The Nearly Essential Magic Online Primer

Feature Article from Frank Lepore
Frank Lepore
6/17/2013 10:01:00 AM
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(A note from Frank: Hey guys. The Magic Online Community Cup is upon us again and currently accepting nominations. For some information on what the Community Cup is, check out this Wizards article here. I campaigned for it last year, but unfortunately did not make the team, so I figured what better way to kick off another campaign than within a 4,500 word article exploring Magic Online?

So what do I need from you? Not much, and I hope you'll agree. As you know I have produced two articles a week, which are based in Magic Online, for the past three years, one of which often takes your reader submitted decks and gives you advice. I'm also a semi-active streamer and have been a member of the Podcast Untapped and the Wizards Event Coverage team.

If you believe I would be worthy of representing you guys in the Community Cup, direct your browsers here and do me the favor of nominating me for your representative at the Community Cup (if you don't have a forum account, making one is pretty simple and it would mean a ton).

In the subject field, type “Community Cup.” In the question section, type anything else your heart desires and let them know you want to nominate Frank Lepore for the Community Cup. That's it. I would be absolutely honored to represent the community that has become such a large part of my life and I appreciate any help you guys could provide to get me there. Thank you so much for your consideration.


Magic Online is a program I use no less than two times a week professionally (for the very articles we publish on this site) and for a good deal of time personally. It is often referred to as either MTGO (Magic:The Gathering Online) or as MODO, which stands for “Magic Online Digital Objects.” But truth be told, many of you seem to wonder about how it works and what it is. From how tournaments work, to how much cards cost, to how to download it. This article is an attempt to cover all of those bases and give you a better idea on how to take the plunge into Magic Online if it has been something you were curious about.

What this article is not going to be is a critique of the client itself. Yes, we all know there are complaints about things like the classified system, how it looks, whatever. But this is not the forum I want to use to discuss them. I use the client day in and day out, for professional and personal use, and hopefully I can make it at least a little easier for anyone looking to get into playing Magic Online that was not already. Because it's not only a great tool to get better at the game and learn the rules, but the ability to have a game, in any format, 24 hours a day, is just awesome.

Where can I download Magic Online?

This is obviously the first step and a question I get asked all the time. Actually, more specifically, I get asked, “what is the program you are using?”

Well, first things first, you want to download the client here. On this page you have the option to download the Wide Beta client (which is going to reflect what the new version will be like in the future) or the Current Version. The current version is obviously the most popular because that's what the majority of players use, but both are in usable states and both have their pros and cons right now.

Alright, I'm ready to dive in. How do I create an account?

In order to create an account, Magic Online charges a one-time fee of $9.99. You can go to the same page I linked above, here, to create your account. Once you pay your $9.99, you'll receive the following:

- 1 Magic 2013 Booster Pack
- 4 New Player Tickets and 2 Event Tickets
- 5 Avatars
- 1 Planeswalker 2013 Deck Pack
- Over 300 Magic Online cards

Now, to be honest, you might not use a lot of the items other than the event tickets and the booster pack, but we'll get into that more in the next sections. You used to get a $9.99 credit for the Magic Online store when you made an account, but they changed that. I think the reason for the change was that new players weren't sure how to actually start playing Magic with their store credit, so they instead switched to giving new players actual cards they can use, a couple of tickets, and some “New Player Tickets” which can be used in specific events to get you started learning the client without wasting actual Event Tickets (we'll cover what these are later).

How much should I expect to spend?

This is a pretty open-ended question. Magic Online can cost you $5 a month. Or it can cost you $300 a month. This is both one of the benefits and one of the disadvantages of it at the same time. It very much comes down to how you like to play Magic (and also how well you do).

For example, you can buy a ton of Return to Ravnica block commons and uncommons and have fun in the casual room to your heart's content (which is absolutely free to play in with any card you own; as is the "Tournament Practice" room). This would cost you less than $10 and you'd end up with some pretty fun decks. Before tweaks, the Maze's End deck I wrote about here probably costs less than $15 on Magic Online, and you can even afford to make a lot of the changes I made.

However if you're a competitive player, and you want to keep up with the latest Standard decks, you should be prepared to spend a little bit more. If you like to draft, you might need to be prepared to pay full retail for a draft every time you want one (approximately $14), however if you're good at limited, and end up winning your fair share, you could end up paying for only half, or a third of your drafts (which is pretty good, if you ask me).

Personally, I don't spend very much for how seriously I play, but I might spend more than most. Each release (which is every three months) I tend to do a good amount of drafts, collecting any chase cards I happen to open, then I spend about $150-$200 on singles from the new set. (While this might seem like a lot, it's really not that expensive for a serious hobby. On average think of it as one $60 video game a month.)

