On this page are described all the main rules of the game to play a match. Then, provided given strategies to expand our cards collection efficiently, to build efficiently a competitive deck and several tips that can help new players to get the best of the game in the first weeks/months.
How to play
When starting a new account, players earn a basic deck for each of the five different colors through a short tutorial. After that, players can complete some more matches against Arena's AI (or other players if they want) and can earn experience to level up and unlock a deck for each color pair (10 additional base decks). This provides new players with a large base of cards to build their custom deck.
Each Constructed deck for a standard match has a 60 cards minimum. Any more than this can be problematic when the starting hand of 7 cards is drawn, as re-rolling/taking a mulligan reduces the hand of one card each time. A deck is divided among permanents, such as creatures, artifacts, or enchantments that remain on the board, instant and sorcery spells that have "one-shot" effects, and lands that produces resources required to play other cards every turn called mana. The game has specific names for these types and their respective sub-types which define class interactions with the board and other cards, such as all creature cards in the game are also inside the spell category. Each deck can have up to 4 copies of the same card unless otherwise stated on the card itself.
On your turn you draw a card (except on the first turn) and you can play one land in your hand (not necessary as first card played), to improve the resources produced every turn to cast stronger cards/spells. You can play all the cards in your hand that your resources available to you allow you to in that turn. Resources refresh at the beginning of your turn when your lands become untapped. You can have only 7 cards maximum at the end of your turn (if there aren't specific abilities in play saying otherwise) and the cards in excess have to be discarded.
Once a creature has been cast on the board, that creature can be used in combat against the other players or their creatures causing damage (attack value is called Power) or defend ourselves by the adversary attacks in its turn (absorbing damage with their body points, called Toughness). A creature played in a given turn normally can't attack or activate abilities ("tap" action) in that same turn (but can defend normally). The damage inflicted that doesn't kill a creature on the board is healed at the end of that turn. The interactions of each card in the game are very widely modified by their specific description to add abilities and/or limitations.
At the beginning of a match, each player starts with 20 life (but you can add more) and the basic objective is to reduce the opponent's life to zero. This can be accomplished by attacking with creatures, using their abilities, or by casting other spells. Other win conditions can be achieved, such as making a player draw a card when its deck is emptied, or an effect listed upon a card. This increases the strategies available to players and makes deck construction even more specialized.
The combat phase of your turn can precede or follow or be in the middle of casting spells, playing cards, and/or activating abilities. During an attack, a player declares what creatures on the board are used, then their opponent declares their defenders (to avoid direct damage to their life). More than one defender can block a single attacker. In this case, the attacker decides the order of the defending creatures to take damage. After declaring attackers and blockers, the "skirmishes" are executed together at the same time for all attackers and defenders. so they all get damage normally (if no one has the attribute "first strike" that could kill the other before it could respond depending on the damage done or any type of immunity or damage reduction). Cards used in the combat phase are inactivated (tapped) till the start of their owner's turn (if they don't have special abilities or attributes such as vigilance). After the combat phase, you can still play cards if you have resources (not "tapped" lands). Normally the game auto-activates lands (tapped) accordingly to the cards you play, but you can manually activate them (pressing the default button "ctrl" on the keyboard). In this case, the game shows you the relative colored "mana" on the screen (that is still available to play cards). Any mana shown not spent is lost when the combat phase starts (so avoid tapping lands if not necessary in general).
Planeswalkers are special cards extremely important that can be played. They are different from other creatures because they cannot attack or defend, but they have still life (called loyalty]]) and can be attacked directly. They can have a passive ability, but usually have one or more activated ones that are manually activated (one ability per turn), which changes their loyalty accordingly. Once a planeswalker reaches zero, it moves to the graveyard.
Artifacts are special cards that can be played and produce permanent effects on the board by themselves or if associated (normally paying a cost) with a creature to add abilities. In this last case, they remain on the board even when that creature is removed (and can be associated with another creature again). They can be removed only by specific abilities of some cards.
Enchantments are other special cards similar to artifacts that produce permanent effects on the board by themselves or if associated with a creature (as an Aura). Auras move to the graveyard when the associated creature is removed from the board. Enchantments can also be removed by specific abilities of some cards.
All Cards removed from the board move to the graveyard and can be recovered using specific abilities of some cards, but if an ability exiles a card from the play, then that card cannot be recovered anymore (some abilities have temporary exiles anyway).
