The Metaworker – How to Shop for a Magic Player

The Holidays are Just Around the Corner

If you’re reading this, it’s fairly likely that you’re shopping for a Magic player. It could be a family member, friend, significant other, coworker, or some lucky person whose name you drew for a secret Santa exchange! No matter who it’s for, it can be pretty intimidating trying to buy someone a gift for a hobby you may not know much about. This article is intended to help you ask some good questions that will hopefully yield useful information you can use to select a thoughtful and exciting gift for someone important in your life.

 

Why Magic?

To an outsider, it may be difficult to understand why a Magic player puts so much time and effort into the hobby. What draws people to play Magic? Here are some common answers:

  • Magic is a very social game. The players have formed a rich and diverse community that gathers to share experiences in venues ranging from school clubs to pub nights to large-scale competitive tournaments. It’s a great way to meet new people and make friends.
  • Magic is a game that has been recognized by MENSA as being “original, challenging, and well-designed”, earning the MENSA Select designation. Players can sift through tens of thousands of cards that each have some unique effect on the game. The challenge comes from selecting the cards that develop and reinforce the strategy they want to execute, then actually deploying that strategy during the game against other players.
  • As new cards are released, the challenges a player faces can grow and evolve. Even after constructing your deck, there’s a constant process of self-assessment and adaptation.
  • Magic cards have beautiful art by talented artists, and they are as collectible as they are playable.
  • Magic has a rich backstory, with key scenes and plot points depicted in the art on the cards. The function of the cards in the game often captures the feel of major events in the ongoing story.

As with any hobby, an individual’s motivations for getting involved could be any or all of the above, or even something that I haven’t listed here. If you’re curious why someone is interested in Magic, ask them! The challenge might be to get them to stop talking about why they love this game.

 

Reconnaissance

You wouldn’t want to buy someone an XBOX game if they only play games on a PC, so don’t be afraid to ask people about how they play Magic! If you’re able to ask some questions or do a little bit of digging, you’ll really be able to step up your gift game in a significant way. For some of these questions, you might already know the answer, but for others you might have to actually ask.

How many cards are in your deck?

Just as poker can be played as stud, hold ’em, or any number of other ways, there are several different ways to play Magic! We refer to them as formats, and one of the defining characteristics of each format is how many cards are in your deck.

If the answer is 40, it’s likely that your gift recipient plays draft or sealed.

If the answer is 60 or 75, it’s likely that your gift recipient plays Standard, Modern, or Legacy

If the answer is 99 or 100, it’s likely that your gift recipient plays Commander, which is also sometimes called Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH).

How many people can play at once?

Commander games are most commonly multiplayer. It’s often played in groups of 4, but in practice there’s no limit to the number of players who can play at once. The rest of the common formats are played in groups of 2.

Do you have a favourite card or deck? Why is it your favourite?

Magic players can be drawn to the game for the art on the cards, the story behind them, or how the game is actually played. The answer to this question can give you a pretty good idea of what appeals to them.

Do you have a favourite brand for accessories?

Magic cards themselves are produced by Wizards of the Coast (a subsidiary of Hasbro), but a ton of companies like UltraPro, KMC, and Dragon Shield make accessories that you can use in the game, or to protect and store your cards. A lot of this comes down to personal preference, so knowing what their favourite brand is can help you make an educated guess about what they might like.

Their Friends

When you’re looking for information about what your gift recipient might like, talk to their friends! People who play Magic tend to talk about what they like and want with the people they play against.  I can definitely tell you that if anyone approached my friends about a gift to get me, they’d end up with a great list of specific things that I’m guaranteed to love. The great part about this is you can do it while maintaining an air of mystery, and leave your gift recipient floored at how you knew about that specific thing they wanted.

The Local Game Store

If your gift recipient frequents a local game store to either play or buy cards, it’s definitely worth stopping by! If they’re a regular, the staff there might have a good idea of what this person likes and doesn’t like, which formats they play, or even their preferred brand of accessories. This is a great option if you want to collect a little bit of information without ruining the surprise. If you go into a game store that sells Magic cards and accessories armed with the answers to the questions above, they’ll be in a better position to recommend good gifts ideas. Some game stores even maintain wishlists for their patrons that can give you an idea of the types of things they’re into.

 

General Gifts

If you’re not able to get a ton of information before you have to go out and buy a gift, sometimes it’s a good idea to avoid getting too specific. This ensures that the person you’re buying for has the highest likelihood of actually being able to use and enjoy their gift!

Budget: $0 – $20

Inner sleeves – sometimes when you’re playing with expensive cards, you want to protect them as best you can against damage and wear and tear. These inner sleeves provide an extra layer of protection, and are fitted so they’re exactly the right size for the card. This allows you to slide the sleeved card inside another, slightly larger sleeve to make your cards water resistant. I personally double sleeve all my cards. These are always handy to keep in your bag. Most players do not have a brand preference for inner sleeves, but the most popular ones are made by KMC and Dragon Shield.

