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. 


40 at 40: A Childhood Wrong Righted

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

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

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

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

Dual Land Auction for 40 Duals…$30,500

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

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

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

Serra’s Sanctum approx. worth $300

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

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


The 2021 Card-A-Day Challenge

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. I will spoil myself on my birthday.

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

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

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

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

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


The Bubble Effect

The Bubble Effect…and what to do about it.

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

What is the Bubble Effect?

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

When the Bubble Effect is Best:

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

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

Bubbles aren’t just for Newbies:

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

Benefitting from the Bubble effect:

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

The finer points of Bubble making:

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

When and How to Burst Bubbles:

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

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

Bubbles Bounce:

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


Unwarranted Backlash for The Secret Lair X The Walking Dead

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Spicy Reserves on a Budget

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

A Hidden Spice Drawer:

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

Wave of Terror

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

Rainbow Efreet

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

Subterranean Spirit

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

Natural Balance

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


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

Powder Keg

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

Unfulfilled Desires

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

Circle of Despair

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

Closing Thoughts:

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


Buy lands, Not Spells

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

Which lands are the best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, isn’t there anything cheaper?

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

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

What about these new dual lands they spoiled?

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

How do I prioritize what lands to buy?

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

Final Stand on Lands

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



Commander Deck List and Deck Tech

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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


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

Check out the deck list HERE.

Notable Synergies/Combos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draw–how the deck keeps the cards flowing:

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

Ramp–how the keeps up on mana development:

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

Answers–the cards that deal with particular situations:

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


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

Notable Exclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Considerations:

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

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

Early Game:

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

Middle Game:

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

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

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

Late Game:

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

Final Reflection:

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


A Collector’s Quest

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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


April 11, 2011:

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

April 15, 2011:

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

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

July 2, 2011: 

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

July 17, 2011: 

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

July 12, 2011: 

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

July 16, 2011: 

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

July 24, 2011: 

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

December 25, 2011:

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

Year One Progress

Plateau: 4/4   $63.50

Taiga: 2/4 $94.60

Underground Sea: 2/4 $211.75

Volcanic Island: 4/4  $196.95

Tropical Island: 4/4   $285

Savannah: 1/4 $35

Scrubland: 1/4 $35

Badlands: 1/4  $35


March 2012:

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

September 2012:

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

Year Two Additions

Tundra: 1/4 Gift

Bayou: 1/4 Gift

Scrubland: 2/4 Gift

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


December 2, 2013:

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

Year Three Progress

Taiga: 2/4  $10 (trade-in credit)

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

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


March 2014:

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

August 23, 2014:

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

November 10, 2014:

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

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

Year Four Progress

Scrubland: 3/4 Free (store credit)

Badlands: 2/4  $70

Tundra: 3/4 $160


January 2, 2015:

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

January 15, 2015: 

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

Year Five Progress

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

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

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

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

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


March 21, 2016:

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

Year Six Progress

Savannah: 3/4 $58.64

YEARS 7-10:


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

December 25, 2018

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

Year Eight Progress

Bayou: 2/4 $262 (gifted)


I did not buy any dual lands.


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

Current Needs:

Savannah 1

Bayou 2 

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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


Magic without the Gathering, Via Zoom

“Magic without the Gathering, via Zoom”

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations: “What should you buy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking to play more Casual Commander, but you keep running out of friends?

It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. 

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.

Last time I spoke about the first two most common priorities for an antisocial gamer. The basic goals of Magic have always been to win by either reducing your opponent’s life total to zero or running them out of cards. However, when playing non-competitive Magic with friends or friends-to-be, you should pay close attention to how you plan on winning. How you build your deck matters, but perhaps not in the ways you might think. Your priorities when sitting down to play reveal an awful lot about you. Let’s quickly review the priorities that an antisocial player sets:

1.      Win at all costs.

2.      Spite those that defeat me.

3.      Optimize all cards.

4.      Consistent lines of play.

5.      Follow the rules.

To summarize what I covered in part 1 of this series the first two elements can be treated as such:

1.    Having fun comes first, and winning is an after effect.

2.    Every game is new, so don’t carry a grudge into the next game.

Shifting your focus away from winning and being spiteful means you’re well on your way to being a social player. So, please avoid being a soul-crushing fun killer, and embrace the social games offered by casual Commander.

Optimization vs Maximization

A long time ago, in a great local game store called, The Gamer’s Bazaar I was playing a friendly game of multi-player Magic. I remember I cast a Scaled Wurm, and the guy sitting across from goes, “That’s sub-optimal. Why would you play that card?” I was perplexed. Why wouldn’t I play Scaled Wurm? It has an awesome picture, reminds me of the original Craw Wurm, which I love, and it has cool flavor text. He wasn’t asking me nicely either. He was mocking me for playing Scaled Wurm. So, I asked him, “Why shouldn’t I be playing with it?” He replied with, “It’s sub-optimal.” I shook my head and realized that I was about to get into an argument that I couldn’t win, and would only result in me walking away frustrated with my inability to convince this guy that playing Scaled Wurm is a great idea. Now, to be honest with you, non-casual players shouldn’t play with Scaled Wurm. I have nothing against pro-players or those of you that enjoy hyper-competitive play—but those people are wrong about Scaled Wurm. I’ve already mentioned several reasons to play with it, but the biggest and best reason is because I want to play with it. I want to cast that card, and no one is going to mock me for my Ice Age vanilla 7/6 with long flavor text. We had lengthy discussion which may have been heated at times, but the result was my friends and I later agreeing that we wouldn’t bother playing with that guy again, because he’s just no fun.

If you find yourself looking around the table and shaking your head in disbelief that your opponents are running so many sub-optimal cards, then perhaps casual Commander is a puzzle you are far from cracking. Stop trying to optimize. Yes, I said it, and I’m going to say it again in other ways. People cry out about Commander becoming an arms race, but that’s only the case when people are trying to optimize. Don’t optimize, and instead maximize. Maximize your fun, your flavor, and your nostalgia. Toss cards into your deck because you think it might be a neat play. Toss cards into your deck because you love quoting the flavor text from them. I love reading the flavor text for Deflection as I’m casting it. Don’t be a slave to optimization. Optimization is the easiest way to find yourself becoming the archenemy of the table, and then eventually without a table to play at all.

