How to Go from MTG Arena to Paper Magic is the first in a series of articles aimed at making the transition from playing MTG Arena to paper Magic easier. Originally published in 2019, this is being republished to help reoriented or introduce paper Magic in a post-COVID world, with sanctioned play returning to many areas.
Other Arena to Paper Articles
Magic: The Gathering Arena is a great program. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s user-friendly. More importantly, it has its roots in the best game in the history of the human race—the Magic: The Gathering trading card game.
In the years to come, you’ll stop encountering statements like, “MTG Arena is a great program.” It will cease to be a novelty—the “new thing” in the world of Magic. Instead, Arena will become the gold standard, where a huge portion of all Magic matches are being played, and where a huge portion of new players cut their teeth with the game. It’s to these players—present and future—that I’m dedicating this article series.
Just like many others, paper Magic has brought me great joy throughout years and years of my life. I’d like to share this joy with as many prospective players as possible. No one should feel restricted to play only online. For that matter, no one should feel restricted to engage with Magic in any one particular way! There are hundreds of ways to enjoy Magic, from Vintage, to Standard, to Commander, to Booster Draft, from online, to Friday Night Magic, to MagicFests, from playing, to collecting, to appreciating the lore and art.
If you or someone you know is just getting started with paper Magic, then I hope you’ll find some bits of useful advice in what’s to follow.
Going from MTG Arena to Paper Magic
Just as you have a collection of cards associated with your Arena account, you’ll also need a collection of real, paper cards. But naturally, there are some key differences.
On MTG Arena, every card is worth more or less the same: the value of one wildcard. In paper, card values diverge wildly, with chase mythic rares (like Liliana, Dreadhorde General) and staple four-of rares (like Hallowed Fountain) being worth quite a lot of money, and a lot of the rest of the cards being worth…well, not so much.
One thing that’s particularly nice about MTG Arena is that there’s somewhat of a ceiling on the amount you can spend: Open enough booster packs and you’ll have enough rares and wild cards to play with any deck you’d like. In a technical sense, such a ceiling exists for paper Magic also, but buying four of every card is outside the price range of many players.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Magic cards are expensive. You may need to be selective about what cards and decks you aim for. Or, you at least might need to pace yourself and focus on building up a collection over time.
Limited Magic—namely Sealed Deck and Booster Draft—is awesome. It’s fun, it’s a great way to learn the game, and everyone’s on equal footing regardless of the extent of their collections. What’s more, playing Limited helps you on your way towards building a collection with which to play Constructed. I recommend that newer players focus on Limited for a while before making the optional commitment to building a Constructed deck.
I said “optional” because for some players, the journey starts and ends at Sealed Deck and Booster Draft. In fact, many of my longtime friends play exclusively Limited Magic. They only play a handful of times per year, and it’s usually at a local game store prerelease, or a Draft on somebody’s kitchen table. That’s the way that they choose to engage with MTG, rather than keeping up with the newest trends in Standard, or maintaining an extensive collection of cards.
That said, many players will fall in love with the game and want to take the next step. Collecting and playing Constructed can be both engaging and rewarding.
I count my Magic cards among my most prized possessions, and not just because of their resale value. They’re intimately tied to my memories with the game: the fun, the adventures, the tournaments. I remember when I drafted this one!… It took me two years to trade for all four of these!… I used these two in that old deck I used to love.
Constructed Magic is a kind of self-expression. It can come in the form of what strategy you choose. It can come creatively, from building an original deck that nobody’s ever seen before. If you want, it can even come in the form of personalized cards—foil cards, alternate-art cards, or signatures from the artists or your favorite players. Cards and decks can have stories behind them.
As you work on your collection, consider your budget and your timeline, and decide what’s important to you. The whole point is to make it your own. And if all of this sounds cheesy, I’ll simply challenge you to give it a try. I assure you that holding a physical deck in your hands—built with your own Magic cards that you’ve worked to collect—it’s a much different experience than what you get on MTG Arena.
Where to Play
If you’ve chosen to read this article, it might be because you’re considering taking that big leap into Magic organized play: tournaments. That word may sound intimidating, but I assure you that there are tournaments for players of every level of skill and experience. One of the most popular, and famously the most welcoming, is FNM: Friday Night Magic.
FNM is the best way to dip your toes in the water to see if you enjoy playing Magic in a more structured setting with a new group of opponents. (I’m pretty confident you will enjoy it.) This website has some additional information about FNM, as well as a tool at the bottom to find a local game store near you. Now you have no excuse not to try it!
While MagicFests are not currently being held due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this section is included to highlight one of the previously largest ways to connect with Magic. No news is known on when/if they will return.
If you’re looking for something with more excitement (more people, more events, more things to do, more of pretty much everything), you can look into a MagicFest.
MagicFests are giant events, open to anyone, that run from Friday-Sunday (sometimes longer) on a scheduled weekend. They tend to host something in the ballpark of 700-2000 people, all of whom are excited about Magic. There are tons of different events and tournaments to choose from, special guests ranging from artists and cosplayers to pro players and Wizards of the Coast employees. On any given weekend, there’s probably a lot more cool opportunities that I wouldn’t even think to mention here!
The main event of each MagicFest is a Grand Prix tournament. Again, a Grand Prix tournament is open to anybody, and could represent your chance at the big leagues. You can play against opponents from all over the region (or the world), including established and aspiring pro players. The reason is that Grand Prix tournaments come with a large pool of prize money, as well as invitations for top finishers to one of the highly exclusive Mythic Championship tournaments.
Entering the Grand Prix is optional, and plenty of players prefer to attend MagicFests without competing in the main event. At worst, there’s always the option to try your hand in the Grand Prix on Saturday, and enjoy everything else the MagicFest has to offer on Friday and Sunday.
Depending on where you live, you’ll probably only have a MagicFest in your area once (or a couple of times) per year. But that’s part of what makes it special. Before I was ever a pro player or a writer here at ChannelFireball.com, I would scour the Grand Prix schedule for the small handful of events that I could play each year. Road tripping to those events with my brother and my friends were major highlights for me.
The Kitchen Table
I’ve played Magic in pretty much every environment you can think of, from tournament halls to local games stores to cafes and bars. But nothing really compares to playing with good friends in your own home. You’ll often hear people refer to the kitchen table as a metaphor for casual play at home.
One of the best things about this type of kitchen table Magic is you can do whatever is most fun for your group. You can play Constructed or Sealed Deck, you can play with prepackaged Duel Decks, you can play with your Draft decks from 2 months ago, you can agree to free mulligans if you want to. You wouldn’t encounter this type of play in a tournament setting, but part of what makes Magic great is how much customization there is.
Perhaps the most popular form of kitchen table play is Commander. Commander is a special format that involves 100 card decks where playing more than a single copy of any card is not allowed. The singleton nature of the format provides a ton of variety and replay value, and Commander can be played either one-on-one or multiplayer. There are even preconstructed decks you can pick up and play immediately.
Remember what I said about expressing yourself and making Magic your own? Well, Commander is the perfect intersection of fun game play, creative deckbuilding, and building up a sweet collection over time.
Consider this a very brief introduction to paper Magic. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be adding supplementary articles that will go deeper into particular topics you might want to learn about as you make the jump from playing online to playing face to face.
One of the goals of this piece is to lay out a variety of options for how you can engage with paper Magic. The key point is that they’re all options. One is not better than the others, and you don’t have to take on all of them at once.
One player might thrive in the excitement and pressure of a Grand Prix tournament. Another might prefer not to venture any further than the kitchen table. Importantly, you might not know which type you are until you give these things a try. Whatever the case, I assure you that paper Magic has a tremendous amount to offer, and if you decide to step beyond the confines of MTG Arena, you might just fall in love.