Enjoying Magic: The Gathering on the Cheap

I enjoy playing Magic and reading about new sets, but I definitely don’t enjoy keeping boxes of cards around.  Buying lots of packs and trying to trade for cards also does not appeal to me.  While I enjoy drafting, it is pretty expensive if you don’t intend to keep the cards.  So, whenever I can, I look for other ways to enjoy the game.  Fortunately, there are plenty!

Cube Drafting

My new favorite thing is Cube Drafting.  Here is the brief explanation:

  • Pick 360 cards in roughly even colors/cost.
  • Shuffle all the cards together and split them into 15 card “packs”.
  • Divide the packs up among the players and draft!

I went through my friend Em’s huge collection and picked out about 500 cards as a first pass.  My friend Alex helped me trim it down to 360.  We played that Cube the other day and everyone had a pile of fun.  It’s all the fun of drafting, but since they’re all your chosen cards, they’re usually more powerful.  This does a few things to the draft process:

  • Late picks (picks 8 to 15) are exciting.  Plenty of good cards to go around means some sweet cards go late.
  • Diversity within builds.  I put a Knight theme into white, and two players had Knight-centric decks, but they were quite different.  Rather than the stress of drafting barely enough playables, you instead have many choices on which directions to go with your strategy.
  • The Cube fits your personal tastes.  I packed the Cube with “enters the battlefield” effects and some crazy Enchantments.
  • Lower pressure encourages new players.  I had a few friends that wouldn’t want to play a competitive store draft, but loved playing the Cube.
  • Breathes new life into old cards.  Em was surprised by all of his old cards coming back.  I think he really enjoyed seeing all of his collection being used.

If you were especially creative, you could build specialty Cubes.  What would an all-Red Cube look like?  An all spell Cube?  There are many crazy ways to go, since you have full control over the contents of the draft.

If you’d like to check out the Cube, you can see the listing here.  Also, check out my notes for future developments of this cube.

Duel Decks

I’ve written about Duel Decks before, but Wizards has expanded their strategy since then.  Nowadays, they release a variety of pre made themed decks.  In addition to the “Garruk vs Lilliana” style decks, they also release pre constructed decks for some other formats:

  • Planechase: Planechase is a cool format where there is a central “Plane” deck that modifies the game for everyone. Every turn, the Plane can change, which shifts the gameplay.  There are some other twists along the way, too.  You can buy Planechase decks that go with this format and tie into the Planes in some way.
  • Archenemy: This fun 3v1 format uses another specialty side-deck, but the decks that come bundled are also really fun!  I had an amazing first turn as the Archenemy that everyone still talks about.  Like with Planechase, you can use the Archenemy side-deck with normal cards, too.
  • Commander: More on this one later.

The idea here is that you can buy and play with pre made decks.  I’ve found that it can be fun to learn these decks and their match ups, even if they aren’t high end cards.

Duels of the Planeswalkers

The 2012 version of this PC/PS3/360 game enhances everything I said about the previous version.  More decks, better quality decks, and support for Archenemy.  All for $10, which is cheap as MtG can be!  There are some things I’ve especially enjoyed in this new version:

  • As mentioned, the decks are higher quality/power overall, which makes the games more tense.  It also makes unlocking cards more exciting, since the unlocked cards are exciting.
  • Archenemy makes this game a killer couch-coop game.  The Archenemy deck makes for a memorable villain and rallying for a win is super satisfying.  Playing Magic cooperatively also helps teach new players, which makes the game fun for everyone.
  • They support the game with new decks and cards.  This version has one expansion and one deck pack, both of which have been reasonably priced ($5 for 3 decks+features, $3 for 2 decks).  Like fighting games, more decks means exponentially more match-ups, which keeps the fun going for a long time.


EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander), AKA Commander is a special format within Magic.  The basic rules:

  • Pick a Commander.  It must be a legendary creature.  That creature sits outside your deck.  You may play him at any time.  If he dies, he leaves the game again but may be replayed for his cost, plus 2.
  • Build a 100 card Highlander deck using only the colors of the commander.  In Highlander, “there can be only one” of any non-basic land card.  This emphasizes searching out obscure cards.
  • 40 life, multiplayer format.
  • You can buy pre made Commander decks, and it seems like Wizards is committing to supporting Highlander into the future.

I don’t own any EDH decks myself, but wherever people are playing Magic, you can usually meet up with people that will lend you a deck.  Many players are enthusiastic to show you their creations and share them with you.

If you have any feedback, let me know!