However this might be quite uncommon. I'm something of a completist and I like having playsets of most cards. I do this for several reasons: 1) I don't like scurrying around at the last minute for random cards that I might need for decks since I need a lot of potentially random cards for articles, and 2) I like to get cards when they're more accessible (re: cheaper) so that if a card gets “discovered,” and shoots up in price, I don't have to end up paying $15 each for them.

Okay, so how do I get cards?

Ah, here's the big question. How do you acquire cards in Magic Online. Well, there are a couple ways, some more popular - and economical - than others. The first way is to simply buy packs from the Magic Online store...and open them. I don't recommend this (and virtually no one does this), because unlike real life, you won't get any bulk discounts on Magic Online unfortunately. The second way requires more work, but is arguably the most fun way to do it: drafting. In the past I've completed many-a-playset of cards by simply drafting and taking money cards or cards I needed when they show up. I would do this in the 4-3-2-2 queue (this mean that first place gets four packs, second place gets three packs, and third and fourth get two packs) because I was okay with losing after one round and only being out a pack (winning two after investing three) if my intention was to draft for rare constructed cards. This meant I got to cherry pick the rares and uncommons from three packs when a new set was released, often at the cost of one pack per draft if I was able to win my first round.

If you're decent at drafting, you should be able to only lose minimal value in this way, especially when you're able to sell back a lot of your cards from the event to bots (we will get into this later also). This is especially true during Release Events when the cards are brand new and at a premium. But make sure not to overestimate your drafting ability; once this happens, this course of action tends to become a money sink.

The last way to acquire cards is by buying them. Seeing as Wizards doesn't like to dip their hands in the secondary market, you can't buy them from the online store; you have to buy them from either the Classified or bots.

The Classifieds are basically a place where you can list the cards you want to buy or sell, along with a price you're willing to pay or sell for. You're also able to search for every card or product that is listed through the search bar.

(Tip: in the Classifieds you can make the grey, circled number symbols by typing Ctrl+Q, then pressing the corresponding number you want. This often stands out a little more in listings than textual numbers.)

While the classifieds aren't perfect, they're what we have, and often you can find what you're looking for. If you're looking for packs, you often want to search for the sets abbreviation, such as RTR, GTC, DGM; or the entire block's abbreviation if looking for a draft set, such as DGR.

For buying cards quickly and easily, there are several bot “chains” on Magic Online that will store your credit and often have a ton of cards (usually most) at any given time. This means that if you buy a card for, say, $0.60 (or rather .60 Event Tickets, covered in the next section), the bot will take one Event Ticket, and store .40 Event Tickets on their server. So whenever you make another purchase from any bot in the “chain,” it will utilize your credit first, then take any remaining Event Tickets if necessary.

The two major bot chains that I use most often are Cardbot and SupernovaBots, but there are numerous others. These simply work for me, and they tend to have what I need and buy at competitive rates.

The Cardbot chain prices can be found here, and consist of the following bots:


The SupernovaBot chain prices can be found here, and consist of the following bots:


Basically you can add these bot names to your buddy list within the client, and then open trade with them at any time by clicking on their name and selecting “trade.” While there are a ton of bots and chains on Magic Online, these are a couple that I use the most, and should be great at getting you started.

What is an Event Ticket that you've been mentioning?

Event Tickets are the biggest part of the MTGO economy, but they're so much more than that. Event Tickets can be purchased in the Magic Online store for $1 each. So 100 Event Tickets cost $100, etc.

Event tickets have two uses: tournament entry and currency. For example, Standard two-man queues cost two Event Tickets to enter. In addition to the three packs, Drafts also cost two Event Tickets. Something like an eight-man constructed queue costs six Event Tickets to enter. While tournament entry was the original intention of the Event Ticket, it has become the established currency of Magic Online. A ticket is worth a dollar in the game, so if you want to purchase a card from someone for five dollars, you'll trade them five Event Tickets and they'll trade you the card. Make sense?

Typically you can acquire Event Tickets by selling your cards and packs to players and bots on the Classifieds (which we will go into later) or by purchasing them from the Magic Online store.

How much do cards cost within the game?

You might be surprised to find out they often cost less than their paper counterparts. Some chase cards can go for a little more, but often you're paying significantly less, simply due to the amount of limited events (Drafts and Sealeds) that are firing at any given time. This ensures a constant flow of cards into the economy, keeping prices down to reasonable levels. Here are some examples in dollars and Event Tickets:

Ral Zarek Paper: ~$13
Ral Zarek Digital: ~8

AEtherling Paper: ~$5
AEtherling Digital: ~2.5

Advent of the Wurm Paper: ~$5
Advent of the Wurm Digital: ~2

Master of Cruelties Paper: ~$5
Master of Cruelties Digital: ~1

And this doesn't just extend to Standard either. Mutavaults cost about 12 on Magic Online, while the lowest price in paper is about $21. Don't get me started on Legacy prices, where Underground Sea is around a ridiculous 34 tickets. If you're curious about any prices you can just see for yourself, by clicking on either one of the links to those bot pages I listed above; they usually function as great price guides.

