Boxing Day

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The letter T!ick tock. You hear the seconds fall away, a holdover habit from analogue clocks. Glancing back and forth between the traffic and the time, you are in what must be a Tolarian time bubble.

How can everything move so slow except for the clock?

Inching forward, you permit a smile to crease your face. Has the light changed? Is the train arriving? Then, all stop again. Why?!

You're behind the ball, and the universe itself collaborated against you. You only have one night each week to game; why is getting to the games always the worst? Your phone suddenly rings, but you already know what's up.

"Hey. We've been waiting forever! We're just gonna go ahead and start. See you when you get here."

The finality is depressing. There are only five of you in the group and, unless someone's running another one of the powerhouse specials, that means the four-player game will still be going strong when you stroll in.

What do you do with downtime?

The Golden Rule

Magic is filled with ways to play. It's the diversity of cards, formats, and player perspectives that make the game so compelling. I enjoy playing a different game every time I sit down—no surprise, given that I adore Commander, Limited, and new players.

I embrace the variety in Magic, despite not always appreciating what that variety brings. (Do you know anyone who likes not drawing any lands?) After travelling to local game stores, regional tournaments, and the biggest events in the game, I've developed a repertoire of things to do when "there's nothing to do."

I am two-parts-to-one Social-Diversity Timmy, a seeker of the social and unique experiences in Magic. "Magic is fun, and if you're not having fun," as Kelly Digges admonished, "you really are doing it wrong." When I'm not actively gaming I seek other things I find fun, and you should too.

That's the rule I follow everywhere I go.

Jumping back to our pseudo-fictional story, you finally stroll in to see this:

When you're not playing you have time to set up chairs and take a goofy-angled picture.

There are two things I usually do when I find myself outside the trust circle.

1. Ask and Observe

While it's called a variety of progressively goofier names—observing, watching, birding—the goal is the same: figure out what's going on in a game as it's happening. It's easier to keep track of who has what when there isn't anything you have to track for yourself. Once you see what's going on you're naturally going to get hooked and want to know even more.

While it's a bad idea to do so during a competitive event, I ask questions during the casual games I observe.

  • Why did you destroy that instead of this?
  • Why did you attack him and not her?
  • How do you plan to use it?

Whether they answer in whispers or shouts, I get to understand a little more about the game and the players engaged in it. That game I observed featured a not-so-subtle interaction between Ghave, Guru of Spores and Woodfall Primus. I didn't enjoy that interaction, and watching also told me that the other three didn't either.

But asking about Ghave and persist yielded much more information; Cauldron of Souls is an entertaining interaction. Use the Cauldron to save some souls, then bring Ghave out to refresh everyone so they can be saved again! Recycling Woodfall Primus is powerful; recycling Mitotic Slime is clever; recycling Deranged Hermit is hilarious. There's a place for everything, but I know which way I'm leaning.

I was about to settle in to watch as much as I could when my body brought my attention elsewhere.

2. Food: The Gobbling

If you've ever met me, you know I'm incredibly passionate about two things: having fun with Magic and eating good food.

This is NOT 'good food.'

While you can look up places and dine out better if you're travelling to a larger Magic event, like a Grand Prix, there's a very practical reason to go somewhere mundane if you're gaming local: time. (I hear the chuckles from here.)

It's been my experience that as the numbers for a group increase the time required to figure out the food situation grows. I've also never met a group of gamers who didn't get hungry. Instead of just waiting for the game to end and then settling on food, roll initiative and go get some. Whether it's as classless as the options near my store or as fancy as something along Fisherman's Wharf (near this year's Worlds), cutting everyone's downtime is just smart.

There's also the useful political feature of bribery when you're dealing with hungry gamers. Playing the political card with a food embargo is pretty low, but offering to share what you have can go a long way in fostering good will. It seems silly, but I'm not above being bought by a burger.

Deck Lover

Not everyone likes to be watched or discuss games as they play them. Meeting up right after a meal precludes food-based fun. Sometimes you're around other players but you're really all on your own.

There's an idea for that.

