Windborn Musings – Proxies and the Casual Player

For as long as Magic cards have cost money, players have been using proxies.  And I’ve hated them for almost that long.  Trying to figure out what the card did, and which card that Island was supposed to be were the early issues I had with proxies. 

Rather than get into a long rant about the evils proxy cards bring to our game, I thought I would pretend to give you a balanced view of either side of the argument.  What I will do is lay out a reason to proxy, then knock it down like a small child with a delicate stack of building blocks.  Once I’ve given you a few of these reasons to proxy, I’ll explain reasons not to proxy, setting them like an impenetrable brick wall.[i]  Let’s get started!

Reasons to proxy

Your current collection is too small to be competitive with other people’s decks

I’ve started with what I think is the most valid reason to proxy in the hopes that you’ll forget it by the end of the article.  Not that I think this is a valid reason in all circumstances.  If you bought a few hundred cards and have decided that you are not going to buy any more, then the reason your decks are not competitive is not so much your small collection, but your unwillingness to buy more cards.  However, if you are simply at an early stage in your Magic career and don’t have a sizeable collection, I can understand wanting to proxy a few cards.

The benefit of casual play is that there will be very few times when you will need to proxy a card.  Early in my Magic career, I was building decks out of what I owned.  Why proxy a second Shivan Dragon when I could use the one that I had and a different dragon?  Admittedly, the other dragon was probably not optimal, but using more cards that I owned meant I had a wider range of expertise when it came to determining how good a new card would be. 

You love to alter cards

My thanks to Card Kitty for buffing up my "illegal" Force of Will

There are a group of people who take their proxy cards and do it up right. They pimp it out with an artist alter.  Some print off the card on regular paper, then carefully stick that on a card, then touch it up and make it look practically identical to the real thing. 

Let me just make it clear; I don’t consider these proxies.  These are alters and counterfeits.  There is some sweat equity involved in both varieties and I have respect for that, but these are not a proxy.  A proxy is a card I spent less than a minute to change.  I am impressed by many of these cards, but this is not what I’m talking about here. 


For this reason, you are using proxies because you can’t get the card you need.   Accessibility is only limited by supply and demand.  Supply is never an issue.  If you are looking for the latest mythic rare card, you will find it simply by looking in a few online card shops.  If you are looking for a mythic rare from a few years ago, an internet search will certainly find it.  If you are looking for a rare from a limited print run from Magic’s early days, then you aren’t really building a casual deck; you are actually building a Legacy or Vintage deck and you’ve stepped beyond the focus of this article.

And don’t tell me that you want the card in foil.  If you are going to use a proxy because you can’t find the card in foil, then you are clueless about pimping out a deck; don’t waste my time!

The real limiting factor when it comes to accessibility is cost.  You want a particular card, in any condition, but it is more than you are willing to pay.  Since you are playing Magic, I assume that you are willing to pay a minimum for cards.  You did buy some packs and have an understanding that entertainment costs money.  Your issue is that you are unwilling to pay the amount others are asking for a card.

The only legal proxy card

I, and anyone reading who has ever coveted a card for their deck, can completely relate.  The difference between all of us lies in what our threshold is to pay for a particular card.  Perhaps a Pernicious Deed is accessible to me, but not for you, simply because I am willing to pay $20.00 but you are only willing to pay $5.00.  I don’t know what your economic situation is, or what your “Magic budget” is.[ii]  I do know that as a casual player, your budget doesn’t need to be all that big.  We are not trying to put together the next big Standard deck, or some $1500 Legacy deck.  For the most part, you are looking to pick up four copies of a niche rare and a mana base that doesn’t limit you. 

Test Drive

This is the guy who builds the deck with a bunch of proxies, promising to get the cards in a few weeks if the deck works out.  Did you notice he came back the next week with the same deck and the same proxies?  He just keeps coming back with the same deck and the same proxies.  Finally, after several months of this bull, he announces that the deck didn’t work out, but he is trying out this new deck.  This one only has a couple of proxies in it too.  How many months until he decides that this deck isn’t working out either? 

