Note: For the purposes of this article, I will be using the following terms as defined below:
Proxy: A card created and issued by a judge, intended to be used as a replacement for a card damaged during the course of play in a tournament
Counterfeit: A non-genuine Magic card manufactured, distributed, and used with the intent to deceive people into thinking that it is a genuine Magic card
Playtest card: A card used to take the place of a real Magic card in a game to allow the owner to play as though they were using the actual Magic card
For details on Wizards of The Coast’s proxy policy and rationale, check out this article.
In the last episode we talked quite a bit about (what can be) the most expensive part of most people’s decks, and I apparently ruffled a few feathers by redefining the word “budget”. Since then, I’ve had a few people tell me that they don’t often include some of the more expensive lands in a lot of their decks because they don’t want to buy more than one copy.
I’m a huge proponent of the deck-building freedom that Commander gives people. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why I play this format. Let’s be real, though…
This format can be pretty expensive
If you buy every card in every one of your decks, you’re investing a ton of money into multiple copies of the same cards. I, personally, have 7 decks at the moment:
If we assume that all of these decks are running relatively optimized land bases, the following cards overlap in at least 2 of my decks.
Now, we’re presented with a few ways to manage this card overlap:
Eliminate the Overlap
This is the obvious one, and it’s the route a lot of people take. This can be done by either disassembling your least favourite decks to allow you to build new ones, or placing a deck-building restriction on yourself that new decks cannot contain cards that are already in use in your existing decks.
This is the most expensive option. It’s fine if you’re talking about commons and uncommons, but I’m not buying 3 Underground Seas. If I were to go with this option, once I got past the duplicates I wouldn’t be able to buy the rest of the cards I needed.
Trim from the Top End
Buy an EDH Playset of each
One of my favourite parts of EDH is the fact that you don’t need to buy multiples of cards like you do 60×4 constructed formats. It’s fairly easy for me to justify spending $100 on a single card that won’t rotate and probably won’t get banned. Less so for having to buy 4 $25 cards to build a standard or modern deck. Realistically, the only thing that stops me from doing this is the administrative effort involved in swapping cards from deck-to-deck as I want to play them.
In this article, I’d like to explore some solutions I’ve been working with to allow me to overcome the administrative effort of keeping a singleton collection. I definitely didn’t pioneer this method, but I’ve put my own spin on it.
How do we manage it?
In short, the solution I’m proposing involves curating a binder full of deck-building staple cards that you use in multiple decks. Your physical deck-boxes contain a combination of real cards that don’t overlap between multiple decks, and play-test cards that are used as placeholders for the cards in the binder. This provides us with a few significant benefits and only one sizeable drawback (that you should be aware of before you start):
- Cost savings
- Deck-building freedom
- Low administrative effort
- Foils (if that’s your thing)
- Easy cataloguing for insurance purposes
- Option to leave your expensive cards safe at home
- Sometimes impractical to share decks with other players
Where do we start?
The first step in creating your own staples binder is to make sure that all of your decks are sleeved identically. In my case, I’ve chosen Dragonshield inner sleeves and Dragonshield Matte Black outer sleeves. I’ve been really impressed with Dragonshield as a brand, and I like the fact that the outers come in packs of 100. If you’ve got multiple decks like I do, talk to your LGS and see if they’ll cut you a deal on a case (10 boxes of 100 outer sleeves). This is necessary because we’re going to be moving cards from one deck to another. It felt really weird double-sleeving my Kangee and Vial Smasher decks at first (considering both lists are under $100 each outside of the lands), but now that it’s done I like the fact that everything is uniform.
The next step is… get yourself a binder you really like! I’m currently working with an old ratty binder that I used to use for traders, but I’m eyeing the Dex Protection 9 binder as an upgrade. A few of my friends have purchased these and are loving them.
Note: If you’ve got a favourite binder, hit me up in the comments. I haven’t done much research on binders beyond TCC videos and talking to my buds.
Choosing your staples
Once you’ve got your decks sleeved and your binder ready to go, it’s time to decide what to put in it. I started my binder off with 5 full pages (2.5 page sides) of lands:
10 Revised duals
5 Onslaught Fetchlands
5 Zendikar Fetchlands (foil)
10 Shocklands (Expedition)
5 Ice Age Pain Lands
5 Apocalypse Pain Lands
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx (Theros foil)
Cabal Coffers (Torment foil)
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (Planar Chaos foil)
Strip Mine (German 4th ed.)
