The popular digital version of Magic: The Gathering, Arena, is well known as one of the best ways to play the game. It is currently available on PC, MAC OS, and mobile devices, and yes, that means you can play magic anywhere! (Or, at least anywhere you can maintain cell service.) So, you know you want to play the game, but do you know if Arena is right for you? Here, I will talk about the formats available on the platform and the best way to start playing.
The Best Way to Play (Most of) Magic
First and foremost Arena is highly recommended due to its user friendly interface, readily accessible collection, and the ability to play a variety of game types. The only particularly popular form of Magic that it does not currently support is Commander. If you are not looking specifically for that multiplayer variant of the game, you can enjoy the following on Arena:
Standard: Play with all legal standard sets.
Brawl: Build a 60-card, singleton deck led by a commander for 1 vs 1 matches.
Draft: Draft 40-card limited decks with real players!
Sealed: Around during set releases, build 40-card decks from a sealed pool of packs.
Alchemy: An arena-only version of Standard featuring re-balanced cards and unique game pieces that can only function on a digital client.
Historic: An arena-only format that includes all cards from throughout Arena’s history, including Alchemy releases.
Historic Brawl: Brawl, but using the Historic card pool.
Explorer: An online variant of the Pioneer format, which includes cards from Return to Ravnica onward- with steady releases, Explorer will eventually mirror paper Pioneer.
Rotating Special Events: In addition to these regular ways to play, Arena often features interesting alternatives. These include special drafts or events that restrict the kinds of cards you can add to your deck.
If any or all of that sounds good to you, you’re ready to download the client here and get playing! When you boot up the client you’ll be run through a tutorial and assorted challenges that show you how to play the game. This tutorial process will also help you unlock several starter decks that will give your collection a nice early boost, especially if you choose to play with some of the recommendations I’m about to offer. After this, head to the store and input some codes to get free packs, including the following:
- PlayTheros: Three packs of Theros Beyond Death
- PlayIkoria: Three packs of Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
- PlayM21: Three packs of Core Set 2021
- PlayZendikar: Three packs of Zendikar Rising
- TryKaladesh: One pack of Kaladesh Remastered
- PlayKaldheim: Three packs of Kaldheim
- PlayStrixhaven: Three packs of Strixhaven
- PlayDND: Three packs of Forgotten Realms
- PlayMID: Three packs of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt
- PlayVOW: Three packs of Innistrad: Crimson Vow
- PlayNEO: Three packs of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
- PlayNeoAlchemy: Three packs of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Alchemy
- PlaySNC: Three packs of Streets of New Capenna
The first thing you’ll notice, after unlocking your starters and getting your freebies, is that acquiring cards may not be the easiest thing. Put simply, while the game can be played for free, it is clearly designed for you to spend money to get packs and acquire cards. If you have the inclination and pockets deep enough to do so, feel free to purchase packs from any sets that interest you and hop right into any of the formats! But what if you want to try to stay Free to Play?
Budgeting Play for Beginners
If you’re looking to avoid spending money as you start out, I recommend investing your freely acquired resources into two formats: draft and brawl. Brawl is great for beginner players as the format is singleton, meaning you only need one copy of any given card in a deck. Your starter decks should give you enough to build a Brawl deck or two, and you can start completing your daily quests to earn gold.
As for the most efficient way to spend your gold, the answer is on drafts. Being good at drafting is a skill in and of itself, but if you do well you can break even on the resources you spend, or even gain additional resources! In a Premier Draft, where matches are best-of-one and you play to 7 wins or 3 losses, if you can manage five wins you break even and can draft again!
Building Your Gameplay Loop
If you have some success at drafting you’ll notice that you start to build a collection around both the cards you draft and any packs you win. You can then start adding the best cards earned this way to your Brawl decks, which will make earning gold easier, and the loop can continue! As you grow more successful, your collection will expand, and you can start branching out into other formats that interest you by spending wild cards, if not spending a few dollars.
An Economic Arena
Playing Arena ultimately comes down to establishing your place within its economy. Earning packs lets you get more wild cards, resources that you can exchange for cards of the wild card’s rarity, so in the end you have to find your preferred way of acquiring packs. While my above recommendation will absolutely get you there with time, your time is still very much a resource. The last thing to consider when starting Arena is how comfortable you are with that, or whether you want to come in prepared to spend more real world dollars to get a competitive collection.