JustSin's picture
By: JustSin, Dave
Jul 30 2012 10:13am
Login to post comments

So You Want to Join Magic Online... (Part 1)

I cannot even begin to count how many times on forums, in game, and through friends I have seen people looking for advice for a first-timer looking to get into Magic Online.  Often times this is a result of a lackluster playgroup or a simple need for competition, but no matter what the reason is for starting, you've come to the right place.  While Magic Online (often abbrv. as MTGO) is something I find endlessly valuable, I do realize that often times the client itself is far from beginner friendly.  I've seen people complain (and hopefully at some point we will be granted a new version...) about some interaction or misplay due to a misunderstanding of how to work a particular spell and then used that as the foundation for their not venturing further on MTGO.  My hope is to clarify some things and create a beginner's guide to the game I know and love (for that selfish person in me who is going to use this explanation for a friend and turn it into an article).

In order to reduce the crazy size of this article I'm going to be breaking this into two parts.  The first part (as seen before your very eyes) is going to be a basic introduction to getting started.  I'm going to take a look at things like using the client, signing up, and all of the absolute basics about getting started.  The second part will work with regards to the frequently asked question of "where do I start with actual game play?".  The bottom line is this.  If you're looking to get into competitive, constructed play on MTGO without spending a fortune then my personal recommendation is through Pauper.  Frequent readers of mine will know that I can go on about that format for quite a while so the second part of this mini-series is going to be a beginner's guide to Pauper.  In order to make sure my Pauper readers are still getting their biweekly competitive report you won't see part 2 for at least two weeks after reading this (also it will not be directly called "So You Want to Join Magic Online Part 2" fyi), but I'm already halfway through working on it so it will be coming soon.

Disclaimer:  We're on the verge of a new interface, which will make almost all of this obsolete... although we don't really know when...

Q:  How is Magic Online any different from Duels of the Planeswalkers 20XX that I have on my 360/iPad/PS3?
A:  I personally have not had the opportunity to play DotP so I'm not going to go into many specifics on this.  The basic notion is that Magic Online is a digital form of Paper Magic, where you can buy/trade/sell individual cards, build decks without limitations, and have access to (almost) all the sets that have been printed.  With DotP the deckbuilding and available cards are limited to players.  In Magic Online new cards are purchased (either from other players or the in client store) whereas cards can be "earned" in DotP.  If you're looking to the full Paper Magic experience then Magic Online is going to be your choice.

Q:  What is "netdecking"?
A:  This is a concept that even most Paper-only players will be familiar with.  The idea of "netdecking" is when an individual uses the internet or other shared information source in order to copy a decklist that another player has built and building that deck card for card.  The process is usually done with a deck that has won or been successful in a tournament setting.  The term is often used insultingly by implying a lack of creativity or originality.

Q:  How competitive are tournaments on Magic Online?
A:  There are two basic types of competitive play in Magic; limited and constructed.  You'll find that both formats can be very competitive and that there are a number of strong players in game.  Never go into a scheduled event or tournament game thinking that it will be an easy win.  There are the occasional matches where you'll face someone running a crazy, casual deck or where you're facing an opponent who rare-drafted in five colors, but these are the exception, not the rule.

Q:  Help I'm having technical problems with                           !!!
A:  Unfortunately I'm not a technically blessed person.  If you're having issues with the client not running or causing some type of error I recommend checking the links I've provided in the next section under "Tech Help" and hopefully you can find the answer somewhere.

Q:  Is Magic Online more/less expensive than Paper Magic?
A:  This is a topic that I'm not going to really get into.  This varies based upon sets, rarities, popularity, and a million other factors that I'm not going to get into.  To really find the answer would require a lot of math and basically busy work on calculations.  Instead I recommend articles by KaraZorel and Raddman who have taken the time to do the math on some formats.  Based on their findings alone it would seem that at the very least the cost to build decks is cheaper with Magic Online.

