What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today we’re going to talk about something that’s common knowledge to people who play Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO), but people who don’t already play online have no way to know about: how to actually get into MTGO!

Being a game that was released back in 2002, MTGO doesn’t come with a tutorial or the most user-friendly interface. I’d go so far as to say it’s kind of intimidating. While that was acceptable back then, gaming has evolved to the point where a product needs to be visually attractive or user-friendly for players to want to engage, and by today’s standard MTGO doesn’t exactly check either box.

Magic: the Gathering Arena (MTGA) solves some of that, but has some key flaws that prevent one from getting the full Magic experience. We’re going to help bridge some of that entry barrier today!

OK, that sounds helpful. So why would I bother with Magic Online then?

MTGO gives us quite a few benefits that neither MTGA or tabletop Magic can offer, but here’s a list of what I consider to be the major ones:

  • MTGO has almost every format available, at any time. Tabletop Magic can certainly not be played at any time you want, and MTGA doesn’t offer any of Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, or 4-player Commander.
  • MTGO cards are much easier to obtain than either tabletop Magic or MTGA. We’ll learn how to do this today, but you don’t have to visit 4 of your local gaming stores to find a playset of a card for your deck and there’s no wildcard system to fiddle with.
  • MTGO gives players a potential to cash out. In-game items like cards and tickets (also called “tix”, this is the currency of MTGO) can be sold, and there are even players who make enough money playing MTGO to consider it a viable source of income!
  • Lastly, MTGO is easily the best way to get better at Magic. The people who play MTGO are very much invested in the competitive part of the game, and your average player is much stronger than your average IRL tournament grinder. For example, I legitimately think I am much more likely to win a 50-60 person RCQ in a format I don’t play a lot of, like Modern or Sealed Deck, than I am to Top 8 a weekend Challenge event with Pioneer Spirits.

OK, yeah. That sounds awesome. So where do I start?

The first thing we’ll need to do is actually download MTGO, which will require a Windows-capable computer. This does mean that it will *not* work on a Chromebook or cell phone, and if you’re on a Mac you’ll still need to make use of Windows on your computer.

On that computer, just visit https://www.mtgo.com and download MTGO. Upon installation, we’ll see a welcome/login screen with this on the left:

As you can see, it’s auto-populated with my user name since I already have an active MTGO account, but there’s a nice “Create New Account” button on the left. Click that, and you’ll be prompted to fill out some information and create a user name of your own. This will generate a Basic account, which is free.

A Basic account gets you 2 of every Standard-legal common and 1 of every Standard-legal uncommon, but the account itself is very basic: you can’t buy/get new cards or enter tournaments yet! What we’ll need is a Full account, which comes with a one-time charge of $4.99 USD. Upgrading to a full account gets you 2 more of every Standard-legal common, 1 more of every Standard-legal uncommon, the ability to get cards, and the ability to enter tournaments!

OK, they got me for $5. Now what? I don’t have any GOOD cards.

Easily the most complicated part of playing MTGO is figuring out how to get the cards you want for your incredibly specific deck (that sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it). It’s not like you have a website like Fusion Gaming Online to buy all the cards you want in one go.

Instead, getting your hands on cards on MTGO is broken down into two steps: getting in-game tix, and trading tix for cards.

To get your hands on some in-game tix, you can do two things. The first (and probably obvious) method is by just buying them from the official in-game store.

To get there, look at the menu bar at the top of your screen and select “Store”. Here, you can buy a few things like individual booster packs or starter decks, but the important part is the Tickets, which are $1 USD each from the in-game store (plus tax).

The second (read: recommended) way to get tix is to buy them from a vendor. Just like paper Magic, MTGO has a whole secondary market that you can use to buy, sell, and trade for both tix and individual cards. We’ll be using the vendor I use most often as an example of how to find information (not sponsored, I just use their services and very much recommend), GoatBots. Using their services, we’ll be able to:

  • Look up individual card prices
  • Buy store credit or tix
  • Trade for/”buy” any cards you need

First, let’s navigate to their website so we can see how to do each of these things, as there are a few features that you’ll probably end up using on a regular basis. https://www.goatbots.com

On this main page, you’ll immediately see a number of useful features:

  • Hovering over “Prices” will allow you to select a set from one of the most recent so you can see all of the cards from that set
  • Hovering over “Tools” will allow you to see what cards are tending upward or downward in price
  • Hovering over “Info” will get you their trade guide, which will also help you navigate their features
  • Hovering over “Account” will let you create an account, track your collection, buy store credit, or even sell tix for actual money
  • Lastly, the search bar will let you type in a card name and it’ll show you the current prices for every version of that card that exists on MTGO, and you’ll see both buylist and selling prices

Now that we know how to start an account and find out how much cards cost on MTGO, all that’s left is for us to actually get the cards!

  1. First, we’ll need to buy either in-game tix to trade for cards, or store credit with a group like GoatBots. If you end up buying tix and not store credit, you’ll need to make them available for trade.
  2. Once we do this, let’s head to the Trade lobby in MTGO and search for the account you’ll be getting cards from
  3. Open up a Trade with the person or account you’ll be getting cards from
  4. Pick up the cards you need

First, let’s click the word “Trade” on top of the MTGO client. Under the word “Home”, let’s search for the account we want to trade with to get the cards we need.

Searching will pull up every account that has your search input. In this example, everything with the word “Goatbots” will come up. Now that we can see all of their accounts, we can look for an account and right-click on that one to see some options, one of which is “Trade”. If the bot is available to trade with, you’ll see green icons for open or available in their Message section, and red icons for busy. This will be true for most accounts you want to trade with, that’s not unique to Goatbots.

Inside the trading window, you’ll be able to search for specific cards you need using the search bar on the left-hand side, and when you add them to your part of the trade. The trade partner/bot you’re trading with will automatically deduct the right number of tix from your account, or it’ll tell you if you don’t have enough tix available for the cards you’re requesting.

Now you have the cards you need! Two more steps remain:

  • Building your deck out of the cards you just got
  • Actually playing games of Magic!

To build your deck, let’s go to the Collection tab on the top menu of MTGO.

We have a few things to look for/notice about the Collection tab:

  • on your left, you’ll see a list of any decks you already have built, sorted by format
  • you can start a new deck by clicking the deck box icon on the very bottom-left; it’ll prompt you to give your deck a name and specify a format
  • any of the decks you don’t have all of the cards for will have the yellow hazard symbol next to the title. In this example, I can’t play Mono-Blue Spirits or Rakdos Midrange just yet
  • the “items” section up top will show you all of the cards in your collection; as of right now, I’m holding a little over 10,000 cards (a LOT more than my IRL collection)
  • as always, you can search for the cards you’re looking to put into your deck, using the search bar on the upper-left

Now we can see that a few things have changed:

  • I’ve used the search bar to find the copies of Shacklegeist I was missing
  • I put all four copies of Shackegeist into my deck
  • Now that my deck has 60 cards in the main, the yellow hazard sign has disappeared and I can play my Mono-Blue Spirits deck!

Now let’s navigate to the “Constructed” tab, up top.

Here, we’ll see that we can choose a format on the left-hand side, and since we just put together Mono-Blue Spirits I’m gonna click on Pioneer. We’ll see that we have a whole bunch of options here. We can play a Pioneer League, which is just five matches to be played whenever you feel like it, and winning matches comes with sweet prizes. We can also play Preliminary events, which get prizes AND qualifying points for larger events. There isn’t a large event coming up, but if there were it would be highlighted above the Pioneer League section.

(If you’re a fan of playing Limited, you can check out the same options on the “Limited” tab up top instead of Constructed. They even have Vintage Cubes with the Power 9 every now and then!)

We’ll also see that we have two options for being able to enter this event: either 10 tix, or 100 Play Points, which you can earn by winning matches in events (Play Points and Qualifier Points can’t be traded like tix or cards can, though). Once your event entry is paid for, you can finally get to playing games of Magic! In the event that you’re entering something other than a 5-match League, you’ll see things like the number of matches remaining until the next round and a round timer, since those are much more structured than “5 matches whenever you feel like it”.

…and now you’re mostly ready to invade the shark-infested water that is MTGO! Hope this guide helped some of you bridge the gap between IRL-only play and MTGO, and I look forward to seeing some of y’all in the game queues!

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