Last updated on October 18, 2023

Pay Tribute to Me - Illustration by Aaron Miller

Pay Tribute to Me | Illustration by Aaron Miller

We’ve all heard the discourse about whether Magic: The Gathering is “pay to win.” The game in total has so many different formats and styles of play that it’s difficult to say for sure about Magic as a whole. However, there’s one area where the game definitely does seem pay-to-win, and that’s Magic: The Gathering Arena.

MTG Arena is marketed as a free-to-play game, so if you’re new you might think that you can just play the game and grind in-game currency to be able to afford packs. However, anyone who has played the game knows that you won’t get very far without spending some real money.

What is MTG Arena?

Arena Trickster - Illustration by PINDURSKI

Arena Trickster | Illustration by PINDURSKI

MTG Arena is one of the two ways to play Magic online. It was released in late 2018 and has become the focal point of Wizards’ more “digitally prominent” approach. It’s quickly grown in popularity since it was released, mostly thanks to its use in organized play and the pandemic.

But MTGA doesn’t have access to all of the cards and formats like Magic Online. It only has cards from Ixalan onward as well as its own Arena base and Alchemy sets. This means older formats like Modern aren’t available, and new formats like Historic and Alchemy are there to give the Constructed format some variety.

MTGA’s primary difference from paper Magic and MTGO is its claim of being free to play. But this claim isn’t entirely accurate, and any paper Magic or MTGO player knows it costs money and is sure to have some skepticism.

Defining “Pay to Win”

Final Payment - Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Final Payment | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

One thing that I think is important to lay out before I discuss why Arena is pay-to-win is to explain how I’m defining the term. I’ve seen a common misconception that the phrase is meant to be completely literal. That is to say, some people hear “pay to win” and think it means if you spend enough money you’re guaranteed to win, but that’s not really the case. For example, a while back Star Wars Battlefront 2 was accused of using pay-to-win mechanics because players could spend real money to buy better upgrades. However, even if a player bought all the most expensive upgrades, they could still lose a game if they entered a lobby and just faced the wall the whole time.

Pay to win simply refers to a game where spending money provides players with a clear advantage in the game. It doesn’t mean players who spend more automatically win all their games; it just means that a certain amount of money is required to stay competitive in the game.

What Exactly Does “Free to Play” Mean?

Glimpse of Freedom - Illustration by Clint Cearley

Glimpse of Freedom | Illustration by Clint Cearley

There’s an important distinction to be made between free-to-play (F2P) and completely free. Games that are F2P often aren’t entirely free; they offer a basic level of access for free and hide other aspects of the game behind an instant paywall or near impossibly-long grind.

Completely free games have no paywall or grind barriers and are completely available to be experienced and played, though sometimes there are cosmetics for sale. A great example of this type of game is Path of Exile, which allows all players to access all levels of content for free and sells a bunch of cosmetics to generate revenue.

MTGA is in the free-to-play category, but its “basic level of access” is barely that. I want to direct your attention to a few other F2P card games first so we can see just how Arena fits into this market.

Hearthstone, one of the most popular digital-only card games of all time, is another F2P card game that has a lot of similar aspects to MTGA. There’s a rotating standard and evergreen format, new cards are regularly released and available through packs, and there’s even a gold system where players can earn currency through play to buy packs of cards. This may seem like an identical business model to MTGA at first glance, but it has one incredible difference that makes it much more accessible.

Hearthstone has a dusting system. Players can destroy cards from their collection for a premium currency that they can then use to craft specific cards of their choice. This may seem like the wildcard system in MTGA, but Arena players can’t dust old cards to get new wildcards. This system is something that the community has been asking for, but it hasn’t been so much as hinted at by WotC.

The lack of a dust system is what pushes MTGA farther away from being a F2P game in the conventional sense. But what does a true F2P game even look like? The answer to that is Riot Games’ Legends of Runeterra.

Legends of Runeterra doesn’t have any packs or dust and cards are unlocked by playing the game. Players can build complete collections by earning XP, which gets easier the more you play. MTGA will never even be close to this level of easy access, but it’s important to see where the game stands on the digital-card-game spectrum.

With Legends of Runeterra on the “ultimate free” side, Arena lies on the near complete opposite end of the spectrum.

How Does Magic Fit into the Free-to-Play Category?

Phyrexian Arena - Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

Phyrexian Arena | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

The simple answer is that MTG doesn’t fit into the F2P category. Magic (and the idea of a collectible card game) wasn’t designed with a digital version in mind. Collectability suffers when the medium where you’re collecting is shifted or when there’s suddenly new mediums in which to gather.

Magic has done an incredible job at reinforcing that a pack of 15 cards costs $4 and buying specific cards is only possible on secondary markets or trading with other players. This is the core element of the game, and it’s the very heart of what being a TCG means. When you create a digital version you suddenly have an entirely new medium to balance your business model in, and WotC chose to make Arena the digital version of paper Magic instead of leaning into what a contemporary digital card game looks like.

The problem with this is that they’ve already done it! Magic Online is a quality product that does everything paper magic does, but on your laptop! You can play any format with any card, trade with other players, buy packs to get cards, and even buy singles from an infinite number of online retailers.

So why make a new client? The answer to that lies with trying to capture a larger audience in a larger market: people who play video games and other online card games.

How Is Magic Arena Pay to Win?

Blood Price - Illustration by Antonio José Manzanedo

Blood Price | Illustration by Antonio José Manzanedo

The main advantage you get when you pay for Magic Arena is access to more cards. The free-to-play starting card pool is pretty small, and grinding for packs in the hopes of getting the exact right cards you need can take a long time. By paying for wildcards, you can have instant access to a competitive deck.

Now, you might be wondering if it’s possible to simply rely on free packs and daily rewards as a method of collecting the cards you need to create a competitive deck. While it’s technically possible, the main issue is time.

A new Standard Magic set is released about every three months or so. Each time a new set is released, the metagame changes. This means players have to reevaluate and rebuild their decks to incorporate or respond to the new cards that have been released. This gives you a pretty small window to grind out enough free wildcards to create a competitive deck and actually use that deck before there’s all new cards completely changing the game. If you want to have a competitive deck and be able to play with it for as long as possible before a new set comes out, you’ll really need to be paying for wildcards.

Apart from set rotations, there are other ways the meta can change even more quickly than three months. One major way that this can happen is through bans or rebalancing of cards. While Magic Arena does reimburse players with wildcards when a card gets banned, this doesn’t always cover the full cost of the damage. If the card that was banned was a major component for making your specific deck competitive, you may need to build a completely new deck. You’ll likely need more wildcards than what you got back, causing you to have to pay more money if you want it quickly.

The Current Problem with Wildcards

There was a sense of hope in the MTGA community with the introduction of wildcards. It seemed like there was a way to get more value from your purchases so packs with no useable cards still gave you some progress. While this is true, it’s still a far-less efficient or effective than a pure dust or trading system.

Getting wildcards without spending money in Arena takes a long time, and it’s not quick enough to keep up with an ever-changing format like Standard. Wildcards still have an incredible value. We can calculate how much one is worth since you get a wildcard every 6 packs, not to mention the chance to get extra ones in your packs.

How Expensive Is a Competitive Magic Arena Deck?

Price of Knowledge - Illustration by Dan Scott

Price of Knowledge | Illustration by Dan Scott

To give you an idea of how much you’d have to spend on wildcards to create a meta deck, I took a look at the 5 most popular decks from Standard, Alchemy, and Historic according to I then found the average number of rare or mythic rare cards in each of these decks and their sideboards. Using that, I calculated the amount of money you would have to spend on wildcard bundles to create the deck.

A rare wildcard bundle costs about $10, and a mythic rare bundle costs $20. Each of these bundles only comes with four wildcards in them. There’s no way to buy a single bundle, so if you need 5 wildcards of a given type, I’m going to count that as two bundles towards the price of the deck since you can’t just buy one.

Here’s what I found for the average price in each format:

FormatMean Number of RaresMean Number of Mythic RaresApproximate Cost

Aside from the cost of each deck, it’s also important to note how difficult it would be to get enough wildcards to build the average decks listed above without paying for bundles. A rare or mythic rare wildcard shows up in a pack about 1:30 packs. This is based on chance, so you could get one more often, and you could get them less often. Every six packs you open, you get a free rare or mythic rare as well. Even if you’re playing Standard, where you need the least mythics on average, you would possibly have to open over a hundred packs just to get the mythic rare wildcards you need to build a deck. To put that in perspective, even if you max out your wins and get the highest daily challenge amount of coins, you can only buy a single pack that day with the coins you get.

Also, it’s important to note that players are limited to only purchasing 10 wildcard bundles of each rare and mythic rare. That means once you’ve run out of your purchase limit, you’ll need to resort to buying packs to get wildcards. This method becomes much more expensive, making the prices of creating a new deck go up significantly.

