Magic: The Gathering is a complicated game; not many people will say otherwise. Some of the most common struggles for people just starting out are things like the myriad of rules, the vast card selection, and that sweet sweet color pie.
Understanding the game fully can take time, but Magic: Arena has not only become a great way for long time players to enjoy Magic in their free time, but it is also fantastic for newcomers just learning the ropes.
For some context, I’ve been playing Magic for almost ten(!) years, investing a ton of money, time, and very limited brain power along the way.
Sometimes learning it all at once can be overwhelming; where do you begin? What should you focus on first? All these questions and more are common. I’m here to help.
1. Play the whole tutorial
Whether you played the game in your youth and are just coming back to it, or you’re completely fresh, never having touched a little brown card, the tutorial is for you.
Tutorials are infamous for being long, boring slogs that are frequently the only thing standing between the player and a good ol’ time shootin’ stuff. That isn’t quite the case here. While yes, the tutorial is a little long compared to other games, it’s entirely necessary.
The game of Magic requires patience, and in order for you to truly understand the systems at play, Arena invokes that in the player right from the beginning. It’s surprisingly detailed, and is a wonderful way for new players to learn the game, so please, play the whole thing.
2. Play every color
Magic is a game that’s split into five unique colors, known as the color pie. The colors are White, Green, Blue, Red, and Black. In general, every single color plays very differently, and, aside from some crossovers I’ll get to in a minute, wants to win in its own unique ways.
I highly recommend playing a deck that is just one color to start, and maybe trying out every single color individually in order to really get a feel for how each one operates. Arena is very good for this, as it almost immediately hands the player one premade deck in each color that are each perfect for introductions.
So, you know what they are, but how do they differ? Please, indulge me for a moment and let me tell you.
Basic land: Plains
Primary traits: Honor, loyalty, order
Primary creature types: Human, spirit, cat
Giant creature type: Angel
Primary strategies: Small soldiers in big numbers, defense and life gain, using holy power to banish enemies and empower allies
Who would like this color: People who like strength in numbers and enjoy bolstering their own defenses through things like healing and holy strength, people who like playing Paladins or Clerics.
Primary strategies: Control the opponent by countering spells and sending cards back to the opponent’s hand, emptying the opponent’s library for an alternate way to win, using artifacts to empower yourself to destroy your opponent with the modern world
Who would like this color: People who enjoy out-thinking their enemies and dominating through their power strategy, people who like playing Rogues or Wizards
Allied colors: Black and White
Enemy colors: Red and Green
Basic land: Swamp
Primary traits: Power, decay, necromancy
Primary creature types: Zombie, skeleton, vampire
Giant creature type: Demon
Primary strategies: Destroy the opponent’s creatures with direct kill spells, resurrect your own creatures from the graveyard endlessly, bring forth powerful spells and creatures by sacrificing something of your own
Who would like this color: People who enjoy the darker side of magic and want to feel unstoppable, people who enjoy playing Necromancers or Undead
Allied colors: Red and Blue
Enemy colors: Green and White
Basic land: Mountain
Primary traits: Chaos, emotion, impulse
Primary creature types: Goblin, elemental, devil
Giant creature type: Dragon
Primary strategies: Attack the opponent quickly with small but fast creatures, fire off quick damage spells to finish off your opponent with ease, summon massive dragons to fight on your behalf
Who would like this color: People who enjoy aggressive tactics and don’t like waiting for their enemy to get the drop on them, people who like playing Barbarians or Pyromancers
Allied colors: Green and Black
Enemy colors: Blue and White
Basic land: Forest
Primary traits: Nature, strength, instinct
Primary creature types: Beast, elf, wolf
Giant creature type: Hydra
Primary strategies: Overpower your enemy with pure strength, use elves to achieve victory for the tribe, use the power of earth itself to gain extra resources and create big things faster
Who would like this color: People who like animals and nature, and prefer winning by beating their opponent with a sledgehammer rather than a knife; people who enjoy playing Druids or Warriors
Allied colors: White and Red
Enemy colors: Blue and Black
3. Mix and match colors
Okay, so now that you know what the individual colors do, it’s time to try and mix it up a little bit. Each single color has a wide variety of strategies you can pull off with them, but when you put two or even three together you get a very specialized deck.
