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MTG Arena sets, formats, free cards, and much more

mtg arena title art

There are multiple ways to play Magic: The Gathering online, and the most popular and arguably best way to do so is playing MTG Arena.

MTG Arena launched in 2019 and while it’s inextricably linked to its cardboard cousin, it’s taken on a life of its own. The game is built around the eternally popular Magic: The Gathering TCG, but it also has its own unique cards, presentation, and formats. This makes it a unique experience unto itself, and it’s one that’s easy to get into.

Though MTG Arena only launched in 2019, the TCG’s history extends further back than that. Here’s everything there is to know about MTG Arena, what platforms it’s available on, where it fits relative to Magic: The Gathering Online, and how players build out their card collection.

What is MTG Arena?

Magic: The Gathering Arena, often shortened to MTG Arena, is a digital version of the iconic tabletop card game of the same name.

That said, it’s distinct from the actual physical card game in a few different ways. Formats such as Legacy and Vintage are not in MTG Arena, simply because some cards aren’t available. Because of this, the digital game has its own set of formats that have different strategies and common deck archetypes.

Though the rules are the same, the overall experience is quite different because of this. Magic: The Gathering players will still feel at home. There will be a bit of a learning curve, however.

MTG Arena platforms

MTG Arena can be played on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and GeForce Now.

Here are the minimum specs to play MTG Arena on Windows, as well as the recommended specs for the best experience:

Sys. Req.MinimumRecommended
CPUAMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 5600+ (or equivalent)Intel Core2 Quad Q9300 @ 2.50GHz (or equivalent)
GPUGeForce GTX 8800 (or equivalent)GeForce GTX 560 (or equivalent)
RAM 2 GB4 GB
Operating SystemWindows 7Windows 10

MTG Arena is not available on PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo consoles. Digital trading card games, for whatever reason, rarely end up on consoles and that’s also the case here. As for MTG Arena’s server status, WotC’s official support page and social media accounts for the game are the most reliable places to check.

Is Magic: The Gathering Arena pay-to-win?

MTG Arena is technically not pay-to-win, but spending money does help players flesh out their collection of cards.

Every card that is available to paying players can also be acquired by F2P players. At the highest tiers of play, meta decks are so optimized that new players basically have to pay up if they’re in a rush to get to that point.

That said, players can advance up the ranks and enjoy a worthwhile experience without actually paying any money. With enough games, any player can obtain enough currency to craft a strong deck. 

MTGA has daily and weekly quests that can be completed for gold. This gold can then be used to purchase new packs of cards.

Those packs won’t always have the cards you’re looking for. But they will also build up your pool of wildcards, which are used to craft any individual cards in the game and are the main way to build a meta deck.

How expensive is MTG Arena?

Players can spend as much or as little as they want when it comes to MTG Arena. While spending money helps with acquiring new cards, progression isn’t particularly difficult even for those who don’t spend money.

While there are in-game currencies such as gold and gems, they are not required to be competitive. Booster packs cost 1,000 gold or 200 gems. For those willing to pay, here’s the pricing for gems in MTG Arena.

  • 750 gems: $4.99
  • 1,600 gems: $9.99
  • 3,400 gems: $19.99
  • 9,200 gems: $49.99
  • 20,000 gems: $99.99

There is also a Mastery Pass that unlocks additional rewards for players, which costs 3,400 gems. Progress for the pass resets with the release of every new standard set in MTG Arena.

How to get cards and build a deck in MTG Arena

Cards can be obtained in MTG Arena through regular play, challenges, events, and booster packs.

First, complete the tutorial, color challenges, and starter deck duels to earn free decks. From there, playing the game and grinding out challenges can earn more free cards and packs. It’s also worth checking out the store for one-time new player deals, especially for gems at a discount. There are also a number of different ways to get codes for free packs and decks from official giveaways.

Completing daily challenges is essential for making progression while being completely free-to-play. Always re-roll 500-gold quests in favor of those offering 750 gold, and focus on securing the first four daily wins. After that, rewards will be diminished until the next round of dailies. For players who find it too tough, try playing Brawl, which is more beginner-friendly.

