Magic, Vs Style

A while ago, Casey introduced me to the card game Vs System. It had a neat resource system where you could play any card as a resource of the same type. In Magic terms, you could play a black card as a Swamp, a green card as a Forest, etc.

What’s that you say? “What a brilliant idea!?” I agree! I’ve been thinking about how exactly such a system would work in the Magic universe.

It turns out that Wizards has already toyed with this idea, via their Magic Online Vanguard series of avatars. The Dakkon Blackblade avatar reads:

You may play any colored card from your hand as a copy of a basic land card chosen at random that can produce mana of one of the card’s colors.

Since I’m considering playing not online, but in meat space, where it can be a pain to make random decisions and keep track of them, I’d probably just make that:

You may play any single-colored card from your hand as a copy of a basic land card that can produce mana of the card’s color. You may play any non-land colorless or multi-colored card as a land that can produce one colorless mana.

Here’s how I think this plays out, after having played it this way a couple times:

  1. No mana flood or screw ever — you can’t have too little or too much mana, though you can definitely still get yourself in the position where you don’t have the right colors. Sort of. If you put in too many gold or colorless cards, then you can run into problems. So just be careful about providing enough solid color cards. If you were to use Dakkon’s rules (pick a random color), this point is relieved somewhat.
  2. The mana curve shifts right. Expensive cards are much more playable (you can guarantee playing it by just waiting X turns).
    Thus, bombs are more omni-present. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing (might make the game more interesting as a whole). People should just pack more insta-removal and Naturalizes. Plus, each player should have bombs, and neither player should be
    stuck at 2 mana. More grand clashes.
  3. Choosing which card to use as land and which to play was excruciating sometimes. Every hand was like a little puzzle. “If I spend this for mana, I can play these four other cards, but if I wait, I can do this and this on turn 5.” etc. This will get worse as the quality of decks goes up. It sucks to have to use an Oblivion Ring as a Plains. You have to really plan for the future. Lots of opportunity to mess up. I several times cursed using a certain card as land later in the game.
  4. Mana ramping is still good (playing cards like Druids that give you more mana faster). Mana smoothing becomes worse, but not useless, because it lets you play both your good black cards in your hand, rather than tossing one to play the other.
  5. Splashing colors is far less dangerous. Though you still need to draw at least two cards of the appropriate color to play any of them. So you have to be smart about your splashing. But that one red card in your hand that normally is useless just become a land.
  6. Color hosers and various sideboard cards will be maindecked. Situational cards of all stripes become playable. In fact, although I know this is a completely irrational response, I was often relieved to see a useless card in my hand, because it meant an easy choice for what to play as land.
  7. I don’t think the game necessarily slows down. I just think it makes all phases of the game important. You can still have a deck that rushes early before its opponent gets all the bombs he stuffed his deck with. Getting in that 10 points of damage before the end-game is still huge. But it does make it harder to maintain that early advantage.
  8. Land removal is crappy. It was always crappy, though, unless your deck was very well tuned for it (sligh red for example). There is an argument here that land removal becomes very close to discard, since your opponent is likely to replace the land with a new card from their hand. And discard is very good, since your opponent likely has bombs… But it’s a bit circuitous, and land destruction doesn’t usually net card advantage.
  9. Speaking of which, card advantage of any sort becomes huge. You’re not wasting your draws on puny Forests anymore, unless you want to.
  10. Not only does revealing cards from your deck as you play lands show your opponent what your deck is like, it shows your opponent what your hand is like and/or what you’re thinking (I got real worried when I saw that Ring being tossed). There is an interesting opportunity here to send signals to your opponent.
  11. During playtesting (with very terrible, hastily-thrown-together decks), after we got around six mana sources, we kind of stopped playing them, and started playing off the top of the library. A little like Off the Top, which was somewhat worrisome to us. But we figured normal Magic is like that too, once you get six lands. This just was more efficient about getting to that point and staying there.

Anyway, I’m super pumped to play this way. But no one else seems to be as excited (with the notable exception of Matt Cheung, my fellow playtester). QQ

Magic Revision

The following is written from my perspective as a casual limited player. Constructed does not hold my interest very much, and I don’t follow the pro scene. So I have my bias. But I think the following holds true for Magic as a whole.