Consistency Sucks

I like to be consistent. I like to think that the students I teach, the friends I know, and my family all think of me as a consistently dependable person. However, if I were to carry over that consistency to Magic deck-building, then I might find myself a lonely antisocial player. Commander has its roots in being a format where you were traditionally forced to have a fairly inconsistent deck. Yet the format has developed significantly with products like Commander preconstructed decks, Brawl decks, and the huge influx of design choices in Commander Legends; the pool of cards ideal for the format just continues to grow. This leads to the aforementioned problem of optimization. However, it can also lead to incredibly consistent decks. When I look over cEDH decklists I find they seem to be like some sort of Legacy monstrosity. A cross between a Battle of Wits deck and a Legacy deck, which if that’s your jam, then great. Those decks are trying to be as consistent as possible. They lean into tutoring effects and redundancy. In friendly Commander, that is the sort of thing that will get you booed out of a pod or home game rather quickly. I know we are in the age-of-Covid, but when we do play in-person again, I think you’ll be happier if you get invited back to the kitchen table. Your invitation depends on you being social. You don’t have to build a group hug deck, but you shouldn’t be building hyper consistent decks either. You don’t need to do that at all. In contrast, you need to be sure that your deck doesn’t just consistently perform exactly the same every single time.

Sure, you can play a Voltron-style deck, and it will win by attacking with your Commander. However, if you are tutoring up the same enchantments and artifacts, and you do it in the same fashion each time, well, people are going to be bored. This is why Zur, the Enchanter decks are so reviled in friendly pods. Those decks win the same way every single time. That sucks for everyone. I contend that it sucks for the player winning too, because it won’t be long before you’re not invited back. Consistency leads to antisocial behaviors in friendly Magic. So, avoid it by building inconsistency into your deck. Eschew tutors, and instead toss in some spicy or sub-optimal cards. Experiment with new haymakers, or sub-optimal cards and you’ll find that you and your friends have more fun.

Rules Lawyering

Every group needs a judge. No, you don’t have to have someone that is an actual judge, though it is nice. Instead, you simply need a player or two that has a deep understanding of most of the rules. However, a phone and a quick gatherer search will often suffice as well. A good rules lawyer tries to find ways to legally bend rules or exploit them to do ridiculous stuff. That’s OK too. However, if you are the one who is always questioning the play and trying to negate people’s spells by calling everything into question, then you become the annoying rules lawyer. That person is an anti-social jerk. I don’t mean that you are a jerk for keeping up the rules of the game. I mean you are a jerk for instigating fights over rules, you grumble about missed rulings, you begrudge mistakes, and you cast doubt on other people for trying new things. The antisocial rules lawyer also feels the need to belittle others for their inferior knowledge of Magic’s comprehensive rulings concerning rules 508.1e and 702.21j-m.

Magic is full of stumbles, and stumbling in multiplayer Magic is normal. Forgetting upkeep triggers or missing activations is normal. You can decide if you are doing to be a stickler on these or not. I would suggest finding balance between allowing a little, but not allowing it all. You really do get better by punishing yourself for missing triggers and upkeeps and activations. If people allow you to take everything back, then you end up cultivating sloppy habits. Those habits usually aren’t a problem, but can cause real issues when it’s time to resolve game-ending spells or combats. Again, it’s fine to give some leeway, and I’m more apt to punish myself than let myself play loose, but don’t force people to be punished every time. That’s just mean. Yes, it’s the rules, but when you’re playing multiplayer and you’re playing for fun, then the rules are actually secondary. The cardinal rule is the social element, and the social element decides if you were an opponent who added to the experience. In the world of givers and takers, you want to be a social giver, and not a party pooper.

What’s the social thing to do?

So, rather than leave you with a list of what not to do, let’s focus on the  top five thoughts you should be having when playing casual Commander:

1.    Have fun with friends.

2.    Each game offers new variety.

3.    Play sub-optimal cards because they are fun.

4.    Mix up your gameplay approach.

5.    Mistakes will happen, so laugh about them.

6.    Maybe win some games? If not, then check back with step one for the real sense of winning.

Playing Happily Ever After

Gaming environments are fragile, so treat them carefully, and they will blossom. You don’t have to win at all costs, optimize your deck, play hyper consistent builds, and make certain no one is allowed a misplay in order to win friends and influence people. Actually, that’s exactly how not to gain friends and influence social gamers. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for these styles of play. It’s just not at the kitchen table (or kitchen spell table). Not every playgroup is the same, and not every group will groan about all of these behaviors. You need to be aware of these things, scope them out, and if you enjoy the style of play a group engages in, then by all means have fun! The key to having fun is allowing each other to live your dreams, but also to do so with agreement that we are playing for fun. Does that mean winning is fun? Sure, it absolutely can be, and it’s even better when it’s fun for the losers too. It’s fun when you have epic games, and interesting interactions. The more you pay attention to the tenor of the table, and the ebb and flow of play—both mechanically and socially—then the more fun, friends, and games you will be able to enjoy. Until next time, I hope you get invited back to your new social playgroups for some casual Commander games!

Looking to play more Casual Commander, but you keep running out of friends?

It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. 

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.

Commander is the premier social format. It is non-competitive Magic for multiplayer social gaming. Multiplayer Magic has always been a solid choice for casual gaming. The beauty of Magic is that it has so many ways to play and tiers of play within those ways or formats. There’s a format and style for everyone. However, if you’re getting into Commander, then you may be playing it all wrong. You need to play like a social gamer, and not an antisocial gamer. Do find that you’ve played a few times with a few different groups, but no one seems to be inviting you back? Well, it’s probably because of your lapse in basic hygiene. No, I’m only kidding. It also is decidedly not because you have scared everyone with your superior intellect. No, it’s not even your supreme deck building skills that scared the rabbits into their holes. You’re probably playing like an antisocial player at a socially tiered game. Those don’t mix, and if you can identify what antisocial tendencies you have, then perhaps you can fix those problems and find yourself a regular playgroup or two. So, let’s take a look at what antisocial tendencies you might have, and how to avoid engaging in those, so you can play more Commander with all the cool kids.

