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Posted December 22, 2014 by Scott Gerhardt in Card Games

Magic vs Magic Online – Two very different games

So I have been a Magic player since 1995 and a Magic Online player since it’s beta in 2002.  I have played a LOT in both of these formats.  I will tell you one things for absolutely certain:  They are not the same game.  Sure, you tap mana, play creatures and spells and try to reduce your opponent’s life to zero in both.  But I really feel like that’s where a lot of the similarities end, especially when you’re talking tournament Magic.

Now I’m not here today to tell you why one is better than the other – I will let you make that determination on your own.  What I am going to do is point out a lot of the glaring issues both games have and how the other one either fixes it or makes it worse.  Now these aren’t really going to be in any order of importance, but rather just a random order of varying levels of frustration.

Deck Knowledge:

Quite a few times when you’re playing Magic, knowing what is in your deck can be extremely important.  While this mainly applies to limited, some constructed decks such as players new to Birthing Pod decks might benefit from being able to know the exact contents of their deck.  With Magic Online, it’s as simple as looking at your collection and bringing up a specific deck.  From there, you can review its contents and know whether or not you have an out to a particular situation.  In paper Magic, if you just started looking through your deck or accessing outside notes, you’d be penalized and/or disqualified.  This is just something important to know when you’re playing.  I don’t really see this as a flaw to either, but its definitely somewhere the two games are quite different.

The Clock:

This is an area where I feel, for the most part, Magic Online shines.  Each player having their own clock allows them to use their time how they see fit.  There are no slow play penalties to get, and if you need to take a few minutes to figure out a complicated blocking scheme, you can.  The downside of course is if your clock runs out, regardless of game count, board state, or anything, you lose.  That in of itself is the ultimate slow play penalty.  In paper magic, due to having a shared clock, both players must play at a reasonable pace as to not infringe on the others person’s time to play.  Playing the clock tactically in a live tournament does happen, though doing so can (and often should) lead to said slow play penalties.  Furthermore, one real downside to the clock can be with poor internet connections or disconnects.  When the connection is bad and it takes you 2-3 seconds to just tap a mana, then I hope you’re running a real aggressive deck.

Limited Deck Construction: (added 11/24/15)

In paper magic, even at the highest of levels, there tends to be at least a tiny bit of leniency when your decklist has to be turned over to the judge.  On MTGO, it’s 20 minutes for sealed, or 5/10 for draft.  If you haven’t hit submit by 0:00, you’re playing with either an 80 or 140 card deck consisting of your entire pool plus lands added.  Now you certainly don’t have to deal with the hassle of deck registration online as well, so part of your brain power isn’t devoted to making sure you have all the correct cards in your pool.


This is another area where things in Magic online are very clear and not so much in paper magic.  In Magic online, you have 3 minutes to sideboard…period.  At the end of 3 minutes, your deck will be submitted automatically if you don’t do it yourself.  Additionally, these 3 minutes don’t count towards the round clock.  Furthermore, you don’t ever have to undo your sideboard – the game does it for you.  No chance of getting penalized for having sideboard cards in your main deck game 1 because you forgot to switch them back out.  In paper magic, you essentially have “a reasonable amount” of time to sideboard.  This can certainly be in excess of 3 minutes, and does count towards the round clock.  This is another area where a player could be abusive if they so chose to be.  By the same respect, when players have to make reasonable sideboarding decisions, it also gives them the time to insure their deck is absolutely correct.

Misclicking and other technical issues:

I’ve never lost a paper game of magic because I accidentally double clicked my mouse and went right past my attackers step, or because I mistargeted something.  I can’t say the same thing about Magic online.  We are subject to silly technical errors, some of which is just caused by lag as well.  I have never just “disappeared” in the middle of a paper draft only to come back and find out that an entire pack had been picked for me because my internet/computer/client crashed.  Finally, I’ve also never lost a paper game because I had F8’d, tapped out of lands, and the computer didn’t realize I could cast my Crowd’s Favor with convoke.  Even intricate interactions and rules loopholes that are correct, but maybe aren’t foreseen by the programmers or caught by beta testers sometimes lead to “incorrect rulings” by Magic Online, and you have no other option than to file for reimbursement.

Comfort level:

I can play Magic Online in my underwear (no, please get that visual out of your head, it’s disturbing).  I can chill at my own home at my own desk and be comfortable.  I can show up 15 seconds before a tournament starts and be ready to go.  Being able to take it easy allows for you to be more comfortable and generally play better.  Of course, by the same token, there isn’t generally a TV in the background at a PTQ, which will lead me to my next point.


