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Last updated: April 9th 2021

New Player GuiMagic: the Gathering Arenade

You've installed MTG Arena and played through the Tutorial and Color Challenges, and maybe a few games more. You're wondering about the game modes, what are wildcards, what is the mastery pass? You've come to the right place!

To start with, though it is a bit outdated, you might want to read the Starter Guide on Magic's official site to get a fast overall view of the game. This New Player Guide will go more in-depth on the things mentioned and more.

This is not a strategy guide, but something to serve as an up-to-date summary on the game modes and different systems that make up the MTG Arena experience. We'll start with how you get cards, then explain the different play formats, and finally the Mastery system, with free codes and a few pointers on where to go next at the end.

Index

Starter Decks

You'll get 5 decks by completing the Color Challenges, one for each of the five colors of Magic:

After that you will receive one Quest a day that will award you with a two-color deck on completion, until you have unlocked 10 more decks, one for each two-color combination:

You can use these decks to play, or start building your own decks from their contents. To get more cards to expand your experience, you need Wildcards, Card Packs or Individual Card Rewards (ICRs).

Wildcards

Wildcards are cards you can get randomly from packs or the wildcard wheels that can used to craft any card of the same rarity. They're very important for you to be able to build the specific decks you want instead of depending only on luck.

In the packs screen you see two circles with a wildcard in the center. These are the wildcard wheels. Opening one pack progresses both wheels by one, every full circle of 6 giving you an uncommon wildcard from the first wheel and a rare wildcard from the second wheel, with every 5th completion of the rare wheel awarding a mythic rare wildcard instead. Wildcards can also be found randomly in packs, with every 3 packs containing a common, every 5 an uncommon and every 24 a rare and a mythic wildcard on average.

You can click the Craft button or use filters to display cards you don't own in the collection and deckbuilding screens to use wildcards to get cards you have 0 copies of, or just click on a card you already have at least one copy of to open a screen that allows you to craft more. You can also add cards you don't own into a deck (displayed darkened with a red number) and click Complete Deck to bring up a dialog that asks if you want to use a number of wildcards to craft all the cards you need at once.

Card Packs

There are two types of card packs in Arena:

Arena Packs

Limited Packs

Individual Card Rewards (ICRs)

A card you receive outside a pack or crafting it with a wildcard is an Individual Card Reward, or ICR. An ICR is a random card of a specified rarity that also has a small chance of upgrading to a card of a higher rarity. You can get them as rewards from competing in Events or from Daily Wins. They are usually restricted to cards legal in the Standard format, but may be specifically Historic ICRs which will be cards not legal in Standard instead.

Duplicate Protection and the Vault

As you can only use a maximum of 4 copies of a card in your constructed decks, you don't want to open too many of the same card from packs. Duplicate protection refers to a system that's in place in Arena which prevents you from getting the same rare or mythic more than four times. If you already have a playset, 4 copies, of a rare card in a certain set, you will always get some other rare instead when opening a 8-card pack of that set. If you have 4 copies of every rare in the set, you will instead get 20 gems whenever you would open a rare. The same applies to mythic rares, except if you have 4 copies of every mythic you will get 40 gems whenever you would open one instead. Duplicate protection for rares and mythics is tracked separately.

If a card can be found as a rare or mythic with the same artwork from two or more different card sets, if you have 4 copies total between the different versions you won't find more copies of the card in packs until you have playsets of every other rare or mythic in the set. Banned rares and mythics will similarly be the last cards you open in a set.

You can open more than 4 copies of any common or uncommon, but instead of gems you will get a certain amount of Vault progress points for each extra common or uncommon, 1 (0.1%) and 3 (0.3%) respectively. When you have 1000 progress points (100%) saved up, you may open the vault which rewards you with wildcards: 1 mythic, 2 rares and 3 uncommons. The Vault is displayed as a treasure chest in the top right of the interface, but it is not visible until you have at least 100% Vault progress, at which point hovering over it will display your progress percentage and clicking on it will open it.

Limited Packs are not duplicate-protected in the sense that you can open rares and mythics you already have 4 copies of, but every extra rare and mythic gets converted to 20 and 40 gems respectively and extra commons and uncommons contribute to your vault progress. This is also how duplicate ICRs work.

Constructed and Limited

In Magic: the Gathering there are several different formats that affect how you play with your cards. In broad strokes there a two different types of formats, Constructed and Limited. Constructed refers to formats where you build your own deck from any cards you have in your collection that are legal in the format, such as Standard, Historic and Brawl. Limited refers to formats where you build a deck not from your collection, but from a new set of randomized booster packs, such as Draft and Sealed. In addition, Preconstructed refers to something where a ready-to-play deck is built for you, though this only happens occasionally as special events.