The Problem

Magic has a problem; it’s slightly too subject to the whims of fortune. I’ve never been bothered too much by it, since on aggregate it works out. But the occasional frustrating game, particularly if it’s a ‘high stakes’ game, is annoying enough. I’m talking, of course, of mana screw.

Now, I’m aware that there are methods to minimize the risk. But it’s still there; high enough to warrant even an apologist like me to have inner doubts. You can carefully measure how many of each lands you’ll need, include mana smoothing cards, shuffle well, mulligan judiciously. All those are good and wise things to do.

But are they necessary? Why does Magic cause us to jump through hoops just to ensure that we actually get to the playing of the deck? Some randomness is desirable. But, I think there’s room to argue that we’re on the right of that curve. For the moment, assume we are.

A Solution

Dave and I have talked about possible ways to combat Magic’s mana balancing act. Wizards could introduce various widespread mechanics involving cheap cycling or turning cards into mana sources. They could create a new card type that could become a land if you didn’t need it. But those sorts of ‘patches’ would require card space, and Wizards would need to constantly dertermine which cards would get it. It would probably only last one block anyway.

Our preferred method is to borrow the mana system from VS. In VS, there are teams, parallels to Magic’s colors. You can play cards from a team into your ‘resource row’ and you can then use them to play further cards.

In terms of Magic, you could put green cards down into your ‘land row’ and treat them as Forests. This would solve so many problems.

Let’s walk through the consequences. Obviously, a lot of cards start being useless. Most mana smoothing becomes less relevant. Land searching cards are useless. It steals some of green’s (mana smoothing, but notably not mana ramping) and red’s (land removal) thunder. Certain cards might need errata. Artifacts would probably be played for colorless mana. I think it would make sense to play multi-colored cards as colorless too. Otherwise, they’d be too good.

Some strategies might be more powerful. Expensive cards are more playable, since you’ll always have some sort of mana, if you’re willing to use the rest of your cards as land. It would be easier to play more colors; three color decks might become the norm, rather than two colors.

All in all, I think it would be a relatively painless (for the scope of the change) fix. There will still be tradeoffs. Yes, you can guarantee you can play that 11 casting cost behemoth. But you’ll still have to wait 11 turns (unless you’re green) and give up 11 cards along the way. If Wizards wanted to restore emphasis on two color decks (I’m not sure whether I like two or three color norms, but if they liked), they could make two-color-specific cards much more prevelant.

With normal cards, you’d need at least two cards of a certain color before you could play either. But if the cards required two specific mana, you’d need at least three. This would tend to depress the desire for crazy rainbow decks.

It would add a whole new element of strategy. You would have to start thinking about a whole new set of tradeoffs. “Do I play this late game bomb as a land now to play this fast weenie, or do I give up quick beats in order to play the bomb?” By adding so many more decisions, Wizards would vastly increase the role skill can play. You’d rarely look back on a game and say, “there was nothing I could do.” At the same time, it would remove the swingy games where one player just never draws enough lands.

Not to say there wouldn’t be randomness. You’d still need to draw the right proportions of cards. And the right cards themselves. But as Dave said, right now, you need exactly one Mountain and one red card to play a red card. If you get two Mountains or two red cards, it doesn’t do you much good. With this scheme, any two red cards let you play red. It would remove the most frustrating random aspects, leaving enough to keep games interesting.

Eh, Wizards?

House Rule

This rule can be dropped into existing Magic. Wizards would have to carefully think about what errata to issue and how to design new sets with the rule, but by and large, it strikes me as an elegant patch. One that could be dropped into casual play groups as a house rule.

I haven’t played this way, so I can’t swear that it is the best thing since sliced bread. But it greatly intrigues me. People that I play Magic with, what do you think? Would you want to try this for a draft?

Update: I forgot to mention one detail. Dave and I talked about how in a draft, you’d probably need more cards since you no longer get land as free filling. Probably an extra pack?

