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All about Magic: The Gathering, from MTG cards to playing online

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Magic: The Gathering is effectively synonymous with trading card games and it has remained arguably the best-known game in the industry for 30 years.

There has been no shortage of trading card games that have come and gone over the years. In the 1990s and early 2000s, seemingly everything got the TCG treatment no matter how inappropriate. While a few like the Pokemon TCG persisted, dozens of others like the Star Trek Customizable Card Game and Monty Python and the Holy Grail Collectible Card Game faded to memory.

Even without being directly attached to a larger cross-media IP, the franchise has endured and grown steadily over time. Here’s the history of Magic: The Gathering, how to play it online and off, and its recent spate of high-profile crossovers.

When did Magic: The Gathering come out?

Magic: The Gathering was first released on August 5, 1993. 2023 was the celebration of the card game’s 30th anniversary.

Richard Garfield is the game’s creator, who was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons to create his fantasy card game. Garfield pointed out the relatively obscure sci-fi tabletop strategy game Cosmic Encounter when discussing its mechanics.

MTG has grown over time to become a brand of its own and is technically a sister brand to Dungeons and Dragons today. As of 1997, both IPs are published by Wizards of the Coast.

How to start playing Magic: The Gathering

The best way to start playing Magic: The Gathering is to try out one of its digital adaptations, MTG Arena.

MTG Arena is free to play on PC and Android or iOS mobile devices. Not only does the game comprehensively break down Magic’s rules, but there are also free starter decks, that can be easily adapted for actual competitive play. These starter decks feature both mono-color and dual-color decks, so the player is free to choose their playstyle.

From there, watching notable creators in the Magic: The Gathering space is a great way to learn more organically. Sean “Day[9]” Plott’s Spellslingers series on YouTube is a great entry point for newcomers, and the series boasts strong production values alongside Day[9] himself, who happens to be an esports pioneer. The series ended in 2018 but remains a valuable resource for new players today.

Is playing Magic: The Gathering expensive?

MTG can be an expensive hobby, but it can also be enjoyed for a relatively low cost as well.

The honest answer is it’s as expensive as the player lets it be. Enjoying Magic: The Gathering casually at the local game store is relatively low cost. Many card shops let players rent or borrow decks for play, and some decks that are as cheap as $50 can be effective. That said, the competitive scene at tournaments will often start ballooning into the triple digits. Modern and Legacy will often include optimized decks with a plethora of pricy cards.

Of course, even those pale in comparison to Vintage, with one of the most popular decks, Paradoxical Outcome, being priced at a whopping $79,000. Thankfully, there’s also the Pauper format which only allows commons, meaning even the most expensive decks will typically fall short of $100. MTG Arena lets players, free codes and accomplishing challenges are good ways to stay free-to-play while still building a collection.

How to play Magic: The Gathering online

Players can enjoy Magic: The Gathering online with either the MTG Online or MTG Arena apps.

Players can download the free-to-play MTG Arena on PC, Android, and iOS for the cleanest experience. There is also Magic: The Gathering Online on PC.

Alternatively, if the MTG arena servers are down, one can play with “real” decks by using the tabletop gaming software known as Cockatrice. And of course, there’s also the simplest option; playing with a webcam over Discord. Two players can simply rig a webcam over a tabletop and then play as if they were face-to-face. Regardless of what the player chooses, these methods are all perfectly valid ways to experience the game online.

What are the most expensive MTG cards?

Black Lotus is the most expensive Magic: The Gathering Card with multiple iterations of it commanding over $15,000.

The most expensive is the alpha version of the card, which was part of the first MTG set. Two other versions have come out since, both of which have an incredible price tag. Black Lotus isn’t the only wildly expensive card, however. Here are the most expensive cards in Magic: The Gathering history from a player’s perspective:

  • Black Lotus – Alpha ($33,000)
  • Fraternal Exaltation – Promo ($31,000)
  • Volcano Island – Summer Magic ($18,000)
  • Black Lotus – 30th Anniversary Edition ($17,000)
  • Black Lotus – Beta ($16,000)
  • Timetwister – Alpha ($13,000)
  • Wheel of Fortune – Summer Magic ($13,000)
  • Ancestral Recall – Alpha ($12,000)
  • Mox Pearl – Alpha ($12,000)
  • Shivan Dragon – Summer Magic ($11,000)

It’s worth noting that these are for regular, playable cards that are ungraded and in circulation. A gem mint-graded Black Lotus card has fetched over $550,000 at auctions.

There is also the one-of-a-kind The One Ring card from the Lord of the Rings-themed expansion. The one-of-a-kind The One Ring MTG card is estimated to be worth over $2 million and is currently owned by rapper Post Malone, who purchased it for an undisclosed sum.

