How to get started with Magic: The Gathering in 2017

LincLinc OwnerDetroit Icrontian
edited July 2017 in Gaming

Magic: The Gathering is nearly 25 years old and it can be a little intimidating to figure out where to begin. I'm going to walk you thru the basics of how you can buy cards and the different formats you can play, then end by making some recommendations based on what you want out of the game.


Preconstructed deck

They make some great decks that you can literally take out of the box and start playing with. The most popular of these is the "duel deck" series, with a new set annually. Duel Decks are just 2 decks designed to play well and fun together. You should be able to switch decks back and forth and the better player will very consistently win - they're very balanced.

Boxed set

Any thing with a defined cards list you receive in each package we call a "boxed set" and they're usually to supplement or build decks on your own. The most basic of boxed sets is the Deckbuilder's Toolkit which is a great resource for beginners who want to start blending their own strategies.

Booster pack

These are the heart of the game. 15 random cards from a given expansion set - 1 rare (or mythic rare in 1/8 packs), 3 uncommons, 10 commons, and 1 basic land. There's also a 16th "token" or ad card that won't have a regular back, and thus doesn't count as a Magic card. Expansion & Core sets come out 4 times a year total, typically with 150-300 cards each. That's a lot of cards! Trying to start playing this way on a budget would be very frustrating.



Usually when you say "play Magic" folks assume you mean "constructed", or "I have a 60-card deck I made at home, let's play". In constructed, you can have up to 4 of any card that isn't a basic land and 60 cards is the minimum deck size. You can further subdivide this type of play into what card sets you're allowed to play with. For beginners, you only need to know TWO: "Standard" means anything printed in the last 2 years, and "Modern" means anything printed since July 2003 (this is when the card frames changed - anything older will look radically different to you). Stick to Standard - that encompasses anything you'll find in your local card store for MSRP ($4 packs).


In this style, everyone plays a 100-card deck with no duplicates and starts with double life (40). The idea is that this is a bit more casual and lets you build up more complex combinations. This is a bad format for a beginner to attempt to deck build. Buy one of the excellent "Commander" preconstructed decks to join in; that is a no-brainer. (This is technically also a "Constructed" format but I'm breaking it out because it's so completely different from the normal mode of play).

Sealed Deck & Booster Draft

Called "limited" formats, a casual sealed game or draft are a tremendously good way for someone with a strong desire to grow in their Magic skills but not buy a ton of expensive cards. Sealed deck means you get 6 booster packs and as many basic lands as you want to build a 40-card deck. Drafting means you pick-and-pass cards from a booster pack; typically 6 or 8 people sit in a circle to do this, and open 3 packs a piece. You keep picking 1 card and passing the rest until there are no cards left, then make your deck and play a 3-round tournament.


Now that we have a foundation to talk the same lingo, we can dig into what you want to get out of the game. Here are a few common scenarios:

Boardgame dabbler

"I like playing boardgames with a few friends or significant other occassionally. Can Magic work like this?" Yes, it can. Buy the Duel Decks or any other preconstructed deck that tickles your fancy. This is exactly what they're for - a fun game without investing time or money in the meta game.

Casual budget deck builder

"I wanna have fun building my own deck and start a collection, but don't wanna drop a bunch of money." That makes good sense - in fact, it would be a really bad idea to jump into Magic by looking up expensive deck lists and buying singles. That would suck the fun out of the game for me too.

What you want is a Deckbuilder Toolkit (285 cards including 4 booster packs for under $20). When the next set comes out (4 a year), buy a Bundle Pack (10 booster packs, visual card guide & set storyline book, 2 deck boxes, and a life-tracking dice for $35). Getting a Bundle Pack is a super effective & practical way of toe dipping in the storyline of Magic's sets and getting enough new cards to try out the new set's mechanics.

Competitive budget gamer

"I don't wanna spend money unless I can have a fair, competitive experience today." I hear you! Get thee to a local card store and learn their sealed & draft schedules. Of these 2 formats, sealed is much easier format for a beginner because there is a whole meta game to a draft (keeping track of choices & figuring out what the folks on either side of you are choosing). That said, drafting is like getting to keep the "good parts" of lots of booster packs, so it can be super great for building up your card pool at home (you keep all cards after a draft or sealed - you typically pay to enter). These formats are great because you plunk down your $20 (or whatever it is) and have a great few hours of playing on a level (as in, no card investment advantage) playing field and walk away with a new addition to your card collection.