Q:  Can I run Magic Online with my Mac?
A:  Magic Online is currently not available in a compatible version with Mac's operating systems.  The only way that you'll be able to run Magic Online is if you're Mac is using the Windows operating system.  Again I'm not great with the technical aspect so you can check out this post on the MTGSalvation forums, which talks about the topic in much more detail.

Q:  What is an event ticket?
A:  Event tickets are items that you can either trade for with players or buy directly from the Magic Online store.  Often referred to simply as "tix", they are necessary items if you want to participate in any type of competitive play.  Event tickets cost $1 from the Magic Online store and are essentially used as currency within the game.  Selling and buying of card/packs can be done by trading tickets to players or bots.  There is a stress by Wizards, however, to not associate these tickets with actual currency in order to avoid gambling laws.

Q: What is a PRE?
A:  PRE stands for Player Run Event.  These are (usually) free-to-play tournaments that are organized and run by players as opposed to Wizards.  There are several PREs that one can play in and all of the discussion regarding these is found here on the Wizards forums.

Q:  What is the best format to start with?
A:  As I already said in my introduction, Pauper is going to be the best format to start with.  Some people will also suggest Block Constructed and that is a great choice as well.  Perhaps I am a bit biased, but I think it is easier to jump into Pauper than Block.  Usually when getting into Block you're building decks off of the cards you get during limited play and some of the big staples can be expensive.  I also find there to be a lack of creativity in Block constructed that is (at the very least) lessened in Pauper due to its ability to pull from older sets.  If you're looking for information for getting into Pauper then keep an eye for the second part of this series!

General Magic Discussion:
MTGSalvation Forums
Wizards Forums
PureMTGO Forums

Tech Help:
(the best option for in-game help is to contact your nearest ORC)
MTGSalvation Help Thread
Connection Help
Known Client Issues
Login Difficulties


Magic Online Homepage (for server status and official announcements)
Tournament Calendar
Banned/Restricted Lists
Top 10 MTGO Beginner Mistakes ** - Highly Recommended!! - **
Tutorial Regarding Planeswalker Cards (Gold Border)
Google - Does this need an explanation?

Signing Up

So you've officially decided that Magic Online is going to be the game for you?  Excellent.  You're now going to have to create an account as well as download and install the game client.  In order to do this, first click the link below (hard to miss isn't it?)

Get Started With Magic Online Here!!!

The first thing you should do is take a look at the system requirements.  As with any computer program it is important to make sure that you meet the minimum system recommendations in order to have the program run properly.  After you have verified that your computer can handle running Magic Online then click the hard to miss "create account" button on the right hand side...

It is important here to mention that while it is free to download the game client itself, it will cost $9.99 plus tax for the account creation, which can be paid through PayPal or by credit card.  This money is almost immediately earned back because Wizards provides you with some free items in exchange...

I'll go into more detail with regards to my thoughts about what to do with these newly acquired items later on, but for now we're going to focus on getting in game first.  Filling out the information on the Wizards website is pretty self-explanatory and it shouldn't be too hard for you to figure out what information goes into what boxes.  Once all the information has been filled out and you've clicked on the "Complete My Order" button the site will provide you with details on how to activate your account.

The email should come to your mailbox almost instantly and you'll be provided with a link to download the client in the first email and then the second email will have the activation code.  Hopefully you kept the window open where you need to input the activation code, but if you did close it don't worry because there is a link in the email.  Once you have activated your account you'll be taken to a page with yet another link to download the client.

Downloading and installing the game client is also a process that is pretty self-explanatory and user friendly.  Because the process will differ based upon operating system and browser choice I'm not going to explain how to install it, you should be ok.  It is important to remember that when you've installed the game client for the first time you will need to wait a while after launching the program for it to install all the necessary updates.

The first thing that you'll be faced with when you log into your new account for the first time is a box that looks like this...

This information has to be filled out first in order to verify that you can legally receive prizes.  Once you've filled this out accordingly you're ready to check out the interface and get right into the game!

