Last updated on October 29, 2022
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? In the recent discussion post regarding the MTGA economy, Wotc gave a clear and authoritative position against dusting being introduced into the game:
We never wanted players to feel pressured to dismantle their collection to build the deck they want, only later to be disappointed when they realize they need to reacquire cards they destroyed. In addition, dusting changes the tenor of conversations around the game. Instead of “what should I build” conversations, you get “what should I destroy” conversations, which are inherently more negative.WotC
There are two things I think WotC got wrong, though. Most players who wish they could dust some of their old collection are doing so not because they’re asking, “What should I build”, but rather, “What can I build?”.
When it comes to disappointment, the regret from losing a card to dusting is the same as regretting a trade you made. That regret may even be lessened by dusting. You can’t trade a bulk rare for a staple rare, because the players you trade with want just as good a deal as you do. However, if you go through a ducting system, you just need cards of equivalent rarities, not value.
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 versions 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.
Leave in the Dust | Illustration by Vincent Proce
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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” 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.”
That is not how duplicate protection works. Having 4 of each rare in a set does not guarantee that you’ll only open mythics, rarity is determined before duplicate protection is applied.
So far, I believe Legends of Runeterra has the best economy system of an online card game.
They implement both a wildcard and a dust system.
If WOTC announced they’d implement a dusting system, with no other changes to the game, I’d say absolutely – spot on – love it. Who doesn’t love more?
But they’ve already said if they they were to implement it, there would be cuts elsewhere in the game. The push and pull of the FTP game.
After playing mtga for years I’ve finally given up on it for good. Unfortunetly the game is a magnet for toxic spikes only interested in winning, as it would be when all rewards are for winning and netdecking. As someone with no interest in any of that, and can’t even pull the rares required to brew jank anymore, I’m so totally out. Wizards also clearly has no love for their players or any interest in developing anything that won’t directly make them more money. I’d say mtga has another year or 2 left in it but sadly the community is happy to keep paying for the unfinished, buggy mess
Even just the ability to exchange some number of lower rarity wildcards for a higher rarity wildcard would be really helpful.
5 common = 1 uncommon
10 uncommon = 1 rare
4 rare = 1 mythic
It seems pretty common for folks to end up having hundreds of common wildcards, with nothing to use them on. It’d be nice to be able to cash those in for a few rares or mythics ^^
Dusting has been what has pushed me away from other TCGs in the past, where it just feels like an absurd slog to earn packs and dust away ‘useless’ cards to get the ones I want only to find out that the next set released has made those ‘useless’ cards into must plays
Legends of Runeterra does the dusting system the best because its not just a dust economy, but its also a wildcard economy, but in my opinion, all Wizards needs to do is give us a way to ‘Transmute’ lower and higher rarity wildcards into wildcards your going to use. The rares are by far the most desirable wildcards you need with mythics and uncommons coming in close second and third, Commons i’ve only ever used to finish 3 ofs in my collection to get that sweet vault progress when it comes time to draft.
The hard truth if the matter is either MTGA needs real trading and card selling or MTGO needs a new client that at least equals MTGA’s design and polish. MTGO already has an excellent trading system, the client and gameplay experience is just horrible compared to MTGA.
You say in this article that Magic is a trading card game and then proceede to ignore the obvious solution to the whole matter which is trading and selling cards.
Without trading and selling like in current MTGO, Arena is just a money sink with no way to cash out. You spend x thousand dollars on Arena cards and that’s it, that money is gone for life, replaced with pretty pixels. You spend x thousand on MTGO cards and you can sell them if you need to for real money, if you’re lucky (or a super economy nerd) you can even make a profit doing it, all while WOTC still gets their money in the process. There is literally no in game system that can offer as much real world value to players as allowing buying, trading, and selling cards opens up. Any complaints about how hot cards get expensive with an MTGO-style economy are moot in the face of the fact that you can get that real money back by selling.
