Tips to Help The Magic Arena Player With Paper Magic

The advent of digital clients for Magic: The Gathering issued in an era of ease that is both convenient and cheap (relatively), allowing us to play long after our local game store shutter the doors for the night. While digital means losing the “gathering” aspect of Magic: The Gathering, the game is fully intact with almost every card and format imaginable (at least for M.O.D.O). Now, more recently, the 100% free to play client, Magic: The Gathering Arena blessed us with a slimmed down version of Magic Online which utilizes contemporary monetization made popular by mobile games to make it even cheaper and accessible, hooking an entire new generation to cardboard crack.

In mimicking paper MTG, digital clients provide their own quality of life improvements which often leads to players forgetting, or never learning, about the minutia involved in playing a game of paper MTG. This is especially relevant when players only experience with the game comes from a digital client and are picking up real life cards for the first time. While paper is technically the same game, the pacing and mental strain are very different.

Here are some tips for the digital MTG player when stepping into the world of paper Magic.

“Did I play my land for turn? I did, right?”

token on sleeved magic the gathering cards

You would think something as easy as playing your land for turn shouldn’t be something you need to be conscientious of, but it’s one of the most common mistakes people new to paper make. As games progress turns become longer and more complex with increasing amounts of interaction, triggers, and checks. There will be times when your opponent ends up playing more cards on your turn than you are. In paper, there is no helpful glowing aura on the lands in your hand to remind you to play your land drop, nor can you click on lands just to see if the client will let you play them. Like all things in paper, it’s up to you to keep track of everything.

Nothing is more infuriating than passing the turn to your opponent only to realize you didn’t play your land for turn, or—worse yet—attempt to play a land from your hand when you already played one for your turn. Your carelessness just gave your opponent information they shouldn’t have access to, and in game like MTG small mistakes can compound into a significant disadvantage.

To prevent this, use “a little something”. It can be anything, really: dice, a small rock, a coin, bottlecap, the monopoly man… it doesn’t matter, it’s up to you. All you have to do is take that little something and put it on top of your deck when you play your land for the turn. That’s it. Boom. One less thing to remember. When it’s your turn and you untap then reach for your draw you’re going to remove that little something without thinking about it. Rinse and repeat.

“Let’s slow things down.”Teferi

When moving from digital to paper, players need to acclimate themselves to the pace of the tabletop version. Processes handled by the digital client in the background need to happen manually in paper. The most important of these processes is passing priority. If you’ve only played digital magic giving priority to your opponent has always been automatic. However, in paper it’s a manual process that requires conscious effort on your part to maintain the game’s proper flow.

It’s so tempting to slam down your game winning combo and end the game so you can shove it in the face of that stupid control player… ahem. Often times, players new to paper will forget that every spell they cast passes priority and start might start to play another spell—sometimes actually revealing their next play—before giving their opponent and opportunity to respond. Just because they didn’t counter your first spell, doesn’t mean they don’t have it ready for another.

You have tapped your five lands and put your 5/5 creature card down, but that hasty trampler doesn’t exist yet. Even though in Arena that creature will plop down on the board immediately, don’t forget that the client puts the spell on the stack, checks for your opponent’s response, then summons the creature each time, even if the opponent has no means of interaction. The issue is that the majority of the time you only see it if the opponent has an available response.

In paper, there’s no omniscient entity checking for available responses, so slow down and give your opponent an opportunity to respond to everything. It’s not only good etiquette, but will prevent you from accidently divulging information. Casting a spell, progressing phases of your turn, and combat are the most important time for a pause, since taking actions while your opponent is announcing they have a response is telegraphing information.

One method to get used to doing this is to create a “zone” on your board for the stack, a stopping point between casting a spell and resolving it. Instead of tapping your five mana and placing your creature next to the others, tap it and put it in your stack zone, then simply ask your opponent for any response. The simple act of moving a card from one place on the board to another puts a buffer in your brain that something needs to happen before it resolves and will prevent you from moving on to your next game action too quickly.

The same goes for phases. One easy way to give opponents their opportunity to respond before you begin divulging your own information is to announce each your phases, especially when you plan on ending your first main phase to move onto combat. Saying the names of your phases is a natural way to offer up priority, and helps smooth out the flow of the game.

These simple acts will prevent you from getting ahead of yourself and potentially divulging information to put you at a disadvantage.

Your New Best Friends: Pen and Paper

note taking with a crayon

Having paper and something to write with is probably one of the most useful tools you can have at the table. With a game as cerebral as MTG, freeing up brainpower to concentrate on important aspects can mean the difference between winning and … well, not.

You can use it for keeping track of you and your opponent’s life totals. You can use it for a quick, easy token, or to keep track of that stupid Bogles power and toughness (13/13, seriously?!) You can use it to pass notes to your opponent (Want to be my friend? Select one: Yes 🬁 No) But where the paper and pen truly shines is the ability to take notes.

So you’ve thrown down a turn one Duress to nab a spell and to take a peek at your opponent’s hand. Knowing what cards are at your opponent’s disposal, especially early on in the game, is an advantage you shouldn’t squander. Write down their cards. Cross them off as they’re played. It’s quite easy to forget one or two cards from a full grip, especially if you’re not familiar with them. Taking the few seconds to write each of them down guarantees you’ll get the most out of your intel.

You’re going to miss triggers. It happens to everyone, even those daily paper players grinding away since the mid-90’s. Using your trusty new friends, write down your triggers. It may sound unnecessary, but even if you don’t glance at your notes the act of writing down anything, physiologically speaking, will help engrain that information more effectively so there’s less of a chance you’ll miss something.

Remember, you’re responsible for all those lovely triggers and there’s no computer there to do them for you. Sure, sometimes your opponent will keep it honest and remind you of your own interactions, but you can’t depend on that. Lots of players will see your own missed opportunities as an advantage for them. After all it’s not their responsibility.


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