A Little Time for a Lot of Magic

Magic: The Gathering is a complex and fun game. It’s a great way to meet new people and make friends. It involves considerable thought and planning and it can also involve a lot of chaos and comraderie.

But what happens if you want to move beyond kitchen table Magic but don’t have the time and money to invest in competitive deckbuilding?

Thankfully, there are many ways to play Magic — some more competitive than others, some more time-intensive than others and certainly some more financially intensive than others.

If you don’t want to pass up on the challenge of compentitive constructed, the easiest way currently to participate would be to get help from a friend — borrow a deck, borrow some cards or have them help you build a deck.

Another alternative would be to check out some of the different ways to play.


One way to get involved would be to try drafting. You could participate in a draft at your local game store or with friends. Drafting has players sitting together in a group (often eight per table) opening a pack of cards, chosing the “best” card from the pack and passing the rest off to the next player and repeating that process until they’ve gone through three packs of cards and then building 40 card decks from the cards they have pulled.

Drafting is a great tool for new players to learn how to evaluate cards quickly. It also allows you to build up your collection while having fun at the same time. There is cost and deck constructing involved but it’s relatively minimal. It also lets you play cards you might have otherwise not considered.


Similar to drafting, sealed has you building a deck from a very small pool of cards. This time instead of picking one card at a time from packs you pass around you will be given six booster packs (or a sealed pre-release kit) that you will open yourself and build from.

Like draft, you get to keep the cards and build your collection. You also get to experiement with cards you might not otherwise have tried. It’s also more casual than draft — there’s not as much pressure to analyze cards as they are being passed to you and there’s an element of chance.

Sealed events are often used for pre-releases. This gives you the opportunity to try out new cards with everyone else the week before the set is released for general sale.

Multiplayer Commander

Commander is a constructed format involving 100-card singleton decks. (You can only have 1 of each type of non-basic land).  The rules for Commander are a bit more involved. You choose a legendary creature to be your deck’s commander and set him asside and then you build a deck of 99 cards using cards that only have the colors of your commander (including his mana symbols). Multiplayer commander tends to be more forgiving and laid back. If a player takes the lead too quickly, other players will often knock him back.

So why is a constructed format on this list? One which could cost a lot of money (there’s a very small list of cards that are banned which means you can add some pretty expensive cards) and can require a lot of planning?  That answer is the annual preconstructed Commander decks that Wizards releases annualy. These pre-constructed decks have been quite good over recent years and players can easily have fun with them out of the box with little need to change or alter the decks. An added bonus, many great cards in multiplayer commmander aren’t that useful in compentitive formats meaning you can get them inexpensively.  You can also alter your pre-constructed deck slowly over time and gradually turn it into something distinctly yours.

Duel Decks

Another way to play Magic is to buy duel decks and treat it like a standalone product. Duel Decks contain two preconstructed decks designed to be played agaist each other. You can buy a duel deck and play against your opponent and just have fun without worrying about altering the decks.


Archenemy is a one-vs-many format where one player starts with fourty life and plays against a small team of oppoenents. The Archenemy is also armed with a deck of “scheme” cards allowing them to get additional benefits each turn. It’s an entertaining variation on the format and June’s Nicol Bolas Archenemy set provides players all of the materials and decks they need to play.


Planechase is another way to alter a traditional magic game. The game plays like any other normal multiplayer game using the deck format of players’ chosing (kitchen table, standard, modern, sealed, Commander — whatever you’d like). There is also a deck of planar cards. When the game starts, you reveal a planar card. As each plane is revealed, it impacts how the game is played. These cards can create all kinds of chaos. They can be a boon to some deck types and a bane to others depending on what card is revealed. On their turn, a player can roll the planar die to see if they gain benefits or leave the plane entirely.


Another option to consider is joining a league.  A league environment such as a draft league allows players to build a collection for use within the league by drafting packs each league session. Because players all start off with the same minimal collection it provides players similar footing and an opportunity to grown their skills and get better at evaluating cards. It also makes deck construction a gradual process building from a very small pool of cards and going from there — reducing some of the time commitment and spreading out the cost.

One of the biggest strengths of Magic: The Gathering is the number of different styles of game available for play. It’s not just for the kitchen table nor is it a strictly competitive game. Find a format that gets you what you want out of the game and enjoy!

You can enjoy many of the formats above at Heroes’ Beacon:

Draft – Run on alternating Friday Night Magic nights and on the release of a new set. $20 entry. Prizes based on attendance and include promo cards.

Sealed – Run on pre-releases, Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and on special events. Pricing depends on the event.

Multiplayer Commander – Run Wednesday evenings at 6pm. $5 entry and goes towards a prize draw every three months. Commander Decks can be purchased when available.

Archenemy – Look for Nicol Bolas: Archenemy decks in June.

Planechase – Look for Planechase Anthology while available.

League – Check out League of Extraordinary Planeswalers in September.

Greg Grondin
Gregory Grondin is a full time Systems Analyst working for Mariner Innovations. He also works as a weight loss consultant for Weight Watchers and is part owner of Heroes' Beacon. You can follow his web comic series at http://www.spacepawdyssey.com

Greg is a fan of gaming and comics in general and an avid collector of Transformers figures.