New To Magic Online, But An Old Hand At Magic?

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StarCityGames.com! So you’ve been slinging the paper cards for awhile, but just downloaded the Magic Online software. You might be under the illusion that Magic skill will translate directly to Magic Online skill… And unfortunately, you’d be wrong. You’ll dominate those who are remarkably worse than you are, of course – but all other things being equal, the person with more skill at navigating the Magic Online interface will win. So what tips and tricks does the beginning Magic Online player need to know to win?

So you’ve been slinging the paper cards for awhile, but you just downloaded the Magic Online software. You might be under the illusion that Magic skill will translate directly to Magic Online skill… And unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

All other things being equal, the person with more skill at Magic Online will win.

That’s because the Magic Online interface is very unforgiving. Left to its own devices, it will rush the “declare attackers” phase (neutralizing that tap effect you wanted to shoehorn in), destroy your own creatures with your own effects, and cast the wrong things. You will lose frustrating games to misclicks until you can get up to speed.

But hopefully I can speed up that n00b-to-MODO expert process by giving you what the manual doesn’t tell you up front.

Now. You have the game open, don’t you? Before you do thing one, go to “Settings” and click the “Game Play” tab. These are configured badly by default for the experienced player, and will frequently betray you unless you configure them right. See, unless you set it to pause at a particular phase, Magic Online will cheerfully zip right by that phase unless your opponent does something for you to react to. Which means that if you haven’t specifically told Magic Online to pause during your upkeep so that you can do some tricksy pre-draw shenanigans, that opportunity will flash by without so much as a by-your-leave.

Considering that many of these shenanigans involve game-winning maneuvers, this can be very bad indeed.

Here are the settings that I suggest you set by default:

Your Turn:
Declare Attackers
Declare Blockers
Main (Postcombat)

I should note that you don’t need to set a stop for the “Combat Damage” — if there’s damage on the stack, it will automatically pause to allow you to do stuff. So that’s not an issue.

Opponent’s Turn
Beginning of Combat (which is the last chance you’ll have to tap or destroy something before it’s declared as an attacker)
Declare Attackers
Declare Blockers
End of turn (When all good Blue mages do their dirty work)

The thing to be noted here is that the stops are slightly fluid, and depend heavily on your deck and the format. For example, in Ravnica Limited, I used to play with just the stops listed above. Then suddenly they added Dissension to the list, and with Dissension came the Forecast mechanic. Unless I specifically put a stop at my upkeep, MODO would merrily jog past the many opportunities I had to draw an extra card off of the forecast effect of my Sky Hussar. Thus, when I’m playing in a Ravnica Limited event, I set the stop for my own upkeep.

Likewise, many people play with different stops for Constructed and Limited. You’ll have to work to find your own mix, but the stops above are a much better starting point than the ones enabled by default.

Then, if it’s not already checked, check the “Prompt before taking mana burn.” This will stop you from some ugly situations by throwing a window up that says, “You have seven mana in your pool – did you mean to cast that Thorn Elemental before ending your main phase?”

Next: You will have to learn a very, very important key. This key combination is the most important in Magic, so you must learn it now. That key combination?


Alt+U means “Undo,” and it is not on any menu in the Magic Online game. Now, Undo does nothing 99% of the time, since Magic is a game of strict standards. Once you click the “OK” button and move on to your attackers phase, there is no force in the MODO universe that can un-declare something as an attacker. Likewise, should you put the wrong spell on the stack, you cannot go “Whoops.” Once a creature is sacrificed, it stays sacrificed.

But what Alt+U can do is untap a land that you tapped by mistake. It can also untap artifacts that generate mana, and creatures that generate mana, and so forth. Basically, it allows you to undo mistakes that you made in tapping mana.

This is a huge deal, since you can tap mana at any time, but if you do it at the wrong time you’re boned. You might think you’re in your second main phase, but the game says you’re actually at the end of your “Combat Damage” phase. Without the Alt+U, you will burn for one mana at the end of your turn.

You will click that Alt+U a lot. So get used to it. Alt+U, Alt+U, Alt+U.

The next keyboard shortcut is important to remember: F2. It means, “OK.” With all of those stops set, you’ll be pausing all of the time, and most good MODO folks play with one hand on the mouse and the other hand on the F2 key. Just don’t get too overeager, since it’s all too easy to get caught up in an F2 frenzy and zip right past the one phase you needed to do something.

If you really have nothing to do for the rest of the turn, you can press F4, which will only pause the game when something gets put on the stack, skipping over whatever stops you may have set. If you feel like living dangerously, you can hit F6 once per turn, which will skip past everything — needless to say, this can backfire if your opponent has something nasty up his sleeve, but it comes in especially handy in big multiplayer free-for-alls when you’re tapped out.

If you accidentally F4 or F6 and want to change your mind, the F3 key can “undo” the damage — though it may be too little, too late.

There is a hidden downside to the F4 and F6 keys, though; they often act as “tells.” An experienced MODO player can often tell when his opponent has hit the F4 key, because suddenly MODO will respond instantly to any “OK.” And if your opponent knows that you’ve just F6’d through the turn, he might realize that you have nothing better to do, which could be a signal for him to go on the offensive. If this sort of thing concerns you, you might want to stick to just F2.

The last thing that will help your burgeoning MODO skills is, well, knowing the rules. Magic Online follows the rules of Magic precisely — which is to say that sometimes you will go to do something that your friends were perfectly fine with, yet Magic Online will tell you is illegal. Unfortunately, “I thought it worked differently” is not something that will save you from death in Magic Online.

