Last updated on April 23, 2021
Jace, the Mind Sculptor | Illustration by Jason Chan
It started with sending emails instead of writing letters to your friends. It evolved to text messaging and video calls. Now we have virtual reality video games that’ll blow your mind. What I’m getting at is, yes, even the game we all know and love is getting more and more virtual.
First off, let’s address the elephant in the room. MTG Online has been out since 2002. Almost 20 years. Despite some people thinking that MTG Arena will be the end of MTGO (maybe eventually), it won’t be happening anytime soon. The point is, virtual Magic isn’t new.
Arena, on the other hand, is very new. It came out in 2018. Regardless of how old or new these virtual forms of Magic are, the question needs to be asked: How much do they cost?
Today we’ll be focusing on MTG Arena. Whether you’ve been playing Arena for a while, you’re new to it, or maybe you’re making the move from MTGO, this’ll be a full guide on how to maneuver the costs that can be associated with the platform.
Oh, and on a semi-related but important point: long live paper Magic!
Peel from Reality | Illustration by Jason Felix
MTGA is Free to Download
Tons of Free Stuff
We love free stuff! Let’s talk about what Arena will give you when you’re a new player, just for downloading and investing a little time inside the game.
After playing the tutorial, you’ll unlock five mono-colored decks to get you started. All the cards in those decks are added to your collection. It’s the start of a long journey of pack cracking and wildcard stockpiling.
Fast forward a little after you’ve played some games, you then unlock some dual-colored decks that WotC has constructed for you. And again, those cards are added to your collection. Wizards also updates these decks as new sets come out to keep them fresh after rotation. When that happens, you’ll automatically receive the new ones.
I know what you’re thinking. That stuff isn’t exactly free! I have to spend time on the game to unlock those. I know, I’m sorry. Let’s get to the real free stuff; promo codes!
There are a ton of codes in the game that’ll get you some free loot. They range from experience to cosmetics to packs. With every new set, there’s usually a new code that’ll get you a couple of the newly released packs.
Code of Constraint | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak
When the Game Stops Being Free
MTG Arena has always been free to download. You’ve taken advantage of all the free stuff. Now, how much is it going to cost you to keep playing?
If you’re interested in getting in-game currency and packs through your daily and weekly quests, then the game will continue to be free for you. You can complete your quests and get rewards, maybe even play some ranked and get more rewards. This will slowly build up your collection and maybe even allow you to work toward a certain deck you’d like to play long term.
It stops being free when you want faster results than just grinding the free routes of getting rewards. It’s no longer free when you realize that, by the time you get what you’ve been working for via the free routes, the deck you’ve been wanting to play isn’t in the meta anymore. So, now you’re buying gems to crack packs and get the wildcards you need to build a tier 1 deck or to finish a brew you’ve been working on. Or you want to get better at drafting so you’re buying into that now.
MTG Arena is free as long as you want it to be, but it can be easy to fall into the “less free” side of things. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on what you want to get out of the game.
Lovestruck Beast (Alternate Art) | Illustration by Tyler Walpole
Free to Play vs. Pay to Win
What is “free to play”? What about “pay to win”? And which apply to MTG Arena? Let’s break this down.
Free to play are games that you can download and play without any up-front costs. Some of these give you access to the entire game when you download, others might only give you access to part of the game while leaving the rest for purchase. In the second scenario, the game is technically free to play, but they’re trying to gain your interest in the hopes that you’ll later spend money on the game.
Another common trend for free to play games is having a ton of in-game cosmetics for you spend money on. That way, once you really get into the game, you want to look good while you play it and buy skins, costumes, add-ons, etc. These systems allow you to try out games without buying them, then decide after you’ve tried it if you want to put money into it.
MTG Arena is a free to play game. You can download it for free, you have access to every aspect of the game, and you can spend money on in-game cosmetics and loot. Which means you’re only spending money when you decide to.
Trading card games (TCGs) are a well-established and known game type. They’re often referred to as “pay to win.” This means if you want to win more, you probably have to spend some money in order to do so. In a game like MTG Arena, this means spending money on in-game currency in order to buy packs, get wildcards, and acquire the cards you’re trying to get. Because, in the end, you want to play with the best cards and you can only do so by getting it from a pack, using wildcards (which also comes from packs), or drafting.
Arena is both free to play and pay to win. You can play as much as you want without putting a dime toward it. But if you want to get to a high rank and compete more seriously, you’re either putting a lot of time into it or you’re going to have to put some money in.
Playing for Free
Give // Take | Illustration by Steve Prescott
All this talk of pay to win, but can you even play the game for free? Short answer: yes.
Focus on your daily and weekly quests to stockpile in-game currency. Make sure whatever deck you’re playing focuses on knocking those quests out. You have to be consistent and make sure you’re on top of your dailies to get the most value out of your time. You’ll also be gaining progress on the free version of the Mastery Pass, which will get you more in-game loot. Be sparing with your wildcards; review meta deck lists and craft a deck that you’ll be able to play for a while.
Drafting for Free
Well, you can’t really draft for free. You can use the gold you’ve acquired from your free grind to pay for drafts instead of using the harder-to-get gems. Which means you spent the time it took to get that gold, but you don’t have to spend money. Drafting is a great way to build your collection.
If you don’t have much experience drafting, there’s a way to practice! You can draft every set since Dragons of Tarkir in our practice drafting tool! Each set is equipped with every card from the set and even setup for special drafting rules like in Double Masters (you get two picks at the start of every pack). There’s even a “suggest” button that you can toggle to help you out while you’re picking. Draft is one of my favorite formats, so I’m on there all the time.
I also heavily recommend trying out Draftsim’s MTGA assistant app, Arena Tutor. It helps to give you stats and in-game analysis while you play — plus it uses the same logic as our draft simulator to give you pick suggestions while you draft!
Goldenglow Moth | Illustration by Howard Lyon
Now you’re an expert in maneuvering MTG Arena’s free capabilities! There’s a lot to process, but it’s nice to know there are ways to play MTGA without dumping a ton of money into it. And even though it’s a TCG at its base, the virtual environment allows new players to get into the game and experienced players to get their fix in.
If you want to play Magic more competitively, you’ll either have to put in a lot of hours grinding these free methods or end up putting some money into it. The choice is yours!