Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How To Win at Magic: Part 2b: Collecting the Deck

As I mentioned, when we first started playing Magic, we didn't have a lot of cards. My one friend brought back, basically, a handful of cards from his trip to California, and we all ooh'd and ah'd over them, mostly for the art. We didn't even really know for sure how to play, because he didn't have a rule book, and he didn't even have enough cards to make more than one semi-serviceable deck. The first order for cards that we made was slightly conservative, because we hadn't played yet and didn't know what it would be like. When we got that first order, many of us (me) didn't even get enough basic land cards to be able to choose what color we were going to play. We had to play based on the land we had. You can't make a blue deck if you only have 4 islands, you know? Sure you do.

In some ways, those early games were the most fun. We had a limited card pool to draw on, everything was new and exciting, and there was a lot of sharing of ideas and card trading and all sorts of things so that people could try to get enough of whatever color they wanted to play in order to make a deck.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear, from the point of view of walking into a tournament, those decks sucked. Hard. It didn't really matter to us, though, because we were having fun, and, in all actuality, we were learning to really play the game because we had limited tools to play with and had to be innovative. In short, it was a good learning environment. And, well, tournaments weren't really a thing yet, anyway.

But we, all of us, continued playing and increasing the number of cards we had little by little. We increased our tools and we increased our skills and we got more competitive with what we were doing, which only lead to more card buying. There were two schools of thought about this ought to work:
1. You buy packs and you play with what you get. Trading with other players is okay, too.
2. You go out and buy the cards you want on an individual basis. You pay more per card, but you're assured of getting the care you want rather than buying 10, 20, or 50 packs without getting that one card you need.

I was (and am) more of type 1. I really don't like buying cards individually and would much rather buy packs to get the cards that I want. I ended with, well, everything I needed that way. Most of the time. That's how I built almost all of my collected sets.
We had a guy in our group, though, that was a type 2, and he started special ordering all sorts of individual cards through the mail. It wasn't very happy making for a lot of people in the group. Several of them (one of them being my cousin) really gave him a hard time about it.

There became a nickname for that kind of behavior: Mr. Suitcase. That was the general term given to anyone that bought up all the "most powerful" cards and carried them around with them. We had one of those guys at the comic shop. He'd come up from south Louisiana with a briefcase full of the "power 9" and other top cards. The thought, by a lot of these people, was that owning those cards and putting them in your deck insured that you would win. We'll talk more about that later.

But it was true... to an extent. Having better cards, increasing the tools you had at your disposal, allowed you to build a better deck. The more cards you have, the more options you have. The more options you have, the better your deck can be. Having a better deck is the first step to winning at Magic. I mean, before you can play, you have to build the deck, so building the best deck you can is the first step on that journey. I've known a lot of good players that couldn't build a deck that was worth spit, whether they had the cards for it or not.

Anyway, what I found kind of interesting about the whole "Mr. Suitcase" thing is that it was only applied to people that cherry picked their cards. I would have many more cards and, actually, sort of needed a suitcase for mine, because I'd buy boxes of cards all at once, but, since I was relying on the "luck of the draw," it was okay that I had that many cards. It always seemed a distinction without a difference to me, but, you know, oh well. I wasn't derided for it like Mr. South-Louisiana or the guy in my gaming group.

All of that aside, if you did tournament play, there would come a time when you ended up having to buy a card or two to make a deck ready for a tournament. Here is the very first card I bought all by itself:
It was another card I was known for. The limit for any individual card in a deck (other than basic land) is, generally, four, and I only had three of these guys and wanted a fourth for a big tournament and couldn't find anyone willing to trade one. I'd been making hard trades for the three I had, so, really, there just wasn't anyone left that had extras they wanted to trade, so I broke down and bought my fourth one. I won that tournament, too. Ironically, a few weeks later, after I'd gone to all of that effort to get four "Forks," the card became "restricted." A restricted card was limited to only one in a tournament deck. I still have those four Forks, though.

Writing is a lot like this process of collecting cards. You start out with a very limited tool set as a kid. As you grow, you add to your collection which allows for greater innovation in your writing. You can do more. There are two ways to increase the size of your writing tool kit:
1. Writing
2. Reading
I suggest both.

