Giving Gifts in Magic

Giving Gifts in Magic

Tom AndersonCommander

As a kid, waking up on Christmas and unwrapping a bunch of cool new toys was the literal highlight of my year, as it probably was for many of us. But as an adult, I find more and more that giving out gifts is what I really look forward to — even in Magic

So in honor of the 12 Days of Christmas, I’ve prepared a list of the most legendarily generous gifts you can give to a Magic player. Maybe you can take some last-minute inspiration for your own shopping list? I’m sure your friends and relatives will thank you…

Mishra's Toy Workshop, Yule Ooze and Last-Minute Chopping
Numerous holiday promo cards made by Wizards of the Coast

One Single Point of Life

We kick off our Christmas list with this festively-colored land from Future Sight, which reminds us that even small gifts can make a big difference. 

OK, maybe one point of life isn’t much in the grand scheme of Magic. But giving your opponent one life every turn cycle ensures they’ll never forget about your generosity. Or your copy of Punishing Fire.

A Few 1/1 Spirit Tokens

Live pets can be a risky gift idea, but they’re just so dang cute! Forbidden Orchard makes it dangerously easy to hand out colorless Spirits to the special people in your game. Illustrate your own Christmas-themed tokens to double up on holiday cheer!

Just be careful you aren’t sending those sweet little tokens into an unhealthy environment, or one where keeping pets is frowned upon. And make sure you don’t get too carried away with the breeding operation — I’ve heard of a Loamspeaker who ended up creating an alarming amount of Spirits (and mana).

Bonus Mana – For The Whole Family!

There’s a bit of a stigma around giving out cash at Christmas instead of shopping for a “proper gift.” But you have to admit, it’s one gift you can be sure every recipient will enjoy using. Likewise, I’ve never met a Magic player who would turn down some free mana — even if they might regret it later. 

I, for one, believe Yurlok is a genuinely giving lizard. But like a bellyache after family dinner, he reminds us how bad it is to get too much of a good thing.

Everybody Else’s Spells

The holidays are fun, but also a good chance for reflection. Morally, there’s no act more selfless than to give someone the shirt off your back — or your spell off the stack. And there’s nothing more reflective than mirroring every instant and sorcery spell so every player can share them. Remember, sharing is caring! 

I just hope nobody at your table is the sort to overshare and ruin the moment. Nobody wants to hear about all the weird pacts you keep making when they’re about to have their upkeep. 

A Free Elephant!

I don’t really have to work too hard for the metaphor here, you say? The whole “best presents are impossible to regift,” “replace your best card with a funny token,” bit was already a perfectly-told joke before I butted in? 

Well FINE then — that’s fine! OK, cool. I know not to make an unwanted gift-giving more awkward than it already is. But tell me: if the joke is so perfect, then why can’t it make a 3/3 white Elephant creature token? 

Y’know, a white elephant sale — a thing that’s hard to give away? It just drives me peanuts.

All the Card Draw You Can Handle

If mana is like cash — a gift that’s useful but boring — free, extra card draw is like unwrapping an actual, live pony. It’s the kind of present Magic players can’t ever get enough of. Or so they think… 

Have you ever been at an exchange of modest gifts, perhaps between work colleagues or distant relatives, when some smug ass loudly hands over a gift four times more valuable than everything else? It’s so mortifyingly awkward nobody knows how to react — especially the poor embarrassed recipient. 

Anyway, that’s what this card does to people, too. You’ve been warned.

My Old, Pre-Loved Permanents

For many years, Zedruu was considered one of the most iconic cards in Commander. I have no idea if that holds true for newer players, but to me, she still perfectly captures the complex, two-faced energy of that format. 

Many players will look at this card and say “sweet, I get rewarded for playing favors and donating permanents to allied players at the table!” Many more will look at it and say “sweet, I get to instant-kill somebody with Transcendence.” 

Nowadays there are other legends who can let you play Santa Claus, but the original is still top of my lists, for both Naughty and Nice.

