Proxies, Why the Hate?
It seems like almost every podcast, website, forum, and general discussion group has at some point broached the
subject of proxies and when it is ok or not ok to use them. The tenor of the discussions tend to range from “I hate
proxies!!” to “um, I don’t like them, but they’re ok in moderation.” However, nobody seems to be pro-proxy.
I will take that stance! And frankly, I’m not just playing devil’s advocate, that’s actually how I feel.
Before I launch into specifics, though, there are a few fairly intuitive caveats that I need to mention that are a bit
THE PROBLEMS WITH PROXIES
1) Obviously proxies in DCI sanctioned play is out of the question (with one exception, more on this later). Wizards
has every right to require that we use their actual product to participate in the organized play events that they host.
I’m grateful that Hasbro continues to allow the magic playing community access to a tournament system held
together by their substantial infrastructure. If they required that we all wear “I [heart] Hasbro” t-shirts to play in
their events, that would be well within their purview and I know I would very quickly develop a collection of
Hasbro paraphernalia. Requiring that we use their product is the least they can ask.
2) I’m all for supporting my local card shop. The guy who runs it is very cool, and incredibly nice. His shop is the
reason I’m still playing magic, and I make the effort to send my money his way as much as I can. If I can afford to
buy the cards I need from him, and he has them in stock, I do so. Supporting him also supports the people that make
this great game. Without us buying any cards, they’ll go out of business and we won’t get cool new things like
Planechase, M10, or Zendikar.
3) I think playing magic is very much about the whole experience, and the artwork is a big part of that experience. I
dislike proxies that are just a basic land with “Baneslayer Angel” written in sharpie with nothing else. It’s a
disservice to the entire creative dept at WotC.
4) The final verdict on proxies is completely in the hands of the people you play with. If they hate them, there’s not
much you can do. You could show them this article, but if that doesn’t help you’re just going to end up with nobody
to play with. Nobody on the playground wants to play with the kid that insists on playing the games with his own
rules. This works in reverse too. If your group is fine with proxies and you hate them, suck it up and defer to the
group. You’ll be happier I promise.
That said, I’m all for the creation and use of proxies! Hopefully I can change some attitudes out there, as intelligent
use of proxying can truly enhance your magic playing experience, and recognizing the motivations for using them
might alleviate some frustration.
THE REASONS FOR PROXIES
Magic is one of the most customizable games ever created, which is one of its greatest strengths. Any given player
has the option to play the game in just about any way they wish, from Standard Constructed, to Cube drafting, to
EDH, to Legacy, to Solitaire variants, you name it. However, Magic cards are not free. It’s just a fact. Some
players (including myself) don’t have the kind of disposable income that would allow them to play the game the way
that they want to play it. A 15 year old kid that’s super-excited about vintage is probably not going to have the
means to purchase a set of the power 9. Maybe the educator in me is a bit too liberal about it, but the argument
“well if you can’t afford it you shouldn’t play” just doesn’t hold water for me. Proxies allow the financially-
challenged to play with the big money rares that they wouldn’t get a chance to otherwise.
Along the same lines, money rares aren’t the only issue with the financial end of things. Even in a casual playgroup
that emphasizes using non-tier 1 decks, newer players will almost always have a much smaller card pool than the
players around them that have been playing for years. Some of this can be overcome by borrowing cards and buying
boxes of bulk commons, but this only helps to a certain extent. It takes a substantial investment of both time and
money to grow a cardpool, and telling a player they can’t play or won’t have a chance of winning until they make
that investment is a good way to make them leave.
However, even if you do have the financial means, you shouldn’t be required to use them if it’s going to be wasted.
Play testing for a tournament seems to be one of the only reasons that tends to be accepted across the board.
Spending $80 on a playset of Thoughtseize for your 5cc deck really sucks if your testing shows that those slots
would better be used for another card, and that’s just your deck. Who’s willing to spend hundreds of dollars buying
all the cards for the decks you need to play test AGAINST. You’re not even going to be playing those cards! Good
economy or bad, nobody wants to shell out that kind of cash for cards that are only going to be used for testing. On
that note, it seems interesting to me that some of the people who rail against proxies because “you should buy the
cards if you’re going to play with them” are the same folks I see talking about their testing on Magic Workstation or
Apprentice. Aren’t those effectively just digital proxy systems that let you play over the internet?
