Here’s a situation we all face in this game. Magic is a collectible card game. As such, you are always collecting the cards and looking for the next card you want and need to add to your collection. Some of those cards you want for a new deck, others you want because of the cool art, or because they are foils, and other cards are just cool to collect. Along the way you accumulate all sorts of other cards. Many of these cards are commons and uncommons that seem to multiply in short order. Others are chase rare cards that you REALLY want to add to your collection. Others are still rare, but aren’t very good…in fact, many of them are terrible. These are called Bulk rares. They are called “Bulk” because you can find them in the “bulk” bin at your LGS (Local Game Shop) and just sitting there doing nothing.
What to do with these bulk rares? For many they sit in a binder and just…be. They don’t get played. They hardly get LOOKED at. They just sit in their sleeve. No one will actually trade for them. Few stores will take them off your hands with their buylist. No…these are truly cast away cards. Even commons get more of a lease on life with Pauper formats. However, Bulk rares just sit and do NOTHING.
Well, this is where I come along. I’m always looking for some way to brew up a new deck without costing myself much in the way of money. Let’s be real here…I have BOXES of stuff that I’m not playing. That’s thousands of cards that are just sitting there and not getting played. Surely, somewhere in amongst all those cards there are 60 cards that I can eke out into a deck. Well, today I think I’ve managed to make it work…and surprise…I think I even found a way to slide in a couple of M15 beauties. I call this Casual Masterpiece…American Bulk (rares)…BEHOLD!
This deck is actually very simple in terms of game plan. Play a dude…suit him up with Bestow creatures. Smash. There are some of the best Bestow creatures in Hopeful Eidolon, Everflame Eidolon, Ghostbalde Eidolon and Thassa’s and Purphoros’s Emissaries that can all make combat just miserable. Fencing Ace is another unheralded critter with Double-strike that can just make an opponent cry if he gets suited up. The Ordeals have long been good, and Purphoros’s ordeal is a perfect fit. No, generally the game plan is very straight forward and not unlike the plan from many a Draft deck, however, mix in some bulk rares for variety’s sake and we can make for a spicy game with some interesting twists and turns.
The first piece of wonky deck-tech is Daxos. This guy is so close to being good…he can let you play your opponents cards, has a form of quasi evasion and a 2/2 for 3 mana is just a shade under the curve meaning he’s playable…sort of…but just not quite. However, suit him up with a Bestow creature and suddenly he becomes far more interesting and more of a nuisance. He can outclass 2 drops meaning your opponent will need to block with multiple creatures (which always feels bad) or have you start nabbing stuff off the top of their deck. Perhaps it says something about the sort of player I am, but I really, really, REALLY enjoy beating up my opponent with their own creatures and spells.
The second piece of truly bizarre deck choice is Fated Retribution. 7 mana board wipes are completely unplayable in 60 card decks right? Well, I for one am willing to give this one another lease of life. It’s actually a very powerful spell, and at Instant speed could really be back breaking. I’m willing to give this a try and see whether or not it can cut it.
Perplexing Chimera is another odd choice, but there’s no mistaking that the ability to switch owners of a spell is intriguing and the fact that it sits there as a threat, waiting to de-rail a spell is enough for me. I think this is a very funny card and really can shake things up as your opponent attempts to play around it.
Silent Sentinel is yet another odd choice but when you consider the context of the deck it quickly becomes apparent why he’s in this little build. Whenever he attacks you get to return an enchantment from your graveyard to your hand. This is quite a powerful ability when the bulk of the creatures in the deck are enchantment creatures. A 4/6 flier is also pretty handy even though he’s a greedy mana sync, but as a one of is quite reasonable.
Boonweaver Giant and Spectra Ward are my latest discoveries. This pair from M15 just scream “PUT ME IN AN ENCHANTMENT DECK!”. So I did. The absolute best part about this combo is that if you cast Boonweaver Giant you can tutor up Spectra Ward from almost ANYWHERE! Graveyard? Sure thing. How about in my hand? No Sweat! What about in my library? Go nuts! Then, once you get Boonweaver all paired up with Spectra Ward you have a 6/6 creature with protection from basically everything. It’s actually gross. Now people say “but it costs 7 mana!”…and I simply respond “it sure does…but when I’m digging up a 5 mana aura to attach to it, it’s like I’m casting 12 mana worth of spells and really only spending 7. That’s a bargain if I’ve ever heard one”. Besides, there are very few things that actually outclass a 6/6 creature with protection from EVERYTHING, 7 mana or not.
