Last updated on June 1, 2023
Before MTGA, the only digital way of playing Magic that resembled the in-person play experience was MTGO. Magic Online, like Arena, has an in-game economy. It’s not a closed one, so there’s a way to invest and earn money from the game.
A lot of players have claimed to be able to fund their play through event wins (“going infinite”), and the most hardcore gamers say that they can make a living by playing and succeeding in events and tournaments.
But how do you play MTGO for free? Is it even possible? Let’s find out!
Ambition's Cost (Portal Three Kingdoms) | Illustration by Junko Taguchi
The short answer is no, Magic Online is not technically free to play. When you create a new account, you start with:
- 2 copies of each standard common
- 1 copy of each standard uncommon
- 20 new player points, special new player events
But your access is minimal because you can only participate in the new player events, you can’t join leagues, and your trading is disabled. To access the platform’s full features you need to upgrade your new MTGO account for $5 with the Magic Online Account Upgrade Kit.
This Kit contains:
- 10 new player points
- 100 Play Points
- 2 copies of each standard common
- 1 copy of each standard uncommon
From this point you can join in-game events and make trades with bots to expand your collection.
The currency that MTGO uses are Tickets and Play Points. The first can be obtained by selling products to bots or buying them directly from the shop. You can only get the second as a reward from playing events.
You can buy tickets directly from the store at a rate of one ticket for $1. For simplicity, I refer to MTGO card and deck prices in dollar figures, but you can easily convert that to their ticket equivalent.
MTGO, at its core, isn’t a fixed subscription. Once you’ve paid the initial $5 to access the full game, you put in money at your own rate.
From time to time Magic Online releases its own “subscription” in the form of an All-Access Pass. It grants you the ability to play with every card in the game and join events with them for a set time. These aren’t always available, but it’s the only form of subscription in MTGO.
MTGO can be expensive depending on how good you are at the game and what formats you play.
If you’re a Constructed player who likes to play multiple decks and formats, you might rely on a third-party loan program to afford decks that meet your expectations. You’d pay for these services to access the cards, but you’ll play for free if your winnings outweigh your investments.
If Limited is more your style and you have a win rate roughly above 67%, you can play for free without renting cards. You’ll get extra profit from selling the cards you drafted in non-phantom events.
Another way to limit spending on the game is to focus on one format, like Pauper, the cheapest. Collect all staples from your chosen format and you won’t need a third-party subscription site.
In all these cases, the key is maintaining a good balance of tickets and Play Points to join events. You’re forced to buy tickets from the client to keep playing on them if you run out.
You can play in tournament practice lobbies or some multiplayer formats if you’re a casual player with no intention of playing competitive events. You can build your decks by spending as little as one ticket a month to purchase multiple cards for cheap (or even free).
Can You Play for Free? How?
Repay in Kind | Illustration by Vance Kovacs
The paths to free play vary depending on your goals. You can get free cards from bots if you don’t care about playing in tournaments and just want to play casually with your friends. If you want to participate in events and play Constructed formats, you could play for free if your earnings are more significant than your investments.
This takes time and skill, but to give you an idea I’ll talk about how I went infinite on MTGO (as well as in MTGA).
I started my Constructed career playing Standard like many others. When I started on MTGO I thought that the most logical thing to do was to follow the same path. This was pretty challenging because an average Standard deck is roughly $250.
I could afford a cheap version of a deck, excluding more emblematic cards or even lands, but I couldn’t compete with the power levels of more complete decks. I turned my focus to a less expensive format: Pauper.
An average deck in this format is around $50 or less. Some pricy cards are used in multiple decks, or are just sideboard cards.
After selecting the cheapest format, I chose a deck that suited my play style. I started to play with it through leagues until I had enough tickets and Play Points to play more events.
I also tried not to spend my earnings on anything unless I had enough to play at least two events. This way I avoided being unable to play if I did poorly in a league or a couple of events.
Managing your cards takes time because you need to know what you have in stock and how the prices of your cards are shifting.
If you have a mostly unused card in your inventory that you got by drafting but expect it to rise in price over time, you can hold onto it and sell it when you’re ready. If you get a card that you expect to drop in price, sell it as soon as possible.
The most common situations where this applies are:
- A card that was just released.
- A card that will be re-printed in a subsequent set.
- A card that has been consistently involved in ban discussions.
If you keep a personal collection, always look out for alternative versions of your cards. Sometimes a version can drastically vary in price from one day to another. You’ll get some currency back if you sell your expensive version and buy the cheapest one.
Twitter users might brag when they get something good when opening chests, but the reality is that you won’t usually get any profit from opening them.
The only reason to open your chests is if you’re running low in Play Points and need them to participate in some events. If you’re profitable enough, you won’t need them because the number of Play Points you get usually surpasses the number of tickets you can collect.
There’s no way of using Play Points outside of events when you have too many. You can sell tickets back to third-party sites, which give you their equivalent in PayPal currency.
I’ve seen people with thousands of Play Points without any way to spend them. You only aggravate that problem by opening chests. If you sell them, you’ll always get a fixed number of tickets.
How do you pay entry fees for events? Simple: you play with Play Points or Qualifier Points. You’ll save your tickets to build your collection or pay for your preferred rental service.
The cost of drafting on MTGO depends on the events you join. Phantom events are cheaper than regular ones because you don’t get any of the cards you Draft and you only get Play Points. On the contrary, regular events are pricier since you can sell the extra cards you don’t need.
Here are the most common rates of the Limited events you can join:
- Regular Events: 120 Play Points; 12 Event Tickets; 3 Set boosters + 2 Event Tickets.
