Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Magic: the Gathering Arena has been the main way most people around the world have played the game. For many, however, it is the only way they’ve played the game, with the long-term suspension of in-person events. As the world begins to reopen and as paper play begins once again, many players who picked up Magic over the last 18 or so months may be looking to play their very first games of Magic in paper, and some will be looking to go from Magic Arena to paper for the first time.
For players who have been around for awhile, this is a time of excitement and optimism, as people look to reconnect with their friends in LGSs around the world and sling spells in real life rather than being confined to digital cardboard. For those who have never done so, however, this prospect may be a daunting one. Magic is a game with heavily entrenched customs and cultures, and for people who have never played the game anywhere other than on MTGA, it may feel worrying that you’re going to get stuff “wrong.”
Older players take this for granted. We know how to keep track of life totals, announce triggers and shuffle our decks the “right” way. We don’t think twice about the rhythm of in-person play, the ways we communicate and mechanically enact game actions, or reading a pairings board. For new players, this may well be a very intimidating process to have to go through – and that’s why I’m writing these articles.
In the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of articles designed to guide you through what paper Magic and in-person play involves. I aim to make it as comprehensive as possible, as not only a guide to read through ahead of time but also refer to again if questions arise as time goes on. I hope to cover everything, from finding a place to play, to etiquette both in and out of game, to navigating trading with other players.
These guides will assume you know the rules of Magic. It won’t cover basic fundamentals like deck construction, the steps and phases of a game, how combat works or how a sideboard works. Rather, for example, it will explain what sideboarding looks like in paper. Presumably, MTGA has taught you the rules and the technical side of the game – this guide, instead, will explain the logistics of it.
Finding a Place to Play
- What makes a good LGS?
- How do I find games at an LGS?
- What do I need to bring with me to play?
How Paper Play Works
- What does a paper game look like?
- How do I keep track of everything?
- How different are paper games from MTGA?
Playing in a Tournament
- What kind of in-paper events are there?
- What are the mechanics of a tournament?
- How do in-person drafts work?
- What should I do (or not do) while playing?
- How do I resolve issues with my opponent?
- Why is my opponent flicking their cards around constantly?
- What should I do (or not do) while at an LGS?
- How do I navigate socializing/chatting with other players?
- How do I deal with problems that arise in an LGS?
Reading an Opponent
- How can I use being seated across from an opponent to my advantage?
- What should I do to make sure they don’t gain an advantage on me?
- What are some ways to effectively bluff in-person?
- How do I prepare my collection for trading?
- What are the mechanics of an in-person trade?
- How do I make sure no-one gets ripped off?
Getting into Commander
- What’s the deal with Commander, and is it for me?
- How should I prepare or build a Commander deck?
- How does a multiplayer game work?
Today, however, we’ll be dealing with the one big question you might still be asking yourself, if you’re a new player who has only ever played on MTGA.
If you’re asking yourself this question in the first place, then the answer is very likely just “yes.”
Obviously there are a ton of other factors, external to the game, to consider. Your health and the health of your loved ones, friends and broader community is a lot more important than a card game, and should be paramount in your decision. If it’s not safe in your region to be meeting up with others in small-to-medium groups, then perhaps you’re not ready to start playing paper Magic. Similarly, if your health may be at risk for any reason from being exposed to strangers in an enclosed environment, you might want to shelve your plans to head to an LGS.
However, global pandemic aside, you can’t really not be “ready” to head to an LGS and check out in-person play. Remember – countless thousands of people did just that before MTGA came along, and you’ve already got a leg-up on them: you know the game, you know the rules and you’ve probably played hundreds of games against reasonably skilled opponents already. Most people were nowhere near that before their first trip to an LGS.
It might seem like a huge, scary step, but it really isn’t. You’ll be moving from MTGA and Discord servers with other Magic nerds to paper games and hanging out with other Magic nerds in real life. It’s an exciting time that is going to open up a series of rich and memorable experiences in your life, as your passion for the game is shared with other like-minded people.
“But I don’t even have any cards! How can I possibly be ready to play in-person?”
Good news – this is a problem with a very simple solution. Multiple solutions, if you’ll believe it. Presumably, you have a deck (or several decks) you like to play on MTGA. You can head online (even here at ChannelFireball.com), order the cards and have them delivered to your door (coupon code KNIGHT at checkout), or check if your LGS has them available for purchase ahead of time. Depending on the size of your LGS and its inventory status, they may not have every single card you need, however. Don’t assume you’ll be able to turn up and buy an entire deck off them, especially if it’s full of chase rares and mythics, as LGSs often have trouble holding onto popular cards.
Warning: buying into Standard right now is a little awkward. There will be a set rotation later in the year, with the release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt in late September. Any cards you buy from Throne of Eldraine, Theros Beyond Death, Ikoria and Core 2021 won’t be legal in Standard once Innistrad rolls around – and, in case you didn’t know, they won’t be useful for Historic, as Historic is almost entirely only played online.
They will, however, be legal in Pioneer, Modern and other older formats, but even then don’t count on them being playable. Be judicious when buying cards for a Standard deck, and don’t spend too much on cards that are rotating out. Focus on cards from Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim and Strixhaven, as they’ll be legal until 2022.
Let’s say, however, you don’t want to buy any individual cards at all, and you just want a taste of what in-person play looks like. Good news – there’s a solution for this as well! You can just draft instead. Drafts are very popular, especially in LGSs, and are an excellent way not only to play paper Magic without an established collection, but also an excellent way to start building a collection, as you usually keep what you draft (although not always, as we’ll cover in a future article).
So whether you do or don’t have a paper collection, whether you do or don’t want to invest in one immediately – no worries! You’re still ready to play paper Magic. In fact, anyone who tells you you’re not ready (for reasons other than health and safety, obviously) is being misleading or perhaps even gatekeeping you. There is no minimum skill requirement for in-paper play at an LGS, there is no minimum collection requirement, you have just as much right to play in-paper games as someone who has been playing for years.
In short: are you ready to play paper Magic? Again, assuming health and safety risks are accounted for, then yes, you are – and I and the Magic community at large very much hope you do!