Magic Online on Linux

I finally got around to trying Magic Online with wine on Linux. It worked great, only with one hitch: it gives an error about “Failed to create font resource sserife.fot fontname sserife.fon” during install.

Thankfully, I found a workaround: Find a random ttf font in /usr/share/font/truetype. Copy that to:

  • ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/temp/data/magic.fot
  • ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/temp/data/sserife.fon
  • ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/temp/data/vgasys.fon

Now the installer will finish. Gameplay seems to work without a hitch.

Magic Draft Analysis

Warning: This post is only intelligible to active Magic players. All others can safely skip it.

It may be presumptious of me to parade my draft choices around as if they were of interest to others, but I thought we might collectively get a kick out of going through a public sample draft. Especially as a companion piece to my draft advice post. I welcome feedback on my choices. Many are clearly up for debate.

I did this on They have a really neat sample drafter that lets you sit at a table with 7 (bad) bots and records your picks for posterity. My draft was number 1200317. Their draft links don’t seem to be saved forever, so sorry, readers of the year 2010.

You can click through all my choices at their site, so I’ll merely annotate them here.

Pack 1

  1. Three possibilities, all removal: Crib Swap, Tarfire, and Lash Out. Of the reds, Lash Out is better. Between it and Crib Swap, I favor Crib Swap for it’s guaranteed removal and changling ability. Plus, now my two downstream neighbors will likely fight over red.
  2. Between Briarhorn, Pestermite, and Plover Knights. Here I’d choose Knights over Pestermite because it matches my Swap and it’s just a stronger creature. Between Briarhorn and Knights… Briarhorn is strong, but I love fliers too much. The Knight chews through my opponents’ fliers and is a solid defender. The WW is a little troubling, but I have plenty of time to solidify white. The Briarhorn would start forcing me into a Kithkin mold I’m not ready for — I’m not that big a fan of the Kithkin synergy.
  3. Hmm, a second Pestermite. That seems like a solid signal, especially bundled with the Whiskergill. The Sniper is a nice creature too, but needs blue to complement it and we haven’t yet started with that. Plus, a 4/3 flier for 4 is too good to pass up. The Island condition I don’t think will be a problem since blue abounds with land modifiers. And blue is strong enough that it ends up in a lot of decks. He also makes a nice defender if all else fails.
  4. Glen is a good mana fixer if I end up with black, but not yet. Mulldrifter or Harbinger? Elves are a good tribe in my experience. But Harbinger would be a big change, as we’ve already got solid white and blue, setting ourselves up for merfolk. Again, I have to go with the flier. Card advantage doesn’t hurt either.
  5. Counter or quick beats? The picks we have so far are very controlling, slow ones. Two 5-cost fliers, a removal. The Merrow would fill a nice slot. Plus, he makes picking up the inevitable Tideshaper that much stronger.
  6. This is a tricky one. The Wanderwine is a beating, to be sure. But he’s expensive, requires two blue and a merfolk contingent (which, to be fair, looks like where we’re headed), and is easy to deal with. If his ability triggered if any merfolk got through, I’d be more interested. As it is, he just forces a two-for-one blocking trade. The Adept is quick beats and card advantage in one.
  7. Ah, the Tideshaper we’ve been looking for.
  8. Doran and Lignify are nice green cards, but we’re too deep in now to back out. Grabbing a Wispmare gives us good sideboarding.
  9. I’m not thrilled with it, but a Will will shore us up if we don’t get more Tideshapers.
  10. I like tricks

