A few years back, I wrote an article about money and Magic. The article talked about deckbuilding on a budget and inexpensive cards for each color. Here’s how that article started:
It costs money to play Magic. That’s just an unfortunate reality. Cards cost money. Good cards cost more money. Getting all the cards is really expensive. (Someone posted a collection of four each of every Magic card ever printed on eBay. Bids reached $15,000.) That’s insane. But Magic is a hobby, like fishing or auto racing or collecting fine art. You can spend a lot of money on a hobby.
Time hasn’t changed that much. Nor the part about getting cards. Here are my top sources of cards:
1) Sealed deck tourneys: For a pretty reasonable price, you get 105 cards, plus the chance to play a bunch of Magic. You may even learn some new tricks.
2) Drafts: I play in non-sanctioned, pick-up drafts quite often. They may be single elimination, but two-on-two, three-on-three, or four-on-four team drafts are more common. We generally play so that the winning team gets the rares. This prevents rare drafting, so we get more balanced drafts – but we also play for choice of rares, where the winner gets first pick, second gets second, and so one. Drafts are a great place to pick up commons and uncommons. By the time a new set has been out a month or so, I probably have four of each of the commons (and maybe uncommons), so I tend to give my commons to any newer player around.
3) Online shopping: The most reliable, and fastest, sources of cards are the online dealers. StarCity has a huge inventory, ships fast and reliably, and won’t rip you off.
4) Trading: It’s a collectible card game, and nearly everyone has a trade binder. Just don’t rip people off – we need new players entering the game, and screwing them over is not the best way to keep them coming back.
5) Proxies: I use a lot of proxies in playtesting. I use my scanner and color printer to print out a copy, then slip it into a sleeve with a random common. Seeing the actual card teaches me to see patterns and combinations better than scribbling on a common with a Sharpie can. It also lets me put together multiple decks, without having to have lots of copies of the chase rares. Proxies may or may not be acceptable in casual play; personally, I don’t mind.
6) Borrow from friends: In tournaments, I have often had to borrow the last few cards from friends. I also loan out cards. Borrowing works better if you reciprocate.
Now for the fun part – I want to talk about the must-have cards that are not really expensive. Last time I did this, I just broke them down by color. This time I want to start with some staples – cards that almost always get played, in practically any format. These are the cards that I would try to get hold of first, before anything else, if I wanted to build a new collection and planned to play many formats (including multiplayer) for a long time.
Basic lands are a given, of course. They are pretty easy to get – you get some with every sealed deck. However, lands that tap for more than one color of mana are equally important. City of Brass is not cheap, but the card shows up in decks in every format in which it is legal. Although I said I was mainly looking at cards that are common or cheap, City of Brass is so important that I list it as a staple even though it’s priced like a chase rare. The Ice Ages painlands (Adarkar Wastes, Brushland, Karplusan Forest, Sulfurous Springs, Underground River) are also staples. Finally, the Onslaught Fetch lands are extremely good, and will be played in any format in which they are legal. They are amazing with the classic dual lands (Badlands, Bayou, and so on). Once again, the duals are not cheap – actually, they cost a lot – but the cards are useful in so many decks I consider them staples. They certainly appear in nearly every multicolored deck in every format in which they have been legal.
Every time I play a two-color deck, I reach for dual lands first, and painlands second. Getting consistent mana of the right colors is that important. However, there are some less costly alternatives. Invasion block brought a new set of dual lands – ones that come into play tapped. Coastal Tower, Elfhame Sanctuary, Salt Marsh, Shivan Oasis and Urborg Volcano were uncommons, and are no longer legal in Type 2 – which means that they are a lot cheaper than they used to be. If I didn’t already own about a dozen of each, I would buy more.
The other staples are cards that show up nearly everywhere, year after year. Most of these staples are removal or denial. That is partly because of the value of those effects, and partly because each new set brings good creatures, and these creatures are generally better those classics in the base set. That said, here’s my list of staples – the cards I consider for most decks of the appropriate colors:
- Disenchant, Reprisal, Pacifism, Wrath of God (No Swords to Plowshares? – The Ferrett)
- Boomerang, Counterspell, Force Spike, Memory Lapse, Unsummon
- Dark Banishing, Duress, Raise Dead, Terror, Corrupt, Dark Ritual
- Blaze/Fireball, Earthquake, Shatter, Shock, Stone Rain, Pillage
- Compost, Fog, Hurricane, Fertile Ground/Wild Growth
I also want to mention Birds of Paradise as a staple. It is hardly cheap, but it is amazing mana acceleration. I treat them like the good lands – meaning that I will trade for them, and will take as many as I can get. I can easily see having several decks together at once, all running four Birds of Paradise, if I have them.
