Jumping into MTG Arena can be quite intimidating, as the game boasts a massive amount of mechanics, spells, archetypes, and strategies. Considered the most complicated game in the world by MIT, mastering every aspect of Magic: The Gathering takes years upon years of practice. Thankfully, MTG Arena serves as a great entry point for new players to jump in, even if the tutorial is a little too basic.
While advanced strategies typically revolve around playing a certain deck, there are a number of tips we can offer beginner players. These will be universal, so regardless if you’re a control player or someone who likes to play big stompy cards this will be for you. We will not be covering deck building in this guide since that’s an entirely different skillset.
If you’re new to MTG Arena or the game in general, here are some beginner tips and tricks to get you started!
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1. Use Your Hotkeys
Did you know there are hotkeys in MTG Arena? Even though most of the gameplay is done through clicking your mouse, MTG Arena allows some extra control via hotkeys. By selecting the gear icon in the top right corner and the Gameplay, you can see the list of hotkeys available. Most of these are designed to speed up the game such as manually Passing Priority or ending your turn.
However, the Undo hotkey is extremely useful as it lets you undo any land you’ve tapped for mana. For whatever reason, MTG Arena doesn’t let you click the land to untap it. Because of this, hitting the Z key will untap your land and remove the mana from your pool. This is extremely useful since misclicks happen or you think of a different way to use your mana.
As a side note, make sure to always manually tap your mana! The game has a bad habit of just picking random lands that can produce those colors. It’s better to do it yourself, especially if you plan on playing more than one card a turn.
2. Wait to Play Your Spells
One strategy you’ll see experienced players use is casting their spells in the second Main Phase. Instead of dumping all their mana into a card before going to combat, most will wait until after they’ve attacked. This is largely to limit the amount of information your opponent has. If you have a big attack coming up, but tapped all your mana prior to swinging, they’ll know that there’s nothing you can do if they respond.
Inversely, if you wait to play your next spell until after combat has resolved then your opponent might be more hesitant to return fire. Even if you don’t have a way to stop your opponent’s tricks, having the illusion of possessing one can sometimes be enough. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean you should always play cards in your second Main Phase, as sometimes you’ll need to play a spell before combat to get rid of a blocker or set up an attack. But, if this isn’t the case just wait until your second Main Phase before casting a spell.
Additionally, if you’re flooded on lands or don’t need one on the board, it’s okay to not play that land right away. Your opponent will only see you have a card in hand and it’s possible to bluff a counterspell or combat trick. It won’t always work, but it’s better than playing your tenth land and showing your opponent they have a free turn to do whatever they want.
3. Don’t Give Up
Stop. Conceding. Right. Away.
I have lost count the number of times someone has just conceded a match because their plans went awry in the first few turns. Magic: The Gathering is an unpredictable game and it’s very rare your initial plan will work without a hitch. Giving up because you’re not immediately winning is silly, especially when it’s fully possible to draw an answer to your opponent’s board
There are have been dozens upon dozens of games where I’ve come back from the brink only to snatch victory away from my foe. Raising the white flag at the first sign of danger won’t make you a better player or help you understand why your losing. This doesn’t mean there aren’t scenarios where conceding makes sense. If your opponent ultimates a planeswalker or has a massive army that your deck has no way to stop then it’s okay to throw in the towel. But always consider if you actually have a chance to win before clicking that surrender button.
One of the most skill-intensive aspects of playing MTG Arena is knowing when to mulligan. This could easily be the feature of an entire guide, so we’re just going to cover the basics. When deciding on a mulligan it’s important to look at your hand and have a plan. I like to ask myself the following questions when deciding whether or not to mulligan:
- Can I play and interact with the board in the first few turns?
- Do I have the right lands to cast the spells I have?
- Am I on the play or draw?
- If everything goes right, what’s my plan for winning?
Avoid keeping a hand with awkward mana and cards, especially if you are up against an aggressive deck. You don’t want to just pass for the first few turns, as your giving a huge advantage to the other player. Keep hands that can set you up for victory or help progress your advantage over your foe. Getting a super powerful card in your opening seven might seem great, but does your hand have a way to accelerate your ability to cast that spell in a reasonable time frame?
Understanding mulligans is a skill that will come with time, so don’t fret if you make a bad choice from time to time. I’ve been playing for years and even now I still make mistakes. What’s important is looking back on a losing game and assessing if that opening hand was worth keeping and if not, why?
5. Understand the Meta
Even though there are a ton of different decks running around, having a solid understanding of how each of the top tier decks works is vital in Standard. With new cards introduced every few months, the best decks often change or warp into new, powerful variations. For example, Esper Control was a dominant force for a long time until the introduction of Core Set M20. Due to the heavy creature focus, this control deck had to switch to a tempo strategy that relied less on counterspells and more on board presence.
Having knowledge of what these decks do and how they win can make playing against them far easier. You’ll be able to recognize what your foe’s strategy is early on and can adjust your own to accommodate for it. Playing blind is a great way to get overwhelmed and beaten to a pulp. Along with our own breakdown of the month’s best decks, consider visiting MTGGoldfish to get a good look at the best decks. Always keep up to date on what decks are trending, as there is a very high chance you’ll run into them while playing.