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The 2021 Card-A-Day Challenge

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. I will spoil myself on my birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bubble Effect

The Bubble Effect…and what to do about it.

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

What is the Bubble Effect?

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

When the Bubble Effect is Best:

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

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

Bubbles aren’t just for Newbies:

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

Benefitting from the Bubble effect:

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

The finer points of Bubble making:

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

When and How to Burst Bubbles:

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

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

Bubbles Bounce:

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

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Unwarranted Backlash for The Secret Lair X The Walking Dead

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spicy Reserves on a Budget

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

A Hidden Spice Drawer:

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

Wave of Terror

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

Rainbow Efreet

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

Subterranean Spirit

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

Natural Balance

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

Abeyance

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

Powder Keg

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

Unfulfilled Desires

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

Circle of Despair

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

Closing Thoughts:

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

Featured

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. 

Featured

TAKING A SHINE TO SHRINES by Mikeal Basile

Commander Deck List and Deck Tech

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

Inspiration:

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

Check out the deck list HERE.

Notable Synergies/Combos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draw–how the deck keeps the cards flowing:

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

Ramp–how the keeps up on mana development:

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

Answers–the cards that deal with particular situations:

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

Spice:

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

Notable Exclusions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget Considerations:

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

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

Early Game:

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

Middle Game:

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

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

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

Late Game:

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

Final Reflection:

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

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A Collector’s Quest

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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

YEAR ONE

April 11, 2011:

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

April 15, 2011:

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

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

July 2, 2011: 

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

July 17, 2011: 

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

July 12, 2011: 

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

July 16, 2011: 

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

July 24, 2011: 

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

December 25, 2011:

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

Year One Progress

Plateau: 4/4   $63.50

Taiga: 2/4 $94.60

Underground Sea: 2/4 $211.75

Volcanic Island: 4/4  $196.95

Tropical Island: 4/4   $285

Savannah: 1/4 $35

Scrubland: 1/4 $35

Badlands: 1/4  $35

YEAR TWO

March 2012:

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

September 2012:

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

Year Two Additions

Tundra: 1/4 Gift

Bayou: 1/4 Gift

Scrubland: 2/4 Gift

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

YEAR THREE

December 2, 2013:

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

Year Three Progress

Taiga: 2/4  $10 (trade-in credit)

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

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

YEAR FOUR

March 2014:

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

August 23, 2014:

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

November 10, 2014:

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

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

Year Four Progress

Scrubland: 3/4 Free (store credit)

Badlands: 2/4  $70

Tundra: 3/4 $160

YEAR FIVE

January 2, 2015:

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

January 15, 2015: 

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

Year Five Progress

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

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

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

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

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

YEAR SIX

March 21, 2016:

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

Year Six Progress

Savannah: 3/4 $58.64

YEARS 7-10:

2017

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

December 25, 2018

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

Year Eight Progress

Bayou: 2/4 $262 (gifted)

2019

I did not buy any dual lands.

2020

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

Current Needs:

Savannah 1

Bayou 2 

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

Featured

Magic without the Gathering, Via Zoom

“Magic without the Gathering, via Zoom”

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations: “What should you buy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

13 Tricky Blue Spells to Outwit the Feeble-Minded Opposition

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.

Here is my list of thirteen tricky blue spells to outwit your enemies (I mean, friends) in Commander. Blue can be summed up with one word–Counterspell. Blue is the color known for having the best selection of deceptive spells. It is the color most likely to deny another deck its game plan. This list highlights blue spells that were lurking among my drawers of commons and uncommons. Blue has access to so many powerful effects, and this list highlights cards Commander players need to incorporate into their blue decks to bamboozle the opposition, feeble-minded or not.  

#13

Pendrell Mists

If you cannot afford The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, then Pendrell Mists is the next best thing. Taxing other player’s resources is something blue has been doing since Alpha introduced Power Leak. Forcing your opponents to spend mana keeping their creatures alive keeps them from developing an army too quickly. Slowing people down helps you make it to your end-game strategy. Pendrell Mists cripples the go-wide strategies that can often cause fits for blue decks. Fade Away is similar, but is usually too little, too late. Mana Chains, another mana taxing card, is a great way to slowly destroy a difficult threat, but it only deals with one creature, and that creature will most certainly be gunning for you. Meanwhile, Pendrell Mists affects every creature and does not overly tax anyone. You should not become an immediate target, but those that lean on mana dorks (Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves) will certainly be unhappy about this. Pendrell Mists allows you to slow the game enough for you to draw into the right answers at the most bewildering times.