Just as in the last article, here’s a short list of cards to get, by color, to treat yourself to. This list is aimed at casual players in multiplayer games. The first few cards listed for each color are really cheap, and definitely worth the price. Then I list a few pricey but really good cards that are worth saving up for. (I’m talking saving up $12 for a Masticore, not $249 for Ancestral Recall. But if you have hundreds of dollars to blow, get the power 10. They really are worth it.)
In general, these cards stand the test of time. Many on the list are holdovers from my last list. Swords to Plowshares is amazing, always has been, always will be.
- Empyrial Armor: Empyrial Armor on a white shadow guy or first striking flier has been a path to victory many, many times. It works best with Howling Mine or similar ways of drawing more cards.
- Soltari Visionary: Reusable enchantment kill combined with a creature that is very hard to block.
- Capashen Unicorn: A true disenchant that you can search for with Survival of the Fittest, Living Wish or the like. You can reuse it with graveyard recursion. It can chump block. At the very worst, it is a twenty-turn clock. Cloudchaser Eagle/Cloudchaser Aven is a comparable creature, although it can only destroy enchantments, and only when it comes into play. However, the Eagle is a 2/2 flier.
- Congregate: It’s cheap since it is a common from a recent set. If you like to play lifegain cards in multiplayer games, this is one of the best. Just don’t expect to make any friends by casting Congregate. Congregate will gain you a lot of life – so much so that many casual playgroups have banned it.
- Radiant’s Dragoons: This is a personal favorite. It is a great answer to beatdown decks – since you can block, and if the opponent uses something like Giant Growth to kill it, you forced him to burn a spell, avoided one attack, got five life, and won’t have to pay echo. I have had Dragoons in play with a Lifeline and an Altar of Dementia – I would sacrifice the Dragoons on each player’s turn, after combat, then get them back at end of turn.
- Swords to Plowshares: (Ah, here we go – The Ferrett) Swords is the ultimate removal card. It is an instant, meaning that you can use it in response to all kinds of problems. It’s cheap. Not many problem creatures have protection from white – it is so very good. Even better, it removes a creature from the game so it can’t be regenerated, and it’s less likely to be brought back than a creature that was merely destroyed. So what if they get some life? You just removed their best creature from the game. Exile is similar, and you get the life, but it costs more (both dollars and mana) and it won’t fizzle Rancor. Besides, Exile is a rare – Swords is an uncommon.
- Honorable Passage: This card is the bane of all red mages. It was a staple in our sliver’s sideboard, and Ingrid and I have both won matches responding to Price of Progress with Honorable Passage. More importantly, Passage can prevent damage of any color, and prevent it to yourself or a creature. It can mess up blocking, save your creatures, or keep an opponent from gaining life through a Spirit Link or the like. It’s an uncommon from an older set, so it isn’t really cheap, but it is worth the dollar or so it generally costs.
- Balance: This one is the more expensive option, but it makes a great reset. When you have no other choice, you can bring everyone else down to your level. The ultimate combo is to sacrifice everything to Zuran Orb or Claws of Gix and clear the board. Balance is a great control card. Nothing can pull you out of a bad position better than a topdecked Balance.
- Repulse: This is a great method of stalling a game while digging for an answer, or as a method to get rid of problem creature enchantments. The single blue in the casting cost means that you can splash it easily. I run it in nearly every blue combo deck I build – and most of the blue beatdown decks. Card drawing is just amazingly good.
- Brainstorm: Brainstorm is great card drawing. When combining it with anything that lets you shuffle your library, it is almost Ancestral Recall – you draw three, then shuffle the two worst cards from your hand into your library.
- Accumulated Knowledge: This is very powerful card drawing. In team and Emperor games, if your entire team is playing these, the decks get to be nuts.
- Impulse: Recently, I added Accumulated Knowledge to some combo decks, but then I came to my senses and replaced them with Impulse. For the mana, nothing can dig through your deck as well, for the cost. If you need to find a given component, Impulse is the next best thing to a tutor.
- Rhystic Study: In multiplayer games, this almost always draws you a ton of cards. In the rare case that your opponents are smart enough to pay the additional costs, then the card denies them mana. In nearly every game I have played it in, however, it has been at least a cantrip, and generally a card drawing machine.
- Stinging Barrier: The Prodigal Sorcerer is universally known as Tim, named after the sorcerer in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He is overpriced and under tough, but he is fun. A better version, for those of you playing blue-heavy decks, is Stinging Barrier (a.k.a. the Tim Wall) The wall doesn’t die to most burn spells, other Tims, and so forth, and it can block. Even better, it can block, then ping something during your last opponent’s end step. If you enjoy irritating people, try spending a night saying”during your endstep, ping you for one.”
