Magic’s a great game to get your friends and family into, but with over a quarter of a century of history and dozens of different ways to play, teaching it can sometimes be a bit daunting.
“Should I get them into standard, or a non-rotating format?”
“Do I use the introductory decks, or something more interesting?”
“What about other key aspects of Magic, like deck-construction, and limited?”
I’ve had this issue in the past, teaching my friends with the starter decks is simple, after all they’re designed to be easy to play, but I find the enthusiasm for playing with these beginner products falls off a cliff after a few games. I’ve also taught friends how to play using my commander decks before whilst I’ve had nothing else available and, whilst it’s sometimes worked very well, often I’m met with “sorry, I’m just not getting it” after about five or six turns.
There’s something that’s been missing from the resources produced by Wizards explicitly for the teaching of magic. When I first got into this game, the first thing I wanted to do after playing my first match wasn’t to shuffle up and play again; it was to build my own deck. The Deckbuilder’s Toolkit I bought provided enough cards to make a deck, but it felt less like building a deck that was true to what I wanted to play, and more like jamming all the blue and black cards into a pile, along with any decent rares I got with the included booster packs. So when I saw what Jumpstart was promising; a pick-up-and-play, semi-random, massively customisable and replayable format, I was incredibly excited.
Each Jumpstart pack comes with a pre-made 20 card half-deck with at least one exciting/legitimately powerful rare and clearly synergistic supporting cards. By taking two packs and shuffling them together, you get a 40 card Jumpstart deck which blends these two themes together in some kind of unique way. Not only is this an exciting and innovative approach to the limited format, it’s also an amazing way of getting someone playing the game straight away with a unique deck that can be built upon in future games. This combination of quick deckbuilding, controlled variance, and a card-list that treads the line between satisfying complexity and reasonable accessibility is very promising.
Comparing a prospective Jumpstart deck with other products designed for newer players like the mono-colour “taster” decks or Planeswalker decks and you’ll see how the starting deck size is only one of the differences in terms of how the decks are made up. In other products, uninteresting and synergistic filler often makes up the majority of the decks. About 10% of the nonland cards in planeswalker decks are dedicated to searching for, or synergising with, the titular planeswalker, and the rest of the cards either coalesce around a basic and narrow strategy or are unapologetic filler. These decks are designed to play against one another and, whilst all they require to play is a basic knowledge of the rules and a quick shuffle, their shelf-life is very limited. After two or three games, and maybe one “do you want to swap decks?”, I’ve always found the interest in picking the decks back up and playing again is near non-existent for both me and my opponents, even after a few days or weeks of not playing. You quickly learn what targets to prioritise, how much you can overextend, what spells you can bluff holding up, etc. But without new cards or decks being introduced, a new player will only be learning highly specific and relatively basic interactions. Additionally, the narrow focus of these introductory decks means that players don’t get the chance to experience all that Magic has to offer from the get go, instead having to pick between “Midrange” and “Spell Slingers” or “Aggro” and “Mill”. Of course, if you have multiple starter decks this isn’t a problem, but if you’re looking for something that you can whip out whenever you want to get someone, or multiple people, into Magic; Planeswalker decks are a fine but flawed product.
Jumpstart’s modular design completely obliterates these potential issues. If you or your opponent want to try out an entirely new archetype after playing a few games, your options aren’t just limited to swapping decks. You could open up a new random pack and swap out half your cards for them, you could look through discarded half-decks and select a pair you want to try out together. You could even swap out half of your current deck with your opponent.
The high randomness of Jumpstart can also even the playing field somewhat between new and old players. With both decks being entirely random, the more experienced player’s understanding of how traditional decks *should* play goes completely out of the window. If I play someone new with the green starter deck, I know I’ll be taking out their creatures with combat tricks and beating them down with +1/+1 counters. If I draw my Jumpstart hand and discover I’m playing Enchanted Milling or Spooky Dragons then, whilst my experience with playing the game for longer will still give me an edge over my opponent, I’m going to be just as fresh to this strategy as they are with their deck.
These decks don’t need to be kept as separate twenty card half-decks either. Once you and your opponent are done playing with swapping out half the cards in your deck with a fresh pack, you can use what you’ve opened to build a sixty card deck. Did your opponent really enjoy the times they were playing with Devilish cards, but preferred the removal in Minotaurs, and had a blast recurring their creatures with the Minions decks? Then all it takes is a few substitutions and this new player has a highly synergistic sixty card deck that they’ve already kind of played with across multiple games.
