I see proxies a lot in Commander. It always confuses me, especially when there’s no disclosure beforehand. Below is my personal take on it broken down by why I hear or think they are being used. I’ll warn you, I take a very strong anti-proxy view.
The “I Have N Decks” Argument
This is the one I hear most frequently. Someone has more than one Commander deck or the card is in a competitive deck, but wants the particular card(s) in more decks. They don’t want to go through the effort or time of switching cards from deck to deck every game. I fully understand that it would annoying to switch cards back and forth between games, but I don’t think this argument holds water. If this is your main argument, don’t use proxies. There are other cards that you can use. I think the real issue here is in Power Level, and I’ll address that below.
The I Can’t Afford N Copies” Argument
This is probably true and I applaud your sound financial decisions. I know this issue personally. The real questions is, does your deck truly need the card? Probably not. If this is your main reason for using a proxy, just don’t. I feel like this is also a hidden Power Level argument.
The Hidden Argument – Power Level
I think this is the root of the problem. The deck builder wants all of their decks to be as powerful as it can be given their collection. The fact that their deck won’t have the ABUR dual, shock, or fetch land is something that cannot be accepted. I’ll ask you though, does it really need that card? I understand that your deck will be worse. I understand that your manabase will be shakier and that you’ll have more games where you are color screwed (and that these aren’t fun). The truth is your deck probably doesn’t need that card. Every black deck doesn’t need Demonic Tutor. Your blue decks don’t all need Mystic Confluence or Cyclonic Rift. You have the ability to choose which deck it goes in. This is the same choice that most deck builders have to make. It’s okay if your deck is a little worse.
When Are Proxies Okay?
There are a few times where I’m okay with proxies. The first are artistic proxies (ex. something the @TheProxyGuy makes) which are pieces of art. These are totally fine with me, assuming you own the card. If you have an artistic rendition of a card that you normally you could not afford in replacement of actually owning the card, I have an issue with it. My problem with this grows with the price tag of the proxied card.
The second is if your card is off with an artist to get altered. If this is true, by all means use the proxy version until the alter gets back. When you alter gets back, assuming it is appropriate for family audiences, show me (or your play group). Not because I’m a grumpy old man and need you to prove you weren’t lying to me, but I just want to see how cool it is.
The last reason I’m okay with a proxy is if you are testing to see if it’s worth purchasing. I understand that resources are not infinite and that Magic is expensive. If you need to test a deck for a week or two to see if a particular card is worth your Magic budget, go for it. However, if you come back week after week still testing the same card I’ll call you out on it.
I’m not here to only speak out against proxy users or to sound like the high and mighty arbiter of casual deck building. I know that the the arguments above are popular and I’ll share three potential solutions. The first comes from Commander’s Brew and is the Staple Binder. The way I understand it is that you keep a binder with you with all of your staples (they go in every or almost every X deck) and slot them in and out every game. I understand this is time consuming, but it does allow you to not spend extra money and still use the card in multiple decks.
The second is something I saw at a local shop here in Florida. The person kept a small pile of cards in hard sleeves with them, similar to a box for tokens, and simply swapped in the original card whenever the proxy was played. He was able to get the card in every deck without extra time or money.
The third is simple, find something else for the slot. Sure your deck won’t be as good as it could be, but it’ll push you as a deck builder to find a solution. You are also playing casually. Your deck doesn’t have to be perfectly tuned. Maybe you’ll even find a hidden gem for your deck.
I don’t like non-artistic proxies. I just don’t. I feel that all of the arguments that I regularly hear ultimately boil down to Power Level argument that could be solved with creative deck building. If you sit down with people, ask if they’re okay with proxies. Try not to be upset with their answer. Chances are they have had to solve the same problems in deck building as you have, but didn’t choose the proxy option. All that said, remember Commander (especially casually) is about having fun and your deck doesn’t need to be perfect in order to have fun. Until next time.
– Cowboy Kyle