The basic goals of Magic have always been to win by either reducing your opponent’s life total to zero or running them out of cards. However, when playing non-competitive Magic with friends or friends-to-be, you should pay close attention to how you plan on winning. How is your deck built? What are your priorities when you sit down to play? Let’s take a look at the priorities that an antisocial player might set:

1.      Win at all costs.

2.      Spite those that defeat me.

3.      Optimize all cards.

4.      Consistent lines of play.

5.      Follow the rules.

These are not necessarily bad traits or qualities to have as a Magic player. I simply mean that when these things become priorities 1-5, then you’ve forgotten the format that you’re playing in. This is not tournament Magic, and it isn’t even tournament practice. Casual Commander is not a competitive format, so winning actually needs to be secondary (if not tertiary). I know this sounds counterintuitive to many. I’m sorry, but that’s part of what is making you an antisocial player. Stop worrying so much about winning, and start believing in the socialization the game offers. You get to tell your story, show off your style, display your skills, and create your Magic opus. Yet, you do so while allowing others a chance to live their dreams too. I’m not saying you shouldn’t Mana Drain someone’s Finale of Devastation where X is equal to 20. Please, do it. It’s a cool story and a big moment. Except, when you do so, don’t be a jerk about it. When you win the next turn, be sure to make it quick and easy, and not some vile and drawn out vice-like defeat. No one wants that, except maybe you. That’s because you value winning at all costs. If it means your opponents don’t get to play Magic, that doesn’t matter to you. Stop right there if that thought crossed your mind. You should care if your opponents aren’t getting to play. To the antisocial player it doesn’t matter how cheesy, fast, or unfair a combo is. They use it and win with it. Gin-Jitaxis on turn two? If that sounds perfect to you, then we need to change your outlook on casual Commander. That line of play effectively shuts out other people’s decks from doing their thing. Again, you want to let people do their thing, but also allow yourself to do yours. The ends do not justify the means, and that’s doubly so if you place winning first.

The social player approaches the game as an event. The goal of the game is to experience the game. Winning is a happy byproduct of the gaming experience. You don’t expect to win every game. Heck, I know plenty of players that start games expecting to lose, but play anyway. The antisocial players are not sitting down to play a game that they feel certain they will lose. The antisocial gamer places winning above all other goals. You need to have a little “Johnny-Combo player” spirit in you for Commander. You need to want to play the game to see if things work out. Watch to see if you find a way to turn things in your favor despite the odds, deck building, and general luck not being in your favor. You need to sit down to play and not feel like you can win every single game. Now, I am personally a very competitive person. I do try to win every game I sit down to play. I do not expect to win every game, but I try to. I also sit down trying to win when I feel like I probably can’t. I take the time to build decks that shouldn’t win very often, but are all the more sweet when they do. That’s the beauty of the Commander format. You can be rewarded for not making winning your top priority. Also, when you build your deck to do its thing without ruining other’s abilities to do their thing, then you are winning the social game as well. You want your friends to enjoy playing with you. This doesn’t mean they just crush you all the time and enjoy having you be the easy kill. It means that there is a give and take and an ebb and flow throughout the matches. It’s like how a healthy relationship at any level involves listening to the other person and caring about how they feel. At its most basic, social Magic is a social contract of sorts, and if you abuse, break or otherwise ruin that contract, then you won’t be playing much.

Spite is awful.

Priority number two for many antisocial gamers is spite. This looks exactly how it sounds—spiteful. Let’s say that Johnny’s infinite combo attempt was thwarted by Phil on turn five, and Johnny is left with no permanents on board and is slowly picked off throughout the course of the game. The following game Johnny, the antisocial player, immediately rips into Phil. I don’t mean verbally, or even physically. I mean Johnny relentlessly assaults Phil until he’s dead—preferably by turn five or sooner. The antisocial gamer’s goal is to spite whoever stopped them. The goal shifts from winning to making sure someone else loses. It’s awful, but I’ve seen it many times. If you’re the target of a spiteful player,  you suddenly find yourself playing a one v one game, when you thought you’d have the cushion traditionally offered by having multiple players. The inflated life total just isn’t enough of a barrier when a player has decided to single you out for elimination. Oftentimes the antisocial player has a deck or decks that are designed to be hyper aggressive, and despite priority one, probably won’t win the entire game. These are decks constructed with spite in mind. If you have decks like these, and you use them in this manner, then you might be an antisocial gamer. I’ve been on the receiving end of this madness many times. I’ve also born witness to it. I don’t want to see it again, and I find myself always watching for it whenever I am playing with new people or in new groups. The spiteful players are antisocial crooks. They steal the fun from the game, and ruin the multiplayer aspect.

A  social player simply accepts losses and moves on. Sure, you might’ve almost had that game, but you didn’t. Perhaps next time, or perhaps never. Either way, you are sure you’ll get another crack in against everyone. You don’t hold a grudge. The most the social gamer holds onto is the information that whenever your buddy is playing that Narset deck you know what card is likely being chosen when Mystical Tutor resolves. Beyond gathering information to inform your plays, there’s no reason to be carrying grudges into future games. Grudges are unhealthy in our daily lives, and they are even worse in our escapes from our daily lives. Heck, even if Magic is part of your daily life, then just let it go Elsa—stop holding a grudge.

I hate to hold back the rest for now, but I think these first two concepts are the biggest and most important pieces to get you off the antisocial train. I don’t mean to get preachy here, but I feel we should all be aware of what these behaviors look like, and take steps to police ourselves and others. If we see the antisocial gamer taking over our casual Commander lives, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate what drives us to play this format, and what social tier we are playing. Whenever you are new to a group or new to store or new to an online pod, we find ourselves feeling nervous, excited, or perhaps nervouscited? The good news is that if we approach each new game as both a learning experience and a social opportunity, then we can find ourselves creating future opportunities to grow as players and people. Until next time, keep socially distant, but avoid being an antisocial gamer.  

How to Organize Your Commander Collection: A Player-based System for Organizing your Magic: the Gathering 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.

The Case and Theory behind using the CCNC 

I have several New Year’s Resolutions this year: exercise goals, Magic the Gathering collecting goals, deck building goals, writing goals, and organization goals. Today, I’d like to share with you my method for organizing my 100,000+ cards. You don’t have to have a large collection to benefit from this system, and it works really well at all levels of collecting. It’s a system based on deck construction and creativity. Everything I’ve learned about organizing has come the hard way; for me, it does not come naturally. When quarantine began in March of 2019 I decided to stop procrastinating and finally reorganize my collection. In years past, my play group had traditionally been playing sixty card multiplayer decks, but the last several years we had only been playing EDH/Commander. So, I decided to reorient my entire collection and put the sole focus on Commander deck construction. Now, there are many theories out there as to how to organize your collections. I’m offering you my method which I have dubbed the CCNC system of organization. It consists of breaking things down by color, creature, non-creature, and casting cost (CCNC). I have used this method for years, but I hadn’t applied it to my entire collection until now. It works at all levels of collecting. If you just started collecting or if you have tens of thousands of cards this method is what you, as a Commander player and collector, should be using. The CNCC system helps stoke creativity and enjoyment, so let’s get to the fun of organizing (said no one ever).