The last piece of truly bizarre deck-tech is the choice to run Pyxis of Pandemonium. This is usually a terrible card and something that you don’t really want to play…unless you’re simply using it as disruption to throw your opponent off their game plan. Many decks are developed to play a certain way and with a large number of Scry abilities want to set up their draw steps very carefully to maximize each and every time they draw. However, slide this card into your deck and just start screwing with their scrying and exile the top card of their library. You have no idea what you just exiled from their deck, but I bet they probably wanted it. As for this deck, with 28 permanents and 24 lands you don’t really care what gets exiled because when you sacrifice the Pyxis you’re reasonably assured to get most of it back. Besides, you’re playing a souped up draft deck with some bulk rares…who CARES what you exile…it can likely be replaced by something. I just think this card makes for a hilarious random game and just puts such a monkey wrench in the game plan of so many decks that I just need to find it a slot.
How does this deck fair? Well, as it is fairly experimental I haven’t had a chance to play it against too many people. I had one of my friends stop by to play one evening and the deck fared very well. The life gain that can be achieved by Bestowing a Hopeful Eidolon on something can really push a game and make it very difficult to dispatch this deck. Attach the Eidolon to something with Double Strike and things get even better. Also, the flexibility of having Bestow creatures actually lowers the curve where you can get out and play a number of smaller threats early and then later in the game, as you draw others, allows you to suit up one as you ready for the kill. Sea God’s Revenge is just a blow out waiting to happen and Voyage’s End is just a very versatile way of holding off an aggressive opponent. Is it a finely polished deck ready to take down a PTQ? No way…but as a cheap and fun casual brew I think it fits the bill and can do some funny things to keep things interesting.
Well, there we have yet another funny Casual Brew for you to test out at home. Give it a whirl…I’d love to know if you have the same success I’ve had. Also, go ahead and flip through that binder and see if there are any bulk rares you can use to spice up a deck. No one said that every deck you make HAS to be tier 1 competitive ready…sometimes brewing fun Casual decks like this can be just as fun.
Well thanks for reading and until next time, keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encouters @bgray8791
by Bruce Gray -Casual encounters
Magic is an amazing game. I can think of very few games that allow you to do the sort of things Magic can do. No, I don’t mean cast spells and have minotaurs and dragons do battle. What I have in mind is that you can play a large number of different games, all with the same bunch of cards, and still have it be called Magic. That’s very unique. Think about it…how many different games can you play with Monopoly? Clue? Stratego? These games have 1 way of playing the game…but Magic has a number. In addition, the way to play Magic and what each player is seeking from the game experience differs greatly making the way for countless reasons and ways to play. That is what I love about Magic…every game is fresh, fun, and with a new outcome based on how and why you decide to play.
So, when someone says they play Casual Magic it can be very tricky to pin down how and why people play and this is why there can be a certain amount of disagreement over the cards that are acceptable to play. Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine who was complaining that he didn’t feel that there was any place in our Casual Magic environment for Planeswalkers. I had heard a similar argument raised a couple of weeks ago on a podcast and paused. I looked at my friend and was really interested in hearing about his thoughts on Planeswalkers.
My friend started making the argument that initially, when Magic was created, there was no need for additional Planeswalkers because the players themselves were serving that role. In fact, he argued, there really isn’t any place for MORE Planeswalkers than the players themselves because they represent something that is not “created” by the player in terms of spells in his library. How can you cast a spell and summon an entirely different person? It doesn’t make sense and it spoils Magic. He continued on in his diatribe by saying that Planeswalkers represent the creep of competitive Magic into the Casual community because everyone wants to play to most powerful cards and many of the Planeswalkers are exactly that. They spoil the fun of the game because they are such powerful cards that they drain the fun from the game and warp the board state for all the other players. You need to either immediately eliminate the Planeswalker or cast one of your own…so fight it…or join it. Needless to say, my friend was clearly the sort of person who was not overly interested in seeing Planeswalkers in our decks.
Now, I admit, I paraphrased somewhat on behalf of my friend…in part for expediencies sake, and partly because he used some rather “colourful” language is his complain, but the crux of the matter is that he clearly feels that Casual Magic is not the place for Planeswalkers. Now, on my end, I feel slightly differently about the state of Planeswalkers and I wanted to share my thoughts with you today.
Fundamentally, I have no issue with playing Planeswalkers in Casual decks or in Casual games in general and I have a number of reasons why. My friend started his argument with the inception of the game back in 1993 to justify why there was no place for Planeswalkers. They didn’t start the game with Planeswalkers…so we don’t need them now. This is an argument founded on the reluctance to change. Human being don’t like change and the older we get the more reticent we are to changing. Think about it…why do you do certain things the way you do? Why do you follow a certain path when you’re out walking the dog? Why do have a “favorite” when you order pizza? Why do you buy the same model of shoes when you need a new pair? Your brain craves things that don’t change and change scares it…so when you change a game like Magic by adding Planeswalkers there are some players who are unwilling to accept this change. So, when I heard this argument from my friend it was clear to me that he didn’t like the change.
