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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
[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.