There are some shortcomings that Jumpstart does have in comparison to other products designed to teach Magic. For one, being a random product there is a chance that your opponent may have a run of bad luck, continually opening incompatible tribal half-decks, or having to wrangle with the very un-synergistic Rainbow Mill or the like. Such a stumble early on in someone’s learning process with this game could put them off. Additionally, unlike other products, Jumpstart’s cards and format doesn’t really have a clear direction once a new player is finished with the specific format. Few of the cards are legal in standard, meaning that few of the best cards a new player has grown to love can be used in the most popular format of the game. Commander is a potential avenue for Jumpstart-introduced players to go down, but with so many of the Jumpstart decks and their legendaries tribal themed, there aren’t really any satisfactory 100 card decks to be built out of the provided cards without dozens of additional cards from outside of the format.
These, however, are pretty minor nitpicks. After all, every way of teaching a new player magic has an element of randomness that could lead to a disastrous introduction, and getting new cards is kind of part and parcel with going further with magic, no matter how you start. The biggest, and most disappointing, issue with Jumpstart is the price. A booster box of Jumpstart (containing twenty four booster packs) will set you back by upwards of $130. Compare that to the $30 you could spend on two planeswalker decks and it’s pretty clear that, unless you were going to get Jumpstart anyway, recommending Jumpstart as the product to teach people magic would be ludicrous.
Admittedly, when I began writing this I was approaching Jumpstart from a purely theoretical angle. I’ve not been able to play the format as it doesn’t go on sale until the 17th of July but conceptually, all the pieces are here for this to be an amazing teaching product. Then reality caught up, I thought to check exactly how expensive the thing is and I was pretty bummed out. I want cool ideas like this to be accessible to people who don’t have a hundred or so dollars knocking around that they can fork out without too much of a thought. Twenty four packs between two people would allow for at least six consecutive completely random decks, with the high chance of more than one clearly powerful specific combination. But for the same price, if not more than, two planeswalker decks designed to be balanced against eachother you might be able to pick up between four to six packs. Obviously some individual boosters would let you get a partial experience of Jumpstart, but one of the coolest parts of this product is the idea of jamming two of dozens of different half-decks together at random and playing with that. Having a limit of four or so packs massively reduces the chances for finding a satisfying balance of power, and not being able to swap out half your deck more than once, if at all, kind of negates Jumpstart’s biggest selling point.
I was going to leave this op-ed here, lumping Jumpstart onto the ever growing pile of WotC’s products that “just aren’t FOR you”, and then I realized that whilst the product of Jumpstart itself may be inaccessible for many people, there was literally nothing stopping me from making a Jumpstart of my own. The product may cost over a hundred dollars, but the format itself is completely free.
Now, I have a decently sized Magic collection. I pretty much only play Commander in person and the only sealed magic product I buy is the very occasional commander precon and pre-release pack. I have two binders filled about a quarter way and half way each with random cards I’ve pulled from packs or traded into and subsequently never used. I also was lucky enough to be given a booster box of Eldraine boosters by WotC a few months ago which I opened about ten packs of and then used the rest for a draft with my pals. Effectively I have enough random cards to fill a shoebox and for the longest time I had very little idea of what to do with them. Now the idea of Jumpstart has come around and suddenly all of the unused rares and not-bad-enough-to-be-”filler” but not-good-enough-to-find-a-home-in-commander draft commons I’ve had gathering dust in binders and boxes have a whole new purpose!
I started making Jumpstart-esq half-decks of my own (12 nonlands, 8 lands, all one colour) and couldn’t stop. It’s wild how many times I flicked through a stack of cards and thought “wait, there’s enough for a theme here” and made mono-black knights, mono-white humans, mono-blue “From The Depths”, and mono-green adventure, some of which are pictured above. 12 on-theme nonland cards (really more like 11 or 10 depending on if you want to duplicate anything) is a very attainable amount if you already have a fistful of rares and an armful of draft-chaf lying around. Pick one or two bomb rares, between two and four pieces of on-theme removal (for example, two copies of ‘trapped in the tower’ for a mono-white flyers deck) and fill out the rest with on-theme bodies and cards that have overlapping synergies with other archetypes. Regardless of if you buy Jumpstart or not, adding to this format or building your own from the ground up is a great way to find a new use for forgotten cards whilst creating a quick and easy way to get you friends playing, building, and having fun. What Jumpstart decks can you make with your collection?