Sideboards, Bo1 and Bo3

A deck's sideboard is used to swap cards in and out of your main deck between games to adapt to your opponent's strategy when playing Best of 3 matches (first player to 2 wins in 3 games, abbreviated Bo3). Game modes with the Traditional prefix are played as Bo3 matches, while those without are single games, often called Best of 1 or Bo1. A deck played in Bo1 modes can also have a sideboard, but it's only useful when someone is playing cards that are able to get you a card "from outside the game", which means from the sideboard in actual gameplay (for example Legion Angel). In Limited formats every card in your card pool but not in your deck is considered to be in your sideboard.

Bo3 game modes are hidden by default on Arena. To see every game mode available on Arena, you must toggle the button on the top right of the Home screen from Arena Play Modes to All Play Modes.

Always Available Formats

STANDARD (Constructed)

Standard decks are 60 or more cards with an optional sideboard of up to 15 cards, using no more than 4 copies of any one card outside of Basic Lands (unless the card says otherwise, for example you may put up to seven copies of Seven Dwarves in your deck).

Standard is a rotating format, which means not all cards in the game are allowed in Standard decks, specifically only cards released in the five to eight latest card sets are legal in Standard. Card sets are released four times a year and rotation happens once a year, when a ninth set would be introduced to the format. This happens every fall, usually late September or early October, when the set after the Core Set in the summer is released. When rotation hits, the four oldest card sets will no longer be playable in Standard. Currently you can use cards released in card sets after and including Throne of Eldraine in Standard decks. The next rotation will happen with the release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt.

You will keep your cards leaving Standard after rotation, but most of them can only be played in other formats. The exception are cards that have another printing in a Standard-legal set: you can keep using old copies of those cards even if the art and set symbol are different! (Example: you can play your Duress from Ixalan in your Standard decks even after Ixalan has rotated out of Standard because a version of Duress is also in the Standard-legal Core Set 2021.)

Currently Standard-legal sets:

Cards currently banned in Standard:

Sets rotating out in Fall 2021:

Sets in Standard after rotation in Fall 2021:

Additionally, the Arena Base Set (ANB, consisting of the cards in the five monocolor starter decks) is always Standard-legal, but only in Bo1 game modes.

HISTORIC (Constructed)

Historic is an eternal format, which means there is no rotation and you will be able to use all cards released on Arena in your deck, provided they are not specifically banned from the format. Cards currently banned in Historic:

Cards are usually suspended for a while before they are banned, which means they can't be played for now but may come off suspension at the next update of the banned list or move to the proper banned list. Cards currently suspended in Historic:

So far there are three special sets of cards called Historic Anthologies that each bring a small selection of cards from Magic's past to Arena to play in Historic. There are also sets that bring a larger number of cards from past sets to Historic, including Jumpstart, Amonkhet Remastered and Kaladesh Remastered.

You can play Historic in the Play queue by entering with a deck using cards not legal in Standard or marking your deck Historic in the deck builder, and it's also available in its own Ranked queues and Events.

BRAWL (Constructed)

Brawl is a format that follows the Standard set rotation, but it is also a singleton format, which means you can include only a single copy of any card except for Basic Lands in your deck. You may still have more than one copy of cards like Seven Dwarves. Decks are 60 cards including one commander, which is any legendary creature or planeswalker in Standard. Other cards in the deck must be colorless or within your commander's color identity, which consists of all colored mana symbols in its casting cost or rules text. For example, if your commander is Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale, you can only include red, white, black or colorless cards in your deck, but if your commander is Kenrith, the Returned King, you can include colorless cards and those of any color.

During the game your commander card sits in a separate area called the command zone, displayed castable near your hand similar to cards in your graveyard or exile that can be cast or activated. You may cast your commander from the command zone at any time for its mana cost + 2 for each time it has been cast from the command zone previously that game. Whenever your commander would change zones (when it dies, is returned to your hand etc), you may put it back in the command zone instead. In Brawl you also get one free mulligan without needing to put cards on the bottom of your library, and games are Bo1.

Brawl has a separate banlist from Standard. Cards currently banned in Brawl:

Brawl is available as its own play queue. Sometimes a variant called Historic Brawl is available as an Event, which is the same except you aren't restricted to Standard-legal cards.