Bojuka Bog (Worldwake Foil)
5 Scars of Mirrodin Fast lands
5 Kaladesh Fast lands
5 M10 Check Lands
5 Innistrad Check lands
5 BFZ Battle Lands
The cool part about selling my extra fetches, shocks, Nykthoses (Nykthae? Nykthopi?), and Urborgs is that I’ve freed up some cash to buy the versions that I actually like. Without stepping too much on Aaron Paquette’s toes, I generally prefer English first foil printings whenever I can get them. My Onslaught fetches will eventually be foiled, and I’m hoping to pick up a judge promo Gaea’s Cradle at some point in time. The coolest part about this is that getting rid of all my extra shocks and fetches means that I’m able to pick up expedition shocks. I went with all 10 expedition shocks solely because I’m head-over-heels in love with the art for Godless Shrine, and I want my cycles to be consistent. I didn’t go with the expedition fetches because I generally prefer old border to new.
This is an area where you can save a ton of money. Sol Ring, despite its annual reprinting in Commander decks, refuses to dip below $2. When I first started this exercise I realized that I owned 10 copies of Sol Ring from various printings.
My Artifact staples are as follows:
As it turns out, I really like artifact-based strategies. I play a fair bit of competitive EDH, so the core mana rocks are super important. I’ve never built a competitive deck in a colour identity that plays Talismans, so I don’t actually own any of them. I’ll be picking up a copy of Talisman of Progress soon because I’m in the process of finalizing a deck-list for Bruna.
The non-mana pieces are kind of interesting. I don’t have more than one deck that runs Aetherflux Reservoir, but it’s the premier finisher for competitive storm lists at the moment. If I ever want to build any of them, it’s sleeved and ready to go in my binder. Similarly, Paradox Engine can potentially slot into any deck that uses non-land permanents to cast spells, so it’s got a spot in the binder as well. These aren’t currently multi-deck staples for me, but they very well could be at some point.
Note: I literally only have four cards in the red section of my binder – Simian Spirit Guide, Gamble, Wheel of Fortune and Chaos Warp. I only really have 1 deck that plays good red cards, and it doesn’t run a lot of them.
I’ve chosen my staples – now what?
Good question! The best way I’ve discovered to actually manage my collection is to have a play-test card that represents each binder staple in each deck that runs it. This means that each of my deck-boxes has 100 double-sleeved cards, including some genuine cards and some play-test cards. The play-test cards for each deck are specific to that deck, and the deck name is noted on the face of each card (more on this below). My group is fairly experienced and knows card effects/characteristics by name, so I had no issues running Sharpie-on-basic-land play-test cards to begin with. In the future I’d like to do something up that’s a little more readable – whether that’s printing on card stock or including a slip of paper in front of a basic land. Ideally, I’d like to print a card that has the card name, mana cost, type line, text box, and power/toughness in the same positions as they are on a regular card, with the deck’s name where the art would normally be. This way I’m in no danger of being accused of running proxies or counterfeits (which many stores are sensitive about due to WotC’s policies). I’m not playing these decks in sanctioned tournaments or anything, but omitting the art gives me a place to put the deck name without moving around any relevant information.
Building new decks
This is my favourite side effect of having my cards organized this way. It’s so easy to brew new decks! Once I’ve got my list in a decent place on tappedout, I can build the deck with playtest staples and get to playing it almost immediately. If there’s a ton of overlap between the decks – say, between Jeleva Storm and Zur Doomsday – you end up with two complete 100-card decks rather than 130 cards that you have to sift through every time you want to play one or the other.
Bruna is my newest deck, and I only needed to pick up about 20 cards and a new box of sleeves to put the entire thing together.
Communication is important
Some people don’t like play-test cards for various reasons. I only use this method for cards I own when I’m playing with strangers, so at the beginning of every game I ask the group “This deck has some play-test cards in it. I have all of the originals in this binder, so if you’d like to see any of them or prefer that I swap them out, let me know”. This gives people an opportunity to voice their objections before the game starts. If they object, all I have to do is pull out all of the play-test cards, sort them by colour, and physically swap them out for the originals in my binder. The whole process takes a few minutes for the 10-30 cards I need to swap.
What if I forget to swap them back?
That’s the beauty of having the play-test cards unique to every deck. If you’re physically swapping the play-test cards for the originals in your binder, flipping through your binder tells you exactly where each of the originals are. This makes it easy if you need to track them down in a hurry.
A note on sharing decks
I’ve never had a problem sharing my decks with play-test cards in them. If you’re diligent about including all relevant card information on your play-test cards, players should have no problem piloting the deck. This obviously isn’t the case with sharpie-on-basic-lands, so just keep in mind that if you make a habit of lending your decks out, you’ll have to put a little more effort in.
Wear // Tear
The last thing I’d like to touch on is wear and tear on sleeves. Because your staples are going to see a different amount of play than the other cards in the decks they’re normally in, you might find that your sleeves wear at a different rate. Dragonshields are nearly indestructible so I haven’t run across this problem yet, but it’s something I’m actively keeping an eye on. Having a few extra sleeves in your bag is generally a good idea if you’re going to build a staples binder.
That’s it for this week! I’d love to hear from you guys if you’ve had any success doing something similar. What do your play-test cards look like? Do you have any tricks you’ve developed to make this easier? Let me know in the comments below!