Category Archives: Casual Fridays

Creature Feature

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By: Cliff Daigle

It’s no secret that creatures are a primary resource in Magic. They are the easiest way to deal damage to your opponent and are the primary source of interaction. Can you stop your opponent’s creatures? Can they stop yours?

In the past twenty years of printing dudes, Wizards has given us a remarkable range of abilities for creatures, so much so that it’s possible to craft decks that consist entirely of creatures. It’s more likely to happen in casual formats, but it’s possible even in Standard. I have two EDH decks (Animar, Soul of Elements and Adun Oakenshield) that are creature-based, and it’s time I evaluate why these are powerful strategies.

Reason #1: You Always Have Something to Cast

Blightsteel Colossus

There’s very few creatures that are strictly reactive. Mystic Snake and Plaxmanta are two that come to mind, but for the most part, creatures are reacted to, not reactions themselves. If they leave your creature alone you’ll gain enormous advantages just from attacking and blocking. The effect is amplified when it’s a utility creature, providing significant advantage above and beyond simply swinging in.

We have a tendency in EDH and other formats to include a lot of reactive cards that will be good in certain circumstances. I personally love to have Delirium in hand, just in case someone wants to get cute with Hamletback Goliath or a Blightsteel Colossus. Unfortunately, that’s frequently a dead card in hand and you’re stuck waiting for that perfect moment. Playing a deck with a critical mass of creatures ensures that you’re never waiting pointlessly, since you’ll almost always have something you could be doing.

Reason #2: Repeated Effects

The easiest way to get an effect over and over again is to put it on a creature. Usually it’s a tap ability, and it’ll be more powerful than an enchantment’s ability, because creatures are easier to kill than enchantments. Case in point: Arcanis the Omnipotent. Even his weaker little brother, Archivist, is good for card advantage over time.

These effects don’t need to be tap abilities; they can be continuous in nature too. Ruric Thar punishes other players’ spells. Sire of Insanity is a backbreaker. Fumiko the Lowblood is a very easy way to mess with everyone else’s plans, forcing all sorts of attacks that might not be to your opponents’ advantage.

Reason #3: Synergy Visara the Dreadful

Creatures, especially ones who share a tribe, are prone to having effects that synergize very well. Whenever someone asks me what their first EDH deck should be, I answer Krenko, Mob Boss. His ability is powerful and straightforward, and when you add Goblin Chieftain or another haste enabler, he gets out of hand fast!

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My new favorite combination is something old and something new: Hythonia the Cruel and Visara the Dreadful. They play nicely together, being point removal and a mass destruction effect together.

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Reason #4: A touch of Something Else

Perhaps the best part of having an all-creature deck is adding a few noncreature spells. My Adun deck has five, one of which is the poster child for a bulk rare being so amazing in casual formats that its price just keeps creeping upward: Lurking Predators. (The other four noncreature spells? Green Sun’s Zenith, Garruk, Caller of Beasts, Domri Rade, and Xenagos, the Reveler.) With Lurking Predators in play, every one of my opponents’ spells is going to give me a creature roughly ⅔ of the time.

Capture

It’s not hard to build a deck where a resolved Primal Surge wins you the game with an enormous attack. That actually gets boring. Genesis Wave is much the same way, but I’ll never fault someone who wants to go big mana, throw a Wave for 10-15 mana, and then get the Wave back with the Eternal Witness they flipped.

Reason #5: Cheaper

It’s not universally true, but building a creature-based deck will often cost you less money. Chasing certain spells can add up very fast, but the utility of the creatures you add to a deck will lower the financial strain. There aren’t many creatures that get added to almost every deck, but there are plenty spells that many of decks demand.

The reason why I bring up these types of casual decks is because they are a type of deck that is very frequently built in EDH, and other casual formats. This type of deck requires certain types of cards, and we can expect Wizards to continue printing cards to enable these strategies. (Hythonia the Cruel, Garruk, Caller of Beasts, etc.) Such cards will probably not demand a high price tag, as seen in Genesis Wave, Primal Surge or Dread Cacodemon.

Keep this in mind as we start to move into the new year and the spoiler season for Born of the Gods. If a card is only good with a lot of creatures, that’s not a bug, that’s a design feature.