Turn it up to 11

"This all sounds great, but what's a responsible way to really dive in if I don't mind making this a line item in my monthly budget?" My current strategy is this: For each expansion set I pick up a $35 Bundle and $90 Booster Box (36 packs). I typically use most of the packs for doing sealed or draft at home to get maximum value, and the Bundle extras let me keep up with the storyline a bit. Magic also produces 1-2 supplemental products a year like a Masters (reprint) set or sets that target drafting or multiplayer specifically - I typically grab these too. All told, I budget $60 a month on average to pick up new cards.

This strategy gives you at least 1 of most cards in a set (including a full playset (4) of each common and nearly a playset of each uncommon). This serves a lot of goals. It'll give you a nice pool to build multiple Standard Constructed decks, it gives you a few duplicate rares for trading (or doubling down on a deck strategy), and it'll also make for a nice Commander deck card pool eventually (tho I really do recommend buying the Commander products if you want to focus on that in the short term).

What if we turned it to, like, 5?

Split a booster box between you and a friend or two. 36 packs means it's easy to divvy up! Booster boxes are the most cost-effective way to buy cards so I highly recommend this approach. A Bundle and 1/3 box per expansion (4 annually, eschewing the extra stuff) brings you down to $22 per month. Suddenly this got real affordable, huh?


What am I buying for next weekend?

I hope this showed you a quick overview of Magic in 2017 and helped dispel the myth you need to spend your entire paycheck on Magic or plan decks all weekend if you want to have some serious fun with it. A lake is plenty deep if you wanna go diving, but there's more ways to enjoy it from the shallows & surface.

What's your favorite strategy for introducing new folks to the game? Did you take my advice and wanna report back? Let me know!



  • RahnalH102RahnalH102 the Green Devout, Veteran Monster Hunter, Creature Enthusiast New Mexico Icrontian

    I had been wondering what I might need to do to play Magic next time I visited ICHQ so this is very helpful. Thanks Linc!

    What's your favorite strategy for introducing new folks to the game?
    I haven't developed a strat around it but this happened:
    This past semester me and my brother noticed a new friend of ours playing Yugioh on his laptop we asked him what kinds of CTCG games he's played before. Mostly Yugioh was his answer. Next day he brings his Yugioh decks and I bring a bunch of decks of all types of games and we play in our freetime at the college. After a couple rounds of what he's used to, I ask him if he wants to try a different game like Magic for example. He agrees I let him choose one of the decks I brought and then I instruct him as we go. He bought a bunch of his own the next day or so.

    We play some rounds every now and then throughout the semester and others at the college notice, and either are returning players or have heard of it before but never played before. They got converted too. :biggrin:

    As a whole, this was the first time I played any CTCG in a long time and it was nice to just play for the fun of it again.

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    This is a great site:

  • sazboomsazboom White Lake MI Icrontian

    Thanks for this write-up @Linc I've tried a couple times to get out of the gate with MTG and stalled. A few people suggested Duels of the Planeswalkers video game as a good trainer. It was okay but I wouldn't call it fun. But I am now extremely curious about Commander decks. Those sound really fun to me because it gives the game a 'character' to latch onto. Do you have an Commander Decks you would recommend?

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    @sazboom said:
    Do you have an Commander Decks you would recommend?

    Commander is all about picking your colors, then choosing a character that embodies those colors in the way you want to play them. I highly recommend Mark Rosewater's article Pie Fight to get a quick primer on Magic's colors, what they represent, and how they interact. Then you can look at what's available.

    There are mono-, two-, three- and even four-color Commander decks available at retail, tho the easiest to find will be whichever they released most recently. 2016's where 4-color, while 2015's were 2-color. They often have descriptive names and you can tell a lot by looking at the Commander card, which is of course at the front of the box so you can read it.

    Or, pick up this year's release "Commander Anthology 2017" which is a collection of 4 decks that will pair well. That's probably the easiest way to experiment, tho it gets a little more pricey to buy a 4-pack obviously.

  • Creeperbane2Creeperbane2 Victorian Scoundrel Indianapolis, IN Icrontian
    edited July 2017

    Dollar tree $1 packs I have found are pretty good, you have to be able to spot fakes. But the legit ones consist of cards repackaged by overstock clearinghouses. I have had my share of good pulls and found things going back to Ravnica, and the first Inastrad,

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    @Creeperbane2 said:
    you have to be able to spot fakes.

    I don't think any scenario where you need to be equipped to spot fake cards is good advice for a beginner.

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    A couple interesting formats I stumbled upon:

    Peasant Magic

    Similar to Pauper Magic (commons-only) except you get 5 Uncommons to spice things up.