How do I win packs?

By playing in events, of course! I already mentioned things like the 4-3-2-2 prize structure and how much certain events cost. Other than those there are Premier Events that cost ten Event Tickets and have a pretty high player cap. These events determine a round number by the number of players, and cut to the Top 8. Daily Events also have a high player cap, but only cost six Event Tickets. The difference is that Daily Events are always four rounds, and they pay out to both players who made 3-1 and 4-0. You can find events in the following manner:

If you go to this menu, you can find every event or queue that's currently running or scheduled to run. Furthermore, if you click on the name of the event in the description column - for example “Standard 8-Player” in the Constructed Queues room - it will take you to this screen, and give you all the details of that event, including cost and prize breakdown. Most events pay out in the most recent expansion (so currently Dragon's Maze) or the set that is associated with them. Tempest Draft would pay out in Tempest product, etc.

Drafts seem expensive. Is there any way to draft for less?

Yes! There is a relatively new option known as “Phantom Events.” Phantom Events don't always cover every format, but currently running are Phantom RTR Block Sealed, AVR Sealed, and M13 Sealed, along with Modern Masters Drafts. So what are Phantom Events? Basically, instead of using the necessary product and Event Tickets to play in an event, Phantom Events require you to use no product, and twice as many Event Tickets. So while a regular RTR Block Sealed event would cost you two Return to Ravnica packs, two Gatecrash packs, and two Dragon's Maze packs, along with two Event Tickets, the Phantom version of this event will only cost you four Event Tickets. That's it. Essentially four dollars to play an entire Sealed event.

The catch? None of the cards will be added to your account after the event. But you will still earn prizes! This is a great alternative for players who want to get better at Sealed of Draft, but don't want to spend an arm and a leg.

Are there any tricks, hotkeys, or shortcuts I should know about?


First off, whenever an ability is on the stack, you can right click on it and tell the game not to “autoyield” to it. For example, if I have a Phyrexian Arena in play, every upkeep the ability will go on the stack and I have to hit “OK.” That's the game autoyielding for that ability. If I right click on the ability while it's on the stack, I can tell the game not to autoyield (in other words you're saying, “I will never have responses for this, so stop prompting me”) and the game will simply resolve the ability without making me hit “OK” every time. If you ever want to remove this, and make it so the game stops on your trigger again, pressing F3 will remove all autoyields. Make sense?

F2 - The same as hitting “OK.” Generally used for moving through phases and steps instead of using the mouse.

F3 - Remove all autoyields, including Auto Yes, and Auto No; Overrides F4 / F6; great if you accidentally F6 though your turn if you hit F3 fast enough.

F4 - “I'm done, but give me a chance to plays spells or abilities if something happens that I'm able to respond to.” If you press it during your turn and have creatures that can attack, the game will pause during the declare attackers phase. Once you attack or respond to something, the effect of F4 is cancelled and you have to press it again if you still don't want to do anything that turn.

F5 - Lets you briefly look at your face-down cards.

F6 - Yield to everything until End of Turn (EOT). In other words, “I'm really done. Don't prompt me again this turn, no matter what happens.” Again, if you press it during your turn and have creatures that can attack, the game will pause during the declare attackers phase and allow you to attack. You are still prompted if you have to make choices. This can be undone by hitting F3.

F7 - Until the end of the current game, put all triggers with the same text that trigger at the same time on the stack automatically if they do not target. For example, if you have three creatures with bushido that all are blocked at the same time, this will place all the bushido triggers on the stack without having to click to choose the order.

F8 - Pass priority for the rest of the game if you are unable to do something. Also known as “no bluffing.”

F9 - Yes (when applicable)

F10 - No (when applicable)

Alt+Y - Push the Yes button shown when making a choice for a spell or ability.
Alt+N - Push the No button shown when making a choice for a spell or ability.
Alt+U or Ctrl+Z - Undo a mana tap

Holding Ctrl while playing a spell or ability will allow you to retain priority and respond to it.

But how do I get over the fact that I'm paying for cards twice?

This is a tricky one. You can't really, in the same way you can't buy a DVD movie and then get upset when you have to buy the same movie on Blu-Ray. Or why I can't buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto for my PS3 and get a copy for my Xbox for free. Or why you can't also buy a CD for your car, then get the album on iTunes for free.