No, I'm going to preach virtues around going and opening booster packs alone. I actually splurged and tried this, contrary to my new habit of at least running a Winchester Draft. The result was a disappointing: Devil's Play and Blasphemous Act alongside two new Werewolf creatures. Karmic justice. This, obviously, warned against treading down the path that would make me monstrous once more.

No, the idea I have satisfies much more than any individual booster.

Many, many decks in a box.

That is what I call my "Commander Box," and it's a collection of everything I want for Commander. It's all of the colors and cards—format staples and odd-ball options—that could comprise one of my decks.

Every card in the box is unique, too.

While I've built a way to build more unique decks for Commander, a box of cards you carry around can be anything you want. Enjoy tokens? Gather together as many sets of four of every card that generates, supports, or wants to see tokens. Like green? Collect everything in the color that you love, and build new decks for any format on the fly. (Scott, featured in this Commander recap, has just such a box of green goodies.)

The idea of a box like this also isn't novel, but advocating that everyone give this a try is. I collected playsets of cards for years, dutifully filed them into binders and boxes, and always forgot I had copies of whatever card I later wanted. For me, keeping one copy of the awesome stuff I already had (and focusing on collecting just one copy of anything new I want) has made my Magic experience richer. My Commander decks don't all have Sol Ring, but they do each have very distinct flavors; every card not only fits better but matters more. Competing with the likes of Sol Ring and Sword of Feast and Famine is a very tall order for any card.

The advantages of carrying around of box of good stuff are many:

  • Create or refit decks on the fly.
  • Add new or exciting options you've never considered before you forget.
  • Trade and collect exactly the pieces you're looking for.

While some of you are a Mr. Suitcase and always have a bevy of new decks readied, I usually don't have much time outside of scheduled gaming time to work with cards. (Writing, while an active process, doesn't usually take me into deep collection dives thanks to Gatherer.) Making use of the time outside of gaming on gaming night is a necessity for me. The Commander Box is a shortcut that ramped my fun to a new level.

Last week's revival of the animal elements of multiplayer cards featured pieces of a Commander deck based around The Mimeoplasm. The following shows you how efficient building a new deck from a box can be.

Last week's cards are this week's deck.

Putting together all of the animal modules resulted in most of a deck coming together in about ten minutes. After a quick tally of the total and breakdown, between creatures and non, I realized there was room for about 30 more cards, most of which should be creatures.

Each card is something different I find awesome!

Another ten minutes of flipping through creatures by color, and five minutes of finagling with mana, created this deck.

The Mimeoplasm

Main Deck

99 cards

Academy Ruins
Breeding Pool
Cabal Coffers
Drowned Catacomb
Hinterland Harbor
Maze of Ith
Misty Rainforest
Mystifying Maze
Overgrown Tomb
Polluted Delta
Reflecting Pool
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
Tainted Isle
Tainted Wood
Temple of the False God
Tolaria West
Tropical Island
Underground Sea
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Verdant Catacombs
Volrath's Stronghold
Watery Grave
Winding Canyons
Woodland Cemetery

37 lands

Anowon, the Ruin Sage
Aura Thief
Bloodgift Demon
Body Snatcher
Consecrated Sphinx
Dread Cacodemon
Essence of the Wild
Eternal Witness
Forgotten Ancient
Grave Titan
Keiga, the Tide Star
Masked Admirers
Massacre Wurm
Mitotic Slime
Oracle of Mul Daya
Panglacial Wurm
Phyrexian Metamorph
Primeval Titan
Rampaging Baloths
Rune-Scarred Demon
Sakashima the Impostor
Silklash Spider
Snapcaster Mage
Sphinx of Uthuun
Vengeful Pharaoh
Verdant Force
Vesuvan Shapeshifter
Woodfall Primus
Yavimaya Elder
Yavimaya Granger

35 creatures

Beacon of Unrest
Blue Sun's Zenith
Dregs of Sorrow
Gate to the Aether
Gauntlet of Power
Green Sun's Zenith
Gutter Grime
Heartbeat of Spring
Howling Mine
Lurking Predators
Maelstrom Pulse
Mental Discipline
Mind's Eye
Oversold Cemetery
Rhystic Study
Slaughter Pact
Spinal Embrace
Syphon Mind
Temple Bell
Trade Routes
Vedalken Orrery

26 other spells

Jace Beleren

1 planeswalker

The Mimeoplasm

Many of these cards we covered last week, but I'll mention a few new highlights here.