Real life example: In a Coldsnap draft, I was attacking with my Ronom Hulk, I had a Snow Yeti, and I had a Thermopod on the back benches. I was, very cleverly, down to two mana open. (And if you don’t understand this welter of cards, hang on a second. I’ll explain how clever this is in a bit.)

The important thing is that I was attacking into a non-Snow 6/5 creature. Under normal circumstances, my opponent would block, and the two creatures would kill each other. But this is how clever I was:

I had only two mana.

Snow Yeti, for the small price of a Snow mana and two colorless, gives a Snow creature first strike.

Sacrificing a creature to Thermopod puts one Snow mana in your pool.

My opponent — that poor, unsuspecting bastard — would block my Ronom Hulk, and I would sacrifice a useless creature to put a mana in my pool, and then I would give my Hulk first strike. It was perfect! I would clearly win!

It was only after that the creature was sacrificed and a Snow mana was in my pool that I remembered the salient part about Ronom Hulk: protection from snow. My Snow Yeti could not target my Ronom Hulk, which meant that I had just sacrificed a creature to put a Red mana into my pool for absolutely no reason — meaning that my Hulk was charging into combat unaided. And the two creatures clashed and died, and since my only real offense was my Ronom Hulk, I died shortly thereafter.

The lesson is this: There will be times when you gear your entire game around some great game-winning play, and that play will turn out to be completely impossible. In tournaments, sometimes you will accidentally bend the rules and your opponent won’t notice, but the all-seeing eye of the MODO engine (barring a few glitches) means that any mistake in timing will be dutifully punished. Know the rules and read the cards. They will help you to win.

And will help you not to be humiliated by plays like that.

Onto Obscura!
That’s most of the easy stuff. Here’s some of the stuff that can also improve your play.

I mentioned stupidity with mana earlier, which is what makes the Alt+U key a Godsend — but the second thing that will prevent mana errors is casting a spell the right way. See, the way most players cast spells is, actually, ass-backwards. Most people tap their lands for mana, then announce the spell. But the way Magic actually works is that you announce the spell, then pay the costs — like, say, mana — and then place it on the stack.

From a strict rules perspective, you are performing an inefficient step — putting mana into your pool and letting it float around willy-nilly until the time comes to pay for a spell. Instead, what you should do is to announce the spell, and wait until the spell asks you to pay its cost, and then tap your mana. It’s a hair-splitting difference, but it can occasionally matter.

And as all good Magic players know, you should never do anything before the absolute last minute.

The “put mana into your pool and then cast the spell” actually works fine 99% of the time. When it will backfire, however, is when you’re planning on casting multiple spells in a turn, and you put the wrong mana into your pool.

As a quick example, let’s say you have two spells you want to cast this turn — a Grizzly Bear and a Shock. Without thinking, you tap the Forest and the Mountain to float mana into your pool to cast the Grizzly Bear, and… Crap. Grizzly’s out, but your Red mana’s gone.

This sounds silly — of course you’d never do that! — but this is a simple example. In a complex game where you have seven different dual lands that produce all types of mana, you can lose track. And being unable to cast that second (or third) spell can cost you the game.

What you should do as a matter of course is to cast the spell first, then pay the mana. You do this by clicking the Grizzly Bear in your hand, without tapping any lands. Magic Online will then say, “Pay 1G,” at which point you tap the lands and pay the nice game engine. As you tap the lands one by one, pay very close attention to which lands you tap… And hopefully, you’ll remember not to use the Mountain.

It’s not necessary to do this — I personally forget about half the time myself – but it is a good play habit. It saves you from the sort of abysmally dumb errors that leave you feeling completely pantsed.

(It gets slightly more complicated with artifacts like Azorius Signet, where you have to put the mana into your pool before casting the spell — you can’t tap artifacts or creatures for mana while you’re paying a cost — but you’ll just have to make do when you have something like that out.) (EDIT: According to our forums, some folks can tap a Signet for mana in mid-cost-paying. It may well be that you can do this, and I’m too stupid to figure out how. More experimentation is clearly needed.)

The other thing that veeeery occasionally comes in handy is the Ctrl key, which allows you to keep priority after you cast a spell. Under normal game play, you cast a spell and automatically pass priority to the other player — but there are rare opportunities when you want to cast multiple spells without giving your opponent the chance to respond with spells or effects between spells. Hold down the Ctrl key as you cast, and that will ensure you retain priority.

And that’s that. If you’re looking for a cheat sheet, you might try this list over at MTGOtraders.com.

Further Explorations In Magic
Unless you’re really hip on the whole MODO thing, my advice is not to start out with drafts. Drafts can be expensive, and losing $12 to a misclick is the kind of thing that makes you want to put a fist through your monitor.

Instead, try the Leagues. They’re basically a Sealed deck event, but the nice thing about Leagues is that though only the first five games you play count for purposes of prizes, you can play infinite games. It’s a good place to strengthen your Magic Online skills, since you’ll be playing semi-competitive games (the overall quality of opponents in League games isn’t nearly as high as the cutthroat nature of drafts, but most are at least okay players and some are quite good) and getting the hang of how all of this “clicking” stuff works. And when you throw away a game because you accidentally told your Minister of Impediments to tap himself before your opponent’s combat, it’s not nearly as expensive a mistake.

Further Explorations In Webcomics
In case you’re interested in just goofing around, I write a webcomic called Home on the Strange, which deals with the adventures of a couple of middle-aged nerds and their psychotically-single friends. The punchlines largely revolve around nerd culture and the strange behavior of people who are, well… Just like you, if a bit older.

So perhaps you would like to check out my funniness this week at www.homeonthestrange.com. Thankew!

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy