The calendar of a Magic player is pretty different from most other people’s, and this time of year is probably the single best example. While many people have been anxiously counting down the days until Santa Claus comes to town, December is typically the slowest part of Magic‘s entire year. There are fewer tournaments to watch as the circuits take a rare break from hosting events, and FNM attendance dips as people (especially if you live in a college town) flock home to be in the warmth of kith and kin and kithkin.
It’s a little bit ironic that for people who get four spoiler seasons a year (that many people call some amalgamation “Magic Player Christmas”), that the real thing is our down period (although I think Fate Reforged spoilers are gonna start right around Christmas, due to the bumped release). Now maybe the reason Magic slows down at Christmas is so we can have the opportunity to cherish our loved ones and spend time in quiet reflection of the life of our savior Jesus Christ.
Or maybe we just haven’t optimized it yet! We are gonna explore a few ways to try and buck this trend, and make sure that you’re “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmastime”!
Ugh, I am so sorry. That was totally uncalled for. Like, I thought I would be kinda hipstery and just sort of pull it off and move on, but I literally feel sick having written that. That song is the worst. …or is it?
BRIEF HOLIDAY POWER RANKINGS: The Six Worst Christmas Songs!
6. “Last Christmas” by Wham!
I don’t remember anybody asking George Michael to make a Christmas song, yet he did. The ’80s are over, and this should have been destroyed along with the Berlin Wall and Brigitte Nielsen.
5. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Bob Geldof and a bunch of drunk ’80s musicians
George Michael makes the list twice, which is either pretty surprising or not surprising at all. The biggest problem with this song is that yes, they (Ethiopia) do know it’s Christmas, since Africa contains almost a quarter of the world’s Christian population (23.6 percent as of 2010). Possibly almost excusable (but still super ignorant) the first time, the song was remade this year, much to the delight of literally nobody but Bono.
4. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
What. The. Hell. This is not even remotely okay. I had to sit through a freshmen orientation program when I started college, and every scenario they described when talking about consent is literally in this song. Season three of True Detective should be Ewan McGregor and Matthew Lillard tracking down whoever wrote this before it’s too late. If this song wasn’t somehow tangentially tied to the holiday season, this would have been banished to the Phantom Zone with all those racist Tom & Jerry cartoons.
3. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by Alvin and the Chipmunks, apparently
All I can say is that I was genuinely surprised this song was not listed somewhere in the CIA torture report as a means of enhanced interrogation.
2. “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney and “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon
It’s a tie. Say what you will about the legacy of The Beatles, but these songs are lazy, tedious, and painful to listen to. You know what band never broke up and then made crappy holiday songs? That’s right, RUSH—the greatest band of all time. Shout out to Canada.
…Oh, and if RUSH ever did make a Christmas song, it would be badass, and you know it. And you know Neil would do a sick drum solo and Geddy would sing about the trees coming to life and Alex would just be shredding like he was during “Working Man” on the Time Machine tour. Man, RUSH is the best.
1. “Christmas Shoes” by NewSong
Okay, so I was wrong before: this is the worst Christmas song. You may not be religious, but follow my logic here: Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of Jesus, who decried materialism and the self-serving, sinful nature of man. In the song, the guy does a nice thing for a kid who is about to lose his mother. Awesome, except it feels less like “doing the right thing” and more like “let me tell you what I did.” The song becomes a smash hit, gets to #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts, and spawns a movie with Rob Lowe! And you know Rob Lowe isn’t working for cheap—Rob Lowe works for Rob Lowe. Unless 90 percent of the profits from this “song/movie/probably a book” went to some sort of heartbreaking poor kids charity, then “Christmas Shoes” shall remain atop this list forever. Do the right thing, NewSong.
With FNM attendance down for the season, it has previously been hard to capitalize on the low, low prices that accompany this time of year. Fortunately, the solution is PucaTrade. I’m not going to write a whole long piece on how great PucaTrade is, but this is the time of year to capitalize on being a member. As I mentioned, this is the time of year where store attendance will typically bottom out, drying up your opportunities to trade aggressively. The hidden costs for using PucaTrade any time of the year are going to be shipping (postage and supplies) and time (most trades will take at least a few days to complete), but the benefits include a wider card availability and access—you don’t need to wait at your store for other people to show, and you can mail out cards from wherever you spend the holidays.
Price Memory is something that ends a lot of trades this time of year, especially when prices bottom out harder than people expect. Even though more players are whipping out their smart phones at the start of a trade, most will hesitate to pull the trigger if it doesn’t feel right. If your trade partner1 is appalled at your offer of 13 on his [card]Goblin Rabblemaster[/card], it’s not because you’re too low—it’s that they still associate it with the spike the card saw a month ago.
The beauty of the PucaTrade system is that once they’ve listed the card for trade, they’ve already partially pulled the trigger. Sure, they still have to send it, but once you see those juicy points on the side of the screen, it becomes a lot easier.
BRIEF PRICING ASIDE: Also, and I can’t speak for anyone but myself here, but I’ve started using their point values for the majority of my pricing. A lot of people argue over using SCG, TCGMid, or whatever, but when someone asks me a price, I will usually look it up on Puca and then move the decimal space two to the left. Anybody else doing this?