You might have noticed that I’ve only talked about Constructed formats. It’s true that Limited isn’t quite as adversely affected by Arena’s pay-to-win aspects, but that isn’t to say it’s perfect.

My Own MTGA Experience

Near-Death Experience - Illustration by Dan Scott

Near-Death Experience | Illustration by Dan Scott

I don’t know if you can tell by the fact that I write about Magic a lot, but I’m a big fan of the game. Even Arena. I probably play MTGA nearly every day, always buy the Mastery Pass, and sometimes even buy cosmetics. I’ve gotten mythic multiple times and have been playing for nearly a decade, so I think these factors combined with the fact that I play Arena a lot gives me a somewhat solid soapbox to preach from.

MTGA absolutely requires a consistent investment to get going and consistent re-investment along with high playtime to always have a collection ready to go. This is the way Standard has always been in paper Magic and I’m not surprised that it’s the same online. Of course, you can literally play the game for free and get rewards so it’s still more rewarding than the paper version.

My biggest qualm regarding the game as it stands now is that it takes too large of an investment to get the point where playing every day gets you enough packs to maintain a collection. I play a lot so my wildcards just pile up until a new deck releases, then I re-gain all of them as the set plays out. But it takes a lot of money to get to this point, usually a few hundred dollars.

I think this is generally unacceptable for any video game, but games that have an element of collection and trading are obviously an exception. But MTGA doesn’t have trading so the money I put into it has no way to be exported into something else. I can trade my rotating Standard cards ahead of time to get store credit at my LGS, but I can’t do anything with old cards on Arena. That’s where the problem lies.

Risk Without Reimbursement

Risk Factor - Illustration by Chris Seaman

Risk Factor | Illustration by Chris Seaman

Playing Constructed formats always has some level of risk, especially when you’re playing top-tier meta decks. Bans and restricted announcements crush a deck’s value in the meta as well as the price of their individual cards. Arena is no exception to the banned and restricted list for Standard, and Historic has one too. But you have no way to get rid of your banned or restricted cards so you’re subject to the whims of WotC. While they usually give wildcards for every card you own that’s changed or banned, there’s been an exception.

With the release of the Alchemy format, players didn’t receive wildcards for cards that were changed in Historic because they were changed for Alchemy, but not Standard. This included very popular cards that were critical to the success and power level of certain decks, which meant many players were left empty handed.

Luminarch Aspirant is a great example of this. To make matters worse, WotC also released a new mythic-level human 2-drop, Captain Eberhart, that effectively replaced it in the decks it was previously in. This cut players deep and was a large blow to those who now have a far worse version of the playset rare card, with their next-best option being a mythic-level card they’ll need multiple copies of.

This isn’t something that’s going to happen once every year or two, either. Block releases are basically quarterly, sometimes more often, and they usually bring at least some level of change to the meta. New decks are created, old decks are modified or shift focus, and this causes a constant reinvestment on the player’s side if they want to keep up.

Draft And Arena’s Economy

Harness Infinity - Illustration by Seb McKinnon

Harness Infinity | Illustration by Seb McKinnon

Draft is probably the best way to build your collection on MTG Arena for free. You open packs to play, you get packs as a reward, and you also get gems which you can spend on packs or future Limited events. However, unlike Constructed which you can play as many times as you want for free, every game of Limited costs you in-game currency.

A Quick Draft, where you draft against bots instead of other players, costs 5,000 gold to play. At most you can make 1,500 gold a day, and that’s if you get a 750 gold daily challenge reward instead of a 500 gold one. This means if you’re playing every day and completing all your daily wins, you can do a Quick Draft for free every three days. Rewards earned from Draft events can help accelerate this process, but if you’re brand new to the format, it’ll take you a while to get good enough to start earning more in rewards than it costs to play.

Premier Drafts which allow you to draft with other players will cost you 10,000 coins. While they have better rewards payouts, it takes you longer to save up that many coins as a free player. Alternatively, players can spend real money to buy gems, which can also be used to play drafts. A Quick Draft costs 750 gems or about $5 depending on what method you use to buy gems. A Premier Draft costs 1500 gems, so about $10. Paying makes it much easier to practice drafting because you won’t be having to wait days between doing it. While paying doesn’t give any in-game advantages for drafts, players who pay are still at an advantage due to the extra experience they can gain drafting certain sets.

Another aspect worth noting is that the more costly Premier Drafts are also the only way to consistently practice drafting with the newest set. Quick Draft frequently rotates between different sets. If you’re trying to draft more often by using that game mode, you’ll be stuck switching between sets. This makes it more difficult in a free-to-play model to get good at drafting any individual set. This has the effect of lowering your win rate, and therefore the rewards you’re earning. It also means you’ll be at a disadvantage if you compete in any Arena Opens as players who could afford to practice a lot on the most recent set are going to have a much better idea of how to draft it.

You may have heard players talking about “going infinite” on MTG Arena Draft, and they point to it as evidence that Arena’s economy isn’t quite as bad as people say. I think it’s important to take a look at just how likely it is to actually pull that off in order to really understand why it’s not a very viable option.

Debunking “Going Infinite”

Astral Arena - Illustration by Sam Burley

Astral Arena | Illustration by Sam Burley

When we talk about going infinite on Arena drafts, this references the idea that you can win more than you pay for the draft. If you continue to earn at least enough to pay for your next draft, you could theoretically continue drafting forever without having to reinvest any money into Arena or wait for daily challenges. However, actually pulling this off can be pretty difficult.

Looking at Quick Draft, you’ll see that you need to win 6 best-of-one games to be able to draft again. Once you lose three games, your draft event ends, and you’ll need to start over. This means that you need a win rate of at least 75% to go infinite on Quick Draft.

When it comes to Premier Draft, you only need to win 5 best-of-one games, meaning you need about a 71% win rate. While this is technically more likely, it’s important to remember that Premier Draft is a timed Draft involving other players. Not only will you have more pressure on you than you would in Quick Draft, other players may be able to more effectively shut down your strategy in a draft than a bot can.

The method of drafting that requires the lowest win rate to go infinite is Traditional Draft. You play three best-of-three games no matter what and then get rewards based on how many BO3 matches you won. This method only requires a 66% win rate, but again you’ll have to be up to drafting against other players on a timer. This method also requires you to be effective at sideboarding between games since you’ll be playing the same opponent at least twice each match.

If you’re a free-to-play player who is new to Draft, it’ll be very difficult for you to get to the point where you can be winning this consistently. It’s also important to remember that Wizards of the Coast can restructure the way rewards work whenever they see fit. The fact that they haven’t changed the Arena model to make going infinite impossible shows just how rarely it must be happening. If players were cutting into the company’s bottom line by consistently going infinite with drafts, Wizards can and most likely would change it.

Completely Free Conclusion

Final Payment - Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Final Payment | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Magic Arena may technically be free to play, but you won’t be getting very far without putting some money into it. Even if you aren’t interested in playing competitively, your starting card pool will leave you with very limited options when it comes to deck building for fun. Meanwhile, players who do pay for the game have the huge benefit of a larger card pool and enough wildcards to keep up with the rapidly shifting meta.

Do you think MTGA is pay to win or do you disagree? What are your thoughts on Magic in general being pay to win? Let me know in the comments or on Draftsim’s Twitter.

Thank you for reading and I’ll see you next time!

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  • Avatar
    Charles t January 24, 2022 1:15 pm

    While MTGA isn’t FtP, it’s far from a PtW money sink. I’ve been playing since Mid October and have spent a total of $5. While I’m not a Mythic level player, my Standard Constructed deck is consistently Diamond level. Sure, I could spend money to buy packs on the off chance that I get the Rare I want to upgrade the deck, but it’s not keeping me from being reasonably competitive.

    My single purchase was to get enough gems to buy the Midnight Hunt Mastery (as I started almost 2 months into the set). I had enough gems to buy the Crimson Vow Mastery and through quick drafts I’m able to buy the next pre release AND still be halfway to the next mastery.

    My basic game plan is 10 wins a day. That’s VA minimum of 1200 gold daily and every 5000 gold I do a quick draft. When I get the mastery pass I use the draft token for a premier draft.

    Honestly in roughly the same amount of time, I’ve spent about $100 on Farmville 3 and that’s the only other mobile game I currently okay.

    • Jake Henderson
      Jake Henderson January 24, 2022 4:24 pm

      Hey, Charles,

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment!

      I think that what you described is pretty much the way to go as a non-paying player. While I don’t think that players necessarily need access to the most powerful decks fresh out of the gate, I think the barrier to entry to having these kinds of decks (with lots of rares) is just too big. A dust or trade system would certainly help with that, and make the F2P grind side of things much more enjoyable while still allowing for a pay option to exist.