To be a good writer, you need to increase the size of your collection. That's all there is to it. You're not ever going to have anything worth reading (to a larger audience), if you don't go beyond, "See Spot run." That's a very limited collection, and you can forget making it in a tournament with a deck like that. If you see what I mean.

Here are a few other cards that were highly sought after in the early days:
This used to be the second highest priced card in Magic and certainly had a time when it was the most sought after. I think it's fallen a bit, but it's still in the top 10, I'm sure with prices in the $1000.00 range.
I always preferred this one, though. Better art and could go in any deck.
Speaking of going in any deck, the Sol Ring was a must. It was restricted, of course.
This was another card that was common in every deck. At the time, it was the most sought after card from  the Arabian Nights expansion. It's dropped to second place, these days, though, and is only worth $250.
The Nightmare... just because I like the art.


  1. Never played tournaments, so didn't know some cards were restricted. I'd have to check my decks for the others, but I know I had several Sol Rings.

  2. I'm more of a Type 1 also. I just like to play for fun, anyway. One of my friends became a hardcore Type 2, and no one wanted to play with him because he always slaughtered us. So it was like, sure, you're now the best of all of us, but no one wants to play with you because it's not fun anymore. So I always wondered if his $100 investment was really all that worth it.

  3. Hey, longtime listener, first-time caller.

    I didn't follow much of this, but two things:

    First, why would anyone pay $1,000 for a Magic card? Do you win money in the game? Are they collector's items?

    Second, "Mr Suitcase" sounds like he might be an awesome bad guy in a "House" or "Shadow" type story. Better use him before I get to him first. Ask Rusty what happens when someone makes an offhand comment and then I decide to use it. He's still ruing the day he didn't trademark "Stupid Pineapple." Or he would be if he had any idea what I was talking about.

    OK, that's all. I'll hang up and listen for your response.

  4. As I mentioned before - never enjoyed playing very much. I did however, enjoy throwing together several of the terms into these rambling magic sounding babble. "What? You always double tap your manna when the red deck had a totem card displayed with the upper left corner facing southeast!"

    I would often try out phrases and see if they meant anything. Didn't happen very often.

  5. This does sound quite fun. The only card game I ever personally collected cards for was the LOTR card game, and I only had one friend with which to play it. But it was a fun game. I always had to build a Duel Monsters deck from my brother's leftover cards with which to duel him, and I made a decent showing, but it's hard to beat someone with the cast-offs from their own Master Deck, ya know? ^_^

  6. Alex: Yeah, some were restricted and some were even banned. Mostly, it had to do with stopping the turn 1 wins from happening.

    ABftS: See, I always beat those guys anyway. I seriously had a "common" deck with no rares in it (it did have a few uncommons) that I kept on hand at the store that people struggled to beat.

    Briane: Yes, they are collector's items. Yes, you could win money. In fact, the world championship every year has a huge cash prize. In the 6 digits.

    Oh! "Mr. Suitcase" definitely belongs in Shadow Spinner. I suppose I need an idea for a sequel, now.

    Rusty: Have you ever read Asprin's Myth books? Sounds like Dragon Poker to me, and I used to make a lot of Dragon Poker jokes during tournaments. It really threw people off balance.

    Callie: The LotR game was pretty to look at, but it was a horrible game. That's why it didn't last. I have a full collection of the cards.
    I really liked Duel Masters. It was a fun game. I used to play it with my kids.

  7. Have no idea what Magic is or what these card games are that you speak of. I was a different kind of geek growing up apparently. But I got the writing comparison!! And so true. The better your cards, the better your deck, and the better your odds of drawing a winning hand.

  8. L.G.: Yep yep.
    What kind of geek were you?

  9. My kids played Magic. At least the cults kept them off the streets. And they liked winning the cards too.


  10. Donna: Um, I'm not sure what you mean about the "cults." The card playing cults?

  11. I too was a different kind of geek growing up, but recently I've gotten into the Call of Cthulhu game. Fun times, and it's playable by two, so makes for great entertainment at the off-the-grid cottage.

  12. I never played these types of games. Just too busy I guess trying to get laid. Without much results. Sorry. I'm not much help to you or me.

  13. Elizabeth: I've played Cthulhu a few times long, long ago.

    Stephen: Well, I hope you have it figured out now.