This week’s tip: Shocklands. People seem to be stocked up, and rotation won’t make these dip much. I would advise you to get out if you can get around $10 in trade for any of them, unless you’re buying them at $5 and going to hold onto them for years. Their post-rotation rise will be a crawl, since RtR block was the best-selling ever which means there’s a lot of shock stock out there. Personally, I’ve traded away more than 40 in the past month, moving into Theros cards and Modern.

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Accessories

There’s a hidden set of costs to playing magic.

We don’t often talk about it, either. We mention it in passing sometimes when it catches our fancy, but it’s a real thing. I’m talking about everything you use while playing the game. Sleeves, dice, playmats; the list goes on and on. Magic has exploded over the past few years, and the accessories that you use while playing have seen a similar growth.

One of the things I want to make clear is that you don’t have to spend this money. This is money you choose to spend in order to upgrade a certain part of the experience.

Sleeves

Allow me to sound like an old fogey for a moment. I was there when “blackbacks” were first introduced to the gaming public. Everything until that point was based off of baseball cards. You had penny sleeves, or you had the big thick top loaders.

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Magic was being played on benches, on concrete or brick, on anything really, stored in boxes all without sleeves. You would shuffle Magic cards just like you would a deck of playing cards. This meant a lot of damage very quickly to your cards, especially in terms of edge wear. Akroma, Angel of Wrath

Sleeves with opaque backs changed everything. Not only were you keeping your cards from getting all scuffed up, you were also able to hide damage already done. This was immediately relevant to me, as I had some specific cards that had locational damage. As I recall, I had a Lord of the Pit with a bent corner.

Within the popularity of the black sleeves, the companies sensed a desire for more variety. Before long, you could have your green deck with green sleeves, your blue deck with blue sleeves, and so on.

Now you’re able to spend a significant amount of money and get just about anything you might want on your sleeves. I’ve seen custom inserts, and I imagine that fully-customized sleeves with personal art choices are not far away, if they don’t already exist. You can double or even triple sleeve your cards. There is a lot of discussion and a lot of personal preference when it comes to sleeves.

I like having different sleeves for different decks. I have been fortunate enough to find zombie sleeves for my Zombie deck and shiny foil vampire sleeves for a shiny foil Vampire deck. Personally, I can vouch for the durability of Dragon Shields. Shuffling an EDH deck can be tough on your sleeves, and can cause them to split or burst. The KMC perfect fit are another winner for me; my go-to perfect fit sleeve for the rarest of my cards.

Dice

If you want to further refine the unique experience of the game, dice represent an easy way to do that. You have an array of colors, and even an array of materials. Stone, wood, metal, bone, etc.

Magic’s history is also full of special dice, such as spin down dice with different set symbols, or translucent dice from the Premium Deck Series.

It is surprisingly easy to find very expensive dice. Especially exotic material dice, which can run $30-$40 for a set. If you want to get really fancy, look up iron dice and the many varieties they offer. Be careful if you have a few iron dice; they can really destroy plastic ones if kept in the same container and left to rattle around.

Similarly, dice boxes can fetch all sorts of prices, depending on how intricate a display you opt for. My wife and I brought coffin-shaped dice boxes complete with ghost and spirit counters with us to Worlds when Innistrad was the draft format. If you choose to look on Etsy or Ultra-Pro for custom boxes, you’ll find more than you expect.

A momentary aside on dice and life: Once you start using a notepad for life totals, you’ll never go back. All you need to do is bump a life die once and you’ll see the simple genius of writing things down. I have a six-inch stack of notepads that I have accumulated from the last few big events I’ve attended – all you need to do is see which vendors are giving them away at a GP or the like.

Playmats

You don’t need to use a playmat in many circumstances. Sleeves and a tablecloth work just fine. But playmats are useful for marking off your own territory, keeping yourself organized, and as a way to add structure and routine to your game.

Most large events have an official playmat, and it’s possible to find just about any of your favorite card arts if you look hard enough. If you went to GP Las Vegas this past summer, you can expect to fetch $40-$60 for just the playmat on eBay today. There are other ways to acquire unique playmats as well. Judges for certain events receive them, Gameday winners get one, PTQ Top 8 earns a playmat…the list goes on.

