What is MTG Arena?
It’s no secret that Magic: The Gathering is one of the biggest names in TCG’s, or CCG’s depending on your naming preference. With their massive presence in the paper card-gaming scene, it was no surprise that Wizards of the Coast had MTG Arena up their sleeve, but what exactly is MTG Arena and how does it compare to paper MTG?
If you’re new to MTG (I’m going to assume you are as you’re reading a getting started guide) then you may not know that MTG actually has a lot of different formats under the Magic: The Gathering name. The main gameplay rules between the different formats are the same (with the odd exception to formats like Brawl and Commander) but the cards in which you can use to build decks can hugely vary. Why am I telling you this, well, mainly to give you a basic understanding of how the setup works and context on what MTG Arena offers.
Currently, MTG Arena only allows players to play three of the different formats; Standard, Historic and Brawl. For this guide, I will be focusing solely on Standard as that’s the best place to start as a new player (in my opinion). The Standard format is the format with the heaviest amount of card rotation. Every September Wizards will drop 4 sets from standards and start to build the card pool back up with a new set releasing every three months. Hopefully, that helps you understand what MTG Arena is in the context of MTG as an entity, now let’s chat money!
How Free to Play is MTG Arena
This is no doubt the most common question I get asked during my streams and the answer is very dependant on what you want to achieve as a player.
For a casual player, MTG Arena is very F2P and has a brilliant new player experience. If you complete your beginners mastery quests (which takes around 4-5 hours) then you’ll have access to 15 different starter decks, which is more than I’ve seen in any other CCG. Obviously these decks aren’t going to allow you to become the best player in the game, but they do a great job of introducing you to all the main mechanics that Standard offers at the moment – some of them are also pretty close to being decent, but more on that in part 2.
If you’re looking to jump into MTG Arena a be a competitive player then you will need to drop money into the game. The rate at which you are rewarded packs is perfectly respectable (approx 6-8 packs a week for a casual player, 8-10 for a competitive player), the issue comes down to the sheer size of the different sets, each set offering between 220-250 cards.
Another issue with building a collection and one of my least favorite aspects of MTG Arena is the lack of a card dusting feature (this is where you can scrap cards you won’t play to build cards you need). Instead, Wizards have chosen to go for a wildcard approach, which requires you to open packs to build your wildcard collection.
Draft and Different Events in MTG Arena
Draft or Limited is a pretty big deal in Magic: The Gathering, there’s even a Limited round at the World Championships. I’m assuming you know what Draft is but if not here’s a quick rundown. In Limited (the name of draft in MTG) you open 3 card packs of 15 cards and must simply build a deck from the rotating cards available to you. This mode is as much of a challenge on your deck building as it is with your actually playing ability. This mode is a lot of fun and even has it’s own rank system in MTGA, but it does cost money to enter, so what’s the benefit it offers?
Firstly, please don’t see this as a ‘go spend money in MTGA’ pitch, it’s just a rundown of the benefits of what limited offers, despite it costing a real-world monetary sum. Buying into limited will cost you around £5/$8 (depending on the event you buy into) and for that, you’ll be rewarded with 3 packs to open. Despite how well you compete on your limited run you’ll earn an additional pack, even if you don’t win a single game. This works out at around £1.50/$2 per pack, which is just over the base rate in the game for a pack, but playing in a limited event offers the opportunity to actually earn your entry back. This potentially allows you to repeat this mode over and over to really build up your collection while getting your teeth into the deckbuilding side of MTG Arena.
As a completely new player, you’ll have the option to buy the ‘new players bundle for £4/$5, which actually gives you the equivalent of 3 limited entries. This is where I recommend you spend your gems (if you do buy the bundle) as you’re opening the same amount of packs you would if you bought them separately but also giving yourself the chance to earn back some of your gem currency.
Every month MTG Arena offers a variety of different events, some of which are free, some of which cost in-game currency and some of which will cost real-world money. Be sure to always check the upcoming events as some offer some pretty tasty prizes and restrict some of the more powerful decks with quirky bans or one-off gameplay mechanics.
The Beginners Mastery is no doubt one of the best ‘new player’ features in Magic The Gathering Arena. Not only does if offer some great new player progression, but the rewards it offers are also genuinely very good. What’s even better about this mastery, unlike the main games ‘battle pass’ is you don’t have to win to earn XP towards the next level (however, winning does reward more XP).
If you have booted up the game and only just finished the tutorial then this is where I recommend you focus or attention, it will not only earn you an additional 10 starter decks but also a host of really good cards that can help you build some pretty tasty decks very soon. So, how do you level up the beginner’s mastery?
The first thing you’ll need to do is play a game with each of the different starter decks as this will reward you with a coloured orb associated with that deck, which then allows you to level up that stem of the beginner’s mastery. Also playing a game or games with each of the different starter decks will give you a feel for the decks and possibly help you find the deck you prefer. Once you have found your best deck (personally I think the mono-black deck or the mono-green deck is the strongest here) then you want to just jump into some games. You can take these decks on to the ranked ladder if you like and seeing as you start at the bottom losing won’t lower your rank but winning and climbing rank will reward you with some additional end of season packs (if you climb to silver or beyond).
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to win with these decks to level up your beginner’s mastery rank, but winning does speed up the progress by a fair amount. If you’re looking to grind through your mastery as quickly as possible and get all you decks and wildcards unlocked then I recommend playing the mono-black deck and spending your orbs to upgrade that stem of the mastery circle (pictured above). If you’re looking to just get your head around the game, really grasp an understanding for the basics and the different archetypes then spread out your rewards, slowly level up each deck individually and then play around with the color combo decks when you unlock them – I feel this is a lot more of an enjoyable approach to getting started in MTG Arena.
What to do With Your Wild Cards
As you may have noticed, playing through your matches and levelling up your beginner’s mastery is also earning you gold and XP from your dailies and packs from the free current set battle pass. Using this gold to buy packs (which is what I recommend you spend it on when starting out) and opening these packs will earn you wildcards, but what do you do with them?
For now, hold on to them. I know getting something super shiny and new can be really tempting to spend straight away, but stockpile these wildcards for now, you’ll thank me later. As you come to the end of your beginner’s mastery you’ll also earn a load more wildcards, as well as 5 new decks. This is why you want to hold on to them as once you’ve finished your mastery you’ll be able to see exactly what is in your collection and what you want to build.
In the next part of this getting started guide we’ll be looking at how to upgrade your starter decks. We won’t be looking in detail at all 15 of them, but going through a variety of archetypes for you to build into and compete with on ladder. With MTG Arena offering so many viable competitive decks now the choice of what to build into is huge, and it’s for this very reason you should hold on to those wildcards for now.
The second part of this guide will be up later this week, keep posted on the Team Rankstar twitter or YouTube to see when it goes live.