A couple of days ago the kind people at Sign in Blood sent us a pair of their lovely Original Spellbook Life Counter Notepads for us to review. We sent them out to Chris Cooper and Stuart Waddicor to put them through their paces!
Upon first seeing the photos and hearing about the new Sign In Blood range, from Canada, I was super excited. “Finally,” I thought “a range of premium score monitoring products that aren’t digital or playmat based.
This is the kind of product that excites me in a very specific way as a Magic player. You see, I only made the transition from dice to paper around this time last year. When I started deciding I wanted to attend PTQs for the first time and take the game a bit more seriously, I figured I’d need to be taking notes anyway and judge calls are much easier to resolve when both players have accurate notes of the game.
The newness of taking a pad along very quickly became tiring after seeing the same old lines of gum topped, usually shop endorsed, poorly templated, tear away life pads. Now please understand, I am a boy who likes nice things. I don’t mind spending money to have nice things… and this appeared to be a very nice thing.
First impressions on opening the pad were that it was of a solid design, looked pimp as all hell and had really nice embossed embellishments. Little quality marks in the finish and attention to detail do a ton of work to elevate what is normally a fairly mundane tournament accessory. These are all things I give a big thumbs up to. I got the black variant, whereas my co-writer received the red book.
Fortunately for me, the day it came in the post I’d happened to arrange spending my lunch break with a friend, testing some Modern. I sleeved up some [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]s, lands that do good things and a single copy of [card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/card] and went to meet my opponent (who I knew played affinity), with my new pad for company.
Firstly, as well being gorgeous on the outside, the pages in this thing are lovely. Grey faded background patterning, clear columns, a little faded red blood drop coming from the gothic cross logo… hnnngggg!!! 15 year old me with painted nails, baggy jeans and blue hair would have loved this thing even more than 29 year old me with short, slicked hair, management job and a neat beard does.
As well as those beautifully laid out pages, there are little blood droplets at the bottom of each column for marking out poison. This unique and well thought out little feature happened to come in real handy as I was mercilessly beaten in the face by lands that turn into infectious moths. Needless to say the testing of Tron Vs Affinity went much like it always does, with me able to peel back the odd game post-board but not really doing much in the game 1 scenario… cheers to Patrice Carrol for teaching me exactly nothing new.
What I will say though is that the pad was overall enjoyable to go to work with. The pages tear away easily without any mess and the notes section on the reverse of each page is incredibly useful for marking revealed cards on, or drawing childish and shameful pictures on between rounds. I, obviously, did both. A lot. It’s worth mentioning that the little stash pocket in the back, which is intended to slip any loose cards you pick up into, is also just fine for chucking in your folded up used pages. Littering is bad yo.
I had a little chat with my opponent as to what he thought of the product. He asked the RRP firstly (financial implications always must be considered first) and when I told him that it would cost around £9.99 RRP and he responded that it “seemed fair.” Other than that he enjoyed the look of the Spellbook in much the same way as I did. Afterall, its just a posh notepad… but don’t we all really like posh things?
For example, I paint my alters with brushes that are made of hollow aluminium tubing and break down into a leather slipcase. They’re finished in satin black and they feel heavy and industrial. They cost double what the normal ones I used to use did and are functionally no better… but people deserve a little opulence and if a Magic player were to treat themselves, I don’t feel this life pad is at all a bad place to look for that treat.
As always with these things though there must be a negative of some kind and I feel to some, my bear with this product might be a bit off-putting. The actual paper part of the pad (exquisite leather binding aside) is fixed into it. It cannot be removed and discarding meaning that once the product is filled it must be discarded. Now one of the things people love about beautiful, well made and expensive things is that they are usually built to last a lifetime. Sign In Blood seem to have missed a massive trick by not making the paper part slip-in, so that a refill pad can be bought instead of needing a whole new thing, binding and all. Maybe this is something that will feature in the next release?
Considering that Magic has a far greater than zero number of players who play within a tight budget, offering some financial sense with your upmarket product seems like a very wise way to go – allowing you to attract a customer who whilst liking nice things, is very sensitive to not feeling fleeced. I think perhaps if there was a second iteration of the Spellbook life pad, down the line, this would be an excellent feature to incorporate.
