A Player's Guide To Magic: The Gathering Online
Hello! I'm CJ Lack and this is my player's guide to Magic Online. Think of it like one of those old PRIMA guides except instead of telling you how to beat a game it tells you how to become perpetually involved in it. But it's fun and if you don't disconnect and swear at all of your opponents you can meet some pretty cool people.
What is Magic Online?
Magic Online—or MODO as I will henceforth refer to it as the original name was Magic Online with Digital Objects—is an online pay-to-play program that allows you to enter the world of Magic from the comfort of your very own home apartment or anywhere you're leeching Wi-Fi. It's a (mostly) great way to play Magic whether because your local store is closed you live in an isolated area or you hate other human beings. If any of these are the case then MODO is perfect for you; games are available all the time (except on Wednesday mornings) and you can freely insult people under the veil of anonymity (unless your username is your real name for god knows what reason)!
Interesting... How does it work?
MODO is actually a fairly simple system. There's a store in which you can purchase tickets (equivalent to dollars) or product (functionally identical to paper product) to utilize within the Magic Online program. Tickets (or tix as colloquially known) are the lifeblood of the Magic Online player. They are used to buy and sell cards and enter tournaments both of which will be your main activities on MODO.
Wow that sounds great! How do I get started?
Good question! There are many different things you can do on MODO and it's important to be aware of all of them especially if you plan on playing in competitive events. In addition to the varying levels of competition there are a variety of formats available to play—some of them exclusive to MODO! Let's break them down!
The Formats: Constructed
Standard: Standard is definitively the most popular constructed format on MODO with many of the Daily Events (prescheduled events as opposed to those that fire on demand) maxing out at 128 players. It's fairly easy to get into and if you want to rake in some tix it's one of the better formats in which to invest.
Modern: Modern events were fairly popular during PTQ season but have recently been dwindling in popularity with some of the events not firing at all. Card availability is just as much an issue on MODO as it is in paper Magic so it's not surprising to see the format lose some of its steam from the PTQ season.
Extended: Nobody plays Extended. At all. It's basically a joke at this point actually. It's just the bad parts of old Standards and the unexciting cards in Modern. And that's awful.
Legacy: Sadly Legacy isn't particularly popular on MODO; not only are the cards even harder to acquire than those in Modern the format isn't supported as a PTQ season. Witnessing a Legacy event fire is akin to seeing Haley's Comet.
Classic: Classic is essentially MODO's equivalent of Vintage sans the Power 9 and a few other cards. It's a pretty neat format though like Legacy incredibly expensive to get into. These events don't tend to fire very often either. This is the last format you should be looking to get into when you start playing MODO.
Block Constructed: Though not particularly popular in paper (anymore) Block Constructed has a significant following on MODO due to the fair amount of support it receives. It's cheap easy to get into and ultimately pretty fun so it's certainly something worth looking into if you're looking to break into Constructed online.
Pauper: Pauper is a format that is generally exclusive to MODO though I believe some events have sprung up for it as a result of its online popularity. As a format in which the only legal cards are commons Pauper is by far the easiest Constructed format to get into with many decks costing fewer than ten tickets. It's a great format and along with Block Constructed is the best format to play to farm a decent amount of tix.
Momir Basic: Momir Basic is a format completely exclusive to MODO and it's pretty much the best format ever. Your deck consists of the Momir Vig avatar—which you can obtain through either the Classifieds section or the Momir Basic Event Deck in the Magic Online Store—and 60 basic lands. Once per turn at sorcery speed you can activate the avatar's ability: "Pay X discard a card: Put a random creature token with converted mana cost X into play." Yes any creature in MODO's database aside from the backs of double-faced cards. The fact that this qualifies as "Constructed" is kind of a misnomer but whatever—it's fun it's cheap and you can win prizes playing it. Just don't hit Phage!
Kaleidoscope: Kaleidoscope is a format in which you can only use multicolor cards. I've literally never seen one of these events fire. If you do screenshot it. It's the MODO equivalent of a Bigfoot sighting.
(Standard) Singleton: As the name suggests this is a highlander format; it's like EDH/Commander but without the general. These only fire casually and even then very rarely but they seem pretty fun and I wish they'd burgeon in popularity if only just a bit.
The Formats: Limited
Draft: Drafting works essentially the same on MODO as it does in paper but with some key differences. The main discrepancy is that you can't see who is sitting where meaning you won't necessarily be able to tell which opponent's might have which cards you've passed. As such flip cards aren't shown to other players so you can't signal the same way you can in paper Magic.
Sealed: Sealed is the same as in paper Magic now made even easier by the fact that you don't need to register pools. You "open" your six packs and you make a deck. Simple as that. It's made even easier by the fact that you have helpful buttons like "sort by rarity" and "sort by converted mana cost" allowing for incredibly efficient deckbuilding.
Sealed (4-Booster): MODO also has the option to do 4-Booster Sealed in which you only get four packs (obviously) with which you build a 30-card deck. It's pretty dumb and I don't really recommend it but I suppose it's worth playing once for the sake of novelty.
Wow that is a lot of options! Yes MODO offers a wide array of ways to play and I'm sure you'll want to indulge in all of them at some point. But how is it possible to acquire all of these cards? Isn't it difficult? Not necessarily as long as you understand…
Trading is one of the most important aspects of MODO and it's imperative that you familiarize yourself with it unless you want to be buying from the store every time you want to play in an event. There are two main ways to trade: with other people and with bots. They both have their ups and downs and there are situations where you'll want to utilize one or the other in particular.
People are generally better when you're looking to sell especially if the card in question is something niche like a promo from a major event. You can also get better deals on more generic cards by trading with other users though you might have to be patient.
Bots are ideal for convenience. They're perfect for unloading excess packs that you acquire in Constructed events or conversely for quickly grabbing stuff you may need for an upcoming Daily. Bots charge a bit more on most cards—usually about one ticket—but it's the cost of convenience.
Trading itself takes place in either the Classifieds section or the Auction Room. The former consists of set prices from both other users and bots whilst the latter allows you to bid on items against other players.
An important tip: don't immediately unload excess bulk. Not only is it possible for cards to spike in value (I remember selling Elesh Norns for three tix when New Phyrexiawas released); you might want to redeem a set for paper cards. MODO offers a service through which for a nominal fee you can swap a complete set of online cards for a paper set which will be mailed to you. And considering paper cards tend to be worth significantly more it's a great deal.
One of the most enticing aspects of MODO (at least for me) is the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS). It's a monthly tournament that you can qualify for by earning Qualifier Points or QPs. It takes fifteen to qualify but earning more can earn you byes in the tournament which quite frankly are very important.
Playing in the MOCS is a great way to get exposure on MODO and along with PTQs serves to introduce high-level competition into the environment. The MOCS is awesome and I highly recommend anyone who plans to play MODO seriously prepare for it.
But what's the best way to earn QPs? Well that takes us to…
MODO is chock-full of various events all with different payouts—some far more efficient than others. Some of them are actually inefficient and it's best to steer clear of them entirely especially if you're looking at your EV or "expected value." EV is a way of determining which events are more efficient in terms of monetary bonuses. Let's examine them in escalating levels of efficiency:
2-Man Queue: These are the simplest of all the queues on MODO. They're located in the Constructed Queues room and fire as soon as two people have joined whichever format appeals to them. Each player uses two tix to enter and the winner gets a pack. Packs given out through prize support are almost never more than four tix so your EV in these fairly low. Beyond that you don't earn any QPs for them so 2-Mans don't have a ton going for them. Of course if you need to jam a ton of games in preparation for another tournament 2-Mans are perfect especially if you're confident in what you're playing.
8-Man Queue: These are far more efficient in terms of EV than 2-Mans in addition to being far more prevalent. All Draft Queues are 8-Mans in addition to those found in the Constructed Queues room. The Constructed 8-Mans pay out in the form of 5-3-2-2: five packs for first three for second and two for third and fourth. These have decent EV as winning the first round will put you up about one ticket with each consecutive round earning you significantly more. 8-Man Constructed queues are also perfect for playing a deck that you're confident in yet don't want published on the What's Happening page on the main Magic Online page. Additionally every 8-Man queue will award a QP to the winner.
The Draft Queues can be broken down even further as they come in three different varieties which can be found in the Limited Queues room:
8-4: The most competitive of the Draft queues 8-4s pay out eight packs to first and four to second; all other players get nothing but what they open in the draft itself. These have the best EV of all three draft queues…which is to say it's still not very good. I personally draft these exclusively but that's not to say that the other two don't have their benefits. Well one of them does.
Note: Occasionally the two finalists will opt to "split" the prizes at 6-6 ensuring both players make a decent profit. The players do this by having one player concede the match with the "winner" trading the remaining two packs. Personally I've never been screwed over on a split but others certainly have—be careful!
Swiss: Swiss is the perfect queue for new players or even people just looking to play for fun. You earn a pack for each round you win so theoretically payouts are 3-2-2-2-1-1-1-0. Terrible EV but if you're a newer player just looking to learn a format then there's nothing better.
4-3-2-2: These are awful. I hate them. They're single elimination like the 8-4s but with far worse EV. Beyond that the Constructed 8-Mans are 5-3-2-2s. This pays out one fewer pack for no reason at all. What gives? Don't play these. Ever. If anything boycott them. They're awful. I still hate them.
But let's not forget the goodies in the Scheduled Events room!
Daily Events: The bread and butter of the MODO grinder Daily Events (DEs) are held either on the hour or at the half-hour mark of every hour of every day. Well except Wednesday mornings during downtime which generally occurs from 4 AM to 10 AM PST. They're always four rounds with prizes being determined by record. These have great EV for both Limited and Constructed and are without a doubt where you should be spending more of your time if you plan on building up a decent collection. They're some of the best sources of QPs as well with 4-0 players earning three and 3-1 players earning one. Furthermore 4-0 players earn 11 packs and 3-1 players earn 6 ensuring a good profit. The DEs are second in popularity only to…
Premier Events: Premier Events are awesome. Taking place every Friday through Sunday they function similarly to paper tournaments with rounds scaling based on how many participants enter. There's a cut to a Top 8 and if it's a Limited event you even get to draft again! Wow! These are also a great source of QPs with everyone in the Top 8 getting at least three with up to as many as six for the winner—what a deal!
However the prize payouts are very top-heavy; only those in the Top 8 will make a profit with those placing 9th through 6th only making a tiny bit in Constructed and less than their entry fee back in Limited. As much as I like playing Premier Events I can't really recommend them to newer players. Unless you're confident in your abilities as a player I'd stay away from them when first getting into MODO.
Constructed is what you need to be doing if you want to sustain a collection on MODO. Limited is fun but it's not possible to build up a decent collection by doing Draft and Sealed exclusively. Consider Limited (and drafting in particular) a treat for doing well in Constructed events. Doing nothing but grinding drafts is only going to make you frustrated and rack up a ton of bills.
Establish a network of friends. People are more than glad to lend you cards if necessary assuming you've proven yourself reliable and trustworthy. Though they don't carry the same weight as they used to clans are a great way to connect with people in addition to Internet forums IRC channels and more.
Track your progress! There's a great website called MTGO Academy that keeps a record of your placement in Daily Events and Premier Events as well as your decklists. It's a neat tool and though it doesn't track Limited it's great for seeing the progression of both yourself and others. Here's mine for example.
Seriously don't just draft. I can't stress that enough. Be disciplined and you'll be successful. That's the key to MODO: have fun but not at the expense of your wallet and your dreams. So register an account kick back relax and play some Magic.
And I'll see you there.
Cory J. Lack
cjlack92 on MODO
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