Every color has strengths and weaknesses, and some colors share the same strengths and can cover the others’ weaknesses, making certain pairings work consistently. Every color has what’s called “allied” colors and “enemy” colors; this refers to the natural strength of the pairing, with allies being naturally better together.
This doesn’t at all mean you can’t pair enemy colors together, but with the natural strategies of the colors working against each other, it can be hard at times. Take Red and Black for example; they are both incredibly fast colors, and are frequently in the mood to directly hurt the opponent with little regard for their own health, making the pairing an aggressive match made in heaven.
On the flip side of that, take Red and Blue; they both have a natural tension fueled through the basic strategies in which they want to win. Where both colors thrive, however, is with spells, Instants and Sorceries, to be specific. Both colors use a lot of them, and so when pairing that together, using it to your advantage is key and tends to make for some devastating effects.
Arena also gives the player some great premade dual colored decks to use, so I definitely recommend trying those out to really get a feel for how the colors interact.
4. Read what’s craftable
This one is relatively simple, but just take a look at what you don’t have. Wildcards are incredibly useful things, as they allow you to make the exact card you’ve been looking for after opening 5 packs with it being nowhere to be found (looking at you, Gruul Spellbreaker).
Knowing what you don’t have means knowing what you’re working toward, and taking a look at the things you want can give you motivation to play more and can allow you to start thinking about the deck you want to play.
5. Build a deck around a strategy
Again, this one might be a little simple, but it still needs to be said: good decks aren’t just piles of good cards with little cohesion with one another (well, most good decks anyway; Jund is the biggest exception).
There are a number of ways to build good decks, but the easiest one is simply asking the question “how do I win?” It’s about understanding how your deck will beat your opponent’s, and building with cards that work towards that strategy.
If you’re playing mono-Green creatures, for example, you probably want to win by overpowering your opponents with big giant monsters. In this situation, maybe a card that makes two 1/1 tokens would not be ideal for what you’re trying to do, but you could instead replace that card with a creature that generates mana, allowing you to get your big things out earlier.
Another strong way to build a deck is around a specific card. Maybe you have a card that is so good or just so unique that you want to build an entire deck based on making this card work its best. You could even see a good combo of two cards, and decide that you want to build the deck around using this combo as effectively as possible, for example:
Also, I should say the best way to build decks is to keep your deck size to minimum; no 75 card decks, folks. The reason for this is simple: you want as few variables as possible in what you’re going to draw on any given turn; it’s important to keep a tight strategy.
6. Check out the events
Magic: Arena has a number of wonderful events that range from “can you win 6 games with your favorite deck” to drafts which, while super fun, you have to use gems for (which is real money).
There are also a lot of events that use unique formats like Pauper, which only allows commons, and Brawl, which can’t be summed up in one sentence. The events can give you a fresher look into Magic, while also allowing you to flex your creative muscle a little bit by building unusual decks.
The nicest thing about the events is you can potentially win packs, cosmetics, or even gems, so there is some real incentive in going all in.
7. Look at other decks online
This is called “netdecking”, and it basically means you look at the super good player’s decks to see what they’re doing. You don’t have to copy them completely; in fact, I recommend you don’t, as building your own deck gives you a little more attachment to it.
What I do recommend is that you look at their cards for maybe a little… inspiration. “Oh, a lot of these decks are using Gilded Goose, I didn’t realize that card was so good,” my friend recently said, still refusing to admit he was wrong when he said it wasn’t going to be a good card. It’s a useful tool that can also help with general deck construction, as well as sideboard help, which we all need.
One very good website to use is MtgGoldfish, which compiles all the recent tournament results and allows you to take a peak at the decks that did well!
Magic the Gathering Beginner Guide: In Closing
I really hope this helps you get into Magic: Arena, which has become the premier way to enjoy the game of Magic on your own time. Arena is free to play, with no real advantage to a player who spends money.
Though, if you’re not so patient, you can always spend those phat stacks and get yourself some packs. Throne of Eldraine, Magics newest, fairy tale themed set, just came out last month to rousing success.
The next set is the return to their Greek Mythology themed plane, Theros, so now is a great time to stack up cards and coins before that releases in early 2020.
Peters first gaming memory was playing Pokemon Red on his Gameboy Color when he was ever so tiny, and as soon as he eternally got stuck in Pewter City, he knew he'd love video games forever. Peter...