MTG deck color differences, strategies

Magic the Gathering has five primary colors that define a deck’s playstyle. Each color takes a different approach to the game, whether that’s overwhelming opponents early, whittling them down over time, or slowly building up for a game-ending blitz. Whether it’s a mono-color or a mix, it’s important to understand what each color does in order to conceptualize a deck’s strategy.

Here are the general strategies and motifs of each color of MTG deck. It’s worth noting that there are methods for taking some of these decks in different directions in certain formats, so consider these guidelines rather than rules.

White

White is defined by law, order, and equality. Among the ranks of the white color are humble guards, valiant knights, and righteous angels. White decks are typically centered around attrition and aggro. They have many solid creatures that can get stronger with enchantments, as well as good removal cards that help even the scales against a  powerful board.

White is a great color to ease a player into the more complex mechanics of MTG, as even mistakes don’t often result in a wasted card, merely an unoptimized play. White often has trouble with card drawing, so it’s important to pay close attention to the board state. Without a solid board presence, white has a hard time making a comeback.

Red

Red embodies freedom, impulse, and destruction. Red creatures include snarling demons, rabid berserkers, and almighty dragons. As for red’s playstyle, it’s best described as “attack, attack, attack.” Fast aggro is the key to a successful red deck, as their spells and creatures are tailored for dealing high damage in shocking bursts.

However, red has trouble dealing with enchantments and good control decks can slowly grind a red assault to a halt. Momentum is key with red decks. Once the damage or card draws stop, red has limited defensive options, as most creatures and spells are ill-equipped to protect their planeswalkers. Remember, live fast or die young.

Green

Green embodies nature, spirituality, and tradition. Green’s menagerie of creatures includes living plants, mystic elves, and massive behemoths that shake the earth with each step. Green is typically defined by a ramping playstyle, which means that bigger is better both for mana pools and creatures. Once a green deck is fully set up, it’s extremely hard to stop its assault.

That said, green has a hard time getting to that point. Its first few turns are based around surviving the first few rounds before going online. During that time, green lacks the removal options that other colors have, leaving them vulnerable. Green players must be patient and take good care of their creatures. Without creatures, Green’s tracts of land become practically worthless.

Blue 

Blue is defined by knowledge, caution, and perfection. Blue’s gallery of creatures includes ambitious wizards, cunning faeries, and nigh-omnipotent sphinxes. Blue is by far the most difficult playstyle to learn for newbies of Magic: The Gathering, with a focus on drawing and powerful control cards. If a player enjoys a game of counters and combos, blue is the best choice.

Not helping matters is blue’s lack of reliable defensive creatures, meaning their defenses are often reliant on spells. They also lack permanent removal, which means most games are based around stalling, as eventually, those threats will come back. Blue’s cerebral style means one slip-up could very easily snowball into a loss, but a successful game sees an opponent tied up throughout.

mtg black decks

Black

Black is defined by power, sacrifice, and death. Black’s roster includes dangerous criminals, rotting undead, and vicious vampires. Black is best described as an “equivalent exchange” style of play. Sacrifice is a big theme of black decks, where life and creatures are naught but currency. These sacrifices are rewarded with powerful creature removal and potent win conditions.

That said, black’s weakness is that it’s a jack of all trades, master of none. White is better at building armies, green has better ramps, red has faster aggro, and blue has better control. Additionally, the versatility of black comes at the cost of life and cards, which means greedy players are actively playing against themselves.

What was The One Ring card in the Magic: The Gathering crossover with Lord of the Rings?

The One Ring is a one-of-a-kind card based on the titular Ring of Power from J. R. R. Tolkien’s high fantasy novels. Ironically, the card itself isn’t particularly powerful but is nevertheless sought after for its rarity. The card was finally found by a man named Brook Trafton, who promptly had it graded by the Professional Sports Authenticator, or the PSA. 

Eventually, The One Ring found itself in the possession of famous rapper Post Malone. While the exact price he paid is unknown, it’s believed to be over $2 million. Still, what’s a few million dollars to own the ring to rule them all?

Is there a Marvel crossover with MTG?

Yes, Marvel and Magic: The Gathering have a collaboration planned for release sometime in 2025. It’s implied that there will be several sets for the collab, not just a one-shot like what happened with the Fallout franchise.

The crossover was met with frustration by many MTG fans, who vented over superheroes being shoehorned into a high fantasy game. This had been simmering for some time with other crossovers that were deemed thematically inappropriate, but the expectation is still for the expansion to be highly successful.

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Written by Gab Hernandez

Gab Hernandez has a particular love for video games that give players control over the narrative direction, such as Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Disco Elysium. Gab spends just as much time playing games as they do gushing about them online to anyone who will listen.

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