#12

Flash of Insight

Flash of Insight can help you find the answer you need to most any problem. This card digs down quite a bit for a single card, and then is able to be flashed back for only two mana. In the late-game, this can easily dig even deeper than something like Dig Through Time. It is not better than Dig, but it can get you two cards by casting it and then flashing it back. Flash of Insight provides excellent card selection, and gets you to that last combo piece even faster. Flash of Insight enables you to select the card you need to completely bamboozle your opponents.

#11

Hinder

Hinder is a befuddling counterspell that is not played nearly enough. Hinder gives you the ability to toss the countered spell on top of your thwarted opponent’s library. This helps when you do not want them drawing any new answers. More importantly, you can put that countered spell on the bottom of their library. The amount of recursion in Commander is no joke. Commander Decks recur creatures, instants, artifacts, enchantments, and everything else too. Being able to put the countered spell on the bottom of an opponent’s library is often better than depositing it in their graveyard. Tutor effects are far less frequent than recursion tactics. Hinder is a calculated way to swindle your friends out of utilizing their recursive spells. 

#10

Flood

Flood is both beguiling and effective even without the help of silly combo pieces like Mystic Decree or Gravity Sphere. If you are playing green, try combining Stormfront and Flood to tap every foolish creature on the board. Being able to tap down any non-flying creature for only two blue is a great deal. This enchantment comes down for only one mana, and then stays around to cheat your opponents out of attacking and blocking. Blue usually has plenty of fliers, so blocking fliers is not usually an issue. Flood will keep leery opponents skipping combat steps to avoid being tapped down. Flood keeps all those ground pounders duped into skipping their attack phases.

#9

Ensnare

Ensnare is exactly the type of thing you want to be doing when playing blue. Returning two islands to your hand to tap all creatures is a great deal. Outwitting people is what blue mages live for, and Ensnare allows you to do so when your shields are down. This can easily set up an alpha strike when cast prior to your turn. It can also be insurance against someone cracking back after you have dealt some heavy damage on your previous turn. Blue wants to make people think and rethink their plans. Ensnare catches people off guard when they think your only response might be a sneaky Force of Will or other zero mana counterspell. Tap down everyone’s creatures making other people into tantalizing targets with Ensnare.

#8

Spreading Seas

Commander is full of degenerate lands, and Spreading Seas keeps them in check. Next time an opponent casts Crop Rotation and drops in Hall of Heliod’s Generosity, Volrath’s Stronghold, or Gaea’s Cradle, you need to spread the love. Send Spreading Seas to clean up that mess and the cantrip will ensure you have more gas to keep circumventing your opponent’s plans. While I love Spreading Seas, you should also seriously consider playing Aquitect’s Will. Will does not work as well in non-merfolk strategies, but if your playgroup is overrun with silly non-basics, then Aquitec’s Will is worth it, as it cannot be disenchanted like Spreading Seas. Spreading Seas is still better (in non-merfolk decks), because it will always replace itself, and that means you are merely drawing closer to the spells that will surely outsmart your opponents. 

#7

Wipe Away

Wipe Away is a powerful bounce spell that cannot be stopped. Wipe Away is great for interrupting combos, effectively countering auras, and removing targets for instant spells. Wipe Away has split second, and that can be difficult to understand for people that were not playing when interrupts existed. Interrupts used to be faster than instants, and so they interrupted play. Split second basically does that. Nothing else happens until Wipe Away resolves. Unlike Capsize with buyback, Wipe Away says no one can announce new abilities or spells until Wipe Away resolves. Wipe Away discombobulates careful combos even when they have counterspell backup. Wipe Away is a very versatile bounce spell that deserves to see more play than it currently does.

#6

Anti-Magic Aura

Anti-Magic Aura is so much more than a partial shroud giver. It makes the enchanted creature unable to be targeted by instant spells, sorcery spells, and other enchantments. It can still be hit with abilities from permanents, so it is not shroud. If you looked at this card and were confused, then you know it is a perfect inclusion for a blue deck. If you thought, why not just use Lightning Greaves, Robe of Mirrors, or even Diplomatic Immunity? Then you are thinking too narrowly, my friend. You say, “Wait, it doesn’t even give it real shroud,” which is right, but still not thinking broadly enough. Anti-Magic Aura is flexible. It makes all previously attached auras fall off the creature. Anti-Magic Aura allows you to make your Commander harder to hit with removal, or it helps your creature shrug off enchantment removal (Pacifism or Faith’s Fetters), or it nullifies opposing problematic Commanders (Bruna, Light of Alabaster or Zur the Enchanter). For three mana you are able to use this spell any number of ways, and that is the sign of a powerful Magic card. Anti-Magic Aura is the kind of spell that will surely bewilder your friends. 

