Pet Decks and Keeping Current

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Hey friends, I originally wrote this piece as my audition for writing at Quiet Speculation. It was a couple of days before we really realized how bad the COVID-19 pandemic really was. We deemed it to not be quite a serious enough piece to debut with, but now I think everyone could use a little laugh at my expense, so here it is! I've redone it a bit to be more relevant to our current world situation. Be well, take care of each other, and enjoy the piece!

Amazon asked me if I wanted to buy a playset of Once Upon a Time again - a day after they were banned. This made me frustrated for multiple reasons, first being that, no, Amazon Algorithm, I don’t usually need two playsets of a card, and second, THEY GOT BANNED BEFORE I EVEN GOT A CHANCE TO PLAY THEM! (and third, I should probably not be buying singles on Amazon when I’ve been out on the town consuming liquid courage).

Sometimes we love bans, sometimes we hate bans - boom, super obvious opening statement out of the way. They have the chance to both improve the competitive metagame, but also the chance to totally wreck our wallets.

This is true for both active players and players like myself who have been on hiatus from playing paper Magic, but still feel like they have to keep their pet decks up to par on the off chance they get a night off of work and can go shuffle some cardboard in public. This is now extra true because ALL players are now stuck at home with very few ways to actually play with their cardboard collections. It's webcam chat or bust for paper players, and many of them will be taking forced extended breaks from paper play to focus on games like Magic Arena or MTGO.

It’s easier for players who are constantly playing and being engaged with the game to keep up with what is going on in the meta, but for those of us like me who ended up on an unexpected hiatus (that's all of us now), it’s pretty easy to slip up and miss a big development in potential banning news.

When I decided to take a break from following and playing competitive Magic obsessively (more on that later) I decided to start a TCGPlayer store and sell off most of my unessential collection. I was working on starting my own business and finishing up school, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t keep up at the same level with the game I love so much!

Even though I was offloading a lot of my extra (non-Reserved List) collection, I decided to keep at least one favorite deck for both Modern and Legacy - my two most-played formats - and keep them relatively updated in case I got the itch and decided to jump into a local tournament somewhere. Now, I'm keeping them updated on the off chance I get to go to jump into a local tournament someday instead.

Now, with my pet Legacy deck being Goblins, you can imagine I didn’t have much to worry about as far as updates and being wary of bannings. However, my pet deck in Modern has always been Infect, and keeping that updated almost turned into a pretty annoying misstep.

My first questionable (non-ban related) purchase came in the tail-end of my Magic playing before the hiatus. People started playing copies of A-Teferi, Time Raveler alongside Giver of Runes in what had been a more traditional UG based deck, and I went and snapped up playsets of both right at the height of Teferi madness, paying full price for cards I ended up playing twice before they fell out of favor.

Now, I picked them up from my ex-employer and local LGS which happens to be internet famous for their often strangely high-priced cards, which was a mistake. If I had been paying more attention, I could have offloaded them before both cards’ prices plummeted. I probably paid close to $40 a pop for the Teferis, using trade credit of course, so it wasn’t a huge loss, but still, one I regret even without any surprise bannings yet.

Lucky for me, I dodged one big Elk-sized bullet, but barely. Everyone in the Infect Facebook and Reddit groups was talking about how good this insane card was in the deck, and the little lizard part of my brain insisted I needed to pick a playset up just in case I randomly got a Wednesday off to play some Modern. I wasn’t playing any Magic at all during Oko’s heydey and was barely keeping up with the news, but I managed to quell my urges for a while.

Eventually, I cracked and put a playset in my cart. One of which was foil, because they only had three regular ones in stock. I got together a huge buylist and some cash to go buy them, but something stopped me (probably laziness and weird feelings about my ex-employer.) Oko, Thief of Crowns was banned the next week, and I dodged being out several hundred dollars. Yay me!

Then, of course, came Once Upon a Time. As you know, having presumably read the beginning of this piece, I made the questionable decision of impulse ordering a playset of Once Upon a Time on Amazon (because my Amazon card still had money on it and at this point in the story I was broke), because I just knew I was going to want to play Modern soon.

