An Argument in Favor of MTGO
Magic The Gathering Online, is the original digital Magic experience. Originally released in 2002, this almost 20 year old program is still active and as you read in this article, hopefully will appreciate how incredibly beneficial it is for the Magic community. I want to shed a little light on the program, get rid of some misconceptions, and argue in favor of MTGO for all types of Magic: The Gathering play. From casual to competitive, this digital replication of the paper game is highly underrated and under utilized. I will tackle why I believe it is a treasure of the community that we take for granted, and how you can get started in playing this wonderful program.
We will tackle the pros and cons, the economy, the community, everything related to MTGO, so this will be a long article. As a disclaimer, the Magic Online Society community revolves around the MTGO program and we are sponsored by CardHoarder. You will see us recommend CardHoarder for purchasing cards, as we find them to be the best available MTGO service around.
One more thing to mention before we get into the details. We recommend MTGO for people who prefer paper magic over MTGArena. We are aware that Arena exists and that people love it. We find that players who prefer paper magic over Arena, will prefer MTGO as their digital outlet. So threaded throughout this article, we will be comparing MTGO to Paper MTG.
Let's get the cons out of the way right off the bat. I like to end things on a positive note, so we will discuss what MTGO doesn't have to offer first. Listed below are a few of the biggest things I could think of when it comes to cons, let me know in the comments what you think as well.
It's really old The program is old, it was released in 2002 and since, has only had the minimal updates possible. The UI had a face lift a few years ago, which was a big help, but overall the program is not flashy. Unless you have foils and expensive versions of cards (which does exist on MTGO by the way), the game isn’t flashy on paper either. This is another reason I advocate MTGO as an alternative for paper players, as it is a replication of how they enjoy the game anyway.
As you can see from a game of Pioneer being played right here, it's not that visually appealing. Sure, you get the idea of what is happening, but unlike its Arena counterpart that has flashy animations when cards enter the battlefield, it's behind the times. I promise you though, once you get used to the visuals and the commands, the game takes on a life of its own.
Honestly, this may be the biggest downside of all to MTGO. The program is only available on Windows. Yeah, you heard that right, windows only. No apple, no Linux, no mobile, nothing. There is no defense in this part of the program, it should have had this update a million years ago, but alas, never came. Wizards frequently take their eye off the prize. Now Arena does have Apple and mobile support and that's great, only wish they would do that with MTGO, it would be perfect!
Ok, so there are a few cons to the program and for many players, these cons are enough that they do not participate in the program. Can’t argue with that, if the cons outweighs the pros for you, it makes sense you do not partake. Some players also say that they do not wish to maintain two collections, one on MTGO and Paper. I don’t see that argument enough for it to get a full con in my book, but it is understandable if you have that view.
There is a learning curve to the program and some players find that difficult. MTGO is the game in a computer program, so every single phase of the game has to be represented. From untap, to begin combat, to end step, each spot has the ability for a player to respond and the program respects that. With that being said, there are shortcuts that are utilized to make that experience much easier, but it takes a while to get used to it. In the beginning, there is a lot of clicking the “ok” button. Once you get past this though, you will begin to appreciate the phases of the game in a whole new manner and even learn a little something about the game you may not have known before.
The Unsocial Network The other downside of MTGO is it inherently puts you by yourself. At a local game store playing paper, you are surrounded by friends, laughing, chatting, and having a good time. Without the right set up, MTGO leaves you alone with yourself and a computer program. This is probably the biggest downside to the program. It doesn’t lend itself to be a social outlet, which for many players, is one of the reasons they play the game. That is where the Magic Online Society comes into play! We act as your digital LGS so you can get the full benefit out of the MTGO program. You can find more information on us here. Ok, so we got the bad things out of the way, let's flip it to positive. Join our Discord today!
Now let's talk about the positives regarding MTGO. Here I am going to go a bit wild, this may be a bit lengthy, so please bear with me. Let's start where it matters the most, in the pockets. Your wallet pockets that is.