- Phantom Drafts: 100 Play Points; 10 Event Tickets.
Sealed Events also have a similar rate:
- 240 Play Points; 24 Tickets; 6 Set Boosters; 4 Event Tickets.
For Regular Set events, you get boosters and Qualifier Points prizes. Like chests, I suggest selling boosters and using your Qualifier Points on scheduled events. Be aware that they expire.
If you don’t want to spend tons of money on a single deck, there are some options.
Playing Limited has the advantage that you can pay the entry with boosters and event tickets. You don’t get Play Points out of them, but it’s a small drawback compared to the number of tickets you can get back by selling cards from non-phantom events.
Cheap Constructed formats are easy to grind because you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a deck. You won’t need to rely on third-party subscription programs to build your decks. You can play a lot for cheap and sell the revenue.
This one is ideal, but it won’t be quick. You’ll probably struggle at first because you won’t have the card quality to compete with some of the most popular and powerful decks. You’ll have to go 5-0 at least five times in your preferred Constructed format if you want to buy a set of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer.
That’s challenging, but it’s also risky because the price of the card might drop because of reprints or because it’s less useful for the format. For example, Gorilla Shaman was around $20 in 2013 because there were only two printed versions at the time. Modern Horizons 2 introduced a new version and the metagame shifted against the poor ape, which led to a drastic price drop.
A lot of cards have dropped in price over time, so the “build your own collection” paradigm is hard to sustain.
Rental services play a significant role because you can pay a fixed amount of money and ignore a card’s price changes. With enough loan balance you’ll be able to rent almost every deck you’d like to play.
|Customer Service||Real-time chat support 24/7||Chat is not always available, but you can leave a message, and customer support will reach out|
|Free Loan Balance||5 tickets||7 tickets|
|Client Events||Not available||They run periodical tournaments with better prizes for subscribers|
|Set Up a New Account||Easy, fast. In high seasons there may be a waiting list. However, usually, that’s not the case.||Need to go through verification and is tied to availability.|
|Loan Balance||You can customize how many tickets you want to have as your balance.||Not customizable. They offer different rates depending on the number of tickets they can offer.|
|Payment Methods||Credit card and tickets||Credit card and tickets|
Regardless of which one you choose, all that matters is if your earnings are at least equal to the periodic subscription fee. This may sound challenging, but a single 4-1 record in a Constructed League can easily pay for a 500-ticket rental service from Cardhoarder for a week. With a 5-0 you’ll already pay for two weeks.
That may be even harder to accomplish, but I know MTGO grinders who make a living solely by playing the game and selling the extra tickets for money. I’m not a hardcore grinder, but I remember when I managed to get around a thousand tickets just by winning back-to-back significant Sealed events.
This isn’t easy to do at all, but it’s proof that you can go infinite and beyond on MTGO with time and skill.
Some sites give a fixed number of cards for free to new players because they see most of them as bulk. You can search for them by typing “Free” on the search bar of the Trade tab:
Most of the cards you’ll find on these bots are common and uncommon, but you can sometimes find rares that aren’t being played much on eternal formats.
Another way to do it is to use the “Free Loan Balance” that sites like Cardhoarder and ManaTraders provide.
As far as I know there’s no way to get free tickets on Magic Online. But you can get accounts with free loan balances from websites like Cardhoarder or ManaTraders.
Cardhoarder gives you a fixed amount of five tickets to rent, and ManaTraders gives you seven tickets. You have twelve free tickets at your disposal to rent between them, but you have to consider that each site’s price is different.
Can You Play Any MTGO Events/Tournaments for Free?
Every in-client event has its price. Some tournaments are organized with third-party apps and websites like MTG Melee or Cardhoarder. These are called “Player Run Events” and may or may not have an entry fee tied to them. Free tournaments usually have a lesser prize.
MTGO can be either very expensive or dirt cheap depending on how you look at it. The program tries to emulate the IRL aspect of Magic, reflected in its internal economy and individual card pricing.
The difference is that cards have very different prices from their real-life counterparts because the number of digital copies is way higher. Some cards are reprinted in digital-only sets, which significantly drops their price on MTGO.
The MTGO market is very volatile between this, tournament results, and other reasons. From one day to another, a $5 card can go up in price very quickly, like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.
Reprinted cards can just as easily drop in price, like when Annoyed Altisaur went from $3 to mere cents.
Investing in one deck is almost unreliable. A $1,000 deck one day can become an $800 one the next. If you want to switch decks, you’ll usually get way less than the price you paid initially.
The only way to bypass this is to rely on the third-party loan programs, which can cost around $15 a week for roughly 600 tix. Each format has its price range, so this may or may not be enough to buy a decent deck. The formats’ average deck prices come to:
If you want to play Legacy, you need to spend $60 a month to be able to participate in events and get at least an equal amount of raw tickets winnings to feel like you’re playing for free. Some cards can be expensive, but some Commander decks and most of the Pauper ones can be built through the free loan balance that each third-party app can offer.
If you pair this with the amount of daily free cards you can get from bots then you can start playing the game and building your collection without spending any money after the initial $5 bundle.
Land Tax | Illustration by Chuck Lukacs
MTGO can be a tricky program to maneuver. It’s not free, but you can play for free with the right amount of time and effort put into the game.
What do you think? Do you have experience “going infinite” in MTGO? Will you give MTGO a try, especially with the multiple formats that MTGA can’t offer? Let me know in the comments or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all playing tons of fun Magic games!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: