Last updated on April 23, 2021
Hidden Stockpile | Illustration by Darek Zabrocki
What if you could turn your unused cards into playable ones on MTG Arena? There is a way—at least there could be. And I’m not talking about wildcards. I’m talking about dusting.
But what is dusting? In short, it’s a system where you swap out unused cards in your collection for new cards of your choice. But the concept is a tense one, and exactly how it would be implemented in MTG Arena is hotly debated.
So I interviewed all-star MTG content creators (and frequent MTGA economy pundits) Noxious and Saffron Olive to get their ideas and opinions on this controversial topic. Many thanks to both of them for providing their invaluable insight.
Now let’s get into it!
A Little Bit of Context
Gray Merchant of Asphodel | Illustrated by Scott Murphy
Let’s start with how Arena’s economy currently operates. MTGA is technically a free-to-play game, which means you don’t have to buy anything in order to download and play the game. There’s even a decent amount of free stuff, efficient ways to get your hands on cards, and daily quests to earn rewards. You can also get cards you don’t have from packs and the Mastery Pass. These methods take a lot of time, but you don’t have to put any money into the game to play.
Arena also allows you to craft the cards you want using wildcards, which you get from opening packs, building up the wildcard wheel, and opening your vault. They’re a nice addition to the free stuff you already get and seems to be WotC’s replacement for dusting. It’s not a bad system.
“The vault is the recipient where everything goes but it’s NOT flexible. Excess cards should just be turned into immediately usable resources, like gold.”Noxious
Some people are able to thrive within this system and can ride the free-to-play train while still building any deck they want. But there’s still a large part of the player base that find this difficult because of how much time or money it can take. Ultimately, I think it’s a slow and unrewarding process.
You typically have to put in a lot of time and money to be able to consistently play the decks that you want. Not to mention you only get wildcard progress when opening packs. Packs that you acquire slowly from grinding or spending money on.
In the end, you’re still either buying packs or spending a lot of time to get wildcards. It just doesn’t feel like you have much power over your collection and it can be difficult to get the cards you want. Once you start on the slippery slope of spending money on Arena, it can easily get expensive.
Well, what other ways are there to get cards? That’s the thing. There really aren’t any. Realistically you either grind the game, taking advantage of its free rewards, or you have to buy packs and use wildcards to craft the cards that you want.
But there is another crafting method out there that MTG Arena doesn’t utilize. It’s called dusting.
What is Dusting?
Return to Dust | Illustration by Wayne Reynolds
Dusting is a term that comes from the collectible card game (CCG) Hearthstone. Hearthstone’s economy operates similar to Arena’s in the sense that it’s free, you can grind free rewards, and you can also buy packs. But it has something that MTGA doesn’t have: Hearthstone has a crafting system. It’s often referred to as dusting because you essentially turn cards into dust and craft them into other cards.
This system allows players to “disenchant” (dust) cards they don’t want, creating an in-game currency that can be used to craft other cards. Here are the details of Hearthstone’s system with Magic’s rarity equivalent for comparison:
It’s a pretty straightforward concept. But how would it affect the game?
What Would Dusting Look Like in MTG Arena?
Let’s assume that everything else on MTGA remains the same and dusting is implemented. What would happen?
You’d be able to take the cards you have now, dust them, and craft cards you don’t have. If it mirrors Hearthstone’s system, you’d lose a lot more cards than you gained. The conversion rate heavily favors the system since players would acquire a lot less currency for dusting than it takes to craft cards.
Then why implement dusting? It gives you another way to get the cards you want, and I think that would be worth it for most players. Even with the steep conversion price. It would be a little awkward having dusting and wildcards, though. We’ll talk about that a bit further down.
Dusting would also allow players to get rid of that pesky fifth copy. And sixth, and seventh, and eight, etc.
“Dusting eliminates the fifth copy problem, which is still an issue now that we keep getting cards reprinted in different sets so that we end up with eight Woe Striders and 20 Duress in our collections even though we can only ever use four.”Saffron Olive
This is an area of Arena that doesn’t have duplicate protection. WotC’s duplicate protection only applies to what they refer to as a “fully reprinted” cards, meaning it has the same name and the same art. When a reprint is released on MTGA with new art, you can still open it in packs. This leads to way too many copies of cards that you can only ever use four of.
If you could dust, you’d be able to get rid of the copies that you don’t need and keep your favorite art. I’ve also seen it suggested that there should be different card arts as cosmetics so you can dynamically choose your preferred version, which sounds like a cool alternative to having so many copies of the same card.