Pack 2

  1. Oooh, so many good cards. At least six solid ones: Vigor, Veteran, Whelm, Pestermite, Douser, and Avian. Let’s deal with this by color. Among the blue, Douser is the strongest. Whelm’s soft removal isn’t so good as evasive damage or lockdown control. Among the white, Veteran gets the nod for our developing merfolk theme. So, do we want to bother being distracted by green for Vigor’s sake? It’s a sore temptation, but I think not. GGG is too much at this point to divest ourselves of white. We’d give up too many good blue/white picks to catch up. Plus, Douser works so well with our existing cards. I’d rather have solid synergy than a few bombs. Let’s get our feeders to go green instead of us.
  2. There’s a lot of good stuff for us here. But I can’t ignore the Forced Fruition. In limited, it might as well read “You win the game.” Your opponent will get max three spells off after that hits the board. This is win condition #2 (our pair of beefy fliers being #1).
  3. Quick flying Avian or slow card advantage Mulldrifter? I’m a sucker for control, and draft is a rather slower format, so I go with the Mulldrifter.
  4. Ooh, a Reejerey. I’ll have to be more aggressive about picking merfolk.
  5. Judge of Currents is nice with a strong merfolk deck, but I’m not quite there. Divers is also good, but my deck so far is rather top-heavy. Lots of expensive fliers, but not much of an early ground game. The Harrier will be a good fit here to buy us some time. It also means I’ve thrown my bed in with white, if I had any doubts.
  6. Veteran seems like an easy choice, especially since I just grabbed a Harrier.
  7. Eh, nothing inspiring. I’ll take the white Vivid land in case my white doesn’t develop much further and I need to splash a third or white is essentially a splash itself.
  8. What?! Whiskergill, what are you doing here? Let me give you a good home. I wish I had more Tideshapers. Might end up in sideboard otherwise.
  9. I prefer creatures over tricks generally (unless maybe the trick is hard removal). But Whelm doesn’t do it for me, and Veteran has really good synergy.
  10. Fast Merrow over slow merrow. Plus, I’ve got so many Island-needy cards without the appropriate support that I’d rather have paying for the Island tech be optional rather than built-in to the cost at this point.
  11. Eh. Rascal. I’ll throw him in if I need the mid-creature slot.
  12. I won’t end up playing with the Dawnfluke, so I might as well not pretend I will. I’ll hate draft the Oak.
  13. Oh, the Judge of Current wheeled. I’ll gladly pick it up, as it looks like a much better fit now than earlier.

Pack 3

  1. Tideshaper seems like an odd first pick, but I really need them. And the rest of the cards here underwhelm, except of course for Whelm itself.
  2. A second Douser or a second Reejerey? I think Douser dominates the board more than Reejerey does. I tend to favor control over aggression, particularly for blue at this point. Douser comes out quick and immediately sets the scene. Reejerey requires a lot of auxillary support to be effective.
  3. Uh… Still true? Angler isn’t as good as a Douser here and I already have my fill of Mulldrifters. I don’t think one can have one’s fill of Dousers. Upstream is clearly not drafting blue and possibly regretting it.
  4. Meh. Might as well hate draft the Douser-killer.
  5. I have enough merfolk to make Drowner a Fruition-complementing win condition.
  6. Wow. A sixth pick Gate. This makes my previous controlling-the-board-until-I-get-going deck a punch-your-face-in-with-my-2-drops deck. The Merrows and Veterans are looking a lot better.
  7. Guh, nothing. Might as well screw up someone’s mana base.
  8. Hmm… An eighth pick Gate? Do I undervalue these? This makes the previous happenstance-Gate-agression idea into an active strategy.
  9. Finally, I’ll deign to pick up another Whelm.
  10. Now that I have two Gates and two Tideshapers, I can’t get enough Merrows.


  • 3 Deeptread Merrow
  • 1 Drowner of Secrets
  • 2 Ethereal Whiskergill
  • 1 Goldmeadow Harrier
  • 1 Judge of Currents
  • 1 Merrow Reejerey
  • 2 Mulldrifter
  • 1 Silvergill Adept
  • 3 Silvergill Douser
  • 2 Tideshaper Mystic
  • 2 Veteran of the Depths
  • 1 Crib Swap
  • 2 Dolmen Gate
  • 1 Forced Fruition
  • 11 Island
  • 6 Plains

I really like this deck. It’s typical blue control with a possible serious aggro element if I draw a Gate or Reejerey. It has enough late game to punch through the remaining damage. It has plenty of creature synergy, but is light on removal and tricks. Hopefully the Dousers can keep the board locked enough.

Even though I think my bot companions were bad enough to make this whole operation questionable, it was rather fun. A neat way to spend some brain cycles on Magic without paying a cent.

