another despite being enemy colors. This sounds complex, but as you start working out the archetypes it actually lines up pretty easily.

If this were an option, then you simply draft every artifact you see
for the rest of the draft…a bit boring, eh?

Using those original EDH generals (the original name for commanders) from Legends also fixes two issues when creating a cube like this. If you want to avoid the draft good stuff problem, then capping commander choices with three-color legends is a great way to do it. Furthermore, by using the original legendary creatures I managed to avoid something that makes constructed great, but becomes problematic in limited. Using legends that predate the existence of the format makes it so built for Commander legends like Gavi, Nest Warden, Zedruu, the Greathearted, or just about any other Commander Precon Legend you can think of, are unable to dictate the draft strategy. Instead of drafting a commander that tells me to draft cycling or populate or humans, we can make it so the drafter is more focused on building a synergistic deck that happens to have an interesting leader at the helm (if you’re lucky enough). Making it so that there’s “only” 24 options at the start of each four person draft also makes it so you do need to prioritize getting a shot at playing the colors you want.  My highly restrictive choice to use the original 55 actually made building the cube out so much easier. Well, as easy as 100+ hour project can be!

Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

Archetype Support

I initially wanted to build at least three archetypes into each color and/or color pair. I wanted each color to have a tribal identity inspired from the original sets. So, I quickly landed on white angels, green elves, red dragons, black zombies, and blue clones? So, black was going to be vampires, because of Sengir Vampire, but vampires didn’t offer enough cross synergy support for me to make it work as nicely as I wanted it to. So, I switched over to zombies during construction. As I started to build out the zombies I felt that they helped cross-synergize with other strategies amazingly well. This could all change as more sets are released and I adjust the cube, but supporting a tribe in a color is usually a fairly easy task. I say usually, because blue is a problem.

Initially, I thought clones would be pretty cool. I started by including plenty of cloning cards from Vesuvan Doppleganger and Clone to Identity Thief, but quickly realized that would mean blue would always be a dedicated support color. Or a support tribe. Every tribe gets better with blue, but no actual blue tribe would exist. The inability to draft blue as your primary color strategy seemed off to me. I didn’t want a blue player to have to rely on other people’s threats to be a force in a game. That felt wrong. I then thought merfolk would work. I honestly wanted drakes, but that’s more a pet choice than a solid draft choice. Besides, with no Talrand, Sky Summoner in the cube, and no blue/green dedicated support it’s pretty much impossible to adequately pull off drake support. Thus, blue boils down to merfolk, illusions, wizards, spirits, and sea monsters. Illusions suffer from many of the same downfalls that affect clones. Merfolk is tough, and after just one draft I was fairly certain they weren’t going to make it as force in the EDH cube. They’re usually small creatures, require you to go wide, and play as a more aggressive strategy. So, the merfolk got the boot. 

I’m a huge fan of giant sea monsters and fish, and I do have a soft spot for Island Fish Jasconius. So, my second iteration began with switching blue’s tribal identity to be more aligned with big cracking krakens and other such monsters. There’s just enough support and payoff to be able to make sea monsters into blue’s tribal identity. The problem was similar to vampires though—not enough cross over into other synergies. So, illusions seemed OK, but I was worried that might make the blue-white fliers theme entirely overpowered. Additionally, I looked more closely at wizards and realized they are the most versatile and diverse tribe offered. Leviathans and krakens were sent packing!

Wizards it was. Wizards offers enormous support in all the areas that blue represents—spells, counter spells, bounce, flying, and trickery. Wizards can also give off a nostalgic vibe—sweet! The additional upside is that wizards synergize with the blue/white blink archetype. I didn’t even have all the wizards I wanted for the first spin with them, but the cards themselves gelled well in other synergies. I suspect that spirits could work, but I doubt I’ll even give them a shot. I’m just so enamored by the multi-archetypal support that wizard cards offer. Wizards for the win!

This could all change in the future, but for now I’m very happy with it. The tribe on the short list to replace wizards is spirits, but that’s a discussion to have after many more drafts and iterations of this cube. I suspect that spirits will push blue/white fliers into a zone that is perhaps over-powered, so I’ll have to walk that line carefully. The goal is to try and cross support as many archetypes as possible with each card that gets included. Having the same card being used in different ways by different strategies is what helps to make a cube really fun to draft. This allows my buddy to swipe the Walking Ballista I needed for my +1/+1 counters deck; he’s got plans for it in his big mana ramp deck. That’s why I’m constantly on the look out for improvements that don’t always mean making the most efficient game play choices, but rather the most effective drafting choices. If the draft is more interesting, then the games will be more enjoyable by default.

Supporting colors was also fairly easy as my commander choices clearly identified which color pairings would be good choices for archetypal supports. I wanted to have at least one major archetype supported by each friendly color pairing. I chose blue/white fliers, red/green beat-down, blue/black reanimate, green/white counters, and black/red sacrifice. These goals end up crossing over into one another a little bit, and that’s honestly ideal. The third color you add to any of these can often lead to a deck that has many cross synergies as well. It worked out rather nicely. I really have my commander colors to thank for this. I imagine that your restrictions may make things even easier if you land on commanders that specifically point people into these clear archetypes. However, that can also lead to “lazy” drafting where people pick a commander and then just take things that only go with that commander. Which can pay-off or become disastrous as well. Ultimately, supporting these color pairings and archetypes is dictated by your inclusion of viable commanders. You can’t draft blue/white fliers if you don’t have a blue/white commander in the draft. My cube doesn’t specifically rely on someone having drafted a commander to enable their strategy, so in some ways it makes things a bit more flexible for the player. It is not a case where you draft Akiri, Line-Slinger and just jame every artifact possible into the deck. However, the cost of this is that I was restricted to which archetypes my cube can actually support—no blue/green value/ramp or black/white aristocrats.  In the end I’m OK with that.

Removal is something that I was constantly trying to keep available for each color. Some colors remove things better than others—black kills creatures, white wrecks enchantments, red blasts artifacts, and green gets to blow up fliers or artifacts or enchantments. Additionally, I didn’t saturate the cube with mass removal. I included a few for each color or at least as close as I could manage. These effects should feel special, and I really didn’t want someone drafting a miserable control deck that blows up the world over and over again. I’m not saying those decks aren’t fun to play when you build them in constructed, but in my EDH cube they don’t belong. I want people to deal with increasingly complex board states and have to balance attacks, tricks, and defenses. Now that I’ve said this, I’m sure I’ll see someone build a brutal control deck just to spite me. One friend came fairly close once, but lacked enough sweepers to really be a true and powerful control deck. Whenever possible, I’ve been trying to swap out generic removal for things like Cruel Revival, Zombie Apocalypse, or Angel of Glory’s Rise. Cruel Revival pushes an archetype while still acting as a piece of removal in a non-zombie deck. Zombie Apocalypse and Angel of Glory’s Rise are just little dreams I have of how to make some big plays. The number of original legends are that incidentally human makes Angel of Glory’s rise a surprise sleeper for getting back any legends in the graveyard. I’m still searching for other elements as well. I’m fairly certain that Crib Swap should probably be included in the cube, as it is a powerful removal spell, but also counts as every creature type. Giving your opponent a shapeshifter in return also makes this weaker, and I like that. As I write this, I’m putting it in the short list of cards to add.

Flavor text here is just about perfect.

Don’t feel like your cube needs to be perfect the first time out. I had a huge glaring error in mine that my buddy was more than happy to point out (thanks, Andrew). I had included Cabal Patriarch in the cube. I actually drafted it too, but didn’t realize it was legendary until I he pointed it out during the game. I totally missed it during construction. I just pulled it out and used it to support the sacrifice theme, and didn’t even bat an eye. I promptly pulled it once I realized that would enable people to go mono-black with a dedicated archetypal commander no-less! That broke several of my rules and deviated from my goals. Sometimes we need the help, and by listening to your friends after drafts you can pick up on what changes you should shortlist and which ones you should keep an eye on.

Making changes is a tough to track. I keep notes for mine. I keep these notes right in the cube box, so that I’m inspired to make the changes every time I pick it up. I love the idea of slowly improving your creations. I have had a “normal” cube for years, and it’s a huge cube that is really well supported, but can be a beast to update. I find that I don’t update it as often, because I only want to include cards that work within the confines of its established archetypes. This means that I only try to include cards that are strictly better. This is a fairly optimized cube. The only reason I mention this though is because your cube’s improvements don’t always line up with finding the most efficient cards. If they print a better Swords to Plowshares tomorrow I won’t immediately replace some other piece of removal. Take Crib Swap as an example. It is arguably better in the cube than a Swords that simply exiles a creature for one mana. It creates a more interesting board state and synergizes really well with existing archetypes. Likewise, a removal spell that also creates +1/+1 counters like Swallow Whole is really bad. However, it also is really cool in a counters matter deck. These are the types of things you want to take notes on and create a short-list of inclusions.

Yes, this one has the typo, so it’s extra fun to use!

Combat tricks should also feel exciting and special. I wanted to include them, but I didn’t want to saturate the cube with them either. Combat can be pretty exciting, but if I’m already allowing the board states to build and usually remain fairly developed, then the block and attacking can do all the complicating for me. This is the goal, and it helps keep the game moving forward. Additionally, I chose to include quite a few monarch cards. I wanted to introduce the monarch to most games as early as possible. It really helps power a game along. The incremental damage that gets pushed out along with card draw is what powers a game to its finish. If people allow anyone to keep the monarch for too long, then that player usually puts an end to the game—despite being triple teamed. I’m not saying it’s impossible to overcome or anything, because I’ve seen it happen. I managed to draw many extra cards, but the combined might of my opponents was enough to eventually chew through all my extra cards and kill me first. I think if you choose to include monarch cards that it is important you include some that give you monarch when they enter the battlefield. This helps decrease people’s ability to run away with a game when they have a more developed board state. Snagging away monarch and then allowing it to pass around the table just moves the game along so much faster (in a positive way, and not a rushed or hurried manner).

Banned cards are banned for a reason. When the reasoning didn’t apply or I chose to ignore it, I included banned cards. Originally, I had Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in there along with Sundering Titan. I have fond memories of playing with both, but I was shown exactly how un-fun they are to play against by my buddy (Andrew). He managed to play both in a single game. Granted he hard cast Emrakul by tapping 15 lands (which is truly an amazing site), it still felt awful playing against it. He also drafted Upheaval in the same deck. I guess drafting all the banned cards is a decent strategy? Anyway, we discussed how the game played out, and we decided that Emrakul and Sundering Titan had to go. There really aren’t too many ways to cheat them in, but enough exist to make it worth cutting them. Even having hard cast them, the disadvantage and virtually game-ending position they inflict on other players is the reason they just can’t be in the cube. They’re un-fun. I really like having banned cards in the cube, but that’s just my way of getting a bit of thrill. I wish I could have included Prophet of Kruphix as well, but no blue green support. I honestly don’t think Prophet would destroy a cube, but will really only create a situation where someone is now facing three on one odds. Meanwhile, some cards need to be watched over the long-term. I watched Emrakul get played once, and that was enough, but Recurring Nightmare has been a long-term watch. It’s banned for a reason—it’s the most difficult reanimation spell to interact with. I love the card, but it can ruin a game and also ruin a draft. I don’t think I could ever pass that card. Even if I’m just hate-drafting that card, it still stinks. Meanwhile, I could imagine plenty of places where I would be able pass Primeval Titan. Titan is great, but the lands in the cube are not broken. Ramping in the cube does not guarantee immediate victory. The advantage can be hard to overcome, but insurmountable. However, that’s what notes are for! Banned cards can lend drama and excitement to a game—so don’t be shy trying out a few banned cards. I’ve had success with some and others have clearly been failures. Live and learn my friends!

You don’t need to take my cube as the definitive version. I expect most people won’t want to use the original legends in their cubes, but that’s why we have our own creations. I really think that deciding your goals ahead of time and staying true to them will bring you a long way toward commanding your EDH cube. I have found this experiment to be very fulfilling. I am definitely looking forward to being able to continue drafting this cube and make adjustments to it as the years go by. I hope this experiment has inspired you to build your own EDH/Commander cube, and I hope that you found these approaches and thoughts to be helpful in shaping your own creation. I have recently undertaken the task of building a budget version of a Commander/EDH Cube. I hope to share that with all of you soon. It will include a miniaturized version of these last four articles as well. I’m going to make it so it has a similar feel, but for a seriously budget price. It is doable, so I will make it so. Until next time, may your draft plans, your cubes, and the cards be ever in your favor!

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Building an EDH/Commander Cube part 3

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.

This third article in the building an EDH/Commander Cube series is going to dive into how to support, build, and keep track of your choices as you build out your Commander Cube. This will dive into specifics on how to keep track of your archetype choices and how keeping track of it all helps make your cube more successful. This should be incredibly fun, provided you’re up to date on what we’ve covered so far. If you have already started building your own EDH Cube, awesome! If you haven’t started yet, and you’re just reading through these articles to determine if you’re interested and willing to tackle this monstrously fun task, then let’s get keep going! If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2, then you’ll probably want to do that first (there’s a lot to cover here).

Tracking Archetype Support

While supporting particular archetypes, it’s also important to include cards that work in multiple archetypes. If we return to the example mentioned in part 2 where we choose populate/tokens as a build-around archetype, then it’s important to choose cards that support that archetype. The cards I listed included ones like Doubling Season, Full Flowering, Ghired’s Belligerence, and Sundering Growth. Doubling Season, Sundering Growth, and Ghired’s Belligerence are the best choices for supporting this archetype. While Full Flowering may seem a great choice, it’s actually the weakest one to include in your cube. The first three cards also support two other important areas: other archetypes and removal. Whenever you can offer an archetype removal that supports its goals you are making the best choices for that archetype. Disenchant is good, but it doesn’t offer support to any particular archetype. Dismantling Blow (with kicker) is great, but it doesn’t support any particular archetype (unless you build in a kicker archetype). Thus, Sundering Growth is really a great card for a cube supports populate or tokens strategies. It is a little tricky to include, because it can be used as white, green, or multi-color—hybrid mana is tough to classify. Ultimately, the spell can be used as removal in any deck that might need it, but it will be prioritized by a deck that builds off that synergy. Meanwhile, Doubling Season supports tokens and counters. If your cube supports a +1/+1 counter theme and a tokens strategy, then Doubling Season is doubly good. This promotes healthy competition for strong draft pieces that play great synergy roles in multiple archetypes. Furthermore, Ghired’s Belligerence can also count as removal, and so it is a very solid inclusion in this case as well. Then we have Full Flowering—a sign-post or pay-off card. Full Flowering is really only great in a dedicated tokens strategy. Most decks won’t want this card, but decks that are all-in on tokens will be able to leverage this to great effect. Thus, it is actually the worst of the four to include in supporting a balanced cube.

Why Balance Matters

If we were to forgo balancing the archetypes or even just support them with cards that don’t cross over into other archetypes, then we run the risk of creating a very imbalanced cube. The problem with a cube that is unbalanced in its archetypal support lies in how the drafts actually play out. If someone opens Ghired, Conclave Exile in their opening pack and then proceeds to draft all the populate and tokens matter cards, they may end up getting all of those. While this might sound great it can produce an awful game. Other drafters end up ignoring populate because they never saw the commander or sign-posts that support it, and by relation they opt to stay away from them. Perhaps they end up building tribal treefolk instead? It doesn’t matter, because now we have drafters not really competing for picks, and then by extension the games will play out in a fairly predictable manner: the strongest archetype will win most of the time. So, if your populate mechanic is strongest, then that player ends up with the advantage because they drafted the commander to enable it. Or perhaps they draft the cards to do it, but never get the commander and are left stumbling at the end of the draft. Either way it ends up as a bad play experience. You want to avoid this sort of building trap. Your archetypes need to be supported and cross-supported whenever possible.

By supporting multiple archetypes with each single card inclusion you create an environment where people are competing to get cards for decks despite not being in the same archetypal strategies. This makes for a more interactive, exciting, and competitive drafting environment. Including cards that both support archetypes and offer removal can help create decks that synergize well, but also have answers to other strategies. This will lead to drafters being able to create decks that feel like constructed Commander decks –clearly themed, but also possessing necessary interaction. People’s decks should feel like one-time creations in a fun and powerful limited environment. So, be proud of your archetypes and cross support them as often as possible. People may often wish to play another round with their draft deck as one game with their new creation might not be enough to satisfy their itch to use these tools. The goal is to have the most fun, and we get there through careful planning.

Measuring Your Archetypal Support

While you are supporting those archetypes and making choices about which cards to include, you can keep track of it all via a quick spreadsheet. I recommend that you keep your goals to a reasonable amount of archetypes: perhaps two for each color combination. The larger you make the cube the more difficult it becomes to support those archetypes fully. Moving forward, I’ll be suggesting numbers of support cards based on a 500 card cube. If you decided to enlarge yours, then just be aware that you’ll want to increase support numbers by similar ratios (ex. 750 card cubes will need 1.5 times the number of support cards).

Each color is often known for being really good at doing particular things. White is good with ramp…er, wait a minute that’s every other color. White is good at exiling creatures, blinking things, putting +1/+1 counters on stuff, and making lots of little tokens (the taxing concept is coming into its own in recent years, but it still needs more support). Green is good at ramping, but it is also good at making tokens and +1/+1 counters, having big creatures, and pumping up things up. Red is great at going directly “to the dome!”, and also enjoys ramping with treasures, being chaotic, and having cool cards like dragons. Black is great at killing things, reanimated things, creating zombies, and sacrificing creatures or life to get what it wants. Blue is good at saying “no”, bouncing things, copying things, drawing cards, and have pesky merfolk as well. Ultimately, you will plan your archetypes based on what you and your playgroup most enjoy about each color, color pair, shard, wedge, nephalim, and five color grouping.