One of the biggest complaints that you will hear from people is with regards to the interface of the MTGO client.  While I will agree that it is far from good, I personally don't think it is that bad, though this probably stems from a lot of experience in using it.  I wanted to do my best at explaining certain interactions and areas within the game client so I felt this was best done through a visual option where you could see what I was referring to and where things were located.  For those who don't want to sit through this video I'm going to add a quick description of a few areas you'll need to be able to navigate to in game.

With an account created and the client installed you can now log into the game.  Once you're logged in and connected, you'll find yourself at the Home screen.  From this page you'll be able to use the quick buttons on the left in order to navigate to other areas of the MTGO client.  There are four basic areas that I'll be focusing on as far as things you're able to do within the client; playing games, trading cards, the MTGO store, and finally the help section.

Playing Games.  There are two different areas where you'll find yourself playing games on MTGO... the casual section and the tournament section.  Getting to either area can be done through the "Menu" button on the far left corner.

Tournament rooms are used for all official, Wizards' sanctioned events.  This area is where you'll find release and prerelease queues, drafts and other limited events, special premier events, as well as daily tournaments.  While some of these events have scheduled times, other options such as drafts will start whenever enough players are in the queue.  Player run events are usually run within the "Anything Goes" section.  The casual section is the place where you'll find all forms of non-tournament game play.  This includes not just casual games, but an area for new players to use Planeswalker decks, and a multiplayer section.  Additionally, you'll find a "Tournament Practice" room where you can set up games to practice your deck for an upcoming competitive event.  It is usually considered to be bad mannered to be running a tournament deck outside of this area.

Trading Cards.  The current game client has compacted the number of areas where card trading can be done into one room called "Classifieds".  This is where most in-client trades will occur.  Players and bots alike put up advertisements letting others know what they want to sell/buy in a limited character post.  From there other players can use the search to find someone who is advertising to buy/sell specific cards.  To enter this area either click the "Trade" button on the "Home" screen or use the "Menu" as seen below...

The MTGO Store.  There isn't much to say about this particular area.  This is where you'll get tickets, premades, and booster packs.  At the bottom left of the Store you'll see a bunch of symbols, which will help jump you to particular sets that you may be interested in buying packs for.  Above that area is a set of six links which will help you directly navigate to whatever product you're looking for.

Help Areas.  If you're actually in game then the best place to get real people for real answers regarding your issues running the game look to your nearest ORC (Online Response Crew).  These individuals basically act as the moderators for chat as well as help personnel.  There are also a number of help buttons located along the bottom of the home screen.  If you're still having issues scroll up to the beginning of this article and check out my F.A.Q. section.

The one downside to Magic Online, as some people see it, is the fact that you don't start with a collection of cards that you can use to build decks.  There are some very simple ways that a player can build up their collection, starting with the use of the Magic Online store to buy packs and premade decks.  It is a generally accepted idea that the best way to build a collection is not through simply buying and opening packs.  A majority of the time you'll find that you'll be better off by buying singles instead of packs since it'll be much cheaper than opening packs and/or trading.  The Magic Online "economy" is a weird and complicated thing, but you'll often find that cards that don't see play in a competitive environment will be significantly cheaper and it's easy to pick up a bunch of cards for under five dollars.  Often times when browsing the classified section you'll even find bots with deals such as "32 uncommons for 1 ticket".  If you just cannot escape the need to open packs then it's usually recommended that you do so in a sealed event or draft.  This gives you a chance to play with cards as you open them and more importantly, with a bit of skill, luck, and research, you can win more packs.

Every player's collection of course starts with the New Account Package that is provided by Wizards.  To find this either click on the "Collection" tab at the bottom of your game client or go to Menu > Cards > Collection.  Since you have no other cards at this time it will be easy to locate your product.  Right click on the New Account Package and go to "Open One of These".  After confirming that this is what you want to do, the pack will open and your screen will look like this...