Magic Draft Advice

I play Magic drafts a lot. And I often end up giving new players a crash course on how to play. So I thought I’d write down what I tell people, figuring it’s useful info to anybody new to drafting, but familiar with Magic.

Drafting your cards

  1. Take creatures and creature removal. All else pales in comparison.
  2. Try to avoid more than two colors. Don’t bust your balls making a one color deck work. In the first case, your mana will be unpredictable. In the second, you’ll end up putting in too many suboptimal cards just to have smooth mana.
  3. Try to know your primary color (or one of your primary colors) after the first pack. Ideally know both colors after the second.
  4. Don’t be afraid to change colors in the second pack. Be afraid to change colors in the third.
  5. Card valuation is much more generous in draft. Generally it’s a slower format since decks aren’t well-tuned, so a five or six casting cost card is playable. But obviously don’t overdo them.
  6. Creatures with evasion (fear, flying, landwalk) are extremely strong.
  7. A well-rounded deck is stronger than a weak deck with a couple bombs.
  8. It’s not worth hate drafting (picking a card you can’t use just so no one else can) much. A mediocre card you do play with is far more useful to you than a bomb that you may or may not see in one game.
  9. Watch which colors are being picked by the people ‘feeding’ you (passing the packs to you). Don’t fight them for those colors. You’ll be rewarded by good picks on the third pack. Neighbors have a vested interest in cooperating for colors so that they all have good decks. Like I said, hate drafting doesn’t pay — just focus on your own problems. You won’t play them first anyway — you’ll be playing the people across the table.
  10. Likewise, send consistent signals during the first pack. You’ll regret not doing so during the second. If you get handed two strong black cards and one sorta-strong white card, prefer the white. Your next two downstream neighbers will ideally take a black each and fight over the color. Rather than you taking a black and one of them fighting you for it.

Building your deck

  1. Only play with 40 cards.
  2. You want about 15 creatures and 17 to 18 lands. 17 is pretty safe if you’re playing with just two colors. Try 18 with three. But really, salt to taste. That leaves around 7 to 8 non-creature cards, or ‘tricks.’
  3. To figure out how many lands of each type to use, try the following algorithm. It’s worked very well for me in the past.
    1. For each color in your deck (say, green), go through all your cards, counting how many green mana symbols appear on the card. If a card costs 1GG and has two abilities, each costing G, that counts as four. If there are alternate casting costs, only count the more costly.
    2. Divide by two, rounding up.
    3. Add one.
    4. This is the amount of green mana sources (likely forests) you need to support your green. Of course, fudge with this number as appropriate. It’s just a decent approximation.
  4. If you have a non-land source of mana (e.g. some artifact source), it counts as half a land. So you could take out a land slot if you had two of them.
  5. If you splash a color (i.e. including a very small amount of a color — say one or two cards) it’s probably best to have at least three mana sources for it.
  6. It’s OK to play with more than 40 cards. Generally, you’re going to be stuffing things you ‘need’ into the deck — artifact removal, creature removal, combat tricks — and you don’t always want to remove a creature to do it since it would through off your ratios. Keeping good ratios is probably more important than the 40 card cap. Do this with caution, as my above number-specific advice is targeted at a 40-card deck.

And feel free to break any of the above rules. No rule is hard and fast when it comes to Magic.

Off the Top

I may have mentioned the game Off the Top before, but never explained it. It’s a casual way of playing Magic.

What you do is grab a stack of cards — any old stack — and plunk it down in the middle of the table as a library. Both players start with no cards in their hand and an infinite number of all five basic lands. The players share the graveyard and library.

Some things are banned. Notably, any ‘library search’ ability is ignored (like ‘search for a creature and put it in your hand’). Any card whose sole purpose is to give you mana can be tossed. Other cards may be useless in this format as well, and you’ll likely have to make some card-by-card group decisions about that.

And that’s basically it. But our play group, having long experience with this game, has some recommendations on how to make this game more than merely a way to kill a few minutes.

Basically, you don’t want to play with a random stack. It’s best if you don’t use cards that are too powerful or instant wins (like fireball) nor trivial creatures like a 1/1 for 1. I’d say don’t include creatures larger than 4/4 unless they have an interesting drawback.

