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Duffer’s Guide to Cheap Magic Arena

I’m playing Magic: the Gathering Arena right now. I went through a few approaches while figuring out how to make it fun for me. I wanted to satisfy my competitive urge, spend as little money as possible, and not get overwhelmed with the complexity of deck-building. Here’s what I came up with.

First, play through the tutorials and get your free decks. These decks are not great but they’re not abysmal.

Second, cash in all the old codes. Here’s a list of them. A lot of them will get you packs of card sets that aren’t in the current rotation; no big deal, it’s still fun to open them.

Third, decide whether or not you can do ranked play without getting unhappy when you don’t make progress in the rankings. This was huge for me; it turns out I am too competitive to play ranked without optimizing my chances, and Magic is pay-to-win, so screw it. Ranked play would get me extra packs but I don’t care enough.

Note that you don’t have to be good to rank up. Arena has a matchmaking system; you’ll tend to play against people and decks of similar skill and quality to your own. Someone tried an experiment and reached the highest rank by just playing the leftmost card in their hand, so your decision to try ranked play doesn’t depend on your skill. Just your tolerance for losing.

Fourth, play the daily quests using the stock decks. Your primary goals:

  • Complete the weekly win quest; each win is worth a ton of experience points
  • Complete the daily quest to play X cards of specific colors; sometimes this is play lands, or attack with X creatures, or kill X of your opponent’s creatures

There’s also a daily quest to win games but it’s not as important, because only the first four wins are worth all that much.

The X quest usually takes anywhere from 2-6 games to complete. Games are 5-10 minutes long. When I put it that way it sounds like a ton of time, huh? Alternatively: wow, up to an hour of entertainment each day for free?

Fifth, get in the mindset of enjoying the way the game plays out rather than focusing on the outcome. Once I savagely pushed my competitive urges aside, I started to really love playing against expensive combo decks because wow, those do cool things. Use the “Nice!” emote a lot.

Sixth, watch your progress on the Mastery ladder happily. Look, you’re getting more free packs! (36 of them if you finish the ladder.) You can spend $20 to get an extra Mastery Pass, which gives you even more rewards as you climb the ladder. Each Mastery ladder lasts for about three months, so that’s a significant outlay, although completing three full Mastery Passes gives you enough currency to buy another one without spending money. $60 a year is cheap but not free so your call there.

Man, all these packs of cards. What are you supposed to do with them? Hang tight, we’re getting there.

Seventh, you’ll notice you’re earning a bit of gold, too — if you do the daily X quest, it’s 500 gold a day. Spend the gold on the Jump In event, which is ongoing. For 1,000 gold you get a 40 card deck, including a couple of rare cards. More importantly, it’ll expose you to different deck archetypes and provide a different flavor of fun. I tend to do a new Jump In deck every week, and I choose the colors that’ll satisfy my current daily X quest. Play any given Jump In deck until you win at least once, since you get a card as a reward for winning.

Eighth, keep an eye on the Midweek Magic events. They’re free and reward you with a couple of cards if you win a couple of games. You can keep playing until you win, if you want. Occasionally you even get to use a new pre-constructed deck, which is fun, although you don’t get to keep those cards.

Ninth, notice which pre-constructed decks you’re enjoying. Think about the cards in those decks that make you sad when you draw them. Look at the cards you’ve collected, and ask yourself if any of them would be superior. Start tweaking your pre-constructed decks. Told you we’d use your new cards eventually.

And there you are. You won’t get the full-on deck construction experience, which is a significant part of Magic for some. For me, I find I can live without it, and I enjoy the in-game tactics more.

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