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This fan played MTG in jail with decks made from memory

An incarcerated Magic: The Gathering fan found a likeminded soul in jail, and created loads of makeshift MTG decks to play with, entirely from memory

MTG decks made in prison - basic paper versions of MTG cards in plastic baggies

Jeffery, 37, spent most of his 2021 inside Harris County Jail in Texas, USA. His main pastime during his time incarcerated? Playing Magic: The Gathering. Over the course of 10 months, Jeff crafted about 20 different decks, to while away the hours with games of good old MTG.

“When I got there, it turned out one of my cellys liked most of the same nerdy stuff as me and knew how to play Magic,” Jeff writes, sharing his story on Reddit. “So over the course of months, I made these decks for us to play.”

Jeff would create many of his cards by writing them out on paper, then glueing them onto actual playing cards using toothpaste as glue. It must’ve been quite the slog to create every single card by hand from makeshift ingredients, but the most impressive part is that all these prison MTG proxies were crafted from memory – there’s no net-decking for prisoners without internet access. For each of Jeff’s makeshift decks, he had to recall every card from a deck he owned in real life.

“I didn’t think I could remember as much as I did, but when you sit around with nothing better to do for 10 months, they trickle into memory,” he says. “If you can remember four key cards from a deck, then you just need to sit and think for a minute about what other cards were interacting with those cards from within that deck. Eventually more cards will come to you. It was kinda like piecing together puzzles.”

“Sometimes I’d just be laying there at night when suddenly a card I couldn’t remember came to me,” he adds.

And on at least one occasion, Jeff created a new deck just to fill the time – for instance, he once crafted a Legacy Black reanimator deck that “no one was allowed to play” because nothing would have come close to its power level.

Naturally, it would take a mad MTG genius to get every card exactly perfect, and Jeff says while he was pretty good on rules and numbers, he had particular trouble remembering the names of all the cards, and sometimes had to make something up that sounded right. Keen-eyed readers might spot a few errors in the images of Jeff’s cards.

MTG decks made in prison - basic paper versions of MTG cards in plastic baggies, including Ugin the Spirit Dragon

Then there are some deliberate imperfections. Rather than trying to painstakingly copy out mana symbols or using the names of the MTG colors, Jeff’s makeshift cards use the initials of the five MTG lands, (PISMF instead of WUBRG) to make it easier for others to learn.

Here’s the full list of decks Jeff created. He says: “I went to jail right after Kaldheim, and didn’t remember much of the set, so everything is from before that.”

  • Pioneer Red Aggro/Burn deck on loose paper
  • Pioneer Blue/Green Simic Ramp on loose paper
  • Pioneer White/Blue/Black Yorion Enchantment Control on loose paper
  • Pioneer Red/Green Mid-Range on loose paper
  • Pioneer Green/White Cat Tribal on loose paper
  • Pioneer Black/Red Cat Oven on large loose paper
  • Pioneer Black/Green Elf Tribal on loose paper glued on playing cards
  • Pioneer White/Red Boros on loose paper glued on playing cards
  • Illegal? Green Earthcraft/Squirrel’s Nest on loose paper
  • Historic White/Blue/Green Defender on loose paper
  • Historic Black/Red Death’s Shadow on loose paper
  • Historic Emry Blue/Artifact on large loose paper
  • Historic White/Blue Flying on large loose paper
  • Historic Red Goblin Tribal on loose paper glued on playing cards
  • Historic Blue/Green Merfolk Tribal on loose paper glued on playing cards
  • Modern Green Treefolk Tribal on loose paper
  • Modern Black/Blue Ninja Tribal on loose paper glued on playing cards
  • Modern White/Blue/Black/Green Snow on loose paper glued on playing cards
  • Modern Black/Red Elemental Tribal on loose paper glued on playing cards
  • Legacy Black Reanimator on loose paper

Of course, playing MTG can be tricky, especially when you can’t ask for help or seek rules clarification. But Jeff says, “he was the final authority on rules”. The interaction between Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s oven was apparently one that caused particular issues and – at first – prompted accusations of cheating.

Redditors suggested this much-hated combo may have been an unwise one to play in jail, and Jeff admits it was not well-liked. But, he says, “it was my go-to deck. I’ve had a love for the combo since Thrones of Eldraine was released.”

Over the months, Jeff would teach a couple of other people how to play MTG “but it was mostly just me and my friend I had made,” he says. “No one messed with us about it. A lot of people were confused with what we were doing (people being confused with what you are doing in there is not a good thing) but once I explained, they would be like: Oh, like Dungeons and Dragons?

“Everybody there knew Dungeons and Dragons. Almost nobody had heard of Magic. And it even seemed to impress some that I was able to use my time actually being productive in something.”