Man. I’m beat.
December is the one month out of the year where it seems like every moment is spoken for. I returned from Europe to find that soooo many things had been put off / delayed / procrastinated, and with Christmas looming, it was going to be exhausting work trying to fit everything in. Not to mention that my wife and I didn’t even have Thanksgiving dinner this year (we were on an airplane)… how the heck are we going to squeeze all this in this month?
Take this weekend, for example. Saturday was spent roaming around, hitting various shops, looking for Christmas presents. I have four nephews who all needed gifts, plus my parents and in-laws, the Hetero Life Partner and his family… the list goes on and on. I should be thankful my wife is an only child and we don’t have double the amount of small children to buy for. Saturday night we went out looking at Christmas decorations, something that needs time in the schedule! Don’t let all those hard-working suburban dads have toiled in vain, even if their icicle lights are a little crooked and they are using a year’s worth of electricity to power forty blow-up lawn ornaments. Sunday we did some housework and grocery shopping for cookie-baking, which I think will happen while I’m at work. (Luckily I will return home in time to reap the rewards!)
I’m also trying to think about little Christmas presents for the Magic players that I know. Nothing fancy, because (after all) this IS a budget column, but I thought it might be nice to pick them up something neat to thank them for their friendship, playtesting time, and brainstorming sessions (not to mention Mongolian BBQ dinners)… so if you’re looking for a little something for the Magic buddies in your life, here are some suggestions that go beyond “Hey, I bought you a pack of Shards.”
Shards of Alara is a good set to find little “themed presents” in, due to the cyclical nature of the set. Cards like the Charms, the Shard-specific uncommon lands, and the triple-colored uncommons make for a nice package, and they’re all completely useful in Standard right now. A playset of all five Charms will run you $20, and at least three of those are seeing competitive play right now. A playset of the triple-colored uncommon creatures (Tower Gargoyle, Fire-Fiend Ogre, Woolly Thoctar, Sprouting Thrinax, and Rhox War Monk) would run you $16. Another $20 and the playset of the uncommon tri-color lands is yours.
You could also mix and match some of the important common and uncommon creatures for playsets. Tidehollow Sculler is a buck; Infest is 50 cents. Having talked with a few “just getting started” players in my time, it always seems like they can trade for rares they might want (and are happy to just have one or two if necessary), but they always seem to just take whatever uncommons they open, be it in packs or in Preconstructed Decks. Playsets of quality uncommons seems like a present they would appreciate.
Shards also has a large number of rares that are inexpensive. 44 of the 53 rares in Shards are $3 or under; 4 of the 15 mythic rares are as well. And before you go saying that they’re all garbage, how about these quick hits? Broodmate Dragon ($3), played in virtually every Cruel Control deck nowadays. Realm Razer ($2), which had a whole deck built around him — evidently Bloom Tender ($4) is the expensive rare in that deck. Salvage Titan ($1.50), who really should have had a deck built around him by now. Every non-Cruel Ultimatum ($0.50-$1.50).
I mean, you could get your favorite Magic player one of each Ultimatum and it would run you $7.50.
Shards is still brand-new and will be around Standard for a good while yet, so these are sound investments to a Magic player — especially if they usually subsist on a few packs here and there. Playsets of useful cards will be more beneficial to a Magic player than random packs.
Giant Grab Bags
If your present-recipient has just gotten into the game and isn’t really playing tournaments — more playing casually with friends — I can’t recommend Star City’s “Instant Collection” more. It’s 900 randomly-assorted cards from sets all throughout the history of Magic, plus 100 basic lands, for ten bucks. Star City also sells random “bulk rares” for twenty cents apiece, meaning you could pick up the “Instant Collection” and 50 random rares for $20, and provide your novice Magic player with more new cards than even come in a factory-sealed box of the latest set – and almost as many as come in TWO boxes!