Outer sleeves – The vast majority of players will protect their decks with outer sleeves. Unlike inner sleeves, most players do have a brand preference when it comes to outer sleeves. The sleeves vary pretty wildly based on durability, quality control, and how they feel when they’re shuffling. Some players even have preferences when it comes to whether they’re glossy or matte finish. If you know what type of sleeves your gift recipient prefers, a pack of sleeves is a great gift. Sleeves wear out, break, and get dirty over time, so it’s not uncommon to need extras on hand. Some players enjoy giving their deck a little more personality with their favourite characters from movies or video games, or even kittensTolarian Community College has a great YouTube video that showcases the features of some of the more popular brands, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Keep in mind the number of cards in their deck, as packs generally contain between 50 and 100 sleeves.

Booster packs contain a random grouping of 15 cards. They can be great stocking stuffers, but keep in mind that there are different kinds of booster packs, and cards from some booster packs are not legal to play in certain formats. Draft (3 packs per player) and Sealed (6 packs per player) are formats where players will open a certain number of booster packs and build a deck using only those cards. If your gift recipient plays these formats, your local game store can probably weigh in on which packs are the most fun.

Deck boxes are useful to just about every player under the sun. If your gift recipient plays Commander, keep in mind that not all deck boxes will be big enough to fit their 100 card deck! My personal recommendation here is the UltraPro Satin Tower, which is an inexpensive, high-quality deckbox that will fit 100 double-sleeved cards, and has a compartment underneath to hold dice. At a slightly higher price point, Ultimate Guard makes a series of quality deckboxes with removable trays of all different sizes.

If your gift recipient leaves their cards lying all over the place, you could also look at larger storage solutions. BCW makes a ton of different sizes of plain white storage boxes, as well as this plastic card sorting tray that I personally own and love.

Budget: $21 – $40

Playmats are great. People will frequently get their favourite Magic-related art on a playmat so they can display a larger version of it. Playmats make it easier to slide cards around and pick them up off the table, protect your cards against abrasive surfaces, and even help to keep your sleeves clean. If you know what your gift recipient’s favourite card is, see if you can find a playmat with that card’s art! Most bigger game stores will have a good selection of playmats in stock. There are even companies like Inked Gaming who can manufacture and ship you a custom playmat using an image you upload yourself!

A lot of players keep their extra cards in card binders. Card binders have pocketed pages that you can slide each individual card into. They’re good for protecting more expensive cards and easily displaying them to trade with other players. Binders come in a variety of colours and sizes. My personal favourite brand for binders is Dex, but I find quality is fairly consistent across all major brands.

Budget: $41+

Every year there’s a new set of Commander decks. Normally, players will assemble their own decks to play Commander, but the preconstructed decks you can get as a sealed product at your local game store often contain new and exciting cards that you can’t get anywhere else. These are especially great for people who have just started playing Commander. The older Commander decks can be quite expensive, but the most recent year’s decks are usually quite affordable.

This DSLR camera bag might be the best Magic-related purchase I’ve ever made. It has velcro dividers that are reconfigurable to accommodate different-sized deck boxes, and there’s a broad pocket that’s big enough for a card binder. If you see your gift recipient schlepping their cards around in a shopping bag, this is exactly where you want to be, gift-wise.

Booster pack displays are boxes of either 24 or 36 sealed booster packs. If you’re buying for several people or wanting to allow a single person to do a booster pack draft more than once, this is generally the most cost-effective way to do it.

 

Custom, High-End, and Niche

If you have a better idea of what your gift recipient likes and doesn’t like, you might want to go for something that’s specifically relevant to their interests. Niche stuff like this often comes at a slightly higher price tag, but not always.

Altered cards are cards that have been customized by an artist, who has painted over the original card art. There are some incredibly talented artists out there, like Eric Klug—one of the most recognizable alter artists—and The Mana Base’s own Madison Gibbons, who runs Clover Alters. You can commission a local artist to create a totally custom, one-of-a-kind gift. If you’re an artist, you might even want to take a crack at doing this yourself! 

Custom deckboxes are available in just about every size, material, and configuration. If you have access to a 3D printer, you can download plans to make one yourself. There are also plenty of talented woodworkers out there that will let you choose the style and materials for a custom wooden deckbox.

Polyhedral dice are used quite a bit in Magic, especially those made by Chessex. Dice sets can come in a variety of materials ranging from standard plastic to metal, wood, and precious stones. My parents once got my brother a pair of standard, six-sided dice carved out of jade and it was a total home run of a gift. Next to six-sided dice, 20-sided dice are the most commonly used dice in Magic, because people often use them to track their life total in the game. Magic players use a special kind of 20-sided die called a “spindown”, which has the numbers in a different configuration on each of the 20 different sides.

Like deckboxes, dice bags come in a variety of styles. Players will often carry a couple handfuls of dice with them to a game night, and having an interesting or unique bag to carry them in can be a very practical gift. I’ve seen people use everything from the purple bag that Crown Royal whiskey comes in to custom-made bags made out of leather or even chain mail.

If your gift recipient is attracted to Magic for the art, you may want to look into getting a print or even the original paintings done by a Magic artist. These look great in a frame alongside the card that the art is displayed on, and can be an awesome addition to a gamer den.

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I hope you found this article helpful. Did I miss out on any important items, or pertinent information to gather from your special recipient? Please let me know in the comments below.

And this season, have fun giving someone the gift that truly keeps on giving: Magic: The Gathering.

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