Caveat: I’m not going to go into how to play MtG competitively without spending much money. There’s an easy answer for that: Be good enough to be sponsored for the cards or have strong enough network to be able to loan cards. In both cases this can only happen after initial investment, unless you are very lucky with the latter one.
Magic is getting expensive. And sure, you can argue that hobbies are expensive, so you shouldn’t complain. On the other hand, according to MtGGoldfish, the cheapest Standard decks, you know, the format which is supposed to be accessible, cost around $150 on paper and roughly as much if you buy the wildcards on Arena. Considering that you have to update that deck with new sets, might have to completely discard it if the meta changes and it will become obsolote once a year through rotation, that’s quite a bit. And that is the low end. High end is roughly $600.
And that’s standard. If you want to go to your local gamestore for a draft weekly, that’s 15 euros here in Finland, so doing that regularly will be as costly or more costly than standard. Pioneer decks live in pretty much the same range as standard decks, but are generally nearer to the high end. Modern? Even the budget decks are around $500, while the top end is close to or tops $2000. Yeah, for a deck.
So, while I do have the funds to play the game any way I want, I’m not really the kind of person, who would actually spend the money, when I can make much more rational decisions, like pay my mortgage faster than planned. Sure, you can tell yourself that you are buying those original duals for investment, but as such cards are kind of volatile and even if they maintain their price, it can be hard to find a buyer for those extremely expensive cards when you actually need the funds. Even in this case more traditional investing can be more profitable (and usually is, if you do it in a thoughtful way).
At the same time, I on’t want to gatekeep. I get that they need to make money to exist, but that doesn’t mean that monetization on Arena isn’t shitty. Still, playing interesting games is a very good way to learn. The problem here is that while Magic used to be that kind of a game, it has lost some of this status due to the new generation design, which is just making the game worse and worse. In that sense the methods below can actually be helpful, because they often leave out the most outrageous situations, which the game as it is today can have.
But you are not here for the explanations on why, but for how, I assume, so here are some ideas.
Last year I had some friends over to draft. Something we don’t get to do enough during this everlasting pandemic. While obviously the packs we opened cost us money, we were left with a bunch of cards. So, just for fun, I made a cube out of them. Because most of the cards were from just a couple of sets, I was able to make the cube in such a way that there’s actual themes in it. You don’t have to open those packs yourself either. Just ask around, if you know players. I gave away around 5500 cards just last year, just before I moved, to a child of a friend of mine. Most of the cards in those packs just end up being dumped into garbage anyhow, so I’m always glad if someone has a use for them.
Obviously, this isn’t going to be anything like a fully powered cube, but it doesn’t need to be. These can be interesting draft experiences, especially if you have friends who are specifically interested in the gameplay aspect rather than showy plays that kill the gameplay.
Pauper is a format where you can only play cards that were printed as commons in any set. Pauper isn’t quite what it used to be. The more expensive decks are now nearing in on the standard decks, but at the same time, they also maintain value by not having a rotation. If you live in an area with a nice pauper culture, you can even play competitively, even if you can’t ever really grow out of that local circuit.
… except that pauper is fully supported on MTGO, where its so popular that the decks cost around as much as they do on paper.
Speaking of MTGO
I don’t personally use MTGO, but based on MtGGoldfish data, most decks are somewhat cheaper than on paper. And if you play a format without rotations, that value will maintain. From budgetary point of view, Pioneer is probably best of the “big” formats, but if you are less competitive, you can play the aforementioned pauper, Penny Dreadful, 3DH (Commander with a three ticket – which is a dollar, basically – budget) and many more.
Don’t Fully Dismiss Arena
Playing competitively on Arena is very expensive, partly because the people behind the platform doesn’t really understand the game at all. Still, you can play cheaply. Just don’t play on the normal queues. There are communities, which can help you out here. You can play Pauper (with a pretty limited pool, but still) and other such formats through direct challenges. You can do this with your friends as well.
I have a bunch of Jumpstart boosters, which have been opened, but instead of discarding those packs, I bought plastic booster packs, which fit the cards sleeved. The idea is that you can still play Jumpstart with those packs again an again. With 24 boosters, you have enough combinations that it will take ages to go through all of them.
Now, there isn’t really anything that interesting in the Jumpstart packs, so there’s nothing to stop you from making your own. They just have eight lands, one of which is a Thriving-land, and a good curve of spells and creatuers. If you can get cards from anywhere easily, you can just do this.
Here’s something you can do: Just discuss this with the people you play with regularly. Just make an agreement with them on how much money you can use for the game, or what should be avoided to keep the environment good. Just play Pauper EDH or something.
I remember the first group of friends I played with. We played for quite some time, but then one of us decided to buy a Moat, which was far beyond the budget of anyone else in the group at the time. It completely warped the meta. It wasn’t even that good, since the rest of us would just play decks with Disenchants (which were very good back in the day and would often be played in maindeck) and flying creatures, which in turn made our friend feel bad because his investment wasn’t paying off.
So, if we had just talked beforehand and decided as a group that we just don’t spend money this way, everyone would have been happier.
While WotC is pushing the game for whales only, this doesn’t need to be the case. You can have fun with the game without using much money. Actually, in some cases, quite the opposite. Many of the more expensive cards can be fun for a few times, but they are actually a burden for the game. So many games are just very one-sided and for an interesting experience, you don’t want that.
So, I would encourage anyone interested in the game, but not interested in spending much money on it, to just try to find cheaper ways play.