You now have access to the starter items including an M12 booster pack (soon to be M13), two MTGO Event Tickets, five Avatars, A Planeswalker deck, and several cards split out through your collection.  There are two very important things to note here before you do anything else.  The first is don't open the pack!  While the cost of M12 boosters is a bit low at this point in time, the release of M13 will bring the price of these initial packs back up.  Unopened packs can be traded usually for 3 to 4 tickets a piece and are often more valuable unopened then as the individual cards inside.  Whether you choose to use these for limited play or for tickets the packs are better if they are unopened.  The second items to note is don't open the Planeswalker deck right away.  If you're a new player to the game and expect to play with these premade decks then go ahead and open it.  However, for the experienced Magic player it is better off leaving this wrapped up so those evil gold bordered cards don't pollute your collection (I wish I could get rid of those dam cards...).  The tickets that you've been given can be saved to use for buying cards from bots/players or for partial funding of future competitive play, based upon your preference.

The handful of cards that you get from creating an account are not necessarily going to be enough to build a deck right away.  There is some potential if you want to build a very casual Pauper deck, but the 300+ cards you receive will be all core cards and contain a majority of commons in addition to a few scattered uncommons.  Usually if you want to play games right away it is recommended that you keep working on building up your collection...

NOTE:  You cannot mix gold and black bordered cards.

Next, what I usually recommend to new players is first hitting up the two free card bots that can be found in the "Classifieds" section.  They are FreeCardBot and MTGOTradersFreeBot.  These bots are operated by a couple of the larger "stores" on Magic Online and they take a bunch of the commons that they have in excess and offer them to players for free.  Once a month players get an opportunity to select 64 cards off of each bot for free.  There are some things to note about this, however.  The first is that these bots are very busy and finding them available for trade is often hard to do.  The second thing is that these bots hold the excess and so it's always going to be commons and not necessarily any big name card.  Despite this, there are still some great options for the new player with a small budget who just wants to build a few simple, casual decks.

Another great way to start out is to buy a premade deck from the Magic Online store and modify the card choices as you deem necessary.  Decent value can actually be obtained from these sets if you break them down card by card, especially from the Duel Decks.  I realize at this point in time the series is very out dated, but a while back I had put together a series based on my working to build a collection off of a very small budget.  Some of the numbers may no longer be relevant, but the concepts are still solid so I recommend checking them out (especially the PreCon one).

A Poor Man's Guide to Magic - An Introduction
A Poor Man's Guide to Magic - Strength of Knowledge
A Poor Man's Guide to Magic - PreConceived Notions

In order to purchase premade decks and booster packs go to the "Store" section in the MTGO client.  This brings you directly to the Magic Online store, which offers you featured products, special releases, recent sets, and premade decks.  Other items can be purchased or traded for from players or automated bots in the "Classifieds" section.  I talk about interacting with these briefly in the client video above if you're interested in more information.

As a newer player most of your games will be probably played in the room labeled "Just For Fun".  Getting to this area can be done from the "Home" or "Menu" tab.  The "Just For Fun" room is considered to be the "casual" area and it is often frowned upon to be playing tournament level decks in this room.  Creating a game is pretty simple.  Once you're in the room simply click the "New Game" button at the top and arrange the game setting as you'd like (watch the video for more details on setting up a game).  Once you're in a game there are several things that can help you play correctly and simplify certain interactions.

When you're in a game you'll notice a list on the left hand side that details each phase that happens within a turn.  The one that is highlighted tells you which phase the turn is currently in.  Those familiar with how to play Magic are aware that there are often different times during a particular phase where you know you may want to cast or activate something.  For example, the use of Augur of Skulls requires activation during a player's upkeep step.  In order to ensure that you have the option to perform an action you need to "set stops" before playing a game.  Setting a stop means that you're telling the game that you want it to stop at a particular phase during a turn.  This can be done by going to the "Gameplay Settings" and checking or unchecking boxes under the "Set Stops" section (as seen below)...

As you can see these are how I currently have my stops setup.  There are three areas where stops need to be set; your turn, your opponent's turn, and replays.  It is important to remember to set up stops not just for yourself, but for your opponent's turn as well so that you have a chance to perform any necessary actions during his/her turn.  As a game is played the client now knows that you want it to stop during a particular phase in order to perform an action.  In order to advance through a phase/stop you simply click the "OK" button on the left hand side.

When you set up stops what you are essentially doing is telling the Magic Online client not to pass priority.  Whenever you cast a spell or activate an ability the MTGO client will automatically pass priority to your opponent so that they have an opportunity to respond to what is currently on the stack.  There are, however, certain situations where you may want to respond to your own spell or ability so you'll want to keep priority instead of passing it.  To do this simply hold down the Ctrl key while casting the spell that you want to respond to (I do recommend holding it during the whole process of casting the spell in order to avoid any mistake).  For example, let's say you cast a Lightning Bolt and wanted to use Reverberate in order to create an additional copy.  Here's how that action would look...

Passing priority is simply done by clicking the "OK" button as you would to advance through a particular phase.  At this point in time you might be thinking that there is a lot of "OK" clicking going on.  Matches in MTGO are timed and you may not want to waste a whole bunch of time clicking through a large stack of spells.  Well there are some gameplay shortcuts that you can use as well.  These are all done with the "F" keys at the top of your keyboard.  Here's a list of what they do...

F2 - hitting this is basically the same as clicking the "OK" button.
F4 - this automatically passes through each phase until there is something that goes on the stack that you can respond to.
F6 - automatically passes through an entire turn.  Pressing this will not allow you to respond to anything done within the turn.
F7 - automatically puts all untargeted triggers on the stack for the rest of the game as long as they have the same text.
F8 - automatically passes through every stop as long as you have no possible actions/plays.
F9/F10 - this is the same as clicking "Yes" or "No" respectively.  It is recommended that one should be careful with these since clicking too fast can hit "Yes" to playing first and then right into "Yes" to mulligan to six cards.

Hitting F4, F6, or F8, can be undone by hitting F3 (I have found there are some times this doesn't always work so be aware of that) or by right clicking in game and then using "Remove Auto Yields".

When playing in a multiplayer game these commands are essential.  With a game that has up to six different players and each with a 30 minute game clock, you can see how fast these games clock up to hours of play.  By using these commands you can speed turns up and save everyone a lot of time.  You can also speed up triggered or activated abilities by right clicking on the ability when it's on the stack and click on "Always yield to FX: Card Name".  For example, with Essence Warden on the field its ability will trigger every time a creature comes into play.  Instead of clicking "OK" every time a creature comes into play you can right click the life gain ability on the stack and click "Always yield to FX: Essence Warden" and then the game will automatically hit "OK" for you every time the ability is triggered.

The last thing that I want to point out is the ability to concede a game to end it without playing the whole game out.  This is very helpful when you find yourself playing against an opponent who is just plain rude, who has "lost connection", or simply if you just have to leave.  In order to do this you simply right click in game and choose the option to "Concede Game".  A prompt will pop-up and ask you to verify that you actually want to concede the game and you can simply click "Concede Game".  There is an odd misconception often with new players about conceding games.  Casual games have no effect on player rating and therefore conceding does not hurt you in any way.  Too many times you may find yourself in a game against a player who "loses connection" in order to stall things out and leave a game hanging without having to concede.  I won't go into my thoughts on the practice other than to simply say its quite rude.  Conceding costs you nothing.  The only thing I will emphasize one last time is that this applies only to casual games.  If you're in a tournament setting, whether its limited or constructed, conceding will have an effect on your player rating so make sure that you really want to do it when you do.

I don't want to waste a lot of time talking about chat, but just to make sure all grounds are covered here is what you're typical chat box looks like

As you can see it is a pretty typical chat interface, specifically this is an example of a private chat window.  The gray text is saved from the previous conversation with that person.  These can be opened with friends from the "My Buddies" tab on the right hand side of the screen.  Like all types of chat boxes there are different commands that you can use in order to indicate status, etc.

Using this will let people know that you're away from your computer.  When in a chat window you can type /away message and people who try to send you a private message will get the away response, but you'll still receive their messages.  For example, if I were to type /away getting food then the message JustSin is away - getting food will show up in the room I'm in and will be sent to anyone who sends me a private message.  When I return I can simply type /away and the message JustSin is back is then sent to the room.

Using this will create an "action" that sends a statement in chat that starts with your username.  For example, if I typed /me goes for a walk then in the chat area the message JustSin goes for a walk will be sent to that room.

This command is used to join a group chat by typing /join Room Name.  This is most often used when joining a player created room in order to set up PREs.  For example, if I were to type /join JustSin's Room! then a private message window with the name JustSin's Room! would appear on my screen and other players could join my room by also typing /join JustSin's Room!

Used to find out information on a player by typing /info player name.

This is used in multiplayer games in order to eject another player from the game by typing /eject name.  If the players name had a space in it then you would have to put quotation marks around it, /eject "player name".

The last thing I want to mention about chat is something that people are constantly asking in general chat and to ORCs.  If you ever venture into the "Classifieds" section of Magic Online you might notice all of the pretty pictures and symbols that people use in order to make their advertisement stand out from everyone else's.  To use chat symbols, while in chat, you need to first hold down the Ctrl key and press then release the Q key.  While continuing to hold Ctrl, type any of the following keys/combination of keys below.  Once done, simply release the Ctrl key to go back to normal typing.

For a full list of how to change font colors, additional symbols, and other text formatting codes check out this link.

Well I hope this information was helpful, but I know there are some people who were looking for information that wasn't so generic and perhaps a little more format specific.  Hopefully in the second part to this series you'll get an understanding on how to get started in competitive play and you'll learn more than you cared to know with regards to Pauper.


Since submitting this there by JustSin at Mon, 07/30/2012 - 11:45
JustSin's picture

Since submitting this there has been a change:

New accounts will now include "New Player" tickets. These tickets will be used in 4-player, 2 match tournaments that will fire when there is enough people to play in the Limited Queues Room. The current product is M13 for these events though it will, I'm sure, change with each new core set. Each win will grant you 3 points and players with 6 points receive a copy of the promo card from that week's TNMO.

I'm going to do my best to keep adding updates for this article... at least until a time where the new client comes out...

I'm looking forward to your by Mad 3570 at Tue, 07/31/2012 - 19:59
Mad 3570's picture

I'm looking forward to your Introduction to the Pauper format. I would like to venture into this format, but with such a large card pool and endless options...its hard to decide which deep end of the pool to jump into?

thanks! I have to admit that by JustSin at Tue, 07/31/2012 - 20:52
JustSin's picture

thanks! I have to admit that I am too, there is a lot to talk about and it is mostly going to have a focus on competitive play... trying my best to have that ready to go for two weeks for now, but could be tight

MTGO guide by Estiriat at Wed, 08/22/2012 - 09:02
Estiriat's picture

Thats by far the best introduction/guideline/tutorial to MTGO i've found during the last days.
I'm new to MTGO and at the moment i'm just reading and viewing everything i can find.
And you sure know, there is a lot out there.
However, i wanted to say thank you for your detailed and very accurate articles.
Good work.
Myself, and probably all to come will highly appreciate it.
All the best.

glad it could be helpful :) by JustSin at Wed, 08/22/2012 - 12:50
JustSin's picture

glad it could be helpful :)

Since it wasn't directly by JustSin at Tue, 09/11/2012 - 08:02
JustSin's picture

Since it wasn't directly stated in the original article I will make a side note that Multiplayer games have been moved a while back into the same room as Casual 1v1 games.