6 Cheap and Easy Ways To Play Magic: the Gathering

Many people have heard of Magic: the Gathering (MTG) – it has lasted over 25 years (it reached a quarter century in 2019), and is well known for being the world’s first mainstream trading card game. And not cheap! The game had humble beginnings, growing from Richard Garfield’s idea into an actual product by a small company called Wizards of the Coast. Eventually it was bought over by toy mega-machine Hasbro, and it continues to deepen the game with new products, game mechanics and accessibility through online versions.  

However, while the original, paper version of Magic has been its unique aspect compared to other popular digital card games like Hearthstone, the price to play has also been a severe stumbling block in reaching the mass population. To be competitive, hundreds of dollars (at least) are needed to build a top-tier deck. You could go the budget route and build a deck under $20, but your chances of doing well in competitive play are also diminished. 

If it’s so expensive, what are the cheapest and easiest ways to get into the game? Playing digitally is a good way to start, but if you’re interested in paper Magic, there are formats and cards that are dirt cheap and even free.

We list out 5 best ways to get into this amazing game (with great art and complexity) without breaking the bank.

Play Unsanctioned, a Parody Version of Magic

Every year, MTG releases many products – one of its most creative ever is the satirical UN sets. It began in 1998 with Unglued and subsequently with Unhinged (2004) and Unstable (2017). In 2020, it released its latest version – Unsanctioned – a standalone product where two players can play right out of the box. You don’t need to have any other cards so it’s a great entry way for newcomers. Plus, it’s cheap, at only about US$35.

Although MTG’s gameplay and rules can be complex and mentally tiring, Unsanctioned is purposely designed to be for a good round of laughs between friends. Here are some of the funnier cards in the set, as you can see they are not afraid to make fools out of you! Learning the rules of MTG could not have been more fun, get a friend to join you! 

Play a Pre-Release Event (Sealed Format)

Every year, new expansion sets are released about every quarter. To mark the occasion, local game shops offer Pre-Release Events. Each player receives a kit containing 6 booster packs, and a promotional and random rare card in its foil version. Using only the 90 cards from the kit, players build a 40-card deck to fight each other. 

Pre-Release Events are good for newcomers for a couple of reasons. It’s cheap enough (again), and you don’t need to purchase or have any other cards to take part. Secondly, you get to keep the cards from the kit. So even if you crash out of the event with straight losses, try to sell the cards in the secondary market later on. If you’re lucky with the rares in your packs, you can even profit from playing a Pre-Release event!            

Play MTG Digitally on Arena for Cheap or Free

MTGA-Gameplay-Interface-Example

Looking to catch up to the success of Blizzard’s Hearthstone, Magic: the Gathering Arena (MTGA) was launched to the public in 2019. It offers an accessible, stylish, and modern digital version of Magic. Arena isn’t the first foray into digital. Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO) was created in 2002, and today offers gameplay in all formats of MTG, and also the ability to sell your digital assets within the platform. However the interface looks terribly dated and doesn’t offer the 3D graphics of today.

But aside from the beautiful interface and graphics, the best part of MTG Arena is that you can easily play competitive Magic for cheap or even for free. Designed in line with the current free-to-play model of today’s mobile gaming industry, you can spend a minimal amount of time each day to build your card collection. Subsequently use the free in-game currency (coins) to earn the premium  currency (gems). 

We have an in-depth guide to achieving self-sufficiency in MTG Arena. But the gist of it is to complete your daily quests and win games to earn coins. Use those coins to open booster packs or take part in the Quick Draft events to earn gems. 

By opening packs, you also gradually acquire “Wildcards,” which allow you to exchange them with any Magic card of the same rarity. For example, you can swap a Rare Wildcard (gold in colour) with any Rare card in the game. This exchange system is mind blowingly different from the paper game. Usually players either have to open multiple packs to get the card they want, or pay the market price to acquire it from individual sellers.  

MTG Arena is truly unprecedented in the accessibility it offers to the mass population. Wildly successful games like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans have thrived on the accessibility of the mobile platform, offering players to ‘play and try’ for free and at no risk. MTG wants to offer the same choice in the form of Arena, and so far it’s been a hit. It runs on both Windows and Mac (but only in certain territories through Epic Games

Craft a Cheap Command/EDH Deck for Less than $50

One of the most accessible formats in MTG is the evergreen Commander aka EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander). Started by a group of players, and not by the officials, the format gained traction and popularity for being fun, political, sometimes chaotic, and ultimately friendly to newcomers to the game. 

The format revolves around a Legendary Creature card who will be known as their Commander. This Commander is essentially a “hero” archetype that can respawn again and again after it is killed. Decks must be 100 cards, including the Commander, and only 1 copy of each card can be used, except for Basic Lands. Players often battle in a 4-person match for fun politicking, but you just need a minimum of 2.

Commander format allows almost any card in Magic’s history to be used (some banned exceptions), so newcomers don’t have to think about format restrictions. The big pool of cards means you can craft any kind of deck you want, even competitive decks with a budget lower than $50. Check out of these decklists:

RBW Angel / Demon Deck (Commander: Kaalia, Zenith Seeker) – $47

UR Artifacts with Aetherflux Reservoir (Commander: Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain) – $44

5-Colour Shrine Enchantments (Commander: Sisay, Weatherlight Captain) – $50

URG Landfall (Commander: Omnath, Locus of the Roil) – $48

5: Play Pauper or Artisan Format with Other Newcomers

In terms of cost, this is one of the best ways to get into MTG. In the Pauper format, only Common cards can be used. Over at Artisan format, this extends to include both Commons and Uncommons. 

While Common and Uncommon cards are already very cheap, the best (and free) way to get these cards is to ask your local game shop for any that they are giving away or disposing of. Shops buy dozens and even hundreds of boxes of cards for every new set, and often the bulk Common cards are just overflowing out of their storeroom. Even if they’re not free, many shops sell an entire box of random cards for less than $10. 

Basic Lands are usually not found in these boxes of random cards, but the local shops have lands available for use if you play there. Build your deck at home and play in the store by borrowing their lands. Ask them if you can keep them, and if not, just return them back at the end of your games. 

Combine Two Jumpstart Packs to Make a Deck

In 2020, Wizards came back with a brilliant idea, one with the right intentions but was ultimately plagued by printing delays and errors. The Jumpstart set was specially designed for the complete beginner. Each pack would contain 20 cards focused around a simple colour and gameplay theme. It even included the Basic Lands! So all any new player needed to do was buy two packs (they’re cheap, no more than US$15), combine the two and start playing!

One of the best parts about Jumpstart is its replay value. By making different pairings between colours and themes, you’ll experience something new every game! The decks are deliberately watered down in terms of power level, but certain packs – like “Teferi” above – contain a Planeswalker card which vastly ups the power level of your deck.

End Step

There’s no doubt Magic can be a very expensive and perplexing game, but it really doesn’t have to be that way. There are thousands of casual players around the world who just want a quick game with friends. These 6 cheap and easy ways will quickly get the new player on board. No more excuses and start casting those spells!

Ted

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.