A Proxy Upon Their House

Dana Roach • February 19, 2021

Pox by Cornelius Brudi

Should Commander Have Proxies?

I don't like proxies in Commander, and I'm going to need you to bear with me as I explain why I don't today, and why that may change tomorrow.

There are lots of reasons I don't like them. I don't like that they almost invariably lead to an arms race, even among people not interested in an arms race, because given a choice between powering up to meet the increased group power that proxies almost always bring or losing way more frequently, people generally chose to not lose. Printer goes brrrrrrr. I don't like that they frequently take money out of the pocket of your LGS. You know, the place where you used to show up to play in the Times Before the Great Plague to fire up a few pods while spending absolutely zero dollars. I don't like that there is often a sense of entitlement that comes with proxies. You have this, so I deserve this, this and that. When all is said and done however, I don't think any of those reasons really matter. What matters is I don't like them because I don't believe you when you explain why you're running them.

Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind

We're going to come back to that last one, because that's the main point I'm going to talk about in this article before I go on to talk about how that line of thinking might no longer be true here in the Second Year of the Virus 2021. First we have some work to do in setting the parameters of this discussion. For starters, I'm not talking about cEDH; that's a slice of the Commander pie where game states are actively worse if you aren't playing as close as you can get to the best version of your deck. Second, there are absolutely people making sincere, honest arguments about their financial constraints and the need to proxy to even play the game at all. Saying I don't believe you when you explain why're your running proxies is a bit hyperbolic; there are situations where I do believe you.

Just not that many.

Next, I think we should talk about the three primary types of proxies:

  1. Art proxies: Art proxies are cards whose primary purpose is to inert alternate art into the game. If you're someone looking to run a deck thematically based on Gravity Falls, getting a proxy of Rowan Kenrith and Will Kenrith as Dipper and Mabel Pines is way to do that.
  2. Temp proxies: Temp proxies are cards people run with the intention of eventually acquiring the real thing. Want to see if Forsaken Monument is worth the $8 it would cost to add it to your Sai, Master Thopterist deck before making the purchase? Looking to put together a Bruvac the Grandiloquent deck but you haven't gotten the store credit yet from Card Kingdom to buy one? In the mood to have someone pour sugar in your gas tank but your LGS doesn't have any copies of Tergrid, God of Fright in the case this week? Printing up a temp proxy will get you there.
  3. Proxy proxies: You don't own a Timetwister and you want one in a deck so you fire up the printer.

I'm going to be talking about the third one, because that's where my issues lie. Have fun making your Command Tower into the Mystery Shack or scratching LITHOFORM ENGINE onto the back of an Arby's receipt and sleeving that up to determine if it's worth the $10 for your superfriends deck; I'm down with all of that. It's #3 on the list above I have an issue with.

Because I don't believe you when you explain why you're running them.

The sickness doth infect The very life blood of our enterprise

Now, let's be clear here. I'm not saying I don't believe the arguments. I've heard them a dozen variations on the various rationalizations for running proxies in decks. They make a lot of sense and don't require rehashing here. I just don't believe you when you use them to justify why you're running proxies. Why is that? Without exaggeration, 90% of the time I encounter Type 3 proxies out in the wild, the person is using them to play at a power level beyond the pod they are in. That includes my local shop, that includes other shops I pop into for pick-up games when I'm out of town traveling for work, that includes games I play at events like MagicFest and CommandFest, and that includes webcam EDH games I've played with some of the most vocal pro-proxy people in the EDH twittersphere. Give all the valid reasons you want for proxies, and there are plenty, but valid reasons or not a whole lot of the time very clearly the reasons people are running these proxies is they want to crush with cards they don't own when matched against weaker decks.

