Wizards has been bringing Magic: The Gathering to the general public in a very accessible way for three years now with its Duels of the Planeswalkers series. If you’ve been at all curious about transferring over from that to paper Magic and experiencing the game in all its glory, this article is for you.
First thing’s first: if you are curious, I say do it! Magic is as about as deep as it ever was today, but is more enjoyable and accessible than ever, too, and has a great community behind it that’s often eager to help you on your way, and even to make friends with you.
While Duels is great as a cheap, casual way to kill time now and then, if you find yourself wanting a little more out of it, paper Magic will more than feed that itch.
The key difference and main appeal in paper Magic is of course deck building. While the de facto format — Standard — inevitably finds itself with a series of popular archetype decks (much like the different types you see in Duels), even there you’ll find quite a bit more room for your own personal deck that comes completely out of left field, if you’re the individualistic and/or expressive type. To illustrate, many players are running Delver and Zombies right now, but there’s the option to run a land destruction deck with no direct land destruction (you actually turn lands into artifacts, then use artifact destruction cards to accomplish the goal). If you’re not competitive, though, and just want to play some casual games with friends (or hell, if you want to do both), you open up the card pool to over 10,000 choices. From this you can make damn near anything, whether it’s a straight up green ramp deck or something weird like a deck with no lands or a deck that wins on turn 1 (if you’re really lucky), or a million other things.
Finding a place to play
Either way, the first step is to use Wizards’ Store Locator to find your local game shop (LGS) of choice, then head over to check out their collection, ask questions, meet some folks, and sign up for the next Draft event (more on that in a moment). Generally you want to go with a shop that has the “Wizards’ Play Network” symbol, as these offer official events and prizes; it also means they’re more likely to be legitimate and run a quality operation, which can be hard to find sometimes.
Draft is the best bet for a new player with few or no cards; I may go in-depth on this topic at a later date, but the gist of it for now is that everyone buys three boosters each ($15 total), picks a card from each pack, then passes it to the next person, and on and on it goes until all cards are distributed and all players have made a relatively focused 40-card deck based on the cards available. While it may seem odd and not like much upon first hearing about it, it’s actually the favourite format of many, and for good reason: doing a lot with a little and proving your deckbuilding skills through Draft wins can be greatly satisfying.
You keep your Draft cards, and if you place high, you receive yet more packs. It’s an efficient way to build a collection of actually usable cards (there’s a lot of jank out there), as is the ($20) Deck Builder’s Toolkit for similar reasons. Once you’ve drafted a few times and have a Toolkit handy, you should be reasonably set to build a budget deck (like mine) that will do reasonably well at Standard events (which require 60-card decks made up of recent cards only), and casual games.
Get your wallet ready
If you want to take it to the next level (which isn’t required, but can be rewarding), you can flesh out the deck by replacing some cheaper, less effective cards with more expensive “bombs” (Sublime Archangel in an Exalted deck, for one example). Do this by buying or trading for “singles” (individual cards) — going with boosters and hoping to pull the cards you need is a great way to lose a ton of money, though cracking a few packs now and then is thrilling, and doesn’t hurt your wallet much.
Another route in is to buy a $20-$25 Event Deck. These come out a few weeks after a new “set” is released (sets are analgous to Duels expansions) and are pre-made decks which instantly make you competitive — not as competitive as making your own and optimizing the crap out of it, mind you, but competitive enough. Event Decks are not to be confused with Intro Decks, which are meant for casual play with a friend who’s also interested in learning the game, for example (also an acceptable way to go). Whatever you pick, just know you’ll want to scour Gatherer to help make the deck even better. Of course, the more you play, the more you’ll learn the deck’s strengths and weaknesses, and what it needs and doesn’t need.
That’s all for now. In the second part to this article (coming soon), I’ll go over the key differences and similarities between Duels 2013 and paper Magic, so you don’t make too many silly mistakes at your first events.