Every card/spell played in the game can be "answered" by the opponent cards/spells (remember that creatures on the stack are considered spells too). It means that if the opponent has a card capable of "answering" anything (identified by the attribute "flash" if it's a creature or "instant" if not), they can play it. The first player can then "answer again" to the last answer of the opponent and so on (building a stack of spells not yet active) until they have usable cards and enough residual resources to play them (produced in the last active turn and not yet used activating/"tapping" lands). When a player refuses to "answer" again, the stack is executed starting backtracking from the last answer added. In this way, for example, one can nullify any spell cast by the opponent or their answer, one can cast a totally independent "spell" (with "instant" attribute), or simply play a creature with a useful ability for next turn at the right time (with "flash" attribute), indifferently. Also in this way, a player could recall an important creature to their hand just before it gets shocked/burned/exiled/frogified!
There are 2 fundamental ways to earn new cards:
- buying booster packs (with any game currency): this is the less efficient way to populate your deck (for new players in particular), because the dispersion of the 8 draws among the huge game library (also we typically need several copies of specific cards for deck efficiency) that hardly will fill the deck needs.
- earning free cards/booster packs or wildcards (special jolly cards that can be exchanged with any card needed from the game library) through the numerous features available.
The latter is very important for all players because it changes significantly the growth of their collection without (or in addition to) spending directly currency (or indirectly real money).
So the most efficient strategy (time-permitting) to collect the free rewards from the game features is:
- complete the daily quest objective (one can be re-rolled it if it was a 500 gold reward, for a good chance of a 750 gold objective); this objective never requires a win, just to play and use specific cards.
- win 4 matches every day for 550 gold from the daily win bonus (it gets a reset every day); some more rewards can be earned up to 15 wins per day, but that requires a time-commitment (it's a total of 200 additional gold and 6 single casual cards with a chance to be Rare/Mythic). The first 15 wins of each week give 250 experience points that allow the player to level up in the Mastery progression, with 1000 points for level, earning more rewards (1 booster pack every 2 levels and later gems, gold, casual Rare and Mythic cards). In this way, one could end to collect 1050-1300 golds per day in less than 30 minutes.
- once you have collected 5000 gold (equivalent to 5 booster packs, or 40 cards), pay it to access the Ranked Draft event; this event allows you to choose and earn 40 cards among a pool of alternatives without even the need to win a match. This is extremely valuable for new players that normally have a couple of favorite factions/colors but not enough cards or copy to play them because you can choose among 3 big pools of cards available with 20% cards of each faction/color (so the player could potentially get 40 cards of just one faction/color altogether with some Rare and sometimes a Mythic). After that, just winning a 1-3 match in this event the player can earn 50-200 gems and 1 booster pack. The gems earned this way can later be used to activate an additional Mastery Pass (that add better rewards leveling up) or to access the Sealed Draft event (to earn similarly additional cards selecting in a bigger pool, once you have enough experience with deck building to win a couple of matches against expert players, otherwise you are going to lose gems).
- if you patiently save the gems won in the Ranked Draft events (it could be around 200-400 gems per week) and buy the Mastery Pass for 3.400 gems, you will get many valuable rewards (even from the passed achieved levels of the free Set Mastery, because they progress simultaneously):
- 20 booster packs (values 20.000 gold or equally 4.000 gems, with at least 3 Rare wildcards and 3 Uncommon guaranteed)
- 2.000 gems (that alone repays the 60% of the cost, so the next Mastery Pass would cost only 3.400 - 2000 = 1.400 gems)
- 10.000 gold (that you can use for more Ranked Draft event, so to earn more gems, reducing, even more, the actual Mastery Pass cost of other 200-400 gems typically)
- 10 casual Mythic cards
- 3 casual Rare cards
- several cosmetics and the pet companion
Building our first deck we have to choose our faction/color(s). Each faction/color has its base characteristics and mechanics (with a grade of changes with every expansions/core set released). An indicative classification could be:
- red: creatures with high attack/Power and low life/Toughness; many abilities and spells to directly inflict damage to opponent life and creatures; many removal spells; sacrifice mechanics to produce direct damage to the opponent.
- green: creatures with high Power and very high Toughness; many abilities and spells to add a buff to player own creatures; abilities and spells to add life to the player.
