With Magic: The Gathering booming in popularity and a worldwide pandemic forcing LGSs to close or limit their hours of operation, many players are turning to the online world and MTG Arena to play. This is wonderful, but it can also be hard for newer players or casual players to adapt to what MTG Arena offers because there really is no casual way to play on Arena. The ranked queues for Standard and Historic are, well, ranked and therefore competitive. Brawl, which serves as a Commander supplement for now, does not have a ranking system and Wizards claims it’s a casual format, but it still feels very competitive in those match ups where you can’t even keep your commander in play for more than a turn. Draft is always competitive, but aside from that you either need to be really good at it or have deep pockets to keep playing it. There is the play queue which is unranked, but you still run into competitive Standard decks in there. You can play against Sparky the practice bot, but her decks are under powered and you don’t get any rewards for beating her once you complete the beginner mastery thing. Challenging your friends in the Direct Challenge mode is the best option, but you need friends who are online at the same time as you. This mode does allow you to limit the cards in your deck to a certain pool or make your own ban list, but how many of your friends would be interested in doing that? Besides, wouldn’t it be boring playing the same people using the same decks again and again? Plus you don’t get any rewards. If you are okay with that, then by all means go right ahead. With rotation coming up and a new Standard environment looming just around the corner with Zendikar Rising, I thought now would be a good time to help others get off on the right foot in MTG Arena. Oh, and before I forget, traditional means best of 3 games so you can use a sideboard in those queues whereas everything else is best of 1. Also the events queues on the right hand side change very often. That screenshot was taken the week before this post went up.
One thing that really helps is a nice, sizable, disposable income. Not everyone has access to that amount of money, especially with the economy being in the shape it is thanks to the pandemic so I will be looking at this topic from a budget/free-to-play perspective. If you have played MTG Arena by now, you have probably seen the challenges and the daily and weekly wins meters at the bottom of the home page. There is also the mastery system which rewards gold, packs, card styles, free individual cards, pets, and sometimes gems. You can get more of these rewards if you invest in the mastery pass. Preordering it usually costs $50 (USD), but that comes with some other stuff like a pet skin, an avatar, card sleeves, and card styles, nothing that really affects your ability to play the game. Besides the mastery pass, it’s just fluff. If you wait until release, the mastery pass will be way less than $50 (USD), I think it’s about $15 (USD) or $20 (USD) by itself. Back to the challenges for a moment, while you do get rewards for winning match ups with the daily wins meter, these rewards pale in comparison to the amount of gold you can get for completing the challenges. They are worth at least 500 gold and some are worth 750 gold. You can refresh one challenge per day for a chance at one worth 750 gold. Starting out, don’t put too much emphasis on winning. Focus on completing the challenges instead. If one of them says “cast 20 black spells,” play with a mono black deck that uses cheap spells. The gold is what you want and you will use it to buy packs.
You may be asking how buying packs helps when most of the content creators out there are encouraging you to stick to buying singles when it comes to paper Magic. While MTG Arena does have an economy, you cannot buy or even trade individual cards, so if you want/need a specific card you have to craft it using wildcards. Each pack you open, excluding those for limited, adds to your wildcard progression, which is displayed in the upper right corner when you are opening packs. The more packs you open, the more wildcards you can get, plus you can get them randomly when you open packs. Wildcards can be used to craft any card of the corresponding rarity. You can see why wildcards are highly valuable to budget/free-to-play players. Eventually opening enough packs and crafting the proper cards will lead to you having a deck that is viable in the meta.
Now to go about selecting a deck and crafting it. Remember that I said MTG Arena is a competitive environment, so if you do get into it, you will have to approach it from a competitive aspect. With rotation and new set releases, I would give the meta 2 or 3 weeks to adjust before selecting a deck. During this time other players will be testing cards and decks to see what is good. Let them spend their money and wildcards on that stuff because in the end they do the work of solving the meta for you. Feel free to use whatever meta tracking site you want to use and select a deck. Personally I prefer mtggoldfish, but there is also the Aether Hub which has a free plugin for MTG Arena that comes with a meta tracker and all kinds of neat things. Keep in mind that the deck that is listed first is just the most popular deck, not necessarily the best. For example, this past year Mono Red Aggro saw a ton of play, but mono white decks running Ajani’s Pridemate with Heliod, Sun Crowned and other lifegain synergies usually had no problem standing up to it, so choose carefully. You can also select a deck based on how many cards you need to craft for it. If you already have most of the cards for a specific deck and you think it’s a deck you want to use, go ahead and craft the rest of it and save any leftover wildcards for later. Do not spend your wildcards on any card that you don’t intend to play with! They are too valuable to be wasted on jank. At the same time I would also recommend not spending your gold and gems on things that have no effect on gameplay like card sleeves, alternate art, pets, or avatars.