The Need for Organization:

To provide some context here is a summary of what my collection consists of at this time. I did not always have such a large collection. For at least my first year I could fit every card I owned inside one little box. However, my collection has grown steadily over the last 25+ years, and having a system like I employ now will only help you keep your collection in a much better place than mine was for the last ten years (read organized chaos). Currently, I keep nine different binders that are for mythics, rares, and powerful uncommons. I keep my commons in a 72 drawer card catalogue. Yes, the kind that used to be used in libraries to house Dewey Decimal system cards, but is now employed to hold my 90,000+ commons and uncommons (kids, ask your parents if they know what one is). I keep my Commander decks in 6 Stanely 10 Compartment Pro Small Parts Organizers. I’ve used and owned many other deck cases over the years, but from a utilitarian and budget perspective these simply can’t be beat. Additionally, I have a Cube (for drafting) that is stored in a customized wooden box. These cases reside on the shelves next to my card catalog. Now that you know what I’m dealing with, I’d like to explain a whole lot more about how you can get yourself so blissfully organized.

My wife has repeatedly told me that organization is not something you do in one day, but something you do a little bit every day. She’s right, but I had to catch up on not doing any for years, so I was doing it all-day for days and days. I went through nearly 70,000 cards (maybe more). It’s worth it, and if you’re behind on your organization, then don’t worry overly much. Every bit that you do now is a bit that is done and won’t need to be done ever again. When your approach is positive then every step you take is a meaningful step toward the goal of being fully organized. You just need to keep a positive attitude, and trust that you will save so much time and money by having your cards properly organized. 

The Theory and Case for using the CCNC Organization System.

I developed this system years ago, and it is all backed with solid reasoning. I wanted my collection to be organized in a way that helped me build decks, so I broke down my deck building process and analyzed it. Once the initial inspiration for a deck strikes me, I like to pull out rares I own that can go in the deck. So, all rares are in binders by color. I further separate the color into creature and non-creature spells. Again, this wasn’t always the case. When I was just starting out, I used to have only one binder, and then I had a trade binder and my keep binder. Now, I have a binder for each of the five colors, one for colorless, one for lands, one for multicolor, and one for trading. The rare binders work out really well, as I don’t organize much beyond creature or non-creature spells. The cards are just slipped into the binders as I collect mythics, rares, and powerful uncommons (like Swords to Plowshares). Having these cards semi-organized within the binder allows you to quickly find the cards you think you want, but also allows you to stumble upon cards you didn’t even realize would be great in the deck you’re building. Yet, if I had opted to organize like a card store, and put everything by set, color, and alphabetical order, then I would easily skip over cards that could have offered me some great memories and fun times. If you don’t have the money to invest in keeping binders, then using boxes and color-coded dividers works well too. You end up picking up your stack of cards, and rifling through them to find that rare. While doing this you tend to stumble upon some truly serendipitous synergies. This is a great way to make use of “bulk” rares and other cards that can otherwise end up dusty and forgotten.

Once I have selected rares for my new decks, then I fill the deck out with commons and uncommons. I am often thinking about the mana curve in my decks, and how I need to make plays at all stages of the game. This is why I separate my commons and uncommons not simply by color, but by casting cost as well. I actually separate them into colors, creature or non-creature, and finally by casting cost. I have found this is a truly wonderful method for spicing up your decks and finding interesting cards to play that were buried in your collection. You might be building and realize that you have almost nothing in the three and four drop slots in your deck. Well, now you can go ahead and peruse all the cards in those slots quickly and efficiently. This also allows you to stumble upon interesting synergies and fun cards that otherwise would be lost if we were to have our collections organized like a store. I’m not interested in selling my cards or putting my hands on a card as quickly as possible. Hence, I eschew the alphabetizing and expansion set system of organization. I want my deck building process to be as organic as possible. That’s why I don’t go beyond the CCNC level of organization. It enables me to quickly find a card that I know I need, but also allows me to mine my collection for hidden gems. I can’t stress enough that over-organizing your collection really can lead to stifling your creativity. When I’m magictating, I want to be able to get lost a little bit in the magic of the moment. I want to reminisce with my older cards, and maybe toss in a few sub-optimal cards in order to revel in the nostalgia they offer. I assure you the CCNC system is an excellent balance of efficiency and creativity.

Committing to Commander

Perhaps you are still hanging onto your old multiplayer sixty card decks? Well, for me, I was until I finally took the plunge into Commander full throttle. So, I began breaking down all of my old decks. I had over thirty unique sixty card decks built. As I did this I found that I kept stumbling across ideas for Commander decks. I realized that I needed a system for beginning new decks. I started by using boxes and divider labels. Often I didn’t even bother labeling the idea, but instead just put the Commander or thematic inspirations for the deck in front of the stack of cards as I went. While you keep on organizing you can create several piles that will be developing into what could be some seriously new and different decks. Think of it as creative pile shuffling.  With deconstruction finished we can turn our attention toward separating commons and uncommons by color, creature vs non-creature, and finally by casting cost.

Time Saving Tips: 

I have a few pro-tips when it comes to organizing using my system. Begin by separating everything by color. Once you’ve got commons and uncommons into their respective colors flip the cards upside down so that the power and toughness for creatures is at the top and begin sorting between creature and non-creature. This makes the process go by incredibly quickly. I have sorted tens of thousands of cards this way, and through some trial and error I found this was the most expedient method available. Once you have creatures and non-creatures separated, then you can sort them into their casting costs using a typical mana curve pile. It’s like building a draft deck, but this time it’s just to ensure the curve is grouped appropriately. This is the part where you really start to re-familiarize yourself with your collection, and you’ll often want to have those deck idea piles handy. I found myself dumping many cards into potential new builds as I did this. This will save you building time later, and help you keep your inspirations moving forward. The synergies you will notice during this portion of the process are priceless. You will be so happy that you discovered such interesting cross-overs among the various expansion sets by getting organized. I often find myself making connections between sets that have over a decade separating them.

Organizing this way isn’t necessarily an onerous task. It can actually be quite fulfilling, interesting, and downright fun! No, Huck, I’m not pulling a Jack Sawyer on you here. While I was in college I would often sort through freshly purchased bulk collections for my local game store. They would reward me with first crack at anything I found, some store credit, and a small discount as well. I spent hours sifting through cards and pulling out rares, powerful uncommons, and building cheap commons decks all while sorting for the store. This was before Pauper was even on anyone’s radar as a format. My play group built commons decks for fun, because we wanted a way to utilize all our commons and provide a decent play environment while doing so. All commons decks were a cheap way to get more variety into our Magic lives, and I built many a deck from those hours of sorting. When you’re sorting your own collection the best part is that you already own all of these cards, and you get to not only keep them, but play with them in new and interesting ways. The further behind you are in organizing cards the better it is for finding fun new inspirations and jumpstarting those decks you’ve always wanted to build. Having a large task ahead of you actually means you have more opportunity for finding fun. Enjoy it! 