Outside of that niggle, I’m in love. I take this thing everywhere with me. Its space convenient enough for my tastes, it looks bad-ass and it fits in nicely with my lordy personality and desire to own the nicest possible versions of anything available ever (I speak as a man who has previous placed himself on the breadline for three weeks, because foils).
Final verdict? Buy one. Buy two. Give one away. Demand friendship as remuneration and prove to the world that you CAN buy love. Actually don’t do that. Just enjoy posh note pads from excellent Canadian manufacturers and have a great time playing the greatest mental sport the human race has ever conceived. Magic is fun. Feeling your kit looks good makes you feel good. Feeling good whilst having fun is possibly the greatest personal achievement attainable.
I’m a sucker for nice things. Playmats. Dice. Dice bags, even. So when it comes to buying a new notepad to record games on I’m often left in a bit of a quandry. It’s difficult to find a nice one that is not too big, not too small, isn’t covered in Hello Kitty or owls or flowers or similar cutesey gubbins.
That was until a large brown envelope dropped through my letterbox, filled with mystery. Well, I say mystery, what actually filled it was a pleasing leathery smell and a gorgeous red life pad.
My initial impression was a very good one. I was impressed by most of the features of it: the stylish, embossed leather cover, the delightfully printed paper, the sturdy manufacture of it, the number of pages, and the pièce de résistance- the little pocket at the back for trades.
Now, there is obviously only so much testing that I can do without actually playing some Magic, so off to a draft I went. I had a little bit of time to kill before the draft started, so I put it to good use by passing the pad around my fellow drafters.
Our first point that was made was on the practicalities of it. The size of it was the primary concern of one player who attends a lot of PTQs and other similar events where space on the table is at a premium. He was concerned that the height of it would get in the way as he is used to playing with much thinner pads that are easier to play over.
One feature that was popular though was the fact that on the reverse of each page is space for notes, and that the sheets could be torn out after each match. This means that you aren’t needing to keep flicking through to find your place for each match.
We also appreciated the layout of the life columns, with the extra little columns between them perfect for keeping track of other things like land drops, poison, mulligans and all sorts of other little things that change over the course of the game. The light red getting darker towards the bottom of the page is a nice touch too, and lends an element of luxury to the product.
Indeed, that was the feeling of most of us, that this is a luxury product, not necessarily aimed at the PTQ grinder (or even the PPTQ grinder as they are now) but instead at the more affluent player who doesn’t necessarily want to go to the more cramped, well attended tournaments but instead likes to show off a bit. This is certainly the sort of thing I can see getting a lot of use at Legacy and Vintage events (certainly mine will).
This theory is supported to a degree by the trades pocket in the back. This is clearly designed to hold just a few cards in it, such as the prestigious high end trades of the eternal or commander player rather than the bulk of new trades that a committed trader would make.
Eventually we decided to actually play some games. The room in which we play is the function room of a pub, which isn’t by any means well lit, but I had few issues working out where the columns were.
I decided that the best way of testing it’s usability would be by using a different pen for each round. Having used a basic biro, a pencil and a fine line pen, all of them had brilliant results due to the high quality of paper, with no smudging or excessive soaking up of the ink and the paper was nice and smooth to write on. You can certainly tell when you write on the life pad that it uses the best quality materials.
Whilst playing I decided to see if my friend’s worries about the size of it were founded. I decided to sit squashed up between people, squeezed for space, to see what it was like. Whilst it was a little on the large size in that it did take up a lot of space I never found myself thinking that it was a problem being that big, and the height issue never came up as being a problem.
The only issues that I would like to see improved on the pad are for it to be refillable and for there to be a pen loop on the side (perhaps with matching pen available to buy, hint hint). I am always losing my pen so that seems like it would be a great addition to the product. However, I know that having refills available would be a huge bonus to it, as everyone I spoke to about the pad asked if refills were available.
I would definitely keep using this pad for most of my Magic needs in the future. I appreciated so much having a custom, fit for purpose notepad so that I wasn’t having to constantly draw lines down pages and section off little areas of the page for notes and all the other annoying little things that come from not having a designed for purpose pad. I also appreciated the quality of it. As I said at the beginning: I like having Nice Things, and this is definitely a Nice Thing worth having.