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.

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John Sweeney
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.