Now, are these people lying about their motivations? Maybe. There's unsavory people out there. Also maybe not; people aren't always consciously aware of their own motivations. Regardless, the amount of times I've seen someone sit down and tell me they have a couple of proxied shocklands and a Parallel Lives for their token deck because they can't really afford to spend more than $30 on a full list is absolutely dwarfed by the amount of times someone has blown past the Rule 0 conversation, sat down and said "down with Capitalism" and proceeded to pull out a Kenrith the Returned King list with a $6,000 proxied mana base and black-core copies of Force of Will, Intuition, Mana Drain, Wheel of Fortune and Yawgmoth's Will in a pod where an opponent's commander is Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon".

That however, is today. Tomorrow? That may be another story.

When churchyard yawn and hell itself breathing out contagion to the world

After all, books were something only available to the fantastically privileged until the printing press, and the human body was not capable of running a four-minute mile, until it did. Similarly, I think conditions are such that we may be primed to see a wholesale shift in usage of proxies in Commander due to the recent radical price increase in all sorts of formerly affordable cards. So while I don't believe you today, I may tomorrow.

See, back in the halcyon days of 2014 when I had first started playing EDH, I didn't really update my decks. We just put 100 cards together, and started playing. Eventually however, our playgroup expanded, and I started taking a look at making small improvements here or there to the budget decks I had put together. First and foremost I decided to replace the Diabolic Tutor that had cost me a quarter with that near-mint Demonic Tutor my LGS had in their case. The cost? $11.

Today as you can see thanks to this handy screencap from MTGStocks.com, it would run around $40.

Don't get me wrong, $11 isn't nothing for a lot of players, but it's also the kind of thing if you're so inclined you an pretty easily set aside by hitting the vending machine a few less times at work. Today, though, the current cost of $40 is almost the cost of my garbage collection bill for a card that's a card not even on the Reserved List. That is a lot of money, and not something you can just casually pick up by not buying a Snickers for the next couple of weeks.

Later that same year I decided to really splurge on a significant upgrade, and I ordered my first ABUR dual land from TCGplayer.

I was fortunate enough to be able to afford a card that cost a little more than what I pay for garbage collection back in 2014. The cheapest LP Savannah as of February 17th, 2021? The cheapest copy on TCGplayer would run $335. That's a car payment. Technically it's more than my current car payment.

It isn't just big Reserved List powerhouses or absurdly efficient tutors that have skyrocketed in cost recently.

Hall of Gemstone is a dynamite little card in a mono-green deck that can make life really difficult for people running few basics, if you're into that kind of thing. Short of having mana rocks in place, it makes most multi-colored spells, including commanders, nearly uncastable, and can shut down counter magic and instant speed answers. Pendrell Mists is a stax powerhouse, an enchantment version of the infamous The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Tithe is probably the second best white land fetcher after Land Tax, and a card I would put in any mono-White or Boros deck. All of them are cards you could get for under $5 in the very recent past, and all are now going to cost you a decent chunk of your grocery budget to buy. Oh, and that non-Reserved List Land Tax? It's $30 for the cheapest copy, and that's after a reprint six months ago.

There's a whole host of formerly affordable old cards that used to populate my decks that were I entering the format today I simply would not buy due to their current price point, things like City of Solitude, Corpse Dance, Lake of the Dead, and Tombstone Stairwell. Not only would I not buy most of them, the cost of "budget" cards has also shot through the roof. Signets and Talismans that formerly ran a quarter are now over a dollar, and rocks like Fellwar Stone that were once fifty cents are now several dollars. When the artifact mana base that used to cost you $3 now costs you $15, that's one less $10 card you can put into your deck.  New cards aren't immune to any of this either. The Great Henge is $50 almost entirely due to EDH play, and it's currently Standard-legal. Smothering Tithe just recently rotated, and it's over $30.

Pluck him thence, lest his infection, being of catching nature, spread further

The amount and type of cards drifting up into a range that makes them unaffordable to a lot of people has drastically changed in the last six months or so. 2021 is going to be an interesting year as we hopefully begin to move forward into a post-pandemic world, and I'll be curious if we also see a shift in the amount of people seriously proxying because the game's price point has moved beyond their ability to afford playing, and not just because they want to get their stomp on. Such a thing would change my opinion of the practice should it happen, and I might start believing people again.


Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcasts. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son where he has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.