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How to (Almost) Free-to-Play Magic Online

One popular misconception about Magic Online is that it's an extremely expensive way to play Magic. While it is true that it's going to cost a lot if you're going to run out and buy an entire top-tier Modern deck with cards like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and evoke Elementals, the way the Magic Online economy works is that only a handful of tournament staples (especially Modern and Legacy staples) are expensive, while most of the other cards on Magic Online cost close to nothing or, in some cases, literally nothing. And this includes a lot of really powerful and playable cards, especially Commander staples. For example, Sylvan Library is $0.02 on Magic Online and $45 in paper. Cyclonic Rift is $0.10 on Magic Online but $32 in paper. Lion's Eye Diamond is over $500 in paper and $2 on Magic Online. The list goes on and on. 

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However, our topic for today isn't how cheap most cards are on Magic Online as compared to paper or even Magic Arena. It's how you can (almost) free-to-play Magic Online. Now, you're probably wondering why it is almost free-to-play rather than literally free-to-play. This is because you're going to have to spend $5 to get a fully functional Magic Online account. You can try out the client for free, but upgrading to a fully functional account costs $5, and there isn't really a way around this. (Wizards' site says it costs $10, but it actually changed to $5 a year ago, and Wizards apparently forgot to update its website...) Even though I wish it were possible to fully free-to-play Magic Online and that there were no fee for upgrading your account, there are two pieces of good news here. First, you get more than $5 worth of goodies when you upgrade your account, including all of the commons and uncommons in Standard and some play points that you can use to enter events and win prizes, if you perform well. Second, once you spend the $5 to upgrade your account, you can fully free-to-play Magic Online without spending another penny, all while accessing tens of thousands of cards, hundreds of decks, and oodles of formats, all for free.

Free Bots

So, let's assume you got past the "almost" and spent the $5 to upgrade your account. How can you free-to-play Magic Online? There are two important ways. The first is by using "free bots" in the Magic Online Trade tab. The most common way to get the cards you need on Magic Online is to buy them from a bot, which is basically the Magic Online version of a local game store. You give the bot event tickets (Magic Online dollars), and it gives you the cards you want. 

However, several of the biggest vendors on Magic Online, like Cardhoarder and Goatbots, run what they call "free bots," which give away cards for free. If you search CardhoarderFree and GoatbotsFree in the trade tab on Magic Online, they'll pop right up. While the bots do limit the number of cards you can take at once (GoatbotsFree gives up to eight cards each day, and CardhoarderFree gives out 64 free cards a month) and you'll find mostly commons and uncommons, there's actually a ton of selection, with the free bots usually having more than 10,000 different cards. While the free bots won't give you a top-tier competitive deck, they do have a lot of solid and very playable uncommons. If you just want a ton of cards to brew with and visit the free bots daily, taking the maximum number of cards, by the end of the year, you'll have more than 3,000 cards in your account, all for free.

Free Rental Programs

Sign up for Cardhoarder's free rental program here

Sign up for Mana Trader's free rental program here

The second way to free-to-play Magic Online is even more important: using free card-rental programs. Magic Online has two major card-rental programs, one run by Cardhoarder and another by ManaTraders. These programs work on a subscription model. You pay $X a month and can borrow whatever cards you need to play whatever decks you want. However, both Cardhoarder and ManaTraders offer a free version of the rental program, with Cardhoarder giving players access to $5 (or 5 tix, in MTGO terms) of cards at any time and ManaTraders offering $7 of cards. The beauty of rental programs is that you can switch cards whenever you want, so you can borrow some cards, play with them for a while, and, once you get tired of the deck you're playing, swap them back in for something else, as long as you don't go over your rental limit.

The real trick here is signing up for both free rental programs, which will give you access to up to $12 (or 12 tix) of cards at once. While this might not sound like much, when you consider how cheap most cards are on Magic Online, you can actually do a ton with just $12 of cards. For example, we all built 5-tix decks a while ago on Commander Clash, the amount you can borrow for free with the Cardhoarder program, and the decks were super solid. In paper, they all cost between $120 and $320, but on MTGO, each was less than $5. Here are the decks we played:

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As you can see, they aren't just underpowered piles of commons. Most had some number of mythics, along with 20 or 30 rares. There are plenty of Commander staples: Lightning Greaves, Gilded Lotus, Agent of Treachery, Shadowspear, and more. Crim's deck even had Mana Drain, a $50 card in paper, while Richard's had a $80 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds, a $46 Sylvan Library, and a $52 Cloudstone Curio, all in a deck that cost less than $5 total.

Basically, the TLDR is that you can build an almost infinite number of really fun, solid, and competitive Commander decks for free with the help of the card-rental programs. While other formats are harder to build on such a tight budget, you can easily play budget Modern or Pioneer if you sign up for both programs so that you have access to $12 of cards at any given time. Many of the decks we play on Budget Magic are close enough to $12 on Magic Online that you can switch up a couple of cards and get them for free. Here are $12 versions of some of my favorite Modern budget decks we played last year:

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While none of these decks is top tier, some of them are pretty competitive. You could play both 12 Whack and Affinity in an event and finish in the money, to earn prizes that you could spend to upgrade the deck or build another one. If you're a Magic Arena player, one thing you'll notice is that rarity doesn't matter much on Magic Online. For example, the Enchantress deck is almost all rares (37 in all), at it still costs just $10.49 on Magic Online, while you're going to have to spend months of playing or hundreds of dollars on Magic Arena to get the 37 rares that you need to build a specific deck. On Magic Online, you can have them all for free with the help of the free rental programs, and if you get tired of playing Enchantress, you can simply trade the cards back and switch to Affinity, 12 Whack, Doran, or your own brew, for that matter! 

Last but not least, we have tournaments. On Magic Online, you can play an infinite number of matches of whatever format you desire for free, but tournaments that grant prizes typically have an entry free, with one big exception: player-run events. Player-run events are tournaments hosted by the community that typically are free to enter and hand out prizes, in the form of bot credit that you can use to buy any cards that you want. While it would take some time and a decent win percent, it's possible to use these events to build a top-tier Modern or Pioneer deck. Magic Online Society's website and Discord are good places to start down the player-run-events path, and Cardhoarder maintains a list of them as well, although I'm not sure all of the events listed are still active.

Taking all this together, it's very possible to free-to-play Magic Online once you pay the $5 to upgrade your account. In fact, I'd argue that between free bots and free-loan programs, Magic Online offers a free-to-play player a ton more cards, options, and formats for free than Magic Arena does. Once you get into the free rental programs, you can immediately start building and playing Commander decks that would cost hundreds of dollars in paper, competitive budget Modern / Pioneer decks, and much more. You don't have to grind for months to build a single deck and then for months more if you want to switch. You can swap into a new deck every day if you want to! All for free! 


Oh yeah, if you're confused on how to start on Magic Online, I made a video going over the process a while ago that would help. It should mostly still be accurate, although a few small things have changed since the video was released, so I'm planning to have an updated version for 2022 out in the next few weeks. In the meantime, make sure to let me know in the comments if you have any questions about Magic Online or how to free-to-play it, or you can reach me by email at or on Twitter @SaffronOlive.

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