The Kitchen Table #130: The Quest for the Perfect Token
Wherein Abe investigates the causes and symptoms of his Token Fever.
Chapter 1 - Infection
I blame Jamie Wakefield.
And Urza's Block.
You see, Jamie had just published, “It's All About the Dinosaurs.” He outlined the exploits of his Dinosaur figurines as Saproling tokens and his deck making it to the Pro Tour. I figured that I needed a token gimmick too. I bought a couple of packs of miniature plastic army men in traditional army men poses.
These were tiny, no taller than a penny set on its end. I took these unopened virginal bags of miniature toy soldiers with me to a Pro-Tour Qualifier where I used them as, among other things, +1/+1 counters given by my Hunting Moa. I remember using them as life counters, too. The Moa tokens were strictly small little guys, crouching, aiming a bazooka.
Looking back on my life, I think that was when the token bug bit me, but the fever would no manifest itself until much later.
Chapter 2 – Incubation
In the intervening years, I had occasionally experimented with different things as tokens. Unspent ammunition was a nice choice. My typical token selection, however, was a leather case with pull string.
Inside this case were numerous small objects. An bullet shell, one of my own miniature army men, the captain with an open hand and a pistol, several coins from other countries, the top of a pool cue, an odd looking screw, a keychain from Cuba, a pair of wooden dice from Williamsburg, a broken four sided blue die, and more.
I would dump out my bag of assorted goodies onto a table, and then cautiously select what was needed from the pile. Spike counters, life counters, token creatures, mana in my mana pool, and more, were all done by grabbing an assortment of the sundry items scattered across the table by my leather bag.
I would experiment with other things. One of my favorite choices was to use business cards from my new job to represent Call of the Herd tokens at several major tournaments. I even used them for a short time as tokens in casual games. I gave Geordie Tait one of my used business cards. On one side was my information, like my business address, name, phone, and job title. On the other was “4/4, flying, Red, Rukh.”
Penguin Mints were my creature token of choice for a while. I couldn't put them back into the box after using them, because I had touched them, and I couldn't offer my mints to others. Therefore I had to eat them. I never got tired in those tournaments, let me tell you!*
Then, the worst thing ever happened. Impulse shopping met the printing of the worst possible card, and the fever broke out.
Chapter 3 – Manifestation
I was shopping in a Meijer's store one day, and I needed counters. My friend and I were buying supplies for Magic night at his place, and I realized that I had forgotten my tokens. I decided to peruse the toy aisle in order to see what I could find. There were no small animals or army men here to use.
Then I spied it. It was a case of Lisa Frank Power Beads. This little case of beads designed for girls to make jewelry with was the best Magic accessory. Want to know why?
There were five different colors of wooden beads in the case, each with its own compartment. There were also five different colors of plastic beads in the case, each with its own compartment. In addition to all of this, there were several other compartments with sparkly beads of a variety of colors, and various tools like earring holders, and bracelet string, and whatnot.
Here is why the Lisa Frank Power Beads were such a great idea. The wooden colors were:
Plastic Bead Colors:
There is a bead for every color in Magic (Blue, Green, Red, Black, White). There are also several extra colors that can be used for colorless tokens or counters.
The Lisa Frank Power Beads set also comes with a few extra compartments, perfectly sized for d20s or other small counters. It makes a perfect Magic playing kit, but the line was apparently discontinued several years ago. Good luck finding these.
Now, the Lisa Frank Power Beads were great counters and tokens on their own. However, by themselves, they were not sufficient to make my disease manifest. However, another event occurred.
Scourge was released just a few weeks later.
How does Scourge change my token fever? How does it work? Well, Scourge itself wasn't responsible. Just one card from it was the catalyst. One single, solitary Green enchantment.
With Upwelling in play, now everybody needs to keep track of what mana is in their pool. They need to know what color, and exactly how much. Enter the Lisa Frank Power Beads. With every color of mana available, plus clear pink (which was usually colorless), the record keeping for Upwelling was significantly diminished.
I had the perfect tokens for the perfect card. Nevertheless, the Power Beads are far from perfect.
The plastic ones have a tendency to roll around when someone bumps into the table, or slams it in anger. Plus, no matter how cool you want to make your Lisa Frank Power Beads out to be, at the end of the day, you are playing with braces-junior-high-pimple-chick beads.
