Born in the great gaming state of Wisconsin, Jason was fated to be a gamer. Too young to drink Beer (well, not anymore) and lactose intolerant so he couldn’t eat the cheese, Jason turned to AD&D (1st edition). After that, many systems were dabbled in until he found his home in piles of cardboard. Since then he played at least 6 CCG’s and may be learning to play Harry Potter if he finds some free time and a few bucks (donations welcome).

His gaming habits run parallel with his life. He reads Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Non-Fiction, Horror, Westerns, Philosophy, and the Classics. He listens to Jazz, Classical, Heavy Metal, and the band Brother. He has switched majors many times starting his college career in Environmental Studies, then moving to English, Theology, Communications, and now Psychology.




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 Through the Portal 
with Jason Chapman

"Building Your Collection from the Ground Up"

Well, I've noticed a lot of people sending me e-mails and posting questions on the Pojo message board about how they can improve their collection. This is not always an easy question to answer since so much of it depends on circumstance. Location, age, and budget can all influence how an individual will build their collection and even what that collection will be like. First, I will address the issues of what cards to collect, then I will address strategies for gathering those cards, I will finish up with four additional sections to flesh out some my suggested collection strategies. The first section will include a summary of the various tournament formats, the second will cover a very brief strategy primer for sealed deck and booster draft formats, next I will reprint my tables from the previous article in a legible format, and the last little add-on won't be so little as I provide a number of Jason's Pre-Con's all type II decks made entirely from commons so you can quickly put some of the basic decks together. And away we go . . .

Note: Because this week's column includes 6 full decks I will not be listing individual cards at the bottom of the page. Sorry, but there's just too many cards for me to deal with. When I have the next pure strategy article things will be easier and you will see complete card text.

What to buy. . .

Before deciding what cards to buy you have to determine what kind of player you want to be. This can be a hard question to answer since many of us want to be Finkle or Budde or Fletcher Peatross :) or one of the other Pro-Tour legends. Yet, even though we may all carry the dream we can't all make it there. Everyone out there could become a PT player with enough experience, practice, and devotion but putting all that effort in and sacrificing so many things (like 90% of your weekends) just isn't something all of us can give. Instead we have to think hard about where we are going to play.

Many of us play with a small group of friends. Sometimes we will be playing at the bar (or coffeehouse for those too young or too intelligent to drink) and some stranger will walk up and challenge us to a game, but it's almost always the same group of friends. For those of us who play in this type of environment the best cards to collect are cards similar to what your friends play. If they started collecting in Ice Age you may want to try and get some cards from each of the sets since Ice Age so you are playing with similar cards. If a few members of the group stopped buying cards after Urza's Block maybe you shouldn't buy these cards either so that you keep the games on a level playing field. This can be hard since older sets often cost more or since some of us want to keep buying the new cards. There are two answers to this. First, buy commons. They are cheap, they help provide the "flavor" of old sets, and they are readily available. Second, buy only the cards you need from sets outside what most of the others play. By cards you "need" I mean cards to keep the game fresh. In these types of play groups certain players tend to always bring the same decks, so if Jimmy always plays his Channel-Fireball deck why don't you just pick up on or two Misdirection for the next weekend. Even if everyone else if playing cards printed before Ice Age, throwing those two or three cards into your deck won't destroy the "flavor" of your particular metagame (the typical deck and card selection in a specific area, format, or play group) but it will let you kick Jimmy's butt for once. If you are this type of player, you can afford to buy some of the "bulk" deals where you buy a group of random commons or a casual player's collection while making very rare single card or booster pack purchases.

For those of us with slightly higher ambitions, such as winning local tournaments, or with a much more varied play group we will have to change our buying strategy. Usually this means that we will have to focus on staying current since that local tournament we want to win is probably Friday Night Magic and all such tournaments must be Standard (Type II, which includes only the most recent sets) or Limited, which is either booster draft (each player buys 3 boosters, each player opens one booster selects one card and then passes the rest to the adjacent player until all boosters are opened and all cards selected) or sealed deck (each player buys 1 starter and 2 boosters and constructs their decks only from those cards). Some stores may have different weekly tournaments, but the above is pretty much the standard (no pun intended). To keep up to date, drafting and sealed deck events will help, otherwise you can just go out and buy copious amounts of the current boosters (maybe even boxes or cases). The other option, since the cost of constantly buying new sets may require you to keep only a few decks, is to research and test a deck thoroughly before buying a single card for the deck. Then you can go out and buy each and every card needed for the deck ($100-$400 per current tournament level deck seems about right). Extra money should be spent on some of the old power cards. I'm not talking about Moxes or Timewalk; instead I'm talking about cards like Tradewind Riders, Sylvan Library, Swords to Plowshares, Ball Lightning, and the like for those occasional Type 1 appearances that you are bound to get into (Even though I don't really support the magazine or its guide, Inquest does give cards ratings and that's a good place to look for what "power" cards exist, otherwise just look at old deck lists for cards they seem to have in common or ask more experienced friends). You can determine whether or not you want to get rid of your cards as sets rotate out of Standard. This can save a lot of money but it also means that you will never have more than a few decks to play.