MTGO has some strengths to casual or semi-casual play that paper will never have. One of these is affordability. There is no way to deny this, MTGO is just cheaper than paper magic, deck prices are cheaper than paper as a whole. Let's look at some examples, the most obvious of which will be vintage. Lets compare the prices of a paper deck and MTGO deck.
As you can see, in paper a Prison Shops Vintage deck will cost you a staggering 100,000 USD to play. This is absurd and only a very small portion of the paper community will ever be able to experience it. Compare that with the MTGO price of 520 tix, which if you buy at CardHoarder, you will get an 8% cash discount bringing the price to 470 USD. Compared to the paper price, tenfold more people would be able to enjoy playing this deck. This is repeatable across formats with obviously not as drastic changes, but it's relevant. Now we all know that certain cards on MTGO are outrageous, but even the most expensive card on MTGO is currently 120 tix or roughly 110 USD. So it is cheaper. Let's look at one more price difference, a common commander and eternal staple, Sylvan Library.
As you can see for a version that is both available on MTGO and paper, the price difference is staggering. Believe it or not, that's not even the most expensive version of that card on MTGO, you can get a copy of Sylvan Library for less than a penny! So depending on what you are playing, MTGO can be played for next to nothing.
MTGO has the ability to trade cards between players. Unlike Arena, you are stuck with the cards on your account forever, with MTGO, you can trade these cards back and forth. This very simple yet important feature has allowed something truly innovative, and that is the concept of a rental service.
If you want to simply pay a flat fee per month, and have access to up to 1300 tickets worth of cards at one time, then renting cards is for you. There are two bot chains that offer these services, and the one we will recommend in this article is CardHoarder. As a disclaimer, the Magic Online Society is sponsored by CardHoarder, so we recommend them, as they do a great service for the MTGO community, but there is another rental provider, which is ManaTraders. Feel free to use whichever one you prefer.
Renting is perfect for the very competitive individual who wants to play in high competition level events. Having the rental account lets you adapt to the metagame at lightning speed, keeping you on top of your game. For highly competitive players who wish to grind value, renting also serves as a cost saving measure, as new cards that release are typically very expensive during the first weeks and months, so having access to the rental accounts will give access to the best new cards without having to expend a considerable amount of money with each new set.
This brings us right into our next pro of the program, competition. MTGO is the place for some of the highest levels of competitive Magic. MTGO has its very own championship series, titled Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS). This is run through Wizards of the Coast Organized Play and it comes with considerable prestige and reward. Only the absolute best magic players make it to the MOCS. Every sanctioned constructed format is represented, meaning that the access to high levels of competition is endless.
Throughout the year, there are 4 qualifying seasons for premier play. The very slimmed down version is that you need to earn Qualifier Points during each season through a variety of Organized Play Leagues, Preliminaries, and Challenges. The Qualifier points feed into Qualifier and Super Qualifier events, which feed into Showcase events, which feed into the MOCS. It takes dedication and skill to win a MOCS, so if competition drives you, it's something to consider! More information can be found on the Wizards Premier Play website.
The Metagame Mover
Without MTGO, the eternal formats would be stagnant. The fact that Eternal formats are considerably cheaper, combined with the ability to play high level competition and being able to play these events on your own schedule, means that MTGO moves eternal metagames. There are major Pioneer, Modern, Legacy and Vintages challenges every weekend that draw a large number of high profile and competitive players. These results are analyzed by countless podcasts, websites, and players throughout the world before paper events even have the chance to release the product.
MTGO has proven itself to be a reliable source of up to date metagame information, innovators of formats utilize the program to develop the best strategies and new ideas to beat the metagame.
Just look at the last 2 weeks of November 2021 alone, all the results posted are from MTGO events. With COVID-19 closing many shops and tournaments down across the world, people were flocking to MTGO to have their MTG outlet and the results have even made the paper secondary markets move. Many people forget that without MTGO, the metagame of our favorite formats, would not be as fluid as they are today.