DRAFT (Limited)

In Draft the players sit in a group of 8 (called a pod) and everyone gets three 15-card packs. You open the first pack, pick one card and pass the rest of the pack to the player on your left while receiving a pack with one less card from your right. You continue picking cards and passing packs until there are no cards left. Then you open the second pack, pick a card and this time pass it to your right while getting a pack from the player on your left. This is repeated in a similar manner to the first pack until moving on to the third and final pack that will once again be passed to the left until there are no more cards and packs left.

At the end of the third pack you will be left with the cards you picked, your card pool, from which you must build a deck with at least 40 cards (you may add as many Basic Lands as you need from outside the pool). Unlike Standard, you may have more than 4 copies of any card in your deck, up to as many as you managed to pick during the draft. Every card in your pool but not in your deck is your sideboard, and you can freely change your deck between matches.

In Quick Draft other players than you in the 8-player pod during drafting are bots with simulated preferences for card picks, not actual human players, so you can take as long as you want for your picks, even quit between picks and return later. However, the games you play with your drafted deck are still against actual people.

Quick Draft and Premier Draft are Bo1 and affects your Limited Rank. The set available for Quick Draft changes every two weeks. You can enter Quick Draft with either 5000 Gold or 750 Gems, whereas Premier Draft costs 10 000 Gold or 1500 Gems. Traditional Draft is Bo3 with the latest set, doesn't affect your rank and you need 10 000 Gold or 1500 Gems to enter.

Limited Time Event Formats

Some game modes are only available for a limited time. There have been several experimental event formats, but here are some of the more common ones that are likely to return relatively often. These are all usually played Bo1.

SEALED (Limited)

In Sealed, instead of picking cards one by one, you just get to open six 15-card packs and from their contents build a deck with at least 40 cards, adding Basic Lands as necessary. Just like Draft, if you managed to open more than 4 copies of a card, you are free to use all of them in your Sealed deck. Every card you opened but didn't put in your deck is in your sideboard, and you may freely change your deck between games.

CUBE DRAFT (Limited)

Cube Draft is similar to a Premier Draft where instead of a normal set you draft from a curated set of cards across all cards in Arena. Packs in Cube Draft don't follow the normal rarity distribution of Limited packs, instead it is possible to open multiple rares in the same pack, for example. However, it is also a so-called Phantom draft where you don't keep the cards you pick.

PAUPER (Constructed)

Similar to most Constructed formats, in Pauper you have a 60-card deck and a 15-card sideboard with a maximum of 4 copies of any one card, but the twist is you may only use cards released at the common rarity. The prefix of either Standard or Historic determines if you can use cards outside Standard.

ARTISAN (Constructed)

Same as Pauper, except you can also include cards released at uncommon in your deck. Historic Artisan may also be available from time to time.

MOMIR (Preconstructed)

In Momir you don't build a deck, instead you're provided with a 60-card deck filled with 12 copies of each Basic Land. Once every turn, you may pay X and discard a card to create a creature token copy of a random creature card with converted mana cost X.

JUMPSTART (Limited/Preconstructed)

In the Jumpstart event you select one themed 20-card Jumpstart (JMP) packet from a random selection of three twice, resulting in two packets you combine to make a 40-card deck. Play as many games as you like until you want a new deck, for which you need to resign and pay for the event again. There are 121 different packets with a total of 46 different themes, where some themes have 4 variations, some 2 and some themes only 1 out of 121 (See the decklists, except some cards are different on Arena, see the replacements). You get to keep all the cards from the packets you pick, and they're all legal in Historic.

Ranked Ladder

The Ranked Ladder in MTG Arena operates by monthly seasons with Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond and Mythic ranks. Each rank is further divided into four tiers, except for Mythic where you get a percentage of up to 99% until you reach the top 1500 which gives you a numbered placement. Constructed Ranked game modes all have the Ranked prefix, while for Limited Quick Draft and Premier Draft affect your rank.

Winning advances you through tiers and losing pushes you back, but you can't fall down a rank once you reach it (when you reach Silver you can't fall back down to Bronze during that season, for example). Constructed and Limited have separate Ranked ladders. At the end of every month you will get a new rank and rewards based on the rank you reached that month in both Constructed and Limited. You must play at least one Ranked game each month to be eligible for rewards.