Finally, there are those of us who are just a little hardcore (or who have won the lottery). These players need all of the cards from every set since they want to play Type I, Five Color, Type II, and have a huge collection of expensive signed cards to show off. If you are one of these guys the answer as to what to buy is pretty easy: everything. If you think you might be borderline, try sticking to the advice given above for those with "slightly higher ambitions" but buy more of the individual power cards rather than entire cases or boxes of the current set.

Bottom line, the cards you should buy are the cards you are going to play with and the cards you will play with are based on who and where you play.

Where, when, and how to buy. . .

This part may be a little tricky since most people assume that the place to buy cards is the net. First, I don't want to go around suggesting other web sites since I believe that Pojo is the place to be (and will be getting even better when Fletcher gets into the full swing of his Editor Ego Trip) and if you don't agree with me now, keep coming back you'll see. Secondly, every site that has worked for me has someone else swearing that it's a rip off. If you are going to buy off the internet do some of your own research. Try using search engines, go to trusted sites and look for links from there, or use magazine advertisements to route your online meanderings. In the end, never buy from anyone on the internet without investigating them a little first, remember anyone can sell on the internet and not everyone is nice.

The best place to buy cards, however, is your local store. Your local store is the number one Magic resource you have since it is a good bet that you will spend a lot of your time playing there (and if you don't you should). If the store doesn't have what you are looking for, ask about it. If the store doesn't have singles ask if the owner knows another customer who may be willing to trade. Ask if they have a free/cheap commons box (most stores have at least one customer who only takes the Rares and leaves the other cards laying on the counter when they leave). Basically, if you can't find it, ask about it!

When to buy is actually surprisingly important. Obviously, if there is a tournament coming up you should buy the cards you need for your deck as soon as possible to make sure you have everything together when you need it. After this, everything changes. Buying through advanced ordering or pre-release ordering can be a pretty good deal. The downside is that you probably don't know what any of the cards do when you place your order. This means that you can waste your money if WotC ever decides to print a set as good as Fallen Empires or Homelands. On the up side, dealers are looking to move product as early as possible and a little hunting can get you a darn good deal. Next, if you can get to a prerelease or if you can buy cards within a week or so of the prerelease you may be able to pick up some cheap gems. This is because every set has one or two cards that sneak under players radars for the first week or two and then become dominant in the format. If you grab a spoiler early and then grab the cards early you can come out with some amazing deals. No player is right all the time (I know that I thought the leeches would be way more powerful than they ended up being. Just to head off the e-mails, yes they are still good cards just not broken like I had hoped) so if your intuition isn't up to it, skip this advice. The next big time to buy cards is just after the set rotates out. Many of the cards plummet in price when they leave the Standard environment. If you play in formats other than Type II, take advantage of this. Buying cards after the initial release frenzy but before they leave Standard means that you can have a really good grasp on the best cards to buy but you will pay the highest price for those cards.

As for how to buy I have a little paradox: The best way to buy is in bulk or to buy individual cards. Okay, that's not really a paradox. Buying cards in bulk either through buying boxes or cases is a great way to save a few bucks and add a lot of cards to your collection all at once. If you don't have the money to buy a box or a case try dividing the cost between a few friends. I would avoid buying sets unless you're a collector since you are basically paying extra for 1 of each card. Also, avoid "grab bags", yes you can come out big, but this is one of the best ways for a seller to make a lot of money (I know if I open a store I will always have grab bags available). Buying collections is a harder thing to judge. My advice is that unless the collection is really cheap never buy a collection unless you know each and every card (at least rare and uncommon) that you will be getting and the condition of the cards. Collections are a good way to get burned or make enough to retire on (don't laugh, I know a guy that bought all my friends collections when they left the game after Homelands, he just sold all his cards for 75% of his down payment on his house).

