M:TG Oh!

Posted in Feature on September 1, 2006

By Brian Rogers

The following chronicles my initiation into the world of Magic: The Gathering Online. I undertook the beginning of my journey about three months ago, so some of the things I first experienced are a little dated now as the Magic Online world is constantly changing, but I wanted to document the experience with as fresh a mind as possible. So, step back in time a few months with me and enjoy the ride.

A World Without Magic Cards

After the long wait for the file to download, I was finally there, in the virtual realm of Magic Online. I had heard a lot of talk about the Magic Online world, but I had never really participated much before today. All of that has changed drastically.

My login ID is simple enough, BrianRogers. If you are ever playing MTGO and you see me, feel free to say “hello.”

A Virtual Tour

As I began exploring the world of Magic Online, I found many interesting things to look into. There is the Hall of Champions, where the highest rated MTGO players are immortalized. At the Trading Post, players across the world exchanged cards and tickets and virtual boosters so quickly I couldn’t read the list of transactions as they occured. In the Casual Play room, players tested their decks in preparation for one of the countless online tournaments. However, for me there was no place more enticing than the Sanctioned Play area. Immediately upon entering the Sanctioned Play room, I saw my own personal Holy Grail: Draft 8 Player! This is exactly where I wanted to be.

Each draft requires that you obtain the proper booster packs. There are drafts using three packs of Ninth Edition, Kamigawa block drafts, Ravnica block drafts, and Mirage/Visions draft. I expected to find the first three, but I was surprised to see that Wizards is going back in time and releasing older sets online, and Visions is the latest release on the web! Wow, that really takes me back to some of the good old days of being in college and playing Magic in the Nickel between classes.

My First Draft

I decided I had better keep things simple for my first draft, so I entered a Ninth Edition draft; all I needed was three boosters of Ninth Edition and two event tickets. I decided to enter one of the 4-3-2-2 cues instead of the 8-4 cue. If you are not familiar with MTGO, this means is that the prize structure for this draft is four packs for 1st place, three packs for 2nd place, and two packs for 3rd and 4th. Once I chose my draft, a window opened that showed me there were five players in the cue. We had to wait for three more players, so while we were waiting, I chatted with the other players signed up for my draft.

This is one of the aspects of MTGO that I really enjoy. Whatever room you are in, you can chat with everyone else in that room. You also have a buddy list, and you can chat with any of the players on your buddy list as long as they are online.

Once we had eight players in our draft cue, the draft was ready to begin. As in any draft, we were randomly seated around a table. The graphic at the top of the page allows you to see where everyone in the draft is seated and what direction the packs are being passed. By moving my mouse pointer over a card, I could see an enlarged version of the card and read its game text. Not too important with Ninth Edition, but if I do a Mirage/Visions draft later, this will be essential; it has been quite a while since I played with any of those cards.

Clicking on a card from the pack selects that card for your deck. By clicking on “picks” you are able to replace the view of the table with a sortable view of your picks up to that point. You can hide cards you don’t want to play, or sort your cards by rarity, color, or type. In a regular booster draft this would be frowned upon, but in the MTGO world it seems to be just fine.

After the third pack it was time to build a deck. All of the cards I had drafted were laid out, sorted by color for me to drag and drop into my deck. I had drafted a mostly white deck with some blue for fliers and counterspell. My deck had three Pacifisms and a lot of cheap, efficient creatures like Leonin Skyhunter and Veteran Cavalier, as well as two Remove Souls, a Rewind, and a Mana Leak. A tab at the bottom of the page allowed me to add land to my deck as needed.

I was ready to play my first game, a task that was very simple. The game begins with a roll of the die, a roll that I won. The game asked if I would like to play first, to which I responded by clicking “Yes.” My hand was drawn and I was asked if I wanted to mulligan; “No,” I clicked. It was my main phase; I clicked on a Plains in my hand, and it went into play. I clicked on the Plains in play and it tapped. I clicked an Infantry Veteran in my hand, it went onto the stack, and a moment later it went into play.

Game play is very simple to figure out. If you want to tap something or use an activated ability, just click on it. I got a couple of really useful tips from some of the other players; for example, you can hold “Alt” and press “U” to untap mana that you tapped but are not going to use, and if you want to retain priority after playing a spell, you have to hold down “Ctrl.” Aside from a couple of little tricks like this, it is very easy to start playing, just like paper Magic.


There are definitely some big differences between playing Magic with cards (a.k.a. IRL or In Real Life) vs. playing MTGO. For me, MTGO has been great because it allows me to find an opponent any time of day. Here in West Virginia, there aren’t too many other players around, and when I am free, many of them are either at work or in school. Before downloading MTGO, I actually hadn’t played a game of Magic for about two weeks. MTGO helped me get my Magic fix.

Another big difference is the clock you have when playing MTGO. Each player has 30 minutes to complete the match. Any time that the game is waiting for you to take an action, time is ticking off of your clock. If you run out of time, you lose your match. This happened to me during a Kamigawa block draft. I was playing a deck with a lot of splice cards and several triggered abilities. My opponent was playing a slow control deck with a lot of prevention. The first game I won, but I used up almost 20 minutes of my time doing it. The next game started to go long, but I was able to get most of the cards on his side of the board in the graveyard with a Soul of Magma and a handful of spirits and arcane spells. I had the cards on the board to attack and win in two more turns, but I ran out of time, costing me the match. This is something that will take a little getting used to.

The biggest difference, however, is the misclick. Unlike paper Magic, where you move your cards around the table, online everything is done with a mouse. Just like any error on a computer, the machine is unforgiving. Until you get to be comfortable with all of the controls, it is easy to click on the wrong thing at the wrong time and do something you didn’t intend to. However, once you get comfortable with how all of the different abilities interact, this becomes a much smaller issue.

MTGO helps you learn to play paper Magic better as well. Since MTGO handles all of the rules issues in the game, you can learn how things work during a game of Magic. I know a lot of players who are aware that they can put damage on the stack and respond by bouncing their creature to save it, even though they don’t know why they are able to do it. The Magic Online forum helps players with an incomplete understanding of the rules understand why they can do such things.

The Journey Continues

In the couple of months I have been playing, I have learned a lot about the virtual world of Magic, but there is still a lot more for me to learn. I have met many players, and in general I have found that everyone seems to be very helpful, especially when you have questions or can’t figure out how to do something. In the online world, if you don’t know how to do something, just ask. I expect to see you online in virtually no time at all.

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