Learn, Adapt, Overcome, MTGO
With social distancing, paper Magic has become more difficult for most players to enjoy. Playing using webcams to show your boardstate has become a common practice for many players but I implore you to consider an alternative. Boot up Magic: The Gathering Online and spend a few dollars for one of the best Commander experiences available.
A program where you only ever need to own one copy of a card to use in all of your Commander decks, not worry about forgetting triggers, and negate the need to shuffle your deck or worry about cheating. Many players wish to stick to their paper collections due to their preexisting card pool, but the cost of entry to MTGO is rather cheap. Most format staples cost a matter of cents or a small fraction of what they would paper (with a handful of exceptions). In reality, you can easily buy into Commander online at $5 or less and have fun games of Magic.
Let’s look over some examples of staples that remain at a low price on MTGO in comparison to their paper price.
Goblin Bombardment – $7.96 paper versus $0.04 online
Helm of Obedience – $27.44 paper versus $2.23 online
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria – $40.48 paper versus $3.95 online
Sylvan Library – $47.96 paper versus $0.02 online.
Survival of the Fittest – $125.08 paper versus $0.18 online
Bazaar of Baghdad – $1,787.56 paper versus $0.59 online
I imagine that last one caught your eye. The reserve list doesn’t exist on Magic Online. As a result, you can acquire cards like Black Lotus for as little as $10, and the same goes for ABUR dual lands like Underground Sea. This also plays heavily into the fact you only need one copy of each card. Getting one of every dual, shock and general mana base staples isn’t going to break the bank the way it would in paper, giving you access to a large variety of cards you wouldn’t normally have.
As mentioned before, this is all through an online client that keeps track of the rules for you and allows you to read your opponent's board’s easily (some glitches outstanding). Having clear and concise board states managed by the client is something most players won’t appreciate until they’ve experienced it for themselves. The same goes for not having to shuffle after any search effect or mulligan making the games go by far faster than they would normally. The speed of play is improved due to all these quality of life improvements.
Triggers being handled by the client itself will be a saviour for many players who want to play decks like Tatyova, Benthic Druid. The client is also capable of utilizing ‘take control of target permanent’ effects properly, which has proven to be difficult for webcam Commander. With the use of online, the entire strategy returns to a playable state.
The ease of deckbuilding is also an incredibly underrated component of the client. With the ability to search every card available on the program, you have the power of Gatherer at your fingertips. This lets you drag and drop cards in and out of your deck, giving you the option to look through all available arts of the cards as well. I do a large chunk of my brewing for Commander in the MTGO client as do many players I interact with.
This has all been pretty great so far right? However, let’s talk about a few of the downsides and how you can overcome them with ease.
The User Interface
I'll get this out of the way: It’s ugly. Everyone who has heard of Magic Online knows this. It looks like software stuck in the 90s and is about as user friendly. While they’ve made large changes to the program to help make it easier to get into, it still isn’t friendly to newcomers. A lot of information may be hidden unless you know which menu to find it under. Some aspects of the turn (like attacking planeswalkers or players) can be confusing for many. This can be dealt with by playing with more experienced players at first. Ask around in your playgroup to see if anyone is familiar with the software. You can also try running through a number of test games, just to understand everything before actually trying to play a game. The latter is a great learning experience for all included. Try to learn things like how Commanders move from zone to zone, stacking your triggers, activating abilities when you want to, and attacking players or planeswalkers.
MTGO works through a trading system. You place cards from your collection into a trade binder that then allows you to trade them with either other players or stores. There’s also the system of event tickets that are used as a form of currency for buying cards, so if you don’t want to pay a card seller directly, you can buy cards off of them with tickets which they can then sell later. As well, even dealing with sellers is predominantly handled through bots. You use their website to select the cards you want, then they put those cards into the trade binder of a bot who invites you to trade with them whenever you’re ready. It’s very fast and efficient but can be confusing for many newcomers to the program. Some have live support that will generally be able to walk you through the process. Once you do it the first time, it’s easy to complete again.
Maintaining Power Level
One of the best parts of playing online is how cheap all the decks are. Buying cards that would cost you over a thousand dollars paper and being able to play with them for a matter of cents is incredible. However, it could lead to some rather busted decks that you wouldn’t normally see or play with. The best way to counteract this if you find your playgroup’s meta is getting a little out of hand is to impose price limits on decks. Given the program, these can be rather cheap and still have fun and interactive games of Magic. It’s common to see people impose anywhere from $1 to $15 limits and have incredibly fun games while still having some very powerful and efficient spells.
Various Technical Issues
Sometimes the game may crash or glitches may prevent a game from being completed. These aren’t common but will likely happen to players at one point or another. I can’t say one should be too worried about this. Instead, keep an eye on the memory leak issues that the game has. When using MTGO, try not to leave it on in the background too often as it will bog down your computer over time. This can be solved by periodically restarting the program or as an absolute worst-case scenario, restarting your computer. It isn’t a huge problem but it is a minor annoyance that should be fixed eventually.
Well, I hope this answered some of your questions and offers an alternative for playing Magic with your friends. The problems with the program can easily be overcome. Magic Online gives you the ability to play one of the best games there is out there with friends. Consider giving it a try, it’s free so it can’t hurt, right? Maybe next time we can go over some possible budget decklists that can help get your foot in the door!