The best way to buy cards (which I alluded to earlier) in bulk is to play booster draft or sealed deck tournaments as often as possible. Not only do you get a bunch of cards but you gain valuable play experience in the most educational formats Magic has to offer. In draft, you even have some choices about what cards you end up taking home. Every player should play every draft tournament that they can.

The last word of wisdom here is that if you have any problems with any deal talk it out. Of every bad deal I have had in my life, 90% have been solved with a few phone calls or e-mails. Don't ever be rude when you are working to try and solve a problem. You can let the seller know you are upset but never swear or curse at them and always try to have a possible solution in mind to rectify the situation. Don't forget, they need to make money so your solution better not cost them more than what they have already been through. If you are young and don't feel like wheeling and dealing with established sellers ask your parents to do it for you. Just make sure your parents know what you are buying, why, and what the real value of the items are; this will help them negotiate.

What is type X?

*Each format also has a list of banned or restricted cards. Banned cards can't be included in the deck and you can only have one of any Restricted card in a deck. Also, some sets (such as Portal, Champions decks, etc.) aren't ever legal in any tournament format.

The most common format is Type II, it includes the most recent sets. As of November of 2001, Type II will include:

  • Seventh Edition
  • Invasion
  • Planeshift
  • Apocalypse
  • Odyssey

Extended format is basically all cards printed since Ice Age with the addition of the "Dual Lands".

Type I is every card ever printed accept for those cards that are banned in this format.

Type 1.5 is every card in Type I but all cards restricted in Type I are banned in 1.5

1 hour to build. . .

There is a lot that goes into building winning limited tournament decks (whether booster draft or sealed deck). Here are some quick rules of thumb:

  • Always build 40 card decks
    • Include between 16 and 18 lands
    • Try to keep your deck to 2 colors or 2 colors with 1 splash color (a splash color usually includes 3 or less cards and 4 or less lands of that color)
    • Include at least 15 creatures, a good range is 16-19.
      • The best creatures have evasion capabilities of any type
      • High toughness is usually a plus
      • "Pinging" creatures (creatures that can deal direct damage like Prodigal Sorcerer) are always good
      • As long as you don't take it too far you can count creature elimination spells as if they were creatures for your deck.
    • You will only have room for between 3 and 6 other spells, choose them wisely.
      • Creature elimination (even mediocre cards) is the most powerful type of spell in any limited tournament
      • Combat Tricks (like Fog and Giant Growth) are always good
      • Card drawing, healing, land destruction, and counterspells are all okay.
      • Look for cantrips (cards that let you draw another card when cast) if possible
    • These formats play slower so you can afford to have higher casting cost cards
      • Having said that make sure you have some low casting cost cards so that you don't fall behind in the early game.
      • Avoid cards that require 2 or more colored mana (eg. A card that needs 1WW should be avoided)
  • Draft cards you need for your deck not cards you want for your collection
    • Players who only draft Rare cards will soon find that no one likes them

Tables, Tables everywhere but not a drop to drink

Chance of drawing exactly 1 of a given card.

  Turn 1 Turn 2 Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5
1 in deck 12% 13% 15% 17% 18%
2 in deck 21% 24% 26% 28% 30%
3 in deck 28% 31% 34% 36% 38%
4 in deck 34% 36% 38% 40% 42%

Chance of drawing exactly 2 of a given card

  Turn 1 Turn 2 Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5
2 in deck


2% 2% 3% 3%
3 in deck 3% 4% 5% 7% 8%
4 in deck 6% 8% 9% 11% 13%

Chance of drawing exactly 3 of a given card

  Turn 1 Turn 2 Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5
3 in deck 0.1% 0.2% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
4 in deck 0.4% 0.6% 0.9% 1% 2%

Chances of drawing all 4 of a given card (don't bet on it)

  Turn 1 Turn 2 Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5
4 in deck 0.01% 0.01% 0.03% 0.04% 0.07%

Probability of playing lands (* for playing 1 land each turn with 0 left in hand)

  Expected consecutive land drops (in turns) Turn #2 (2 land)* Turn #3 (3 land)* Turn #4 (4 land)* Turn #5 (5 land)*
12 in deck 1 31.65% 18.26% 8.06% 2.84%
14 in deck 2 33.31% 23.06% 12.44% 5.47%
16 in deck 2 33.11% 26.74% 17.04% 9.00%
18 in deck 3 31.37% 28.96% 21.29% 13.12%
20 in deck 3 28.50% 29.60% 24.67% 17.37%
22 in deck 3 24.92% 28.76% 26.79% 21.21%
24 in deck 4 21.01% 26.67% 27.45% 24.16%
26 in deck 5 17.08% 23.65% 26.67% 25.81%
28 in deck 5 13.39% 20.08% 24.61% 25.99%

For a good common type II deck call . . .