Here's a table for reference (CS refers to Card Style, which specific cards they are changes every month):

RankSteps to Advance Tier (Constructed/Limited)Steps Up from Win (Bo1/Bo3)Steps Down from Loss (Bo1/Bo3)Season End RewardsTierSeason End New Rank
Bronze6/42/40/01 Pack4Bronze 4
3
2
1Bronze 3
Silver6/52/41/21 Pack
500 Gold
4
3
2Bronze 2
1
Gold6/52/41/22 Packs
1000 Gold
Uncommon CS
4Bronze 1
3Silver 4
2Silver 3
1Silver 2
Platinum6/51/21/23 Packs
1000 Gold
Uncommon CS
Rare CS
4Silver 1
3Gold 4
2
1Gold 3
Diamond6/51/21/24 Packs
1000 Gold
Uncommon CS
Rare CS
4
3Gold 2
2
1Gold 1
Mythic5 Packs
1000 Gold
Uncommon CS
Rare CS

To participate in a Qualifier Weekend event where you can win a spot in high level tournaments, you need to be in the top 1200 at the end of a season. See the official Esports site for more.

Mastery System

The Mastery System is a rewards system involving winning games and completing quests to gain XP to level up with. Levels give you different rewards, such as packs. You can also get Mastery Orbs from leveling up, which can be used on the Mastery Tree to unlock card styles. Your Mastery level resets every time a new card set is released, about every three months, and the rewards change as well. Mastery is 80-100 levels (depending on the time between card sets) and each level requires 1000 XP. The ways to get Mastery XP are:

You can level up for free to get up to 30 packs of the latest set and 5 Mastery Orbs, with the option of buying a Mastery Pass for additional rewards such as more packs and card styles, gold, gems, pets, sleeves and a player avatar. The Mastery Pass costs 3400 or 5400 gems, the latter of which gives you 10 000 XP automatically. You can buy the Mastery Pass at any point until a few hours before the next set comes out and still receive all Mastery Pass specific rewards up to your current level.

You are guaranteed to go a little over the maximum Mastery level if you complete all your Daily Quests and Weekly Wins from the release of a set. Missing them can be compensated with the other ways of earning XP to some extent. You can use tools like MTG Arena Zone's Mastery Calculator to estimate your expected final level.

What Now?

Now that you hopefully understand how MTG Arena operates, go play what interests you! In addition you might like to search for guides about optimal ways to collect cards (not necessarily as simple as buying packs), and start learning strategy for Constructed and Limited from the wealth of content out there. You might also want to try third-party deck/collection tracker software that keep records the game doesn't provide by itself and may also include helpful in-game overlays, such as Untapped.gg or MTGAHelper.

It's also recommended to check official news whenever they come, such as the State of the Game near every major release, Announcements every Wednesday and Patch Notes whenever a new update is out to avoid surprises and confusion. I will try to keep this guide as up-to-date as possible, so you can use it as reference in the future as well.

Remember to grab the free codes below on your way out!

Free Redeemable Codes

There are several promotional codes that have been given out in paper booster packs or through events and email. Below is a list of every available non-unique code you can redeem in the Store for free! Each code works once per account (you might want to save the XP-granting ones for when you need it to maximize your Mastery).

CodeRedeems forExpiration Date
PlayKaldheim
  • 3 Packs of Kaldheim
Unknown
PlayZendikar
  • 3 Packs of Zendikar Rising
Unknown
PlayM21
  • 3 Packs of Core Set 2021
Unknown
PlayIkoria
  • 3 Packs of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
Unknown
PlayTheros
  • 3 Packs of Theros: Beyond Death
Unknown
PlayEldraine
  • 3 Packs of Throne of Eldraine
Unknown
PlayM20
  • 3 Packs of Core Set 2020
Unknown
PlayWarSpark
  • 3 Packs of War of the Spark
Unknown
PlayAllegiance
  • 3 Packs of Ravnica Allegiance
Unknown
PlayRavnica
  • 3 Packs of Guilds of Ravnica
Unknown
TryKaladesh
  • 1 Pack of Kaladesh Remastered
Unknown
LevelUp
  • +2000 Mastery XP
Unknown
FNMATHOME
  • Two random card styles, avatars or sleeves
Unknown
OVERTHEMOONJanuary 1st 2023
INNERDEMONJanuary 1st 2023
SHIELDSUPJanuary 1st 2023
WRITTENINSTONEJanuary 1st 2023
ENLIGHTENMEJanuary 1st 2023
ParallaxPotion January 1st 2023
SuperScry January 1st 2023
FoilFungus January 1st 2023
ShinyGoblinPirate January 1st 2023
SparkleDruid January 1st 2023

Bonus Tips

While not the focus of the guide, here is a small list of some confusing game rules that new players might want to know about: