How MTG Arena Made Me a Better Paper Magic Player

I’ll be honest, I didn’t learn how to play magic until Oath of the Gatewatch came out. I had only known about the game when I was younger since my older cousins played it. And really, I barely learned anything when that set came out. It was midnight prerelease at the LGS I was currently working at. My boss bought me and my coworker the intro decks and taught us the very basics of Magic. I barely understood anything.

After a while of working there, pretending I knew what people were talking about when they asked me about cards, I started to get more interested in playing. My friend Brad, an L2 at the time, wanted to help me get into the game so he built me a Mono-Green Ezuri Elf Commander Deck. My love of the wood elves in Lord of the Rings was implemented into Magic. I still have that deck, and I still LOVE that deck. We’d play every few weeks with a group of friends but I struggled to keep up with understanding what was going on on each field. I was very intimidated.

The game had so many rules. Every time I played, I learned something new that didn’t make me better, rather it made me frustrated. The phrase “What does that do again?” came out of my mouth every time someone played a non-basic land. I felt like I was annoying everyone in my Commander group because I just didn’t get it. Slowly, my want to play was surpassed by my fear of being frustrated or slow at the game. I gave up.

Time goes by and I continue to brush off opportunities to play and get better due to fear and intimidation of the game. Every so often I jump in when a new set comes out that I think has a cool theme but the cards I purchase just sit on my shelf. Well they sit in a box under my bed, on the floor, in the garage, on the kitchen table..You know, everywhere, not being played. I made a habit of memorizing card names and art just to be able to be a better salesman at my LGS. Unfortunately, I had no idea what people were talking about when they actually referenced the card and decks due to this.

Skip a few years forward. I worked my way up as the previous game store to assistant manager and then to the manager at the ChannelFireball Game Center. I still didn’t feel comfortable or confident playing Magic. I had been in this environment for 4 years now and I technically knew how to play, but I didn’t feel like I could. I even had one of our L2 Judges attempt to teach me the phases and steps of game play so I could learn to judge. You’re telling me there are how many steps to combat? I have to remember how a stack works? I thought I’d never need to reference my Computer Science classes again!

The year is 2020, we’ve been on Shelter in Place for about a month, MTG Arena is finally downloaded onto my PC since I actually kind of missed playing. My life in Magic has been saved.

I subscribed to CFB Pro (Well I edited the articles for it so I can’t help but read them too). And decided to use the deck list and information in the deck guides to help me actually become a better player. The problem is, I still didn’t really know what I was doing or how to utilize them. Not until I started really playing on MTG Arena. What decks should I try? Well, what are the top decks (at the time)?

Deck Test 1: 

Boros Cycling: Cheap. Easy. Barely have to know how to play Magic for this one but it’s super fun. Oh cool, you can cycle on their turn? Save your mana for instants on their turn? Zenith Flare for the win!

I tried this deck purely because it was the most affordable. But I’m not going to lie, the idea of being number 1 in the format (at the time) definitely made me excited! Though, I had no idea what my Boros deck had blue spells in it but I didn’t question it since I trusted Martin Juza knew what he was talking about when he wrote the deck list.

Turn 1, Flourishing Fox. Turn two, cycle two blue cards. Oh now I get it! Go face. Great! This makes sense.

But wait, what if I don’t have a Flourishing Fox to start the game?

Turn 1, cycle. Turn 2, Valiant Rescuer. Turn 3, cycle, OH MORE DUDES! Turn 4, cycle twice.. Wait, what? How come I didn’t get more than one token? Oh crap, read the cards Bex!

Okay, game 3, let’s go. Cycle at the correct time, play creatures at the correct time. Wow this is awesome. Zenith Flare to the rescue! Crap, they countered it. At least I understand this deck now.

I spent the next 2 weeks grinding that deck until I got to Gold on Arena. But I was really enjoying it the entire time. My confidence level was spiking just from understanding the basics of a cycling deck. I couldn’t wait to look into more decks. Guess I’ll look for another top tier deck.