Preconstructed decks are a good place for a lot of beginners to start. They provide a good base of cards, they are cheap, and they include hints on how to play and expand the deck. Experienced players will sometimes buy precons since they know exactly what cards are inside so if they are looking for that one specific card they know they will find it. Precons are also a good way to get a feel for a particular set. For those who are interested, I have designed my own set of preconstructed decks. Each deck includes only Standard (Type II) legal cards and each and every card is a common so you should be able to build each deck easily. Part of my reason for doing this is so I can highlight a few of the good commons that you will probably see in a number of tournament level decks, these will be listed in bold, good cards that will probably make the cut in a lot of decks are in italics, in the deck lists.

"White Weenie Deck"
4 Dedicated Martyr
4 Tireless Tribe
4 Patrol Hound
4 Standard Bearer
3 Angelic Page
1 Coalition Honor Guard
3 Mystic Zealot
4 Pacifism
2 Kirtar's Desire
4 Shelter
3 Embolden
24 Plains

This deck is close to the Archetypal White Weenie deck that has been played since the beginning of days. Try to cast as many of the creatures as you can since they aren't as big as the bad guys you will have to use them as a swarm. This basic deck is pretty straight forward and simple to play. The creature mix also includes some good utility creatures. Don't be afraid to drop Embolden to the Hounds as this card gets cheaper when cast with Flashback. This deck also has a lot of life gaining and the Flag Bearers will help disrupt your opponents spells.

To improve the deck (and to be playable at the tournament level) you will need to include the new "Crusade" effects such as Pianna.

Pianna, Nomad Captain
1WW, Creature ---- Nomad Legend 2/2, Odyssey Rare
Whenever Pianna, Nomad Captain attacks, attacking creatures get +1/+1 until end of turn.
Some find inspiration in their swords. Others find it in their leaders.
Illus. D. Alexander Gregory

This will make your swarms of little guys competitive with the big boys. Also grab some of the rare and uncommon creatures with more powerful abilities. Last but not least, ditch some of the healing and damage prevention cards and go for a little added offense.

"Stompy Deck"
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Druid Lyrist
4 Diligent Farm
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Werebear
4 Nomadic Elf
4 Elephant Ambush
4 Giant Growth
4 Muscle Burst
4 Armadillo Cloak
2 Harrow
16 Forest
2 Plains

Again, Stompy is an old archetype brought back to life (not that it ever died). As you can see by the deck list, this is my preconstructed deck with the highest number of tournament level cards. Similar to the White Wennie, this deck tries to accelerate it's mana production so it can play more creatures (and bigger ones) than the opponent. It's my opinion that all competitive modern Stompy build will be splashing at least one other color. In this deck I have splashed white so that the deck gains the powerful Armadillo Cloak. As a quick note, many new players want to use Giant Growth and it's brethren to kill their opponent faster. These spells should be used only to save your own creatures from death or if they can be cast to destroy an opponents creature. The other cards are more than capable of killing your opponent all by themselves.

In order to improve upon this deck, remove the white cards and add Red. This enables you to play Urza's Rage which is the answer you will need against all the hevay control decks running Finkel (not the player but the card which he designed, Shadowmage Infiltrator).

Shadowmage Infiltrator
1UB, Creature ---- Wizard 1/3, Odyssey Rare
Shadowmage Infiltrator can't be blocked except by artifact creatures and/or black creatures.
Whenever Shadowmage Infiltrator deals combat damage to a player, you may draw a card.
Illus. Rick Farrell

To be competitive in T2, I think every deck will need to have at least 4 answers to this card in their main deck. Also, you can play around with some of the uncommon and rare creatures that are so much more powerful.