Players who also collect real, physical Magic: The Gathering cards can also find codes packaged inside the product. The box or pack will explicitly indicate that it includes codes for MTG Arena.

mtg arena code

Starter Deck Duels are also great for earning rewards and completing daily tasks. Plus, they give the player a good grasp of what decks they eventually want to build. 

The Jump In event is available to new players, and completing it is a fantastic starting point. Players are guaranteed to obtain rare cards after the event. New players will have free tokens for this event. Sometimes, the store has deals on gold and gems. Those wanting to get the most bang for their buck ought to wait for a discount.

The Starter Deck Duels and Jump In event battles can also be used to resolve MTGA daily quests, building up your pool of gold so that you can buy more card packs without having to use real money.

How to climb the ranks in Magic: The Gathering Arena for free

Players can climb the ranks in MTG Arena for free by being selective about how they use their in-game currency and being smart about how they use Wildcards.

Fully free-to-players who want to keep their spending limited to in-game currency should keep an eye on Quick Drafts. They give cards, packs, and gems, ensuring maximum returns.

Gems are best saved for the Mastery Pass or to play in Sealed and Draft events. Be cautious with Rare and Mythic Wildcards, as they’re scarce. Make sure to thoroughly think it over before using them. Also, remember to check the “Not Collected” box when crafting to see all available cards.

Players should also make sure to save gems for the Mastery Pass or for Sealed and Draft events. Gems are the scarcest resource for F2P players, so it’s important to not use them for things that are obtainable with gold. There are also ranked play rewards monthly, as well as semi-regular free events. 

MTG Arena formats and differences

One of the toughest things to figure out before taking the plunge into Magic, or any TCG, is the different formats. MTG Arena makes it even tougher as its formats are distinct from those of the actual Magic: The Gathering. Here’s a breakdown of the primary formats in MTG Arena:

Standard

This is the default way to play Magic: The Gathering. Standard players must use a deck with a minimum of 60 cards using legal sets, which change over time in a rotating format. While a player can go over 60 cards in their deck, it’s deemed suboptimal in most cases.

Alchemy

This format is essentially the same format as Standard but is managed very differently. Alchemy is treated as the digital evolution of Magic, with digital-only as well as rebalanced cards. This is the format most similar to Hearthstone.

Historic

This mode has access to every single card available in MTG Arena’s history and never rotates. This makes for a large, unique format with lots of strategies that can sometimes border on being wacky, given the sheer breadth of options available.

Brawl

Brawl is a beginner-friendly format that focuses on building decks around a legendary creature or Planeswalker. This mode has Standard and Historic variants. This format is particularly helpful for players who are still new or on a bit of a skid and want to get their daily bonuses completed.

Explorer

This mode is the precursor to supporting Magic: The Gathering’s Pioneer format in MTG Arena. Just like Pioneer, Explorer is a non-rotating format that includes every expansion since Return to Ravnica. What makes Explorer interesting is that, unlike Historic, there are no digital-only or Alchemy cards in the format. There will also be no rebalancing or suspension of cards, making it a true tabletop experience. 

Limited

In Limited, deck building is a part of the match. Players must create a deck from an unknown pool of cards. There are two different versions of the format in Draft and Sealed.

In Draft format, eight players create 40-card decks using cards from three packs, which are passed around to the players. Each player selects one card from an opened pack, passing the remainder leftward until all cards are chosen.  All drafted cards by the player are kept, except in the Cube Draft variant. This repeats until all packs are emptied, and the players can then build decks from their selections, with a minimum of 40 cards, adding any number of basic lands as they see fit.

Sealed, on the other hand, is completely random. The player is given six booster packs and must work with whatever they open. 

What’s the difference between MTG Arena and Magic: The Gathering Online?

MTG Online is meant to be a true digital equivalent to the actual Magic: The Gathering TCG, while MTG Arena has similar gameplay with a more video game-like progression system and presentation.