Planning the Spreadsheet

While you are supporting and choosing archetypes you can type out each card and label it as to which archetypes it is supporting. I just used a simple spreadsheet with columns and put a 1 in each column that the card helped support. This helped me make sure that I wasn’t ignoring any one archetype or forgetting to add removal for creatures or enchantments or artifacts (color dependent of course). Although, I did enjoy putting my Gate to Phyrexia in the cube to help black sacrifice have a repeatable answer to any problematic artifacts. The trickiest part is deciding which archetypes to keep and which to exclude. Sometimes we have pet archetypes that actually can’t make it as a viable option for a cube. Depending on the restrictions you build into your cube, you may find that particular archetypes just can’t be supported properly. I tried to include mill as a viable option in my cube, but my restriction in allowing only original legends in the cube and no legendary creatures effectively shuts off the possibility for making a viable mill deck—most of the best commander mill cards are newer legendary creatures.  

Card nameTokens/Populate+1/+1 countersCreature RemovalTotal support
Doubling Season11 2
Ghired’s Belligerence1 12
Full Flowering1  1

What the Numbers Tell Us

I went through my own spreadsheet and immediately turned my eye to cards that were showing up with 0 or 1 as their total synergies. These cards were often removal cards, but other times they were pet cards that I wanted in the cube, but didn’t necessarily synergize with anything in particular. Including cards like these can help give your cube a certain flare, but they can also detract from your cube’s ability to actually support your selected archetypes. You have to make choices as to whether you want to include cards like Raging River, Blaze of Glory, Hatred, High Tide, or Craterhoof Behemoth, or cut them for cards that actually support the archetypes you have in your cube. It can be neat to include particular cards that otherwise might not be used in a typical draft setting or constructed Commander build, but that doesn’t mean they are the best choice. Just be wary cognizant of what your numbers tell you. If you don’t have 20+ cards to support an archetype, then it’s time to take a close look at those cards with 0 and 1 in the synergy support column. Typing out the names of the cards you’re including may sound time consuming, but it can solve tons of would-be problems and increase the overall fun of your drafting experience by cutting off would-be pitfalls. No one likes finding out that they were tricked into drafting the worst supported deck in the format.

If you have a Druid or Giant archetype,
then you want to use this card over Craterhoof.

No Banned List

This is not constructed Commander. Therefore, you are not bound by that ban list that we all use to help keep people from wrecking everyone else’s fun by building disgustingly similar decks or truly degenerate combinations. Balance is busted with a slew of other cards like Zuran Orb, Sudden Disappearance, or even Teferi’s Protection. If your cube isn’t saturated with cards that enable a busted Balance play, then you can feel free to include Balance as an awesome card for white decks. I’m not going to lie. The first place I looked when I started to build my cube was the banned list. There are cards on there that I was dying to put into Commander decks, but just can’t. This is the place to put those cards in, because you are directly limiting what cards are being offered for them to interact with. Primeval Titan is banned, but it’s not nearly as powerful when the quality of lands you fetch aren’t all that broken. Since there’s only one copy of it, we don’t have to worry about every single player running it and ruining the diversity of the game. Heck, a cube guarantees diversity. Run any banned card that’s been banned based on its ability to ruin deck diversity and you’ll likely not run into issues with it. This can be very exciting for drafters when they suddenly get a chance to play with a card they’ve never played before. Depending on how many formats they play, then they may never have seen some of those cards played before.

So, to summarize the archetype support: you must include 20-30 cards in support of each archetype. You keep track of it using a simple spreadsheet. You try to include cards that meet multiple archetypes. Cards that don’t meet multiple archetypes should serve as clear pay-offs or sign-post cards that tell people to draft a particular strategy. You want this cube to be as well supported as possible. You can’t always get the support you need or want. That’s usually a sign that you may want to abandon a particular archetype…not everything works well in a cube draft environment. I’ll share a few stories about my failures in the final article where I’ll be sharing my current version of my Commander Cube with all of you. Until then, may the archetypes and the cards be ever in your favor!

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Building an EDH/Commander Cube Part 2

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.

This the follow up to part one in the “Building an EDH Cube” article series. In part one I discussed the reasons why you would want to build an EDH/Commander Cube, and the theory behind constructing it. In this article I will be discussing how to choose what cards to include and why. I will also be detailing how to keep track of all this stuff at the same time. I really feel that it’s important to always have your goals for the cube handy while you’re creating it. I’d like to jump right in to determining what to put in and how to keep track of it all.

VISUALIZE YOUR GOALS

Look, it’s corny, but it actually works. If your goal is to make a fun, nostalgia infused cube that plays like a rock-em-sock-em EDH bash, then you have to write that down. You have to see that goal every time you sit down to work on this cube. You need to be able to refer back to the goal periodically. This insures you won’t lose sight of what is most important to you. I kept a page open in my Excel spreadsheet that had my goals clearly spelled out. This goal reminder helped me ground myself whenever I felt overwhelmed. There were times I got off track and found myself veering away from a fun commander experience and dipping into optimized Golos territory (sorry, but I couldn’t help poking at the banned pilgrim).  Thankfully, I would eventually click back to that first page to double check numbers and other goals, and then I would see those words in giant font, and I would realize that I needed to cut those last ten hyper competitive cards from my cube. I’m not saying you can’t include hyper competitive cards. I’m just saying that those cards did not fit with my goals. So, I was able to easily cut those from my cube and look for alternatives that actually me my goals.

It helps to see your goals written out in front of you from day to day.

Now, I read a bunch of other articles about cube construction a long time ago, but for this adventure I did a quick read of some people’s ideas about how to build a Commander Cube. Honestly, most of them seemed to think that including as many partners as possible was the way, and stranger yet was how others wanted to draft commanders separately after the draft or even, or before actually drafting. Additionally, a few others felt that starter packs that each person could get would “level the playing field” by giving everyone a Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and several other staples to start building their draft decks. Honestly, I didn’t like any of those ideas. I didn’t want partners running wild, because I feel it leads to lazy drafting—draft two or four colors worth of commanders and all good-stuff can get tossed in too. I also didn’t like the idea of not having the responsibility of drafting your commander during the draft. It’s neat to add or cut a color in your second or even third pack because you’ve suddenly chanced on a better or more synergistic commander. That’s fun. Also, it’s a fair punishment when you flop at doing that and are stuck with running random cards to fill out your deck because your late pack gamble didn’t pay off. Checks and balances my friends.

ACCESS DENIED!

On the subject of checks and balances, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to do the starter packs. That just feels like a way to cut out creativity and make everyone’s decks a little too similar. If you’re all drafting 60 card decks from a cube, then your decks had better all feel and play differently. When everyone is dropping signets on turn two—it just doesn’t feel right seeing multiples in a cube draft. This sort of thing really just stifles people’s abilities to find creative solutions during the draft. If they already have a handy stack of 6-10 playables, then you’re not actually doing a limited draft. So, in the name of cubing—I opted to narrow the command choices, keep them in the draft, eschewed starter build packs, and I didn’t use partners. Partners are tricky, but I think you could probably use the mono-colored one. I suspect using the two colored ones will start to lead you down the good-stuff road. As I said, I steered clear of that. I opted to use the original 55 legends from Legends. This filled my nostalgia requirement quite nicely. I originally considered jamming only elder dragons as my commander choices, but it didn’t feel quite right doing that. Plus, it’s not nearly enough legendary creatures when you do that. I suspect you could probably use mono-colored legendary dragons to fill it out, but I’m not sure it would be all that balanced. This decision needs to be based on cube goals. Look closely at what you want to do, and then pick cards that do exactly that.

Cube Size and Commander Choices

Determining the commanders that your cube runs is also linked to the size of your cube. You want to seed your packs with two legendary creatures in each one. This makes your packs 20 cards (18 regulars and 2 legendary creatures). This way each player will open 6 possible commanders during the course of the draft. Unlike a traditional draft, you will be taking two cards from each pack. This enables people to snag a commander and a card for their deck from each of their starting packs. If you’re worried about access to colors for deck building, then I have a few things to ease your mind. When you factor in that people will be passing potential commanders as well other draft picks, then you figure that most people will see a minimum of 3-4 additional commander choices each draft round. That means each player should see somewhere around 9-10 commanders each draft as a minimum. I’ve seen some color combinations wheel time and time again—that’s usually an obvious sign that those colors are wide open. So, as long as you seed your packs with two commanders, then you will easily allow players access to their desired colors.

Commander Legends draft rules work really well in any EDH CUBE! Use them and live the dream!

When considering cube size, if you intend on having a cube that can be drafted by 8 players, then you need twenty-four twenty card packs (3 packs of 20 cards for each player). This means your cube needs to be 480 cards. Remember, you are seeding each pack with two legendary creatures (commanders). Once you have included 48 different legendary creatures, then your cube will actually only need another 432 cards to round it out.  With 48 commanders that means you can allocate 3 for each two color combination and then give the remaining 18 slots to three color commanders and maybe toss in one or two 4 or 5 color commanders. Again, I chose to make my cube slightly larger, and included 55 legendary creatures. It really just depends on what you want people to be able to do. If you want to make it as balanced as possible, then you should consider doing 60 legendaries that include 3 of each two color and then 3 of each three color combination. This keeps people away from being able to draft 4 or 5 color good-stuff, and forces people to commit to two or three colors and one or two archetypes.

Now, you figure that if you give each of your five colors 65 cards each you have 107 cards left to split between multi-color, colorless, and non-basic lands. I opted to round my cube up to 500 cards so that if 8 people drafted there’s no guarantee that a particular card is actually in the draft. Long-term this would give the cube a bit more wonder and make playing around certain cards a bit more fun.  Bluffing can be a real thing when and if people get used to particular cards. When no one knows if it’s actually in the cube or not it can make things especially interesting and surprising. Now, you’ll probably already have quite a few multi-color cards in the cube for the 50 or so commander options you put in. So, that will naturally satisfy some of the balancing required for multi-color.

The larger you make your cube, then the more difficult it can be to strongly support particular draft archetypes. If you want to make treefolk a draftable tribe, then you have to make sure you have a forest worth of trees in the cube for each draft and enough pay-off cards as well. This can be tricky when you head up toward the 750+ card mark. You have to realize that your cube will be randomized, and you can’t guarantee (especially the larger it gets) that your players will actually see all the treefolk cards each draft. They won’t see them all, and so in order to actually have it supported each draft you need to reach a critical mass. This is a much easier to solve problem when you keep the cube to 500 cards. Also, if you’re building a cube for the first time, I recommend starting small and then building larger later on. You really need somewhere around 18-20 cards to help support an archetype in each color. This means that you should shoot to have about 20 cards in each archetype. So, if you wanted a treefolk tribal archetype, then you need around 20 treefolk matters cards in the cube. Additionally, you’ll want at least 10-15 cards that synergize well with this approach as well. These don’t need to be tribal treefolk, but cards that work well with them like Assault Formation or Belligerent Brontodon.  Ideally, these cards should also cross the boundaries in support of other archetypes as well.

On a fun note, including “draft matters” cards like Cogwork Librarian, Lore Seeker, and Caller of the Untamed adds a unique element to your draft experience. These conspiracy set cards are usually very inexpensive and add lots of fun to your draft experience—great bang for your buck cards. On that note, using Lore Seeker means you really have to have an extra 20 cards lying around so that you have that extra pack handy. In the end, it’s your cube, so you make it the size you want. I just happen to like having 500 cards as my round number goal. Ultimately, it can really be anything close to 480 and you will still be able to follow my basic guidelines.

Choosing Archetypes

Archetypes refer to basic strategies for building your deck. I didn’t fully clarify that earlier, but when you draft, you try to lean into building strong cards that work well together. You can try and just draft bombs or good-stuff, but decks like this can fall prey to a focused deck that keeps building on itself as it goes. The synergies outweigh the card quality. These synergies can be difficult to see while you are drafting, but as the architect of your cube, it’s your job to make people see these things. You might try including “sign-post” cards that signal what archetypes are available or you might saturate the cube with particular pay-off cards for each archetype. The best way is really to just do both. When you include multi-color pay-offs or commanders that are build-around cards, then you are making it clear that people could and should build around these strategies. For example, you might include Ghired, Conclave Exile in your cube if you have a tokens or populate archetype. If a drafter chooses to build around that archetype, then the cube’s architect needs to include cards that actually fit into this strategy. Cards like Doubling Season, Full Flowering, Ghired’s Belligerence, and Sundering Growth all fit into this archetype. So, while you consider which archetypes to include you need to take into account what your goals are. What do you and your friends like to draft? Tribal? Blink? Go wide? Go tall? Enchantress? Reanimation? Sacrifice? Tokens? So many questions, and no wrong answers. The only wrong answer is an under-supported archetype.

When you choose your archetypes you can do something I like I did and ask everyone what their favorite Commander decks are. I was able to adequately support almost everyone’s favorite type of deck by supporting draft archetypes that fit with each player’s “favorite style” of constructed Commander deck. I went for a more nostalgia driven cube, so I was unable to actually include their favorite commanders. If you’re not bound by that restriction, then you have a very fast and easy route to focusing the archetypes for your cube and your commanders right out of the gate. I’ve already spoken about the mess that can occur with partners, so be wary of that particular trap. Partners work really well in a powered-down and more constricted format like Commander Legends, but I’m not convinced they’re going to be so smooth in an EDH Cube. The quality of cards is just too strong. Next time I’ll discuss the ins and outs of keeping track of all these choices, and how to maximize your fun while doing so. Until then, may the cards be ever in your favor!

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Often Overlooked BEST Ability for Commander in Magic: the Gathering

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.

Some players might tell you that drawing cards is the best ability in Commander. Others will tell you that ramp is the second best and closely followed by giant back-breaking spells. While both of these approaches and visions have their merits, and often decks that lack either tend to fall behind, those are not the best abilities in Commander. The best key word ability in Commander, often over-looked, is vigilance.

Vigilance. That one word is should be more terrifying than deathtouch, firststrike, doublestrike, and even indestructible. The thing with vigilance is that it takes time to notice just how devastatingly powerful it can be. There are over 500 cards, over 200 of which are rare or mythic rare, that have or grant vigilance. Vigilance is overwhelming a white ability. I believe this is why it is being over-looked as the most powerful keyword ability in Commander. I want to drill down and look at what makes vigilance so devastatingly good, and help you to take advantage of this powerful ability.

Vigilance is predominantly found in the Naya colors: red, green, and white. While red and green both have this ability from time to time, it’s usually when the creature is also white, as in the creature is some sort of multi-colored creature that’s picking up vigilance as a secondary ability from green or red. Either way, I’m not overly upset by green or red having access to vigilance as a secondary keyword—provided it’s done sparingly. I say this only because green and red enjoy so many advantages and have incredibly powerful commander cards.

Not convinced vigilance so great? Let’s look at very powerful card, Elder Gargartoh, and analyze why it is so darn powerful. What makes Elder Gargaroth so powerful. A 6/6 for five that tramples and has reach is honestly just OK for most green decks. The triggered abilities are amazing: draw a card, gain life, or make a beast. You had me at draw a card (we all know which one we are picking 98% of the time). That’s decent and all, but Elder Gargaroth is amazing because it has vigilance. Being able to be both aggressive and defensive is one of the most powerful options you don’t normally get in a game of Magic. Elder Gargaroth triggering on defense also makes it doubly nasty. However, it would only be triggering on defense, or at least mostly so, if it didn’t have vigilance. Being able to crack in on someone, draw a card, and then still have be able to block is incredible. None of that can happen as efficiently without vigilance.

Yes, yes, that is all well and good for that one card, but what about all the other cards with vigilance? Surely, they aren’t nearly as good and are not worth considering. No, my friend, you are simply wrong. Vigilance is amazing. Let’s take a look at a couple more examples like Serra’s Guardian, Realm-Cloaked Giant, and Sun Titan. These three are all relatively large creatures. They each grant you access to other abilities or buffs, and they are all supremely powerful because of that simple key word—vigilance. Vigilance is the key to breaking the balance of any Commander game. Serra’s Guardian is merely a 5/5 flying vigilance angel for six mana. Except that it also gives every creature you control this ridiculous ability. You don’t have to choose between offense and defense. That is gross. With vigilance, you can crack in to any favorable board position, and feel assured that you will have enough chump blockers, or blockers to make combat for your more aggressive opponents an absolute nightmare. Let’s look at Realm-Cloaked Giant. It is nice in that you can blow up the non-giant world, but having a 7/7 that gets to play both offense and defense non-stop is what makes it really gross. Sun Titan is one of the most popular and important staples in the format. Yes, it is efficiently costed, returns fetchlands, and generates value, yet it wouldn’t be nearly as good at all that if it didn’t also play defense so darn well after attacking.

Vigilance breaks the balance of play. Seriously, it is by very definition a broken, or rule breaking, ability. When your creatures have vigilance because of some enchantment like Serra’s Blessing or a creature like Angelic Field Marshal, then you are actively cheating one of Magic’s most basic systems of balance—combat. Sure, people cheat the system all the time. They routinely break the resource management aspect of the game by drawing extra cards, or not paying mana for their spells. Granted, when you are able to repeatedly break the systems in Magic, then you are on your path to victory. The balance of combat is rooted in attacking creatures becoming tapped. Blocking creatures must be untapped, or they are unable to block. Vigilance breaks the penalty for attacking. You can attack with no worries. You can attack and have blockers left over—you keep ALL the blockers when your entire team has vigilance. This allows you to beat down future threats without leaving yourself open to some other opponent’s sense of justice. That is a broken and powerful ability indeed.

