One of the most commonly asked questions in Magic: The Gathering is simply “how do I start?”. With sets seemingly being released every few minutes, a billion formats to choose from, and almost 30 years’ worth of cards to sift through, simply shuffling up and drawing your first hand is often the biggest hurdle.
Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast releases yearly Starter Kits, which are tied in with the digital adaptation Magic: The Gathering Arena. Containing two decks and codes to redeem both of them in Arena, these are frequently players’ first real forays into the game. However, it wasn’t until this year that the decks you got actually included any decent cards. With the 2022 Starter Kit, Wizards has finally decided to give new players a taste of the spice Magic has to offer, while also making it a worthwhile buy for more enfranchised fans.
The first Arena Starter Kit launched in 2020, and featured one monoblack deck, and one monogreen. This was the first Magic product I bought after getting back into the game over lockdown, and it does hold a lot of nostalgia: Kogla, the Titan Ape; Doom Pangolin, Honey Mammoth, Treeshaker Chimera, and Peer into the Abyss are all cards I heavily associate with that period on lockdown when everything was unknown and anxiety-inducing, and you needed something comforting.
However, after a few months of re-learning the game, I realised they weren’t actually any good. It doesn’t help that the Amazon version of the kit swapped out the one interesting card; Vito, Thorn of Dusk Rose; with the altogether much less impressive Demon of Loathing. They’re great ways to learn the game, but with an overall lack of mechanical complexity there’s still a big jump from it to brewing your own decks and wading into the online world of Arena.
2021’s decks went too far in the other direction. Based on that year’s Standard format, it featured cards from Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, Strixhaven, and Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Instead of the monocolour decks of the year before, we now had two colour pairs to contend with: the Golgari (green/black) Rough and Tumble and the Izzet (red/blue) Sneak Attack.
By the time these came out I was already deeply re-enfranchised and didn’t see much need for them, and found they confused new players more often than helped them learn. It was particularly awkward including the complex card Asmodeus the Archfiend in Rough and Tumble, as replacing your card draw with exile confused many people who saw an expensive rare, but couldn’t work out how to use it.
Much like last year, 2022’s decks play to the current Standard environment (Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna) with a pair of two-coloured decks. The Azorius (white/blue) Up and Away and the Gruul (red/green) Earth Shakers finally manage to hit a nice balance between the complexity of 2021’s and the welcoming introduction of the year before, to give us easily the best starter decks we’ve had in a long time.
Both decks have heaps of worthwhile cards, which is hugely impressive at £7 for both. Each deck includes five rares, but instead of them being chaff like Demon of Loathing, it’s given us major, Standard format-defining cards like Hullbreaker Horror and Dreamshackle Geist. There’s even some utility for Commander players here, thanks to Welcoming Vampire, Creepy Puppeteer, and Glorious Sunrise.
The impressive thing about these decks is that Wizards has managed to keep the box-selling cards good without pushing too hard into mechanical complexity. This is still a starter product, so you’ll get cards you otherwise wouldn’t see outside of draft, like Stormrider Spirit and High-Rise Sawjack, but it offsets them with those special rares that are good, yet easy to understand. There’s no Asmodeus the Archfiend here to confuse players, but you do get simpler powerful cards like Consuming Tide and Extraction Specialist.
You can rarely point at a product made for beginners and safely say it’ll be good for any Magic player, regardless of experience, and yet this year’s Starter Kit pulls it off nicely. For beginners, it has safely low-powered games that give you hints of the speed and complexity of higher games without being too much to handle, and for those experts there’s enough to pull apart and power up your other decks with.
It’s even worthwhile for the dedicated Arena players. While these decks don’t take from the entire Standard format, all the cards will be legal for it until at least September 2023. And with two codes inside to redeem them both on Arena, for £7 you’re getting a whole load of cards to boost your digital collection. If you’re like me and fell off Arena around the time of Alchemy, only to come back with Explorer, there are definitely worse ways to get back into Standard than by redeeming the codes in this.
Magic is famous for being a money sink (especially when it pulls stunts like its $55 Collector’s boosters), but the Starter Kits are a nice reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s almost worth grabbing a few for each of my white and blue Commander decks, just for the Welcoming Vampires and Hullbreaker Horrors they include.
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