I needed something better. Thus, my quest began.
Chapter 4 – Raging Fever
I began to buy tokens everywhere. Pewter tokens, plastic animals, large chunks of glass, huge glass beads, Marvel Superhero figures, and more. I bought the StarCityGames.com line of tokens in seconds. I picked up some sculpted Japanese tokens with the power/toughness right on them (like a Zombie was a figure of a Zombie with a 2/2 written on its base.) I picked up the official Wizards of the Coast creature tokens, but those only lasted so long. HeroClix, MageKnight, StarWars – all sorts of miniatures entered the fray.
The problem was that so many commercially available options made great creature tokens, but they did not make good counters. A HeroClix Wolverine and a group of Stormtroopers might make great creature tokens for an entwined One Dozen Eyes, but they suck as Spike Weaker counters.
I began to realize my new mission in life as a token evangelist. When a friend used a die, I gave him something better. One year, for Christmas, I went to a dollar store and bought a pack of small plastic animals, and then gave them out to everybody in the group as Christmas presents and ways of getting better action tokens than dice and change.
A small pack of dogs, a small pack of frogs, a small pack of flies, a small pack of dinosaurs, a small pack o… wait a second… dinosaurs? Had my quest come full circle? Was I handing out a pack of plastic dinosaurs to a friend after beginning down this road having been inspired once, years ago, by dinosaurs?
Our lives are rife with cycles.
I was unstoppable. Everyone I played left with a pack of something to use as tokens. Marble cubes, giant glass beads, and more, all joined their animal friends as I sought conversion to the holy token quest. Tokens had become my grail.
And this is where I am today. Although I am not as rampant a missionary for Tokens as I once was, I continue to discover new and interesting tokens. Just last week I purchased a pair of bags of plastic gem looking chunks of color.
I do not know the cure for my condition, but I beg you all to stay away. I am a token leper, bound to infect you with a fever.
What would be a perfect token? Would discovery would cure my itch?
1). Perfect flexibility. A token would have to be useable as both a token creatures and as a counter for a permanent. This is a difficult road to tread.
2). Portability. A perfect token would have to be easily portable from one playing area to another.
3). Usability. The token would have to be perfectly usable. The Lisa Frank Power Beads, for example, rolled around a lot. Penguin Mints are edible yummyness and don't stay around for long. Play-doh messes up your cards.
4). Cool-ity. These tokens should look cool. The perfect token impresses with its cleverness and coolness. Lisa Frank Power Beads are not cool in a Magic-testosterone-nerd-never-shower sort of way, although you could argue that they are cool in a sixth-grade-check-maybe-if-you-like-me-my-little-pony-britteny-spears-is-awesome sort of way.
I hope that I shall find this token someday.
An Analysis of Tokens
Below is a quick assessment of the tokens that I have tried so far. If you are similarly infected, I hope that it will prove useful of sorts.
Ammunition – It's best to used unspent ammo and try to scare people. It rolls around and might be illegal in some gaming places, like lunchtime at elementary school. Still, it definitely has a cool factor of ten.
Business Cards – They make almost ideal creature tokens due to their similar size to normal Magic cards. They can usually be written one side, so they can be detailed. However, you always have a limited amount and they are horrible counters. They are a great way to say, “Look at me! I'm important enough to have business cards.”
Card Tokens – These are the StarCityGames.com tokens, or the Wizards tokens, or the Neutral Ground tokens and whatnot. They are great at doing what they are supposed to do. If you want a dragon token for your Dragon Roost, then the dragon token card is fine. The problem is that they make lousy counters for permanents, and aren't that useful as other tokens. You might convince people that a dragon card makes a passable Rukh token, but a Firecat or a Goblin?
Clix Base Rings – These are the little flexible colored plastic rings that go around the base of a HeroClix or other Clix figure. They are designed to remember which are your or to designate the use of feats in tournaments. They are available in a range of colors, so you can have some to represent different colors of Magic. Like most round things, they make poor tokens because they are impossible to tap. They do, however, stack nicely and make interesting counters. There is a brand of metal rings as well, and they stack even better.
