If you’re a regular reader of this website, there’s a pretty good chance that you know someone who plays Magic: The Gathering. At the very least you’ve definitely heard about it. The hugely popular collectable card game has been going strong since 1993, and there’s never been a better time to start playing.
Up until last year, MTG was never really my thing. I played it a little bit in high school, but it never really clicked with me. Flash forward a decade and I’ve become all but obsessed with it, thanks to MTG Arena.
If you’re interested in taking the plunge, here’s everything you need to know about playing MTG, and why Arena is the best way to get into it.
Learning how to play
You can find plenty of strategy guides and tips through the official MTG archives, like knowing when to attack and when to block, how to chump block and the importance of card advantage. There’s also a pretty robust online community. But reading about game strategies is a lot different from actually putting them into practice.
The easiest way to learn how to play Magic is to actually play it. Most local game stores usually have recurring game nights dedicated to Magic, along with dedicated events, like tournaments. For example, tabletop retailer Good Game has just run a series of championship events to tie-in with the latest MTG expansion, Kaldheim.
However, if you don’t have a local game store or community you can integrate yourself into, you’ll need an alternative.
Step into the Arena
Launched back in 2019, Magic: The Gathering Arena is an online version of Magic, and, for my money, the easiest way to get into the game. This free-to-play game was already available for both PC and Mac, but has recently been released as a mobile app, making it even easier to pick up.
When you first sign up for MTG Arena, you’ll need to play through a series of tutorials that’ll teach you how to actually play the game, along with the basic strategies of each colour. When I initially signed up, I hadn’t chosen a colour type, so I found this super helpful when it came to determining a play style that fit.
You’ll receive 15 decks just by completing the new player tutorial experience. And the more you play, the more cards and decks you can unlock through various challenges and in-game currency.
Once you finish these tutorial matches, you’re free to play with other MTG Arena users. You’re able to face down opponents in both ranked and non-competitive modes. There are also limited-time events and tournaments you can participate in, giving you the full Magic experience.
As you play more ranked games, your rank will increase with every win. This ranking will also determine the other online players you’ll be matched with. It helps keep the challenge balanced, but you’ll still sometimes be matched up with someone who you’ll blitz within a half-dozen turns. Other times, you’ll be the one getting blitzed.
Certain physical Magic decks, like the MTG Arena Starter Deck and Planeswalker decks, and Prerelease packs now come with digital codes that you can redeem to bolster your Arena library.
Since it is an online game, there are micro-transactions you can make – most of which revolve around buying booster packs or cosmetic changes for your account. However, you’re given plenty of in-game currency from playing games and completing daily challenges. So far, I haven’t spent a single real-world cent on MTG Arena, but I’ve still managed to amass a decent collection of cards.
What colour is your deck?
If you’ve heard anyone talk about Magic before, chances are you’ve heard them mention something about their deck colour. This refers to the type of deck that they play with, and which colour of mana it’s based around. Those colours are: Black, Blue, Green, Red and White.
Once you’ve learned the basics with Arena and unlocked the new player decks, your next step is to select the colour – or colours – you’ll want to play with. Each of these colours comes with its own strengths, weaknesses and strategies. There’s no one colour that’s inherently better than the others. It all really depends on your preferred style of play.
Here’s a short, but by no means comprehensive breakdown of each colour’s play style and philosophy:
- Black represents uninhibited power, death and amorality. These decks favour vampiric strategies that steal life from your opponent, while also making sacrifices to deal out utter devastation.
- Blue is less focused on creatures and more on spells that are designed to counter and control your opponent’s moves. These decks favour knowledge and logic, and allow you to bend your opponent to your will.
- Green is based around power through growth and the regeneration of nature. There are a lot of spells that will replenish your life and mana, along with big beasts that will trample over your opponents to deal big damage.
- Red decks are built for speed, impulse and action. They use fast and furious creatures to strike first, and strike hard. It’s chaotic and destructive, like a raging wildfire.
- White decks are built around fortitude and structure. They favour defensive tactics and maintaining order. Anyone who seeks to oppose that order will be met with your iron fist.
These descriptions only begin to scratch the surface of each colour’s strategy, but hopefully there’s enough here to guide you in the right direction.
Certain colours can be complimentary with others, and it’s not uncommon to encounter other players using two-colour or possibly even three-colour decks.
Building the right kind of deck
Now that you’ve chosen a colour, you need to figure out your deck’s predominant strategy style, also known as its “archetype”. In Magic, there are three main archetypes: control, aggro and combo.
Here’s how each archetype works:
- An aggro deck is designed to strike hard and fast, decimating your opponent as quickly as possible.
- A control deck is built around slow burn strategies that drag out the game and turn it into a battle of attrition.
- Combo decks use specific card combinations to activate an effect or ability that either boosts your life total immensely, or totally ruins your opponent’s.
Like colours, it’s possible to combine multiple archetypes in a single deck. But that’s something you’re better off building to, not starting with.
Take the Arena with you
What I like the most about MTG Arena is that there’s always a game going. No matter what time of day you jump on, there’s always a match available. With the launch of the mobile versions of the game for Android and iOS, it’s now something I can play anytime, anywhere.
Sometimes it’s something I use to kill a half hour while having a morning coffee, sometimes I’m running back-to-back games for an entire evening. The convenience of being able to jump from playing it on my laptop to my phone has also been hugely beneficial.
I don’t think I would’ve picked up Magic if not for Arena. It taught me how to properly enjoy the game, and I’ve become a better player for it.
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