Magic the Gathering: Arena - A Beginner's Guide

Discussion of any trading card games. e.g. Magic, Yu-gi-oh, Gundam War, etc.
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Magic the Gathering: Arena - A Beginner's Guide

Post by Primarch » Fri Jun 28, 2019 7:57 am

For those of you who check the active topics or new posts regularly, you may have spotted a thread that appears to be nothing more than M_i_J and myself spouting gibberish, jargon and code words at each other. To give you a better idea of what it is we are discussing as well as the option to join in, I thought a handy Beginner's Guide would be useful.

The topic that both M_i_J and myself are discussing in such depth is our ongoing enjoyment of the online game Magic the Gathering: Arena, or MtGA for short.

So, what is MtGA?
MtGA is a free-to-play, online version of Magic the Gathering.

Ok. But what is Magic the Gathering?
Magic is a collectible card game created in 1993 that has become the biggest CCG in the world. With a player base of approximately 20 million players, it is a huge game played both on the internet and face to face.
Players collect packs of cards and assemble decks based on a theme, a particular combo or just on the pretty pictures on the cards themselves. Each turn they play one or more cards which include Land cards (which generate power or 'Mana', the in-game resource), Creatures (which are used to attack and defend) or a wide variety of spells and artifacts (which can heal a player, pump up a creature's strength or counter an opponent's spell). Cards also usually come in one or more colour sets, White, Blue, Black, Red, Green, which I will explain more about below. Each colour set has certain strengths and weaknesses and themes it draws upon.
Cards are usually sold in starting sets that contain a full deck of 60 cards and in booster packs that contain a random mix of cards. The cards are packaged based on their rarity, with lots of common cards, a few uncommon cards and one rare card per pack. There are also Mythic Rare cards which replace regular rare cards at varying ratios. Generally speaking rarer cards are stronger than more common ones, but most decks contain a mix of all types.
Getting into the game can be fairly cheap (a starter set doesn't cost much), but with the randomness of the booster packs, it is possible to sink a lot or money into the game if you want to collect full sets. Alternatively, you can buy individual cards for between 10 and 10,000 yen depending on their age, rarity and power.

Yikes, that sounds like an expensive choice. Wait, didn't you say Free-To-Play earlier?
Yes, I did. MtGA is free. You can download the game for free and play without spending any money at all. (Their is another game called Magic the Gathering: Online which is NOT free-to-play).
When you download MtGA you will be given a set of tutorials to play through and digital cards to use. These will teach you the basics of the game. At the end of the tutorials, you should have 5 starting decks, one for each colour (see below). At that point you can continue playing against the AI in practice mode or move on to playing against real people. As you play games you will slowly unlock more free cards and eventually additional multi-colour starter decks. At any point after the tutorial, you are free to rearrange decks and add new cards or create new combos.

How do I get more cards?
You get more cards by playing. Every day you will be given a quest and you can have up to three stacked up at once. (So if you log in every day you'll have one active quest, if you log in once every 5 days, you'll have 3 quests). These are usually fairly simple and involve things like: Play 30 Creatures. Even if you lose the game, you will make some progress towards finishing the quest.
Each completed quest gives you Gold (One of the in-game currencies). Gold can be spent on buying new digital booster packs in the online store or saved up to enter into special events which often give a better return than boosters.
As of July 2nd, when a big update goes live, players will also have a chance to get free booster packs by winning games. Winning games grants experience points, and as you level up, you'll get new booster packs from the current set of cards.
Since losing doesn't cost you anything except time, if you keep playing, you'll keep getting new stuff for your collection, which will enable you to create your own decks, which you will keep playing with and so on. The game tries to match you with opponents who have a similar level to yourself in terms of rare cards in your deck and win/loss record. It isn't perfect, but you shouldn't be going up against top-tier players every game.
There are also promotional codes that you can enter to get free booster packs/cards every now and again.

So this is totally free?
Yes! You will need a reasonable PC and time (5-15 mins per game usually) to play, but a credit card isn't required.
However, should you want to, you can spend real money to buy packs of gems (the other in-game currency). Gems can be spent on digital boosters, event entry and cosmetic effects for your cards. Most events can be entered with Gold, but some need Gems instead. I'll try and do a rundown of events sometime soon. You absolutely do not need to buy anything! Hardcore players buy packs and gems to reach the top levels of play, but as beginners, it's not really worthwhile unless you want a quick boost to your collection. I have amassed a reasonable set of cards to draw upon just by playing consistently for a month. There are a couple of cheap purchase options for beginners that you may want to consider if you'd like to try the more limited events, but again, you can play and have fun for free.

How much fun?
Tricky question. This game is fairly competitive and it is exceptionally difficult to get a draw. It is possible to do nothing wrong and still lose horribly. Some decks are unstoppable if you don't have the right cards. My win/loss rate in the last month has been about 1:2 - 1:3. As you get better at the game and your collection improves, you should start to see an improvement. You always have the option to concede if you aren't enjoying the match. It's usually worth playing out the last turn or two if you are trying for a daily quest though. You will soon learn which decks and cards aren't fun to go up against, but you'll also have a blast when your own super combo drops and you win the game out of the blue.
A lot of online games suffer from bad interaction between players, but MtGA doesn't really have any way for you to communicate with them. Your player icon has a few options if you click on it. ('Hello,' 'Nice!' and 'Good Game' for example), but beyond that, you're playing against a random person from a random place.
You can choose to play against people you know, but I believe those games don't count for earning freebies.

To Be Continued...
Painted Minis in 2014: 510, in 2015: 300, in 2016 :369, in 2019: 417, in 2020: 450

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Re: Magic the Gathering: Arena - A Beginner's Guide

Post by Primarch » Fri Jun 28, 2019 9:28 am

Care to elaborate on game play? How do I win?
Each player starts with (usually) a 60 card deck. At the beginning of the game, each player draws 7 cards.
In your turn you may play up to 1 Land card. (Land is what generates Mana, which you use to cast spells. Each Land card can only generate 1 Mana per turn, so plan accordingly). You can use the Mana to play different card types depending on what you have in your hand and provided you can pay for them, you can cast as many spells as you like. Weaker spells typically need less Mana, while the bigger stuff needs more. However, even the weakest of spells, played at the right time against the right target can turn the tide of a game.
Each player has 20 Life at the start of the game. This can be reduced (or increased) by attacking with Creatures or through spell effects on different cards. The default Win condition is to reduce your opponent to Zero Life.
An alternative Win condition is to force your opponent to run out of cards in their deck. If your opponent goes to draw a card and they have no cards left to draw they lose. This is tough to do in a normal game, but some spells will allow you to damage an opponent's deck. This technique is called 'Milling', a reference to an early card that produced that effect.
Other cards offer alternative Win conditions, such as having a large Life total, Milling yourself or having a certain card in play.
In practice, a lot of games end by concession. Whether because you've successfully shut down your opponent's strategy or because you will clearly be able to do enough damage in the coming turn to win anyway.

Are there any 'bad' players?
Well, I play, so there is at least one. :D
Some players will drag the game out when they are losing, taking forever to make a decision and then not playing anything. (The game has a built in timer to keep things moving). This can obviously be frustrating and is probably intended to try to get you to rage-quit before they lose. At the same time, as there is no way to communicate with each other, they could be sitting on the combo of cards they need to beat you, but just got a phone call at the wrong time. There is no way to know for sure. So, I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt and use my own phone to check NagoyaHammer or the news while I am waiting. :)

You mentioned something about colours before?
Ah yes. Cards come in a variety of background colours. White, Blue, Black, Red, and Green. There are also colourless cards and multi-coloured cards. Coloured cards need their own colour of Mana from Land cards in varying amounts. They may also need colourless (or any colour) of Mana. Each colour has an associated Land type. White has Plains, Blue has Islands, Black has Swamps, Red has Mountains and Green has Forests. When assembling a deck, it's best to make sure you can generate the Mana you need to play your cards.
Each colour has it's own strengths and weaknesses, associated creature types and themes and generally follow a certain play style. The following is a rough overview and list of the features most common to that colour. It is by no means exhaustive.

White is the colour of co-operation. White creatures are usually quite weak individually, but pump each other up. Spells tend towards gaining life, enhancing all of your creatures and stopping the opponent's biggest and nastiest beasties from doing anything. White creatures are often Knights, Angels and Cats/catfolk. If a bunch of weaklings and underdogs becoming greater than the sum of their parts is your thing, consider a White deck.

With a strong focus on countering your opponent's spells, bouncing their cards back to their hands and drawing more cards for yourself, Blue is the Meta-Colour. Blue creatures are often Merfolk, Fish and Birds. While not known for it's heavy hitters, Blue often has ways to bypass defenders. If the idea of controlling the pace of the game is your thing, Blue is a good choice. Blue is often a hard colour to play well out of the gate though. Knowing what to counter and when is the key and takes a fair amount of experience.

Zombies, Vampires and unspeakable monstrosities are Black's go to gribblies. Black tends to cannibalize itself to produce some nasty effects. It is also good at killing things off and then bringing them back, all the while draining your opponent dry. If slaughtering your opponent's minions and then raising them as a tidal wave of undead flesh sounds like fun, you can't go wrong with Black.

Do you like fire? Are you on fire? Would you like to set more things on fire? If you answered yes to the above, Red is for you. Red is all about dealing out as much damage as quickly as possible. Goblins, Dragons and Minotaurs populate it's ranks and it's spells are usually direct and deadly. Red is the easiest/cheapest colour to get started, as an all common cards deck is possible to use and to win with. (Commonly referred to as RDW - Red Deck Wins). Fast moving critters whittle down your opponent's life total while a volley of fireballs blasts through their defences.

Green is the colour of nature, trees and being environmentally friendly. It is also the colour of turning your opponent into worm food. Green creatures are commonly Elves, Wolves and Gigantic, Voracious Beasts!!! Green spells focus on pumping up monsters to record shattering levels and then trampling all over anything that stands in your way. Green is also very efficient at generating extra Mana, making it even easier to throw down a dinosaur that makes Godzilla look puny. Green is another easy start colour IMHO and one for the people who like big stompy animals.

And the rest?
What, that lot wasn't enough for you? If you want to see what else is available, maybe try the game out and see what you think for yourself. It's free to download and try, so why not give it a whirl?
If you have any questions, feel free to post below and I'll do my best to answer.
Painted Minis in 2014: 510, in 2015: 300, in 2016 :369, in 2019: 417, in 2020: 450

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