If you happen to have a Spellground mat big enough for two players sitting in a closet somewhere, go take a look at eBay and see if yours is in good enough condition to fetch a few hundred dollars. It’s from 20 years ago, and it doesn’t give special shuffling powers, but collectors are collectors.

It’s worth noting that custom playmats can be had from many Magic artists, or you can go online to have a custom playmat made from the image of your choice. All of these things are possible – if you’re willing to spend the money.

Deck Boxes

reg_dual_deckbox_open

Sure, some of us make do with a plain white 800-count baseball card box, but there’s so many other options out there! I’ve made custom deck boxes from booster boxes, I use fat pack boxes to hold EDH decks, and it seems that whenever I see a container of some sort, my first thoughts are of cards.

Currently, I use a Dual Deck Box from Ultra-Pro when drafting. One side is for sleeves, the other is for dice and counters. I’m a huge fan of deck boxes that have a space for extra things, like tokens and dice and maybe even a pen. I’ve been impressed at the number of options available to us, especially if you want to go all-out on Etsy for something one-of-a-kind.

Binders

True story: I’ve got some Ultra-Pro pages that are more than ten years old. They have the outlines of cards in them, and they look a little dingy, but they are still quite effective. I much prefer binders with three rings over binders that have a set number of pages, mainly because if I rip a pocket, I want to be able to replace that page.

I also really like binders which zip closed, and have handles or straps. I’ve seen too many big thick binders drop and spill precious pages because the owner didn’t have a solid grip.

Tokens

Token3

Hanging out at assorted forums, I’ve learned how to make my own tokens. Here’s an example of one I made for my token-themed EDH deck, which has Sliver Queen as the general.

I made a card with Kerrigan as the Queen, so the tokens had to be Zerglings!

Custom tokens like this are one way to personalize your experience. I’ve known people who carry a bag of green army men, or other small and cheap figurines. I’ve also seen large stacks of the official tokens, and as someone with a Zombie deck, the Unglued versions are by far the best.

Carrying Cases

In the event that you aren’t content with a backpack for your gaming needs, there are a few options from companies who want to make this easier for you. Personally, I prefer the backpack over the duffel bag, but to each their own. You’re probably going to try some different options before you settle on the one you like.

Dragon Eggs are something I’ve seen used, but were a little too small for my taste. I really like the pocket for a life pad, though! My wife uses an Ultra-Pro Gaming Case, and while that’s awesome in a lot of ways, I don’t want to carry that as well as a binder.

My goal with this is not to tell you what to buy. In my opinion, the only thing you *must* have is sleeves, simply because it protects your investment or hides preexisting damage. If you’re at a major event (competitive REL or higher,) I also feel you should be using a notepad to track life totals. Everything else is optional, and is going to come down to what you want out of your Magic experience. As I said, I’ve used a lot of different accessories over my Magic career, and what I’m using now might not be what I’m using next year. For instance, have you seen this spicy number from Ultra-Pro? I haven’t used it, but if that front compartment holds a life pad and a pen, it’s going to be hard to resist…

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Five Things to be Thankful For

By: Cliff Daigle

Thanksgiving was last week, and I hope you had a pleasant holiday.

The festivities got me thinking about Magic, what we should appreciate about it, and the people who make it.

#1: Wizards is made up of people who love to play Magic.

This may sound a little self-evident but it needs to be said and appreciated: the employees of WotC are frequently people who really love to play this game. Because they love to play it, they don’t want to mess it up. This leads to a game that is continuously new and consistently interesting.

#2: Those folks at Wizards actually listen to the community.

It doesn’t always feel like they do, I know. However, every tweet I’ve ever mentioned Helene Bergeot in, she’s replied to. The recent outcry over Magic Online’s stability problems is a reflection of the continuous demand for a more stable game and interface. It used to be that prerelease weekend was easy money: you’d enter an event, crack your packs, play your games…until the event invariably crashed, at which point you’d apply for and get a refund. I’m told MTGO very rarely has those sorts of issues now – I haven’t played online in several years.

#3: They have an incredible lead time for new cards.

I write something every week. It takes me a couple of hours. Perhaps you work in a field where you need to create some form of content or project on a regular basis. Imagine working in an environment where you get YEARS to get that content right, and you’ve got a peek into how R&D works at Wizards. I’m sure they feel the pressure of time, but designing and developing the cards is not a fast process, especially when it comes to figuring out how cards fit into every one of the formats we play.