So if we are operating under the assumption that the benefits of availability exceed the costs of shipping and sunk time, how can we optimize the experience? Well, I would strongly suggest constructing a PucaBox, especially if you plan on taking it with you on holiday travels. Here’s how to do it:
- If you haven’t already, determine what you want listed on your Haves. Make sure to sleeve every card individually. Finally, a great way to get rid of all those extra sleeves!
- Get a long box that is big enough to fit all of your cards, but still has space for toploaders. If you know you will be traveling with it, make sure to not get something so big it becomes a hindrance.
- Fill as much of the extra space with toploaders as you can. They won’t fit perfectly, but they’re crucial. Also, you may want to throw a page of stamps in there, and pack a box of envelopes. Your mom shouldn’t have to give up her perfectly good envelopes.
- If you’re going out of town, make sure to either empty your Wants list or turn on Vacation Mode, especially if you expect to be gone for a long while.
The PucaBox is good for traveling, but it also really helps if you decide to just dedicate a portion of your tradable collection to Puca. Don’t forget, PucaTrade is like a sewer—what you get out of it is based on what you put into it.
Another tip? If you’re traveling home for the holidays, but you have some down time when you get there, make sure to look up your old friends and see if they have any cards they want to get rid of. These are all warm leads on collections where you should have an idea of what is inside (at least in terms of a year range).
So with everything dying down for the holidays, how can you keep actually playing Magic?
Very funny. No, besides that.
DAMMIT, I WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND.
…That’s better. So, if you want to play Magic over the holidays, what can you do? Well, Hearthstone and MODO are options, but that’s kind of a cop out. And let’s be real, you can’t just jump into either of those if you weren’t at least considering it already. If you plan on spending a lot of time with family or friends, have you considered building a Portal Cube?
The idea behind this is simple: having a box of sleeved Magic cards that you can play out of that scales down a lot of the complexity, but also doesn’t devolve into playing the same beginner decks a bunch of times until cabin fever sinks in. If you need to teach people (or give a quick refresher course to a lapsed player), you can quickly build some two color decks to show people the ropes, and get them familiar with the mechanics of the game. Then, depending on the skill level (or bravery) of the people you are playing with, you can move on to drafting.
BRIEF DRAFTING ASIDE: What we’ve done with my Portal Cube is a modified Rotisserie Draft, much like deck-building games use (think Ascension). You lay out six or seven cards, and when one gets picked, replace it out of the cube with another one. This makes it to where newer players don’t get bombarded with a bunch of different cards for the first several picks, and encourages open discussion during the process about how cards work. Newer players (especially kids or drunk adults) will be less embarrassed to asked how something works if everyone is puzzling over it together.
Why is it called a Portal Cube? Well, there was once a terrible supplemental product called Portal that tried to teach people Magic by changing a lot of the rules and wording to make cards worse (I can’t believe it flopped!). Anyways, in an attempt to lower complexity, they stripped the game down to basic lands, creatures, and sorceries.
Now, my cube doesn’t limit itself to those three types, but it does keep in the spirit of Portal in other ways. Creatures are kept less complicated, and I have tried to err towards having versions of cards with reminder text when possible. Instants appear, but at a lower frequency than sorcery. Cards are meant to be understood quickly, so I’ve tried to limit combos in the Spike sense (“Splinter Twin my Deceiver Exarch, kill you”), and gone more towards combos in the sense of interactions (Conjurer’s Closet plus a thing!). “The less text, the better” is a good rule of thumb for putting something like this together. The complexity of Magic will be there regardless.
BRIEF MARK ROSEWATER ASIDE: MaRo says in Drive to Work a lot that the complexity in Magic is always there, and playing the Portal Cube proves his point unequivocally. It is amazing how much is going on, even in these “watered down” games. So try to keep it simple, you can always add more stuff later.
Oh, and there’s one other interesting thing about my Portal Cube, see if you can spot it.
When I first started putting it together a few years back, my wife remarked to me that a lot of the artwork for the black cards I was including was likely a bit too scary for the kids that were going to be playing with it. After about five fruitless minutes of trying to find less scary black cards, my inner developer kicked in: “Can I balance a cube and exclude a color?”
So far the results have been positive, although white seems to be way better in this cube than in any other I have ever built. Personally, it’s also a good challenge since so many of my other cubes have been very black-heavy, and it’s definitely the color I play the most in Constructed. Red has also stepped up as being the other good removal color, which is what happens when you make [card]Flametongue Kavu[/card] better. Eventually I’ll add black in, but for now it is kind of fun seeing what creativity is bred from that giant restriction. Oh, and enchantress is a viable strategy in this cube, so I’m sure it’s going to be Zak Whyte’s favorite.
Well, I think that does it for this week. If you have any feedback on my Portal Cube or you’ve built your own, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you want to talk about RUSH, I’m always down for that. Otherwise, I’ll see you next week*!
*No you won’t, I’ll be off for Christmas. Same for the following week. See you in January!
1 Freudian Slip: I typed “opponent” the first time through—which goes to show how I feel about trading these days.
Longtime magic player and TO.Loving husband and father. Cube > Commander.
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