The one exception to caveat #1 about DCI tournaments is my issue with vintage. I’ve heard the argument that
vintage is so cost prohibitive that they should allow proxies to open the format for more players. The counter
argument is that Menendian, Hiromichi, and their compatriots have made a huge monetary investment to be able to
play in that format. It would be extremely unfair to them to suddenly allow people to use proxies of cards they
didn’t shell out hundreds if not thousands of dollars for. Frankly, I agree with the latter in addition to the point that,
once again, this is Hasbro sponsored, they have every right to demand we use their actual product. My exception
lies in the disconnect between that right and their stated concern for the value of the collector’s investment (hence
the reserved list, etc). It seems to me like if you can demonstrate ownership of the actual card, you should be able to
play the game itself with proxies. I would much rather my Time Walk be sealed away in a hydrogen-bomb-proof
case than shuffled into a deck with crappy sleeves! Even the best sleeves can break, and that’s a ludicrous risk for
Hasbro to force it’s players to take with their investment.
Financial issues aside, some people just plain don’t have access to cards. This has become less of an issue as online
card shops like Star City and Blackborder have come into their own. Heck, even ebay is a good place to get cards
nowadays. But as anyone who’s been playing since the early days of the game can tell you, it hasn’t always been
that way. Furthermore, as Magic gains popularity globally, there are players who’s only access to cards might be the
boosters at Walmart. I’m certainly not going to try to make them feel bad for proxying. Whatever your reasons for
proxying, though, the way it’s done can make or break the playgroup’s acceptance of them.
THE METHOD OF PROXYING
A large issue people have with proxies is the quality of the proxy used. There are several methods to creating
proxies that carry their own pros and cons. Starting from the most basic:
Basic land or other crappy card with the name of the desired card written in sharpie)
Pros – Very quick and easy to make. If everyone in the playgroup knows the cards by heart, it’s not a problem. This
seems to be the most common method.
Cons – Some people dislike the lack of art. Some proxy-makers have horribly illegible handwriting that makes them
a pain to read. Most new players don’t know what the cards do and need to see it written
out. Anybody unfamiliar with the card will have an issue.
Same as above, but including writing the mana cost and abilities)
Pros – Still fairly easy to make. Again if everyone in the playgroup knows the cards by heart, it’s not a problem.
Cons – Slightly more time consuming. Some people dislike the lack of art. Same issues with handwriting and lack of
knowledge of the card by other players. The writing of the abilities is almost always shorthand, leaving any specific
rules questions to be directed towards Gatherer.
Same as above, but including hand drawn artwork)
Pros – Again if everyone in the playgroup knows the cards by heart, it’s not a problem. These can sometimes be
Cons – Much more time consuming. Some people dislike the lack of real art, even though the home-made stuff can
often be hysterically funny. Same issues with handwriting and lack of knowledge of the card by other players.
Basic land or Common card in sleeve with slip of paper over it)
This is subject to any of the same pros and cons as the above methods depending on how much information is
written on that piece of paper.
Cons – does require sleeves (if you consider this a con). It doesn’t work to tape paper to the card without a sleeve,
it’s too obvious which cards are proxies when you’re playing.
Land or Common in sleeve with COLOR PRINTOUT of card)
Cons – Again, it does require sleeves. Uses up printer ink.
Pros – EVERYTHING ELSE. Even with a basic color printer, the images from Gatherer can print out to be almost
exactly the right size for the sleeve to make it look like a real card. Aside from a bit of image degradation (they
don’t look perfect) you might as well be playing with the actual card! Apprentice and Workstation also have very
effective proxy printing options.
Every playgroup will have different standards for what’s acceptable in terms of proxy quality, but I highly encourage
John Q. Casual Magic Player out there to give that last option a try. You may not have the money or ability to pay
for the actual card, but it shows that you’ve put in effort to accommodate the rest of the group. It also looks much
nicer than the “sharpie special” no matter how you’re using it.
THE APPLICATION OF PROXIES
Many forms of magic (outside DCI sanctioned play) are either greatly enhanced with good proxies, or are even
downright dependent on them! Lets take a look at a few.