#4: The variety of supported formats

The good people of Wizards of the Coast know that you really, Really, REALLY wanted that legendary Green-White-Red beast for your beast tribal EDH deck. They gave minotaur players a White-Blue-Red legend in the first Commander preconstructed decks. They will eventually give you the legendary werewolf you want so very very very badly. They will shortly have horde Magic decks as part of the Hero’s Path. They gave us Archenemy, and Planechase, and Vanguard, and all sorts of ways to play this game.

#5: The community

If you’re reading this, then you’re part of the community. You are reaching out to learn new things, either with a financial bent or just in general. You want to expand your knowledge of this game in order to maximize the enjoyment you get. That’s all we can ask for. Magic is a fun game, something that creates personal connections, and when you strive to know more, you’ll pass that on and help others in the same way.

My on-topic tip for this week is Master of Waves.  I told you before that you should stock up on Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx while it’s easily available and cheap. It will not remain that way for long, nor will the Master. His hype and previous price spike will make it easy to trade these away for $20 or more within a year, so if you can pick them up now in the $11-$12 range, you’re setting up for long-term gains.

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Cents and Sensibility

By: Cliff Daigle

I made it to an FNM a couple of weeks ago, and had a powerful lesson in value.

Here’s my trade partner, telling me he wants to build a Standard dragon deck. I try to steer him into EDH dragons, preferably with Bladewing the Risen, but he’s having none of it.

He takes an assortment of dragons out of my binder and I know none of them are expensive. There’s an M14 Shivan Dragon in the stack! Why did I even put that in a page? How long has that been sitting in there, dead weight in my binder? Bladewing the Risen

He breaks out his smartphone and begins building the trade. $1.20 here, $2.10 there…then he adds the Shivan and says “Whoa. Your side of the trade just went up to $90.”

I tell him to check editions. I could see an Alpha or Beta Shivan being pricey. That’s iconic art and if you played before 1998, Shivan was the finisher of casual decks everywhere. As a teenager, I referred to the Melissa Benson art as “Mr. Happy.”

He taps his phone a couple of times and squints. “Thirty cents is the mid.” I tell him I’m not surprised and we move forward.

He ends up taking a couple of other things as well, and I get a Nykthos for my trouble.

This story has two takeaways.

First of all, don’t ever underestimate how the small cards can add up if you’re trading with someone who likes to put every price in. Frankly, I would have just added the Shivan to a trade and called it worthless. That thirty cents; it’s value I never ever ever would have expected. No one is actually buying Shivan Dragons from M14. 30 cents is less than the stamp it takes to mail it. It’s bulk – but I’m getting more than bulk rates in trade.

Second, you want to take every chance you can to turn ten dimes into a dollar. Whenever you can turn ten one-dollar cards into one ten-dollar card, do it. The reason you want to do this is because you’re rarely going to meet people who want all ten of those cards and who will give you retail value for them. Thespian's Stage

If you’re speculating on cards and don’t want to trade your specs away, I get that. I’ve got 23 Thespian’s Stage that I wouldn’t trade for five Temple Gardens. I’d think about it, but I’d probably decline.

But I would much rather have one Nykthos than a Shivan Dragon, a Scourge of Valkas, a Hellkite Tyrant, and some other dragons I can’t recall.

On a related note, I think Nykthos is a solid pickup right now around $10. We have had a taste of how good the devotion decks are now with only Theros available. How much better will those decks be with two more sets? We have a Block Constructed Pro Tour in May and I would guess we will see a lot of devotion there.

Also, I want to call attention to Xenagos and Elspeth: The two new Planeswalker cards are finally coming down in price. I’ve advocated patience with new cards before, and while they see a little play, it’s not enough to justify a high price. If Xenagos gets to $10, I’ll go after him with zeal – I’ve managed to get him into play in EDH and he’s a house. Elspeth has followed a similar trend of creeping downwards, due to low Standard inclusion. She’s another card that is outstanding in any casual format you care to name, as a token maker and as a ‘destroy all big creatures’ condition. It seems that it’s mainly casual demand keeping her price up, but one big tournament and she’ll break $30 again.

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