Some cards that we have found to be particularly fun are:

We play with just one copy of each card for variety and strategy (card-counting).

If playing with more than two people, I’d recommend playing teams or ‘attack right,’ where you can only attack the person to your right. This keeps the game moving.

Ravnica Prerelease

I just got back from the Ravnica prerelease in Boxborough. It was fun. The set is really neat, though I’ll leave the analysis of its quality and how it will affect the environment to more professional players.

There were a lot of people there. Steve says that this block is a response to the success of Invasion. After Wizards realized how much players liked the theme of multicolors, they decided they would do a second block to further explore it. Not wanting to wear us out on the concept, they decided that five years would be an appropriate gap. Well, the five years are up, and people definitely seem willing to explore the color wheel again.

They’ve got a new gimmick this time of encouraging specific two-color combinations. Four combinations are present in this set, and the other six will show up in the expansions. Each combination has its own keyword ability, so there are lots of neat tricks out there.

I definitely noticed a higher percentage of women at the prerelease. Still a minority of a minority, but I felt they were representing. Always nice to see.

Ninth Edition

There are a couple Magic-related things I want to get off my chest. First, Ninth Edition is pretty sweet. I love the aura change, I love that Blinking Spirit is back (though I’m still holding out for some Ivory Gargoyle loving), and I like the focus on making the set easy to learn. I’ve already bought an intro-to-the-game box with which to teach people.

Second, I have this one odd card-design question that my friends and I can’t really answer sufficiently. What is the most elegant way to phrase an ability that does nothing but target a permanent? That is, there are no side effects besides the act of targetting. Something like:

0: Target permanent is targetted.

That doesn’t seem quite right, making it sound like the permanent is being targeted twice. Wording like “Target permanent becomes the same colors that it already is” is also crap. Someone got an idea?

Update: Ben had the idea of making an equipment that could attach to anything for 0. I liked the idea, but since equipments can only equip creatures, I think it works with enchantments better. This doesn’t completely answer the question, since the wording relies on the card being an enchantment (e.g. can’t add the ability to a creature without licid crappiness), but it’s good enough for me.

Presence of Michael Jackson
Enchantment — Aura
You may pay W rather than pay Presence of Michael Jackson’s mana cost.
Enchant Permanent
0: Attach Presence of Michael Jackson to target permanent.

How to Shuffle a Magic Deck

Magic is a game with an often annoying luck component. Sometimes you draw too many lands, sometimes too few, sometimes the same card several turns in a row. One way to help mitigate this problem is to shuffle well. Cards tend to be clumped after a game (notably lands), so if you just plop the cards in play on top of your library afterwards and get on with it, your deck will definitely not be randomized.

There are steps you can take to shuffle well. Note that any form of seeding, or stacking the deck, is obviously strictly frowned upon. Some people think it is OK to intersperse lands every three cards because they half-heartedly shuffle afterwards. If it helps avoid mana problems, it’s seeding. If it doesn’t help avoid mana problems, why do it?

There are several popular ways to shuffle: the riffle shuffle (where you interweave two halves of the deck), stripping (where you take a chunk from the bottom, place it on the top, and repeat — sometimes called overhand shuffle), and pile shuffling (where you deal the cards into piles and reassemble the deck).

Persi Diaconis has studied the problem of shuffling a playing deck in great depth. For a playing deck of 52 cards, he says it takes about 5 riffle shuffles for casual play randomization, about 7 for pure randomization. Since we are playing with 60 cards, lets say we should riffle shuffle 6 or 7 times to randomize our decks.

Persi’s findings indicate just how bad stripping is. To randomize a deck via stripping as well as 5 riffle shuffles, he says it would take 2500 strips. This is because stripping only moves cards around in big clumps. Small regions of cards will still remain ordered. So, stripping is all but useless.