Savoring the fruits of your efforts:

Once you have your cards sorted I believe you will find that building your decks will not only be faster, but also more enjoyable. You will easily be able to pull out the cards you look for, but you will also enable stumbling upon wonderful new synergies as you do so. The variety of cards available to Magic players is one of the best parts of the game, and the Commander format lends itself to this type of variety. Organizing things in order to put your hands on them as fast as possible is really something for a gaming store. Their job is to move inventory and get the product in the customer’s hands. Your job as the architect of your own designs is to build and build with joy. If you over-organize your collection, then you run the risk of losing out on some of that deck building joy. The reason some people don’t enjoy deck building is really because they are going about doing it without investing themselves and their own ideas into the build. It is akin to following a Lego instruction manual or going it on your own. Sure, you can build a really cool castle following those directions, but you can also build your own space castle with rotating gargoyle turrets that has a built-in sky dungeon. Basically, don’t be afraid to create, and learn to love your own creations by not only enjoying them as a final product, but enjoying the process of bringing them into being.

Parting thoughts on using the CNCC system of organization:

Being a brewer is another way to bring more joy into your gaming world. Your friends will love seeing what janky new rares and quirky commons and uncommons you have managed to cobble together to create interesting and impactful plays. I think back on all the decks I have built over the years, and I realize that my spiciest decks were all inspired by cards I’ve stumbled on while building other decks. This serendipity of random discoveries only increases the joy of keeping and maintain your collection. My system is not merely one for retrieving cards to slot into decks like a machine or computer program. This is an organic system that feeds your need to create. It helps keep you from getting stuck in the creative process and offers built in ways to keep your creativity percolating. The CCNC system is also based on fundamental elements in deck building: creatures, non-creatures, and mana curves. There are many ways to organize your cards, but using this method allows you to be both free and efficient.

Spoiler Free Results: The Land of Ice and Snow

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 conducted an experiment where I avoided every Kaldheim spoiler prior to opening my own packs of the set. If you’re wondering why I would do such a thing, then perhaps I should go back to this being an experiment. My basic hypothesis was, “If I avoid all spoilers will I be able to recreate the wonder I experienced when I opened up my first packs of the original snow set—Ice Age—and would it be worth the self-imposed exile on all spoiler season venues?” This is based on the concept of whether or not I could recapture the joy, mystique, and wonder that I once had while opening packs of cards in my early days of playing. In order to do this, I successfully avoided every spoiler throughout the spoiler season. I was purposefully trying to see if I could re-create the wonder of coming to a Magic: the Gathering set with only tangential knowledge similar to what I would have been exposed to during the mid-90’s. I learned much from this experiment, and I’d like to pass on some words of wisdom.

If you’re unsure if this experiment is worth it, then let me explain a bit more. When I was new to Magic it was amazing to me that there were so many cards in existence (at the time there were a whopping 4 expansions out). I remember that a couple years later there was a new set called Ice Age that was coming out. There was some artwork out and some rumors circulating about a Jester’s Cap card that was incredibly powerful, but no one in my circle knew exactly what it did. The mystique was there. The wonder was there. I was so excited to open my first starter box (think 3 boosters crammed into a box with lands as well). The box had a crazy looking wurm (Scaled Wurm) on the cover that was back dropped by snowfall. As a fan of the original Craw Wurm, I was excited to see what this scaly new card had in store for me. The snow-covered lands were also exciting, but not nearly as exciting as the the two sets of dual lands they printed (Land Cap and fellows were the counter lands and Adarkar Wastes and the gang were the original pain lands).  I had heard about those as well. However, the most exciting part was that I had no idea what I would find in there. I look back fondly on those days, and I wanted to try and recapture a bit of that wonder. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy today’s modern spoiler season. Spoiler season and the internet do a great job at hyping everyone up for a set by showing off new cards, explaining interesting new mechanics, and ramping up people’s expectations for what lies in their packs. However, spoiler season also spoils the wonder and mystique of opening packs. I’m not arguing for or against it, but rather just sharing with you my experience as a modern player attempting to relive the wonder of un-spoiled Magic.

At times I have been bummed by this experiment. So many opportunities for instant gratification have lurked just a flick of my finger away. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and my Google Feed all wanted to push spoilers on me. I was able to avert my eyes and my attention away from nearly everything of substance. I was exposed to artwork, and a few names, but honestly the exposure was so brief that I couldn’t remember the names of cards I had read, and the artwork really just ramped up my interest. In that way it was very similar to the feelings I had during Ice Age’s arrival.  In the interest of transparency I did happen upon the following bits of information: there is some sort of rare land cycle, there are gods, there are legendary weapons, and snow-covered has made a return. None of these were surprises for me as I actually anticipated each of these based on my experience with previous sets like Theros, and Amonhket. Theros was also exciting for me, and I anticipated Kaldheim to be a similar experience. The rare land cycle made sense, and the knowledge I possess of Norse mythology is good enough to pass any college course’s requirements on the subject. So, I figured the design team wouldn’t drop the ball on including major elements of Norse mythology. Having read and studied Beowulf in graduate school, I was ready for some epic sagas. I’ve long been a fan of nearly all mythology; so, yeah, I have been super excited for this set. However, the overall doom and gloom that surrounds much of the Norse pantheon had led me to feel that this set was going to be much darker. I saw some artwork, and other elements, but those only made me more excited to finally open some of this product. Basically, the artwork being spoiled did nothing to actually spoil my experiences with the set. I actually feel that there may be a case for spoiling artwork and using it to ramp up interest on its own.