If you’re shopping, however, for a Magic player that generally buys a box or two of new product from each release, you may be hard-pressed to find them something cheap that will interest them. For these players, I suggest doing what I do for my wife: bring the bling. Wizards has done an amazing job over the last few years in bringing superstar promotional cards to the players, and Star City has a whole section on promotional cards. Here are some of the things that even I would like to get in my stocking.
Promo lands: Star City is having a sale this week on the Euro land sets, but you shouldn’t overlook the Asia-Pacific (APAC) lands either — any of these sets will give a deck a little panache and flair. It’s even better if you actually know where the places are, so that way you can say, “It’s not just a Mountain — it’s mother-loving MOUNT FUJI!”
Player Rewards cards: Even for those of us who play regular tournaments, it’s nearly impossible to get a playset of any one specific Player Reward textless card. I think I have two Lightning Helices, maybe. A lot of these cards are still good in Extended even if they’ve rotated out of Standard, and who knows what the new base set might bring? Playsets of textless cards like Mana Leak ($8 for a set), Lightning Helix ($12/set), Mortify ($10/set), Putrefy ($8/set), Ponder ($12/set), or Pyroclasm ($10/set) make very cool gifts for players who might already have the cards in question.
FNM foils: Fancy foil versions of popular cards are another good way for experienced players to “bling out” their deck, especially if you can find playsets of cards that haven’t been offered as prizes recently. I know one person who would love to have a playset of FNM foil Astral Slides ($8/set) for Christmas. Eternal Witness (normally $20/set, on sale now for $16/set) still sees play in older formats, as do Fire/Ice ($12/set), Kird Ape ($20/set), Lightning Rift ($8/set), Remand ($16/set), Silver Knight ($16/set), Smother ($20/set), Terminate ($12/set), and Wall of Roots ($20/set). There’s also things like Faerie Conclave Gateway Foils ($20/set) — and tons more if you have a passing knowledge of the interests of the player.
Alternate art: You want to make your friendly neighborhood Magic player really stand out in a crowd of newer players? Hook them up with playsets of reprinted cards with the old art. Nothing says “I’m old school” like busting out Mirage Incinerates (so much cooler than the lame Ice Age art, and only $4/set). Portal can be a great source of alternate-art cards; I get wacky looks when I play my Portal Pyroclasms ($6 each). Other Portal choices (though not necessarily Standard-legal): Earthquake ($12/set), Flashfires ($4/set, perfect for old-school White Weenie haters), Hurricane ($8/set), Rain of Tears ($4/set complete with creepy eyeball art!), Cruel Edict ($12/set), Goblin Matron ($12/set), Hidden Horror ($8/set, although the Tenth Edition one has the same art), or Wildfire ($16/set). If they have been playing Loyal Sentry in their White Weenie decks, pick them up a set of Starter ones for 20 bucks. Or pick them up a Cruel Tutor for their EDH deck for ten.
Sleeves, deck boxes, binders, spindown counters… man, Magic players sure have a lot of accoutrements to carry around with them. Token cards are another great thing that players always can use, but never seem to have — I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen 6-sided dice used as Faerie tokens or Beast tokens or … well, you get the idea. Morningtide Faerie Rogue tokens are a quarter apiece, and your Bitterblossom-playing friend would look much snazzier with those. Lorwyn Beast tokens are the same, although not as snazzy as the Eventide one, which is a dime. This one is definitely an “ask your player” — you’d hate to remember he plays with Goblin tokens and buy him Shadowmoor’s Red/Green ones when he uses the Red/White Eventide ones.
Happy Holidays Everyone!
As we head into the real crush and “time for Magic column reading” is slowly replaced with “time with the family and friends,” I want to be sure and wish all of you a happy holiday season!
Next week I will have hopefully found the time to bash the Upgraded Intro decks into each other. Or I’ll find something Christmassy to discuss. I mean, I could ALWAYS talk about Red and Green things.
Until next week!