#5

Coastal Piracy

Coastal Piracy, recently reprinted in Jumpstart, is a very efficient draw engine. This enchantment only costs four mana, and lets you draw a card every time your creatures deal combat damage to an opponent. Yes, every single time. Coastal Piracy allows aggressive decks to keep their hands full of cards. Each time your evasive creatures deal damage, you draw cards. Coastal Piracy is an excellent draw effect for aggressive decks like ninjas or blue white fliers. While swinging in for card advantage, be sure to read Coastal Piracy’s flavor text while you defraud your friends into thinking this card is not a huge threat.

#4

Bond of Insight

Bond of Insight lets you reuse multiple cards from your graveyard. It mills four cards first, helping to beef up your selection. It is exiled after casting, much the same as Pull from the Deep, but unlike Pull allows you to pick two of the same type of card (instant or sorcery). Another interesting concept to note is that this does not target the cards being recurred. An opponent will not be able to remove the cards you intend to return in response to your “targeting” them. This level of recursion can set up some pretty amazing turns. You can chain together extra turns, bring back direct damage, grab your Ensnare again, or even return a Flash of Insight if you are not ready to flash it back just yet. Bond of Insight will allow you to finagle extra value out of your beguiling spells.

#3

Submerge

Submerge is amazing when you can cast it for free. When you cast it for five mana, it is barely acceptable. Submerge puts an opponent’s creature on top of their library, and that is a solid effect. Plenty of shenanigans happen to cards on the tops of people’s libraries. Submerge is a strong inclusion, because it is easy to meet the conditions for casting this spell for free. If one of your opponent’s controls a forest and you control an island, then you can play Submerge for free. How many games have you played where none of your opponents has a forest in play? Exactly! I cannot seem to remember a game where at least one of my three opponents did not control a forest card (it does not have to be a basic forest). Similar to Ensnare, Submerge surprises opponents and is especially brutal in response to a fetchland activation (shuffle that threat away). Submerge enables blue mages to influence the gamestate while being tapped out, and that is the type of deception we live for!

#2

Exclude

Exclude has been a favorite counterspell of mine since it was first printed twenty years ago. Counterspells are good, but exchanging spells one for one can lead to issues later on, especially in a Commander game. Exclude limits you to countering only creatures. Being able to draw a card while countering that creature makes the mana cost and the limitation non issues. Exclude and Repulse were long staples in any blue deck I built for nearly fifteen years. I love the interaction of bouncing a problematic creature, countering it the next turn, and not having any fewer cards in hand afterwards. With so many blanketed bounce effects, Exclude easily becomes the clutch blue creature removal spell we need when combined with mass bounce effects (Evacuation and Wash Out).

#1

Siren’s Call

Siren’s Call has plenty of rules text for those who love to smugly read cards to their opponents. Siren’s Call forces your opponent to attack with their creatures this turn. They must attack with any creature that did not come into play under their control this turn (creatures with haste actually do not have to attack if they came into play this turn). If any of those creatures do not attack this turn, they are destroyed at the end of turn. It does not matter if they could not attack because of your War Tax or Ensnare. If a non-wall creature does not attack, even if it has defender, it is destroyed. An odd case is that changelings count as walls and will not die (kudos to anyone who dodges this with Shields of Velis Vel). Siren’s Call is blue creature removal. I know that Pongify, Rapid Hybridization, and Reality Shift exist, but they are not nearly as exciting as Siren’s Call. First printed in Alpha, Siren’s Call is an original card from 1993. It was last reprinted in Fourth Edition. This is a classic that has been forgotten. With proper planning you can use Siren’s Call to destroy a player’s entire army. Your opponents will surely curse your manipulations as their armies are destroyed by your ingenious inclusion of Siren’s Call.  