When I finally got my box of booster packs I was giddy with anticipation. My brother and friends still couldn’t believe that I had managed to avoid all spoilers. I was approaching this moment as an unspoiled brat. Now, I say this because I did buy a pre-release kit, a bundle, and a booster box. That would have been an absolute crazy amount of product for the kid I was in the 90’s to afford. It basically was akin to getting super spoiled for my birthday (which isn’t until March). When I first opened my pre-release kit I was so excited to see a Barkchannel Pathway as my very first rare. This isn’t much different from how I was back in the mid-90’s. I loved rare lands back then, and opening them up now is still exciting for me. I was weird that way as a newer player. It usually takes people a few years to realize how important lands really are, but I had warmed to them quickly as I was always trying to play as many gold Legends as I could. The joy of opening a Barkchannel Pathway as my first card was quickly replaced with the feeling that it wasn’t really that great, because now I knew which Pathways would most likely be in this set, and it was just a cycle being finished off. Overall, it was exciting, but also a clear warning sign that this was not going to be the same thing I used to experience as a newer player. I know too much about the game and development and product design. My knowledge was thwarting my ability to live in the moment. I was familiar with this exact land style, and so it was cool, but not terribly exciting. I also instantly knew which ones were going to be showing up in set, so a bit of mystique vanished from the onset. I had somehow spoiled myself already. Darn. In some ways I’ve found that you can’t turn back the clock.

Now, once I got into opening cards I was so excited to see the showcase treatments. These managed to look like Magic cards (unlike those monstrous Invocations from Amonkhet), but also looked special and uniquely made for this set. I love this fancy treatment. I also enjoyed seeing so many Legends in the set. Wow, it’s like Commander Legends part two. I was blown away by how many legendary creatures I kept opening up. This was very exciting, and made me spend quite a bit of time perusing not only my rares, but the uncommons and commons as well. It felt a bit like I was trying to become a better drafter of the set, but my focus wasn’t on drafting. I was studying the cards with interest and wonder. I found myself reading flavor text for clues. I recalled doing that during the Ice Age expansion to try and figure out what the deal was with Leshrac and if he was a card or not. I was scouring the italicized words to find hints about other cards and characters. I desperately wanted to know who was next, and I kept thinking that I was so excited to open the next unknown. I was digging for clues to what was next, but it was less a spoiler reveal, and more a detective novel. I kept picking up clues to other characters, thinking about the potential plot, reviewing sagas, and then being amazed that there was a Tibalt Planeswalker that was actually good. It was actually a bit overwhelming. A splendid sort of overwhelming. Opening Tibalt as a showcase card was exciting for many reasons. I had already stumbled across the Pretender Saga, and so I was reasonably sure Tibalt was going to be in the set. Once I found him and realized he was the Loki of the set, then I truly loved this whole ridiculous take on Norse mythos in the Magicverse. The wonder and excitement were definitely back. I would never have been so eager to read about the story or the pour over flavor text and mechanics for clues about other cards had I devoured all the spoilers. I definitely was able to bring back the mystique.

As I opened more cards and reviewed pack after pack I realized that I had spoiled something else. I had spoiled myself beyond any nostalgic feelings I had from the past. I don’t think I could ever afford so many packs at once until I was in college. I never bought anything but singles and occasional packs prior to having a decent job, and therefore a decent Magic budget. For me, this gluttonous greed with my pack cracking was really just a spoiled brat moment. I was spoiled by being able to have so many cards all at once. I think this is fun, but also something that can take away from the collector hunt that can develop when on more limited funds. I don’t think it’s necessary to instantly gain access to every card in a set. In some ways it rots away the joys and wonders of opening new packs. It’s similar to studying the spoiler sheet prior to opening. It becomes a chore to open pack after pack, and that just shouldn’t be the case. If this is your hobby, then you should enjoy it. If you like to collect cards, then collect them while having fun doing so. I felt that buying so many cards at once killed the joy of the hunt. I now only had a few rares and mythics to chase down. That’s a bit of a bummer, and definitely was something I didn’t anticipate about this experience. I’m still happy to have been spoiled rotten and all, but it does take away from the hunt.

I know that many Magic players suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). I get it. I know you are worried about not picking up a card before its price soars beyond your budget. So, I know that many of you think that if you study the spoilers and predict which cards are great before everyone else, then you will be able to either make a buck or save some bucks. You may very well be right. However, those types of pickups usually happen after the first three weeks a set has been out. The market is typically flooded during the first two weeks. All those pre-order prices come back down to reality, and competition lowers the prices a good deal. I find myself ordering many singles during that second week after a set releases. This is also the time when tournament results for Standard start to add up, and that’s around the same time when new decks show up. This sweet spot isn’t affected by spoilers. Your knowledge of the set doesn’t have to hamper you from this. You can easily pick up cards or sealed product during the first week of release, and then still pick up the cards you need at excellent prices. Standard sets have plenty of product printed, and you don’t need to be fearful of not getting your hands on it. As a Commander player, you should know that time is usually on your side. Avoiding spoilers didn’t cause me to miss out, and actually ended up helping me enjoy packs even more. This experiment really seemed to work out pretty well.

Spoilers have spoiled some things for me, but at the same time I feel they have offered me plenty of excitement in their own way. They are a form of instant gratification. Spoilers give me knowledge, and as we know, knowledge is power. I can have knowledge before others, but what I do with that knowledge determines its power. Do I use it to plan decks? Do I pick up cards others might not realize work well with the newest cards? Should I suddenly stop everything and buy up every Beta Craw Wurm ever printed (the answer to that is always yes). Spoilers can be great when they are done right. It’s similar to a good movie trailer. The good movie trailer should tease the elements of the movie, clarify the genre, and give me a taste of what is to come. The worst movie trailers act as summaries of the entire film; you watch the trailer, and you’ve basically seen the whole movie. The same is true with good Magic spoilers. The spoilers that discuss ideas, present themes, and flesh out concepts or tease bigger moments are the types of spoilers I’m interested in consuming. Seeing a list of cards is just someone giving me the answers to a test without offering me any real knowledge. I don’t care about the simple mechanics alone. I want some drama, some story, some synergy, and some mystique. Let me discover some things on my own and they’ll mean an awful lot more to me. Spoiling yourself with spoilers can kill much of the fun that a Magic set initially has to offer. Yet, when spoilers are done right they build excitement. However, spoilers can also limit the joy of discovery, and I would personally rather have no limits on my Magic moments.

Spoiler Free

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

I am a bit behind on getting this article up here on the site. I will posting the follow-up to this shortly afterward. I won’t spoil the outcome for you….

I am conducting an interesting experiment. If you haven’t already seen Kaldheim spoilers, then I invite you to not look at any. I have kept myself spoiler free for this set. I wanted to do this in order to share with you all what it is like to approach a set with no knowledge other than second-hand accounts, hearsay, and general hints from the Wizard’s marketing department. If you’ve already been devouring every spoiler and leak the minute it comes out, then I suggest you consider my notes on this and I would strongly recommend that you try it with the next standard set instead.

