Going from MTG Arena to Paper Magic

Patrick Burt • June 3, 2019

Transitioning from MTG Arena to playing Magic on paper can be daunting. There are thousands of cards you can buy, dollars you can spend and people you can play with. Now that you've played MTG Arena, you've overcome a significant barrier: learning how to play.

I’ve played a lot of formats and I finally understand what I like to play, who I like to play with, and why. Once you know what you want to get out of Magic, you can finally focus and make the most of your time playing.

This is what I would do if I were you.

Understand yourself

Based on what you’ve already been doing in MTG Arena, there might already be a lot you can learn about yourself. These tendencies will help steer you in the right direction when you buy cards, and where you find playgroups and play. Some things to think about:

Your budget

You’re going from a game that you can reasonably play for free to one that cannot be free. Set a budget and stay within it. I’ve seen a lot of people sacrifice important parts of their life for Magic, including financial solvency. Don’t be that person.

Your passions

What is it that you like about Arena or Magic? Making decks? Mastering decks? Completing decks? Convenience? Socializing? Knowing this can make sure you spend the most time doing what you enjoy.

Your deckbuilding

What deck archetypes do you like? Decks fit into categories of combo, control, aggro, or a combination of those. It is very easy to be exposed to a huge cardpool and want to buy ALL the cards. The type of decks you like, and hate, probably won’t change all that much. Don’t get trapped buying cards you hate playing. Apply Marie Kondo’s philosophy to your card collection and only play formats, buy cards and hang around with people that bring you joy.

Your availability

When can you play Magic? MTG Arena offers unparalleled convenience. If you’re playing at stores, you’re typically restricted to weekday evenings and weekend days. If you’re playing with friends, there are several schedules to accomodate.

Your nature

You should already have a good idea if you’re a competitive, relaxed or somewhere in the middle. How do you see your losses? How do you react to your opponent’s decks that are stronger? Weaker? Creative? How do you feel on a losing streak on Arena?

Your opponents

People from all walks of life play Magic. Different communities and stores attract different mindsets and people of different ages. Think about your preferences.

Understand the formats

Once you know more about yourself, it’s time to understand the different formats. I won’t talk about the specifics of the format (such as the banlist, deck-building restrictions), instead, I’ll talk about what my experience and impression has been like using these 5 categories:

  • Popularity: This is based on how large the player base is for the format. This will be general and may vary depending on geographical location.
  • Competition: This is how much you can expect your opponents to play well and have top tier decks.
  • Mastery: This is how hard it is for someone to feel like they’ve mastered the format.
  • Cost: This is based on the average deck in the format. Most formats do have budget options.
  • Social: This is based on how likely it is to establish a personal connection with your opponents.

Playing at a friend’s house (casual, kitchen table)

This is how most Magic is played. If you already have friends that play, this is great. Finding and joining an established group is tough, though.


Drafts, sealed, leagues

This is widely regarded as a good way for new player to build a varied card collection. Though, if you know what you want to play, a varied collection doesn’t help you.



The most popular competitive, constructed format. This has a low entry cost but costs rise quickly as you make and maintain decks through set rotations.



The diversity and power of the cards of this format come at a price. It may not be a cheap format, but it is less volatile than Standard.



Powerful old cards make this format a true test of mastery and your wallet. Unfortunately, there may not be a community for this format in your area.



A format where veterans and new players can co-exist if deck power levels are comparable. Mastering this format is difficult as you keep track of new cards, interactions, and multiple players.


Old school (93/94)

Though not a sanctioned format, this casual format focuses on community-building, nostalgia and a mature demographic.


In each format, I would encourage you to proxy (using clearly fake cards) to try out decks before you buy them. Buying cards you barely use is a hidden money pit for most Magic players.

Understand what’s already going on around you

Now that you have an idea what format you might lean toward, look for opportunities to play it in your area. Different geographical areas will have different format preferences so some research is needed.

Find established communities on social media

This is usually as easy as searching “magic 'your city'”, “'format' 'your state/province/county'” or its variants. Join the groups and read up on discussions and events. Participating in the community is the easiest way to find a group or store that’s right for you.

For some formats, there are even communities (such as Discord groups) dedicated to specific deck archetypes.

Find stores in your area

With Wizards of the Coast's store locator, find different stores around you and visit their websites and Facebook pages. Look at what events they run on which day. If they’re far away, call them before you show up to make sure there’ll be others there too.

Learn where to buy cards

Depending on your local stores’ inventories or where you are geographically, this can be easy and cheap, or hard and expensive. As you know, Cardsphere gives you the opportunity to purchase cards below the store price and trade away cards for more than what most stores would give you.

Wrapping up

Getting into Magic can be challenging, but you have already done the toughest part. Hopefully, with some of this advice, you can integrate quickly and efficiently into paper Magic and your local Magic community.