Honorable Mention:

Aura Graft

Aura Graft is a situational card, but it does have some flexibility. It allows you to steal another aura away from someone and give it to your permanent. Aura Graft can also be used to move your own aura from one target to another. Theft is a blue thing, and is very sneaky when placed on an instant (Dominate). Aura Graft is best in a deck that runs its own auras, so you can defensively shift the aura in response to removal. 

I spent several days going through uncommon and common blue cards in my collection. I initially pulled a stack of 115 cards when I started to pare this list down. So many cards wanted to be in my top thirteen. I found that blue loves to bounce cards, tax its opponents’ resources, counter spells of all kinds at all casting costs, steal things, and find odd ways to remove creatures permanently. 

I am not sure if blue is my favorite color, as I enjoy all the colors, but magictating on blue allows me to really see the trajectory of Magic’s history and evolution. I am looking forward to seeing what Wizards will do with blue in the future. Blue offers so many unique effects and choices, from rares to mythics (Ertai’s Meddling) and commons to uncommons (Counterspell). A blue card does not need to be expensive in order to be tricky, deceptive, and powerful. Blue seems to almost bend the rules of the game, allowing for deceptive tricks and incredibly powerful synergies. Utilize some of these odd-ball blue cards to create interesting board states and manipulate your friends.  

13 Surprising and Sinister Black Spells to Spite Your Foes

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.

Here are my top thirteen black spells to spite your enemies (I mean, friends) in Commander. Black is known for its death magic, and this list certainly highlights a few targeted removal spells. This list incorporates some of black’s typical effects, which usually involve making a sacrifice to further your evil desires. Swiping the last Cheetos while casting these spiteful black spells is one of life’s finest pleasures.

#13

Ritual of the Machine

Black has a few ways to steal creatures, but nothing tops Ritual of the Machine. Ritual permanently steals a creature. This effect should not be underestimated. Many black decks utilize sacrifice engines and token generation (Aristocrat strategies for example). Ritual of the Machine adds a twist by not only removing an opponent’s creature, but by having it join your fold, swapping a useless serf for your opponent’s meaningful creature. Ritual of the Machine lets you kill your opponent with their own creature–a nefariously satisfying way to win.

#12

Noxious Vapors

Noxious Vapors is meant for a multi-color deck. Only the most malevolent and reckless Magic players will be willing to make this work in mono black. Making many opponents discard multiple cards at once is powerful. Feel free to have Megrim join the party. This allows you to dump creatures into your own graveyard, capitalizing on black’s reanimation powers, simultaneously crippling your opponents’ hands. Noxious Vapors may make a few people salty, but just remind them you had to discard too. Repeat after me: “Clearly, this is a fair and balanced card.”

#11

Unspeakable Symbol

Unspeakable Symbol is a unique pump effect. Bleeding yourself to make your friends bleed even more is exactly the type of effect we need. This activates at instant speed and glows with a dark spectral light in Kathril Aspect Warper decks (and other Voltron style decks, too). Black has tremendous access to life draining effects and lifelinking creatures. You can easily buff your life total, and then buff your team of nefarious vampires. Your friends might think it is an unspeakably bad card, but Unspeakable Symbol will foreshadow their doom.

#10

Chain of Smog

Chain of Smog is another discard spell often overlooked by playgroups. I like most of the cards from this cycle, and find that Chain of Smog can lead to a deadly series of back and forth discards. Allowing Chain of Smog to choke out an entire table is all part of our darkest dreams (and our opponents’ nightmares). Play it while emitting an evil chuckle and see if your friend dares to send it back your way. Once it comes back, then prepare to live the nightmare! Couple Chain of Smog with dredge, scavenge, and recover cards to really throttle the life out of your friends.

#9

Slaughter

Slaughter offers a fantastic rate for repeatable, instant speed removal. Slaughter is far better in Commander, because the buyback cost of four life hurts much less with a starting life total of forty. When you have a deck that drains other people’s life, Slaughter quickly becomes a wickedly good and oppressively repetitive removal spell. 

#8

Desolation

Desolation is pure spite at its worst. You will immediately suffer for casting it, but with the devilish intention of sharing the misery. This does not trigger until the end step. You can be truly viscous by combining Desolation with Sundial of the Infinite or grind value with Gitrog Monster. Keep in mind that Desolation hits anyone that taps a land during any turn, so pesky blue mages must beware. Desolation spreads misery across the table, and we will revel in each other’s misery, right?