If you collected in the 90’s or even the early 2000’s, then you could easily have gone to a release tournament with almost zero knowledge of what cards were in the set. Those that were very ready for the limited format were usually studying lists and spoilers prior to event day, but the average player, which I assure you I was and still am, would end up being delighted by opening each pack and pouring over commons and uncommons while slowly getting to that sweet new rare. I still remember going through my Mercadian Masks sealed pool and coming across Two-Headed Dragon. That was a beast of a beauty in those days. I had a dragon deck of sorts with Shivan Dragons, Volcanic Dragons, a Crimson Hellkite, and Dragon Welps, but this Two-Headed Dragon was super exciting. Also, it was a bomb in limited. I easily flew into second place that day, but I assure you I was riding the wings of my never-before-seen Two-Headed Dragon. That experience was all the more memorable because I had never seen that card before. Years later I attended the Shards of Alara pre-release, and I had only the knowledge that it was a set with new mechanics. I didn’t even know what those mechanics were, but I opened another fiery bomb of a dragon—Predator Dragon. I proceeded to live the dream and flew on fiery wings all the way to the winner’s circle. It was a grand day, but it was so much more special to me, because the cards were all so surprising and fun. I mean I can picture exactly where I was when I opened that dragon. Local gaming stores are such wonderful memory makers! Anyway, my point is that sometimes it is great to leave a little mystery in your packs. I think that is part of the reason those Mystery booster packs were so much fun to open…it was mostly a mystery.

Collecting in the times of full spoilers and reveals is fun, but it does come at a cost. We lose the mystique and wonder of what is inside each pack. Sure, we know that we are getting big monsters when we open Ikoria packs. We know those packs come with some mechanics about mutating creatures into larger (or just more keyword heavy) monstrosities. Yet, once we know the set and the cards, then when we rip open a pack we never have that reveal or that moment when we stumble across something new. We don’t have that chance to pass the card to our friends and watch them read it in disbelief that such a thing exists. We often don’t have the opportunity to squabble over how exactly these new rules work (though that’s perhaps not a bad thing). As a collector in the 90’s this happened almost every time we sat down to play, and I assure you there were far fewer cards in those days. I remember reading a passage out of Johnny Magic and the Card Shark Kids that discussed one of Richard Garfield’s ideas for the game when he was first creating it. He wanted people to be able to stumble across new cards while playing each other, and have to figure out how to deal with unknowns in the context of the game. He thought it would be a good thing for everyone involved to be able to have new cards that no one knew about and be able to sling them back and forth with another. This is truly an amazing aspect of the game.

The surprise factor of the getting new cards, and being exposed to new cards is something that has virtually disappeared for me. There are a few sets that I’m not wholly familiar with, and so I do get to have these moments from time to time, and they are great! This is what has inspired me to try and recapture that surprise feeling. I love when I get destroyed by something new, and then I promptly put it on my acquisitions list to go buy or trade for it later on. I love seeing new cards and watching them work in action and then deciding to either combat them or pick them up myself. That is something that just doesn’t happen when you study every spoiler as it releases. I know, because I’ve been doing that for several sets now. The surprise factor disappears when you know each and every rare and mythic before you crack a single pack. Sure, the excitement of each card is enjoyed in the moment of its reveal. That surprise factor still happens, but the moment of discovery is removed from the pack, play, and overall collecting experience associated with Magic’s traditional distribution of packs. Buying a card as a single has always been possible, and so going to your LGS and finding the newest cards on sale and looking through the glass case at wild new cards is another way to harness the joy of discovery. Nothing replaces that nostalgic feeling of unearthing what you didn’t know you needed in the display areas of your LGS.

I don’t have anything against searching out spoilers. As I stated earlier, I have routinely reviewed, studied, and even speculated on spoilers in the past. I was living and breathing the spoilers for Commander Legends. My point and purpose is more that I want those of you that haven’t tried to experience a set without internet spoilers to try it out. It is really quite interesting. I think if there is no pre-release tournament scheduled, or release date events, then what have you got to lose? You can try experiencing something that just doesn’t happen anymore. You can discover new cards, play with them, build with them, and keep the whole experience as an in-person moment. Building memories and joy with your collection is an important aspect of acquisition. I am very much looking forward to sharing my experience with you, and I hope you are able to join me. Now, to be perfectly transparent, I’m still planning on preordering at least a booster box of this set. I mean, I love Norse mythology, and I loved that Theros plane both times. How can a Magic possibly disappoint me to a degree that I regret picking up some product? Exactly, I don’t think I’ll be regretting a blind purchase. However, if you’re tighter on budget you might find it interesting to note that most cards are actually cheapest a week or so after the release. So, all that spoiler speculation…well, it really is just speculation.

I’ll be sure to let everyone know how I feel about the experience afterwards, and give you the run down on the positives and negatives of the overall experiment. Spoiler season is a thing, and the very concept of that has waxed and waned over the years. In the past, I have embraced spoilers, but now I’m curious how things might be different if I choose not to hop on the hype train. The New Year is a time for reflecting and looking forward, and I feel that this little experiment is just one way in which I plan to do exactly that. Ironically, I’d like to close with a hint or spoiler for my next article. I am currently embarking on a new collector’s quest, and it’s a doozy. I’ll be a week or so into it by the time you read about it and the article is published, but I think you’ll all find it to be a little crazy and is totally worth watching.

-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.

Kills, Wins, Glory, and Pride. 

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

I used to be able to trash talk how often I won games like Yahtzee and Rummy against my wife. I use the past tense, because she started keeping a record book to prove to me that my win percentages were anything but brag worthy. As it turns out, though not a surprise after 15 years together, she was right. She took to labeling the winner: “Champion” and the loser (only when I lost) the “Hunted Wumpus”. She crushes me, routinely. Thank goodness she never picked up playing Magic–I can still say I am the best Magic player in the house. I decided that the record book was a great idea, and so The Kills Book  was born. What is The Kills Book you ask, well it is a piece of living history. Aside from keeping track of how many times you’ve defeated your foolish foes, I mean friends, it serves many other useful purposes.

The Kills Book records the names of players, the dates we play, number of kills, and wins earned for each gaming session. For cube drafting days I also record draft records and deck archetypes. It is important to record a variety of information, but I did not want this to become some Sisyphean task. The date, names, kills, and wins is OK, but Commander players need something a little grander. Hence, I have an EPIC WINS column. Epic wins involve four or more players, and require the winner to have dealt the fatal blow to all three opponents. To properly honor a win of this magnitude the deck’s name is recorded next to each epic win check mark.

What other purposes, aside from wins recorded, does a kills book serve?

