Jumpstart’s The Only Way I Wanna Play Magic: The Gathering Arena

Magic: The Gathering’s new format Jumpstart is the only way I want to play Magic for the rest of my life. I love playing Magic, both paper and online with Arena. I love opening new cards. I love the art. I love beating dudes who are much better than me, like I did this weekend in my casual Magic League group (shout out to Tom!). But one thing I hate about Magic is deckbuilding. With Jumpstart, Wizards of the Coast spoke specifically to me and said, “We got you.”

Jumpstart is a new format of play in both paper and Magic Arena. Players choose two booster packs, each with its own theme, and smash them together to get a 40-card deck that’s ready to play. Basically, the format cuts out all the parts I hate about Magic, like how to choose cards or how to decide how many lands, spells, or creatures you need. Jumpstart gets me right to the meat of what I love: just playing.

Usually, I don’t have the patience for deckbuilding. In my casual league, I can pilot a deck just fine, but I lean heavily on my friends for help during the building phase. I still haven’t figured out how to choose cards. Cards that look “good” to me end up being too expensive or too weak. Deckbuilding is what precludes me from participating in most Magic Arena formats, since they all require playing with decks you’ve built yourself. But this weekend, I decided to fire up Magic Arena for the first time since their Friday Night Magic At Home event (another event where decks are supplied — notice a pattern here), to give Jumpstart a try.

Jumpstart is cheaper than other formats, such as Premier Drafts, which requires paying 10,000 coins or 1,500 gems (a little less than $US10 ($14)), with the idea being that the cards you draft and play with are yours to keep to assemble new decks as you would with paper Magic. Jumpstart is only 400 gems to play. I can do three runs in Jumpstart for the price of one draft. And while most of the cards are specific to the Jumpstart format and therefore only legal to use in a very small number of formats outside Jumpstart, other cards come from recent sets. I can open a Jumpstart pack and get cards from the Core 2021 set that I can then use to build other Standard legal decks (even though I wouldn’t because I’m a professed deckbuilding hater).

Building a deck in Jumpstart requires you to pick two themes. If you like dinosaurs, there’s a dinosaur theme. And pirates. And cats. And unicorns. Witches. Vampires. Angels. There are 46 different themes to choose from, and at two themes per deck, there are over 1000 different decks to play with. Even boosters with the same theme have different configurations of cards, so the possibilities are truly endless.

The best part about Jumpstart is that I can play the kind of deck I love without the hassle of trying to build one that works. All themes are constructed to work with one another — a Cat Pirate deck should work just as well as a Vampire Pirate deck. Since I like big creatures and I cannot lie, my first deck was Red Dragons and Green Plus One. Making my opponent concede on turn five because I was able to figure out how to mesh Plus One’s attack increasing spells with wimpy Dragon creatures is the most fun I’ve had playing Magic in…ever.

I had 'em. They were dead. But they pulled a Rise of the Dark Realm out of their butts and denied me my victory. I hate this card forever now. It is my enemy. (Screenshot: Wizards of the Coast)

But victories like that are rare. Synergy is one of the problems with Jumpstart. According to Wizards, all themes should work together, but they often don’t. I tried Vampire Unicorns (which also happens to be the name of my new Ska band) but the deck fizzled. It did nothing but flood the field with fancy horses that hit like wet paper and bats that don’t live long enough to do any damage. It’s more like each theme is really good at what it’s supposed to do by itself; if a player can get one theme to do its job well, the other theme is largely irrelevant. If you can’t get one theme going, the combination of the two themes is usually never powerful enough to overcome an opponent before they overwhelm you. My most successful deck was a Milling/Angels deck, and I won more often than not because I either beat them to death with Baneslayer Angel or milled them to death with Bruvac the Grandiloquent. Those themes never really worked together, but succeeded separately.

Still, I friggin’ love Jumpstart. When you pick your themes well and make them work, you feel like a god. Even losing doesn’t sting so bad, because it makes me think harder about how to make the cards I have work together. In other formats, you simply swap out a card that’s not working. In Jumpstart, subbing in cards or having a sideboard isn’t allowed, so I’m forced to use what I have to win. It’s made me a better player.

This weekend, I sank more hours into Jumpstart than I had over the last several months combined. I had the most amount of fun with the least amount of stress (and hits to my bank account). I’m even considering proposing incorporating Jumpstart into my casual paper Magic league. Jumpstart is how Magic should always be. For deckbuilding haters like me, it’s the only way I want to play. 

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