TWENTY Points of Life

If you’re one of the people who were unimpressed by Grove of the Burnwillows back at the start of our list, don’t worry — I still have some tricks up my sleeve. Now you can gain TWENTY TIMES as much life in one single trigger! That’s how you know we’re in the hall-of-fame tier of the Magic gifts list.

It’s true that Illusions of Grandeur is one of the most successful and popular Magic cards to give your opponents. But it’s like if you bought your significant other something YOU think is cool as an obvious way to buy it for yourself. 

The archaic rules templating on Illusions means you can put it into play, gain the 20 life and then pass the ticking time bomb off to your hapless opponent. And especially in formats with 20 starting life, that’s nothing to joke about.

False Hope

Here’s a question: what is the most cruel gift you could give someone? 

According to The Shawshank Redemption, it’s hope; hope that drives a man to endure endless suffering in the belief that things must get better. I would argue the illusion of choice is potentially even more damaging. 

If you’re torn between the two, don’t worry — Gifts Ungiven means you don’t need to choose (and neither does your opponent).

However fair this card was intended to be, merciless deck builders know the true puzzle here is how to make your opponent’s choice irrelevant. And a typical pile of two combo pieces and two recursion spells shows how simple that is to solve. 

Even the gifts you’ve “un-given” are going to wind up in your opponent’s ungrateful hands — which is why most players just give up instead.

The Biggest Creature in My Deck!

I’m worried that after the last few entries we might have lost sight of the genuine giving spirit we started the article with. Just look at how we’re representing Christmas: cards that mock your opponent with meaningless choices and “gifts” which are actually just helping yourself? Surely this good, honest green card will get us back on track…

From what I recall of Kaladesh’s release period, people did actually take this card at face value, i.e. totally unviable for all but the most casual settings. Then, just like Gifts Ungiven, people figured out how to get around that pesky “opponent may choose” part. 

If the choice is between Emrakul and, say, Charming Prince, you will always end up with the Emrakul — because the Prince can flicker it back to its owner’s side of the field. The best they can do is let you keep Emrakul in exchange for your Prince — and that’s a lopsided gift exchange if I’ve ever seen one.

My… ENTIRE Battlefield?

Yep, even the lands. We’re not messing around anymore. This is the big leagues of Christmas. If you want to be the best on this list, you have to give it 100% — and nothing in Magic does that quite like Sky Swallower

But to a certain kind of player, this kind of jaw-dropping drawback is an invitation to get creative. So, what might an extreme gifting enthusiast do to make this card playable?

A number of lands sacrifice themselves for a burst of bonus mana, which both cast Sky Swallower faster and leave less behind for you to give away. It’s also somewhere in the discussion for “Stifle-naught” style decks, which specialize in playing creatures with hideous ETBs and canceling the triggers.  

But perhaps the most holiday-appropriate thing to do with Sky Swallower is to somehow make it appear on your opponent’s side of the battlefield, like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, so your Scrooge of an opponent can share the joys of giving, too.

I N F I N I T E   T U R N S

There’s only one way you could top the generosity of giving someone all of your cards: give them all of your turns instead. Taking even two turns in a row is usually a triumphant moment in any game, and backbreaking for your opponent. Taking a billion turns in a row has been the final gambit for any number of combo decks in Magic history, including, arguably, the strongest deck ever

It’s certainly possible to activate the ability of Lethal Vapors infinity times on the stack and essentially delete all your future turns for the rest of the game. But what strategic justification could there be for doing so? 

Perhaps if they printed a way to also delete yourself as a targetable, vulnerable entity… then you could just leave your opponent to slowly run out of cards to draw, trapped alone in a desolate waste. And doesn’t that just sound like Christmas to you?


Alright, I think I’m all gifted out for now. That’s far from an exhaustive list, and I hope it inspires you all to go away and find more opportunities to be generous in your own games of Magic. I’m sure by now you can agree with me that it is DEFINITELY better to give than receive!

Have a happy holiday — and if you do use any of my gift ideas on your Magic-playing loved ones, be sure to tell me about their reactions on Twitter!