Trading Card Games are still going strong. Though I grew up with Pokemon and Yugioh as childhood classroom staples, I never would have guessed that as an adult there would be 20 million players for card games as a whole, let alone Magic: The Gathering alone [as of 2015]. The various TCGs available today vary greatly in theme, mechanics and artwork, but most share two distinct traits; They can consume a great deal of time and can be very costly.
However, as with most any game, there are ways that responsible adults can manage their time and money effectively to enjoy the games they love. Below are a few tips and tricks that can help you ease your way into casual and controlled play of your favorite card game. This article will most heavily feature Magic: The Gathering and the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game, but the rules can be applied to the game of your choice.
New to the game? Ask your local game store if they have a demo deck of the game of your choice. You may be surprised at the number of games that have supplied retailers with a demo to increase sales. If they don’t have one, you may also politely see if they can request one from their distributor. It is often free for stores to obtain them.
Starter Kits/Duel Decks
Beyond a demo, the easiest way to jump into a game without extensive cost or planning is to purchase a starter kit or a duel deck. A starter kit is designed to be a complete, balanced deck, often themed around a type of resource or playstyle. Purchasing a kit like this will allow you to learn the rules and mechanics of the game as it is meant to be played. Duel decks are much the same, but they will contain two separate and complete decks to be played against each other. This will allow you to immediately play with a friend, even if they are not sure they are ready to purchase. If they are ready to pay for their own cards, splitting the cost of a Duel deck may be cheaper than buying two separate decks.
Borrow a Friend’s Deck
Not ready or unable to spend money on your own deck of playing cards? Ask your friends if they’d be willing to loan you one long enough to play with you. While they may not want to actually give you the cards, it’s likely that they’d still like to play with you. If you really enjoy playing with them, it may make purchasing your own cards seem more reasonable.
Constructed (For MTG See: Standard) format play is as it sounds- players design and construct their decks from the ground up. This method often takes the most time and money, as tested decks may not always work out the way as intended and additional cards may need to be purchased. Constructed formats require trial and error. See the “Deck Building” section below for tips and tricks to reduce cost and time if this is the format you wish to play.
Title decks are a format exclusive to FFTCG. The Final Fantasy Trading Card Game divides its cards by series or “Title”, based on the game the card’s art is derived from. For example, this Sephiroth card is from Final Fantasy VII, and so could be played in a Final Fantasy VII deck. Players must still construct their decks, but the rules for resources and play style are relaxed, and cards playable in this format are often not expensive cards that are currently being used in constructed. See here for the full Title rules.
Typically seen in Magic: The Gathering, Modern format is a form of constructed that allows cards beyond the Standard form of play. While there are still rules and banned cards, Modern allows for many, many years worth of cards to be included in your deck (at the time of this article, cards between 2003 and 2019 are permitted). This allows for a lot of fun and creative deck constructions. The downside to this format is that competitive cards can be extremely expensive. See here for Modern rules.
If you’re looking to construct your deck as cheaply as possible and play against others with the same mindset, consider playing in the Pauper format. Pauper is a common term among TCGs and refers to a tournament allowing only decks intentionally built without higher rarity cards. For example, FFTCG Pauper Tournament decks may only include Common and Rare rarity cards, excluding Hero and Legendary. Furthermore, Magic: The Gathering allows only the common rarity.
After major card game tournaments, the winners’ deck list of cards will often be uploaded to the internet to allow competitors to study the cards and methods of the winner. “Net-decking” is copying this list and learning to play the deck designed by the other player. While sometimes frowned upon in the competitive community, it is a great way to obtain a solid deck that forces you to learn the techniques of the original player in order to pilot successfully. There is nothing wrong with adding net-decking to your list of tools to save money and time if you are playing casually.
Using Online Resources
In order to build a coherent deck, it is important to know what options and cards are available. There are many online resources that allow you not only to look at cards, but to completely build your deck and draw test hands to see what you may possibly draw on your first turn. Being able to build a deck online and see it together saves a ton of time- the alternative being to purchase all of the cards first from your local store and gambling on how they may function together. FF Decks and Tapped Out are great resources to check out.
Deck Testing Online
It is possible to test your online deck against other players without purchasing a single card. Online services such as OCTGN and Untap.in allow you to install card packs and build your deck as you would in real life. Using their matchmaking system, you can play against an opponent and truly see how the deck you built functions and if you like it. By testing in this way, you can decide whether the deck you’ve built is worth paying for, and if it isn’t, you’ve saved yourself time and money.
Saving Money or Recouping Cost
Sell Cards You Won’t Use
Collecting cards can get very expensive. If you are on a budget or are looking to save while you enjoy the game, consider selling single cards that you won’t consider putting in your deck. Local game stores will often purchase single cards. Be warned- the condition of the card will be taken into consideration, so make sure to sleeve them!
Consider Purchasing Singles
It’s fun to open a booster box and hope for the best, but with finances on the line, it may be more cost-efficient to purchase singles. By using the methods in the Deck Building section above, you should be able to narrow down to exactly the cards you need. Your local game store may have what you need. If you’re looking for FFTCG singles, my husband sells them online at Cards of Ivalice.
Tournaments and group events can be the most fun there is to be had with a Trading Card Game. However, with travel, room and board, and tournament fees, it can also be the most costly. To reduce this, consider carpooling with friends and splitting room and board. Sharing the cost of an AirBnB can be drastically cheaper than a hotel and can add to the experience overall!
Overall, Trading Card Games will likely never be completely cheap as long as there is a strong player base and a competitive scene. However, that doesn’t mean that a player can’t enjoy the game without emptying their pockets and sacrificing all of their free time. With a little planning we can all play together!
Been playing card games for a while? I’d love to hear how you balance time and money with the fun of the game. Comment below with tips and tricks!
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