While the intellectual property is the same, the effort and services used to provide the two products are completely different, as are the benefits and disadvantages to both. I think you'll find there are two very different uses to the two ways to play and I'll outline many of them in the next section, but to simplify: I love going to the card store, ordering food with friends, slinging spells, and chatting between rounds. It's the best. But I also love the ability to fire up Magic Online and draft at two AM when I get home from FNM. Or maybe at 10 AM when I get up on Saturday morning, while I'm eating breakfast. Maybe I want to play around in the deck editor on Magic Online before FNM, to get a feel for how a deck looks or to move some things around and visualize it. My local store is also about 35 minutes away, which makes just firing up MTGO sometimes much more convenient than heading up there and hoping a draft will fire.

These are all options that paper Magic does not allow me and are definitely worth considering. The two different ways to play Magic provide vastly different experiences that cater to different preferences, but they have one awesome thing in common: they let is play Magic.

I don't like that the cards aren't “real.”

Well, let's define “real.” Does real mean you can hold it in your hand? Because in that case, love, thoughts, and the money in your bank account aren't real. This is somewhat of an antiquated notion, and eventually even your movie collection won't be “real.” Heck, I bet your music collection isn't even that “real” anymore; I don't think I actually own a CD anymore. What about the books on your Kindle? Is Netflix real? But then you'll make the argument that the money in your bank account can be removed and thus made real. A fair point. Well, so can the cards in your Magic Online account.

Here's the thing: my account is worth as much now as it was several months ago. If I wanted to “cash out” of the game, I can do it the same way as I could with “real” cards. I could either sell my cards to bots and get Event Tickets, then sell those Event Tickets on eBay, Magic friends on Facebook, whatever. Or I could simply list the cards themselves in a similar way. If that's not your style, Magic Online also has a redemption program that you can read all about here! That's right. You're able to collect any number of full sets on Magic Online, then redeem those cards (where they will then be removed from your account) and you will be mailed physical copies of those cards. You can even redeem foil sets!

Now you do have to submit full sets, otherwise there would be millions of players buying one or two cards in the lower priced MTGO economy and submitting millions of redemption requests; these limitations are necessary to keep the submissions “reasonable.” When you consider that a lot of cards on MTGO cost about 2/3s as much as their “real” counterparts, collecting sets online then redeeming them doesn't seem like that bad of an idea.

In my mind something is as real as the value I get out of it. I have thousands of commons and uncommons in my room right now, and many of you have probably seen them if you've watched me stream before. Honestly they're cumbersome and they take up a ton of space, and let's be honest, many are virtually worthless. I never have this problem on Magic Online. All my cards are easily organized for me, take up no physical space, and can be traded to friends or sold to bots in an instant, making them actually fairly liquid. Furthermore, the entire point of Magic isn't to hold pieces of paper in your hands; it's to play Magic. That's what you're paying for: the game itself, not the vehicle used to provide it. And you get that in Magic Online. Any time you want. 24 hours a day. With people around the world. I can make deck changes on the fly. I can use the same cards in multiple decks, one after the other. I don't have to desleeve and resleeve when I want to switch those decks.

Those benefits to me are worth far more than the comfort of having the 1,432nd Bronzebeak Moa pass through my hands.

How can I play Magic Online on my Mac?

As of now, there is unfortunately no native Mac client. While I have heard that it is in the works, it looks a bit away. Personally, I have a MacBook Pro, and half the time I'm playing Magic Online is on that. You can either use Boot Camp (which comes with OS X now), or you can use Parallels (which I do). I have had virtually zero issues using the client in this manner, and while I can see how buying separate software isn't ideal, there are options out there if you own a Mac and really want to take the plunge. In fact this was my largest caveat before buying a Mac; once I realized it was possible, I decided to give the OS a try.


I know this was long. Perhaps one of the longest articles I've ever written, clocking in at around 4,500 words almost, but you wouldn't believe the number of questions I get regarding Magic Online each week, and as someone who uses the client as much as I do, I wanted to take some time to defend the old girl. Sure, she isn't the prettiest girl at the dance, but she'll definitely be your date if you need one.

I hope I was able to educate a little bit more on how Magic Online works, Dispel some negative myths or ideas you might have had about it, and perhaps introduced you to some positive aspects of it that you might not have thought of. Maybe you'll even give Magic Online a try. If you guys have any questions that I didn't answer, please add them to the comments below and I'll try and update the article for posterity. Also, again, if you can sacrifice the time, please vote for me in the Community Cup. It would mean the world to represent you guys that support me week after week, and you can find the instructions in the opening of the article. Thanks a lot for reading and I hope you enjoyed this!

Frank Lepore
@FrankLepore on Twitter
FrankLepore on TwitchTV

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