‘At the beginning of combat on your turn, you may have Johan gain
“Johan can’t attack” until end of combat. If you do, attacking doesn’t cause creatures you control to tap this combat if Johan is untapped.”

What are some cards or commanders that help you do this sort of thing? How about a really old school one with Johan. If you read it correctly, then you will notice that as long as Johan in not attacking, then you are able to attack with your team without tapping (vigilance). Johan also happens to be all three colors (Naya) that you would want if you planned on building a combat-breaking vigilance-themed deck. This ability is something that most players don’t notice. Technically, Johan triggers at the beginning of combat and reads, “Johan can’t attack this turn” and in return your remaining creatures don’t tap to attack this turn. If he skips attacking then everyone else gets pseudo vigilance until end of turn. It is an interesting and odd way to word it. Overall, it is a rules interpretation that seems interesting, and sadly doesn’t play well with cards like Akroma, Vision of Ixador, or Odric (Johan doesn’t technically grant vigilance). Still, Johan is an interesting and affordable odd-ball choice (the Chronicles version is well under $1).

If you’re looking to truly go all-in on this combat breaking ability, then consider picking up and jamming cards like Tayam, Luminous Enigma or the partner pair of scavengers that loves vigilance: Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel & Nikara Lair Scavenger. When you start running these types of cards, then you start realizing that combat is easy for you and your team. Everyone else starts getting really annoyed at how you can just pick away at life totals, getting attacking triggers whenever you like. You do not have to worry about saving creatures to be untapped blockers.

Using creatures with other tap abilities, but that also have vigilance makes them supremely annoying for your opponents. Stonehewer Giant is a great example. Without vigilance, Stonehewer Giant would almost never be grabbing an equipment for itself. Certainly, it would not be grabbing those equipment during combat. However, with vigilance, we can declare Stonehewer as an attacker, swing in and, then based on blockers, choose to activate the ability. Likewise, we can choose not to use the ability and then do it right before our turn, all while leaving Stonehewer up as a blocker that could grab anything to help it defend. Ozgir and Razia are both similar in this respect. Powerful cards that also get free attacks whenever we want.

Free attacks are especially powerful when you combine them with cards that eliminate or hamper blocking for your opponents. If you have ways of tapping down blockers or making them moot you are able to really run away with a game. Recently, I had the chance to use Elite Scaleguard and Angelic Field Marshal to completely dominate combats. I had several ways of putting +1/+1 counters on creatures, so my team had vigilance, tapped down blockers, and sat back during opponent’s turns able to block anyone that was foolish enough to attempt an assault. It was gross. It was also only possible because of vigilance. Tapping down other people’s blockers is only so good. Getting in for damage is great, but when you are left wide open, then the crack back can often be more than what you expected. Defense is good, but as the saying goes, “a good offense is the best defense”, so if you can have both, then how can you possibly lose?

If you find yourself often skipping your attack phases because you are overly worried about your opponents cracking back for more than you can comfortably handle, then perhaps it is time you considered using the most powerful keyword in Commander—vigilance. Consider using equipment, creatures, enchantments, and spells to grant vigilance to your team. Use vigilance to augment your armies and crush people without fear of being wide open to their attacks. Now that you know the most powerful keyword in Commander, it is time to use it. When you remain vigilant my friends, you will find that the odds are ever in your favor. 

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Commander Deck Inspiration: Hythonia the Cruel

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.

Tribal decks abound in all formats. The flavor of Standard often lends itself to whatever tribe has been most supported in the latest sets, but we find merfolk, goblins, eldrazi, and others lurking in Modern, Legacy, Pauper, and Pioneer. The question about which tribes to build isn’t as straightforward in Commander. You play the tribe that you feel most connected with, rather than the tribe that connects with your opponent’s life total most efficiently. I’m here to talk about a sight not often seen: The Gorgon Tribal Deck. It’s not just because gorgons are the last thing people see before becoming statuary.

Hythonia the Cruel has a decent casting cost. She’s only six mana for 4/6 deathtoucher. That’s OK, but not awesome. Luckily her gorgon monstrosity ability enables us to have one-sided board wipes for an untaxed 8 mana. This ability can make her a lightning rod for removal, yet there’s plenty more to consider than just protecting Hythonia.

Why gorgons? Well, for one thing, people do not see them coming, and if they do, they get stone statue scared. Okay, Okay, I’ll stop with the gorgon jokes and keep things stone faced from now on (that was the last one, I swear). Seriously, people don’t expect you to run gorgons, and so when you do, they won’t expect the spicey inclusions, the odd-ball synergies, or any of your other shenanigans. If you are running a popular mono-black commander like K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth or Marrow Gnawer, then they generally know what you are up to. Meanwhile, Hythonia the Cruel is one of the least popular Commanders. I don’t just mean for a mono-black deck either. According to EDHREC, Hythonia, in the last two years, ranks as everyone’s 1595th favorite Commander. That means she’s extremely low on the list of popularity. A whole 11 decks are registered with her as the commander, so using her is definitely going to be a way to buck the trends. Enough about the statistics already, let’s get to why she’s a cool choice for your latest tribal monstrosity!

A tribal gorgon’s deck isn’t a tribal deck without cards that make gorgons matter. Our commander already does this, but we can do even better than that. We are also running the “7x Undisputed Multi-verse Staring Contest Champion”—Archetype  of Finality. They broke the mold when they made her. She even helped inspire hermits like Gorgon Recluse. Meanwhile, the wall makers, Xathrid Gorgon and Basalt Golem heard this was going to be a tribal conference to remember. It is just really fun to make things into stone statues.

The hardest part of choosing Hythonia the Cruel to helm the deck is that we lose out on green. Sure, we could’ve run Sisters of Stone Death, but where’s the originality in that? The biggest loss is in the inability to run most versions of the snakey-hair planeswalker: Vraska. Thankfully, the most gorgonny? gorgonnist?—the most flavorful version of Vraska, for this deck, is actually available to us—Vraska, Scheming Gorgon. She kills creatures, pumps the team, and her ultimate grants our team the player-killing Gorgon-touch (they deal damage to a player and that player loses the game). Overall, not a bad card to include, and we also get to run Vraska’s Scorn as a Vraska tutor.

The good news is that when we go mono-black, then we get access to some seriously cool lands. You know, like swamps, and cards that like swamps. We’re talking cards like Cabal Coffers, Cabal Stronghold, Lake of the Dead, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. These lands offer ramp and in the case of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, enable shenanigans with cards like Filth. That’s just the tip of the swamps matter iceberg: Corrupt, Defile, Lashwrithe, Nightmare Lash, Liliana of the Dark Realms, Magus of the Coffers, Mutilate, Strands of Night, and Tendrils of Corruption help round out a few mono-black synergies.

Corrupt, Tendrils of Corruption, Defile, Liliana of the Dark Realms, and Mutilate are all solid removal tools. They help us focus on eliminating multiple or singular threats with high efficiency. Corrupt and Tendrils both help us gain back life, and that can be a huge bonus for any deck that might get a slower start. I highly suggest running these in your gorgon tribal deck. Meanwhile, Magus of the Coffers, Cabal Coffers, Cabal Stronghold, and even Liliana of the Dark Realms help to offer some serious ramping options.

There’s plenty of interesting equipment worth running. Mirror Shield is a sweet play on our theme, so I would suggest using it for thematic purposes. Meanwhile, Shadowspear is pretty amazing at keeping Hythonia and the gorgo’s safe. Quietus Spike can also be a neat include as you’ll likely be running several pieces of evasion, so it will hit super hard. We should also drop in the ubiquitous Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves. I would also like to suggest using Cloak and Dagger and Whispersilk Cloak. Both are spicy and effective additions. Also of note are cards like Nightmare Lash and Lashwrithe. Our gorgons get seriously scary with these pieces equipped—plus we get extra value our of our heavy swamp mana base.

Let’s talk about the dedicated Gorgons. Gorgon Recluse helps a combat only style of deathtouch, but we’ll take it for the bonus madness ability. Infernal Medusa is MTG’s OG gorgon, but she is pricey, so I guess I can forgive you if you choose to cut her from your list. Keepsake Gorgon has built-in spot removal, and Pharika’s Spawn does a great Fleshbag Marauder impersonation. Visara, the Dreadful is Hythonia the Cruel’s best competition for the commander slot, but having her tap to destroy ability not cost mana and be repeatable makes her a higher tier commander. We’re trying to use the least popular, and Visara is touch more popular than Hythonia. Another powerful gorgon we will be running is Xathrid Gorgon. Xatharid Gorgon helps make statuettes out of your opponent’s creatures, so she’s an excellent one to include in the 99. The rest of the gorgons just fill out any tribal synergies we have.

Speaking of tribal synergies, we need to build in a bunch of our own, because this is gorgons and not elves or goblins. There aren’t gorgon lords or gorgon enablers or gorgon tutors. We need to do it the hard way, and that’s OK. We’re gorgons, we’ve got an eye for this sort of thing. So, what ubiquitous cards shall we run to fill out our gorgon synergies? How about the following: Adaptive Automaton, Belbe’s Portal, Bloodline Pretender, Brass Herald, Cover of Darkness, Crippling Fear, Door of Destinies, Haunting Voyage, Herald’s Horn, Icon of Ancestry, Kindred Dominance, Metallic Mimic, Mirror of the Forebears, Obelisk of Urd, Pact of the Serpent, Raise the Draugr, Return from Extinction, Species Specialist, and Urza’s Incubator. Utilizing these universal tribal enablers helps us play a dedicated gorgons deck without all the powerhouse and unique effects that a goblin or merfolk or wizard deck might have access to. So, we can also try utilizing a few changeling creatures to fill things out a bit as well. Venomous Changeling and Moonglove Changeline are pretty close, considering the whole deathtouch angle. Graveshifter works well enough, and so does Changeling Outcast. Meanwhile, Cairn Wanderer has potential to be fairly powerful in the late game, but it is still decent enough early on to justify running it as an extra gorgon.

Overall, I really enjoyed brewing this medusa inspired Gorgon tribal deck. I’m looking forward to taking my own version for a few more fine-tuning test spins this weekend. It is a bit of a “good-stuff” shell with gorgons to fill it out, but that’s why I’ve been adding extra spice to it as well. Most of the more flavorful or Vorthosian cards are Golgari, so it makes things a bit tough. However, I love any excuse to use cards like Slaughter, Strands of Night, and Withering Boon. These spicy includes usually catch people unaware. Getting our opponents to stare us in the eyes unwittingly is a key to success for gorgons (I regret nothing).

I hope I’ve inspired you to consider gorgons for your next tribal build. They are inexpensive, odd, and interesting to play. I’m going to be highlighting several more unsung commanders as I continue to delve into under-used and yet still highly fun commander options. The goal is to inspire us all to seek out the unknown, the underused.  Until then, may your mirror shields and the cards be ever in your favor.

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A Conquest Completed: 365 Cards in 365 Days!

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.

Today marks the end of my insane quest to buy a card a day, every single day, during the year of 2021. I did it. On January 1st I bought four copies of Covetous Greed. On December 31st I bought Revel in Riches. Every day between those two dates, every single day, I purposefully purchased a card for either my collection, my decks, or my cubes. Nothing was a random purchase, and I had many sub-goals along the way. I made predictions. I made mistakes. I made memories. I made myself sick of buying Magic cards. I never thought I could write that sentence. It definitely happened. It took me until about 345 cards into the quest to actually find it onerous. It was interesting to find that I could grow weary of acquiring my favorite hobby. I have shared several lessons about his quest with you, my magical friends, along the way. Today, I’d like to reflect on my predictions, my failures, and the lessons you can all learn from my hard work.

Here are my goals from last year copied and pasted below:

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.

Let us tackle each one with honesty and more than a dash of humility.

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

Uh, yeah. I actually totally nailed this. It was hard. At times, like when life has no room for hobbies, it was stupid hard. I had several nights where I either woke up at 11:30pm, or popped my head off the pillow after shutting off the lights, to open up my card buying list. I would then select a card, shop around for it (if I had the time), and then buy it before the stroke of midnight. I’m not kidding. It was stressful.

The lesson here, and it is one that I’ve learned time and again, is not to rush into buying a card. When you are rushed, you end up making mistakes. Buying Magic cards is a lot like living life—you can do it in a rush, but it ends up messy.

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

So, this actually wasn’t true at all. I’m a teacher by trade, and so I actually have lots of time in the summer. I guess I thought I would get busy with life, but what happened is that I made a massive list over the course of a few summer days, and it actually made purchasing cards more a matter of best price research.

The lesson I got from this was that I could utilize great free resources like MTGSTOCKS, TCG Player, ABU, Cardkingdom, and eBay to quickly get a sense of whether it was a good time to be buying a particular card.

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

Now it is time for me to be humbled. I used eBay, TCG Player, Card Kingdom, and ABU over the course of my quest. I had zero issues with ABU—everything was as expected (though it was annoying to have to sign for my FEDEX package). No, I was not about to let them drop off a $1,000+ order without my being there. TCG player gave me a headache with a seller that actually tried to tell me they didn’t realize a chronicles Arcades Sabbath was not an original Legends version. At 100x the price, you can imagine my irritation. So annoying. Also, TCG player orders tend to take approximately two moon cycles to arrive at times—I just found the sellers I bought from took their sweet time getting cards to me. Meanwhile, Ebayers tended to ship the cards much faster. However, I had six orders that I needed to get refunds on over the course of the year. Granted, I bought over 300+ cards, so the percentage is good. Additionally, the percentage would’ve been far better if I had adhered to my rules about make smart purchases—read the recent feedback, use sellers with high ratings, avoid any auction with crummy quality pictures. If a seller does not present their goods to be sold as best they can, then perhaps they are not actually interested in selling it—they want the short-term cash grab from scamming you. I was definitely wrong in this prediction, but it was a lesson worth learning.

4. I will spoil myself on my birthday.

Yeah, I nailed this one, too. I totally wrote a whole article about it. You can read about 40 at 40 here. I already said everything that needs saying there. Feel free to check it out if you don’t already know the story—it is a good one, I promise.

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

I definitely did this. I also bought one for a friend as a gift. I was very close to picking up a BETA Raging River, but I balked one extra day, and it sold. It’s alright though, because I was able to get three unlimited cards for the price instead (which also included the unlimited version of Raging River). The last Beta card I picked up was an Ironroot Treefolk for my Doran Treefolk tribal deck. I’m so looking forward to running that during the new year. The lesson here is that you can hunt for collector pieces, but you can also hunt for style. The Beta False Orders I picked up isn’t super powerful. It wasn’t much more than the Unlimited version, but it looks so stylish. I love a spicy Beta card that doesn’t empty my wallet!

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

I thought that I would buy more black cards, because I thought I played black more than all the other colors. I was wrong. Very wrong. I bought 38 black cards. Meanwhile, blue had 54; white 53; red 34; green 40; artifacts 31; and lands rolled in last at just 18. Oh, and the multi-colored cards accounted for the largest subsection at a massive 97. I have always loved the original legends, and I love multi-color. One of my favorite sets of all time is Alara Reborn (all multi-color). Thus, the lesson here is that you should, “know thyself.” Know who you are and be true to yourself. It is worth being you, because you are stuck with you forever. At least I know, based on quantifiable evidence, I am a tremendous fan of gold cards. 

https://kaboomvb.tcgplayerpro.com/

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

I was able to do this several times. However, I was not always able to get to the store. We went camping quite a bit. That means we went on some cool adventures that included fishing, hiking, and shopping. I found that card store hours did not always match up all that well with my camping hours. I did manage to swing into a couple of different stores, and was able to chat with the owners for a bit. Yet, it didn’t happen nearly as often. I did pick up a cool signed card from a place called Kaboom Games in Virginia Beach. Otherwise, it was mostly a strike out getting into stores while on the road. Sadly, I would say that I was forced to buy online far more often than I would have liked.

The lesson here is that you need to familiarize yourself with your local store’s hours. Additionally, if you plan on traveling, then you need to prioritize what you want to do while out and about. My priorities were not buying Magic cards but enjoying time with my family. Consequently, I neglected researching store hours ahead of trips, and it clearly worked out poorly. Knowing when and where you can buy cards is important. I found that when I was dealing with humans I was far happier. Having your card in your hand and a memory to go with it is far better than putting in a bid or “buying it now”—to wait a week or two for it to, hopefully, arrive. There is nothing more convenient than walking into a store, buying your card, and then immediately sleeving it for the intended deck. It might cost me a couple bucks more to buy from a local store, but I am willing to pay that. The extra couple dollars goes towards ensuring that this hobby of ours remains local, friendly, and honest.

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

I was definitely wrong about this one. I feel like I set myself up for failure here. I do not ever want to do this sort of quest again. Checking prices every day, searching for meaningful cards, and not missing a day was obnoxious. It became work, though still happy work, about three months into it. It wobbled between fun, greedy joy, and work for quite some time. It was in December that it finally wore very very thin. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m happy to be writing this article. I am happy to share my lessons with all of you. I would be miserable if I had to try and do it all again…it would be a Sisyphean task (though, it really already was). This was a difficult labor, and it was mostly done with love. I’m glad it is over.

The lesson here is one I think we should all remember. Too much of a good thing is bad. I love buying Magic cards, and yet… Buying cards too often is draining, and I’ll be sure to put in larger orders in the future, so that my store visits and online orders are done in batches. That is what will make buying meaningful and fresh and fun. So, don’t over buy, and don’t get overly greedy—it will burn you out. 

In closing, I enjoyed the work. Additionally, I do have another quest planned for this New Year, and it is definitely something very different. I’ll be sharing that with you all next week. Until then, may the bright and shining New Year and the cards be ever in your favor!

CHEERS!

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Commander Deck Inspiration: Zurgo, Helmsmasher

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 like to follow along with the pack. I have never liked things that are popular, and it has always rubbed me the wrong way to have things I’ve liked, say Magic: the Gathering, become mainstream. Sure, I know that becoming mainstream and selling out…er…making it, is something bands, brands, and people do, but I don’t have to love it. I guess I honestly don’t mind it, as long as whoever or whatever “makes it” stays true itself. There’s not an original fan of anything that ever liked having their favorite whatever sell out, become different, or change for the sake of the masses or masses of profits. So, today I’d like to propose a few Commander deck ideas to keep you from selling out or into the latest great craze. Sure, having a Toxril or Runo deck might seem like what all the cool kids are doing (I’m sure I’ll try building each in my own time), but have you considered going for something that almost no else is using?

I did a little scouring of the “most popular commanders” over the last two years on EDHREC. What I found, outside original Legends, were a few very interesting, powerful, and fun commanders that basically no one is playing. So, I thought I’d go ahead and suggest a few of them, and I’ll even give a few concepts to get you started on your own rare and unique build.

Over Priced
Over Costed
Over Priced & Over Costed

I’d like to make a quick note on the original legends from Legends. Most lack in popularity for two reasons: they cost too much and they cost too much. They are either too much mana, or too much money, or both! So, people can’t justify playing them. Cards like Livonya Silone are both expensive and over costed. Meanwhile Jedit Ojanen is mostly just over costed. Meanwhile Bartel Runeaxe is pricey, but is actually a pretty neat and fairly well costed creature. Those three basically sum up the reasons why people aren’t running them or brewing them all that often.

Now, according to the stats I studied, I found that one of the least popular commanders to run for the past two years is none other than Zurgo, Helmsmasher. Just to be clear, this card has nearly 1200 decks registered to its name. That’s not good enough to crack the top 200. Now, that’s not nearly as deplorable as many of the others whose infamous numbers I will be sure to include in the future. That’s true for many of the commanders I’ll be mentioning in this deck inspiration series. However, I’m shocked that a 7/2 hasted (also indestructible during your turn) creature is played with so infrequently. Sure, you could play Edgar Markov or Ghen, Arcanum Weaver as your Mardu (red, white, black color combination) leader, but those are very focused decks—vampires and enchantments. Kaalia of the Vast, and Kaalia, Zenith Seeker are, likewise, focused tribal options. Honestly, most of the Mardu options either smack of tribal or high synergy decks.

Meanwhile, Queen Marchesa is probably the queen of Mardu. That card is the reason that people are eschewing Zurgo, Helmsmasher. Yet, I’m a little confused. Queen Marchesa is great for a beatdown and go-wide strategy. Combat matters in a Marchesa deck, and I guess that is what people are thinking when they look at Zurgo. They see a big beater. However, I don’t think we’re looking closely enough if all we are seeing is a combat matters commander.

Zurgo, Helmsmasher is only matched in power by Piru, the Volatile. While Piru comes in at a classic EDH cost of eight mana, Zurgo clocks in at a super cheap five. Really, the only other closely costed beat-down commander for these colors is Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt (also sorely under-played). While Snapdax is cool, it can’t kill players by connecting a mere three combats. Zurgo, Helmsmasher can connect with an opponent twice with a couple of equipment or pump spells and knock an opponent out of the game in short order.

So, what should you consider running in a Zurgo, Helmsmasher deck? How about running some of the most fun and interesting pump spells these colors have to offer? How about Emerge Unscathed, Feat of Resistance, Gods Willing? Oh, right, those aren’t pump spells at all! Those are the start of a suite of protection and evasion that you can use to save Zurgo when he lacks indestructible, conversely we can use these offensively to slip through potential blockers for a sweet helmsmashing victory! The pump spells you should be running include Fatal Frenzy, Fury Charm, Bloodlust, Lunar Frenzy, Temur Battlerage, Brute Strength and Rush of Adrenaline. Most of these either seriously pump Zurgo for an instant kill, or they take advantage of his indestructibility—like Bloodlust. These efficient pump spells also allow us to grant Zurgo trample. Speaking of trample, you might want to consider running Tenza, Godo’s Maul in order to make Zurgo into a 10/6 trampler.

Additionally, you could easily continue down this Voltron-esque route and toss in the best equipment to help Zurgo smash his way to victory. If you’re worried about others swinging back at you, then you could try leveraging some interesting protective enchantments like Smoke, Ghostly Prison, Island Sanctuary, Koskun Falls, Reverence, and Sphere of Safety (in case you really lean into this enchantment angle).

I don’t think I need to dictate which equipment you will want to run, but you should definitely consider that Zurgo needs trample and would love anything that increases his power over ten. A few gems for the colors include Sunforger, Shadowspear, Sword of Vengeance, and the aforementioned Tenza, Godo’s Maul. These equipment all help to make Zurgo into a fast and dangerous clock. Combining Zurgo with a few pump spells and one or two pieces of equipment gives you a creature that can swat an opponent dead in a single shot.

Don’t forget that you get to put a +1/+1 counter on Zurgo each time someone chump blocks. That’s a sweet little piece of incremental advantage. When you get down to building the deck, I suggest that you don’t skimp on mana or mana rocks. This deck needs acceleration not just to drop Zurgo early on, but in order to mitigate the cost of recasting him. Voltron decks need to protect their Commanders with swords and boots and cloaks. That doesn’t mean you won’t end up having to recast him more than once. The exciting part is that Zurgo, Helmsmasher has haste, so recasting him is always a rush—you get to send him into the fray without pause.

Also, you might want to consider running some truly nasty board wipes. You’re running the three best colors at wiping the board. Everything that destroys all creatures at sorcery speed is amazing in this deck. Zurgo laughs off all these board wipes and then crashes in unobstructed for massive damage. Casting spells like Damnation, Wrath of God, and Blasphemous Act is awesome. Being able to cast them, and then attack with a giant commander is highly satisfying. So, don’t fret about running a more controlling Voltron commander deck with Zurgo, Helmsmasher at the helm.

I’m running out of time, but I think you probably have more than enough cards and concepts to finish brewing up your very own smashingly good Zurgo Commander deck. Feel free to double down on cantrips that pump or equipment that lends evasion. The unique ability to run a controlling Voltron styled commander with board wipes that leave your monstrous commander unaffected is definitely enticing. This is a deck that you can opt to build on a budget or bust the piggy bank to trick it out. It’s really up to you. That was smashing good fun, and may you find that inspiration and the cards are ever in your favor!

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Building an EDH CUBE part 1

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.

Cubes are a set list of cards randomized for drafting purposes. You basically get to do booster drafts over and over again by creating your own packs and developing your own draft environment. With the success of Commander Legends, it seems so much more possible to build a working cube draft format for Commander. The rules used in Commander Legends draft run very smoothly, so I decided to taek the next step and build my very own EDH/Commander cube. This is going to be the first in a series of articles about building an EDH Cube. I love Commander. Chances are, if you are reading this column, then you love EDH/Commander an awful lot as well. It is a fantastically fun multiplayer format that offers many of the joys that brought casual gamers to Magic in the first place. I intend on splitting this into about four sections. Part one will cover why to build and the theory behind building a Commander/EDH cube. Part two will discuss what size your cube should be and how to focus in on your cube’s goals. Part three will discuss why and how to keep track making great choices for your cube. Finally, part four will cover what I am currently running in my EDH Cube, and how trial and error lead to what I currently run in it.

Cubes tend to merge the feeling of limited and constructed. You are constrained by the confines of what you draft from the packs, but the card quality is such that you can build decks that feel as if they are similar to the power level of constructed decks. This makes for a more powerful draft experience. When Conspiracy came around, the idea of drafting multiplayer decks was formally introduced. It also introduced “draft matters” cards like the conspiracy card type and cards like Cogwork Librarian. These made the drafting experience a bit more wild and fun, and by extension added a neat twist to people’s decks while playing the games. This was a great way to introduce the concept of drafting for multiplayer. Then, Commander Legends came out, and offered a way to draft Commander style decks in a limited format. I’m a huge fan of this draft format. I still have one or two boxes I’m saving specifically to draft with. If you can still find boxes of it, then I suggest picking them up. They are still pretty cheap at most stores—under $120!? However, if you’re looking to improve on the Commander Legends limited draft experience, then I’d like you to keep reading this mini-series. I’m going to walk you through the theory behind building an EDH Cube.

When I first played Commander Legends limited it was with six packs I opened and built a sealed deck from. It was sealed deck and not draft, but wow, was it fun. I had an absolute blast. I went through several boxes playing sealed deck with one, two, or three friends at a time. It was so much fun I bought another box to save for playing again in the future. However, I know that I can’t keep buying boxes, and not just because my wife will kill me. The supply itself is limited. That’s when I considered making a Commander Legends Set Cube. The theories behind this are pretty simple. Basically, people take 3 of each common, 2 of each uncommon, and 1 of each rare and mythic and make packs using that break down. This way you can revisit the set time and time again. It sounds intriguing, and reportedly it works well. I can’t attest to this, because I haven’t done this yet. Perhaps next month? I’ll get back to you if I do try that out. However, I do have a regular cube. It’s more of a traditional 4-8 player cube designed for drafting competitive one on one games. This got me thinking that I should probably just design my own EDH cube. Afterall, I already had a cube, so how hard can it be?

Look, if you know me, then you know that I tend to dive into things without appreciating just how difficult it can be. My wife says that I don’t possess the appropriate sense of dread when I approach big projects. She may be right, but I like to think I have a healthy dose of enthusiasm. Of course, that also means that I tend to take on daunting tasks thinking it won’t be nearly as all-consuming as they turn out to be. This EDH Cube was one of those projects. I started off by thinking about what my goals for the EDH Cube would be. I wanted a cube that would feel fun to play. I wanted an experience that would mirror a good game between friends with their own balanced power levels. I wanted the drafts to vary in the way they played out, and offer enough variety that we could draft it several times in a one day and not feel like any of the games were a replay of some other game. I also wanted consistent archetypes that mimicked the favorite archetypes that my friends liked to play. I’ll admit, I’m a greedy man. I am greedy player too; I keep two land hands all the time. It basically always works out…

When it comes down to deciding to build a Commander/EDH cube you need to decide exactly what you want out of it. I suggest you ask your friends what their favorite Commander decks are. Survey them sneakily like I did, or just tell them that you’re building a cube and you’d like to try and include their favorite archetypes if possible. This is probably your best place to start. After this, then I would suggest that you try to figure out exactly what you want the cube to feel like. I initially thought it would be fun to include every card that was uniquely designed for the pre-constructed Commander decks (except the legendary creatures, but more on that in a moment). I started this way, but I quickly abandoned it as it left me with too little room to support the archetypes I wanted to include, and it left my cube feeling a bit too under-powered. This style of build might work for you, but for my group it was a bit too weak. Once you determine what archetypes and power level your group will enjoy, then it’s time to start building out the cube.

Modern Horizons 2 Draft Archetypes

The first part of building the cube is actually determining what commanders you will include as options. These are the most important part of your cube, because they are going to determine and enable all of the archetypes you decide to support. If you design your cube to support a blue white fliers archetype, but you only include one blue white legend, then it’s going to flop. Sure, you can include lots of partner legends like Commander Legends does, and this will definitely help you circumvent a few of the color requirement issues, but I chose a different route. Before I explain my route, I’d like to mention that you could easily include a large number of partner legends and make its so that people can draft just about anything they want. I don’t love this idea, because it can make people lean too far into five color good-stuff and then just pick up a couple random two-color partner commanders. So, when you decide to include partner commanders be aware that mono-colored partner commanders existed in Commander Legends for a reason—to avoid this sort of drafting behavior. Your draft is more challenging when you have to try and build around either a commander or a particular archetype.

Deciding your commanders is the first big step to determining what sort of character your cube will have. I chose to build an EDH cube. My cube strives to embrace both nostalgia and modern mechanics. So, for my cube, I chose to go with the original 55 legends from Legends. These are the only options for commanders that my cube allows you to draft. I wanted to do this because I recently finished collecting all of them, and I wanted to capture some of that nostalgia that existed when EDH first became a format. I wanted the dream to be possible—four or five people selecting a different elder dragon legend to helm their decks and then bashing each other in a classic EDH slugfest. It hasn’t happened yet, but it did come close when two of four players chose them for one game (for the record it would have been 3 out of 4 but my buddy Lenny hate-drafted Nicol Bolas away from me).

By choosing the “o.g.” legends I managed to immediately infuse further restrictions into my cube. Enemy colors aren’t supported well enough to really allow any sort of support for enemy color archetypes. The only way to play enemy colors is to pick a tri-colored legend. So, drafting a blue-green ramp deck isn’t really all that possible because you’d have to either use a card like Angus Mackenzie or Arcades Sabbath as your commander. Those aren’t ideal, but they can work. Additionally, because there are no partner commanders in my cube you do have to try and draft a commander for your colors early on or risk getting closed out of your colors. I chose to seed my packs with two legends in every pack. Each pack is 20 cards, and that means that each draft offers every player a first look at 6 legends. This basically guarantees that everyone will be able to play the colors they want. This also ensures that people can’t draft a mono-colored deck. I chose this restriction because I felt that the original spirit of the format would best be captured in this way. I love Commander Legends, but my cube is my personal dream draft. So, listen to your heart. Choose the commanders that help you accomplish the goals you and your friends have for drafting.

Golem’s Heart

Building a cube like this is something that may seem daunting, but can actually be a really fun adventure. I started off with a bang, got overwhelmed for a short bit, and then embraced the challenge with a zeal that powered me through to its first iteration. It’s important to approach this as a process. You goal is to be drafting a cube, but this is also your first draft, as in rough draft, of your cube. It will be revised, refined, honed, and rebuilt as you figure more and more out. It won’t be perfect the first time out, but it doesn’t need to be. You can make mistakes, and your friends will be happy to catch them—I can assure you (I’ll talk all about this in part two). The money you will save by creating a cube will be second only to the fun you will all have using it.

Overall, the key to successfully building your cube lies in making restrictions for yourself and determining what you are not allowed to do. Try to create restrictions that fit with your overall expectations. I wanted to prioritize nostalgia, so I banned all non-nostalgic legendary creatures from my cube. This seemed a simple fix for me. Once you start creating a few restrictions for yourself, then you can start to see more restrictions that fit, and that will really help you narrow down your card choices moving forward. Perhaps you decide to include cycles like the ultimatums or legendary dragons or the tempting cycle or the commander curse cycles. This helps you determine which archetypes to support and which to abandon. You can easily determine these moving forward, and I’ll talk all about how to build a series of restrictions that will power you through the building of your dream EDH/Commander cube that you and your friends will draft for years to come. Until next time, may your restrictions bring you joy and the cards be ever in your favor! 

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20 Multi-Color Mythics Under $20

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 thought that the white article would wrap up the series on budget mythics. Yet, I love multicolor like nothing else. I was a huge fan of the original Legends set, and I even went on a quest long ago to collect all of those original 55 Legends. I recently used the completion of that quest to launch my own EDH cube, but that still hasn’t satisfied my love for multicolored cards. Today I bring to you some oft over-looked and budget friendly golden mythics and rares. I’ll be giving you the budget Commander winner of each guild color pairing along with a runner-up. Let’s check out 20 budget Commander cards you might not remember are actually good!

1.    Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Some people poo-poo the original lord of Innistrad. I am not one of those people. I actually think he’s a solid value for four mana. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is no Sorin Markov (EDH/Commander hoser). However, the ability to crank out blocking tokens and the possibility of granting permanent +1/+0  to your team multiple times is very powerful. Underestimating the power of these emblems can easily lead to people’s defeats, but if you’re the one running Sorin, then it’s not you who is missing out. This budget planeswalker is incredibly affordable, and worth running in any black white tokens go-wide strategy. For the Orzhov honorable mention we have none other than Vona, Butcher of Magan. He hits hard, and wipes out annoying things during your turn (preferably after swinging for damage and buffing your life total).

2.     Sphinx’s Revelation

Sphinx’s Revelation is something that seems to have dropped off people’s radar. This card is busted good. It dominated standard for quite some time, but also made appearances in just about every other format. It has everything a control deck wants: instant speed, extra cards, and extra life. OK, it doesn’t offer board wiping, but the cards you do draw lead to more card advantage (netting you the board wipes you need). Three out of four desires is pretty solid. Don’t tell me win conditions are something control decks want, because we all know there is a clear difference between wants and needs. Speaking of that, you need to own this extremely budget Azorious control piece if you don’t already. Honorable Azorious mention goes to Dovin’s Veto…just kidding! That card, a mere uncommon, appears in nearly 50 times as many decks as Sphinx’s Revelation. No one forgets that card. How about another Sphinx styled card? Medomai the Ageless packs plenty of bonus action for not much of a price tag; I know I love having extra turns, don’t you?

3.    Aurelia’s Fury

This checks that other box that control decks need–removal. It can also function nicely as an aggressive response to other people’s aggressive maneuvers. You can punish people with this spell, at instant speed mind you, all while being allowed to untap with whatever you have on board. This can also be used to tap down creatures that can’t be killed via damage or to simply open up someone else for multiple turns. The Boros honorable mention is going out to Akiri, Line-Slinger because she’s a Boros bad-ass. Seriously, partnering her with Bruse Tarl is how I ended up with one of my most favorite and most aggressive Boros decks I’ve ever built.

4.     Novablast Wurm

Selesnya is known for going wide, but this wurm says it has all the width required. At 7/7 the Novablast Wurm is ready to tangle with anything, but won’t have to because it kills everything else. That’s just mythically awesome. It’s only ever been printed once, and it’s still way under $5? Heck, I’m ready to build a big go tall Selesnya deck just to house cards like this. If you’re looking for another unexpected goodie, then check out this honorable mention: Krond the Dawn-Clad. Now, there’s an enchantment Voltron budget build.

5.     Pernicious Deed

Pernicious Deed is indeed a card worth far more than its small price tag. I have loved this card since it was first printed back in Apocalypse. Seeing it reprinted was exciting, but it was only as a mythic, so it was still a little pricey. However, when the 25th anniversary rolled around we got to have it reprinted as a rare, and it’s been super cheap ever since. Now, you could always opt to pick up the judge foil and rock the Shakespeare flavor text, but that requires paying nearly 10 times the price. Our Golgari honorable mention goes to a god that happens to synergize with Pernicious Deed almost as well as planeswalkers: Pharika, God of Affliction. Also, since I’m writing the rules to this article, I’m going to just mention an exclusive zombie synergy card that is dirt cheap, because I can: Michonne, Ruthless Survivor. I don’t care if that Secret Lair drop is taboo, because that card is actually pretty powerful in zombie decks, and it’s also dirt cheap (sorry to anyone that paid full price for it).

6.     Master of Cruelties

This is nearly as ridiculous as it can get. Master of Cruelties is able to destroy people without even connecting. If you make it unblockable their life total drops to 1. The Master doesn’t even have to deal damage, so fog effects like Constant Mists don’t work. Rakdos honorable mention goes to my old friend the Defiler of Souls. Having an Abyss effect on the battlefield that doesn’t hit your creatures is extremely powerful, and getting access to it for the price of a bulk rare is a nice bonus.

7.     Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

Planeswalkers can be tricky picks to play in Commander. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is usually a solid choice in any artifact heavy build. This card has seen play as a Legacy affinity finisher. It has several functions, but they all depend on you having a heavy artifact presence in your deck. Tezzeret is powerful in that you can protect it with the -1, get card advantage with the +1, and actually kill opponents (while padding your life total) with the ultimate. A card that does all that for only four mana is incredibly good. If you’re looking for something Dimir that doesn’t rely on artifacts, then consider picking up Dragonlord Silumgar. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a card as powerful for under $10.

8.     Dragonlord Atarka

Dragonlord Atarka is yet another big bad elder dragon. Atarka is seven mana, but wow, those stats are fantastic: 8/8 with flying and trample, and a solid ETB effect. You actually get to knock out a creature or planeswalker that’s problematic when she comes into play. Well, usually 5 damage is enough to knock off most problematic creatures or planeswalkers. Sometimes you can just destroy someone’s utility creatures, broken commander, or other small mana dorks. This card comes in well under budget. If you’re looking for another Gruul card with a different feel, but that can hit even harder, then might I suggest Thromok, the Insatiable? Thromok is a build around card, so I suggest you pick one up and start brewing up a hungry hungry beaters deck.

9.    Dack Fayden

I was excited to see that the Secret Lair edition of Dack Fayden is actually under $20. It’s available on the secondary market for anywhere between $15-$20. That’s a very good price for a limited edition printing of a card that has a tremendously powerful effect. I’m not sure if you noticed, but Dack allows you to immediately steal any artifact on the battlefield—permanently steal. That’s a fantastically solid effect for only three mana. You can also use Dack to filter through your deck or threaten everyone and everything with the ultimate. Dack sees play in Vintage…I probably could’ve just said that to communicate how good a card it really is. On another fun note, Izzet offers you access to a very fun card in Arjun, the Shifting Flame. This is a very powerful card to run as either a Commander or in the 99.

10. Kruphix, God of Horizons

Kruphix is a sweet surprise at well under $10. This is a five mana enchantment that happens to create a ridiculous amount of value. Green/Blue decks are known for generating obscene amounts of mana, and if you can’t find something to dump it all into each turn, then you can just stockpile it all with Kruphix. It is very easy to set up a gigantic turn by tapping out before your turn and then untapping with double the mana you otherwise would have had access to. I’ve had many gross turns using this tactic, and it typically leads to winning a game. Kruphix is difficult to deal with as it has indestructible and dodges most enchantment wiping effects and laughs at most targeted removals as well. If you’re looking for a slightly different Simic card to add to your budget list, then I might suggest a beefy card that can also be a build around commander—Tishana, Voice of Thunder. Tishana gives you access to going wide or going taller than a fifty foot woman!

Wrap Up

That should wrap up this edition of Commanding your budget. The amount of power that is available to each color and each guild is pretty impressive. Each guild has 20+ mythic rares available for under $20. Most of them even fall under the $10 mark. That’s lots of powerful tools that fit plenty of lower budgets. I may own every card I’ve written about in this series, and I couldn’t say that before I started researching and writing. It’s exciting to know that we have tons of access to fun, powerful cards for very affordable prices. So, remember, don’t get bogged down thinking you have to own every expensive “staple” in Commander. Instead, buck the tradition of “staples”, and embrace the spice and jank that Commander was founded on. Utilize oddball cards and seek out budget effects. Until next time, may your budget and the cards and the odds be ever in your favor!

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10 White Mythics Under $20

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 waited to write the white article in this series until the end as it’s the cheapest color to play. This is likely because it is the least popular color in Commander. It also makes me wonder that if white manages to get more tools to be more fun and more competitive at the casual Commander level, then perhaps some of these cards are bound to go up and up in price. Heck, as long as they’re cheap now, then I guess it doesn’t really matter. Let’s embrace these presently budget friendly prices and start looking at some under-used, often-forgotten, yet powerful white mythic rares.

1.     Crested Sunmare

Crested Sunmare is just a ton of fun. Any turn you gain life you get to make a 5/5 horse. Oh, and Crested Sunmare also makes those horses indestructible. That’s wonderful Day of Judgement insurance. Being able to protect your creature from mass removal is very strong indeed. Now, couple that with the ability to get an additional 5/5 every single turn, and you have a seriously powerful card. Even as a 5/5 for five Crested Sunmare is a good deal for the mana. Now, combine this with some life gaining strategies (a common theme in white) and you’ll be off to the races in no time!

2.     Devout Invocation

Big ridiculous effect, check! Super cheap price tag, check! Unexpected fun for everyone? Yes, because who doesn’t losing to massive number of angels? Starnheim Unleashed is similar in a way, but it requires a ton of mana. For seven mana, Starnheim Unleashed only nets you three 4/4 angel tokens. While Devout Invocation takes every creature you have on the board, and then pairs an angel with it. It’s almost like giving all of your creatures a guardian angel. I’m loving the flavor behind a play like that. Also, this card has only ever been printed in M14 nearly a decade ago! Slamming Devout Invocation is bound to make your opponents pray for mercy.

3.     Brimaz, King of Oreskos

Brimaz, King of Oreskos is another mythic that’s only seen a single printing. This hasn’t even gotten a “the list” reprinting yet. For a popular commander and legendary creature, that is a bit surprising. An absolute beating in limited, Brimaz, King of Oreskos is oft overlooked in Commander play. His 3/4 stats don’t sound impressive, but the speed that he cranks out cat tokens is often enough to allow tribal cat decks or tokens matter decks to ramp up to ridiculous proportions by turns six and seven. Those turns, if uninterrupted, can be game-ending. When you’ve added a few more buffs onto the team with either Arahbo, Roar of the World or Rin and Seri, Inseparable you will be thanking Brimaz, King of Oreskos for netting you another check in the wins column.

4.     Highcliff Felidar

Highcliff Felidar can wipe out three of the biggest threats at once for just seven mana. Oh, it also nets you a 5/5 body afterwards. Also, it’s a cat (cousin of Brimaz?). Oh, did I mention that this card is a fantastic Ephemerate or reanimation target? Highcliff Felidar could easily have flown under your radar as it was a game night promo from the year Covid-19 hit…as in 2019. That means a bunch of people probably have no idea it even exists. I adore playing cards that are obscure, and it helps when the art is equally adorable.

5.     Militant Angel

I totally picked up Militant Angel for my EDH cube. It fits plenty of different themes, and happens to be another sweet game night promo. Five mana for a 3/4 flying lifelinker isn’t a bad rate. Netting yourself several more 2/2 knight tokens with vigilance for being aggressive makes this promo a genuine mythic. This is another heavily underplayed card, and I’m sure plenty of us out there need to be both more aggro…so get your aggressive growth by enlisting a Militant Angel.

6.     Sublime Archangel

No, I’m not just going to bludgeon you with angels. Sublime Archangel was card that I had on my radar for some time. It held a $20+ price tag for a while. Then, it rotated out of standard and dropped below $10. I almost bought it then, but it just seemed a little more than I was willing to pay. Honestly, a mythic with only one printing that’s under $10 is a good buy. I was being stubbornly cheap. In this case I was rewarded. When Ultimate Masters came out, Sublime Archangel was not only reprinted, but it was reprinted as a down-shifted rare. Losing mythic status made it drop under $5, and it now hovers near bulk prices. That’s a shame, because the effect this offers is huge, and being able to turn a tiny token into a “block or die” threat each combat is a very powerful effect. Sublime Archangel is a sublime deal no one should be passing on. You can even find mythic copies for the cheaper price tag, so enjoy its sublimely cheap price tag.

7.     Soul of Theros

Soul of Theros is the cheapest it has ever been. This began as a bargain mythic and has become cheaper than most useful uncommons. This mythic has seen print only once, and is honestly a soulful way to blow apart an end-game with your token heavy decks. It pairs nicely in just about every white deck’s strategy. Six mana is a chunk to pump your team with, but it is something that is repeatable. Every turn you can pump. Even once it dies you can still get one last heroic effort from the Soul of Theros. Oftentimes, that last effort is all it takes to close out a game.

8.     Hero of Bladehold

Hero of Bladehold pairs nicely with Soul of Theros, but that’s not why it is on this list. This is an offensive anthem effect via battlecry, but it also has an excellent power and toughness rate to help you develop a board very quickly. Overall, this card is cheap to cast, cheap to buy, and can easily augment nearly any white deck’s offensive suite. Hero of Bladehold is far more powerful than it seems, but what card isn’t powerful with a textbox so full of words?

9.     Quarantine Field

Oblivion Ring is just ok in Commander. Quarantine Field allows you do get up to all sorts of shenanigans. You can lock up lots of problems or use it to protect your own stuff from a board wipe that hits enchantments, so you can lose nothing while your opponents lose the game. It scales nicely as the game goes on, so it makes for a flexible piece of conditional removal. I like pieces like this. I like locking up threats. I like taking care of multiple problems with one card. I just hate that I’m using a quarantine measure during an actual pandemic. So, aside from the fitting flavor of the times, sadly, I think Quarantine Field is a mythic that looks like an uncommon, plays like a mythic, and fits a common person’s budget.

10. Felidar Sovereign

Felidar Sovereign is a card that can literally win the game. Paying six mana for a 4/6 might seem a bit underwhelming, but stapling vigilance and lifelink onto it make it far more appealing. Yet, those little enhancements don’t make this a mythic. When you read the rest of that text box you come across those feared word, “…you win the game.” Those words make whatever they are augmenting a genuine removal magnet. The amazing part is that the qualifier to this phrase is that you have 40 life (your starting total in a Commander game) at the beginning of your upkeep. This card is ridiculously powerful. Running it alongside cards like Miraculous Recovery is just plain dirty. Remember, you can cast Miraculous Recovery on someone’s end step, and then people only have instants to respond to your potential game-ending instant reanimation of Felidar Sovereign. Perhaps it’s the king or dare I say sovereign lord of these under-valued white cards.

Wrap Up

This series has been a blast to research and to write. I would be lying if I did not admit to buying more than a few of these cards for my decks. As I keep sifting through the deals and cheaper cards oft forgotten I get excited to try out these older, but mythically good cards. The hidden benefit to running powerful rare and mythic cards that are under-valued is that no one expects them. People don’t think twice about seeing the staples in the format, or the heavy hitting mythics. We expect the expected. These spiced up budget rares and mythics no one talks about, writes about, or even plays are the cards that allow you to surprise people and alter game states in ways others were unprepared for. Catching your opponents unawares has long been a way to shift the game in your favor. So, until next time, may the mythics and the rest of the cards be ever in your favor!

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10 Red Mythics Under $20

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.

Finding budget rares is fun, and finding budget mythics is even more exciting. These red mythics are one that you might not be aware are powerful and budget friendly. This list includes some seriously interesting and seriously heavy hitting cards. These budget beauties are a perfect match for kitchen table Commander players slinging spells and scarfing Cheetos!

1.    Indomitable Creativity

Yes, I know it is sorcery speed replacement/removal, but it’s actually far more flexible. I love how you can use Indomitable Creativity to upcycle your useless artifacts or token creatures into the more powerful and useful ones you have in your deck. Just think about all those extra treasure or blood tokens you might be producing. Now imagine them becoming all those other powerful cards in your deck for only one mana each. Yes, this card has the potential to make you indomitable in a game, and it gives you a chaos warp effect as well. Being able to also eliminate pesky problematic cards and upcycle your own with a single spell is really powerful. So, what are you waiting for? Pick up this creative card and get your indomitable groove on!

2. Malignus

So, this little beauty is approaching his 10 year anniversary and is still only about 5 bucks. Malignus can easily be the biggest creature on just about any battlefield turns 5-10. I’m amazed that such a powerful creature is still so cheap. It’s only been printed in one set, nearly a decade ago, and it’s incredibly powerful. Though, its recent addition to “The List” has helped keep it in the better budget zone. It scales with your opponent’s highest life total, and cracks for a ridiculous amount of damage that can’t be prevented. Using this to attack people with lower life totals is brutal. Combining Malignus with sneaky cards like Rogue’s passage can lead to some games getting closed out in short order. Also, it’s pretty sweet when you can triple up Malignus’s damage with something like Fiery Emancipation—just saying.

3. Hero of Oxid Ridge

Here’s another mythic rare with only one printing and a decade under its belt. Hero of Oxid Ridge is still cheaper than most rares. Crazy, right? If it were a goblin, then it would be commanding a seriously high price tag, but it doesn’t have to be a goblin to benefit goblin decks. It helps boost the team with a nasty little Battle Cry ability that grants the rest of the attacking team +1/+0 until end of turn. However, when you manage to combine this with multiple attack phases, then you are able to get the pump effect for each time Hero of Oxid Ridge attacks. That’s a bellow we all like to benefit from. The incidental anti-chump blockers clause actually comes up more often than you might think. Granting evasion to your swarm and pumping them to crash straight past those pesky eldrazi, elf, goblin, saproling, or even vampire tokens can make for a very rewarding play—while using a budget mythic no less.

4. Dragon Whisperer

It’s easy to argue that Dragon Whisperer is only good when you are already ahead. However, in Commander, you aren’t necessarily ahead if you have 8 power on the board. Being able to crank out lots of flying dragons does mean that you will be ahead and very quickly. This is a vastly underrated card, and as a result it’s a powerful red mythic that has a super budget price tag. You had me at dragon, Mr. Whisperer.

5. Furyborn Hellkite

I’d pay 7 mana for a 12/12 flier, how about you? Would you pay about $3 for the card in question? If your answer to both of these questions is a yes, then you need to grab yourself a copy of this budget mythic! It’s only ever seen print once, in M12, and that makes yet another decade old mythic that comes in under our budget umbrella.

6. Moonveil Dragon

I promise the rest of the list has nothing to do with dragons. Moonveil Dragon is a great card for any decks that have swarms of tokens. Whether you have kobolds, goblins, or dragon tokens you can pump them all up to ridiculous proportions. Moonveil Dragon allows you to have both an end game threat and effect all in one big mythical dragon body. Moonveil Dragon is the type of budget mythic that gets me excited to stretch my dollars.

7. Subterranean Tremors

Subterranean Tremors is for those times when you just have to blow up all the groundlings and their cute little toys. This is a card that scales as the game goes on. You can play it early to wipe out someone off to fast start with tokens or some other elvish nonsense. Mid-game you can need only five mana to pull off an extremely powerful play. For five mana you blow up all artifacts and wipe out all non-fliers with toughness four or less. Top-decking this late-game, when we have extra mana, gives us the ability to blow up everything with toughness seven or less while also netting us a big fat 8/8 lizard to beat face with! Also of note, this is another mythic rare with only one printing to its name. I’m guessing we will see this in a precon before long, but for now it’s plenty cheap enough to justify picking it up.

8. Wolf of Devil’s Breach

I think a few of us out there may have forgotten about this little reanimation enabler. Wolf of Devil’s Breach is a five mana 5/5 that allows us to drop reanimation targets into our graveyard for two mana. It also allows us to slam people for massive damage for only two mana. Most of your reanimation targets are higher mana value cards, like Baleful Force and Avatar of Woe, that you want to cheat into play. Why not crank out extra damage with the Wolf before reanimating big threats like them with your other fun spells? Grave Upheaval anyone?

9. Port Razer

Now, I know that Port Razer is a newer card, and that maybe some people haven’t forgotten about it, but it’s a seriously powerful budget mythic. Maybe it is because Port Razer is an orc pirate, but this card is more powerful than its price tag would have you believe. Being able to chip in damage on a weaker opponent whose shields are down and then untap afterwards is very powerful. You don’t actually have to attack during that second attack phase, thus giving your creatures pseudo vigilance. It’s a little like they were all Eternal Warrior(s).

10. Bonfire of the Damned

I like to plan as much as any blue mage. However, Bonfire of the Damned is such a huge late game top deck, especially when paying the miracle cost, that I’m willing to eschew planned strategy for impulsive power. Bonfire of the Damned has blasted me and my army to pieces. Being on the receiving end of this spell can be crushing; you go from large army, good board position, and safe life total, to a wrecked and vulnerable mess. This is quite the beating, and can often be pitched with other impulsive filtering spells in red if you ever draw it too early or find it at the wrong time. This is an under-played and under-used mythic that will crush your opponents all while barely denting your wallet.