    • Rare cards are banned.
    • You may have up to 5 Uncommon cards in your deck total.
    • Otherwise, normal constructed rules (60-card decks, sideboard, etc).
    • All sets allowed.

    Frontier Magic

    This is like a compromise between Modern (2003 to present) and Standard (last 2 years only).

    • Only sets from Magic 2015 to present allowed.
    • Normal constructed rules.
  • sharkydartsharkydart KY Icrontian

    Peasant sounds nice - more diverse than pauper - off the top of my head, it seems to include a lot of high-end removal.

    I like frontier because my morph deck is playable, but at the same time, I don't like how limited the card pool is compared to modern. There are some sets that are technically modern-legal, but whose cards are mostly unplayable in the format, that aren't legal in Frontier, which Frontier should incorporate. If Frontier were more about being a version of Modern without fast mana, phyrexian mana, and certain hate cards, it would be more interesting.

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    @sharkydart said:
    I like frontier because my morph deck is playable, but at the same time, I don't like how limited the card pool is compared to modern.

    I'm more interested in exactly the smaller card pool, as someone who just jumped back in in 2015 and wants to recruit more folks to play.

    My collection is ironically weakest exactly where Modern is strongest - those first ~6 years from Mirrodin to Alara. Making a new cutoff at M15 sounds like a great spot to catch a new wave of interest.

  • TwoheartedTwohearted New Boston, MI Member

    If I was to introduce someone to MTG, I would use Card Kingdom's battle decks. Most of WOTC's dual decks are all over the place strategy wise and suffer from the problem of having one bomb and neither deck having enough answers to them.

    And i agree in saying that Commander is probably the worst format to learn the game with, but can be one of the most fun playing. The wife and I play dual commander almost nightly with some of the precons.

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian
    edited February 2018
  • KarmaKarma Likes yoga Icrontian
    edited May 2018

    SO I started a new job. One where I am surrounded by lots of MtG players. I have gotten sucked in to play at lunch. I am interested in the game now. I've been borrowing a friends deck for a while now, looking to get a few of my own. You got any advice for 2018 @Linc ?

  • BobbyDigiBobbyDigi ? R U #Hats ! TX Icrontian

    @Karma said:
    SO I started a new job. One where I am surrounded by lots of MtG players. I have gotten sucked in to play at lunch. I am interested in the game now. I've been borrowing a friends deck for a while now, looking to get a few of my own. You got any advice for 2018 @Linc ?

    You should just come to Epic and he'll teach you Magic.


  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian
    edited May 2018

    @Karma said:
    I've been borrowing a friends deck for a while now, looking to get a few of my own. You got any advice for 2018 @Linc ?

    What are the rules they're playing, if any? Constructed (60 cards, up to 4 of each card) or Commander (100 cards, 1 of each)? Any sets or just recent ones?

    If they're doing Constructed (as I hope/suspect), I'd pick up a "Challenger Deck" as step one if you're already up and running on the rules fairly well. Those are designed to be competitive right out of the box in "Standard" (sets from the last two years, which is what gets played most at Friday Night Magic events). Maybe get a Bundle Pack of Dominaria to compliment it with if you want to start brewing your own deck a bit.

    If they're doing Modern (2003 onward) Constructed and very good at it, you might ask them to bring it down a notch and play you in Standard (Last 2 years, rotating) for a while. Personally, if I played Constructed more, I'd wanna stick to Standard. Modern is a money sink to get up the curve, which I don't enjoy. Standard cards are all currently in print, so you can open them naturally via booster packs rather than buying singles on the $econdary market.

    If it's Commander, I'd get one of the preconstructed ones they offer (read the descriptions and just pick whichever sounds most appealing to you) and stick with that for a little while until you feel it out a bit more. I think Commander is very challenging as a learning format and much easier to get crushed if you get the deck building wrong.

  • KarmaKarma Likes yoga Icrontian

    Yeah it's constructed. They don't go all out when we play yet. They use it a lot to test different decks. Any in specific I should be looking for?

    I have a feeling I'll end up spending a lot of time deck building once i get going.

  • KarmaKarma Likes yoga Icrontian

    I went ahead and bought all 4 to a get me going.

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    @Karma said:
    I went ahead and bought all 4 to a get me going.

    Seems a safe bet. Challenger Decks are brand new, which is why I didn't specify - only the latest set has them so there wasn't a bad choice.

  • KarmaKarma Likes yoga Icrontian

    I player against a second sub deck. Fuck that thing. Playing along and suddenly everyone loses.

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