4 Bloodfire Dwarf
4 Raging Goblin
2 Goblin Digging Team
4 Goblin Raider
4 Pygmy Pyrosaur
2 Goblin Chariot
4 Ember Beast
2 Ancient Kavu
Blazing Salvo
3 Firebolt
4 Flame Burst
1 Engulfing Flames
22 Mountain

Yes, another old archetype brought back to life thanks to some decent critters and amazing burn cards. Every card in this deck is capable of dealing damage to a creature player, that should tell you something about how this deck is played. Remember, when playing Sligh (actually most Red decks) your burn spells should be saved and used to kill opponent's creatures not to reduce your opponent's life (unless you can win the turn you cast the spell and only if you target your opponent). It's also important to notice that this deck stays very close to the traditional Sligh mana curve (most red decks that don't fit the curve should be called Burn or Deadguy Red builds):

1 Casting Cost Creatures 9-13
2 Casting Cost Creatures 6-8
3 Casting Cost Creatures 3-5
4 Casting Cost Creatures 0-3
Burn Spells 9-14
Mana 22-26

Also, the Card Mad Dog from Odyssey, is very playable and is tournament worthy. It was not included in this deck since Pygmy Pyrosaur has better damage dealing potential. In fact, in general, cards that are pumpable will do more damage than a similar or slightly better card that isn't over the course of a full game. The only problem is that the Pyrosaur will tie up your mana if you aren't careful and this can slow your deck. It's a matter of personal taste and you can build this deck with either card.

To improve the deck just look for better creatures and burn to fill each of the open mana slots. The only other change is to add 4 Barbarian Ring.

Barbarian Ring
Land, Odyssey Uncommon
T: Add R to your mana pool. Barbarian Ring deals 1 damage to you.
Threshold - R, T, Sacrifice Barbarian Ring: Barbarian Ring deals 2 damage to target creature or player. (Play this ability only if seven or more cards are in your graveyard.)
Illus. John Avon

This card is amazing since it's uncounterable and deals damage as a colorless source. If I could play with 6 or 7 in my Sligh deck I would.

"Blue/White Control"

3 Glimmering Angel
4 Opt
3 Peek
4 Sycopate
4 Counterspell
2 Dismantaling Blow
3 Repulse
4 Aether Burst
2 Embolden
1 Reviving Dose
2 Shackles
3 Kirtar's Desire
4 Seafloor Debris
3 Abandoned Outpost
7 Plains
11 Island

It's hard to design any control deck with only commons, still this deck doesn't do too badly and it contains a lot of good spells. Basically, try to keep the board from getting out of control and then go for the win with the Glimmering Angel. Keep an Aether Burst or Repulse in hand just to protect the Angel, but this card should be pretty safe. Drawing cards and knowing what spells need to be countered are the keys to winning with a control deck.

To make this deck better, add Black for the Shadowmage Infiltrator. This card is one of the single most powerful creatures ever printed. Use it! Otherwise, just look to make the deck more efficient as a whole. There are better Rare and Uncommon spells for almost everything in this deck.

Of course the most obvious addition to this deck is Mystic Snake.

"Black/Blue Control"
4 Dirty Wererat
4 Recoil
3 Probe
4 Ghastly Demise
3 Innocent Blood
4 Mind Burst
3 Duress
3 Peek
4 Counterspell
4 Syncopate
11 Island
13 Swamp

This deck is closer to some of the Infiltrator decks that will probably dominate the format. Just like the Blue/White control, you try to control the board until your creature can go on a rampage to win the game. The advantage to this deck is that Discard and counterspells have great synergy and you also have 6 cards that let you look at your opponent's hand which also helps you plan your counterspell strategy.

The advice for the advanced deck is to drop some of the creature kill and the Wererat. Add Finkel (the Infiltrator) and better board control and card drawing.

"Blue Green Tempo Control"
4 Diligent Farmhand
4 Gaea's Skyfolk
2 Werebear
1 Nomadic Elf
4 Elephant Ambush
3 Harrow
4 Opt
4 Aether Burst
4 Temporal Spring
4 Counterspell
3 Syncopate
14 Forest
9 Island

This deck can play out a little differently than the other control decks since it includes some very good creatures. If one of these guys comes out early use them for beating your opponent and use the cards in your hand to protect them and make sure they get through. If you don't get any early creatures then just play it like one of the other control decks.

To improve this deck do something that no one else would ever do, add black and play 4 Shadowmage Infiltrator :)

Well, that's a wrap. Thanks for reading this week and I'll catch you again next week as I talk about who knows what. In the mean time feel free to drop me an e-mail, I always like hearing from my readers.

Jason Chapman