One of the most frequently asked questions in Magic: The Gathering is simply “how do I get started?” With sets seemingly being released every few minutes, a billion formats to choose from, and nearly 30 years of cards to sift through, simply shuffling and drawing your first hand is often the biggest hurdle.
Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast releases annual starter kits, which tie in with the digital adaptation Magic: The Gathering Arena. With two decks and codes to redeem them in Arena, these are often players’ first real forays into the game. However, it wasn’t until this year that the decks you got included decent cards. With the 2022 starter kit, Wizards finally decided to give new players a taste of the spice Magic has to offer, while also making it a worthwhile purchase for fans with more rights.
The first Arena Starter Kit was released in 2020 and included a monoblack and monogreen deck. This was the first Magic product I bought after coming back to the game after lockdown, and it’s very nostalgic: Kogla, the titanic monkey; Doom Pangolin, Honey Mammoth, Treeshaker Chimera, and Peer into the Abyss are cards that I strongly associate with that period of lockdown when everything was unknown and anxiety-provoking, and you needed something comforting.
However, after a few months of re-learning the game, I realized that they weren’t really that good. It doesn’t help that the Amazon version of the kit has changed the only interesting card; Vito, Thorn of the Twilight Rose; with the much less impressive Demon of Loathing. They’re great ways to learn the game, but with a general lack of mechanical complexity, there’s still a huge jump to building your own decks and immersing yourself in the online world of Arena.
The covers of 2021 went too far in the other direction. Based on that year’s standard format, it included cards from Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, Strixhaven, and Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Instead of the mono-colored decks of the previous year, we now had two color pairs to contend with: the Golgari (green/black) Rough and Tumble and the Izzet (red/blue) Sneak Attack.
By the time they came out, I was already deeply revamped and didn’t see much need for them, and found that they confused new players more often than they helped them learn. It was particularly awkward to include the complex card Asmodeus the Archfiend in Rough and Tumble, as replacing your card draw with exile confused a lot of people who saw a weird face but didn’t know how to use it.
Like last year, the 2022 decks fit into the current standard setting (Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Crimson Vow, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna) with a pair of two-color decks. The Azorius (white/blue) Up and Away and the Gruul (red/green) Earth Shakers finally manage to strike a good balance between the complexity of 2021 and the welcome introduction of the previous year, to easily give us the best starter decks we have. I have had in a long time.
Both decks have worthwhile stacks of cards, which is hugely impressive at £7 for both. Each deck includes five rares, but instead of being crap like Demon of Loathing, it gives us important cards that define the standard format like Hullbreaker Horror and Dreamshackle Geist. There’s even some utility for Commander players here, thanks to Welcoming Vampire, Creepy Puppeteer, and Glorious Sunrise.
What’s impressive about these decks is that Wizards has managed to keep the crate-selling cards good without pushing too much into the mechanical complexity. This is still a starter product, so you’ll get cards you wouldn’t otherwise see out of the draft, like Stormrider Spirit and High-Rise Sawjack, but you make up for them with those special rares that are good, but easy to figure out. There’s no Asmodeus the Archfiend here to confuse players, but you do get simpler powerful cards like Consuming Tide and Extraction Specialist.
Rarely can you point to a product made for beginners and safely say that it will be good for any Magic player, regardless of experience, and yet this year’s starter kit pulls it off very well. For beginners, it has safe, low-power sets that give you hints of the speed and complexity of higher sets without being too much to handle, and for experts there’s enough to break up and power up your other decks.
It’s even worth it for dedicated Arena players. While these decks don’t take the entire Standard format, all cards will be legal until at least September 2023. And with two codes inside to redeem in Arena, for £7 you get a whole host of Cards to power up your digital collection. If you’re like me and fell out of Arena around the time of Alchemy, only to return to Explorer, there are definitely worse ways to get back to Standard than redeeming the codes on this.
Magic is notorious for being a money sink (especially when pulling off stunts like its $55 collector boosters), but starter kits are a good reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s almost worth buying a few for each of my white and blue Commander decks, just for the welcome vampires and Hullbreaker horrors they include.
NEXT: The 5 Best Deck Archetypes In Magic: The Gathering Standard Format