The year 2000. It was supposed to be great. Mankind should have had colonies on the moon, flying cars, and eliminated war and poverty. Well, none of that happened, but we did get a consolation prize: Magic the Gathering Online. The game so many of us call cardboard crack suddenly became digital crack. The popularity of the Invasion cycle propelled MTGO to the forefront and many people continue to join the online masses. But here we are, at an alliance for casual players, and in my brief glancing through of so many profiles, I found that hardly anyone registered here has an online handle. What's the deal? I figure a lot of people are too lazy to put it in their profile, but I'm guessing a lot still haven't examined the web space that is the world of online Magic. So I'd like to give a little introduction to the game for those who haven't tried it, based on my experiences online.
A lot of people have reservations about MTGO and I'll admit it's not right for everyone. So I'll review the pros and cons of the digital vs. the real and allow the people to come to their own conclusions.
First of all, I'll tell you why I started playing online. I have no friends. Well, not really, but for a while, my closest Magic-playing friend lived about 300 miles away. I kept buying cards and building decks without ever having someone to play against. When I go online and build a deck, I know there will always be someone ready to play and can usually pick up a game in less than a minute. Now, I play paper Magic about once a month, but whenever I have a few free minutes at the computer, I can always start up a game online. Of course, there are two sides to every coin. The people I play face to face are pleasant, friendly and fair. The same cannot be said for everyone online. Some people bring their Tier 1 tournament decks into the casual room. Others quit a game as soon as they start losing. For my money, the decline in quality opponents is worth the extra time playing the game I love.
Another great thing about the online game regards the management of one's collection. I have no idea how many real Magic cards I own. It could be a thousand. It could be ten thousand. It could be a hundred thousand. I'm not a good judge of these things. When I need a card, I grab a box and start flipping through it, looking for what I need. Online, I own 2763 cards, sorted by set, color, casting cost or whatever other parameter I choose. If I obtain another thousand cards, they'll take up no extra space in my room or on my computer or anywhere else. If I have four of any particular card, I can put it in all my decks. If I want to build a six hundred card deck, it's not a problem. Of course, none of the cards are real, but I buy my cards to play with, not to collect.
Buying cards is another issue that has two very different sides. I used to buy booster boxes for $80 a piece. That comes out to about $2.25 per pack. Pretty good deal. There are no deals online. Packs are $3.69. Decks are $11.29. But don't worry because buying cards from the Wizards store is for chumps. The beauty of the online game is wheeling and dealing in the Trading Post. Some people sell up to 100 commons for one ticket (one ticket = one dollar). They aren't good commons, but a smart and savvy deckbuilder can manage two to three solid casual decks with that one ticket. Just last night I built a ninja deck in about an hour for less than three tickets. The most expensive cards to obtain were Throatslitters and Ornithopters, which go 4 for one ticket. I always wished I were getting that kind of value out of my real cards. Now not everyone wants to survive on commons and uncommons, which is why the good people at Wizards created drafting online. After buying 3 booster packs, you can spend an extra two tickets to ensure that you get maximum value out of those packs. And you might even win some prizes. Abe Sargeant over at Starcity Games wrote the quintessential piece on how to do this (entitled "Rare Drafting for Wins and Profits) and I highly recommend it to maximize value in an online collection.
Finally, the online game has made me a better player. In real life, a lot of details get skipped over in the game, but online every priority, every stack, every attack phase and damage dealing is visualized to show the players exactly what is happening in the game. I've increased my awareness of the nuances of Magic and better understand how to utilize cards that take advantage of such nuances. It's a learning tool, even if you only use the free trial and can help a beginner take their game to a new level.
In conclusion, there are a lot of reasons to start playing online. The availability of cards and opponents, in addition to the fun experience and an easy to maintain collection always keep me coming back. Since the game requires no upkeep costs to maintain an account, I can stop playing for months before coming back and picking up right where I left off. A lot of people have reservations about imaginary cards, but I guarantee the experience is well worth it and nowadays online collections are being sold for close to their real value and sometimes much more. So if you haven't entered the world of online Magic, I suggest you get with the times. This isn't the year 2000 anymore.