If you’re anything like me, you want to improve at Magic. The ability to make quick decisions, decisive plays, and parse complicated stack interactions are a Magic player’s bread and butter. Sharpening and honing your skills helps inform your deckbuilding, decision-making, and politicking choices, and makes you a better player.
You’re not going to find advice for any of that here.
Hi! My name is Dante and I’m here to talk about improving your game without necessarily improving your skill. At its heart, Commander is a social format. When you sit down at a Commander table, your deck isn’t the only thing you bring to the table - you also bring yourself. My philosophy is simple: bringing your best self to an EDH table improves your game by improving the experience of the three other people sitting down with you. This series will highlight actions you can take, things you can do, and behaviors you can adopt to improve yourself as a Commander player without necessarily improving your skill.
Most, if not all, of us have faced a token deck at some point in our EDH careers. Ghave, Slimefoot, Rhys, and maybe even Darien, King of Kjeldor once every other blue moon. Usually folks who regularly pilot token decks do their homework and bring enough tokens to play with. However, we’ve also all experienced token shortages more times than we can count. It’s usually innocent enough. Someone runs Smothering Tithe and doesn’t have a Treasure token. You forget that you run Swan Song and don’t have a Bird token to give away. These are tiny blunders, but it rarely stops at just one and they add up quickly.
Before you can say “In response…” we start using pocket change, dice, empty sleeves, face-down cards from decks we’re not playing, or whatever else is on hand to MacGyver all manner of tokens. And that’s when it starts to impact the game. I attack my Rec Sage into your penny, which I forgot was an untapped 3/3 Beast that used to be your Necropotence. Another guy forgets he’s got 6 Treasure tokens because tiny d6’s are easy to ignore. The third player has lost track of how many Vampire tokens she got from Elenda because someone bumped the table and caused the d20 to roll across her playmat. And let’s not forget about the person playing Kadena whose board is already full of face-down cards without Morph markers. It’s a nightmare.
How can you help to smooth out this situation? Simple: bring your own tokens. We all spend an inordinate amount of time tinkering and goldfishing with our decks. It doesn’t take long to sit with your deck and a notebook, make notes on what tokens it uses, and either purchase them or take a Sharpie to your least favorite basic land. Even if you just bring enough tokens to meet your own decks’ needs, you still make the experience better for everyone. Commander is a complicated game with crazy board states, and clarity is what makes games the best for everyone involved. No one likes attacking for lethal only to remember their opponent's face-down empty sleeve is a 1/1 Spirit chump blocker from Forbidden Orchard. If you provide that token for the table, everyone now has an equitable opportunity to properly assess the board state in the future. When everyone has that equitable opportunity, it leads to two things. First, you all have perfect information regarding what’s on the board, which begets informed decision-making. Secondly, informed decision-making typically leads to everyone having a better time with fewer feel-bads. Don’t get me wrong; you’re still gonna make some boneheaded decisions, but the information was always available if tokens are clearly marked and present. I generally find I’m most satisfied with a game, win or lose, when I know that I had all the pertinent information available. I’m willing to bet that most of your friends feel similarly. Help contribute to a well-informed pod with a properly represented board state. If everyone brings only the tokens they need for each of their decks, everyone is covered and everyone is happy.
I recently started bringing a small deck box full of commonly used tokens to my game nights; at least...I did before COVID happened, and will again when it’s safe to play in person. Bringing tokens to share has never failed to make me friends at a new table, and build camaraderie at my regular playgroups. While I can't cover all the things I can cover a good amount of corner cases. I have 0/1 Goats, 3/2 Eldrazi Horrors, 3/3 Elephants, 1/1 Human Clerics, 8/8 Octopuses, 1/1 Zombie Armies, all the evolutions of Reef Worm, and more 2/2 Wolves than I reasonably know what to do with. Do these corner case tokens always get played? No, hardly ever. But you never know, and it doesn't cost me much more than a space in my backpack to bring the small box of tokens just in case. It always makes a good experience for everyone when you are the playgroup's Mary Poppins and pull the Phyrexian Rebirth, Desolation Twin, and both Wurmcoil Engine tokens from your bag of holding all in the same evening. It's amazing just how much goodwill and positivity you contribute to your playgroup just by having a variety of tokens ready to play in case they're needed.
Now is as good a time as any to look through your LGS token bin (if they’re open) or shop online for cheap, commonly-used tokens, both for your own decks or to lend to a table. If you’re going to put together a small “deck” of tokens, I have a few suggestions where to start.
3/3 Beast for Beast Within
2/2 Bird for Swan Song
1/1 Elemental for Young Pyromancer
1/1 Plant for Avenger of Zendikar
Treasure tokens for Smothering Tithe
1/1 Thopter for artifact nonsense decks
1/1 Saproling, 1/1 Soldier, 1/1 Cat, and 1/1 Warrior because they always pop up
2/2 Zombie because there’s always a Zombie player
Monarch token because you never know
Poison token because it looks awesome
If you come to a game night with 4 each of those tokens, you will have likely covered the table for the evening, and made the experience more enjoyable for everyone. Even if all you do is scribble TREASURE in Sharpie across a basic, you’ll still be better off than you would using dice and empty sleeves. Your playgroups use more tokens than they think they do. Invest the time to figure out what they are, and put them in your deck boxes or build a cheap token library for $5. This isn’t just for you; this benefits everyone in the playgroup. And when everyone benefits, everyone walks away from game night as a winner.
And that wraps this edition of How to Get Better at Magic Without Really Trying. Come back next time when we talk about triggers!