The theme is still very straightforward: play creatures, get them into the graveyard, and eventually recycle them. The Mimeoplasm loves these ideas, but it's not alone in finding uses for all three aspects. (For a different take on our favorite Ooze, Anthony Alongi himself shared the interesting parts to his The Mimeoplasm deck in last week's forums!)

As if on cue, Tom strolled into the store as well.

With a second player available I knew it was time to start gaming. Tom agreed to let me give my new deck a test drive in a pair of one-on-one games, my The Mimeoplasm against his Tariel, Reckoner of Souls. Graveyards were going to be important!

I'd also understand whether I would want to change anything before really diving into games. Even though it's meant for multiplayer, checking a Commander deck out one-on-one can be a good "pulse check" on things.

Our first game was where it happened. Tom stated cruising on the series of Blood Crypt, Boros Garrison, Rakdos Carnarium, and Armillary Sphere. The third, and last, land I saw was Temple of the False God. Being forced to discard was disheartening, and I decided to move on to a new game when Swiftfoot Boots and Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni grabbed my discarded Consecrated Sphinx.

Tom enjoyed this slightly more than I did.

Our second game featured similar circumstances. Tom lead off with a land, into a Sol Ring, into a Boros Signet, while I whiffed on a third land for two turns. Although I had a Yavimaya Granger and Tangle to help hold off his Batterskull and morph, I failed to find a fifth land right before he cast Rune-Scarred Demon for, presumably, a Sword of Feast and Famine that he also cast.

Tom enjoyed this significnatly more than I did.

For my own mercy I conceded, but found that it was a good idea to run a trial after all. While neither game was entirely representative of the Commander experience, together they shared a simply story: I want a little more mana for The Mimeoplasm.

Commander, and other multiplayer ways to play, are best experienced with actual multiples of other players. Tom and I had a blast watching his deck dish it out, but ultimately neither of us really enjoyed the games.

Fortunately, the game we had been waiting out finally broke up. Our mission had been to make do until we could game. Catching the action, grabbing some grub, and getting a new deck on its feet worked.

It was time to game for real.

One, Two, Three-Way?

Last week's refresher on multiplayer strategy via card classification challenged us to classify a few cards. A few of you engaged in great discussion in the forums (as I predicted), and most of you hit the nail on the head!

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Pernicious Deed?
Rattlesnake 2399 62.1%
Gorilla 936 24.2%
Spider 236 6.1%
Pigeon 92 2.4%
Cockroach 118 3.1%
Plankton 81 2.1%
Total 3862 100.0%

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Daybreak Ranger?
Rattlesnake 1986 57.2%
Gorilla 529 15.2%
Spider 765 22.0%
Pigeon 121 3.5%
Cockroach 50 1.4%
Plankton 24 0.7%
Total 3475 100.0%

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Batterskull?
Rattlesnake 189 5.4%
Gorilla 1534 43.8%
Spider 77 2.2%
Pigeon 36 1.0%
Cockroach 1622 46.4%
Plankton 41 1.2%
Total 3499 100.0%

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Novablast Wurm?
Rattlesnake 387 11.2%
Gorilla 2673 77.1%
Spider 63 1.8%
Pigeon 182 5.2%
Cockroach 116 3.3%
Plankton 46 1.3%
Total 3467 100.0%

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Arashi, the Sky Asunder?
Rattlesnake 1217 35.8%
Gorilla 460 13.5%
Spider 1339 39.4%
Pigeon 236 6.9%
Cockroach 63 1.9%
Plankton 84 2.5%
Total 3399 100.0%

Not only did many of you split in votes in a way that reflects the differences in ways the card is viewed by other, you also weren't thrown by the trick Novablast Wurm question. Nice!

This week's poll is something I'm curious about.

 Have you considered, have you tried before, or do you currently use a "box" of cards for building decks on the go?  

No right or wrong answer here, though I hope today convinced you why you should give it a go. Join us next week when the situation becomes grave!

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