A dusting system would also essentially fix the frequent mismatch that occurs between the wildcards you have and the ones you actually need. Instead of being stuck with a bunch of a wildcards of the wrong rarity, you could use the currency from dusting to get the cards that you want, no matter the rarity.
Again, this brings up issues with having both dusting and wildcards. Would you be able to dust wildcards too? That could be a viable variation, but we’ll get to different versions of the economy later.
WotC and the Downsides of Dusting
Consulate Crackdown | Illustration by Jonas De Ro
How does WotC feel about dusting? While Arena was still in closed beta back in 2018, Chris Clay, who was the Principal Game Designer for MTGA at the time, was quoted saying:
“We considered the common dusting-style system for MTG Arena but we didn’t like multiple parts of the economy it creates. We didn’t like that the system turns cards into currency, we didn’t like that players are encouraged to destroy their collections, and we didn’t like the barrier to entry that destroying cards to card cards creates.”Chris Clay, WotC
This is a very realistic downside to dusting. Magic is an ever-evolving game with new sets coming out every quarter. Players are constantly brewing and shifting the meta, so you never know when you’ll need a card.
A new set might come out that causes you to use a card that you’ve never even thought about before, but now it’s better in the new environment than it was a month ago. But if you had dusted that card, you wouldn’t have it for the future.
Noxious tends to agree with the feel bad of dusting as well:
“Fundamentally, I think wildcards are aesthetically more resonant and are a better solution. Dusting can work, but it causes a lot of ‘feels bad’ moments for players, and Magic almost can’t add it just by virtue of the sheer amount of draft chaff (all of which gets dusted).”Noxious
There’s an added anxiety to dusting, too. Players could feel pressured to dust cards that they might need later just to keep up with the meta. That’s definitely scary. And I agree. Instead of dusting, an increase in wildcard acquisition and other resources could give players more power.
“It’s doubly bad when meta shifts occur and people technically have the ability to delete everything they have to catchup—it’s just unnecessarily anxiogenic. The solution to the anxiogenic impossibility of undoing a wildcard draft isn’t dusting, it’s to dial up access to wildcards and resources across the board.”Noxious
It’s also very counterintuitive in Magic to think about destroying your collection. It’s a trading card game and we take pride in our cards. I think this is a product of having a free-to-play virtual outlet for Magic, though. With a new way to play, new norms would be discovered and I think dusting should be one of those in some form so that players have more power over their collection.
Chaos Confetti | Illustration by Mark Tedin
The risk vs. reward in dusting could be very intimidating to MTGA-ers, but I still think it’s worth trying. And there would be a bunch of different options in balancing this type of economy. Let’s talk about some of the different version of the system that could be tested.
“They’re at the mercy of pure randomness, which of course makes dusting look good.”Noxious
There are several different versions of dusting plus some other options that could better empower players. I’ll go over some from the community on Reddit and a couple adaptations I’ve thought of. Noxious and Saffron Olive also brought up some good ideas.
A Singular Wildcard
A pretty popular solution in the community is to have a single wildcard type instead of specific rarities. There would be one wildcard “currency” that players would use to craft any rarity card, but at different rates.
For example, it would cost more of this single type of wildcard to craft a mythic than it would cost to craft a common. This would prevent you from stockpiling a single wildcard rarity if there are no cards of that rarity you want or need.
In the end, this is what a dusting-like economy could look like. A single currency that can be used to craft the cards you want. Acquiring this type of wildcard through the current means on Arena and being able to dust would give players more power and choice.
All is Dust | Illustration by Jason Felix
Another version could limit what you can dust. Limiting dusting to common and uncommons to avoid the feel bad moment of dusting a rare or mythic and needing it later. Commons and uncommons are easier to get, so they can more readily be replaced after an unfortunate dusting.
This would give players a dusting system while avoiding regret on their side. The system could alternatively limit dusting to cards that you have more than four copies of thanks to new art on reprints. Both of these options would benefit from the idea above — having a single wildcard type currency, or dust currency — so that players aren’t sitting on resources that they can’t do anything with.
Trading and buying cards directly is another route that WotC could take. MTGO does this and it works. Arena being a free-to-play game makes trading more difficult, though.
Can we have it both ways? Maybe that’s a topic for another time. Noxious suggests a “WotC merchant” type option, which I think would be great.
