MTG: Pick a Card, Any Card

Shuffling isn’t free.

In the world of the custom magic designer, there are some effects you wind up seeing a lot. One of them is the recurrent attempts to recreate the Power 9, another is to try and weasel around the Reserve List, and another is the attempt to fix the problem presented by the economic disparity of the fetchlands. The solution, the amateur designer thinks, is to create another, new, just as good fetchland that’s maybe a tiny bit worse.

The question that doesn’t get asked there, is: Why wouldn’t someone run both?

The problem that follows upon that is any fetchland good enough to run is going to be run by the people who also already have fetchlands (unless you do some ridiculous stuff to ensure the lands aren’t compatible, in which case you’re making the lands bad enough that they’re not runnable).

Really, the solution to fetchlands isn’t to make fetchlands more accessible. It’s to get rid of them entirely.

Set aside my existing complaints with the way fetchlands transform environments into sludgey nothingness. Set aside my complaints that the mana fixing presented by fetchlands and duals creates an environment with different aggressive pressures. Just look at fetchlands in terms of the pragmatic constraint they put on the game at a competitive level for the time spent not playing the game.

The tournament floor rules for shuffling present the idea that a deck must be reasonably randomised. This has led to a collection of best practices for what a shuffle is, which most tournament participants learn to practice and execute. But you don’t just shuffle yourself, you have to present the deck to your opponent, who then have the opportunity to shuffle your deck again, and then present it to you for a final cut. In a tournament environment, some of these shuffles are required.

Searching your deck once a game? Not a big deal, this shuffle-shuffle-cut procedure is a break from the conventional action of the game. Searching your deck then searching your opponent’s deck then searching your deck again then searching their deck again? You’ve added literally minutes to the game for mana smoothing.

This is also why any repeated tutor cards in custom magic need to be regarded with extreme distrust. Cards like Birthing Pod and Prime Speaker Vannifar are fundamentally dangerous, but it’s almost a grace that as used, they just win the game on the spot.

Custom magic loves repeated tutors, they love engine cards, they love trying to remake cards like Survival of the Fittest, or an exploration of Transmute and these designs are fine enough to play with, but when played with, they always present the same problem you get when this game of variance strives to destroy the variance that makes it interesting: The game slows down and gets more boring.

I’ve suggested, half seriously, from time to time, that you could make an interesting Commander format if every card that says ‘shuffle’ is banned. Out of the twenty thousand odd cards that exist, this would get rid of 783 – and a lot of them aren’t great.

Sure, you lose a lot of mana ramp and fixing, but you don’t lose all of it, and suddenly you have to look at colours in terms of all the redundant sorta-good copies that singleton formats promise. It’s a way to force the players to look at cards that they were ignoring, because they could always tutor the best ones.

It’s a way to make magic about controlling attention.

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