Now, some of you will say “Ummm…Planeswalkers have been around for ages…what gives?” but the truth is that they were released in 2007 in Lorwyn which is only 7 years ago. That means for 13 years there were exactly zero Planeswalker cards, so for the bulk of the existence of Magic Planeswalkers just weren’t cards to play with. That makes them, on the whole, relatively new to the scene. Also, add in the idea that many players leave the game and then return to it (much like myself). Now, these returning players, who may not be familiar with Planeswalkers because they didn’t exist when they last played, are suddenly facing this new card type that is a major force to be dealt with in the game. No, I get the argument and understand the feelings of my friend.
However, there is also a part of the brain that craves new experiences and craves to learn. Why do we travel to new places? Why do we try bungee jumping or para-gliding? Why do we try new foods? Our brain, which is scared of too much change craves a certain amount of change and innovation or else it goes stale. My feeling is that Planeswalkers are one of those changes to Casual magic which is healthy for the game and the players involved. Now, like anything, moderation is the key, so integrating some Planeswalkers into your Casual games can be fun and refreshing. Of course, you can always go back to playing games without them…that isn’t a issue…but trying something kind of new and different for you is positive, so I feel like Planeswalkers can survive that ordeal and still be played.
The second half of his argument is essentially that Planeswalkers are too powerful. Essentially in Casual Magic there is a “Social Contract” and that Planeswalkers violate this contract. Now, by “social contract” I mean there are a number of nebulous rules about how to play the game in order to make the game experience fun for everyone. You hear about this most often with EDH, but the same sort of thing applies to Casual Magic. In essence, you don’t want to play cards that are so powerful that they spoil the experience for others, or play in such a way as to spoil the game for others. This means no rough combos, no “broken” cards, and no Planeswalkers.
Ok, so that can work depending on your playgroup, but I always respond to this sort of argument like this: What’s fundamentally wrong with letting someone play with a busted combo once in a while? So long as he swaps the deck out after he Painter’s Servant/Grindstones you to death what’s the harm? I agree, it is no fun to play the same grossly over powered deck time and again, but once in a while there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, I WANT to see that combo…it’s how I learn! It is highly unlikely I will ever piece that combo together myself, so if I can see it once in a while that’s COOL. Sure, we all groan and scoop, but the fact is we just watched a premier combo slice and dice. That’s pretty neat to see…and it’s even MORE fun if you can beat it. So, in your playgroup, there is no reason you can’t play some busted combos, or absolutely degenerate cards, or Planeswalkers, so long as you are prepared to mix it up and play some different decks that give everyone the chance to play and have fun.
Which brings me to learning…part of the interesting part of playing Magic is learning. You learn by watching other people play. The decks they build. The cards they value over others. How they decide to play and the interactions they create. To rob yourself of the chance to learn something just because you don’t like it or you feel it spoils the fun seems a little short sighted to me. Sure, you don’t want to play against the things you don’t like or the overpowered cards every game, and so moderation and variety needs to be mixed in, but there is nothing wrong with players running Planeswalkers in a Casual game. Just be sure you learn from the experience so you know how to interact with that situation in the future.
My last point in terms of allowing Planeswalkers into Casual play is much more “nuts and bolts” way in the sense that increasingly Wizards is printing cards that specifically target Planeswalkers so that you have more tools to manage them. Think about it, in the last 2 years they have printed things like Dreadbore, Abrupt Decay, Hero’s Downfall, Fated Retribution, and Fated Conflagration all of which can target Planeswalkers giving you a number of options to deal with Planeswalkers. So, if you don’t like them you at least now have an option with which to fight them.
No, I see no good reason to NOT allow Planeswalkers in Casual games of Magic, but they do require a little more careful consideration. You and the people in your playgroup need to have a discussion if there are players who are genuinely upset by Planeswalkers. Perhaps you can work out some sort of a compromise to allow everyone to play the decks they build. This is the beauty of the “social contract”…it can be amended and changed. However, maybe your playgroup is 100% okay with Planeswalkers, in which case keep calm and carry on.
At the end of the day the criticism of Planeswalkers in Casual Magic probably has far less to do with the actual cards and more to do with the fact that some players have stronger decks and win more frequently. If that is the case, limiting Planeswalkers is one potential way to even the playing field, but the more important factor is building decks that match the overall skill and power level in your playgroup. The complaints against Planeswalkers are likely more symptomatic of a problem than the actual cause. So, there is nothing wrong with having decks that emulate tier 1 decks in various constructed formats, but there is also a time and place for other fun and less powerful decks to keep you playgroup fun and fresh.
Thanks very much for reading guys and if you have any ideas or thoughts on Planeswalkers or Casual Magic in general, I’m all ears. Just shoot me off a tweet at @bgray8791 because I’d love to hear what you think.
Until next time, Keep it fun, Keep it safe…keep it Casual.