While they are both valid ways to digitally enjoy MTG, they are vastly different experiences. MTG Arena is where the “rocket is strapped” with regular updates and a larger advertising push. Consequently, that means MTG Arena is more accessible, with a sleek UI, and has an economy similar to competitors such as Hearthstone. 

MTG Online was the first-ever digital multiplayer Magic client, and it looks the part. While by no means ugly, it has none of the aesthetic flourishes common in modern digital card games like Pokemon TCG Live or Yu-Gi-Oh Master Duel. It’s just MTG cards on a table. There is also no way to obtain cards for free except for being gifted them directly by another player, as it is a carbon copy of the real-life MTG economy. The only way to get cards is by trading with other players using digital tickets or purchasing from online merchants. 

The player also needs to pay $4.99 for full access to MTG Online’s features. MTG Online has the following primary formats:

  • Modern
  • Pioneer
  • Legacy
  • Vintage
  • Pauper
  • Commander
  • Limited

This is essentially the same as paper MTG. Access to those older formats is the biggest reason to play MTG Online. However, the fact that players cannot take their real-life collection into MTG Online does make it tougher to get started.

How do MTG Arena tournaments work?

While there are third-party tournaments for MTG Arena, players at all levels will be presented with the opportunity to take part in tournaments directly through the MTG Arena platform. These tournaments have a buy-in, but have a variety of rewards including the potential to challenge for the world championship and the cash prizes attached to the event.

Play-In

The first step towards tournament greatness is the play-in event. MTG Arena’s play-in events run twice a month and have an entry cost of 20,000 gold, 4,000 gems, or 20 play-in points, which are obtained from events. Wins are decided through either best-of-one or best-of-three matches. Players receive rewards based on their performance, which can help recoup the cost of entry. Here are the rewards for competitions:

Best-of-One:

  • 0 wins: 500 gems
  • 1 win: 1,000 gems
  • 2 wins: 1,500 gems
  • 3 wins: 3,000 gems
  • 4 wins: 4,500 gems
  • 5 wins: 6,000 gems
  • 6 wins: 6,000 gems + Qualifier Weekend token

Best-of-Three:

  • 0 wins: 500 gems
  • 1 win: 2,000 gems
  • 2 wins: 4,500 gems
  • 3 wins: 6,000 gems
  • 4 wins: 6,000 gems + Qualifier Weekend token

Qualifier Weekend

This two-day event decides who gets to attend the Arena Championship. Seven wins are required to pass day two, and seven will more to get an invite to the Arena Championship and Pro Tour. Even then, of those winners, only 32 will be selected based on performances from Monthly Qualifier Weekends.

Day 1:

  • 0 wins: 500 gems
  • 1 win: 1,000 gems
  • 2 wins: 3,000 gems
  • 3 wins: 5,000 gems
  • 4 wins: 7,500 gems
  • 5 wins: 10,000 gems
  • 6 wins: 15,000 gems
  • 7 wins: 20,000 + Day 2 token

Day 2:

  • 0 wins: 250 gems
  • 1 win: 500 gems
  • 2 wins: 1,000 gems
  • 3 wins: 1,500 gems
  • 4 wins: 2,000 gems
  • 5 wins: 2,500 gems
  • 6 wins: 3,000 gems
  • 7 wins: 5,000 + Arena Championship & Pro Tour invitations

Magic: The Gathering Arena Championship

The MTG Arena Championship is the top of the mountain for MTG Arena. Featuring 32 players selected from four months of competitive play on MTG Arena, these elites compete for a $200,000 prize pool, with the top three and runners-up qualifying for the World Championship. The prize pool may vary at Wizards of the Coast’s discretion. 

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Written by Steven Rondina

Steven Rondina has been playing video games since he was a toddler and appreciates every genre out there. He has earned the platinum trophy in every Soulsborne game, is regularly Master Ball-ranked on the competitive Pokemon ladder, and has spent thousands of hours missing shots on Dust 2.

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