While there are going to be distractions for any tournament, they tend to be amplified for MTGO.  For example, while I am writing this article, I am also doing an MTGO draft.  How am I doing?  Well, I’m currently 0-2.  Why?  Because I am trying to write an article and draft at the same time.  The same can be said for Facebook, or talking with family, or answering the phone, or one of a million other “at home” distractions that can’t reasonably happen at a live tournament.  At a tournament, you can simply focus on the game.  While you will hear other players chatter and minor things, they are all things you can easily tune out and ignore at your discretion.  The UPS driver at your front door is a little harder.


Like them or not, draws and intentional draws are a part of paper magic tournaments.  In MTGO, they are not.  You absolutely will win or lose every match no matter what.  This can make for some more interesting math where multiple X-2’s can conceivably make top 8 of a tournament, where this is significantly more rare at a paper tournament.

Cheating and Judging:

In Magic Online, assuming they have the bugs worked out (and they USUALLY do), you will never get hosed by a ruling or because someone committed a GRV (Game Rule Violation).  Your opponent can’t manipulate your deck to eliminate randomness while shuffling.  You don’t have to pause a match for 5 minutes for the judges to rule on something.  There are no deck checks.  Hell, there are no deck lists, which also greatly speeds up the tournament.


Fatigue is a factor often not considered by most players.  When you have to go 9 rounds plus a top 8, with each round going 50 minutes, plus probably an average of 20 extra minutes between rounds, that’s a long day.  Now consider that most tournaments don’t have ready access to good, nutritious food, and by the end of the day you can be completely shot.  If you read my Top 4 report from a PTQ not too long ago, that’s exactly what happened to me.  By the semis (round 11), I was completely shot.  I was poorly nutritioned, and a lack of sleep the night before led to a horrid mental breakdown.  MTGO is a bit shorter and allows you close and easy access to your kitchen and/or restroom at your own discretion.  You don’t have to stand outside chit chatting between rounds because you can go turn on the TV, multitask, or do anything else that would often be considered more comfortable.


It’s Hanukkah, I figured I’d throw my limited Yiddish in here.  In paper magic, it is truly one-on-one.  Except for team tournaments, you can’t help someone or run ideas as to what to do past someone else.  In MTGO, you can have any number of people helping behind you to make sure you don’t make silly mistakes.  Hell, with all the people streaming these days (thegamersdome on twitch, guys), you sometimes can have hundreds of people in a chat room giving advise as well.  It can almost turn into a team mental sport, and sometimes it can be many vs one.  This doesn’t mean the one can’t win, but it’s definitely a factor.

Magic Anytime:

With Magic online, you’re mere minutes, possibly seconds from a whole array of tournaments, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (except for downtime).  Got the itch?  Scratch it as quick as you want.  For paper, you can go down to your local LGS (which you should – these are the reason this game has existed this long and is as popular as it is) and it could take a while to assemble some form of tournament.  This isn’t an issue for things that are scheduled, but can be for on-demand type events.

Friends in the Community:

Honestly, you’re probably not going to make too many friends at Magic Online.  It’s often a very quiet activity with people not chatting very much, if at all.  I personally have made a good number of friends from playing at meeting people at the local store, or a PTQ, a GP, or any number of other live events.  It adds to the experience, and for a many people, it’s the reason they will only play paper Magic (or for others, only MTGO).

Triggers: (added 10/6/15)

I have seen games won and lost because someone missed a trigger at the right time.  Judge calls have to be made when things get to the point people argue about if a trigger was hit or missed.  It’s one of those things you have to be mindful of at all times, not only yours but your opponent’s too.  Magic Online takes care of all that.  If a trigger is supposed to happen, it happens for you.  You can concentrate more on your strategy and less on remembering your triggers.

Honestly, I could probably go on and on, and this article may even turn into a bit of a living document, with sections being added as they are thought of.  Do you have one I missed?  Put it in the comments section.

That’s it for now.  As a reminder, we stream on Twitch.tv all the time.  Click the link and favorite us.  I like to think the channel is rather entertaining (sometimes more so when I’m losing), but come see sometime when we’re playing and you decide.  Thanks for reading!

Scott Gerhardt

Scott has....thoughts. They can be about this, that, or just about anything. Seldom at a loss for words, you can find his thoughts chronicled here