      • Avatar
        Salry January 24, 2022 4:42 pm

        It seems the problem you have is the assumption that you need those rare cards. You don’t. I’m just entering platinum and only started two weeks ago and spent not a single penny on this game. I’ve also managed to get 4 cards of several mythic and rares. Truth be told, I don’t play standard though and only play historic.

        • Avatar
          Tom G January 24, 2022 9:17 pm

          Because you only started two weeks ago, I think you need to understand the time investment you’re looking at for the long run trying to stay FTP and be competitive in an ever-changing meta. Sure you can use a starter deck add in a few better cards and with time go up the ranked ladder a bit. But you will hit a wall. Trust me. There is a reason top-tier decks exist. They win a lot more games than yours does. Thus increasing your time investment, and increasing your likely growing frustration.
          At some point, you will stop climbing. And you will be fiening for more wildcards. First, it’s rares that will be the bottleneck, then eventually mythics.
          The game heavily incentivizes winning matches. At first that’s not a big deal, as you are paired up with newer players just like yourself, but that wall I assure you is coming.
          Not to burst your fun bubble or anything lol, of course the game is still fun. But Arena’s game economy is extremely anti-consumer and unhealthy for the game in the long run.
          I have spent so many wildcards over the last two years on cards that are now 100 percent worthless.
          The only bright side is if you enjoy playing Limited, that has afforded me enough wildcards banked up to make any deck I could want. But even I have sunk a few hundred dollars into the game, not to mention time.

          For new players, they have a very big hill in front of them, but the game is designed in such a way that it disguises that hill very well. When your legs start to hurt, you will feel it, trust me.

          • Avatar
            Jacky Cola August 13, 2022 9:46 pm

            I need to disagree.

            The article and all those comments all make it a fact that you can only enjoy the game with a current meta deck in top mystic ranks.

            That completely false of course.
            I dont buy a new $600 Tournament Winning Deck every month in reallife, why would I expect that in a game?

            Without knowing numbers I can assure that a wast majority is playing for the fun and in other modes than standard ranked.
            Like all Pay2Win games, there are most likely a maximum of 5% players who actually need to be in top ranks for their mental wellbeeing and are willing to pay for it.

            And then there are still drafts that you can play for a reasonable amount of gold. Just because YOU cannot imagine, for many players draft is THE WAY to play magic as it’s done in reallife too.

            Yeah sure you need to earn some gold from time to time but that’s part of the game yaknow. If I start a game and its already on a 100% save file I wont enjoy much of it.

            And now hold on to your seats: Sometimes I play standard ranked and even that can be done with random and low budget decks and using only the most neccessary wildcards for the mechanic.

            Don’t get me wrong. I am aware that you cant get into top 10% of mystic when you dont keep up with the meta. But thats your CHOICE. Completely valid choice. But its just a PART of the game and not how it is for everyone.

        • Avatar
          JB January 25, 2022 5:07 am

          Bless your heart, you’re not playing against the same opponents we are. If someone is good at Magic, they can’t play without the best cards or they’re gonna lose all their matches until their hidden ranking number (whatever it’s called) gets low enough to get matches against bad players

          • Avatar
            Akedo January 25, 2022 6:31 pm

            CONSISTENTLY MYTHIC.. I bought the first mastery pass..(that’s it and do my challenges.. ) and have enough to get the new one.. every time.. So far, I have spent 20$ plus tax… definitely Not pay to win.

        • Avatar
          Jake January 25, 2022 7:41 am

          It depends on what you want out of the game. I don’t know about you but playing the same deck everyday can get old fast.

          Also, there is a hidden MMR that will make it easy to get Mythic your first time. After your first time though, expect to hit a brick wall when it comes to the competition.

        • Avatar
          Gauch January 27, 2022 3:01 pm

          While I find most video games too grindy nowadays, I find it funny that I have no problem with MTGA.
          I have spent zero $ and I get every mastery pass there is and craft every meta deck that I want.
          To be fair, my favorite play mode is limited, so I just play 0-5 games a day and then use my coins for limited modes.
          The key is to not open packs until a set rotates out. That way, I consistently have about 4000 gems in the bank and collect 70% of each set which gives you enough wild cards to craft the relevant rares. Also, before I completely craft out a deck that I like, I make a budget version of it and make sure that I actually like the deck

          Oh and don’t spend for costly game modes that you don’t REALLY care about (like alchemy for me).

          • Avatar
            Dan Troha January 27, 2022 4:56 pm

            First reasonable comment I’ve seen on here 😛 (I love draft and this is how I’d do it too)

  • Avatar
    Kevin January 24, 2022 1:59 pm

    It’s really not though… MTG:O is. If you just play semi-regularly you earn enough coins to “buy” packs to pretty much make whatever kind of deck you want. I guess if you are trying get very high in ranked or play a lot of drafts but you have over 10 free decks to play with in a handful of modes.

  • Avatar
    Hinzkunz January 24, 2022 2:52 pm

    It is just a stupid analysis all around. I’m playing Magic since 2 years and the game gives me about 720 free packs per year (if you calculate everything from the mastery pass, daily rewards, weekly rewards, some drafts etc.). Since I am a completionist I invest about 100,– $ per expansion in additional packs.

    Yes it is a lot of money, but I play every day so it is worth it for me. For this investment I constantly have around 20 competitive decks in my rooster and can cover any playstile I want. Furthermore I have nearly 300 wildcards (rare + mythic) sitting around so that I can make any kind of deck without any problem.

    All this to point out that in effect we are a far cry from the several hundred dollar investment the author touts per deck. I invest about 400,– $ per year and with that I play around 50-60 different decks per year. Not 1 or 2 or 3 …

    And for the holy grail … dust … well in Hearthstone I dont invest money, but pay so much that I can buy 400 packs per year. This then gives me a surplus of about 10.000 dust a year, which I can use to create oh gosh 6 legendary cards (the equivalent of mythic rares), while in magic I am having 100s of them. So in which world is the hallowed dust system any better?

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha January 24, 2022 3:02 pm

      That is indeed a large rooster 🐓

      • Avatar
        Drew January 28, 2022 7:43 am

        There is either a $ cost or a time cost. The people who are saying they get the cards for every deck they want to play are the kind of player who never gets bored doing the same thing every day for an hour or two. You can definitely grind out every card in a set excluding mythics by having a mastery pass and not cracking a pack until season ends. But if you aren’t using wildcards or opening packs you are playing from behind.

        And if the meta stalls and you want to play with a reasonable win rate you’ll be playing one deck for weeks. If the meta changes quickly you’ll struggle to keep enough decks and wildcards. I’m not going to put in hours a day to keep up. And I’m not going to put in hundreds of dollars a month for a game.

        I stopped playing when alchemy was released and haven’t regretted it for a second. I have thousands of gems that can rot for all I care. The game isn’t fun for me in its current format.

        • Avatar
          Dan Troha January 28, 2022 8:40 am

          Makes a lot of sense to me.

    • Avatar
      Tom G January 24, 2022 9:28 pm

      So, you pay 100$ per set, and play EVERY single day.

      That is not a normal or even slightly casual play. Which the majority of the player-base, especially newcomers are.

      The time you have invested also adds up. And it sounds like you play a lot. Probably more so than you could reasonably expect someone else to do. So of course the bad economy of Arena doesn’t affect you as it might someone who doesn’t spend 100 per set or play every single day.

      I’m not judging you or anything, I personally spend about the same amount of money as you do and I rare draft every set that comes out. But I have nowhere near the abundance of wildcards that you seem to have.

      Your experience is not the norm.

  • Avatar
    AbidingDad January 24, 2022 3:19 pm

    This article goes with the same problem so many paper players have., the need to have 4 of an entire set so you can slap together whatever trendy deck you saw on YouTube this week.

    I don’t think of myself as a particularly good player. I’m not bad, but not great either. That said outside the welcome bundle and twice buying the mastery pass I never spent a cent on the game and had no problems feeling competitive. It was a time sink, but any of these games are if you want to go F2P. If you play daily, hit your goals, and conserve your wildcards you can build a decent deck in a month or so of daily play.

    The biggest problem is people keep going for an easy win deck that screws the meta, get a card banned, and even if you’re not running that specific deck, if the banned card quits making your deck work too you’re screwed because they don’t return the wildcards for the worthless other cards you now have because of their synergy with the banned card. This was a problem my Kinnan deck ran into when Uro was banned. It sucked, but thankfully that was my second deck and I could go back to my Gruul mid-range mutate nonsense. I haven’t played in months, but it was more because the community was getting full of ropers and other jerks, not the cost of the game.

    • Jake Henderson
      Jake Henderson January 24, 2022 4:27 pm

      Hey, Abidingdad,

      Thanks for your comment! I think the part you pointed out in the second section is exactly right. There is too much of a risk of investment when you’re playing constructed due to the banned list. The cards you had that revolved around a now- banned card, even if it was a non-meta deck, are now worthless. You don’t have any outlet to extract even a sliver of value from of what you put in (trading, dusting, etc), and that is the main problem I see with the game currently.

  • Avatar
    pharmakos January 24, 2022 3:25 pm

    You don’t NEED to copy decks. Luminarch Aspirant for example isn’t so much worse in Alchemy that you may as well just throw her into the trash. She’s still perfectly serviceable in that slot instead of Captain Eberhart. There are inexpensive decks that can compete well.

    New players should be taught to build their own decks. New players should be taught to draft. Especially Historic is a big format now that I don’t think is solved, I wish the community focused on deck building more instead of netdecking.

    • Jake Henderson
      Jake Henderson January 24, 2022 4:19 pm

      Hi, thanks for reading and your comment! 🙂

      While I agree Luminarch Aspirant isn’t garbage level, I wouldn’t change my opinion that it is far worse in the competitive sense. Regardless, the point I was trying to make was more so that the card was nerfed without reimbursement (ouch!), and that the printing of a perfect replacement at mythic felt like being kicked while you’re down.

      Does that clarify my position a little?

    • Avatar
      Tom G January 24, 2022 9:40 pm

      People netdeck because the game so heavily incentivizes winning matches for rewards, mastery XP, and rank.
      If you don’t win, you don’t earn.
      It is a terrible system.
      It does not incentivize brewing in the slightest. The economy actively discourages it.
      Not to mention newer formats like Alchemy are designed to cost players more wildcards to engage with. They can re-balance, nerf, and not refund wildcards. Put out new digital sets of cards, with plenty of rare and mythic cards designed to be competitive, wanted and needed ON TOP of the existing Standard and Historic sets.

      The entire system is designed to force you to continually chase that carrot and keep earning wildcards, hoping you will pay to quicken it up. That investment is 100 percent lost on Arena. No dusting, no trading, just a continual money (or massive time) sink.

      And that feels bad. When IT COULD be so much better. Very easily.

    • Avatar
      Tom G January 24, 2022 9:45 pm

      If there was a dusting system, even if it started on the next set and beyond, and the cost of deckbuilding was much cheaper, then you absolutely would see much more self deck brewing and creativity!
      Because the cost of building that crazy idea of a deck, filled with those crazy weird rares and mythic’s no one is playing, is lowered to a reasonable level.
      And if they re-balanced the reward systems, it would be EVEN BETTER.

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    Tom green January 24, 2022 3:59 pm

    People please! Mtg all forms of it are “play-to-win” no matter what you do, unless your lucky and some drops free deck in ur hands. Your payin.

    • Avatar
      Rob Wood January 25, 2022 9:54 am

      Yes thank you! MTG had always been pay to win and chalk full of net decking before MTGA. I don’t think anything will ever change that. I really don’t understand how anyone would think you could build a elite deck for free. Not a great business model.

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    Lord_of_Riots January 24, 2022 4:04 pm

    Your analysis fails on a number of points. First of all the title has stated that Mtga is pay to win but it gives no definition of pay to win. On the contrary, the definition of free to play almost perfectly explains mtga with the exception that arena is actually more ftp than the description since there is nothing locked behind a pay wall and all cards can be made available with a very small grind. The game even gives you fully formed decks.
    Pay to win games are typified by hiding more powerful characters or effects behind a paywall that are not able to be replicated by grinding or being skillful. If the player has money, they can beat the player with skill.
    Let me see which players have bought their way into the players championships?
    I have never spent a dollar on Mtga and have 100s of wildcards, and enough gold and gems to play any format I want forever and I only play around an hour a week.

    • Jake Henderson
      Jake Henderson January 24, 2022 4:17 pm

      Hi! Thanks for your comment.

      You mentioned you have 100s of wildcards as well as plenty of gold and gems without paying any money. I’ll assume you saying “an hour a week” means you’re completing the maximum amount of quests possible.
      If this is true, and you’ve obtained the mastery pass for free with your gold, the only way you would have hundreds of wild cards is through opening even more packs than I had in my example.

      Something doesn’t seem to add up here. Drafting doesn’t give you wild cards, so the only way you have enough resources to play any format you’d like is to either A) be playing cheaper decks that don’t demand the cards, or B) have acquired those cards through drafting and pack opening to the extent where you don’t even need to spend wild cards.

      If this is true, surely you would be drafting quite often (and winning!), and would be acquiring these cards while drafting and from reward packs? However, you mentioned you only played an hour a week, which doesn’t seem to line up. What exactly are you doing to acquire all of these resources without spending money and without playing a larger sum of time?

      • Avatar
        Tom G January 24, 2022 9:51 pm

        I’m also noticing a lot of people making those same kinds of claims in their arguments.

        The amount of time and or money needed to get to the point of having hundreds of wildcards, assuming you are not a God at drafting with a 90% winrate, is astronomical. It does not make sense at all. But what reason do people have to lie about this? < Now that is an interesting question.

        Perhaps it's WOTC employees? Honestly. Could very well be!

        • Avatar
          Nick January 25, 2022 10:46 pm

          An hour a week is not enough. But drafting is the way to get the whole set easily. You just don’t get it on day one of the new format. You only need a 55%-60% win rate in premiere draft and rare draft a reasonable amount. Takes about 30 drafts a set to collect enough packs and draft rares to cover the set. So 2-3 drafts a week at least. Then all the wild cards you open can be used for non standard sets.
          It is a grind, but that is the point they want you to log in everyday to do your quests and make your gold.
          Once you are a couple of sets in it becomes easier. I usually craft a few new rares at the start of a set to have some competitive decks I like. Then collect the rest of the set. The economy is only a problem if you don’t like drafting and you don’t play at least a little everyday. Or if you want the full set of options on day one of a new format.

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    Jorge January 24, 2022 5:45 pm

    I’d say it is pay-to-compete. Having access to all card doesn’t guarantee you’ll be making success, but you’ll be able to play tier1 decks to compete

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    Sliverlegend January 24, 2022 5:46 pm

    I have all the top standard decks and play a LOT of grind pay to win games. Arena is easy to acquire cards and build decks that win. IMO arena is a really fun game that’s not ptw at all.

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    Paul January 24, 2022 6:48 pm

    Um yes the game is free to play. Not everyone needs to build top tier meta decks. Arena does not require any money to have a ton of fun. That includes draft, standard, historic, brawl and all the other limited time events they run that require either no or a very small entry fee.

    If your goal is to play the very best decks or play draft constantly then yes you will most likely have to pay some money. I don’t see the problem.

    • Avatar
      Tom G January 24, 2022 9:58 pm

      The problem is that “pay some money” amount, is astronomically larger than paper or MTGO due to never getting any value out of already spent wildcards.

      Sure, for a super casual player, who is not interested in drafting often, nor doing any high-ranked play, there is certainly fun and value to be had on Arena, to a certain point.

      But the economy could be much better for everyone, is the point he is making in the article here.

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    Sam January 24, 2022 9:23 pm

    I win the majority of my matches and I haven’t spent a cent in the game. I looked up the value of all the decks I’ve built from free packs/wildcards and it would cost $700 to make each deck.

    I think if you spent as much time looking through your cards and being creative about deck building as you did writing this message you’d probably be having a better time with the game 😉

    • Avatar
      Twisted January 31, 2022 10:48 am

      I mean no offense, but your sarcastic comment comes from a point of ignorance.

      The game is very good at making you believe that you have a lot with very little investment. But the more you play, the more it is apparent that’s an illusion.

      Most new players win consistently because they don’t face good or experienced players. If you try to go a little beyond casual play, it becomes apparent that no matter how good you are, you won’t be winning much at all unless you netdeck an inexpensive high win rate deck and grind it for ages.

      And that is the point the author is trying to make, I think.

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    LemonWorth January 24, 2022 9:40 pm

    I’ve played MTGA since beta, the game is very much hinting you to pay money.

    Using all the Redeem codes on a new account after completing all the color challenges earns you just about enough to compete in the gold draft and well enough to make it to diamond and beyond.
    The free decks are immensely valid options. At the start they had the saplroling deck, i took that deck split it up added angel token pumps, with helms of the hosts. And out of no where i had a deck that won more drafts than any other deck i owned. Doing this all with 5 rare wild cards and a handfull of uncommons i earned from redeem codes.

    Im not saying you’re wrong, but you’re objectively biased. Its free, you can download and play and enjoy the game. Not everyone needs to win 100% of the time with the latest decks Historic is there and exists. Money doesn’t make mtga remotely better. It’s no worse than a gatcha game. Spending money on something that’s not guaranteed isn’t worth it. And the pity wildcards. You’re better off grinding over time.
    Im too lazy to grind myself ive been using the same Historic deck for almost a year. Goblins. And it’s gotten me to mythic once. The deck was made entirely f2p.

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    Tristan Bull January 24, 2022 10:34 pm

    Jake, thanks for the article. I recently got back into MTG after 20(!) years away from the game. I think that your analysis is partially correct. If you want to collect a full playset or play top tier Standard meta decks right after set release, then it is definitely going to cost money. However, i would call this “pay to complete” or maybe even “pay to win” at the professional level. This is what turned me off of MTG way back when, and I think things are even worse now since there is a new set released every 2 or 3 months it seems. This applies to MTG in all forms though.

    However, there are ways to play MTGA semi-competitively for free. As you mentioned, taking the time to learn the cards and competing in drafts is one way. I would add that even being a mediocre draft player will net you more cards than simply using your gold to buy packs. Another way is to seek out competitive decks that don’t need 40+ rares. After completing the color challenge, I started playing and upgrading slightly the Savage Lands landfall deck. I made it to diamond tier with that deck. I then started researching cheap deck archetypes, and found that goblins are actually really strong in standard, so I used some of the wildcards I had to craft the rares I needed and actually made it to mythic last month. My point is that you may not be able to play the flashiest combo deck (or white weenie nowadays apparently) for free, but you can be competitive on ladder if you use your free resources efficiently.

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    Ulises Escobar January 25, 2022 1:26 am

    As mythic and f2p player I can say it is not P2W, I play every day since 2 years, you don’t need rare cards, with experience you can create good decks, getting cards Is a problem only if you are coping a deck and you are not creating it by your own. (Sorry, my english isn’t good).

  • Avatar
    Christopher McCullough January 25, 2022 1:34 am

    You’re kidding me right? You literally can win cards and gold by playing the game. You have to win to get them, but it’s still free.

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    Chris_1_1_1 January 25, 2022 2:07 am

    Let’s get this out of the way right now, all of the home brewers who enjoy playing janky decks with almost no rares and mythics need to take a back seat. If you are going to take a critical eye to the topic of MTGA and F2P you need to accept the fact that the majority of people who want to play are doing so with meta decks. The decks that were listed in this article are a great example. News flash, most people actually enjoy playing with the top tier decks in the formats. In order to play with these decks you need the wild cards to build them. Most people will not be content puttering around with the janky decks you home brewers have so eloquently and anecdotally pointed out. That’s great you enjoy playing with the starter decks, but this topic wouldn’t be so prevelant if the entire player base were content to do so as well. All of that being said, I think one of the only points the author failed to touch on was equating time spent grinding to a numerical value in Dollars. I’ve had this thought exercise myself and while some people may value their time more than others, I came to the figure of 1 hour spent playing Arena equates to at minimum $5 worth of time. If I choose to play Arena even with my free time, it effectively costs me $5. Playing 2 hours a day five days a week would be roughly $50 of my time, do that for 4 weeks and it’s effectively $200 a month. You can argue that 1 hour is worth even more than $5 but this is the figure I landed on. I came to this because of the dailies. You log on and you need to kill 20 creatures, or cast 25 blue spells etc, in many instances you don’t have a main deck in your arsenal with those qualifications so you use a side deck that you don’t even want to be playing to grind the gold. Spending about an hour in the process, leaving yourself 1 hour left that day to enjoy games played with a preferred deck. All of this factors in to time spent costing at least $5 an hour. If you then combine that with the points laid out in this article it becomes very difficult to defend MTGA as F2P, unless you are content to play jank for weeks on end only to finally complete a meta deck at the end of a season. It’s still pretty funny that the home brewers come out of the wood work to defend mtga as f2p specifically because it becomes a soap box to advocate for not playing meta decks.

    • Avatar
      Golem22 January 25, 2022 11:32 am

      Funny thing, my “janky” decks consistently defeat the current meta. Something like 70% win rate. It all depends on if you have any actual skill at deck building. I can always figure out one or two decks that do particularly well. If your a low skill player your only choice will be to play the meta.

      • Avatar
        CHRIS_1_1_1 January 25, 2022 2:21 pm

        Not surprised to see a knee-jerk response from a home brewer. We can break it down though;

        Wizards prints a 2cmc 2/2 green creature at uncommon.
        Wizards prints a 2cmc 3/3 green creature at rare.

        The home brewer actively chooses the 2/2 because they don’t want to be a net decker.

        As it turns out, it is actually more enjoyable to play with more powerful cards, up to and including playing with meta decks. You might call them net decks, but that doesn’t matter. They are the most effective strategies available and playing with those cards generates a style of play where you need to employ skill to beat the other meta decks.
        They don’t just pilot themselves, much in the same way that burn decks don’t auto-win, they generally have a very slim margin of error and the pilot needs to know how to navigate that tight rope to secure the win, which is fun when correctly executed by the pilot, something which is convienently overlooked by home brewers who refuse to acknowledge that playing meta decks is actually fun.
        The best players of the game don’t consider the cost of cards when building a deck. They don’t take into consideration the prospect of copying another players success. If a deck is made of 60 rares, they will build it. If a deck is made of paper cards that cost $1,000 each, they will play it. Cost is not a factor when building the most effective strategies. Copying another player is irrelevant when developing the most effective strategies.
        You need to set your ego aside and accept that the cards are what they are, and as much as you’d like to get some kind of recognition for being unique with your presumed deck building abilities or %70 win-rate home brew which I %100 don’t believe, post a link to your MTGA stats proving you have a janky deck with hundreds of games played and a %70 win rate against specific meta decks, The cards are what they are.
        There are 2/2 uncommons and 3/3 rares, and actively choosing to pass on a strictly better card for the sake of not being a ‘net-decker’ is not commendable, it’s a by-product of you the player not wanting to spend money so they use what is effectively the F2P available option.
        As I mentioned in my original comment, the entire conversation around the topic of MTGA being F2P is centered around building the meta decks because as I aforementioned, the best players don’t take cost into consideration, they want to play the best cards in the best combination, and they don’t let ego get in the way of those decisions. This then leads you toward the cost of making this happen and we then have the discussion about MTGA being F2P or not.
        Jumping in to say that you play jank is very out of touch with what is being discussed.
        In fact it’s quite frustrating that the top level players discussing what they perceive to be faults in the game’s design of preventing players from accessing more playable cards in game, and trying to spitball idea’s to make it more accessible for everyone to have more rare wildcards etc,
        which would benefit all players, is completely lost on the home-brewer players to the point where they are actively defending the current state of the game and argue that nothing should be changed.
        All because of some foolish notion that they should be recognized for their efforts to avoid playing ‘net decks’.

        The biggest issue I have with ‘home brewers’ is their philosophy behind their reasoning, ‘I don’t play net decks and no one else should either’.
        That’s fine if you personally don’t want to follow the crowd, but in the same breath you talk down on the people who do play meta decks, and in fact go as far as to say that everyone should be playing the way you do.
        The idea that you know better or that you know what other people should be doing is exactly what turns you away from ‘net-decks’, yet you employ that same philosophy towards the people who play the ‘net decks’.
        it’s so egotistical it blows my mind. All home brewers have this same flawed mentality, a better way to describe them would be ‘Anti-net deckers’, it’s not enough that they avoid playing meta decks, they need to actively hate on people who do play them.

        • Avatar
          Akedo January 25, 2022 6:50 pm

          Jumping in with my own “opinion”.. I have been playing since alpha beta.. but got serious around ice age… I play what works.. which.. is sometimes “meta” (ish) I will agree that I don’t consider “cost” when I build.. but I look for a similar card.. to do the job.. until I can create it.. but my point is.. I bought the first mastery pass… and since then am consistently mythic.. play about 8 hours a week.. I am easily able to make Whatever Deck I need.. and have Only spent 20$ plus tax… I get enough gems to rebuy the new pass.. each time.. but I will say.. consistently winning in drafts.. is the easiest way to go.. I am not opposed to “homebrew” or “netdecking”.. as either one will only take you so far.. You have to tweak and adapt to keep moving up.. that hasn’t changed since the beginning of magic..

          • Avatar
            CHRIS_1_1_1 January 25, 2022 10:44 pm

            “I have been playing since alpha”

            “consistently winning in drafts”

            “I am easily able to make Whatever Deck I need”

            The average player on Arena has not been playing since alpha.
            They cannot consistently go infinite in draft.
            And as a result they cannot build whatever deck they need at the drop of a dime.

            Welcome to the discussion.

            I like that you didn’t necessarily disagree with anything I’ve said but you also stopped short of agreeing with me. But thanks for sharing your extremely unique personal set of circumstances that allow you to be one of the few people possible of not fitting the mold of the average Arena player that this entire MTGA F2P discussion is meant to be about. The average MTGA player who pays for the mastery pass as well as $20 worth of gems each season but still struggles to obtain all the wild cards necessary to put together a new meta deck without a solid month of grinding dailies for gold. That’s your average MTGA player and thats what is being discussed.
            How can we make the game even just slightly more accessible for the average MTGA player to build a meta deck filled with rare wildcards earlier on in the season. Because as it is right now, it takes weeks of grinding in the true sense of F2P to cobble together the resources. No mastery pass, no drafting, no buying gems. How long would it take you to truly F2P a meta deck with a brand new account starting day 1 of a new season? Let’s say a deck with 20 rares and no mythics. This article proposes you can get around 18 packs a week using the gold from all your dailies, which would be 12 spins on the wild card meter after 4 weeks of grinding, so you’d get 10 rare wild cards and 2 mythic wild cards from one month of grinding.
            Let’s also remember my Time spent playing is equal to $5 for every hour played, especially when grinding dailies with conditions that force you to play a deck you otherwise wouldn’t even have built in your collection, whose sole purpose is to slog through specific dailies. I believe my personal estimate of 2 hours a day / 5 days a week is a perfect baseline for the average player and that equates to roughly $200 a month and your payout as a F2P player is 10 rare wild cards and 2 mythic wild cards. If you also take note of the dollar value cost per wild card laid out in this article, $6.25 per rare and $16.67 per mythic, those 12 wild cards we earned would translate to roughly $95 give or take. So in that sense, for $200 worth of time, you get back $100 worth of in game product. I think that’s very interesting to compare. But let’s also say you cut the play time in half, 1 hour per day, only to grind dailies and then you log out. You would be spending $100 of time for roughly $100 worth of in game product, and I guess that seems fair, but I think we can all agree it would be nice if it were more ingame product being award to the average MTGA player. So after 2 months you can probably build a meta deck, and near the end of that process it is likely able to work in an underpowered state as you flesh out the remaining pieces.
            I like to bring up the Time/Money reference quite a bit because it really is true, time IS money. In the sense of early adopters, people who choose to go out and buy the latest playstation or xbox on day one and begin enjoying it day 1, when compaed to people who buy it 6-12mo later when it drops $50, they have basically traded away playing with the latest and greatest in exchange for $50. Some people prefer to pay a premium and start enjoying something sooner, the same can be said for an Arena player who wants to start playing a full meta deck on day one of a season.
            Sure, you can stock pile resources for months and then build any deck you want, but if you start off with a new account you cannot unlock any deck you want.
            All of this should honestly be apparent and I feel like I’m helping the author of this article get everyone caught up to speed with the state of Arena. Between home brewers and draft experts claiming there’s nothing wrong with the alleged F2P model being employed it’s no surprise nothing is being done. As long as people keep logging in, Wizards has to incentive to change anything. That’s why these discussions are so important, and why it’s so frustrating when people come out of the wood work to provide anecdotal experiences as to why there’s nothing wrong when this article clearly maps out why it IS a problem, as well as a long list of others who have posted about this same issue. It would really help if the player base could get on the same page about this because the only entity not suffering in any capacity is Wizards, and they can afford to throw their player base a bone in this exact scenario.

  • Avatar
    Brian Bockert January 25, 2022 2:55 am

    I play daily and really even though I have spent little money from time to time it wasn’t so I could win it mostly for cosmetic reasons, sleeves for cards, pets, things that don’t do anything but make my deck “look cool” more or less my personal opinion. I win most matches I play and get plenty of free packs or gold/gems from wins. Then I buy rare and mythical cards from wild cards gained. Yes spending money forsure gives you access to alot more variety of cards faster but not needed to win a match. This is just mainly my opinion because I have made decks that made me formidable opponent without spending money, that is fact no opinion. Thank you magic arena for hours of fun I love this game and love playing the mobile app game.

  • Avatar
    Benji January 25, 2022 5:29 am

    Never spent a dime on this game. I have several decks I enjoy and consider competitive. How is that not f2p? Perhaps the pay to win model is too expensive but if your gonna p2w it should be expensive.

  • Avatar
    AS January 25, 2022 6:31 am

    I not agree with you, i’m playing mtga since released and i not spend any cash. And im always in mythic ladder.

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    Bassellope January 25, 2022 8:52 am

    It is possible to play competitively on MTGA without paying any $ and just completing the daily quests for gold. If you win 4 matches a day (maybe 1-2 hours depending on your win rate), you get at least 1050 gold, which can buy you a pack a day. If you save up your gold for draft tokens, gems, discount packs, etc., you can get enough wildcards to build a handful of competitive decks. I’ve been playing MTGA since September 2020 (a little over a year), and have spent about $20. I thought the Mastery Pass was a rip-off, since it doesn’t give you enough gems to pay for itself (unlike Fortnite’s Battle Pass, which gives you more than the 950 vbucks for a season). However, I have managed to do enough events (paying only gold) to get enough gems for multiple Mastery Passes. I am currently ranked Mythic 90%, 6280 gems, 31800 gold. Unspent wildcards: 56 C, 79 U, 9 R, 6 M.

    I would definitely like to see a “dust” system or a Mastery Pass that gives you more gems. Being able to trade in commons/uncommons you don’t want for something, or even being able to “trade up” (4 commons for 1 uncommon, 4 uncommons for 1 rare, etc.) would be an immense improvement. Here’s some tips for playing MTGA “gold only”:

    1) If your daily quest is 500 gold, always trade this in for a chance to get a 750 gold quest. I think it’s 25% chance to get a 750, but the worst that happens is you get another 500 gold quest, same as what you started with.
    2) Win at least 4 games a day. This gets you at least 1050 gold, enough to buy 1 pack per day. If you have time to grind up to 9-10 wins, you get another +150 gold, or if you get up to 14 wins, +200 gold. This lets you save up some gold for events or special deals in the store.
    3) Check the daily deals every day, look for special items such as draft tokens, gems, more gold, and discount packs.
    4) Do not not buy cosmetics. Spend only gold in the store. Spend gems only on Mastery Passes.
    5) Avoid events that only give you cosmetics or “virtual cards”. Save up your gold for events that will get you packs, gems, or possibly some gold back.
    6) Draft events are a toss-up for me, as I usually suck at drafting. A Quick Draft is only 5000 gold, and I get at least 3 packs, and maybe I’ll squeak out another pack before I get 3 losses. However, since I don’t get any wildcards for the 3 packs I start with, I’m usually better off just spending 5000 gold on 5 packs and getting 5 wildcards. I would recommend saving up for a couple drafts once a new set is released, as this helps you fill out your collection with a better stock of new commons/uncommons that you’ll need for the new set, and also gets you more familiar with how the new cards play. After that, save your gold for packs.
    7) I prefer best-of-one (BO1) matches, as it’s usually faster to grind out a few wins that way, rather than get dragged into a long BO3 slugfest. Standard is *tough*, usually dominated by 2 or 3 powerful decks (right now it’s mostly mono-white, mono-green, and Izzet epiphany/turns decks). Start by googling some mono-white or mono-green “budget” decks that don’t require a lot of rares.
    8) Historic is sometimes easier to deal with than Standard. The shear number of possibilities makes it look like you need more rares for Historic, but if you focus on getting your key power cards or combo cards first, it’s easier to find “substitute” uncommon/common cards in Historic. There are definitely more variety and more deck types in Historic, and you may run into several powerful decks that pwn you, but you may also realize, “Hey, I have most of those cards… I can probably build that deck myself.”
    9) Brawl is probably the best format if you’re short on rares or don’t have a lot of wildcards. It’s singleton, so you don’t have to have 4 of every rare, and you can use a lot more cards that don’t quite fit in your standard/historic decks. If you keep banging your head on a brick wall in standard/historic, play some Brawl to clear your head and get out of the rut.
    10) Getting to Mythic spending only gold is a tough grind, particularly in this current meta. But the difference between getting only Diamond compared to Mythic and the end of the month? Just one pack. Likewise, if you only made Platinum… same rewards as Mythic, minus two packs. You can make up the difference of not making Mythic in one or two days of casual play.

  • Avatar
    Anonymagic January 25, 2022 12:30 pm

    It’s pay to play

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    Nuno C January 25, 2022 6:05 pm

    [Having the top message in regard]
    I also only spent 5€ (bought the initial cheaper pack). And i can somewhat consistently climb to mythic, if i have at least one week to play in a month. And do not play tier 1 decks in either historic nor standard. BUT even though i have an account since Theros Conquers Death, i only have 3 semi competitive decks. Though i do get annoyed when i spend wild cards to brew an original deck that can’t compete.
    Also all mtg is pay to win. Go to an LGS play commander and all you see are cEDH decks because no one can bare to loose, so you see the same decks with the same cards over and over again

  • Avatar
    Matthew J Ory January 25, 2022 8:08 pm

    It’s not pay to win. It’s pay to have a chance to win. You need the best cards and many wildcards which requires spending money.. just like you do in real magic the gathering. But having the best cards doesn’t guarantee a win.

  • Avatar
    JN January 26, 2022 1:56 am

    I have played from a year after it started, I played drafts to begin with only buying the intro gem offer. I can build any deck have many have spare 200 rare wild just under 100 mythic. Over 10000 gems. In my opinion it is free to play. I do also play mtgo have over a half million cards also free to play for me at this stage but probably cost me around 8000 dollars to get to that point. So in my opinion Arena is free to play yes requires a bit of a grind to get there but you can get everything for free if you pit the effort in but you must get reasonable at drafting, which is a big part of the game.

  • Avatar
    Jay January 26, 2022 6:52 am

    I am a long time paper player who joined Arena in September of last year. I’ve spent $200 on gems and still have a bit of that left. That’s been enough for me to assemble two competitive Historic decks and I’ve almost got a third. Nearly half of the wildcards I’ve just been using on lands, but at least once I have the shocks and pathways I can use them in multiple decks. Thing is I love to draft and I’m learning all the different draft formats for the first time (with Quick Draft), so I did give up a lot of gems to do that, but I have been steadily improving.

    I don’t mind spending a bit on the game to make it enjoyable for me, but I’m also not going to spend unlimited funds and that limits the constructed decks I can make. I think this is one understated effect of not having a dusting system – it stifles creativity. I don’t want to spend my precious wildcards on jank rares since they are so limited – that’s why I use them on staples and cards I can’t currently get in packs (like the Slivers). I think the meta would be a lot more diverse if Wizards allowed people to trade in unwanted cards for rares/mythics to use toward jank brews. It would probably draw more people in as well.

    I think the system just needs to be tweaked to make it great – here’s hoping they do that in the future.

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      Steven January 29, 2022 7:46 am

      I do agree with the dusting, even if it was something as small as 10 rares for another one. My biggest issue with the game is that if you open a pack and get, let’s say, a 5th brutal cathar, you won’t have a wildcard for that. Or maybe for drafting, but I’ve noticed I get nothing in return. I personally have only spent about 25 on the game, back in Sept when I started, and have most current meta decks. I’m lacking in historic but I can still brawl very well. I use my gems for the battle pass and complete them, and drafts with gold, and kiterally have been able to just keep floating on those gems. I think this game has been less of a money sink than the real game and there is no way I’d have the decks I have now if it weren’t for arena. I stopped playing magic for years because of that reason. The paper card game is literally pay to win. I never had that much money to spend on cards so whenever I’d go to big events I never could get first. Someone would roll out with a WR kithkin deck and turn 3-4 you’re dead. This game has made it so I can rival those with loads of money to dump into it

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    DISFRÚTALO January 26, 2022 10:53 am

    I was mythic 96% playing always 4 free. I think mtga IS a Pay to fast. If you want all, just PAY.

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    Francesco January 26, 2022 12:13 pm

    I disagree with the article. This game is not a pay to win game. Yes buy the gems to get access to the mastery pass might help, but if you a good player in draft, you can easily win enough gems. There are draft that cost just 5000 gold. Everyday you quests to collect gold. I am wondering if you have ever played a pay to win game.

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    Ervin January 27, 2022 5:11 am

    I have not checked through all your numbers but MTG Arena is not pay to win though you have to grind some at the beginning for sure. Even pay some at the beginning but no need much couple k gems (that is what I spend 3 years ago).

    The key is Arena is drafting if you doing ok in Draft and do like 15 draft every sets you will have almost cards. Also if you doing you will lose small amount gems/per draft with – with my strategic specially play most when new release out and not at the beginning of the months so the opponents are less good 🙂

    Other hand if you dont like drafting (which though is imo the best in magic) and want all the full standard decks 2 days after set release – then that will cost you a lot that is True :DD.

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    Steven January 29, 2022 7:38 am

    Yeah gotta disagree with you here. At first it may seem like a money sink. I literally built a deck from common and uncommon and a couple rares and mythic and literally carried my way up to diamond. Within a month before the reset. My win rate wasn’t as high as it is now due to the cards but it’s possible. It’s more of a time sink than money. After I built my first mono green deck (by saving ALL wildcards) I then got to the top tier in ranked. After that season I decided to spend 10$. I’ve only spent 25 which is the least I’ve ever spent on a game other than zero and literally haven’t had to since. Buy the battle pass. Literally if you save your wild cards and build a top deck you can then focus on stuff you want for fun. I could’ve not spent a dime and still hut top ranks due to me saving those cards and getting what worked in the meta

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    Adolfo Popodopolous January 29, 2022 8:23 am

    But Magic the gathering is a pay to win game in general. The more expensive cards you buy usually results in more wins

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    Jacob Miller January 29, 2022 11:04 am

    I don’t think FtP in Arena provides a truly satisfactory long-game but I think it offers a reasonable opportunity to build a deck, check out the game, and perpetuate a few wins off drafting. It’s nice to enjoy a personal deck you start with and build on. Good start, but the wildcards push that you need to get the deck correct the first time through. Also have experience playing the game to not lose out on a bit of longevity from your first run drafting. A pitfall I would see for the game is that it might take the benefit of perpetual drafting and rely on it, kind of mandating it and attempting to excuse more cost for the cards outside the draft environment. I appreciate the context and your article about something like this, it can be an ongoing battle to make those wildcard rewards go long 🙂🥲

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    Ricky January 30, 2022 6:37 pm

    I just want to play Magic whenever I have spare time to do so. Even in real life I don’t pay to construct decks for a competitive reason, so MTG Arena is perfect for me. I haven’t spent a single dollar on this game since it’s beta launch, and I have gotten hundreds of hours of enjoyment out of it, plus a bunch of cards.

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    Samuël Robert Blanchard January 31, 2022 8:18 am

    Saying that MTGA is not free to play but pay to win means nothing. Not being free to play… That’s a lie. Pay to win… Well I guess that if you want something without working for it then of course you will pay, but the truth is that you can play without paying.

    I’ve never seen so much salt poured on a game that requires experience and skills to play

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      Steponmyfoot February 23, 2022 2:09 am

      I kinda agree with you in a way… It requires experience and skill but that’s not directly related to MTG but to MTGA mechanics… Its not a “pay to win” its more like a “make you think you need to pay for you to think you will win”… Once you realise this is a normal online game where a binary algorithm is applied you will see that no “draw luck” exists here but the move you make to achieve that victory is the only thing that counts for your next draw… you make the wrong decision and the opponent will draw the necessary thing to finish you and that counts for both players and that starts on choosing to muligan or not. Still there are decks that breaks the system and you already lost even before your loading screen is loaded up. So don’t even bother to pay for this that’s my advice… I play this game since the beginning, never spent a penny on it but i can say it’s just a matter of getting used to it and you will achieve more win’s than you think paying will doo the job for you.

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        Steponmyfoot February 23, 2022 2:17 am

        And the only thing that relates this game to the tcg its really the cards and the format it self. I know many will say i’m wrong and will defend wotc’s game but these are a part of them or just ppl denying the truth… I’m having good ranks actually even mythic just following the rules they dictated.

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    Kkkk February 1, 2022 12:11 am

    It’s an adaption of a TCG, minus the T. Of course it’s “pay to win”, but that’s not how it’s meant to be played

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    Demos February 4, 2022 7:45 pm

    I can see both sides of the discussion and having been a Magic player since then 90s and an early adopter of Arena (but never actually MTGO, likely due to clunky interface?) I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle and largely depends on what you want out of the game. If you want to play constructed for fun, without aspirations to hit mythic regularly, play in qualifiers and spike Opens, then you can easily play for free. If you want to follow the latest meta, and compete at the highest level and win you probably have to invest some money into the game to get access to the cards you need. Although one could argue this will be less than paper, paper cards may also hold some value making it a more sound investment. Finally if you are more of a limited player, thinks get murky depending on how often you want to draft ans on whether you want to play competitively (i.e. hit mythic). Even an experienced and skilled drafter can gonthrough dry spells and may need to buy gems at some point if they want to enter an event. For that matter, though I prefer limited, I find it easier to play constructed for quest completion and getting coins.
    I personally started with intro pack only and felt I could play casually and slowly amass a collection with the occasional 5k draft. At some point I started to want to play competitive limited ans I soon found myself needing to buy gems in order to draft daily and try and hit higher ranks. As for dusting, I personally think some version of it would be a good idea and probably wouldn’t cost WOTC much, but we all know how slow they are to respond to some community common sense…
    TLDR: figure out what you want from the game and realize that depending on that, you may have to invest money. And please do not confuse time investment with money investment. In this case its not the same thing.

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    Lawrie February 24, 2022 12:59 am

    It’s pretty hard to escape a 50/50 win rate so I wouldn’t say it’s pay to win. I deliberately played the left most legal card only and after going 30/70 in my first hundred matches, I eventually evened out to 50/50 once the match maker took pity on me. Works in both ranked and unranked, you can’t even get lower than 50% wins by playing badly given enough time.