Taking a step back from competitive play for a minute, let's talk about something else that is amazing about MTGO. Multiplayer games of up to 4 people can be played on the program. This means one thing, you can play Commander on MTGO. Yes, you heard that right, you can play commander on MTGO. Combine this with the earlier mention of how affordable it is, you have something amazing. People can play commander, whenever they want, with up to 4 people at a fraction of the cost of a paper deck. Combine this with you literally only need 1 copy of the card in your collection, since you can have as many decks as you want made and only use one at a time, is so underrated. In my humble opinion, commander is by far the most highly underrated aspect of MTGO. You can build an entire EDH deck for as little as a dollar and play that deck whenever you want from the comfort of your own home.
One issue with EDH on MTGO is the lack of clear rules and expectations in the game. If someone wants to play casual, and another joins with a cEDH deck, it can be frustrating. Combine that with lack of social interaction, honestly it's not that great. Some players type their expectations in the comments, like in the picture above, but that doesn't work great all the time. If only there was a place where people could come together on Magic Online to form playgroups and have clear expectations of the type of commander they want to play. (There is! It's the MagicOnlineSociety!!)
I believe the reason that people do not utilize commander on MTGO as frequently is the lack of social interaction. Well, again The Magic Online Society is here to help. Within our discord, we have voice chat channels for commander plays to get into to play the format in a more social interaction. We highly encourage you to give this a try, having playgroups develop on the program has been great to watch happen.
It is also recommended to have knowledge of hotkeys in commander, as there are 4 players, each has to respond to the stack and most through phases, without communication between players, it can become a bit clunky.
For instance, if player A plays a spell, player B, C & D, need to click ok. There are shortcuts that will pass priority so they don’t have to do this and it's highly encouraged. Having people in the same playgroup will ensure that all members of the group can communicate to keep the flow of the game at an appropriate pace.
Private Run Event Circuits
MTGO does something special that paper usually does not, that is host free to play events in multiple formats. The Magic Online Society alone hosts 4 weekly constructed tournaments and a Premodern monthly league. There are many websites that host a variety of MTGO tournaments for free. These sites include MTGMelee, Gatherling & CardsRealm. You do not need to be a hardcore MTG grinder to get the benefit of the program. If you like FNM style, swiss round events without breaking the bank, you are covered!
Many of these events have prizes associated with them, at no cost to the player. CardHoarder is the sponsor of the Magic Online Society events, but there are other sponsors for many events as well. If you pay attention to our website at all, you know that we even created a guide to build your very own collection on MTGO completely for free, utilizing these private run event circuits.
Check out these awesome free to play tournaments, I’m sure you will enjoy yourself.
The last positive that I will talk about in this article is collection management. When it comes to paper magic, when you want to change something in your deck, you have to sift through your collection, find the card, find the card you want and replace it. Afterwards you need to store the card that you took out. No matter how you splice it, in paper, collection management is tough. You need intense organization skills to manage it properly.
With MTGO, its done all for you. You can easily manage decks in your collection, card searching is simple and its click to remove, click to add. An example looks like this.
I would just select the deck that I want to edit, and click to remove cards. Then search cards using the search filter, can be done by name, format, set, rarity, or even text in the card. Combine this with no sleeving and unsleeving, what a stressor and money saver! You can take the 12 dollars you would have paid for sleeves and buy a commander deck, and then play that commander deck immediately!
There You Have It
So there you have it, my argument in favor of MTGO! With all of this being said, I just love the game of Magic. It has changed my life in so many ways, my best friends I have found through this game. I want it to be played in all formats, both paper and MTGO (not you, Arena). One cannot replace the other (except Arena, you can replace Arena), they live in tandem. Even myself, the owner of the Magic Online Society, maintains a paper collection that I take to my LGS, Magicfests, etc.. You don’t have to choose one or the other, you can have it all. I hope that this article highlights MTGO for you a bit and that you give it a try!
Thanks for reading this article and until next time,
Viva La Magic Online