Deck Test 2: 

Temur Rec: Not cheap, but there are sharks so like, awesome. Didn’t shovel out money for lands. That’s okay. I suck at Magic, I’ll play other mediocre players and maybe I’ll win sometimes. Wait.. like legit don’t do anything on your turn but lands and Uro? Okay, if you say so.

Why would I want to play more than 1 Wilderness Rec? That doesn’t make any sense. You can only untap your lands once. Wait, what’s an end step? I can play instants during my end step? You made that up.

Oh it’s my turn, better make a Shark token. WAIT BEX YOU KNOW THIS ONE! End of their turn! Okay, I can do this. 

I’m so glad I didn’t make that shark! I needed to counter their Teferi!

Wait, did I just win?

With every game, I learned a new “secret” to playing Temur Rec in which I realized I was actually learning how to just be a good Magic player. This game is so intricate. I actually love it.


Arena walked me through literally everything I needed to know how to play that deck and how the phases of Magic work. It highlights playable cards. It stops me when something is able to be played. It lets me see every single step and phase from the beginning. This is awesome! It wasn’t until this moment that I truly understood how the game of Magic worked, and it wasn’t until this moment that I couldn’t stop playing! 

I decided to brew my own Standard Mutate deck with this new found confidence. I had no idea how it would go. My first thought, just add every good card ever! There is no way that could go wrong, except that it did. I had no synergy. Deck building is ten times harder than deck playing. After every game, I would remove something that didn’t work, and add something new I saw in someone else’s deck.

Game 1:

I tried Pollywog Symbiote, but I hated that I kept having to discard cards.

Game 2:

Swapped it out for Arboreal Grazer. Oh this is nice, I can play an extra land on turn 1? Oh wait, this can’t attack. Oh, I’ll just mutate on it!

Game 3:

Let’s put some Paradise Druids. I saw someone else playing those. You can mutate onto them too!

Oh no! I wasn’t paying attention and the game tapped my Druid to play something else! Pointless!

Game 4:

I have no removal. What were those good removal cards again from Temur Rec? Oh yeah, Mystical Dispute. I’ll add some of those. And maybe a Negate or two!

Game 5:

THIS DECK IS SO SLOW. How was I able to play so quickly in Temur Rec? OH DUH! Growth Spiral! 3 please!

Game 6:

I think i’ve done it. I’ve created a monster, a MUTATE MONSTER! I’ve got removal, I’ve got sweet creatures. Wow, did I just win? I DID IT! I CREATED A PLAYABLE DECK!

Here is my final deck list. Note that I have very little card selection so I tend to create with what I have available.

Standard Mutate Brew Deck List - Rebecca Woehrle

No, I don’t have a sideboard, because I only play best of 1 since I am still new at this.

I was worried that with my new found interest in Arena, I’d lose interest in my paper Magic decks. But since then, I have all the confidence to actually enjoy paper Magic with my friends that I couldn’t truly enjoy before. 

I kept ordering boxes of Ikoria from the website (which I used to just open and then “file” away.) and actually played with them! I played so many games of Sealed I couldn’t believe it! I understand the phases and appropriate times to play things as well as how to deck build efficiently! 

My boyfriend and I now play sealed all of the time and I am so much more confident of a player. He has been playing for years and was a regular at the Game Center playing in our Modern events. I was so embarrassed to constantly be asking questions about how the game worked. Now, we play Sealed, Battlebox, or Commander on a weekly basis and I don’t feel bad asking “What does that card do again?”. I can ask with confidence knowing that I’ll understand how it interacts, even without having to memorize every card name and ability. (I still don’t know how people do that).

It’s amazing what technology can provide. We take it for granted all of the time but someone took the time to make this program for not only experienced players to enjoy, but new ones too. I am so thankful for that. 

Two months or so into Arena and I am happily playing in Platinum Tier Constructed and Limited. It’s not pro level but it’s perfect for me and nowhere I imagined I’d be with this game. I hope that others find that Arena can help them become a better player as well. It is a well designed program that truly benefits everyone.

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