Getting into Magic Online

I’m normally much happier playing Magic in person. It’s pleasant to sit around with friends, take in the environment, maybe watch other games or just chat with folks. That said, I’m also finding I’m at the point in life where I can’t do what I did in my grad school, Mechwarrior champion (seriously) days, and just head off to a tournament two or three days a week. However, I’d still like to be able to play, and to play in a competitive environment against a range of decks and play styles.
So I’ve been thinking about going in on a constructed deck on Magic Online for a little while now. I’m not a big fan of the virtual property, especially with redemption working the way it does (you need to complete a full set to redeem virtual cards for physical ones). However, I do like the “play whenever” convenience, including the fact that I can still hang out near my friends and loved ones instead of having to truck off to a game store thirty or more minutes away.
I started out with Magic online by playing in the current open beta. I heartily recommend this as a way to try the game for free — you can draft, play sealed, played casually — it depends on what they’re testing that week. This opportunity may go away soon, as Wizards is shooting for a release of 3.0 in early 2008. So if you’re going to try it, try it now.
You can get information on the open beta by clicking here.
One major limitation to getting into Magic online, for me, was how annoying the buying and selling environment is. Basically, you’re stuck with a cluttered, hard-to-parse message board system. Too annoying to use. While you can buy Magic Online cards on ebay, that’s also a little cumbersome and slow (although searching for and buying things via ebay is much, much easier than the trading area on Magic Online).
Fortunately, I found my solution in the cleverly-designed CardShark site. Serving both physical and virtual collectible games, CardShark is basically a virtual escrow site. Sellers list items for sale, and buyers then buy these items via PayPal. PayPal, however, pays CardShark. CardShark then holds the money for a week, to give the buyer time to make sure that the deal is going correctly and that the property is being transferred. After this escrow period, CardShark pays out to the seller. CardShark also has a feedback rating system.
I decided to make my first constructed deck a Rock variant (since I do enjoy that color combination, and it lets me keep playing my favorite planeswalker). I was able to pick up all the cards I wanted in one fell swoop, and I gave my deck a test run in the Casual Play – Tournament Practice area last night. Good fun.
Deck list in the extended.

B/G Commands Rock

17 Creatures:
Llanowar Elves
Gemhide Sliver
Masked Admirers
20 Spells:
Loxodon Warhammer
Eyeblight’s Ending
Tendrils of Corruption
Garruk Wildspeaker
Liliana Vess
Primal Command
Profane Command
23 Land:
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Llanowar Wastes
Treetop Village
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
15 Sideboard:
Augur of Skulls
Darkheart Sliver
Loxodon Warhammer
Seedborn Muse
Viridian Shaman

This is a B/G Rock build with the introduction of Primal Command into the mix. I agree with Aaron Forsythe that Primal Command is underplayed. It can bounce planeswalkers and storage lands, seriously reset the clock against aggro, and tutor up a Cloudthresher to kill an annoying swarm of Faeries. The Distresses are sort-of-budget Thoughtseizes, except that I’m not 100% convinced that I’d really want to use Thoughtseize, as a turn one play is not often worth two life to me. The Gemhides are definitely budget Birds, although they do have a cute “combo” with the Darkhearts, should I side those in.
Yes, no Tarmogoyfs. Even though Magic Online cards are significantly cheaper than real-world cards, Tarmogoyfs are still too pricey (about $25 each). The Masked Admirers have been quite cool, though. My kills so far are coming on the back of Admirer + Village beats.