Red is an interesting color and I found that it has many parallels with blue. These enemy colors both had a striking similarity in the makeup of mythics under $20. They have nearly the same number of budget mythics. Interestingly, both colors have budget mythic tribes—blue has sphinxes and red has dragons. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many beefy dragons that are very playable—Scourge of the Throne comes to mind. A few managed to make the list, but I’d like to offer a look into a couple more that you could use to fill out a mon-red dragons build with either Inferno of Stars Mount or Illharg, the Raze-Boar as the masters of these beasts. Consider that Bogardan Hellkite, perhaps the cheapest mythic in existence, can be jammed alongside the likes of fellow hellkites like Hellkite Courser, Hellkite Tyrant, Thundermaw Hellkite, and honorary hellkite Stormbreath Dragon, for well under a $100 is the type of mythical budget I love to buy into. Heck, swooping in with these fiery beasts is more fun than beating face with bouncing beebles. Perhaps there’s a budget big red dragons deck in your future, because I’m totally building one right now. Anyway, until next time, may your budget and the cards be ever in your favor!

Featured

10 Blue Commander Cards Under $20 

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.

You might be tempted to spend $100 or more on a single card to get a big impact mythic for your Commander deck. I’d like to help you find a way to stretch that $100-200 you might budget for one or two cards into buying several high impact but budget friendly blue Commander cards. Sure, that Force of Will is flashy, but there are other mythics that are much cheaper and can make just as big an impact in a game. I’m here to tell you about 10 different blue mythics that are under $20, make a big impact, and offer more excitement for your Commander games.

1.    Frost Titan

When I started doing my research for this article I was shocked to find that old frosty the snowman here is ultra-budget. Even the most expensive version of this card is well under $20 (the fancy secret lair version in foil is closer to $5). I wouldn’t have considered this card something people might not know about, except that it hasn’t seen a real reprinting since 2014. Frost Titan has a solid ETB effect by tapping other creatures down, and having the now key-worded “Ward 2” is a really solid deal for around a buck. A mythic this powerful at such a cheap price is so worth picking up to seriously impact any game time and time again. Tapping down your opponent’s creatures with tap abilities is so good, and having it be a repeatable effect while crashing in with a 6/6 is super strong. It sometimes functions like a creature with evasion, as it removes potential blockers with its attack trigger.

2.    Cast Through Time

Blue is the color for spells, and Cast Through Time lets us double up on each one we cast. This enchantment seems clunky, but where else are we going to sling spells like this except in Commander? Using this to double up your spells can help you close a game in short order. Combining this with cards like relearn and time warp is just dirty, so go for it! If you’re playing blue, and you’ve got plenty of spells in your deck, then you need to try jamming this budget mythic sometime soon. It’s so satisfying to rebound silly spells like Crush of Tentacles, Expropriate, or even the next card on this list.

3.    Clone Legion

Speaking of big clunky spells—clone legion is a ton of fun. This can completely change the look of a game whenever you cast it. Suddenly, you have everything you already had on board, plus every creature the best opponent’s board has as well. This is a huge game changer, and when you do cast this thing it’s extremely gratifying. It last saw print in 2017, and I’m willing to bet that quite a few of you out there have forgotten how much fun this card can be. It’s not grossly unfair—you pay lots of mana for it, and it is only as good as your opponent’s board. The power of it really shines when your opponents have cards with amazing “enters the battlefield” effects that allow you to grind out your supreme value.

4.    Arcanis the Omnipotent

Arcanis the Omnipotent is ancestral recall on a stick! Arcanis the Omnipotent, sadly, is often under-rated by today’s player base. People see a card that costs six mana and think that it having a 3/4 body makes it somehow not good enough. Yes, I suppose power creep has spoiled plenty out there, but this legendary wizard, who hails from the pre-modern set titled Onslaught, is actually amazing. You can scoop him back up for four mana whenever he’s threatened by some targeted or mass removal spell. Honestly, tapping him to draw three cards is really the draw here. Untapping with Arcanis in play is gross. I have rarely seen the player that does this lose the game. If Arcanis the Omnipotent gets multiple activations, then it’s usually a foregone conclusion that his controller is going to win the game. Arcanis might be the most budget repeatable card draw spell ever printed. I know he’s always been a rare, but his latest printing was as a mythical face card to those Speed vs. Cunning duel decks, so I’m counting him as a mythic.  

5.     Beguiler of Wills

I recently picked up four of these for less than $4. That seems incredibly cheap to me. Stealing people’s stuff is always good, and stealing more and more stuff is just grossly good. Again, I think people see 1/1 and think five mana is too much to pay. This steal effect doesn’t end when Beguiler of Wills dies or leaves play or untaps or anything else. This is permanent creature theft. Once you successfully activate this you are able to steal their creature “for-ev-ver”. All those utility creatures and other role-players in people’s decks are suddenly easy pickings for you to permanently make your own. If you happen to already be creating a large amount of tokens or other weak creatures in your blue deck (drakes?), then you need to be jamming this yesterday. Feel free to run Homarid Spawning Bed and Scornful Egotist in your deck as well to catch em’—, er steal them all.

6.    Day’s Undoing

This budget Time Twister is still good outside Obeka, Brute Chronologist decks. Being able to wheel for three mana, even when it ends your turn, should not be underestimated. When you are playing blue it isn’t like you want to play spells during your main phase anyway. A true blue deck has lots of instants and flashy spells in it. Days Undoing is a chance for you to refill your hand and if you happen to punish everyone else with a flashed in Notion Thief, then it’s not such a bad play for seven mana, right? Overall, Days Undoing is actually a card that’s fallen off most people’s radars, but has plenty of applications in most blue decks, and has a gigantic impact on any game. Considering this mythic was printed only once in 2015 it’s surprising that it is still under $10. This is especially surprising when it can have such a large impact on any given game.

7.    Echo of Eons

Perhaps you were wondering why I wasn’t talking about Echo of Eons while I was discussing Day’s Undoing. That’s because it’s next up on the list. Echo of Eons is perhaps even better than Day’s Undoing. This is the type of card that fits all the slots from our previous one, so I won’t belabor my points anymore. This one has the added benefit of flashback along with its actual cost. This offers even more flexibility, so it can be even better: cost flexibility, discardability, multiple castings, and it can be recurred (provided it isn’t flashed back). Overall, it’s almost strictly better than Day’s Undoing.

8.    Kiega, the Tide Star

I keep expecting power creep to print a strictly better Kiega, the Tide Star, and thankfully that hasn’t happened. This is another ultra budget blue mythic that hasn’t seen print since it’s Iconic Masters printing in 2017. It dates back to Champions of Kamigawa, and it was a house when it was first printed. Granted, most Commander players think of Kiega’s mean older brother Kokusho, but Kiega is just such an awesome dragon. Kiega is a decent body at 5/5, and a nightmare for people to try and remove. If you add a sacrifice outlet to your deck in the form of High Market or even Victimize, then you have a chance to really blow people out in any game. I also hear it is fun to clone Keiga, the Tide Star (just not quite as fun since the Legend rule changed to only blowing up one of them). Having a 5/5 that threatens to not only block someone’s ace of a creature, but also steal that creature after chump blocking is a really powerful move. Kiega, the Tide Star works well on both offense and defense, and that’s the type of stunning impact I’m looking for in my budget mythics.

9.    Lighthouse Chronologist

“Extra! Extra! Take all the turns!” Lighthouse Chronologist is close to the $20 cut-off mark, but it also hasn’t been printed since its original printing in Rise of the Eldrazi in 2010. That’s a mythic with over ten years of supply and demand working for it, and nothing else against it. Lighthouse Chronologist is a lightning rod for removal. If you ever get to resolve it, then it’s likely that you’ll get to take all the turns! Seriously, pumping seven mana into this might seem bad, until you suddenly get an absurd number of draws, untap steps, and oh heck, just extra turns.

10.  Quicksilver Gargantuan

Yes, there are other cards with similar effects for less mana, but they don’t supersize your copy. I know that you can play with Clone or Sakashima’s Protégé or Spark Double, but why not go over-the-top with Quicksilver Gargantuan? Slamming down a 7/7 copy of someone else’s Baleful Strix, Grand Abolisher, Scute Swarm, or even Aurelia, the Warleader is the type of impactful play I dream about from a budget mythic that comes in under $1. Oftentimes, you are stuck with no decent cloning targets, but even small bodied creatures are decent targets for this oversized shapeshifter. I mean, a 7/7 flier that taps for any color mana is a lot scarier than a 0/1 flier that taps for any color—sorry Birds of Paradise. Quicksilver Gargantuan can take you from stalemate to checkmate.

Wrap up.

I’d like to take this time to mention a few others that I couldn’t quite fit into this list. As I was reviewing the cards to write this piece I kept stumbling upon mythical Sphinxes. I’m totally building a Sphinx Commander deck, and it’s going to be chock full of the mythics in this list, and many more actual Sphinxes that are mythics. Mythical, and rare for that matter, sphinxes are super budget buys! Seriously, here’s a list of some powerhouse Sphinxes that are pretty darn cheap: Sphinx of Enlightenment, Sphinx Ambassador, Sphinx of the Final Word, Sphinx of the Second Sun, and even the deck’s future commander Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign. I’m looking forward to building this quizzically quirky tribal Commander deck, and I’m be sure to share it with all of you once I iron out all the details. Until then, may your budget and the cards be ever in your favor! 

Featured

10 Black Commander Cards Under $20 You Should Be Playing

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.

You might be tempted to spend $100 or more on a single card to get a big impact mythic for your Commander deck. I’d like to help you find a way to stretch that $100-200 you might budget for one or two cards into buying several high impact but budget friendly black Commander cards. The problem is that you can play several games before you get a chance to actually play your new pricey mythic. I’m here to tell you about 10 different mythics and rares that are under $20, make a huge impact, and offer you more excitement during your Commander games. So, here’s 10 cheap black cards with a big impact you should be playing in Commander.

1.    Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

It seems like people have forgotten that you can play this deck in a non-ninja deck. Ninjisu works with any unblocked creature—rogue, ninja, beast, illusion, or even a saproling token. It doesn’t  matter that the token is exiled when it is returned to your hand, because the cost is paid, and Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni is going to steal you something good. This card deserves a price tag over $20 for its artwork alone. When you factor in the sneakiness and impact Ink-Eyes can have on a game, then you clearly have a card that’s undervalued by far too many players. 

2.    Shadowborn Demon

Having demons with downsides used to be normal—like the class act that is Lord of the Pit. Now, we expect a mythic rare, demon or not, to be all upside. Where’s the fun in that? Well, Shadowborn Demon lets you have your fun, but also keeps it bloody good while you slaughter one of your opponent’s creatures and enjoy immunity yourself because of the creatures you’ve already sacrificed. You can always sacrifice the demon to itself, so if you’re desperate you can slaughter your own shadowy demon.

3.    Stunning Reversal

Now, you may be of the camp that says if you’re not trying to win, then you are losing. You may believe cards like Stunning Reversal do nothing, because you think that momentarily avoiding a loss is not a path to victory. Sorry—not sorry—that’s just wrong. Stunning Reversal is perfectly named; you don’t die and you get to snag seven extra cards at instant speed for only four mana. That’s incredibly powerful. This Battlebond Mythic deserves one of the spicy slots in your black decks, and can even be the sort of thing that enables some truly crazy comebacks and is disturbingly good when you’re running cards like Eternity Vessel. A player might plan to knock you off along with everyone else, but thanks to Stunning Reversal, now they still have to wreckon with you and your fully loaded crack back (which is fueled by seven extra cards).

4.    Haunting Voyage

Haunting Voyage makes me feel a bit awkward even mentioning that it’s not only under $20, but under $5!? How is it that a one-sided Patriarch’s Bidding is still this cheap? Yes, I know Patriarch’s Bidding got a reprint and it’s cheaper than ever, but did I mention this is one-sided? Also, Haunting Voyage can be foretold. Foretell is a powerful mechanic as it lets you save your spells in a discard immune zone to cast when it’s most convenient for you. How powerful and impactful is this card? More than $5 worth of impact, and it definitely deserves consideration in your to-buy list.

5.     Erebos, God of the Dead

I played with Erebos, God of the Dead back in Standard, of all places, and found it to be deceptively powerful there. However, that’s a way smaller card pool than Commander. Still, any card that wins me games in another format is something I’m sure to try out in my favorite format—Commander. I have never been disappointed with this card. Having an enchantment that allows you to draw a card for two mana and keep everyone else from gaining life is super powerful. Having it become an indestructible attacker/blocker is also pretty solid as well. It does become more susceptible to removal once it’s a creature, so be aware that there’s times you actually prefer not to raise your devotion if possible. Did I mention that Erebos allows you to draw lots of extra cards, and doesn’t shut off your own ways to gain life? Oh, I did…well, let’s move on!

6.    Demon of Dark Schemes

Demon of Dark Schemes is similar to Questing Beast in that they have a ridiculous amount of rules text. That’s about all they have in common, as Demon of Dark Schemes is a serious budget buy. This thing flys, kills off small swarms, fuels it’s own energy driven ability, and reanimates any creature you want! Seriously, why is a card that is beastly like Massacre Wurm, but also sneaky like Ink-Eyes or Beacon of Unrest so affordable? I have no idea why. Perhaps people think that because it needs energy to reanimate that it doesn’t just kill small swarms without an effort at all? This is the type of card I bought four of for under $3, and I’ve never been sorry I did. Seriously, try this Massacre Wurm alternative out sometime, and you might be amazed at how fun it can be.

7.    Calculating Lich

In a world of Zombies, I’m astonished this card is still so cheap. This is another card that’s probably flying under people’s radars. Rot Hulk spiked early on in this latest Innistrad set; I wasn’t surprised as it’s a Game Day promo card that’s never seen any other printings. It has a powerful effect for Commander, and that also makes it worth more. Of course, this all applies to Calculating Lich as well. The lich really helps add up the damage on your opponents rather quickly, and that can lead to you closing out games much faster than anyone may have anticipated. This is one card whose price is worth calculating.  

8.    Worst Fears

Super power effect—check!

Super high mana cost—check!

Makes people salty?—double check!!

Worst Fears is the type of card that can really get under someone’s skin, but that’s just because you’re borrowing their skin for a bit. Honestly, for this much mana no one should be complaining that you’re stealing their next turn from them. Yet, there are some ways to go about casting this for a lot less than the actual cost—Counterlash, Magus of the Mind, Mind’s Desire, Scholar of the Lost Trove, Sins of the Past, and Spelltwine all come to mind. Making someone else realize their worst fears is even better when you double it up with something extra evil like Counterlash or Spelltwine. Granted, you do need a discard outlet to get Worst Fears into the yard, but that’s a small concession when building with the color that specializes in discard effects.

9.     Tree of Perdition

While Tree of Perdition isn’t quite as powerful as Sorin Markov, it’s does a reasonable impression. Look, it doesn’t have haste (unless you’ve got Anger in the graveyard), but it is a serious threat to anyone on the table. It doesn’t actually sacrifice itself to use its ability either. It becomes a giant blocker and instantly cripples an opponent as well. If you manage to blink it with an Ephemerate or Momentary Blink before your turn, then you can go ahead and cripple an additional player as well. You can also just give someone else life by stealing one person’s and then giving it to another. This is something that will often be a removal magnet, but also has the potential to allow you some serious shenanigans in many different decks. Also, did I mention how nicely this combos with Triskaidekaphobia? Yes, that dream could happen. Plus, you’re playing black, so you’ll be able to recur from the graveyard and maybe find another opponent to fall victim to the Tree of Perdition and Triskaidekaphobia’s nasty combination.

10. Vampire Nocturnus & Bloodlord of Vaasgoth

Now, I know these cards really only work with Vampire decks, but seriously, why not discuss them with Crimson Vow on the Horizon? Vampire Nocturnus gives such a strong boost to your team of Vampires (itself included). Yes, it doesn’t work all the time, but when it is working it is incredibly strong. I love seeing people re-read this card and then frown as they see your top card is black. It’s devastating to realize that the combat math just got much more serious, and it’s deadly serious once they read those last three words, “…and have flying.” Seems fair. Meanwhile, Bloodlord of Vaasgoth super charges your team as they come into play. Dealing damage with the bloodsuckers and then dropping pumped up versions of smaller vampires is brutal. It will suck the fight from your opponents and leave them empty husks. Just watch out of for Tsabo’s Decree!

Wrap up.

Black can be a brutal, sneaky, viscous color to play, and I love that about it. If you’re into doing dastardly deeds with your swamps, then these cards are for you. They aren’t nearly as expensive as some of the more pricey black mythics like Liliana of the Veil or Mekaeus, the Unhallowed, yet they can impact games arguably in even more powerful ways. It’s nice to see that there are plenty of budget options available. I really tried to give you the cards that most people aren’t really aware of here, and this is by no means an exhaustive list of cheap mythics—there’s more, but you probably already know about them. I’ve discovered 120+ mythics that fit this basic budget criteria. Not all of those cards have as big an impact, but they are mythical, so they do have big special effects. I hope this list of cards leads to you finding your darkest desires, and in so doing guarantying that the cards will be ever in your favor.

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10 Green Commander Cards Under $20 You Should Be Playing

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.

You might be tempted to spend $100 or more on a single card to get a big impact mythic for your Commander deck. The problem is that you can play several games before you get a chance to actually play your new pricey mythic. I’m here to tell you about 20 different mythics and rares that are under $20, make a huge impact, and add variety to your Commander games. For the price of one pricey mythic you can pick up five of these cards, so let’s discuss the ten cheap mythics you should be playing in Commander.

