Did you say Infinite?
I did say infinite. By this I mean playing MTGO without having to constantly visit the store or purchase tickets from vendors. My form of infinite isn’t being able to draft back to back all night, dual queue, or even playing a queue every day. I am infinite by earning my tickets through critical planning, earning packs by winning queues, and making very careful trades. I want you to be able to go infinite as well.
Who is this Guy?
First off, I’m a casual player. There are a lot of different beliefs about what casual means across the Magic community, or the MMO community, or any gaming community, for that matter. For some, casual means anyone that isn’t pro or doesn’t attend PTQs. Others indicate it as the people they meet at FNM. For me, casual is even less than that: I don’t go to PTQs, I don’t make it to FNM, and honestly, I very rarely play paper MTG at all. I generally enter one or two queues a month on MTGO, sometimes more, sometimes less. But I never ever spend any money to play Magic.
I’m a casual MTGO player – my total collection is generally worth less than a couple hundred tickets. I can’t afford a top-tier Standard deck, but I’ve got a decent pauper one together. I might play a couple games on a regular weeknight. But whenever I want to draft, I have the tickets or packs to do so, and if I don’t, I’ll make a series of trades to earn them.
This series is about being an infinite casual MTGO player. A few people have written about going infinite through high levels of play while drafting, but many of their strategies require playing a lot. While a number of us would love to be able to play that much, some of us just don’t have the time.
I’m a school teacher that lives on a small, remote island in the Pacific Northwest accessible only by ferry. There’s nowhere to buy underwear on the island, much less a local FNM. But even beyond that, I probably don’t have the skill to back to back events and immediately sell off my packs to jump into the next draft. I’ve heard great players like Brian Wong talk about going infinite at around 1900 rating. My rating floats around 1700-1750. But I’m still able to play Magic without shelling out any cash.
My History in Magic
I started playing Magic in middle school. My first box was a starter box of Unlimited, my first boosters were Antiquities. My initial games were played with David Guskin, who is now in R&D at Wizards. In those days, [card]Icy Manipulator[/card] won games and [card]Force of Nature[/card] was unstoppable. Most of the cards I picked up were from Revised, The Dark, Fallen Empires, and Chronicles. By the time Ice Age and Homelands were released, my adolescent budget was broke. I held onto my cards and still played with some of my friends for a couple years. But the constant stream of new sets and the closing of the local game store had waned my interest. At 16, I started trading cards off for Warhammer miniatures. At the age of 24, I sold the remainder of my collection to pay for my honeymoon to Cabo San Lucas.
I discovered MTGO while teaching sixth-grade math. A number of my students were playing Magic so I offered to open my room after school on Mondays. Surrounded again by a game I had once loved, I began to play with their decks and they began to give me occasional packs or commons in which they weren’t interested. Sixth graders don’t innately see the value in cards like [card]Pacifism[/card] and [card]Essence Scatter[/card], so I built a deck from their discards to show them the error of their ways. Reinitiated into the game, I looked for a way to play Limited formats, my true love in Magic. MTGO provided me with the ability to play Limited games without having to find half a dozen people to draft – and I could do so at any point in the day or night.
In my original paper collection, I had a starter box that I kept separate and did not mix with any of the rest of my collection. The cards I traded from this box brought new cards into the mini collection I was building. Sometimes I would only bring this box with me to a gaming session. I traded my way into four copies of [card]Counterspell[/card] and got rid of my [card]Tropical Island[/card] for a [card]Tundra[/card] and a [card]Mahamoti Djinn[/card]. I ended up with a basically-playable deck with about 10 rare cards simply by trading up. When I signed up for MTGO, my plan was similar. I would only trade from my starting funds, I wouldn’t spend money on anything but set redemption, and I would play in Limited queues and other tournaments.
Into the Land of MTGO
Signing up for MTGO, I knew that I wanted to play Limited formats. The first goal I had was to draft. I’d never drafted but the idea of building a Limited deck from an extremely limited pool sounded great. I earned the funds for drafting through trades netting me .1 tickets at a time and eventually had enough to enter my first event. I managed to pull down two wins in a Swiss Draft, so apparently my fundamentals were still pretty strong. Shortly after learning about redemption, I decided to aim for the goal of completing a set of M12. I managed to put the set together within a year, all without spending any money (other than the $5 redemption fee).
MTGO provided me with a solution to everything I didn’t like about paper Magic. I’ve never had the ability to put large sums of money into my collection. I also really enjoy deck building. These two facts always frustrated me in paper Magic. Before, if I wanted to build a new deck I’d have to fish my dual lands out of one deck and throw them in the new one. Now on MTGO, I could stick my one Jace into any decks I made, without hurting the integrity of the other decks. Before, if there was a card I was seeking that no one in my play group owned, I’d have to struggle to find it, or even look at paying for it rather than trading. On MTGO, bots provided me with the ability to pick up any card, including many rares, at literally pennies, at any time I wanted.
Finally, there was the regular the option to play Limited, the main way I enjoy playing Magic. Back in high school, David Guskin had convinced his dad to invest in Magic cards. He had the power nine at his disposal, in multiples, and playsets of each dual land. I simply couldn’t compete. While it always felt triumphant to bring home a win, it was a rare occurrence due to the imbalance in deck power. In Limited, the playing field was essentially equal. The guy with $2000 to spend on Magic or even the guy with a $200 deck was stuck with the same limited options as me. Sometimes I’d have the more expensive cards, sometimes they would. But frequently, I’d have the better deck.
This series of articles is about how I play infinite Magic on MTGO. But it is about how I do so as a casual player. My primary rule is that I don’t invest any money into MTGO other than paying set redemption fees. I won’t buy tickets, Draft sets, or release boxes from the MTGO store. I’ll only play Limited and trade. Thus far I haven’t decided to enter Constructed tournaments. I’ve been looking into the pauper option for this but haven’t decided to make the jump. What I will be doing is explaining my investments and how I work for my tickets to pay for Limited queues.
If you’re the sort of player that would rather spend $15 and jump right into a Draft whenever you have the time, some of my advice is likely to seem overly tedious to you. But if you’re playing on a limited budget or want to learn how to make your hobby pay for itself, then this series is aimed at you. If you’re willing to work for 20 minutes to earn a couple of tickets, you’re like me. If you’re the kind of player that only manages to run a few queues a month, don’t worry. So am I.
I’m also a guy who’s very into gaming theory. When I worked at a local game store (Games Workshop), we called this Mathhammer. While the reality of the math never seems to meet with actual probability, it doesn’t mean that probability, averages, and numbers are to be ignored. Numbers are a big part of how I manage to play infinitely. If I’m squeaking out .5 tickets from each event I play, it adds up to more events. It is my goal to be putting more money (or tickets) back into your wallet so that you can spend less and play more. These articles will be focused on the little steps you can take to improve your game, your trading, and some of the mechanics that will help your bottom line. And finally, I’ll be discussing strategy for winning events, because winning queues is the end goal. Join me next time and we’ll get into the details.