All this talk about dusting is missing the point that MTGA players are allowing themselves to be hearded into a game economy that only ever financially benefits WOTC. Whereas, with MTGO, the devs got paid and players had the ability to get paid if they wanted or needed to cash out. That option is priceless… I should know, I’m typing this in the apartment I paid for by selling off my MTGO collection when I otherwise would have been put out on the street. I’m now buying back into MTGO, would love to be buying into Arena but MTGO’s economy literally saved me from homelessness, Arena is just a monetary black hole.
I spent a couple hundred bucks on Arena when it was new-ish, and found that there was a hard cap on how much you could realistically spend in the game that was far, far lower than the average F2P. More importantly, a one-time infusion of cash results in cascading rewards since you can save WCs and use them later on. I’ve had zero reason to spend on the game since Ravnica as a result.
People complaining about the game needing more player agency are either using their resources badly or else are being led around the meta by the nose, buying into every FotM deck on the Internet, and in both cases the solution is to develop some self control and stop trying to turn the game into a lifestyle.
Dusting is a crappy solution in any case, because it means once a card gets a reputation for being bad, everyone will dust it and you’ll never get to play against it. This is a big reason why Hearthstone and other games that use dusting have such shallow, boring metagame. Nobody who is free-to-play will ever have jank in their collection again, and so will never have the opportunity to brew. The game already heavily favors crafting meta- defining cards over interesting brewing options; dusting would be the death- knell of that while side of the game.
The real problem with Arena’s crafting system is that good cards and bad cards are equally easy to get. In paper Magic or MTGO, you could buy bulk rares to experiment with at bargain prices, so people did a lot of brewing. In Arena, bulk rares are just as expensive as the most important cards in the format, so they never get crafted and the only ones you see are the ones people were lucky enough to open. If they implemented a kind of auction system, where people could craft what they wanted, but the price was driven up or down by popular demand for the card in question, we’d see much more variety in deckbuilding and more interesting games. It would also force people who wanted to be competitive to spend on the game, which is how it should be, instead of the best players getting a free ride by going infinite in drafts.
I agree with what Captain said above. Just let us trade our hundreds of never to be used common wildcards up for better ones please!
Also why can’t I craft a rare with a mythic wildcard? They should be downwards compatible.
As far as what this article says about cost and grinding though, I find it to be absolutely not true. I have never spent a cent on arena and I have just about all the wildcards and packs I ever need just from playing my daily goals and playing for fun. Unlike mtgo where I used to spend hundred of dollars a year for the same amount of playing and drafting.
We don’t need dusting, we just need 2 things to happen.
1) Alternate card arts made into exactly that… Alternate arts for cards you already have a set number of. Make the default art set to the art the card came with in the first set it is introduced in. Sell the rest as cosmetic upgrades, and organize them exactly as they are now: arts that are given along side the other ones during deck building. No need to change something that isn’t broken.
2) When opening a pack, check the cards generated. If the player doesn’t own 4 of that card, keep it. If they do, re-roll it. If no other options are available, generate a wildcard in its place. When all cards are collected from that set, do not allow the purchase of cards from that set anymore. Honestly, I’d be happy just with these 2 changes.
Current Wildcard system has to stay for this to work. Every now and then, the player needs to be able to open a pack and randomly receive a wildcard, as currently happens. The player also still needs to be able to get them on a regular schedule, as currently happens.
1) Condense card count into 1 count, and sell cosmetics
2) Ensure no duplicates are possible when opening a pack
3) Don’t slow down/ speed up/ change wildcards
Wildcards would need to be condensed into 1 currency with varying rates of conversion based on rarity, but that (now that I think of it) would be necessary to prevent an over-abundance of any one rarity on players’ accounts.
All for dusting! If post-dust regret is a concern, don’t be! We all know what we’re getting into when we dust, so be it! Consider it as ‘investing’ some of your possible future regret feelings as ‘the cash’ and part of the price to pay for your acquisition. Remember “PROGRESS TAKES SACRAFICE”.