Here’s why you should play either MTG Arena or MTG Online

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There are two primary ways to play Magic: The Gathering digitally: through Magic: The Gathering Arena, or through Magic: The Gathering Online. But is MTG Arena or MTG Online better to play, and why?

It took nine years before Magic: The Gathering received a true and fully functional video game adaptation. Magic: The Gathering Online, or MTG Online, adapts the hit trading card game to the digital space. MTG Online commits to the analog nature of the tabletop game. 

Eventually, Wizards of the Coast decided to take a more modern approach to the game to appeal to a broader audience. Magic: The Gathering Arena, or MTG Arena, differs significantly from MTG Online from both technical and gameplay standpoints, with its more streamlined approach to the tabletop game.

So what exactly are the differences between the two games, and which should you play? We’ll help you answer that question below.

Why you should play MTG Online

You should play MTG Online if you’re a player who wants an experience that is as close to the tabletop game as possible. MTG Online has a far larger library of cards extending to older editions, meaning popular formats such as Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and Commander remain relatively untouched compared to their tabletop analogs. The analogous gameplay also means there won’t be digital-only shenanigans as can be the case in MTG: Arena’s Alchemy format.  

MTG Online allows the direct purchase of cards. There are reputable sites, such as, where players can buy, sell, and trade cards just like in the tabletop version. There are even card rental services for those who want to try a deck but don’t have the cash to splurge on a test run before committing. 

However, it’s worth noting that to gain full access to all of MTG Online’s features, one must pay $9.99 to upgrade their account. The upgraded account rewards players with several key game components, and adds more cards to your account. There are no “battle pass” systems like in other contemporary digital card games, including Arena, which grant players additional digital rewards. 

Why you should play MTG Arena

You should play MTG Arena if you’re a player who wants a more streamlined experience across modern platforms, and at a significantly lower price than MTG Online.  MTG Arena has several formats, but its primary draws are likely Standard and Draft. The user interface is much more modern, which may draw the eye of those used to the likes of Hearthstone and Shadowverse. There are also digital-only formats such as Alchemist that use unique digital cards exclusive to Arena. 

Playing MTG Arena is a much more budget-friendly investment thanks to the plethora of free events and daily reward opportunities that hand out currency and booster packs. Unlike in the tabletop version or in MTG Online, free-to-play is actually a viable way to have fun with the game in Arena.

MTG Online costs about as much as the tabletop game to play, whether casually or competitively, so this is a major difference.

On the flip side, MTG Arena’s format and younger age mean that only the last few years of cards are relevant at any given time. Plus, the formats are currently limited to one-versus-one game modes, meaning no Commander with multiple opponents or Double-Headed Dragon. While a Pioneer format may eventually make its way to MTG Arena in 2024, it still won’t be as expansive as the version found in MTG Online.

Ultimately, MTG Online and MTG Arena are very different experiences. It’s up to each player’s sensibilities and budget which digital adaptation of Magic: The Gathering they will enjoy more. 

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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. Their work has also been seen on TheGamer, Gfinity, and Wargamer, and you can follow them on Twitter / X at @HardlyWorkinGab.

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