Pro Tip: Use card bannings to your advantage if you can. True story, back when Throne of Eldraine was released I had opened two or three copies of Oko, Thief of Crowns before he got banned. I wasn’t using him; I still lacked too much of the deck at that point. When they announced the ban and that players would be receiving wildcards to replace preexisting copies in their collection, I went and crafted the last copies which in the end gave me four free wildcards for the price of one or two. I later used those wildcards to finish my playsets of Questing Beast and Embercleave. I have done this a few times since then and hopefully Wizard’s resident greed monster doesn’t catch on to the loophole, so keep it on the down low.
Once you have selected your deck, the first things you will want to craft are any rare lands, especially rare dual lands. There is no need to try to craft the full cycle all at once. Just stay with your deck’s colors at first. After you have crafted the rest of the deck, you can go back and complete the cycle with any extra wildcards. In fact, I would encourage this strategy, especially if you plan on playing any eternal formats that are on or will be coming to MTG Arena. If you think about it, lands are the backbone of your deck. Without them you can’t play at all, so craft the lands first. By the way, if you do want to go back for the older lands on MTG Arena, this is the order I would recommend; Fabled Passage from Core Set 2021 and/or Throne of Eldraine, shock lands from Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance, check lands from Ixalan and Dominaria, the scry lands from Theros Beyond Death and Core Sets 2020 and 2021, the bicycle lands from Amonkhet Remastered, and finally the triome lands from Ikoria Lair of Behemoths. Of course there is still no word on the land cycle in Zendikar yet so those might be placed higher on the list depending on what they are. Unfortunately, we already know that they will not be fetch lands. If they were, they would be number one on the list. Some of these lands have seen more than one printing and you really only need one set to play with, so just collect one set or the other. There is duplicate protection for rares and mythics now which means if you have a playset of a rare card from an earlier set, you shouldn’t get any new copies of that card until you have collected every other rare in the new set. For example, Fabled Passage is in Throne of Eldraine and Core Set 2021 so if you have a playset from Eldraine, you shouldn’t get any copies from the Core Set until you have collected every other rare in the Core Set.
Once you have the lands that you need for the deck, move on to the cards that are on the lower end of the curve but are still important to the deck. Looking at Mono Red Aggro as an example since it’s not losing too many pieces with rotation and will likely stick around for another year, I would suggest crafting cards like Bone Crusher Giant, Fervent Champion, Anax, Hardened in the Forge, and Robber of the Rich before crafting Embercleave and Torbran Thane of Red Fell. While those last two can end the game, there is a psychological strategy here. A good number of players will concede the game if it appears that they have lost the upper hand. Under the right circumstances, if you can swing in with enough creatures and untapped mana to even threaten an Embercleave, they may just quit. Also, don’t be afraid to look at replacement cards. If you can’t craft Fervent Champion yet, look for another 1 mana creature with haste as a spot holder.
When buying packs, buy the packs that contain the cards you want the most. If you still need Embercleave and Torbran to round out your mono red aggro deck, then you should be buying Throne of Eldraine packs instead of Core Set 2021 or Zendikar Rising. This way you’re not only getting wildcard progress, but you also have a chance to open a copy of that card from the pack. It is a very small chance, but that’s still better than no chance at all. Embercleave was only printed in Throne of Eldraine so you won’t find it in Theros Beyond Death, Ikoria Lair of Behemoths, or Core Set 2021, and I’m pretty confident it won’t be in Zendikar Rising either.
