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.

Buy Multiples

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

If I didn’t include Volcanic Island, Underground Sea, Tundra, Plateau, Bayou, or Badlands in any of my lists, I could use the money to buy additional copies of the shocks, fetches, and pain lands.

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

Gaea’s Cradle

Serra’s Sanctum

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx (Theros foil)

Cabal Coffers (Torment foil)

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (Planar Chaos foil)

Dryad Arbor

Strip Mine (German 4th ed.)

Reflecting Pool

Ancient Tomb

Mana Confluence

Bojuka Bog (Worldwake Foil)

Westvale Abbey

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.

Beyond that, my coloured staples are mostly white removal, blue counterspells, black tutors, and green mana dorks, with a few juicy beaters, planeswalkers, and pet cards sprinkled in here and there.

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!

16 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Do you have a list of your full binder somewhere? Im sure I could guess a lot of the cards in your colored section but I’d love to peruse it for anything I may have overlooked

  2. Barnabas B

    Hey James, I have a question.
    Do you keep your REAL cards in the binder and just play with the “playtest/proxies” in your actual deck? Or do you rotate real cards between the binder and the deck you want to use them in.
    I initially thought you would take them out of the binder and switch out the proxies when actually playing, but then you responded to an above user that …..”When I play against people who very vocally care about this like you do, I physically swap the cards from deck-to-deck so I can shuffle up and present 100 genuine Magic the Gathering™ cards. When I’m playing against people who don’t care, we save those few minutes and use that time to play Magic instead.”

    …So now I’m confused…because I thought the whole point of having all the sleeves be the same color is to switch them out before/after each game.

    Personally, since I already have lots of different colored sleeves for different decks, I would probably just leave the actual cards in the binder and use printed proxies–but keep the binder handy to prove I owned the cards. Additionally, it can help keep of what cards you actually OWN, in case you forget you have something in a Commander deck.

    • James LaPage

      Hey! Great question.

      I try to keep the real cards in the binder. Nobody in my immediate playgroup cares about whether the cards are real or not. For the most part our focus is mostly on deckbuilding and gameplay skill, rather than collecting, and we’re playing at the kitchen table so it doesn’t really matter. I can also rely on my opponents to know what my cards do when I say I’m casting them.

      I also play at LGSes against strangers, though. In those situations I like to make sure whatever deck I’m playing for the night doesn’t have any playtest cards in it. I do this to make sure nobody gets their nose bent out of shape about the cards not being genuine (because some people will object even if you have the real ones in your binder), and to make sure everything is legible and recognizable as the card it’s supposed to be.

      Basically the staples binder allows me the flexibility to do either, which is why I really like it.

      Like you said, it also helps you physically keep track of the stuff you own. It also allows you to leave a big chunk of your money cards at home if you’re concerned about theft from your car or anything like that.

  3. Anonymous

    This was a fun read. As an enthusiast for both commander AND canadian hignlander (check it out its great) my decks have gotten pretty expensive. This will really cut cost

    • James LaPage

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      From what I understand about Canadian Highlander, this is perhaps even more relevant due to the fact that you can run power if you really have your heart set on it!

      • Anonymous

        Curious to know why the filter lands like cascade bluffs didn’t make it into your collection of land. Was it an oversight? Or maybe trying to reduce article length?

      • James LaPage

        During the arms race in my playgroup we went fairly quickly from low-power to high-power, so I didn’t really have a ton of time in the 75% zone where you’ll see things like filters and other duals. I’ve got a Cascade Bluffs because it was in my Nin, the Pain Artist deck up until recently, but it’s not in my binder.

        At the very top end of CEDH, filters have a purpose – essentially to make sure you’re able to hit multiple same-colour pips early in the game (as in Necropotence, Ad Nauseam, or even something like Animar). Between rituals, dorks, and rocks, though, they’re sometimes deemed unnecessary. As an example, I notice that Skuloth doesn’t run any of the filters that could give him BB in his list:

  4. Jon

    I disagree with this article on a fundamental level. If you need the cards for the deck, including the expensive dual lands and such, then pony up for them. Otherwise make less decks. Or run ones that don’t require the better cards. Or run substandard cards and replace slowly as you upgrade.

    You don’t have to run decks that are “fully optimized”.

    • James LaPage

      I optimize my decks to do exactly what I want them to do. Sometimes that’s winning, sometimes it’s not.

      Different strokes for different folks, anyway. Thanks for reading!

      • Jon

        I have no problem with people “optimizing” their decks. What I take issue with is the people who want to play 14 different decks and run proxies in 13 of them “because they own a copy of the card”.

        If the card is that necessary for the deck, get abother copy or run a substandard deck, or run less decks. If it is not that necessary, run a cheaper card in its stead until you replace it.

      • James LaPage

        When I play against people who very vocally care about this like you do, I physically swap the cards from deck-to-deck so I can shuffle up and present 100 genuine Magic the Gathering™ cards. When I’m playing against people who don’t care, we save those few minutes and use that time to play Magic instead.

        To be clear, I’m not prescribing this or casting judgment on those who don’t. Just like my articles on certain power levels, certain strategies, and certain attitudes in Magic, none of this is one size fits all. If people feel that the benefits I’ve outlined outweigh what you perceive to be the drawbacks, they might try this and enjoy it. You obviously don’t, and you are more than welcome to keep doing your thug thizzle.

    • Anonymous

      Holy Asperger’s Batman! Are you for real?

      “Nooooooooooo! You’re doing it wrong!” I bet the people at your FLGS just -love- you.

      Jon, look, not everybody is the same as you. Different people have different lives and different perspectives. The actual rules of the games do set a baseline of having to actually own a card in question, and as many copies of it as you need in whatever deck you’re playing, but there is no reason in the world why someone can’t float cards between their different EDH decks. It doesn’t matter if they only have one Command Tower, or if they can only afford one FoW. If they have the card, they can play with it in any of their decks that they want to, and that doesn’t make them less of a person than the players who can afford to put duals in all thirteen of their decks or whatever.

      Come on man, don’t be like that.

      • Anonymous

        Why do you “need” all those cards in every single one of your decks?

      • James LaPage

        I don’t /need/ to run them in in any of my decks the same sense that I don’t /need/ to play magic or write articles about it. I do this stuff because I want to, and I feel it increases my enjoyment of the game.

        On the deckbuilding side, I run cards if I think they’re appropriate in the deck I’m brewing. This doesn’t mean that every commander gets my $700 fast mana suite, and it doesn’t mean that I’ve got 7 goodstuff decks. It does mean that sometimes I have more than one deck that needs something like Mycosynth Golem or Time Spiral, and if they’re intended to be low-powered decks I’m not going to shell out for extra copies just for bragging rights.

      • Jon

        I have Aspergers because I want people to play the cards they own rather than proxies?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.