The Kills Book offers people pride, honor, glory, and a place in the annals of local Magic history. It is not all about recording total wins. The Kills Book does not care about your all-time wins or even your all-time kills. Each gaming session stands on its own. This makes each session even more special. Killing someone and earning a tally mark each session is a point of pride. Even if you lose every game that day, you at least walk away with the pride of having taken out someone else first. Each tally mark on the day is a way to inch closer toward the honor of Championship status. After all, no one wants to be the shameful Hunted Wumpus (no kills). Keeping each session recorded by its date allows one to better reminisce on the history embedded in past gaming sessions. As an example, let us analyze a page from the book and see what memories it dredges up.

January Games:

This was nearly ten years ago, and I remember that January 5th gaming session better than most other things that happened a decade ago. In particular, I vividly remember Lenny allowing Doug to take the Epic win, by hosing me. 

Lenny removed my graveyard from the game in response to me targeting  my Akroma, Angel of Wrath with Miraculous Recovery. He could have used his Tormod’s Crypt to exile Doug’s graveyard (he was playing a clone style deck with Kokusho, the Evening Star and Keiga, the Tide Star. When I asked him if he was sure he wanted to target me, his response was clear, “I want to see Doug’s deck get an Epic win by doing its thing.” I was tapped out, and I had no other plays. I had no outs, and Doug was surely going to go off next turn. Yes, Lenny wanted to see Doug get the glorious Epic win, and so everyone (except me) got what they wanted. The Kills Book, and the coveted glory of the epic win, made this possible. Would Lenny have been less likely to have allowed Doug’s deck to get the win? Well, I asked him, and he totally wanted Doug (or anyone but me) to get that first Epic win. 

Additionally, I distinctly remember Jay killing off Doug when he was mana screwed in one of our games that session. Why? Jay wanted to record his first kill for the day, and Doug was accepting of being killed off early, because it was clear Jay needed that tally mark—he was almost the dreaded “Hunted Wumpus”. Clearly, The Kills Book helps foster an environment that eliminates board stalls. Recording kills can be just as satisfying as winning games. Maneuvering for epic wins is yet another element to peoples’ overall strategies. Do not underestimate the desire to achieve glorious epic wins, and rabid fascination of avoiding the shameful title of Hunted Wumpus.  

February Games:

These games took place over the course of a twelve hour Magic marathon day. We started at around 8am, and played until 11pm. It was glorious. We played thirteen games of Magic that day. I even recorded my first Epic win with my old multiplayer monstrosity, The Kaboom! Deck. That was a thing of beauty. I distinctly remember setting up the kill by gauging everyone’s life total, stacking my deck with Riddle of Lightning, and doing 16 points of damage to Jay on his end step by revealing Draco. Then, on my upkeep, I spun Sensei’s Divining Top. I drew a land, spun the top, then cast Kaboom!. I did 16 (Draco) to Doug, 14 (Blinkmoth Infusion) to Lenny, and 5 (Kaboom!) to Jay. I would never have remembered that with such clarity if it were not for the record keeping help of The Kills Book. This is just one example of many stories I can recount of that day’s Magic games.

June Games:

I find myself remembering the first real day of Summer Vacation. Doug’s Kokusho Deck got another epic win. Then Lenny’s Monoblack snuffed us out to score him an epic win, and I snagged two epic victories using two of my old multiplayer decks, Draganimation and Worm Harvest. Lenny brutalized us with massive swamps matter spells, like Nightmare, Mutilate, and Korlash Heir to Blackblade. I remember casting Victimize by sacrificing Bladewing’s Thrall to return Dragon Tyrant and Bladewing the Risen. The Thrall got to join the party again. Meanwhile, I used Bladewing the Risen’s trigger to return Karthus, Tyrant of Jund, and then I proceeded to win target game. 

The other epic win I pulled off was with my Wurm Harvest Deck. I used Invasion sacrifice lands, and weaker cycling lands as well to fill my yard with Wurm Harvest fodder. I then dredged up Dakmor Salvage several times to recast Wurm Harvest, cycled a few more lands, then drew a game ending Overrun–epic win complete!

Hunger Games:

Those were glorious days, and reading over these notes gives me such a wonderful feeling of nostalgia. The Kills Book creates honorable moments, gloriously epic victories, and a place to look back and remember how we all grew closer together, by crushing one another in Magic the Gathering. The organic living history of our Magic gatherings is really a wonderful thing to behold. Each playgroup needs to keep one of these. Adding to it makes every game night a part of your organic saga. Being able to look back on your friend’s successes and your own crushing defeats can be surprisingly enjoyable. Keeping this living history going is actually simple. The Kills Book creates a hunger for more tally marks, and your friends will be asking you not only to bring it, but to keep it as accurate as possible.  

It sounds like a nice idea, but I’m overwhelmed. How do I even start?

You start by getting a notebook. I chose a simple Steno Pad, because it is easily portable, and easily storable. It is bound, so the pages will not fall out, and I had one handy. You may opt for anything from a leather-bound journal to napkins sewn together with yarn. Once you have a notebook, outline the criteria you wish to record. I suggest keeping each play session as a separate entry. You can use mine as an example, but do not feel like you must keep to my methods. Feel free to include snacks you had, amazing plays that were made, or even new cards that were showcased! If you feel like this is too much, then just keep to recording kills, wins, and epic wins. You can change the criteria for an epic win to whatever your playgroup defines it to be. Perhaps you feel epic wins only occur when someone’s deck wins by “doing its thing”, as Lenny so graciously decided Doug’s deck should. I am not bitter…I am simply recalling the phrasing that preceded my loss and Doug’s epic win (yes, I am still salty). Once you have the criteria recorded, then I suggest you keep the book with your decks. This ensures you never forget to bust out The Kills Book. Nothing makes a gaming session feel more official than the opportunity to add to the living history you and your friends are recording each and every time you sit down to destroy one another. 

Parting Thoughts:

I have been keeping The Kills Book for nearly a decade. I love this thing, and my biggest regrets I have about it are not recording every single game in it. There were days I forgot to bring it to a friend’s house. There were days I left it in my cabinet, and others where I just forgot to record it as we were playing. However, I have managed to capture most of my play sessions with it, and it is something that has brought me far more joy than any other record keeping I have ever done. It helps move games along and eliminate board stall. It helps give people pride when they lose the match, and can bring a whole new quest for glory to those of us with a desire to record every kill. You need a Kills Book whether you are players just starting or original gamers from the ABU era. The Kills Book is simple to keep, but pays major dividends. Does your playgroup keep one already? I would love to know what you record in yours.