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      Sam June 12, 2023 1:12 am

      “Works in both ranked and unranked, you can’t even get lower than 50% wins by playing badly given enough time.”

      I can lol.

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    Brynin June 18, 2022 9:26 pm

    I have a feeling some of the people that cant see the pay to win element are in denial or are getting very easy matches and have no idea of some of the metas or synergies that are out there or the types of cards that are out there and how they can be used. If you dont work towards a countering deck or PAY for the same cards you will be outmatched clear as day. At the end of the day we are all outmatched on some level never knowing what you are playing against. For a moment your opponent will think his deck is good until you build against it but it’s not like your gonna get same match again. I only play historic so metas are all over the place. Standard is a bit more steady…sometimes. In the end all of our decks are misleading…meaning we think of our decks as being good when you’re playing opponents that cant match the deck meta or synergy/strength. meaning if I knew you were going to multiply elves i would have more board wipes. Not to mention the disastrous shuffler and the matchmaking sucks anyway. Magic arean is prolly one of the worst products ever created. Easy solution for people stop spending money on it and don’t take magic gathering in general seriously. If I’m built to match you and your not built to match me …it’s all luck

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    FireonIce August 2, 2022 5:50 am

    I think it’s great when people start a discussion about the economy of the game, which definitely has a lot of room to improve but unfortunately this article has a ton of false information and is overall very misleading.

    In the paragraph “What does free to play mean?” you explain the definition of “free to play” and it exactly describes mtg arena and you even talk about “f2p players” later (how can there be “f2p players” when the game isn’t free to play?) You even say that there is an important distinction to be made between completely free games (nothing’s ever completely free though) and “free to play games”. But then in the next paragraph you suddenly decide that arena suddenly isn’t “free to play”. This is very confusing.

    When you look up various definitions, they all more ore less describe a game as “free to play”, that can be played for free. There are some definitions that are a bit unambiguous and that’s for example when a definition includes terms like “enjoy”. It’s also not 100 % clear if a game that only gives you for example the first level and you have to pay for the rest is “free to play”. Technically it’s “free to play”, but you only get a small part of the game. But apart from that it’s very clear what “free to play” means and Arena 100 % falls into that category. There are exactly 0 game modes or decks that you need to pay for. You can build every deck completely for free and every game mode is available for free and it’s definitely possible to enjoy the game for free. Your definition of “free to play” seems to be extremely independent of personal demands for a game. But in reality it only stops being free when the person playing the game decides, it’s worth it to invest. Another thing is that you don’t have a huge advantage by paying. The much bigger advantage actually comes from playing also limited additionally to constructed and being at least decent, but overall just playing limited. In your analysis of limited you omit that you keep all the cards you draft and there is some objectively incorrect information in the article. You definitely get wildcards through draft, because you have prize boosters in draft. And you don’t have to be an insanely good drafter, even having a 50 % winrate in draft is A LOT better than buying boosters with gold (or even worse gems, which is just extremely terrible).

    It especially annoys me how easily people call something “pay to win” nowadays. I consider it very important to make clear distinctions here because “pay to win” is something highly negative and basically shouldn’t exist imo. “Pay to win” definitions unfortunately tend to be very unambiguous. Imo the definition that makes the most sense describes a game as “pay to win” that gives you an unfair advantage for paying over people that don’t pay. For example a game would be clearly “pay to win” where a game item that you can only buy, is a lot better than the other items. But as I’ve already mentioned, you can get every card completely for free. There are some potential caveats like when you could get an item theoretically for free, but you have to grind hundred of hours for it which in practice makes it close to unobtainable. But again this is not the case for magic arena. In fact it’s actually really easy to get a highly competitive deck. Let’s take monored aggro in historic for example which is one of the best decks in that format in bo1. It only needs 10-15 rare wildcards. You get 1 rare wildcard every 6 boosters and at least 1 wildcards

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      FireonIce August 2, 2022 7:00 am

      … * 1 rare wildcard every 30 boosters. When you win every day 4 games and do your quests (imo a considerate amount to play) you get 1050 – 1300 Gold everyday. Through the free part of the mastery you get roughly 2,7 boosters per week (the mastery is also great value, so buying that after drafting to get the games makes it even much better). So assuming you always reroll 500g quests you’ll roughly get about 11 booster packs per week. So let’s say you need 11 rares and 3 mythics ( a free to play version of monored I just built, the alternative cards are not much worse if at all, it even has 1 sokenzan and 3 den of the bugbear) for a very good deck, that you can easily achieve mythic with or grind the events (much better value with a certain winrate). You’ll need to open around 50 boosters to get the deck after creating a new account (in total I think you get 3 rare wildcards and 1 mythic wildcard in the process of a couple days). So you only need about a month to get a deck, that you can at least play for a very long time very competitively. A more expensive deck like a control deck for example will of course take a much longer time (about 4 months I think) but you keep the cards and can slowly build a bigger collection, which of course gets a lot easier by drafting regularly.

      So yeah, you definitely need to wait and put some time into the game, but that’s most definitely still in the space of “free to play” and not “pay to win”.

      Finally you paint a picture like adding a dust system would miraculously solve everything when in fact, it just does not. A dust system is just a tool for “free to play” games. The wildcard system replaces the dust system you have in other card games. It’s highly complicated to compare the economy of 2 different games. In short, there are always a ton of things people miss when they quickly compare 2 games (for example you only need 2 copies per cards in hearthstone, but commons also cost a substantial amount of dust and commons and uncommons are basically completely free in arena and so on). Runeterra of course has a much fairer economy, but from what I’ve gathered hearthstone is much worse than arena regarding the economy. I personally really like the wildcard system and totally hated the dust system. A dust system creates a very awkward tension and potentially a lot of feel bad moments and I really like that arena encourages you to collect cards.

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        Matt August 7, 2023 11:46 pm

        The problem with their free gold system, while not ungenerous, is you do have to WIN. You can play 3, 4, 5 games before you get the daily wins. So it’s mostly just the 500 gold for the quest. Yeah, you can slowly build a collection to compete, which is nice, but there is no dust utility.. You have to KEEP doing that for every new set. It’s untenable.

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    Reaper August 17, 2022 2:15 am

    I Have been saying this since day one. They also need to separate F2P players from the pay to win players to keep the game fun and fair.

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      Rogue December 13, 2022 12:41 pm

      Agreed. I’m not sure how they think all commons/few uncommons deck against top8 decks chock full of chase rares is fair.

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    Rogue December 13, 2022 12:30 pm

    I like how, somehow, as one goes to play all commons/basic land deck and gets paired up every game against top8 decks full of Sheoldreds, Wandering Emperors, Boseiju who Endures, Liliana’s etc. Then you get told “oh that’s not how it works” yet when you show screenshots, they abuse you.

    Or you get told stupid “advice” such as “just play draft, it will update your collection” then they tell you to try standard and 95% of the cards you got in draft they tell you not to play..

    Made an all commons deck. What did I face against? Esper Raffeine, BW with Sheoldreds and so on, Jund full of Titans/Fable etc again and again.

    Also, one of my favourties “find out what works against certain decks” is hilarious and irrelevant.

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    steve December 21, 2022 11:51 am

    I think its very free to play friendly, Practice drafting BEST OF THREE, that way you wont loose because of bad luck, i have 400k + gems i never paid for any i just usually win 5-7 matches per draft. In Constructed my win ratio is the same as real life, I actually always felt MTGO was pay to win.

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    Jan February 9, 2023 5:47 am

    I collect Magic cards since Portal and 5th Edition, but I have never actually played officially – only for fun with my schoolmates and only with cards we had. They weren’t any LGS then, no internet, no singles market. The only way to get more cards was to buy booster packs in local bookshop. In our “playgroup” only one boy had a single Wrath of God. When he used it in a game, he had to lend it to someone else for the next game, those were our “rules” 🙂 Then we slowly stopped playing, but I was still collecting some cards throughout the time.

    Many years after that, Arena came out, and I decided to try the game again, possibly in the same way I used to play it with my friends, and you know what? It works. I am playing Arena on casual level since 2019. I play only unranked, 99% standard, and don’t even use wildcards – all cards I get are from booster packs, exactly like during my paper magic times. Every standard season I usually some one or two-color preconstructed deck, which I slowly upgrade with suitable cards I crack from packs. When the rotation comes, I just start over again (only making exception when I have some lovable deck, for example white-red Eldraine knights, which I created from Rowan planeswalker deck and sometimes play it in Historic even these days).

    I just wanted to say that I am enjoying the game like I was during my childhood, even though my winrate is probably around 25%, and I am fairly certain I am not the only one. There probably are many players like me.

    I would say the game is not “pay to win” but more like “pay to be competitive”.

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