Whether you’re Sealed Decking, Rochester Drafting, basic ‘ole Booster Drafting, or whatever limited format you
like, the Cube is awesome. If you’re unfamiliar with this balls to the wall format, go check out
Evan Erwin’s page for the basics www.cubedrafting.com
However, very few people actually have the resources to put together a full powered cube without proxies. Frankly,
very few people have the resources to put together any kind of cube other than “crappy and random.” Part of the
thrill of the cube is that almost every card in it is ridiculously powerful, but those cards cost a lot of money. My
cube is approximately 15% proxies and while I’m endeavoring to shrink that percentage, and it’s still tons of fun.
Even if I did manage to scrape together the power 9 and the other broken vintage staples that make the cube what it
is…I probably wouldn’t put them in little plastic sleeves in the cube! No thank you, proxies make the world go
’round when it comes to cubing.
Elder Dragon Highlander
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably already know about EDH, but just in case here’s the rules
This format is less dependent on proxies, and will function just fine and be tons of fun without them. It sure is a
whole lot more fun with them though! In a format where your entire 100 card deck is singletons, and almost any
card from magic’s history is legal, the ability to proxy cards is huge. The games end up being far more epic, and the
power level is much higher. Access to all the craziest card in magic to make your General’s army go nuts is one of
the best parts of the format.
Already discussed at length, no need to beat a dead horse. Moving on…
Non-Sanctioned Tier 1 Play
Some people just plain enjoy using extremely powerful decks. Most casual groups don’t, and most tournament
oriented groups are more interested in tournament prep, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to play a massively
powerful deck just for the sake of doing so. Proxying up Gindy’s Nationals winning 5 Color Control deck can be a
really cool experience. Like going to the Porche dealer and taking a GT3 RS out for a test drive! Sure, you’re ’95
Honda Civic has 4 wheels and an engine, but it doesn’t go 400 mph!
On the same token, even if you’re not going for Tier 1 level decks, to take advantage of the Vintage/Legacy cardpool
is going to take quite a bit of cash. Most casual groups play “Legacy.” I put that in quotes because while any card
pool including cards from before Onslaught is technically Legacy, they usually end up being “casual.” There’s
absolutely nothing wrong with that, I love me some casual, but for those out there that want to play with old
powerful cards, proxying will usually be the answer.
I guess this is a bit of a plug, my playgroup invented this particular format. Here’s how it works:
Everyone has infinite life. To win, you either need an alternate win condition, or you need to demonstrate an infinite
Lots of fun, but pretty much unplayable without proxies. The format is mostly about surprising the group with an
unexpected combo, so you rarely play the same deck from session to session. Additionally, you end up using all
kinds of obscure cards from across magics history. If you were actually buying them, it could easily cost in the
hundreds of dollars per session to have any chance of winning. Having the cards printed out so everyone can see
what they do is huge, the “Sharpie special” is AWFUL in this format. I mean really, could you recite the text of
Opalescence off the top of your head? As long as your playgroup is ok with proxying, it’d be worth giving this
format a try.
THE REACTION TO PROXIES
Not every playgroup will be ok with it, though. As much as I’d love everyone to agree with me, I know my position
is a fairly unpopular one. Most playgroups have a “meh…don’t over do it” agreement about proxying, and get ticked
off when a player comes in with a 60 card deck where only 10 cards are real. I’m aware of that, and anyone who
wants to stay part of their group should be aware of it too. That said, allow me a moment on my soap box to spout a
completely personal opinion:
I think that’s a little strange. To me, magic has always been about the game and the friends I play it with, not about
the acquisition of cards. Yes, I have thousands of cards, but I don’t get irritated when someone who doesn’t prints
out a proxy for a card they don’t have. I mean, wouldn’t chess be kind of lame if everybody didn’t have access to the
same pieces? Or stratego? or poker? “My deck of cards doesn’t have any face cards…how can I beat his Jacks over
Queens?” That sure would feel unfair, and yet we force that feeling on so many players by not allowing proxies. I
would much rather everyone be on equal footing with resources to allow deckbuilding and playing ability determine
the winner, not how much money someone spent to get the real cards.
So next time you feel yourself getting frustrated by the guy across the table with a printed out Tarmagoyf in his
crazy Hypergenesis multiplayer deck, ask yourself if you might have more fun following his lead than being irritated
Have fun proxying up some power!