Pile shuffling is not technically a randomization method. You are placing the deck into piles in a definite, but arbitrary order. So, it does get rid of clumps of cards, but you are going to have to be careful about how you do it. If you pile shuffle a lot, I would recommend using a different number of piles each time and moreover, only ever using a prime number of piles. For example, only deal the deck into 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, etc. piles. This way, if you pile shuffle again, you won’t just go back to a previous ordering. For example, if you shuffled into 2 piles and then shuffled into 4 piles, you are undoing the effect of the previous shuffle.

What is particularly interesting is what happens when you pile shuffle using factors of the total size of the deck (assuming you rearrange the deck in a simple left-to-right manner). A Magic deck will have 60 cards, or 2 × 2 × 3 × 5 cards. If you pile shuffle four times, each time using one of those numbers of piles, you will have just reversed the order of the deck! Try it yourself with a smaller deck, say of 10 cards into 2 piles then 5. The order in which you choose the factors doesn’t matter. Pile shuffling all the factors of the deck size just reverses the deck!

If you pile shuffle a deck with 60 cards into piles of 2, then 3, then 5, you will have almost just reversed the cards, coming short by one pile shuffle of 2. Thus, you have the same result as if you had just pile shuffled a reversed deck into 2 piles once. That’s not very random. Using factors of the deck size can only ever shuffle it so much.

If you throw in a pile shuffle of a non-factor, like 7, it looks pretty random. As mentioned above, pile shuffling will never truly randomize, but no obvious patterns will arise from non-factors. So, I recommend sticking to non-factors and using 7, 11, or 13 piles. And obviously, do several pile shuffles (each with a different number of piles) because just doing it once separates cards but doesn’t give them the chance to randomly get back with their previous neighbors. Even better, just riffle shuffle.

The end result is that stripping doesn’t do jack, pile shuffling will barely randomize and then only if you take careful precautions, and riffle shuffling is your friend.

If you have trouble riffle shuffling or are worried about hurting your cards (give me a break, guys), I recommend just using the corners of the cards. Take the two halves, put your thumbs under a corner of both, lift, let them drop in an interweaving pattern, and push the two halves together. I find using the corners does not require as much dexterity as the more typical full riffle. It also doesn’t reveal the cards as much.

Size Matters

I have curiously strong opinions about some things, and Magic deck size is one of them. In Magic, decks have a minimum size (60 for constructed, 40 for limited) but no maximum size. A lot of people will feel that they more card love than a 60-card deck can hold or can’t bring themselves to remove any of the current cards to make room for new ones. That is a mistake. Magic’s randomness is the bane of all players. One of the best way to finesse your game is to tip the odds in your favor, and an easy way to do this is always play with the minimum deck size allowed.

Let’s say you add that 61st card. The hidden cost is that by drawing the new card, you don’t draw one of the other cards. If you are able to objectively grade all of your cards, then it’s easy — removing the “weakest” card increases your drawing the other, better cards. So by adding that 61st card, you are effectively saying there is then no weakest card (i.e. that all your cards have equal strength). I’ll bet you can find a card worse than the others in your deck.

Of course, you can’t always objectively grade your cards; your deck will have groups of cards for different purposes. Even so, your deck will have certain components that you will need from time to time. For example, Wear Away or Kokusho. By increasing the size of your deck, you are decreasing your chance of drawing those cards when you desperately need them.

If you have so many different strategies present in one deck that you need more than 60 cards to hold them all, I would argue that you need to focus more. Multiple deck directions breed poor consistency.

The argument that a larger deck protects against running out of cards seems inconsequential in comparison with the far more tangible benefits above. You never run out of cards. Unless the metagame specifically suggests it, you don’t need to worry about Millstone decks. Besides, there are better ways of dealing with Millstone than a 200-card deck.

Now, there are technically situations in which it would be good to have more cards. If you are really fine-tuning your percentages and you have access to many different, functionally-equivalent cards, then it might make sense. You could increase the number of all cards but a few to slightly decrease the chances of drawing them or other similar adjustments. But in practice, cards aren’t so equivalent and 60 cards is plenty of room to finely set percentages.

I would say it is far better to set percentages by decreasing the size of your deck. Using cards like Conjurer’s Bauble or Reach Through Mists lets you play with an effectively smaller deck, in turn improving the consistency of the meat of your deck.