Dice – Dice are so bland. Find something real to use. See Pirates' Dice below.
Giant Glass Gems – These are giant versions of the glass gems listed below. They have a much nicer size to them, and I like them a lot. However, they break more easily and you don't want to use them after that because of their sharp edges. Ick.
Glass Cubes – I found these in a pack of ten in the floral section at Meijer. They are nice sized, big and heavy. They are like paperweights for cards, so they make nice tokens. They come in an assortment of colors. However, they are expensive, and like the giant glass gems above, they can break on you.
Glass Gems – These are the classic aquarium sized glass gems with a round top and a flat bottom. They are boring pieces of nothing. They aren't cool, they don't look that good, everybody uses them so they aren't unique, they are easy to lose and I hate them. I've inherited around fifty of them in the past several years of hosting Magic night.
HeroClix Figures – Also includes MageKnight, Star Wars, and Mechwarrior figures. These are interesting tokens, but horrible counters. No one wants to put a bunch of Avengers on their Darksteel reactor. There's just not enough room.
Lisa Frank Power Beads – Provides a lot of tokens and counters cheaply, provides a convenient way to store them and more, and it has counters available in all of the Magic colors. Great if someone plays Upheaval. Be prepared for laughter and teasing. If you are male but not secure enough in your masculinity to wield a pink case carrying Power Beads, look elsewhere. If I were to buy something similar with today's stock of Lisa Frank items then I'd probably pick Lisa Frank: Goddess Gear.
Penguin Mints – I discovered a basic rule of counters when I used Penguin Mints: Don't use something edible as a counter. Your opponent occasionally pilfers your +1/+1 counter as a snack. Even in tournaments.
Pewter Token Coins – These are pewter coin shaped tokens and counters that have a picture on one side and are all gussied up. There are Angels, Demons, Centaurs, Slivers, Myr, and so forth. They are fine for what they represent, but they have a high cost and a limited use. I actually keep mine in the Lisa Frank Power Bead case, in one of the spare compartments beside four d20s.
Pirates' Dice – If you are going to use dice, the tiny d6 from packs of Pirates of the Spanish Main is a nice choice. They are tiny little things, so they have a cute factor.
Pirates' Treasure Discs - Also from Pirates are treasure pieces, which are small heavy plastic discs with a number on one side and a Pieces of Eight pattern on the other. They are very useful as counters, and they have all of the advantages of dice in that you can represent larger numbers with them.
Plastic Animals – Dinosaurs began the craze, but I have purchased crabs, snakes, horses, penguins, and more – all small and plastic. These are cool, and they make great themed tokens, so they substitute well for an army of soldier or Saproling tokens. They make poor counters, however.
Plastic Crystals – These are the little crystal shaped colors of plastic hat I just purchased. I think that they'll work as counters, but as tokens, I'll be disappointed with their ability to mimic creatures.
Sculpted Japanese Tokens – These are sculpted miniatures in the form of classic Magic creature tokens. For example, I have a wurm token that looks a lot like the creature on Roar of the Wurm. On the base, it reads, “6/6.” Like a lot of specific tokens, these make ideal creature tokens for what they are intended to be used for, but they aren't easily transferable to other uses.
Tiny, Tiny Army Men – There are fine tokens if you need some en masse. They make poor counters. They are also rather easy to lose because they are so small. In retrospect, I find them to be a bit too passé.
Torn Up Card – This method of token and counter usage sees one tear up a Magic card into pieces, and then use the pieces as tokens. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to blow away in a slight breeze, and you always have to keep destroying Magic cards in order to get it to work, so there's a bit of diminishing returns here (the concept, not the actual card).
Two-pence Piece – When I was in London, I picked up several of these. They have a nice heft to them, they are cheap, and they are foreign, which is always a nice thing. [They're not foreign! – Craig, who uses one-cent pieces as tokens.] I actually prefer these as action counters in HeroClix than as tokens and counters in Magic, because they look out of place in Magic. Plus, something round never makes a great token because it's really hard to show when it is tapped.
Well, that's it for Abe today. Hope you enjoyed this little trek through token-land. Good luck in all of your token questing!
* - A Penguin Mint is a caffeinated mint. Each mint has the same amount of caffeine as a third of a cup of coffee.