Magic the Gathering on a Budget: Getting Players Started

John is here with a guide on getting new players started with Magic the Gathering


When some­one gets ini­tial­ly in­ter­est­ed in Magic the Gathering, one of the first things they ask is “How can I get start­ed?” quick­ly fol­lowed by “but how much is that go­ing to cost?” Magic has a rep­u­ta­tion as an ex­pen­sive game to get into, when in re­al­i­ty get­ting start­ing with ca­su­al play (which is — let’s face it — where most of the fun is to be had) doesn’t need to cost very much, or any­thing at all. This guide is geared to­wards com­plete­ly new play­ers, or ca­su­al play­ers, who might have re­ceived old cards from friends, and also serves to in­form vet­er­an play­ers on get­ting play­ers start­ed in their beloved hobby.

Ruleset of the Planeswalkers

If you want to sim­ply learn the ba­sic rules of Magic the Gathering, then Duels of the Planeswalkers is where most peo­ple start get­ting into  — or get­ting back into — Magic. I would rec­om­mend Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 or 2014, as these of­fer a good starter ex­pe­ri­ence with­out the con­fus­ing pres­sure of freemi­um el­e­ments. A lot of play­ers are too em­bar­rassed to play with more ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple right away, and a good solo ex­pe­ri­ence against an AI is a nice way to ease you into Magic the Gathering. There are a lot of on­line places that ba­sic rules can be looked up as well.

Doing it for Free

new players side 1Ideally, the first phys­i­cal cards a new play­er gets shouldn’t cost them any­thing at all. I’m told that se­lect stores of­fer a sam­ple deck that can be giv­en to play­ers for free as a taster (the first ones al­ways free right?), but I have nev­er ac­tu­al­ly seen this in per­son. Perhaps they are less wide­spread in the UK, or just my area. I only found out about them when M15 came out, and some cards were le­gal, but not in boost­ers — com­ing from the sam­ple decks. Though if you can get hold of one of these, they are great.

The best thing vet­er­an play­ers can do is give away some of their old draft fod­der. They might nev­er leave your stor­age box­es, and have no val­ue to you but for those Core Set com­mons you are nev­er touch­ing again are gold-dust to play­ers who don’t have a col­lec­tion. New play­ers don’t care if cards are good or bad, they just need any cards to learn to play with. Build some of your old bulk into decks and of­fer to teach that friend who has ex­pressed in­ter­est in Magic. Some stores also take in so called “draft chaff,” and share it out to new players.

In the past, I’ve seen com­mons sim­ply thrown away by vet­er­an play­ers who feel they are just clut­ter, and that’s a real waste. If you want to start some­one off with deck­build­ing, don’t for­get they will also need lands. Most of us take hav­ing too many lands for grant­ed, but new play­ers need enough of them to not have to con­stant­ly take apart their decks.

I should note, though, that if some­one isn’t in­ter­est­ed in get­ting into Magic then sim­ply dump­ing some old com­mons on them is just go­ing to ir­ri­tate them. Be help­ful but not overzealous.

For you new play­ers, the best way to get bet­ter at the game is to spend time with oth­er Magic play­ers and play games; most of us have a Magic play­ing friend who taught us the game. If you don’t have any friends that reg­u­lar­ly play Magic then that can be trick­i­er quest. Good stores tend to be wel­com­ing to new play­ers. Even if those play­ers are not big spenders be­cause fos­ter­ing a com­mu­ni­ty keeps them in busi­ness. So don’t feel put off from ask­ing for some help from your lo­cal shops. Many peo­ple will lend you a deck to try the game out. Taking that first step can be the hard­est part, but it will reap rewards.

What Not to Buy

Let’s talk about the pur­chas­es new play­ers shouldn’t make. A big mis­take I see a lot of new play­ers mak­ing is that they think they are go­ing to open a fat pack, or a boost­er box, and have a Standard playable deck right off the bat. I can tell you right now this isn’t go­ing to hap­pen. If you sim­ply en­joy buy­ing, and open­ing packs, then go for it. If you are play­ing Sealed or Draft — for­mats not suit­ed to com­plete­ly new play­ers — you aren’t go­ing to get much game­play from these packs and boxes.

Players try­ing to in­tro­duce their friends to Magic the Gathering should make sure to start from first prin­ci­ples; sim­ply putting some­one into a draft, or a pre-release event, isn’t go­ing to be a good time when they don’t know the rules. Don’t have them run be­fore they can walk.

Equally as much, I see a lot of new play­ers go­ing for in­tro packs as their first prod­uct. These are bet­ter than loose boost­ers in terms of game­play. Since you have a pre-constructed deck, but they are made up en­tire­ly of bulk. For the price that you would pay, an in­tro pack’s main po­ten­tial source of val­ue is in the two boost­er packs in­clud­ed, and they might not con­tain any­thing use­ful to put in your only deck. Intro packs do have the ad­van­tage of be­ing Standard le­gal, but their power-level is only ap­pro­pri­ate for ca­su­al play.

Choosing Wisely

What you buy first is dic­tat­ed by what you want out of the game. The three prod­ucts I would rec­om­mend are Deckbuilders Toolkits, Clash Packs, and Duel Decks.

If you’re look­ing for in­stant game­play then a Clash Pack/Duel Deck is far su­pe­ri­or to an in­tro pack be­cause you get two decks de­signed to play against each oth­er. This is a cheap way to have bal­anced and fun game­play, and as we men­tioned in our re­view of the Magic Origins Clash Pack the best of these prod­ucts are also just a plain good value.

new player insert 1

If you’re look­ing to learn more of the deck­build­ing side of the game, and you want to have more of a pool/collection of cards, then a Deckbuilders Toolkit is ide­al. It’s the prod­uct many in my play­ground bought to get into, or back into, the game as it pro­vides 285 cards, a de­cent amount of land, and a box to put it all in. I some­times just seek out the Deckbuilders Toolkit box­es; they are only card­board, but they are stur­dy, have at­trac­tive art, and are a handy size for trans­port­ing cards at a cost of about $2. The full prod­uct costs not much more than an intro-pack, but has the ben­e­fit of in­clud­ing near­ly 200 more cards. Bulk is bad for vet­er­an play­ers but is cer­tain­ly prefer­able for new ones.

Branching Out

Players in­ter­est­ed in dif­fer­ent for­mats like Commander should also look out for the pre­vi­ous year’s Commander prod­ucts. You can cur­rent­ly get the Commander 2013 and 2014 pre-constructed decks for around $20 on­line — well be­low MSRP. You can re­al­ly go straight into a Commander game with them. Many of the decks also in­clude gen­er­al­ly pow­er­ful cards like Wurmcoil Engine and Skullclamp.

As we’ve dis­cussed in a pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle, Cube is a great way for play­ers new to draft­ing to learn how to draft for free, or for a very small fee, de­pend­ing on the cube owner.

Summing Up

The dream route into Magic in­volves men­tor­ing from old­er play­ers, and not spend­ing a pen­ny on cards. But when that isn’t pos­si­ble there are a lot of good op­tions for most kinds of play­ers out there. Not all Magic prod­ucts will be of use to a new play­er, and burnout due to over ex­pen­di­ture is a good way for new play­ers to rapid­ly loose in­ter­est in the game. Products that pro­vides new­bie friend­ly game­play and re­sources should be the first rec­om­men­da­tion from ex­ist­ing play­ers. And re­mem­ber, every­one was new to Magic at some point. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be a snob to­wards peo­ple less fa­mil­iar with the game than you.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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