Once you have your deck completed and finely tuned, just keep playing with it. Learn the meta. Learn your deck’s strengths and weaknesses. Learn what to bring in from your sideboard for the next game when you are playing best of three. Watch others play with that deck online; there are plenty of people on YouTube and Twitch that you can watch and learn from. Often times they may use decks that are off meta but still very fun to play. I would advise against trying to build those decks as they will use up more and more of your wildcards. Stick to the deck(s) that you are comfortable using. Once you are confident in your ability with that deck, you can join an event queue. These offer more rewards than the ranked queues, but only if you do well. If you do well, you can earn a lot of gold or gems plus a handful of cards or packs. If it’s a 7 round event, it will usually take 4 wins for you to break even on what you paid to enter the event.
If you don’t want to spend your hard earned gold on events, just stick to buying packs. There is nothing wrong with that. Spending your hard earned gold to end up going 0-3, 1-3, 2-3 or even 3-3 just sucks. At 4-3 you at least get your entry fee back.
MTG Arena is a competitive environment, but unlike paper Magic, you can spend very little and still have a great time; however, the game does have its problems. The economy needs work. For starters, there is no exchange rate between gems and gold. That being said, you can join an event that pays out gems using gold for your entry fee. You can also get gems for rare and mythic cards if you would receive a 5th copy of that card; only 20 gems though, nothing to get excited about, especially when most things you can buy with gems costs a couple hundred at the cheapest. Plus the new duplicate protection makes it very hard to get gems this way.
There is no exchanging wildcards. If you have 50 common wildcards sitting around, you can’t do anything but craft common cards with them, which hardly any of them see enough play to make it worth it. Lots of payers want to able to trade in wildcards for other wildcards of higher, or in some cases, lower rarity. Trading in 4 uncommon wildcards for 1 rare wildcard or vice versa would be amazing.
I mentioned earlier that the packs you open for limited events don’t add to your wildcard progression. This was a huge problem with Jumpstart. It was a massive set with all kinds of awesome cards for Historic, but you could not buy individual packs from the store like every other set. You had to play the limited event. It wasn’t expensive, just 2000 Gold to cover the price of the packs, but if you had spent that 2000 Gold on other packs, you would have gotten two ticks in your wildcard progression. This goes back to the economy needing work. Also, the Jumpstart event didn’t last long enough. It was around for what, a month, month and a half? There is no reason why it can’t be a permanent thing. You can still spend wildcards on cards from the set, but you can’t join the event anymore. Am I the only one upset by the event’s limited time on Arena?
Support for eternal formats. It’s taken a long time, but the past few months have been the best they have ever been for Historic in terms of support. Wizards released 3 anthology sets from, I think, October to May, which had a handful of cards from Magic’s history. Jumpstart was the first full on set designed for Historic which was followed this past week with Amonkhet Remastered and a future Pioneer Masters set scheduled to release later this year. Wizards seemed very reluctant to support Historic early on which was the only issue with this topic. It seems they have gotten it through their heads that Standard sucks at times and players want options other than Standard. They have said that they will eventually have Pioneer on Arena, but how long that is going to take has been extremely vague. I think I can speak for most of the player base on this when I say that we understand it will take some time to program all of the cards and their interactions into the game. It’s a huge task to undertake, but Wizards cannot afford to let the scope of the task get in their way to the point where they procrastinate and drag their feet about getting it done. I am glad to see the format getting the support it deserves; I just hope they can keep up the pace.
Connection and server issues. These have plagued the game since its days in beta. Sometimes it’s been better, sometimes it’s been worse. It’s kind of the nature of the internet I guess, but it sucks when your opponent times out or you time out because you were disconnected from the server or you have issues with lag. How do you explain to your opponent that you aren’t trying to salt rope them in those instances? It’s not you; it’s the game. And those crazy combo decks that people play just for fun because they can, like making copies of Anointed Procession to make 50 bajillion cat tokens with one embalmed Sacred Cat. Those servers are going to need a major overhaul if we keep getting stuff like that.
Anyway, that’s all for this introduction to MTG Arena and how to get the most out of your experience, especially if you are a free-to-play player. The game has its pros and cons as most things do. Do you still have questions about MTG Arena you want me to address? What topic do you want to seen next? Let me know in the comments down below.