A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide To Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO/MODO), by Kerry Meyerhoff

A Comprehensive Introduction to the World of Digital Gameplay

Magic Online Championship wallpaper

Everything you need to know for starting Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO/MODO)

If you’ve ever played any paper Magic: The Gathering at FNM in the last decade and a half, you’ve almost certainly heard someone mention “MTGO” or “MODO“. If these are terms you are unfamiliar with, they both refer to Magic: The Gathering Online, Wizards’ online version of Magic. MTGO supports almost every format you can play in paper, plus some online-only casual formats, and many thousands of cards for your collection. If you have heard of Magic Online, but never quite knew where to begin, then this is the guide for you. MTGO has plenty to offer and is a great way of getting more involved in Magic, regardless of your available budget.

There is a huge online community to go alongside the cards and a myriad of tournaments. A wide array of people play MTGO for different reasons – some mainly play paper, but have cheap cards online in casual formats like Pauper or Momir Basic, whilst others use it to playtest different decks before events to see how they perform within a particular format. Others play MTGO for a living on stream or in addition to being a pro player, and some, who have no interest in paper Magic whatsoever, but have instead transferred their entire collections into virtual cards for lack of a local play network or for geographical reasons.

Okay You’ve Peaked My Interest – So How Do I Get Started?

First, you will need to download and install the software from Wizards’ website. It is free to download, though it is currently only available on Windows, and you can find the minimum system requirements via the download link. As you would expect, it requires a Broadband internet connection in order to play.

Once you have the programme installed, the game will prompt you to create an account with a username and password. This is where you will incur the first (and potentially the only) monetary cost of entering the game, which is a flat $10 fee. There are no monthly costs or recurring fees – That’s right the only money you will spend beyond this initial fee is to buy booster packs, further singles or tickets to enter events.

The good news is that this $10 courtesy package buys you much more than just an account. With it, you will receive a “starter pack” full of goodies:

  • 5 Event Tickets –  These virtual tickets are worth $1 each (around 65p) and allow you to enter events or buy singles from online sellers.
  • 20 New Player Points – New Player Points can be used to enter New to Magic events online – Four-man drafts which develop your initial collection, become accustomed to the software and allow you to play with other people who are new to the MTGO.
  • 5 Player Avatars – In short, your in game profile pictures which you can continue to collect as you play.

Most importantly, the introductory package also includes 1200 Magic: The Gathering cards including 40 of each basic land and cards from a variety of Standard-legal sets in order to get you started. The full list of cards you receive is available here. Though most of what you receive won’t be bomb rares and mythics, you can collect more cards for your collection by winning events, entering drafts and/or buying singles or booster packs.


That Sounds Fantastic – So How Do I Get The Cards I Need For My Deck?

magic the gathering online Event TicketsThere are three different types of virtual currency available on MTGO: The first and most common of which are Event Tickets, which can be used to purchase almost anything from event entry to single cards, and which can be bought, sold and traded freely between players. You will receive five upon creating an account for the first time and, beyond that, you can buy them for $1 each from the MTGO online store or from other online traders, such as MTGOTraders, who allow you to turn paper cards into virtual credit with additional value if you chose to trade in directly for store credit.

You see, in addition to the official Wizards MTGO storefront, there is a trading tab filled with ‘Bots’ (and the occasional player). The Bot storefronts in this tab allow you to trade in cards you no longer need for value and purchase singles at better prices than cracking packs – much like paper Magic. All singles sold or traded by players and Bots alike is conducted by converting the trade value of each card in Tickets, often shortened to “tix”.

The second form of currency is called Play Points, and you receive these by playing in various events. The number of points you receive will be relative to your performance throughout the event, and you can use them to enter further events in the future. Unlike Tickets, these cannot be sold, traded or transferred, and cannot be used to buy cards. However, if you consistently perform well, you can continue to use the Play Points you earn, rather than shelling out for additional Event Tickets to cover entry costs for events you want to enter.

Finally, you can also use booster packs as currency. When you finish on a positive record in an event, just like you would at FNM, you’ll receive a set number of virtual booster packs. Instead of cracking these for cards, you can trade them in as entry for another event (usually supplementing a few Tickets), or sell them to bots for Tickets.

There are many advantages to investing in a Magic Online collection. For example, the fact that all cards are worth something to the Bots, even bulk commons, thus you can likely trade in much of what you don’t need for the cards you are looking for. You never know, your accumulated draft fodder could realistically buy you something like a Thoughtseize in the near future.

You won’t have to pay for postage or wait for your cards to arrive either, as they appear immediately in your account once payment has been completed. Additionally, many older cards are cheaper than in real life (strictly in terms of $ value), as they are more readily available due to online-only reprints – the best example of which is the Power Nine and Revised Dual Lands, which were reprinted in an online-exclusive set called Vintage Masters and are far less costly than their paper counterparts. Furthermore, there are regular flashback drafts of older sets which increases the circulation of chase format staples, thus increasing the opportunity to expand your collection further online than you may be able to in paper for the same investment.


