When I first learned how to play Magic, I was in college. I remember sitting cross-legged on the dirty floor of my boyfriend’s dorm, awkwardly playing with kitchen table decks he had scrapped together over the course of years. His worn cards were kept in precisely labeled cardboard deck boxes or wrapped in rubber bands that he stored in a dented Deckmasters: Garfield vs. Finkel tin. When we played, we didn’t have sleeves, or playmats, or tokens. In fact, we used to use the rubber bands for our tokens (which proved to be a bad idea, as how does one represent a tapped rubber band?).
Later, as I continued to explore Magic on my own, I would keep this habit and use the backs of cards or random dice to represent tokens. They just never really felt necessary to me. Initially, tokens felt like a waste of a slot in a booster pack. They marked the end of the thrill, signaling the disappointment of a less than exciting pull, or would end up forgotten, tossed aside in my bag or even in the trash. To me, tokens were optional.
Why Do Tokens Matter?
I started to understand the value of a token when I started streaming Commander. Flipped cards, random dice, and rubber bands were no longer going to cut it. A viewer popping in randomly an hour into the stream would have no idea what those random items were meant to represent. I started to seek out tokens as a way to make my content more accessible. Whenever I’d open a pack I would set aside the tokens in one of my deck boxes to later squirrel away at home.
However, this system proved to be less than impactful. I still found myself needing old tokens, tokens that were unique to one card, tokens that were hard to find. This was doubly so for Planeswalker emblems. Thankfully my local game store (LGS) has a section of organized tokens for sale. I pored through those boxes and snatched up every piece I needed. It felt like a completionist run in a video game. I finally had everything I needed.
With my Planeswalker deck taken care of, I soon realized that I needed to commit. I needed to find every token a Commander player could ever need. This definitely seems like a massive undertaking, but it actually turned out to be quite easy: a Beast here, a Treasure there, a couple of Angels and Soldiers tossed into the mix for good measure. There were so many to choose from. So many versions of the same token too! Which one would I choose to best represent my personality? (Personally, I’m fond of the Food and Zombie tokens from Unfinity the most.)
I sat for almost an hour at my LGS counter, picking out each token that I felt I needed. Then I paused. Why not snag tokens for other people too? Too often, in games at events or my LGS, my opponents would not have a token or something to even represent a token with! That’s when I started snagging other tokens. Slivers, Apes, Horrors, Insects, Vampires. My small collection soon turned into a rather large pile. I walked away with a small arsenal outfitted to help any Commander player in need, and immediately went home and dedicated my Quiver Bolt carrying case to holding my token collection. I would take it to every Friday Night Magic (FNM) and every event to help the battlefield feel a little more whole.
Art and Novelty
Now for the fun part. When going through my LGS’s token collection, I found some wild, beautiful, and unique tokens, many of which I had never even seen before. I kept note of the ones that stood out to me. The first one was the 0/1 blue artifact Homunculus token. His bulbous head and pug-like expression tickled me. He seemed so cute and so tiny. I knew I would never use him. In fact, only one card creates this token, Puppet Conjurer, and it is definitely not a card that sees much if any play.
I found other pieces that struck me artistically. The colorless 3/3 enchantment artifact Golem from Theros was a genuine work of art. I felt it should’ve been put on an actual card rather than the small game piece. I was practically giddy with excitement when I picked up the last Tuktuk the Returned token. Tentacle, Demon, Octopus, Thrull, Germ, Feather, Butterfly, Rock, Cat Dragon: I got them all. So much effort and work went into each piece of art on a token. Suddenly it was like I was curating the world’s smallest art gallery. I ended up buying over 200 tokens. I paid $8 for them all, and left smiling like an idiot.
Tokens are not only works of art, but representations of ourselves as well. Custom tokens and Infinitokens also have a place within this interesting corner of the game. I discovered this when I first entered the world of content creation. Tokens were symbols of success, a sort of business card for pro players and creators alike.
My first introduction to these types of tokens came from Star City Games. I would peer at the personality tokens with awe and envy. Pieces like Ryan Overturf, Meg Rickman, Stephen Green, and Bennie Smith caught my eye. I desperately wanted my name amongst the impressive Star City lineup…too bad I suck at competitive formats. My dream of getting my own was definitely that, a dream, but soon the concept ported over into the realm of creation in a fun and unique way.
The Unofficial Business Card
Content creators soon started producing their own personality tokens. The figurative business card quite literally became a business card. The token would feature the creator as something within Magic or just themselves with their social media info on the back. Sometimes the tokens were for specific cards; other times they were blank, ready to fill in with a pen for the player to use as desired.
The idea spread like wildfire within the community, even having me create my own variation. More often than not, people would commission Inklin Customs to design and create the tokens; however, others have also produced through other parties or on their own. It was exciting, like a game within a game. You could collect your favorite creator or support your friends by simply using their token. It was a cool way to get the word out.
In fact, while creating my token collection, I made a separate section for creator/personality tokens. It felt weird to include them in my alphabetized pile of cardboard. They felt special. I personally like to use them when I’m playing with the person on the token. Seeing their face light up when I use their token brings a special kind of joy. Whenever a creator friend of mine debuts a token at an event, I always try to make sure I snag one.
So why do we care? I used to find the last two slots in a booster pack to be practically useless. Art cards and tokens were the signifiers of the end of the pack and nothing more. Most tokens are worth almost nothing, save for the outlier Shrine or Goblin Shaman. Well, I now understand that tokens are key game pieces that help make things feel a little bit more whole. They are yet another fun way to express yourself within an already incredibly creative game.
Whether you use Wizards of the Coast (WotC) official tokens, tokens of your favorite creators, or custom pieces, tokens are the most underrated and underused pieces of Magic that I heavily urge you to start collecting. Happy populating, deckbuilders.