“The solution is to enhance agency. Something as basic as a “merchant” panel, where a dude shows up every day with new trades offered—where the NPC will trade you cards, at different rates. It’s a pseudo dusting/exchange system, minus the negative emotion tied to dusting your cards or feeling like you have to.”Noxious
Wildcards for Sale
Saffron Olive mentioned an economy where you could buy wildcards. There may be a financial disconnect between what WotC currently charges for a wildcard and what players are willing to pay for them, though.
“Another option that some people have brought up is buying wildcards directly as sort of a middle ground between where we are now and full dusting. While I like this idea in theory, after asking people how much they would pay for wildcards and seeing that most people are offering a really low number, like $1 for mythics or 10 rares for $5, I can’t imagine this would actually go over well.”Saffron Olive
More Downsides of Dusting
I’ve scoured the internet looking for concerns with a dusting system in MTGA, so let’s talk about it.
Dusting Takes Over
One of the most prominent is worrying that dusting would replace everything that’s already in the game. I think the game should remain the same overall, while a version of dusting is added to the mix.
There’d need to be some balancing but, as long as the idea behind the changes are to give players more power over their collection, it should work out fine. WotC would probably lose money to start but players would still have to buy packs or spend a lot of time on the game, even with a dusting system, because the dusting conversion is so steep. And if players feel heard and not like they’re constantly being scammed, they’ll invest more time and money.
Duplicate Protection Exploit
Wanted Scoundrels | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Some people were talking about a possible exploit that I need to address.
Let’s assume Arena implements a dusting system. You could collect a full playset from a single set and then exploit the game’s duplicate protection to craft the cards you want. You’d be able to dust a mythic for the maximum amount of crafting currency and then make the cards that you actually want. Then, replace those mythics by buying a pack from that set. Thanks to duplicate protection, that pack is guaranteed to have the card that you just dusted.
In this scenario, WotC would theoretically lose a lot of money and so it’s in their best interest to avoid this scenario. I don’t think this is a realistic argument. Players would not only have to collect every card from a single set which wouldn’t be cheap, they would then have to buy packs after dusting. And with the exchange rate favoring the system, you’d get a lot less resources than it would require to craft what you wanted.
Tank the Economy
There are also worries that WotC will make the entire economy less rewarding if dusting is implemented. I think it can stay relatively the same while simply adding a variation of dusting. And if the player is number one, any changes should be a good thing with some testing. But WotC has scarred us a little with unwelcomed changes in the past, and players are rightfully afraid of them making changes.
“To implement dusting, Wizards would probably make other adjustments to the economy, and Wizards isn’t known for making Arena more generous. I think there is a fear that even though dusting should be a good thing, it really wouldn’t be in practice because Wizards would intentionally or unintentionally make the rest of the economy less rewarding, and that would cancel out the benefits of dusting. This wouldn’t have to happen but, based on Wizards’ track record of making the economy less friendly rather than more friendly, whenever they make changes it is a realistic possibility and the biggest concern about implementing dusting.”Saffron Olive
Give Players More Choice
Giver of Runes | Illustration by Seb McKinnon
What I like the most about this concept is that it gives players more options. It would enable all players, giving you more ways to get the cards you want to play with. I think that’s what it should be about: enabling the player. Players that already invest heavily in the game, with time or money, would be rewarded by having more tools at their disposal. Players that play less often have a new way to get the cards they want to play with.
In the end, you’re not obligated to dust at all. Having the feature doesn’t mean you need to use it. If you want to save all the cards you have, you can do that. If you want to switch some cards out for others, though, you can also do that. Having the option would be nice.
“Dusting gives players agency and allows them to control their own collection. While I know some people have concerns about dusting cards that they end up wanting later, dusting is optional, so it’s not like you are forced to destroy cards. You can opt out of the system entirely if you want.”Saffron Olive
From Dust to Dawn
If you’ve gotten this far, you undoubtedly have some feelings and opinions about all this. Maybe you agree with some of these ideas, or maybe none of them — either way that’s okay. In the end, we just need to move the conversation forward so we can get to a system that works better.
Magic is a game that’s pretty important to a lot of us, and we want what’s best for the game. We aren’t going to find the right answer right away. It’s going to take some time and likely some trial and error. Maybe dusting would be great, maybe it would be terrible. Anything that takes a step toward doing something more for the players is something I’m in favor of.
“The core idea should be to maximize agency while minimizing pain points, even without increasing reward amounts directly.”Noxious
No system is going to be perfect. A company still has to make money. I want players to have more options. I support anything to give players more power in the cards that they have, and it can be fine-tuned as it gets used.
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