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Getting Started with Magic Online: Playing Without Going Broke
by Michael Granaas

Thinking about taking the leap over to Magic Online? Not sure how to go about building or rebuilding your card collection? Read on for some practical advice on getting started without spending a lot of money.

My last article about Magic Online seems to have been well received. (I didn't get any hate mail anyway.) It also generated a couple of"how do I get started?" type responses. Since getting folks started in Magic is something I like doing, I thought I'd take a shot at providing some useful advice for the player who is just getting started with Magic Online. (If your experiences differ, please feel free to jump over to the forums and provide your own perspective.)

But why do I need advice about buying cards online? Doesn't it work just like buying cardboard cards?

Well, yes and no. There are two large differences between online card buying and cardboard card buying: 1) pricing structure and 2) tournament play options.

If you were around during the Magic Online beta testing, you no doubt noticed the discussions about the potential and actual pricing of Magic Online products. With cardboard, the booster packs, tourney packs, and preconstructed decks can often be obtained at a discount to full retail. Booster packs, especially, can be had at a substantial discount to full retail. (Don't believe me? Check out the price of boosters bought by the box from Starcitygames.com.) The handful of local gaming stores that I visit all sell booster packs at a discount to full retail.

With Magic Online products you are buying at full retail (from Wizards of the Coast store) or near full retail (some web-based stores). (Eventually, we will go to Magic Online, but not yet - The Ferrett) If you are used to buying your boosters by the box, moving to the online world nearly doubles the cost of the cards that you are buying. This can make a huge difference in your buying strategy. For myself, I'm spending a lot more time buying singles.

But let's back up a bit. What is the best strategy for you to use buying cards?

If you are a Limited player, you are in luck: Your life doesn't change very much. You buy whatever packs you need for playing and go play, slowly accumulating cards as you go.

If you are good, your life actually improves. For example, the sanctioned draft tournaments are eight-player tournaments. You need three packs of cards and two event tickets to enter. The first and second place players in each tournament win packs. (Eight for first and four for second.) If you win, or come in second, you have enough packs to enter another draft, but you still need the two tickets. No problem; you head over to the trade room where there are traders and dealers waiting to trade tickets for your unused cards and packs.

At this point, the good players are playing for free. They win packs and sell cards for tickets so don't actually need any cash to continue playing.

Even if you aren't very good, if you only play draft you can participate in this game - up to a point. If you've drafted some good rares or uncommons, you can pop over to the trading room and trade for the tickets and packs you need for your next draft. You may not get enough tickets and products to play your next draft for free, but you'll cut your cost of playing.

If you play in the unsanctioned drafts, you don't need to provide any tickets, and you get to keep whatever cards you draft. There are no prizes in the unsanctioned events, but if you are building up your collection this is a viable way to go.

So if your format of choice is draft, your life doesn't change much at all. The only difference is that there are always folks looking to trade for the cards you drafted just a couple of mouse clicks away.

If your preferred format is Sealed, you too will experience a fairly limited change in your lifestyle. Again you'll need to buy a few packs to get started, but if you are really good you'll win packs and go through some of the trading routines that the drafters use.

You also have the option of joining a Sealed deck league. This is my favorite format for getting started, since it is pretty cost-efficient. If I knew then what I know now, I would start out playing in the sealed deck leagues exclusively.

For sealed deck league, you buy a standard tourney pack and two boosters and build your best Sealed deck. You then play up to five matches per week (towards your league standing... You can play more matches towards tiebreakers) with those cards for at least four weeks. Every week, you get to add one booster pack to your card pool, so that by the fourth week you have a deck built from a tournament pack and five boosters. That's a minimum of forty games over the course of a month for less than $30.

This is just a great format for the occasional player or the player who doesn't have a lot of money to put into Magic Online. If you stink at draft, like me, this is your most cost-effective way to play Magic Online. And if you decide that Sealed deck is all you want to play, you can always trade off your good cards for packs and tickets to offset the cost of your next league.

If you are a Constructed player, you have a few of options... And opening packs is not the best of them. At 110 rares per large set, you are looking at purchasing around 440 packs, for just one set, to have a reasonable shot at four of each rare. This will run you just under $1450 per large set for cards.

Sure, you could cut that in half and hope to get lucky with the rares you open - but if you have that kind of money, why open packs? There are better options: If you absolutely must have four of each card in each legal set you should know that folks do sell complete singles sets on eBay. For considerably less than $1400, you can pick up, say, four complete sets of Odyssey and not have to worry about extra commons. (You will never need more than four copies of any card for deck construction on Magic Online.)

If you have gobs of money to spend, and must have four of each card, go to eBay and buy complete sets.

If you don't have gobs of money to spend, keep reading: Or better yet, go back and read the bit about sealed deck leagues. If you join and complete two sealed deck leagues, you will have accumulated twelve of each basic land plus 240 other cards. Yes, this is not a lot of cards for constructed, but it is enough to get you started.

Now you'll need to decide whether to continue with sealed deck, open packs, play draft, or buy singles. Unless you really hate Sealed deck, I would play Sealed rather than just opening packs: Opening packs in Magic Online is not nearly as exciting as opening packs of cardboard, and this way you'll be playing as you open packs. It will take longer to build up your collection, but you'll have fun along the way - and you won't be opening lots of cards you'll never even bother to play.

If you have some skill at draft, that might be the way to go: You'll certainly have the opportunity to pick up some cards that are useful in Constructed. And if you win regularly in the sanctioned drafts, you'll have plenty of packs to trade for cards you need for your constructed deck.

If you have a favorite color or two, you will have a reasonably easy time of it. Forget about buying packs and trading cards - start by looking over all of the available preconstructed decks that include your favorite colors. In the cardboard world I don't bother with the precons unless they have a particularly good rare card or two. I (used to) open enough packs that I had the commons and uncommons. That makes the precons a pretty bad deal.

But now that I don't buy my packs by the box, I look at those decks as a collection of singles. Why? Online vendors are selling staple commons for around 30 cents each and uncommons for $1 - $2.50. As a collection of singles, I can often get $10 to $15 worth of singles in a preconstructed deck for $10; the fact that I get some additional cards I may or may not want at some later time is a bonus. Bottom line: Sometimes you can save some money buying the precons instead of singles.

Unless you need four Birds of Paradise or four of one of the other spendy rares for your deck you should be able to build a solid tournament deck for under $200. That compares pretty favorably to building a cardboard deck purchasing singles.

So if you're new to Magic Online and you're really good at draft, go draft. If you're not good at draft and don't have a lot of money, join a sealed deck league. If money is no object, then you can do pretty much anything you want.

Veterans of Magic Online should go off to the forums and tell the newbies what I got right and what I got wrong.

Michael Granaas