1.    Bramble Sovereign

This card is just ridiculous. It came out in Battlebond, a set designed to be played in limited as a two-headed giant match-up, so it happens to custom made for multiplayer formats, like Commander. This can make for some hilarious plays in order to bring down the table’s biggest threat. Giving your opponent an extra Avenger of Zendikar, Verderous Gearhulk, Worldspine Wurm, or even a pair of Craterhoof Behemoths for a mere two mana can really turn a game on its head. Allowing someone to double up their ETB triggers off cards like Duplicant or Archon of Cruelty can quickly cut the current archenemy out of the lead. Perhaps you may even strike a double deal with their Sphinx of Enlightenment? I can’t wait to use this card more often. I just slotted it into my EDH cube, because it is a card we all need to  see in play more often.

2.    Kalonian Hydra

Let’s be honest about counters in green decks; they’re there more often than not.I am so surprised Kalonian Hydra hasn’t flown past the $20 mark. It is so powerful in so many green decks. Doubling up +1/+1 counters is crazy on a single creature, but doubling up all the counters on every attack is insanity—and I love it. Jam this in any deck that’s running a counters theme and you won’t be disappointed. This is like having a repeatable Doubling Season on the board (Doubling Season–way more than $20).

3.    Natural Order

Natural Order shouldn’t be under $20, and I don’t think it will stay that way for very long. It has commanded a price over that for quite some time. It just got reprinted as part of the mystical archive, and snagging copies of that version for under $20 is an excellent deal. Granted, this most recent printing is the only one under $20 which is a good sign that this card isn’t going to be dropping in price any time soon. Natural Order allows you to cheat the best green creature from your deck into play at instant speed. It’s like a mini Tooth and Nail, but it’s only four mana. It has always been powerful in 1 vs. 1 matchups, and it’s still amazing in multiplayer. There are so many green combo pieces and game-ending creatures you can cheat into play that this old beauty is still one of the flashiest cards around. If you happen to use it to get yourself a Verdant Force, then you win the nostalgia bonus round my friend.

4.    Unbound Flourishing

This is more a niche pick-up for decks with “X spells”. However, this is absolutely amazing in those decks. I think it’s unlikely you aren’t already playing it in a counters matter deck, but if you aren’t, then it’s time for you to jam one of these into your deck and truly make it a next-level monstrosity (bonus points for playing and activating Hydra Broodmaster with Unbound Flourishing in play).

5.     Thrun, the Last Troll

So, most of the cards on this list are closer to the $20 mark, but Thrun, the Last Troll is under $5. I can’t even believe that I can write that. This card has been reprinted only once, in the Mystery Boosters set. Otherwise, it’s only been printed once, and that was in Mirrodin Besieged—10 years ago! That’s crazy. This card is overdue for a price spike. It could get reprinted in a Commander Precon., but I doubt it. If it does, then it’ll drop quite a bit, and likely be a bulk mythic forever. Yet, if it doesn’t, and people start realizing how powerful this card truly is, then I expect they’ll be snapping up every copy of it under $10 in short order. This is a fantastically cheap buy at the moment. Having a four mana threat that can block incredible well and dodge targeted removal is still solid in the Commander format…ten years later! Feel free to announce playing it by busting out your best baritone singing voice, “Thrun, da-da-dun-The Last Troll!”

6.    Avatar of Growth

Avatar of Growth is a card that initially escaped my radar. It’s a game day promo from 2018, so it’s about three years old now, and it’s actually under $10. This is the kind of card that plays fantastically well in multiplayer, and especially well against your friends that look down their noses at basic lands. This is a great way to punish those dual, fetch, shock, triome wielding opponents and reward everyone else living on a more frugal budget. I can easily see this being a powerful three drop in an average Commander game that then ramps up the rest of the table as well as yourself. I think it might even find a spot in my EDH Cube, because this is the sort of Battlebond-esque fun I like to see in friendly games of Commander.

7.    Shaman of the Forgotten Ways

Speaking of forgotten buys, this card is probably appropriately named at this point. It’s hasn’t been printed since 2015, and I doubt it sees that much play in your local groups. However, it is a fantastically powerful way to obliterate people’s life totals and then swing in for an easy kill. If they’ve left themselves with one blocker or just one creature in play, then they’re basically dead on board. A control player that runs a creature light deck can find themselves dead in very short order. Voltron players? Yeah, they’ll be terrified of this thing. You get to swing in with two 1/1’s and knock them out. That’s some sweet budget player removal right there.

8.    Nullhide Ferox

Now I know you’re looking at me like I’m crazy for mentioning this bulk mythic. It’s one of the cheapest mythics to never see a reprint. It’s also a 6/6 Hexproof for four mana. Granted, it has a rough downside: you can’t cast non-creature spells. However, for only two mana you can turn that ability off until end of turn. Well, anyone can, but hear me out before you write this thing off. It’s a 6/6 for a mere four mana. It’s no Argothian Wurm (also worth considering), but the trample isn’t that huge of a loss when you consider that it dodges all targeted removal unless that person decides to pay an extra two mana to remove it. If you’re running a more aggressive deck or perhaps using Ruric Thar as your Commander, then you really should consider jamming this impactful beater for the monetary equivalent of two gumballs. Unlike most Hexproof creatures, this one begs for and allows for table interaction. It’s hard for people to feel salty about your Hexproof creature when it isn’t really hexproof, but more like “Ward 2”,except not as good. Remember, this is a budget list. 

9.     Primeval Bounty

Primeval Bounty seems like a slow and perhaps over-costed value engine. However, it really doesn’t take much to rev this engine into overdrive. It’s relatively easy to cast after doing some accelerating and then immediately drop a land to gain three life. This card doesn’t make you an immediate target either (like, say, Doubling Season might). Yes, six mana for three life is terrible. However, if you happen to cast another spell off that, like Snakeskin Veil, you suddenly have a creature with four +1/+1 counters on it that got to dodge a removal spell at the same time. It really just gives every spell and land you play an additional trigger (like adding on a free kicker bonus). Now, every creature nets you an additional 3/3 while each spell pumps up a creature with additional counters, and every land drop pads your life total. Overall, it is a valuable little card that can get rapidly out of hand in any deck that’s running synergies with counters, beasts, life gain, or even a beast tribal deck! Krosan Warchief loves seeing this card, and so do all your other beasts that you call forth from the Contested Cliffs.  

10. Seasons Past

Don’t pass on this Seasons Past card. It appears to be an over-costed regrowth, but once you’ve played it late game you won’t ever look at it the same way. Unlike Praetor’s Counsel, which I think more than a few people jam, this one slips under deck builder’s radars as the restriction seems overly prohibitive. I emphasize “seems” here because once you start looking at your actual mana curves, you come to find that you actually end up with a variety of different casting costs in the yard in the mid-to-late game. The ability to bring back any type of spell is the coolest part of this card. It doesn’t restrict by card types, so everything that costs different amounts is up for grabs. Don’t forget that lands have a mana value (converted mana cost) of zero and can be snapped up with this card along with all your other goodies.

I hope I brought a few cheap mythics into consideration for you. Plenty of people hunt down the same old green cards like The Great Henge, Craterhoof Behemoth, and Sylvan Library. Instead of gunning for a run-of-the-mill style card, perhaps you could consider jamming a few of these affordable cards (for less than the price of any of those mentioned above). The impact these budget cards make is pretty solid, and for the price—it’s really hard to do better. Until next time, may your bank account and the cards be ever in your favor!

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Buying Tips from a Cardboard Crack Addict: Watch out for Inked MTG Cards!

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 have an addiction to making myself ridiculous projects. My buying a card-a-day for 365 days straight is just one more testament to this crazy cardboard-crack addiction. I’ve been buying cards for ¾ of the year! I would like to share a new update with you. This is a pretty wild story, so be prepared. I traded in a slew of uncommons, commons, and bulk rares for some pretty expensive cards. I wrote about that here, but today I’d like to tell you about a SNAFU that occurred during this process.

I ordered an All Hallow’s Eve. I used my store credit to purchase it, so it wouldn’t cost me any real cash. This is a beautiful thing, and I recommend anyone repurpose their bulk for gemstones whenever possible. Finding an All Hallow’s Eve in my collection is way cooler than owning 8 extra copies of various staples and other temporarily inflated items. This type of collection shifting is always worth the time (well, mostly…40+ hours is a bit rough I’ll admit). Yet, when you are able to trade up it’s generally a great idea. So, I traded up to an All Hallow’s Eve, and anxiously awaited its arrival in the mail.

I purchased it from a very large online retailer. The card was supposed to be lightly played. It arrived and looked just that—lightly played. Then, I looked a little more closely and what I discovered made my stomach drop into my gut. But, before I get to that, let me tell you a cool little story about visiting my L.G.S.

I was looking in the case, and the owner was behind the counter opening some cards he had bought for his personal collection off Ebay. He pulled the card out, Smokestack, and says, “Man, I love when people cheat like this.” I was immediately drawn into asking what he was talking about because his tone was seriously sarcastic. He was annoyed, but also smiled as he passed the card to me. Take a look at my near mint Smokestack I just bought for my NM Urza’s Saga set. I held the card, looked it over front and back, and felt that is was in fact a genuine Magic card. It felt like one, didn’t look counterfeit in any way I could see, and so I said, “I don’t see the issue.” He asked me to hold it up to the light, and I did. I still didn’t see it. Then he pointed out to me that it was inked on the borders. It was hard to see at first. He explained to me that people take a sharpie or other black permanent marker touch the spot and then smear it with a wet cloth or whatever. It cuts the sheen down from the marker and leaves a barely perceptible black edge. Apparently, this is something people do. They also will sand the edge of the card slightly in order to hide any bleed-through that might occur on the very edge of the card.  That was sick and sad and disturbing. I wasn’t surprised. I was seriously glad I had learned about that particularly unsavory trick.

Now, back to the All Hallow’s Eve I ordered. It was inked. It was inked in multiple areas. The corners on the front and back had been inked and you could even see a bit of the bleed-through on one of the edges. I was sick to my stomach looking at that. I had a $380 card that was now considered damaged. I had no idea how the store was going to react. Would they believe me? Would they give me a hard time? Did they even have another one in stock to replace what I ordered? Would they even consider that the card they sent me is the one that was marked? How could I prove I wasn’t swapping it out with some other copy like the scammer that obviously sold them the inked card in the first place. I was mad, nervous, and really upset.

I contacted their customer service, and I was being communicated with immediately. They asked me to send pictures of the card and that their grading team would assess if what I was saying was true or not and move forward from there. I wasn’t being called into question. I wasn’t treated like a scammer, and I was actually treated as I deserved to be. I was happily surprised. I sent the pictures in, and they got back to me that it was in fact inked and said they were sending a replacement out that day. They also sent me a postage paid envelope to return the inked card in. I was relieved and wondered exactly what my replacement version would look like. I hoped it wouldn’t be another debacle.

I waited to mail the original back, because I wanted to compare it to the new one. I just wanted to see if what my inked card appeared to be would be similar to the condition of the one that was on its way. When I opened the replacement it was in even better condition than what the inked one appeared to be. I was very happy. I was even happier that it was clearly a real card that wasn’t marked in any way. It was a complete and total relief. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed being able to mail the original back and leave all that behind me. I was going to try and forget about this, but after telling a few of my friends about it I realized that everyone should know about this. It’s not enough that I got my order straightened out or that I am now much more trusting of a particular larger retailer. It’s not about my single experience or my satisfaction. People need to know that inked cards are out there and can be hard to spot.

I’m including the pictures of the card that I sent away. I think it is important to note how this may look. It is a subtle thing that isn’t easily seen. You really need to shine a light on it and look at it in the glare to tell what’s going on. We, as a community, need to be aware of this type of marking. Ultimately, I feel that the best place to buy your singles is your L.G.S., because you can both look a card over and check for these types of discrepancies. I appreciated the perfect customer service from the online retailer. I was pleased with the overall outcome, but I was nervous. I did have doubts, and I’m happy to say that they were unfounded. I could have precluded this from happening by visiting my L.G.S. and buying this marquee card there, but I did not. I essentially traded for this card, and I’m happy to report that I was able to trade back the bad version. In the end, I walked away with a card I wanted. The end result was positive, but ultimately, the safest place to deal with cards like this is in-person. This way we are able to both assess exactly what kind of deal is occurring at the moment. This could be mitigated through the use of pictures, but this type of inking doesn’t necessarily show up when you have a traditional straight-on picture. You have to have the corners in the glare, and that’s when it’s clearly noticeable. I’ll certainly be more leery of buying cards like this from places like Ebay or TCG player.

So, a long story short. You can buy cards online from big retailers and they will likely honor your complaints about inking. It’s a dirty thing, but the more we all know about it, then the less likely anyone is to get away with it. I’m not a stickler for condition on my cards, but I’ll take whitening on the edges of my cards to sharpied over black borders. It just feels dishonest to me, and I’m not a fan of dishonesty in any form. Until next time, may the ink and your cards be ever in your favor!

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The Dragon Cycles of Magic: the Gathering

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.

Let’s talk about dragons. Namely, the top dragon cycles in the game of Magic: the Gathering. Now, Magic has over 20,000 unique cards in its catalogue, but most people will be shocked to hear that there are only 244 creatures with the creature type “dragon”. As a long time player, I’m from generation X, I used to get super excited for new dragons. Shivan Dragon was the gold standard for flying beat down for years. It was the original iconic Magic dragon. However, nothing is more exciting than seeing a set that brings you a whole cycle of dragons! When I talk about cycles I’m talking about a set of 5 cards that are all part of a design group, like the cycle of Commands, or cycle of Ultimatums, or the cycle of “Seal of Blank” enchantments! I’d like to take the time to discuss all of the top Commander/EDH dragon cycles available in Magic today.

Dragon Whelp and Nalathni Dragon were the only options for quite some time. Legends introduced the namesake EDH dragons that this Commander format was built on. Those were awesome and paved the way for dragons moving forward. Yet, when Mirage introduced a cycle of non-legendary dragons with Catacomb dragon, Mist dragon, Canopy dragon, Pearl dragon, Volcanic Dragon, and Teeka’s dragon, dragon lovers were excited. The Mirage dragon cycle is perhaps the weakest of the bunch, but it introduced mono-colored dragons in other colors. Even for the time, the dragons were really only playable as fun singletons in odd ball multiplayer decks. I managed to live the Catacomb Dragon dream and fearlessly attack into Sengir Vampires, Serra Angeles, and Mahamoti Djinns. Though I’m pretty sure I still lost quite a few of those games. It wasn’t as exciting as you might think, because it could still fall victim to Swords to Plowshares, and was a full turn slower than the other top 4/4 fliers in town. Canopy Dragon was a sad patch for green decks to try to answer all these nasty fliers, but the four toughness made it pretty weak. Mist Dragon is neat, but when Rainbow Efreet exists it’s hard to justify running the Mist Dragon. Yes, even when you’re going for a dragon sub-theme. It’s just fairly weak. Though, I did watch someone cast Hurricane and make Mist Dragon lose flying in response, and then fly over the surviving ground troops—it lived and all our fliers died.

Invasion brought back an old approach to dragons. This is when it was clear that legendary dragon cycles could be thing. Rith, the Awakener was a beast to deal with, and Dromar the Banisher bounced plenty of people’s permanents during those late 90’s and early 2000’s. Treva was never all that exciting, Darigaaz was fun, and Crosis was no Bolas. It was neat to see that each of these legendary dragons seemed semi-connected (at least by their colors) to the original elder dragon legends. Odyssey block only had a few, but then Onslaught block had a dragon sub-theme, and dragon tribal decks were now a thing you could actually do. Cards like Kilnmouth Dragon, Imperial Hellkite, and Bladewing the Risen begged you to go dragon tribal. Bladewing’s Thrall, Dragonspeaker Shaman, Belbe’s Portal, and the ubiquitous Urza’s Incubator all helped to solidify this as a solid multiplayer strategy. Today, we have even more enablers, and so playing dragon tribal isn’t a stretch at all. Heck, cutting yourself down to just the dragons you want to play can be difficult.

The modern era of Magic brought with it new borders and a new cycle of legendary dragons. The Mirage cycle introduced mono-colored cycles, and Invasion brought back legendary cycles. Kamigawa dragons combined both concepts to bring us a cycle of legendary mono-colored dragons. Each dragon had a death trigger, and that was a refreshing and fun new way to experience dragons in each color. This was the first time we saw mono-colored legendary dragons for each color, and it was very well received (though, I hear, the block itself was not…yet perhaps we are destined to return). I loved the Kamigawa block for all of its legendary creatures, ridiculous story line, and fun quirky mechanics like bushido and splice onto arcane. Overall, the dragons were definitely the stars. Yosei is amazing for locking people down, and no one really wants to kill your Keiga for that matter. Meanwhile Ryusei is decent enough to run, and Jugan is the lucky dragon (except if you’re playing it). The most terrifying at an EDH table is definitely big floppy himself Kokusho the Evening Star. Heck, Kokusho was banned from EDH for quite some time. That tells you all you really need to know about how powerful that card has been.

The next cycle of dragons to come into Magic would be in the Time Spiral block. This set brought us more legendary dragons in the same vein as Invasion block. Teneb the Harvester and friends are all solid stats for their era. They are 6 mana 6/6 fliers with activated abilities that trigger upon doing damage to an opponent. These dragons punish your opponents severely. You not only get to smack them for 6 points of damage, but then you go ahead and tap a mere three mana and ramp up the punishment even more. Their abilities are good, but they didn’t help mitigate the loss of them like the Kamigawa dragons did. Now, keep in mind that the original elder dragons were printed in 1994, and by the time 2007 rolled around we only had 3 more cycles of legendary dragons. That is about one cycle of legendary dragons every four years.