It would be one thing if someone had built several Standard decks to test each of them out to determine which deck he wanted to buy, but that just isn’t the case.  Casual decks don’t need to be tested extensively for months against a group.  In fact, you don’t want to be testing them for months against your group.  You want the life of your deck to be that long.  You want to constantly be creating new decks to keep your opponents off-balance, not constantly feeding your playgroup your line of crap about testing out this latest deck. 

Cheap Bastard

The Cheap Bastard can't have my official Wizards playtest proxy card.

Odds are the Test Drive Guy is also the Cheap Bastard.  The Cheap Bastard is using proxies because he isn’t willing to dish out one thin dime for any more Magic cards.  He bitches endlessly about the costs of Magic cards and is getting closer and closer to playing decks that are all Plains and Sharpies.  You hate playing against this guy since it takes so long to figure out what he is actually playing since you can barely read his printing and every card he plays looks the same. 

Again, I can understand this if you are preparing for a Standard tournament.  I remember reading about one player who had a system that allowed him to use the same cards for several decks by using different color Sharpies to represent different decks.  However, we are talking casual players.  What are you doing?

Reasons not to proxy

More interesting and varied decks

If you aren’t proxying cards, it means your decks are going to be more inventive and interesting than the other guy who has four Primeval Titans in every one of his green decks.  Proxy man has no variation in his deck since he is just loading it with the “best cards” in that color and running them out.  If your collection doesn’t have enough Primeval Titans for every green deck you own, then you need to get more inventive.  Your opponents will appreciate it and you will get a strategic advantage, since your opponents won’t know how to deal with the unique cards you put into play.  Your decks will also be far more interesting for you as well.  You may end up surprising yourself and discovering that the card everyone else is using isn’t actually the best card for your deck.    

Running with a variety of cards also improves your ability to judge individual cards.  While Proxy Man uses the same single card, you are using a variety of cards that do the same thing.  You discover when paying less mana is better, or getting to draw a card is worth the extra cost.  Some varieties only come only as sorceries, but for what you need, being a sorcery is only a very limited drawback. 

Commander in particular is looking for variety, thus the singleton rules.  Seeing the same cards in every Commander deck you make violates the spirit of the format where the hope is to see different amazing things in each game.  That is made much more difficult if you are proxying the same cards for each deck. 

You aren’t a jerk

Now this heading needs some explaining.  Remember the guy I described who proxies all the time?  Remember the other guy who proxies a few cards and promises to get those cards, but never does? What are they telling everyone else at the table?  They are calling you a chump for actually buying the cards.  “Why did you spend money on a Seachrome Coast when you could have just sharpie a common land into one?” They are telling you that by proxying a card, they saved money and you are a moron for spending it. 

It keeps Magic going

Speaking of new cards, the Flying Camel was for a single Invitational. It was never actually printed.

Do you like new cards?  How long do you suppose Wizards of the Coast will make new cards if it stops being profitable?  How much money does Wizards make from a proxy?  If everyone is proxying cards, it means that Wizards makes no money.  If Wizards makes no money, then they will stop making Magic cards.  Support for proxied cards means Magic itself is being threatened. 

Even just proxying the expensive cards is dangerous.  Allowing proxies reduces the demand on cards, which reduces the value of the card. If cards never cost more than a dollar, retailers will have a hard time making money.  Your local brick and mortar store will eventually shut down without card prices climbing and falling to make money from.  Online stores will last a little longer, but not much.  Card values allow for bigger profit margins, which allow more businesses to stay open.  Proxies hurt the secondary market and the initial market.

Your metagame

This is an argument that I have never heard anyone else make, and to me it is the strongest argument against proxies in casual play.  Not allowing proxies means that players are forced to play with only the cards they have or are willing to buy.  This brings a natural limit to most casual metagames.  You are unlikely to see everyone at your table running the optimal deck build for whatever strategy they have chosen to play.  Describing this in the extreme, it means that everyone is not playing Black Lotus and Moxes in their decks. 

In reality, I expect for most groups, it means that you and your friends will each have one or two decks that have the optimal cards and are as tuned as you can get them.  You will have your Bayou and Pernicious Deed and Primeval Titan in your pet deck, ready to crush your opponents , while your other decks will be suboptimal since they are without the Bayou, Pernicious Deed and Primeval Titan that you loaded into your favorite EDH deck.  This creates variety in your decklists and makes games far more interesting when players are running unusual decklists because they don’t have another copy of their go-to card. 

I understand the downside in this scenario:  if I’m spending more on cards every week, I will likely be running better cards than you and will likely win more games.  The difficulty with this argument is that the player who plays out these threats is more likely to be targeted early and often, as they will be more likely to draw these big threats, while someone who has fewer threats is targeted less often, allowing them to stockpile their limited threats for an alpha strike later in the game. 

It should also be mentioned that there are very few casual decks that need a particular card to function.  While a particular card might be best option, there are usually a variety of cards that perform the same function in another way that cost significantly less. 


In the end, we are playing a casual game of Magic.  Work with what you have and build something no one has seen before.  Had I been running proxies I would have never discovered the fun of Auratog, or the power of playing a reactive game.   Your game play will be far more satisfying without proxies than the guy who is proxying up the power cards, trying to win with the same old same old… sharpied on a Swamp.

Bruce Richard

[i] So yes, this is a rant, but it is disguised as a fact-based argument. 

[ii] For those who are curious, my Magic budget is $10.00 per week.  Some weeks I am frustrated by this limited number, but mostly I am able to get pretty much any card I want.


About Windborn Muse

If you seek limited or constructed tournament knowledge, wrapped up with excellent comedic writing, you are in the wrong place. Planted firmly at the kitchen table, Bruce (the Windborn Muse) is all things casual, focusing primarily on strategies for multiplayer games wrapped up with horrific, train wreck attempts at humour. Bruce is married to an extremely tolerant woman and has three children who will not go near him in public. In real life Bruce works as an attorney and lives just outside Boston.
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16 Responses to Windborn Musings – Proxies and the Casual Player

  1. Razjah says:

    I love this article.

    I have had a few players in my group ask me about proxies. I have one occasion where I will allow proxies: the cards are in the mail. I’m at collegeand out mailroom will back up sometimes. So the cards ordered Monday for Friday’s game with 2 day shipping will get to you on Tuesday the following week. Then, and only then, can you proxy cards. I tell the people who ask about proxies a slight threat. If they proxy, then I can proxy. This tends to scare them away from the idea (I’m my group’s threat).

    I will show people in my group types of cards to get. I show them mostly common and uncommons and some rares. Then I tell them to look for similar effects, but you can’t expect commons to be as efficient. I also build decks with very few rares to prove that it is a realistic thing. My “noobinator” deck has 4 Deep-Sea Kraken and 2 Troll Ascetics. The trolls are replacable with any hard to target efficient beater. I try to show the new players that they can compete with just a few rares or none at all (yeah pauper!).

  2. Jesse says:

    I think proxying is permittable in a few rare areas when dealing with multiplayer.

    1. The card is in the mail. If you use this excuse, you better have a receipt printed out or your e-mail open on your phone.

    2. Testing out a deck concept. I’m not talking about trying to decide if you want to run 3 or 4 of Gideon Jura, I mean diving deep into the depths of Magic’s history to pull up something very, very weird like trying to see if you can break Psychic Vortex. I often use this for weird Junk Rares that almost no one actually seems to own.

    3. No non-basic lands. You don’t get to proxy non-basic lands ever, because if you allow it then EVERYONE will start running full sets of duals. Occasionally people run out of basic lands, if you are throwing together a deck and say “All basic lands are plains” then I don’t really care. We’ve all been there and I’ll never forgive myself for the time I paid $0.50 for a single Plains because my deck needed it.

    4. The proxy is for a card you own currently in another deck (or is obscenely valuable). In this case, I treat them like the Checklist cards from Innistrad. Testing out new Fires deck? Sure, that random card that says “GARRUK WILDSPEAKER” is fine – just include all the necessary data (Name, Cost, Type, funny little drawing) and when you cast Garruk, you pull him out of the deck next to you. Though if you’re doing this every deck and every game, it’s time to dismantle something.

    Personally, I have a single “proxy.” It’s a Island that on the front says “WHEEL OF FORTUNE IN EDH DECK” and the back says “WHEEL OF FORTUNE IN REDBURN.” That way I always know where my one Wheel of Fortune actually is and can easily switch between them.

  3. nic says:

    I play about 25 EDH decks. I have 31/40 original dual lands. Out of courtesy to my playgroup (for time saving purposes) and in order to facilitate being able to play a large number of decks with little hassle, I keep one of each dual land in a binder (along with Gaea’s Cradle, Doubling season, and one of each sword of stuff and junk, etc.) and use semi artful sharpied Plains to placehold (I don’t use sleeves, so I can’t use printed proxies) for them. when I would reveal a placeholder, whether to play or graveyard, I always offer to pull out out the binder. I call it my Virtual Magic-Online Binder.
    The other 21 duals are (unsleeved and riffle shuffled) in other decks. I have never made a card that I didn’t own at least one copy of.

    • I have four copies of each dual land. I own two Maze of Ith and singles of the swords. If they are already in decks and I want them in another deck, I have a choice: leave them where they are and find an alternative, or find an alternative for the original deck. Bluntly put, you are simply running proxies.

      While I admire your efforts to minimize the annoyance of proxies, you are stunting your growth as a deckbuilder by leaning so heavily on the same cards in various decks.

      I also play 60×4 decks so your method with the binder would not work for me. Showing everyone a single copy of a Sword while having four proxies in the deck would allow me to run four copies in every deck I own without even owning four copies.

  4. Graveborn Muse says:

    I tend to agree with most of this, except for Nic – I in no way support the playing of unsleeved cards! To my mind, that is tantamount to child abuse 🙂
    Jesse is spot on that proxying non-basic lands is a slippery slope – one guy in my group has 4 islands in his mono-red Commnder deck and just says “those are fetchlands,” and another new guy just pimped out his precon deck with original duels, shocklands and fetches. I have at least four of each relevant land in Ghave colors (my first precon), but the only expensive land I put into it was Godless Shrine because it was the only one I could find that wasn’t already in use. His deck is better than mine because I own the cards…???!
    However, as an old school Mr. Suitcase, I do think it is important to give newer and less financial players a little more leeway. I remember when I was in grad school, my two most frequent opponents were a high school math teacher and an investment banker. There’s no way the same standards for proxying should be applied to both players.

    • Seedborn Muse says:

      It would cost about $150 to sleeve all my decks. You know what I can do with that money? Make more decks!

      Only recently have I gained the dexterity to shuffle with sleeves at all. I don’t prefer doing it. Besides, I’m normally building with junk rares. I’m not sleeving a $10 deck.

      • Graveborn Muse says:

        I prefer the feel of sleeves, although that might just be a personal thing. I have no particular obsession about sleeving all cards, but if you’re playing valuable cards without sleeves, you’re giving away money, which is never wise. On one hand, if you leave the game, or just need some cash in a hurry, a dealer is going to take one look at an HP dual and say, “That would have been worth something if you’d taken care of it.” On the other hand, if you play ’til you die and leave your cards to your grandkids, you’re ultimately taking cards out of circulation for future generations – “is this an island or an underground sea, gramps?” “I don’t know Barack, it’s too worn to tell.”
        I can understand the “It’s my card and I’ll do what I like with it” argument up to a point, but the cards objectively have value, and you’ll lose it if you don’t take a simple precaution.
        Perhaps most importantly, duals are apparently never going to be printed again. I don’t mind dropping my expensive iPhone occasionally, bcos I can eventually get a better one for the same price when I wear out this one, but the Unlimited Underground Sea that I bought for $10 or $20 is now worth ten times that much, and the price is only going to go up. Even now, I couldn’t justify replacing my duals if they got lost or worn out, never mind 10 years from now when a revised dual costs as much as a kidney!

      • I used to sleeve all my cards with Ultra Pro clear sleeves, mostly because they came in a box that fit a sleeved 60 card deck perfectly. I don’t think they sell them in those boxes any more. However, I kept buying them and sleeving all my cards. Finally the cost (and bulk) of sleeving all the cards just became too much and I stopped sleeving commons. Now, I sleeve only rares and my decks, and the decks are almost all sleeved with opaque backed sleeves. Prereleases are the only times I use my cards without sleeves.

  5. Alex P. says:

    I’ve had a similar frustration with tokens. I realize that actually demanding everyone have official card tokens would be quite the obnoxious bit of One-True-Wayism on my part (and it doesn’t really address the issues with specialty token-makers like Riku and Back from the Brink); but, still, I get a bit frustrated when I’m in a multiplayer game and someone’s cranking out Soldiers or Saprolings or Vampires or whatever with only a little die counter to indicate what’s going on. It adds a lot of pointless mental gymnastics to reading board states — and occasionally I’ll totally space on something and make a boneheaded play because I forget that those half-assed tokens are, well, actual game objects. Even just having a single token card to slap under the county dice would be a big courtesy to the other players.

    In contrast, I played a four-player game that included a Genesis Chamber on the field — which gives *everybody* tokens! — and, aside from an occasional missed trigger, there was no confusion because its owner thoughtfully brought a bunch of Myr tokens to hand out.

    • Tokens are a different story from proxies, but I see where you are going. As long as your “token” can clearly be shown to be tapped or not, I don’t really have a problem. If your deck makes a variety of token creatures, you’ll want to have some way to differentiate between them.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      I love it when someone uses a round glass bead as a creature token and then turns it 90 degrees to represent an attacker.

      • kyzneg says:

        The 90 degree turn of the beads is amusing. My old playgroup had a couple people who used round/oval beads that were flattened on one side (mostly seen them as vase filler outside of this use), and they would just flip them over so the flat side was up when they were tapped.

  6. We are a playgroup that gets together every week. Every week, most of us will have a new deck ready full of surprises and nastiness. We all use proxies. Good ones too. Make colour photocopies, cut them out, and slide them into a coloured-back sleeve in front of one of those zillion unusable commons (or WOTC adds from boosters) we all have. With a good copier, you don’t really see the difference until you close up.
    This practice has never prevented any of us from buying hundreds of cards every month. I have 24 decks at this point, and built & tested and decomposed almost double that this year alone. Most of my decks have about 10% proxies. Since I buy so many cards, i can’t afford to invest in Type Two power rares, and then buy them 4 times. None of us ever played a tournament, and none of us will.
    Mostly we’ll have one original rare. Then with the one we copy it 3 times if the deck we’re testing that month needs it. We buy just one and then copy them. It would be ridiculous to buy 4 at a time, just so we can HAVE not only one, but HAVE four, while we’re not even sure a card will work! Instead I buy useful and playtestable commons, uncommons and cheap rares. We buy a hell of a lot more cards than most, we only play casual multiplayer and we use proxies galore. We made WOTC rich and even supported our local Hindi copyshop.

    • Your playgroup apparently has no problem with everyone playing some proxied version of the currently popular deck. I’m glad that is working out for everyone. I was wondering:
      1. If you are going to proxy, why buy any cards at all? Just print off the image of any card from Gatherer. This way you will never need to buy any cards. You made it clear that cost is the reason you aren’t buying all the cards you need, so why spend any money on cards at all?
      2. If you are playing casually, then why do you need so many copies of power cards? Exercise your inner Johnny and try using some junk rares or interesting combinations of cards you already have. If your group is big enough, you can probably even trade within your group for the cards you need.

      • Alex P. says:

        I think your argument #2 is a bit specious. A lot of recent high-valued “power cards” tend to have fairly unique mechanics. You see this with planeswalkers in particular (which are often high-priced on the singles market because of combined demand from tournament players, casual players, and collectors). You can probably find cards that are “good enough” to make a deck work, but if you want the Timmy-fun experience of flipping Garruk Relentless or hitting Karn’s time-travel ultimate, you’ve pretty much gotta play those specific cards.

  7. Pingback: Proxy casual | Keikohiraoka

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