Okay I’ve Got My Deck Ready To Play – What’s Next?

So you have downloaded MTGO, created an account, built your deck and now you are ready to play! Most paper formats are available to play online: Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, etc. In addition, there are other sanctioned MTGO formats which are cheaper to pick up and focussed more toward the casual player. Pauper, for example, is a format in which you are only allowed to use cards that have been printed at common on MTGO. Most commons online are incredibly cheap, and you can pick up a competitive Pauper deck for less than a five-ticket investment. The Pauper format is one of the most diverse and popular online, and has begun to spread its presence into paper Magic. I thoroughly recommend taking the time to read through fellow writer George Mostyn’s articles on the Pauper format if you are interested in battling it out with nothing but commons.

Whichever format you choose, there are also multiple ways to play:

  • League – Similarly to FNM, you will play five rounds with your chosen deck and your score accumulates throughout, receiving prizes based on your record at the end of round five. The best part about a League is that you do not have to play all five round in succession, but you can take a break, come back a couple of hours later and continue to participate without losing your score. The entry fee is 8 Tickets or 80 Play Points.
  • Daily – Events for the more competitive of players are scheduled for set start times at intervals throughout the day. These are Swiss events hosting competitive levels of competition, and which award QPs (Qualifier Points) for successful players. Accumulating enough Qualifier Points allow a player to enter the annual Magic Online Championships (MOCs). The entry fee for Daily events is 12 Tickets or 120 Play Points.
  • Open Play – In Open Play, you can create your own games or join other peoples’ in a free play environment. There are no entry fees for these games, allowing you just play casually to try out new decks or new formats, and thus there are no prizes for winning. This is as close to kitchen-table Magic as MTGO gets, and caters for people who just want to play some fun games to cool off at the end of a long day.

In terms of Limited play, there are a few different types of draft and sealed environments: You have your usual Swiss limited, where you will play three rounds with the other seven people in your pod, regardless of winning or losing. You will also find more competitive single-elimination limited events, but the prize pool contains QPs for the MOCs, as mentioned above.

Finally, there are “phantom” events, in which your entry is much cheaper but you won’t get to keep the cards come the end of the final round. This can be a really good way to practice for a limited event without spending too much money cracking packs, or to get used to a limited environment where rare-drafting is pointless and, therefore, decks tend to be slightly more competitive.


What Advice Would You Give To An MTGO Beginner Before the Start of Any Match?

Whatever format or event type you choose, there are a few things to be aware of in-game:

1. If you are not familiar with the priority system of Magic, you soon will be – You have to pass priority artificially to your opponent in every step and phase, so you will soon become aware of when you can respond and when you are required to act within any given phase in the turn.

2. Once you have completed an action it is impossible to take it back – If you have accidentally cast the wrong spell, you can’t undo it, so be very careful what and where you click. The only exception to this is being able to untap lands before you cast the spell to tap differently – however once the spell is put on the stack, you will be unable to reselect which lands you tap.

3. Beware the timer – Both you and your opponent have separate timers which track your timekeeping independently. If you are a slow player or take a long time to make decisions, or are simply unused to a format, be wary of the clock which is displayed just above your avatar photo. Once it reaches zero, you will instantly lose the match so keep your eyes pealed!

4. People can, and will, be salty – Although most of the community are extremely pleasant, just like in real life, you are playing against a real person and sometimes a small percentage of the population can be rather toxic. Remember, you can close the chat window at any time if you don’t want to talk to your opponent, and you can report them to Wizards if they are offensive in any way.

5. Play some casual events first – The interface on MTGO is notoriously tricky to navigate for the uninitiated, and you can easily accidentally skip turns or play something you didn’t mean to by pressing the wrong hotkey. Enter some Open Play queues first to familiarise yourself with the interface so you won’t throw away a more important match further down the line by accidentally passing priority when you had a counterspell to play, for example.

Most importantly, have fun! MTGO was created to allow players to play more Magic at their own leisure, in their own homes, without having to wait for regularly scheduled events at FNM or their Local Game Store. Though it can be costly to maintain two entire collections, if you find that there is simply not enough Magic being played nearby or you want to be able to play more of your favourite formats, then MTGO can be a fun and cost-effective hobby.


How To Start Playing On Magic: The Gathering Online by Tolarian Community College

Below are 3 videos I have found on the subject that I feel you might find helpful.

The MTGO Guide: How To Start Playing Magic: The Gathering Online

by Tolarian Community College

A Guide To Building Decks And Gameplay On Magic: The Gathering Online

by Tolarian Community College

Is it worth it to play Magic The Gathering Online? A Critical MTG Review

by Tolarian Community College

Community Question: Is Magic: The Gathering Online is a good substitute for playing paper Magic? If so then why? If not then why not?

Post your comments and opinions in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading,


A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide To Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO/MODO), by Kerry Meyerhoff
Everything you need to know for starting Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO/MODO)

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