#7

Hissing Miasma

Hissing Miasma is a sinister punishment card. Disincentivizing attacks against you for only three mana is solid. This helps you get to your end game. Hissing Miasma also makes your friend’s token army much weaker. Let your friends know they should pick on someone else by poisoning the table with Hissing Miasma

#6

Phyresis

Phyresis is a toxic little trick which allows you to switch strategies. Perhaps an opponent has “gone infinite” with life gain, but this little enchantment means you only need to deal ten more points with the enchanted creature to kill your opponent with poison damage. Poison is a nasty strategy, and switching to it when required can be a surprising and evil necessity. Snake Cult Initiation provides a similar effect, but it is double the casting cost. Phyresis makes your 5/5’s very scary creatures, and all for only two mana. 

#5

Phyrexian Reclamation

Phyrexian Reclamation is a twisted way to get back your creatures. It comes down for a paltry one mana and costs only two mana and two life to  return a creature from your graveyard to your hand. That is an excellent repeatable way to abuse creatures with ETB effects (think Plaguecrafter, Dirge Bat, or Bone Shredder). I love pairing this with cards like Shriekmaw that can be evoked and then reused almost immediately. Phyrexian Reclamation may cost life, but sacrificing life to wound our enemies is always a worthwhile investment.

#4

Withering Boon

Withering Boon is black’s Remove Soul, and it is worth paying the three life to counter a spell. While black has many removal spells, this one denies  ETB effects (Karmic Guide). Being able to counter Avacyn, Angel of Hope, or Predator Ooze is so worth paying three life. Indestructible creatures dodge plenty of removal, but they cannot dodge anything while they are still on the stack. Withering Boon is the black removal spell that saves you from self-righteous cards like Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Blood Baron of Vizcopa. Withering Boon is a twisted blessing that enables black to answer otherwise unanswerable creatures.

#3

Massacre

Massacre will usually be free to cast. It is wonderfully named and sickly satisfying to cast for free. Using this to wipe out a couple early utility creatures is great. Depending on the board state, it can be a fine card to cast at its full cost. The possibility of casting it for free makes this an amazing addition to any vengeful black deck. Massacre destroys opponents’ token armies and leaves you with plenty of mana left over. Combine Massacre with Massacre Wurm to completely eviscerate your opponents.

#2

Strands of Night

Strands of Night is underrated. Black has access to many reanimation spells, but this one is repeatable. You repeatedly return creatures from your graveyard for only two mana, two life, and a swamp. Combining this with cards like Cavalier of Knight, Fleshbag Marauder, and Dakmor Lancer can be deliciously deadly. Corpse Harvester and Strands of Night are a crushing combination that allows you to pile on the punishment. Smother your opponents with the suffocating and repeated reanimation provided by Strands of Night.

#1

Ashes to Ashes 

Ashes to Ashes is better than the recently reprinted Reckless Spite. Ashes to Ashes exiles, and only has to give up instant speed to do so. Exiling two creatures for three mana and five life is a sinister spiteful maneuver. Ashes to Ashes also allows us to target black creatures as well, and that is often a restriction in black removal (Doom Blade, Shriekmaw, Snuff Out). There are plenty of indestructible creatures that require exiling (Scarab God and friends). Ashes to Ashes is exactly the type of card that you cast when you have had enough of the nonsense. 

Honorable Mention:

Phyrexian Tribute

Phyrexian Tribute is a one-of-a-kind card. It allows you to destroy an artifact with a black spell. Try finding another black spell that does that! It is not a great rate to sacrifice two creatures for one artifact, and having someone counter this is especially awful, but it does do what no other black card can. Slotting this into a sacrifice deck, tokens deck, or some sort of Aristocrats strategy could be a spicy include that saves you from a Nevinyral’s Disk or Oblivion Stone.

When playing these spells, it is important to announce that you are doing so out of spite. You cast these spells simply to get back at others, and not necessarily to win. Casting Ashes to Ashes may very well kill you, but if it keeps someone else from victory, then that is a win in my book!

Black magic deals in death and unwholesome rebirths. Cards like Reckless Spite, Ashes to Ashes, Strands of Night, and others just sound truly vile. These evil and devilishly cheap cards were collecting dust in my collection for no reason. Stumbling across these grim spells produced many evil chuckles. I relish casting simple Terrors and Doom Blades, yet going beyond one for one removal is always enticing. Dust off your own copies, or splurge the $15 to buy one of each card from this list. It is the best of both worlds–you can be spiteful and cheap at the same time!