How Playing MTG Online Might Actually be Better Than MTG Arena?

MTG Online is old but does have one clear advantage over MTG Arena

How Playing MTG Online Might Actually be Better Than MTG Arena?

Wizards of the Coast has received flak for their handling of the Magic the Gathering: Arena economy. Many players are frustrated that they are often, unable to build “meta” decks as they have a large proportion of Rares and Mythic Rares and have to crack a large number of digital packs in order to find the required cards and wildcards to make these decks. Saffron Olive recounted that his work expenses had increased to about $1700 for the year when switching from Magic: the Gathering Online to Arena.

Luckily, there is an alternative. The old Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) has a robust economy that closely mimics the prices of paper cards, has services which sell/rent singles, and offers similar formats to paper magic. It is, unfortunately, not as intuitive to get into as Arena. Nor is it a sight for sore eyes.

We walk through some pros and cons of MTGO, and if you still like what you see, we’ll show you how to get started on MTGO for the cheap low cost of $5.

Let’s get into it.

Good: MTG Online is a Better Platform for Brewing Experimental Decks

One thing that MTGO has that Arena doesn’t is card rentals.

MTGO based card rental services, Mana Traders and Cardhoarder, both have subscription based rental plans. These allow you to get any card you need, for any deck you need at an extremely low cost. You can try out any deck you want and make an informed decision if you’d like to buy into said deck. 

Where it gets really cheap though is that each of these services also provide FREE rental services. On MTGO, the economy uses Tickets (or ‘Tix’), where each Ticket costs $1. Mana Traders has a free account that provides $7 worth of digital cards (7 Tix) and Cardhoarder provides $5 worth of digital cards (5 Tix).

While $12 might not seem like much, the big difference is that digital cards are often much cheaper than paper versions of cards. Cards that are very expensive in paper are worth mere pennies on MTGO.  Take the Mythic Rare Bitterblossom, for example, where it costs US$45 for a paper version (at the time of writing), it is only 0.63 Tix on MTGO. This means that MTGO is essentially a brewer’s paradise. There are even hyper budget formats that you can play like “pauper” or the player run “penny dreadful” format.

For those of you who want more power, renting a fully upgraded tiered deck is much more affordable than outright buying a deck if you don’t play that often. This fully upgraded Merfolk deck that went 5-2 in a Modern event on MTGO costs a mere $8 to rent per week!

With these affordable ways to get what you need on the cheap, everyone has the ability to buy into the deck they want on MTGO.

In Arena, there isn’t a reliable way to get the cards they need other than getting Wildcards which makes the price of every Rare and Mythic on Arena essentially the same. So if building a low-tier deck costs the same as a top one, players would simply opt for the meta route and avoid risky brewing.

Bad: MTGO Isn’t Completely Free to Play

MTGO is not free to play. It is still cheap though, as you need to pay only US$5 to get full functionality for your account.

And while you technically don’t need to spend any more money to play the game, there will be no way to actually expand your collection (at least what you own) meaningfully without spending, albeit there are trading bots which provide bulk Commons and Uncommons for free. You will however, be hard pressed to build a deck without some of the powerful staples of each format.

There also isn’t a free ladder season which provides rewards to players for simply playing the game that Arena has. To get ahead in MTGO, players have to participate in sanctioned events, which might be league or the 2-player queue which have entry fees of 10 and 2 Tix respectively.

Doing well will net the player favourable returns in prizes, however not everyone can have a better-than-average winning percentage. The more you play these events, if you don’t make enough in prizes to make up for your entry, you will eventually end up sinking more and more into the system to play. MTGO essentially becomes a more competitive platform.

The good news is that casual play is free, and the practice rooms and open play areas for Modern are always open with people looking for games. Just pick up a deck and hop in.

Arena, following modern day trends, is actually a bona-fide free-to-play game. A regular player who logs in to do their daily quests can very amass, albeit with some effort, enough gold to participate in quick drafts and crack packs to find everything they need to assemble a powerful deck.

Bad: MTGO Looks Like It Was Designed for the Previous Generation

Lastly, MTGO looks really backward. The client looks like it was designed for windows 3.1.  If you’re into all the three-dimensional flashy effects that come with Arena or the little quality of life changes like skipping through phases, MTGO can seem clunky. On the flip side, the extremely manual nature of the interface makes it a much better training tool for learning how the Stack works and gives you the precision to become a better Magic player.

Arena just looks more aesthetically more pleasing than MTGO

Arena is miles ahead in the visual department, and it uses that to its advantage when attracting new players. There are click card transitions and even pre-rendered action sequences when you play certain cards. MTGO is just not on the same level.

I’m Set on MTGO – How Do I Get Started?

Ok, so you’ve downloaded the client and just logged into your account.

The first thing you want to do on MTGO is to unlock full functionality for your account. Press on the settings button on the top right of the screen.

Following this you’ll want to pay your $5 for full account functionality, click on ‘account settings’, and ‘upgrade account’

Once done, you’ll have full account functionality and be able to trade with the bots of the MTGO vendors and card rental services.

For the card rental services, simply go the websites of the 2 service providers and sign up for the plans that suit you as instructed on the websites Card Hoarders and Mana Traders. Once your accounts are verified, rent the cards you need and put the decks together through the Collections tab. The cards will be delivered by a bot and the process is fairly intuitive. Remember, you can only trade after unlocking full account functionality.

Follow the interface and use the filters to create the deck and what format the deck is for. Once you’re done, you’re ready to play! 

Click on the Constructed tab of the client.

Select the format you want to play on the left and the type of game you want to play and just join any room to get started! The free rooms are found in “Tournament Practice” and the “Open Play” areas. The game will pop up in a separate window and you can simply close the window when the game is done.

That’s all there is to it really. Within the limitations of your chosen method of card acquisition through rentals or buying singles you can play as many casual games as you want for free in the practice rooms. 

If you’d like to try to build up your collection and eventually make profit, you can even participate in the leagues or paid areas to earn prizes to cover your entry fee and come out a little ahead (not dis-similar to events on MTGA). You can then use the winnings to get what you need to eventually buy your decks of choice by getting singles.

End Step

The bottom line is this: if you want to have access to virtually every card in Magic, MTGO has you covered with card rentals. You can brew and make any number of decks you want for a very small fraction of the cost of buying them out through packs and Wildcards on Arena.

Likewise if you are new and just want to get a tiered deck right off the bat without any grinding, it’ll likely be cheaper to get the singles you need through MTGO’s vendors than paying for packs to find what you need on MTGA. Singles are just more efficient than cracking packs when making decks, and MTGO has bulk Rares for mere pennies while Arena forces the use of Wildcards that are earned through opening packs.

However if you want to be completely free to play, don’t mind just grinding out the one deck you intend to use for each ladder season, Arena is the platform for you. Playing the game daily grants you in game Gold which you can invest into Quick Drafts to get more packs and Wildcards to make your deck of choice. 

As different players have different needs, it’ll be up to you to decide which one fulfils yours.

After getting hooked on MTG in 2015, Paul pours time into making janky brews for Standard and Modern formats. Outside of MTG, they enjoy video games, food and dabbling in environmental issues.

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