Tribal Thriftiness – New Year’s Resolutions

Trying to avoid to make a resolution to lose weight Yet Again, Dave examines possible changes a budget player might make in order to keep their game moving forward.

Hope everyone had a magnificent Christmas. The missus bought me a box of Lorwyn, which didn’t last until Christmas Eve night before I had opened all the packs. That’s one thing I wish I had — a group of people who played Magic and would enjoy spending a night playing with the packs out of a box, be it drafting or playing sealed or whatever. Maybe I need to remedy that …

Hrm. That makes me think.

For most people, being a “budget” player is more of a matter of necessity than of choice. It happens for a number of reasons, from being a younger player with a limited budget, to being an adult with a family and other financial obligations. But just because you don’t have the funds to drop on a playset of Thoughtseizes, doesn’t mean that you can’t keep moving your game forward and improving your collection.

In the spirit of the holiday, here’s some “New Year’s Resolutions” that a budget player can make — including the one I think I need to make from above.

1. Build up your collection of staples

Magic is a constantly moving object. Whether it’s the annual shift of sets into and out of Standard, or just the introduction of new cards four times a year, there seems to always be things to spend money on. This makes for a wide spectrum of choices. Do you splash the cash on the new hotness, only to see it fall by the wayside as the format changes? A great example is Ancestral Vision, a card that peaked around $12.00, but now rests comfortably at $6.00 here at StarCityGames.com. If you had spent your money at the peak of the price curve, you’d be kicking yourself. (Much like I was kicking myself at the after-Christmas sales in the mall today. If I could have celebrated Christmas about a week after the rest of the world, I’d have spent about half the money and gotten about twice the presents. But that’s a horse of a different color.)

This is an excellent way to waste what little money you have available. If you’re absolutely adamant about buying singles, the place to focus is on staples: cards that have a great likelihood of staying in the format you play over an extended period of time. Cards like the Ice Age painlands and Wrath of God, which have been in the base set for a number of rotations, are essential cards to have in your collection. Yes, the constant placement in Standard means that they hold their value, but that’s a good thing as much as it is a bad thing – while they still hold their same price tag, it also means that they keep their worth when looking at them in terms of deckbuilding.

But picking out potential “staples” from a set is a tricky business. Wizards likes to name possible candidates for main-set inclusion in a way that they aren’t obviously “set-specific” — cards with names like Char or the Beacons have simple, easy-to-remember ‘generic’ names that are very indicative of what they do. The Commands from Lorwyn (like Cryptic Command) are great candidates for inclusion into the base set, and for this reason, I’d consider them “staples” — they are easy to understand by even the beginner player, offer options, and give beginning players clear ideas of what each color does in terms of the color wheel.

The resolution: To look at each set and at least think about what’s possibly going to be around for a while. Chris Romeo used to run this feature after each set; I think I’ll take a stab at it for Morningtide.

It’s too soon to start assuming that they’ll put Planeswalkers or Tribal cards into the base set, but if we see Planeswalkers in Morningtide, the possibility goes up.

2. Take advantage of the rotation.

So back to the mall. I was out shopping the after-Christmas sales on Wednesday, as was most of Denver, or so it seemed. Don’t these people work? Every store we went into had a sale going on all their Christmas items that were leftover, and my wife dutifully “stocked up” for next year.

Magic has a similar after-Christmas sale: the after-rotation sale. Every October, when the new “large set” comes around and Wizards shifts a year’s worth of cards out of Standard, the big cards from the expiring set have a sort of fire sale. This is a great time to stock up on the cards that you couldn’t afford back when they were in Standard, but will want for other formats you play.

While Lorwyn was making all sorts of waves as it rotated into Standard, all of the big Ravnica cards slowly hung their heads and dropped in price. If you held out buying the Ravnica dual lands until AFTER they rotated out of Standard, they dropped about five dollars apiece. Some of them have come back up in price now thanks to the encroaching Extended qualifier season, but the dual lands that aren’t being used in Extended are still reasonably priced: you can get slightly-used versions of Overgrown Tomb, Sacred Foundry, and others here at StarCityGames.com for $11.00, while they were all $15-18 when they were in Standard.

Cards that aren’t being used in big Extended decks, like Ghost Council of Orzhova, are sitting in the bargain bin, waiting for someone that didn’t get a chance to play with them when they were all the rage in Standard.

So this resolution has a little bit of a wait to it, but it makes sense for a budget player: Next October, when the next big set goes out and Standard rotates, take a look for cards that you wanted when they were hot, but couldn’t afford.

3. Find local players to make a playgroup

Magic, at its core, is a social sport. You can play in a vacuum (by Magic Online or other software), but it was designed as a game that benefits from being played by a group of people. Finding a group of players in your area will give you a lot of benefits, not the least of which is the ability to borrow cards. It will also give you a sounding board for deck ideas, a way to practice if you want to improve your game, and just a regular group of guys and girls to get together with. And, if you really want those four Chandra Nalaars for your deck but don’t want to run out the thirty bucks for them, maybe you can supplement your deck with cards from your friends.

4. Break out of your rut

When I was in Germany, there was a young man who came to our Legacy tournaments and always played the same deck. It was a Goblin deck, fairly well built, and he always did well in our tournaments, but I always felt that he continued to play the same deck simply because he didn’t have (or want to spend) the money necessary to put together another competitive Legacy deck.

It’s very easy, when you’ve invested the time and money into a deck, to keep playing that deck as a way to prevent yourself from spending money. Maybe you pick up a couple of cards here and there as sets come out, to keep your deck competitive, but Goblins is a great example of a deck that needed very little alteration while remaining competitive. I mean, the Goblin decks from Onslaught Block Constructed have added maybe a dozen cards over the life of the deck — you CAN add other cards or even colors to the deck, but that original Goblin deck is still playable and still pretty good.

Continuing with a deck is a good way to keep down the costs, but it’s also a good way to burn out quickly. Everyone wants change; that’s one of the fabulous parts of this game — that we can play completely different decks from one day to the next. So, if you’re stuck in a rut, take this resolution: take the time to go through your collection and find something new that interests you. If you’ve played Magic for any length of time, there will always be something in your collection that will pique your interest, that will make you say, “I could totally build a deck around Mishra!” Or … whatever you see. Then build the deck. Get back into the swing of deckbuilding, of playing a deck and seeing what needs to be changed. Or find a deck online that interests you, build it, and change or proxy what you don’t have.

5. Get involved online.

You’re already paying for an internet connection, so why not put it to good use? There are a number of Magic sites that offer online trading, plus there are ways to play Magic online, including … well, Magic Online. Online trading is a great way to get the singles that you need, especially if you are on a budget and live in an area without an active, “live” Magic community. And Magic Online offers a number of great ways to play Magic without spending an enormous amount of money, even including drafting. I started out with Magic Online back in Onslaught and quickly built up enough Soldiers to make a fine Soldier deck, and it’s fun to play in the Casual room.

Taking one (or all!) of these suggestions can give your game a new spin for the new year, without breaking the bank. And if you already have all these things, then you are in good shape for the coming year! We’ll have to find you a new gift next year. Maybe a new format for your playgroup…

Best wishes for the new year! See you next week!