- black: creatures with low Power and medium Toughness; abilities and spells to resurrect/recover cards from the graveyard; abilities of lifelink (player earns life based on the damage done to the opponent) and deathtouch (a creature can kill another creature with just 1 damage inflicted); sacrifice mechanics to add creatures on the board; many removal spells.
- white: creatures with medium Power and medium Toughness; abilities and spells to boost all creatures; abilities and spells to recover life; abilities to empower other creatures on the board; abilities and spells to spawn many new creatures (tokens)
- blue: creatures with medium Power and medium-low Toughness; abilities and spells to control the boards (ex. disabling opponent creatures); many soft removal (ex. returning creatures to owner's hand); many abilities and spells to control manipulate players decks (es. moving cards from the deck pile to the graveyard); many abilities and spells to draw additional cards per turn and to add buff draw-triggered.
Every rotation where one expansion/core is added and one is removed can change the mechanics of each faction/color quite significantly.
In Magic The Gathering Arena, due to its wide library of factions/creatures/abilities then, it's easy to build a deck around the basic archetypes of competitive cards games in particular:
- aggro: aggressive decks capable of spamming high direct damage in the first turns, also using hard removal and recurrent penalties to players' life; fundamentally they try to win in few turns reducing strongly their capability to sustain a long match.
- control: decks with very limited capability to threaten the opponent in the first turns; they use several abilities and spells to counter opponent actions until they became able in the late game to overwhelm the opponent with strong abilities/spells.
- mid-range: decks built as a compromise of an aggro deck and a control deck; they are focused to attain victory during the mid-game (between turn 6 and 10 to have an idea).
- tempo: decks built to have a high efficiency on the board every turn, having the maximum impact possible with the resources spent and consuming efficiently all the resources available while defending ourselves; they combine variably better creatures presence on the board and continuous pressure over the opponent with attacks. Conceptually playing efficiently they try to earn "turns" over the opponent in terms of resources used.
- combo: decks built around a strong synergy of groups of cards capable alone to achieve the win condition; the problem of these decks is collecting in hand and on the board all the cards required to activate the lethal combo mechanics.
It's easy to understand that the choice of a favorite color/faction (or combination of factions) and main archetype in a deck, is mostly connected with the player play-style preferences. Due to the characteristics of each faction in Magic The Gathering Arena, anyway, some combinations are easily implemented (ex. red-aggro, green-aggro, blue-control, black-mid-range, white-mid-range, white-control).
Other auxiliary strategies can often be present to archive easily our main objective:
ramp: a set of cards capable to increase fast the production of resources per turn of a player.
combo: a set of cards with a high synergy that can sustain our play till more advanced phases (without archiving the win condition by themselves).
Once we have chosen the preferred play-style and faction for our first deck we are going to select all the cards that will represent our core damage dealer (capable so to reduce the opponent life to zero in a couple of rounds), our core defense (like removal or creatures with high stats, capable to remove the strongest opponent threats) and our utilities. This last group is very important too because normally it implies many useful abilities to draw additional cards to our hand, to recover player life, to select/discard cards from the top of our deck, to counter any manner of spells, to disable opponent creatures and many more.
At this point, we can define the average cost of our selected cards in term of resources (the game show you a bar graph with their number for incremented mana cost) and we have to add enough lands to have a sufficient progression statistically turn after turn, and a reasonably good first hand (with 2-4 lands in the most of the cases). Probably now we'll have many more than 60 cards in our deck and that could normally make it quite difficult to draw the right cards due to inconsistent statistical distribution (we start with just 7 cards and we draw basically 1 card per turn, in a match that could last less than 5 turns against some aggressive opponents not countered), so we have to reduce proportionally all the cards selected. It's normal to have just 2-3 copies of some cards. In case of problems reducing, you can try finding different cards with similar effects and removing entirely one of them for the moment.
Now that you have a balanced first deck is time to test it on the battlefield! And don't worry about the outcome, your deck is going to change, improve and evolve dozens and dozens of times from this moment on with very strong additions ;)
Tips and tricks
- in the Store screen of the game there is a text box on the top right; make sure to check the gift codes still active to reclaim all the free booster packs available (not yet expired). In this way you will get a good bunch of wildcards at once too, to exchange later for the cards you need in your favorite decks.
- Wildcards collected opening booster packs are extremely useful and "rare" to collect (they take weeks normally); the game makes you collect many of them at the beginning through rewards than later in the "normal" gameplay. So it's very important to wait to use them until you will have a good knowledge of the game to choose your favorite factions/colors and your favorite mechanics. There are so many abilities and strategies that we can put in a single deck, so you could easily spend very valuable wildcards with few cards you'll end to not even play in the future (also you need often 3-4 copies of them for consistency).
- there is no single card that can make your deck unbeatable; as a new player, start building a good base of Common and Uncommon (all decks have them too) to cover your typical draw in the game. There could be matches in a row where you'll never see a specific single card you put in your deck.
- every expansion and core set added to the game during the year, introduce new cards but also remove old cards from the Standard ranking match. Avoid spending resources/wildcards for cards of the expansions that are going to be retired, you won't be able to play them soon in the Standard constructed matches (where you will use your favorite decks most of the time). 3 expansions and 1 core set are added to the game every year (every 3 months roughly) and the Standard format is always the last core set released + the last 4 expansions. To be sure about the next expansion that is going to be removed from the Standard format, check in-game the Store/Packs screen; you can see a list of the released sets (both cores and expansions) from the newer on the left to the older on the right (the sets with a dark brown color on the right are already outside the Standard format, but can be purchased by experienced players on purpose for specific events referred as Traditional). Also, try to save some wildcards to replace the cards of your main deck that is going to leave the Standard format for the ranked events; this will help you to rebuild quickly a competitive deck without difficulty.
- some expansions/core sets add new cards with different names and identical abilities/effects. In these cases, they have different cost in mana to be played. Be sure to check if the cards in your deck have better replacements. Even a better common card that costs only 1 mana less can do often the difference if you have 4 copies of it in the deck!
- having enough lands to produce mana to play your cards is critical in this game. Also not having enough creatures/spells in your hand because you have too many lands is very problematic. Try to find a good balance for your deck adding and removing these types of cards, or reducing the average cost of your cards played. After that every deck could draw badly in a row, it's just statistics (and it's a game of cards!).
- Buying the Mastery Pass for 3.400 gems can take some time through the Ranked Draft (with 2-3 wins you get 100-200 gems, so it could be an average of 300 gems per week after some practice in deck building), but it more than repays itself with 2.000 gems for 60% of what you have spent (so the next Mastery Pass will cost just 3.400 - 2.000 = 1.400 gems to collect in around 3 months of a season) plus additional 20 booster packs, 10.000 gold, and many casual Mythic/Rare cards. So a very good deal you can have only once in the game Store, is the Starter-Bundle (4,99 $/€ for 2.500 gems + 5 booster packs), that can save new players a lot of difficulties to activate the first Mastery Pass during the first season (Mastery progressions reset with every new expansion, so every 3 months roughly). If the season is ending wait to activate the Mastery Pass, you wouldn't have enough time to level up to the top, but save the gems for the next season. Once activated the first Mastery Pass, the difference in gems to activate the next ones (1400 gems) is always easily accumulated through 3 months of Ranked Draft events.
- playing Ranked Draft events can populate quite fast with Common and Uncommon cards the faction (or a couple of factions) of your main deck. Once you are satisfied with your main deck composition you have two main alternatives depending on your preference:
- you start to populate the other factions/colors of your decks: this helps a lot to understand the main characteristics/mechanics of each faction, and you could end developing a new main deck for ranked matches too.
- you stick with faction/color(s) of your main deck for a better win rate and try to select all the Uncommon cards you can: this has a specific reason because when you get the 5th duplicate of an Uncommon card, the game removes it from your library and gives you 3 points of the Vault system (Common cards give just 1 point each, while Rare/Mythic cards give some gems), for a theoretical maximum of 40x3=120 points for each Ranked Draft event you play. Once you get 1000 points (it could be every 10-12 events) the Vault icon appears in the game main screen and you can collect all together: 1 Mythic Wildcard + 2 Rare Wildcards + 3 Uncommon Wildcards
- It's normal to have around a 50% win rate for any player. Even the strongest decks lose matches and have a 70% win rate at the best. Beginner decks, with few copies of cards, low consistency, and low efficiency can normally have a 30%-40% rate with the matchmaking system. Don't worry it's normal! Just play to explore new cards and mechanics, the combos of your opponents, try to understand the vulnerability and strong sides of your deck, and make improvements! Once you have a clear idea of what you want to play (and what your deck needs) is finally time to use all your wildcards! :)