- Capsize: Buyback means that if you spend the additional mana when casting the spell (and it isn’t countered), it comes back to your hand instead of going to the graveyard. In other words, Capsize is a reusable Boomerang. While this isn’t great in large multiplayer games, it is pretty good anywhere. In small games, you can absolutely lock down the opponent: Every turn, bounce anything they cast, and bounce land whenever you have spare mana. Massively annoying, and very strong. Giant creatures don’t attack if they have perpetual summoning sickness, and Capsize can even handle Blastoderms – but you have to Capsize your blocker, not the Blastoderm.
- Annul: Another cheap common from a recent set, and a very useful card for a blue mage in multiplayer. I have rarely played blue in a game where this was not useful, sooner or later.
- Hydroblasts/Blue Elemental Blasts: Red mages have the exact reverse in Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast, but I will mention these just once. If you are a blue mage, and your opponents are playing red, these are good.
- Propaganda: If you are tired of getting beaten down by hordes of tiny creatures, this card is your answer. If nothing else, it buys you some time.
- Zephid’s Embrace: Yes, it’s a creature enchantment – and creature enchantments are generally bad. That being said, this one is fun to play with. A flying, untargetable Chilling Apparition is pretty nice. So is the Embrace on a Standing Troops or any other”does not tap to attack” creature.
- Dominate: Another recent uncommon, this is a great way of annoying opponents. Once they get this amazing creature on the board, you steal it. You can even steal a creature during combat and block with it (provided the creature is untapped).
- Bribery: Okay, a caveat – Bribery is just unfair. I don’t play it at all in casual games. It is restricted, and for good reason, in 5 color. However, if your playgroup allows it – and if you are not too worried about the fact that the group will tend towards combo and weenie beatdown if Bribery gets played too much – it is a really strong card. In most multiplayer games, someone will have a dragon, angel, or Morphling in their deck for you to play with; Bribery lets you have it.
- Wall of Souls: In multiplayer, early defenses are useful. At any time, defenses that make people take their attacks elsewhere are even better. Wall of Souls is like that – anyone attacking you either has to take at least four points of damage to get rid of the wall, or waste some serious removal on killing it.
- Grave Servitude: This is a versatile card. It kills elves and Birds of Paradise. It makes your Tidal Kraken or Covert Operative hit harder. It can be cast as an instant, or hang around as a creature enchantment. I played Twisted Experiment and Maggot Therapy when they were Standard-legal, but Servitude is better.
- Befoul: This is a bit expensive, and a sorcery, but it is a very versatile card. It will cure what ails you.
- Pestilence: It is a cheap, effective reset or creature control. I wrote about it last week, so there’s no point in repeating myself.
- Expunge: The ability to kill the odd creature – especially those that don’t attack but get annoying anyway, like Soul Warden or Wellwisher – makes some form of Terror useful. Expunge has the added bonus of cycling, meaning it is never dead.
- Ebony Charm: The Charms from Mirage block are nearly all amazing, because they all give you choices. They are never dead cards. I play Ebony Charm a lot. It helps against graveyard recursion, effectively countering Quiet Speculation. It gets around Worship. It gets an attacker past a Fog Bank.
- Diabolic Edict: It kills Morphling. What more could you want? The main advantage to Edict is that it targets the player, not the creature, so you can kill anything. True, Morphling or Masticore doesn’t die unless its owner has no other creatures, but people generally don’t play Morphling in decks with lots of other creatures.
- Disturbed Burial: So how good is it to get dead creatures back in your hand? Using Disturbed Burial with buyback is mana-intensive… But you can get a lot of goodness back every turn. For eight mana, you could cast Bone Shredder every turn. Or spend nine mana and cast Avalanche Riders every turn. Combine this with any creature that has a good attack, but dies (think Ball Lightning), has a good comes into play ability (like Radiant’s Dragoons, above), or does something useful when it dies (Ticking Gnomes, False Prophet), and you can see how strong this is. In longer, multiplayer games, this type of card advantage wins games.
- Demonic Tutor: Demonic Tutor is so good it is restricted or banned in every sanctioned format. If you have even one good card you want to get in your deck, and can splash even a bit of black, play this. Demonic Tutor is one of the few cards I never regret drawing, no matter what the circumstances. It will cost a couple bucks, but it is worth it.
- Grave Pact: This is what makes black mages evil. Every time you lose a creature, so does everyone else. I love combining this with creatures you can sacrifice at will, like Bottle Gnomes and Ticking Gnomes. You can build a deck around Corpse Dance, Bottle Gnomes, and Grave Pact – a very good deck, as a matter of fact. Grave Pact/Lifeline/echo creatures is even worse. (But people will kill you for playing it, thanks to rules headaches – The Ferrett)
Okay, I’m at nine pages already – almost 4,000 words. That’s enough for now. I’ll do red, green, multicolor, artifact and land cards next time. In the meantime, click on the forums and tell me what cards I missed. Then head on over to the online shop and buy some of these.