Spoiler, I didn’t, and the new card I bought was now worthless. And the Amazon algorithm is going to taunt me about it for the rest of time, apparently.

I know a ton of you are laughing because I only ended up being out about $20 all said and done with that one (nevermind the fact that Infect isn’t even that good of a deck), but imagine all of those people who have their entire beloved deck ripped apart with things like the Mox Opal banning in Modern (after investing in new Urza, Lord High Artificers… Sorry Ben!)

I guess I’m lucky that my pet decks aren’t the kind making waves in the meta - but what about players like me that might have to take a break from the game but still want to have decks together just in case? The legions of us who are now quarantined, just counting down the days when we can finally sit down with our best friends at our favorite LGS? What can we do to protect our wallets and still be almost tournament-ready?

Be Realistic

I’ve never known someone to quit Magic forever, but you need to be honest with yourself about what your realistic level of play is going to look like. I went from traveling around the country with a hopeful store team, playing all kinds of events, and weekly grinding (I made top 20 in my small state based on planeswalker points for a few months, which felt super cool to me at the time) to quitting my job assistant managing ABU’s retail store and not playing any more Magic for months.

My brain had a hard time making the transition, and I kept impulse buying cards thinking I might snap back at a moment’s notice. Having a ton of capital tied up in cardboard and continuing to tie up more in potentially unstable cards probably wasn’t the right choice there, especially if I wasn’t following current news.

Now, we're all trapped inside and no one should be playing paper Magic outside of a webcam or with the people quarantined with them. This could be an unprecedented time to be snapping up deals as people decide to liquidate their paper collections out of necessity or boredom, but make sure you're doing your format research and thinking about the likely extended timetable before we'll all be hanging out at a MagicFest again.

Stay Up-to-Date

If you are going to try to keep a deck or two constantly up-to-date, spend at least a few minutes every week catching up on your format of choice. It's well worth it to be aware of big changes that could be on the horizon that would signal either big price jumps on cards you may need, or the ones you already have sleeved up in the deck.

Once this pandemic has finally passed and we can stop social distancing again, you never know when you may find yourself with extra time to sign up for a local tournament on short notice mid-hiatus, and you want to be able to have picked up the right cards at the right prices ahead of time. For now, formats are going to be defined by their online equivalents, and while that doesn't always translate directly to the paper metagame, there is going to be even more online content and tournament results for us to be pouring over in the quest to keep our decks up to date.

Don’t Panic

But - make sure you aren’t making snap purchase decisions based on Reddit threads you read while sitting at the bar and then forget about the whole “staying up to date thing” and regret it later. Think about the card, is it actually good in the deck? Is it a flash in the pan? Am I going to be able to play the deck soon enough for this purchase to matter? If it’s your pet deck, I’m sure you’re familiar enough with it to be a good judge of flash-in-the-pan meta changes. Think it through before whipping out your wallet!

Yeah, this article basically boils down to: “I’m a big dummy, don’t spend money like me.” If you stuck around this long, you have my heartfelt thanks. And good news, it looks like I’m back to playing Magic (at least online, for now) so you can look forward to hearing more from this dummy in the future.

And If all else fails, pick a pet deck that hardly changes, and when it does your wallet won’t get blown out picking up new toys for it, like Legacy Goblins!

In retrospect, this was a pretty weirdly timed article for me to write. I'd finally realized my dream of writing about Magic again, which made me want to jump back into paper Magic with a vengeance. Then the pandemic hit and playing in paper became out of the question. Even if stay-at-home orders hadn't been enforced, I live with an immunocompromised individual, and I would never put my love of playing at the LGS over their safety.

Instead, I dove into playing digitally and streaming on Twitch almost every day of the week. Not only has this helped keep my love of the game alive, but getting to interact in the chat with everyone has been a huge help in keeping me feeling connected to the world in general. These are scary times, and we need to look out for each other as best we can. Even in scary times, we can focus on the hobbies we love. Be smart about keeping your pet decks updates during isolation and when the all-clear is given you'll be able to jump back on the tables with a vengeance! I can't wait until I can high-five all of you at a MagicFest again someday, but until then feel free to come say hi in my Twitch chat!

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