It wouldn’t be until eight years later in 2015 that we would get truly spoiled with dragons. Khans Block with Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir were the most exciting dragon themed sets ever. The only thing close to it is the Ur-Dragon 2017 Commander deck. It’s probably one of the most fun precons I’ve purchased. Anyway, the Khans block brought us all sorts of dragon cycles! The initial dragon cycles we got in Fate Reforged included a two colored dragon legends. This was the first time we got a cycle of dual colored legendary dragons. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind has the honor of being the first dual colored legendary dragon. These dragons offered you mega rewards for playing with more dragons. Atarka, the World Render can be a Savage Beating in combat. Dromoka, the Eternal is frightening when you have a doubling season in play. Silimgar, the Drifting Death wiped out other people’s tokens armies. Ojutai, Soul of Winter is just cruel in multiplayer, and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury can enable very large attack phases (downright disturbing with enough dragons). Additionally, Fate Reforged gave us an uncommon dragon cycle as well. Wardscale Dragon, Mindscour Dragon, Noxious Dragon, Shockmaw Dragon, and Destructor Dragon are all six mana 4/4 fliers, so they aren’t super exciting. The do all have a little ability tagged onto them, so they are often better than the cycle from Mirage. Overall, Fate Reforged did a great job adding to the pile of dragons we could shuffle up.

Dragons of Tarkir was the best dragon set ever. There were six cycles of dragons. Yes, I said six cycles. Up to this set there was a grand total of seven dragon cycles in the history of Magic. This set alone nearly doubled the total of dragon cycles. The dragons are all very tribal oriented, and work really well together. The dragonlords are clearly the best ones in the set, but the two rare cycles are also solid, and the two uncommons cycles are decent as well. I’m counting the monument cycle as a dragon cycle because they turn into dragons. The weakest were the dragons with Megamorph. They were all six mana 3/3 fliers with abilities appropriate for each color. They’re fine filler, but they aren’t anything you want to jam in every dragon deck ever. The other cycle of uncommon dragons were much more powerful as 4/4 two-color fliers for six mana. Savage Ventmaw is very powerful, and Ruthless Deathfang lets you tighten your claws around your opponent’s wormy little neck. If you ever find a way to clone an Enduring Scalelord with Dack’s Duplicate you can live a beautiful dream. Meanwhile, the rare regent cycle has some pretty powerful effects lurking in there. The cards are all costed fairly well, and I can see cases for playing any of these in any dragon deck that can run them. The other rare cycle offers up very interesting options. The Boltwing Marauder seems incredibly good in some sort of storm style tokens deck. The others offer unique abilities as well, and most of them are arguably playable if you have ways to maximize their abilities. Overall, this was an amazing dragon set.

I didn’t forget to discuss the dragon lords, but instead felt they deserve some of their own space. These were the second time in history that Magic came back to Elder Dragons! These were only the second instance of elder dragons existing in Magic. This was so exciting. Dragonlord Dromoka shuts down certain deck styles all by itself—that just awesome. Dragonlord Ojutai is incredibly difficult for your opponents to deal with, and I’m not sure anyone is playing this card without a way to give it vigilance, right? Dragonlord Silumgar is just about everything I want from a blue/black elder dragon—deathtouch, flying, and steals people’s stuff—perfect. Dragonlord Atarka is a ridiculous card to resolve and if it happens to be your commander, then people have to watch out for you one-shotting them off a couple sneaky pump spells. Meanwhile, Dragonlord Kolaghan does have a useless ability for EDH, but that is easily mitigated by the other amazing ability to give all your creatures haster…heck Kolaghan has haste too. These dragons definitely deserved the moniker of Elder Dragons.

We would only need to wait two years for the Commander Precon to release in 2017, so that brought many new toys for dragon decks. Then, in 2018, M19 released with a whole new cycle of dragons that revisited and updated the original elder dragon legends. This was super fun. I played at this prerelease and my buddy, Donovan, opened up Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. I was so excited for him. These are all very fun dragons to run in your decks, and I’m not sure that any of them are anything short of super fun. Their abilities and casting costs all offer up something different. This is the type of fun we want and need from our legendary dragons. Also, Bolas flipped into a planeswalker—that’s just awesome.

Interestingly enough it was just this year 2021 that we got more elder dragon legends. These are similar to the Khans elder dragons in that they are dual colored and not tri-colored like the original elder dragon legends were both times they were envisioned. This cycle of dragons all offer very unique abilities and ask you to build around them as commanders. They don’t really feel like cards you jam in the 99, but when you are running The Ur-Dragon, then I guess you can jam whatever draconic beasts you want.

The most recent set (as of this writing) is Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. We got spoiled in this set as well, because we got two cycles of dragons in one set. A set of mythic legendary mono-colored dragons, and set of uncommon mono-colored dragons. Oh, and Tiamat—the dragon god. The uncommon cycle centers on each chromatic colored dragon in Magic (black, white, red, blue, and green). This is similar to the uncommon sets we’ve seen before, and each one has an interesting comes into play effect that ties into its D&D roots rather nicely. Green dragons breath poison gas, so Green Dragon’s ability makes perfect sense. The stars of this set were fun cards like Old Gnawbone and Inferno of the Star Mounts. Icingdeath is a solidly costed dragon, and Ebondeath Dracolich is definitely a flavorful and fun design. Overall, these were excellent adds to the legendary dragons cycles.

I’m excited to see what else rolls along for dragon cycles. According to the past, it seems like we can count on an elder dragon or legendary dragon cycle every few years. So, we may have to wait awhile for more elder dragons to join the fray, but they’ll be worth the wait. I suspect that it might not even be as long as one might think, just looking back over the yearly releases. The rate that products are being pushed out to us seems to suggest that we may not need to wait years between dragon cycles, more like a few months. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but I do love dragons. Until next time, may the cards be ever in your favor.

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How I Traded Commons and Uncommons for a Time Vault

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’d like to share a wild trade-in story with you today. Having played this game for so long, and acquiring cards as a collector for over two decades I have some neat stories, but this one literally just happened to me, and it’s a great one. I want to tell you about it, because it wasn’t my own idea. One of my best buddies, Andrew, told me he had recently traded in a ton of uncommons to a larger online dealer for about $1,000 in store credit. I was initially shocked, but once he told me about the prices of some the uncommons that are in high demand and low print runs it all clicked into place. I decided I’d do something similar. My goal was to comb through all of my old foil commons and uncommons to see if I could get off to a good enough start to justify combing through the rest of my stuff for more. Since I’m writing this article, and you know I ended up at least with a Time Vault, then you know I found enough foils to justify the search. Once I realized I had enough value in foils that I had literally pulled out of a box in my basement (I keep my cards I play with or hope to play with upstairs), I knew it was time to start the process in earnest. I’d like to detail how I did this for you, because you might be surprised how much unused value you have laying around waiting to be turned into that dual land you keep eyeing in your LGS’s case, or maybe that amazing foil Commander you just can’t afford.

Build a Spreadsheet

I’m not a numbers guy. I really tend to stink at math, and my wife will tease me with basic math facts in the mornings. I routinely get them wrong, and I wish it was just because I’m slow to wake. I suspect I’m also rusty with my math. However, I know how to use Excel or google sheets to help me fill in my mathematical gaps. Honestly, you don’t need a ton of knowledge. Just setting up simple sums and percentage columns is more than enough to help you determine where you can get your best deal. I opted not to use my L.G.S. this time, because they didn’t have a Time Vault. So, before I get into the deep and dark corners of this crazy experiment, let suggest that you try trading in your stuff at your local store for the card or cards you want. It is significantly less stressful and time intensive. But, let me help you find a way to get what you want if your local doesn’t have it.

Determine Values and Costs

When setting up the spreadsheet it is important to have columns dedicated to the stores you are looking to trade your cards into. I made column for the card names, store names, and percentage difference between what they offered. I figured I would see what cards each store was offering the most credit for, and then I would go ahead and pull out what I had in extras. I always like to keep at least two of a card in reserve, but if you’re a die-hard Commander/EDH player, then you only need one. I used the store’s searchable buylist to determine the most expensive commons and uncommons from each set. I then wrote down what cards I thought I had from those sets, and entered them into the spreadsheet. I proceeded to then look up what competing stores were offering as well. I managed to narrow it down to two different stores that would be worth trading my cards into. Basically, they had the Time Vault I wanted. They also had other cards I wanted as well, but more on that later.

Once you have the cards you think you own and the cards you feel OK about trading in, then you just keep plugging in what the stores are willing to offer you for them. Once you have the prices all determined, the next step is compare those prices by setting up a simple division formula. It will give you positive and negative percentages, so this may seem odd or even un-useful.  It’s actually perfect. The next thing you want to do is determine what cards you actually want to trade in your stuff for. Compare those prices between the stores in exactly the same way. I found that the cards I wanted to buy were about anywhere from 5% -55% more expensive at another store. Store A would give me less credit, but they also charged less for the cards I wanted. Store B would give me more credit, but also charged more for their cards. Now is the time for me to take a little detour. We will come back to explaining how this percentage in price differential actually matters, but for now, let’s take a quick detour into store credit land.

Do comparison shopping

Usually, a store will give you more for your cards when you ask for store credit. Basically, it’s going to cost them nothing to increase their inventory by accepting your trade-in. That’s good for the store. Additionally, it means they are also going to move some of their stock through you, but buylist items are usually things the store needs, because there is actual demand for those cards. They also aren’t giving you the full “value” of your cards at retail price, so they are still coming out on top. Meanwhile, if you want to get more cards with your cards, then you also win using this method! The store credit bonuses are what made me bite. It can be as much as a 30% increase in what is offered. So, this is not an article about selling cards for cash. If you know me, then you’re not surprised. I would rather spend more money on Magic, then sell my cards and have less Magic to go around.

Know the Values and the Costs

This brings me back to the spreadsheet. While setting it up you need to account for the differential in credit offered, and weigh it against the differential in prices of cards. I found that Store B generally offered 33% or more credit for the cards. I also found that if I traded in cards that got me 33% or more, and I found cards from Store B that were below a 33% increase in price from Store A, then I suddenly had even more credit. I was able to stretch my store credit to the maximum. So here’s the thing. Once you figure out the credit differences and compare them to price differences you can actually stretch your credit to the maximum. This was important for me, because I was trying to make what is basically an impossible trade: “Hey random player, will you take a pile of my uncommons and commons for that amazing, unique, reserved list, Vintage deck worthy rare?” Other player, “….”

Trading

I mean I have never traded someone a pile of what is to me, worthless extras, for an incredible powerful and expensive card. No player would ever make such an awful trade. A finance player—like a big store—can see a way to grind immediate value from such a transaction. Those places can make money off a horrific trade. Think about it. This would be a trade that if any of us traded away our Time Vault or Tundra for a pile of commons and uncommons (none of which are reserved list items mind you), I don’t think any of our friends would be impressed. We’d be the laughing stock of the trading circuit.

Yet, that’s exactly what stores will do for you. You can turn those unwanted binder fodder cards into a crown jewel of your collection. You can totally play with amazing cards by leveraging the value that’s hiding in your collection boxes. Building a simple spreadsheet is fun. No, seriously, it was fun to build and watch the trade-in value just keep creeping up as I entered more and more cards. The autosum formula is fun. The percentage formulas are easy enough to create, and you can easily drag your formulas across many cells. This means you actually don’t have to retype them or anything. You can reap the benefits of your trade in experiment to the maximum by doing this. Trust me, even if you’re not a numbers person, you are going to love what this will do for you. Also, it is information that will help you make your best decision moving forward.

The Grading

Now, once you have the prices determined you may be able to simply go with one store. You might even be able to take your spreadsheet to your LGS and see if they can cut you a similar deal. Seriously, they just might do it. The hidden benefit of doing all this work is that you have invested the annoying amount of time (for me it was 20+ hours and I traded in a little over 200 cards) to determine approximate values. This is good. When determining the values you need to be very aware of the grading guidelines. If you think the card may be good enough to be NM, it’s not. If you think its maybe LP or HP at the worst, then it’s HP. You need to be hyper critical of what grades you may get back from the stores. I say this so that you can curb your expectations. If you go in thinking that all your items are Gem Mint, and you believe you’re getting $1,000 credit…well you are going to be disappointed. I curbed my expectations, but Store A still downgraded a few cards lower than I ever would have. I was a little surprised, but in the end it wasn’t worth having them mail it all back to me. –This is yet another cool benefit when you are bale to deal with your L.G.S., because you don’t have to mail it or ask for it back, because you just push it into your keep pile— So, I took a little bit of a hit on some of the grades, but I was still pleased with what I was able to garner enough for the Time Vault plus another $1500 in credit.

Mail Tips

When you go to mail your cards away—again something you don’t need to worry about when dealing locally—you should insure it. That’s not cheap. I mailed two separate packages and it cost me $75 to mail them both with insurance enough to cover the amount I hoped to get back. I couldn’t risk the cards getting destroyed in the mail, and just suddenly being out all that time, effort, and goal setting! So, be aware that is also a hidden cost of this type of transaction. It would have cost me less to mail them all to one store, but because I was going to get way more than $35 in value by splitting it into two transactions it was worth it for me to mail away to two different stores. In the future I’ll probably just eat the “loss” or mitigate it by trading additional cards in to cover the cost. Also, when it comes time to buy your cards from these stores with your store credit be aware of what they charge to ship you cards. Some stores offer deals on shipping, but others do not. This is another benefit of being able to trade at your L.G.S., because there’s zero postage to worry about!

Now, that covers using spreadsheets to get the best trade in value versus price you will be paying for cards. We covered the hidden mailing costs with insurance and tracking and even buying. Oh, and we also mentioned a bit about the time you need to spend to doing this. It took me a long time to comb through thousands of commons and uncommons. My stuff is organized by my system for deck building, so it took me a little longer to find the exact cards to trade in, but trading away cards to stores is not something I do regularly, so I didn’t mind that my organization system wasn’t streamlined for this activity. I actually prefer my organization system, which is based around brewing your own decks, and you can find that article here. I managed to do acquire a Time Vault by trading primarily commons and uncommons. I did trade in some rares in order to beef up my trade in amount, but going through those took almost no time as they were in binders and had been for quite some time. My point is your unused commons and uncommons can be traded for amazing and powerful cards.

Overall, the cards I traded away were all cards that I was not using and did not plan on using anytime in the future, so the likelihood I will regret this colossal trade-in is pretty close to zero percent. The rares I traded in were cards that have either been reprinted once or are in sore need of a reprint sometime soon (Commander popular and only printed in a low print-run recent set). I’m betting that several of those rares show up as The List reprints or find themselves in future Commander precons. Additionally, I hedged my bets and kept a minimum of two copies for myself. I recommend you do that as well, because righting wrongs can take a while, and you can read all about that here.

I hope my experience will help those of you out there thinking about trading cards in to your local gaming store or even one of those online stores that is quite a ways from you. I highly recommend you set up a simple spreadsheet to keep track of your data and compare trade-in values. The prices places charge for the cards you want is also very valuable information that you can compile in the spreadsheet as well. Once you’ve put together the numbers you can crunch them and find your best route to value. Overall, I’m extremely pleased that I’m turning 40+hours, $75, and bunch of my unplayed extras into a Time Vault, Rohgahh of Ker Keep, Vaevictus Asmodi, All Hallow’s Eve, Gaea’s Avenger, Raging River, Blaze of Glory, Gate to Phyrexia, Spinal Villain, Survival of the Fittest, Infernal Tribute, and a few others. Those cards are going to see a ton of play in my decks and my cubes. If you do plan on doing this, then I suggest you take a day off work, sit down and bang it out in a one day. That way you can hit the price values as they are and make your case to your local store or finalize the online buylist order immediately. That way you won’t lose value when your cards get reprinted (like I did with my Rings of Brighthearth) and you won’t have prices jump to much like I did on All Hallow’s Eve (it jumped $35 overnight when it was in my cart). Be smart, be organized, and get it done quickly to save yourself sleep, time, and money. Until next time, may the cards—and their trade-in values—be ever in your favor. 

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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

https://www.deviantart.com/darkerthanpikachu/art/Magic-the-Gathering-Xira-Arien-playmat-461708852

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!

#RestoreXiraAriensHumanity

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

Conclusion:

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!

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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; 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 are all wrong as well. 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 more 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 get space 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 love, er damage. These four player games often allow people to “do their thing” during the course of the game. That’s a huge part of what makes Commander a desirable–and above all else–FUN FORMAT! 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 Magic 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 for those 5+ player marathons? Do you have a balanced or slightly faster deck for trios? 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 optimal sized 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 game 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. May the cards be ever in your favor!

Here’s a link to some more of my articles that you might enjoy. Thanks for visiting the site!

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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.

https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/magic-online/throwback-standard-gauntlet-2-combo-winter-urza-block-2017-05-04

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!

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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.

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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.

RESEARCH CURRENT PRICES

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.

SHARE YOUR STORY

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.

IF IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE…

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. 

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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! 

If you enjoyed this article, then please consider subscribing to my blog. Subscribing will send new articles directly to your inbox. You won’t have to check back to read any fun new Magictations. Thanks for reading!

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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. 

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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. 

Abeyance

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!

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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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TAKING A SHINE TO SHRINES by Mikeal Basile

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.

Inspiration:

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.

Spice:

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!

Featured

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.

YEAR ONE

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

YEAR TWO

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!)

YEAR THREE

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)

YEAR FOUR

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

YEAR FIVE

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)

YEAR SIX

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:

2017

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)

2019

I did not buy any dual lands.

2020

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! 

Featured

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!