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MTG Jumpstart, a fun way to play and build decks |

MTG Jumpstart, a fun way to play and build decks

Sep 17 2021

Update 2021/09/17

Added a link to Moxfield and updated formatting.

Originally posted 2021/07/15

Jumpstart is the best thing to happen to Magic since I've been playing. It's a great balance between cool cards and themes, power and complexity level, and cost.

I'd like to tell you about how I started playing Magic, how I got interested in Jumpstart, and how I made my own custom Jumpstart packs to play with my friends.

Let's get started.

How I started playing

Introduction to Magic

I occasionally participated in Magic nights when I was living in a college dorm, 2012-2014. I didn't know the rules very well and basically only played multiplayer formats like Emperor (3v3 with some extra rules).

Then I didn't play for years. I just wasn't interested.

A good friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to a pre-release event. Your friendly local gaming store hosts a tournament featuring brand new cards, with prize support from Wizards of the Coast. And I said yeah, sounds fun, I'll try anything once. He brought over some simpler decks, taught me how to play again, and we went to the pre-release.

That was the Ravnica Allegiance pre-release, January 2019. I haven't stopped playing Magic since.

After that pre-release, I did two things. I downloaded MTG Arena and I started attending Magic nights with my friends.

MTG: Arena

Arena is the slick digital client for playing Magic against randos on the internet. It's structured like other free-to-play digital card games like Hearthstone. You can spend real money on packs or do daily quests until you can open them for free. Arena is also the premier place for playing Standard, a rotating format that only includes the most recent year or so of sets.

So I started playing Arena, and I learned a few things:

Despite those downsides, I did play a decent amount of Standard. I even snuck into Mythic (the highest tier on the ladder) with a hyper-aggro Winota deck one month. Grinding games on the ladder got old, though.

Draft and Commander

I also started playing Magic in person with my friends. We stuck to two basic things: drafts and commander games.

In a draft, everyone at the table opens a pack, picks a card, and passes the rest to the next player. You keep drafting until all the cards are gone. Then you do that with 2 more packs, and you build a deck out of your picks. This is fun! Discovering cards, finding small synergies, and "making do" with poorer cards is a good time. It can be a little disheartening to try to collect cards in a certain color, or around a certain theme, if those cards... just aren't there. Maybe they didn't show up in anyone's packs, or if they did, other players are taking them. Some cards are bad in draft, too, so you don't always end up with a deck that works cohesively.

In Commander, everyone constructs a 100-card deck with no duplicates. The 100th card is your commander, a legendary creature with some cool effect that the rest of the deck tries to take advantage of. Commander can be fun, but it can also be disheartening due to the nature of the format. Every Magic card ever printed is legal (with some exceptions), so I spent a fair amount of time not being able to remember what cards did. As it's a multiplayer format, I found myself losing a lot, and losing to extremely powerful cards and combos that I never saw coming from multiple people at the table.

To their credit, my friends have always been good sports about playing Magic with me. I've built some really fun draft decks. I've played some really fun Commander games, even if I didn't win. And, despite having some smart players, we keep it relatively casual. Miss a draw or make an obvious misplay? No worries, take it back, whatever seems reasonable.

I've gotten better at both draft and commander and have fun playing them now. At the time, I found myself looking for a format that fit my playstyle better, is all.

How I got into Jumpstart

Jumpstart release

Last year, Wizards released Jumpstart. You open two packs of 20 cards, each with about 12 spells and 8 lands. You shuffle them together and play against another such deck. Each pack contains 1-2 rares and a handful of uncommons in addition to the commons and lands.

I was excited for a format where you don't have to construct a good deck or understand lots of complicated interactions. Jumpstart is quicker to set up than draft, easier to shuffle than Commander, and simpler to understand and explain to newer players. I was also excited to explore themes that weren't geared for large, competitive formats.

In-person Magic nights fell off completely last year, so I didn't play in person for months, but I played the heck out of Jumpstart on MTG Arena. And I started thinking...

Buying physical Jumpstart cards

I eventually decided to make my first real purchase: a full box of 24 Jumpstart decks. And I decided at the same time that I wanted to keep them in their packs. See, the usual flow for someone buying a box of booster packs is this:

But with Jumpstart, where every pack is a playable, themed set of cards, I instead opted for:

So I had to invest in sleeves and boxes. I decided on the Burger Tokens 22-card deckboxes, which are cheap, transparent, and the right size for a Jumpstart deck. I chose Dragon Shield Perfect Fit sleeves, also reasonably-priced and transparent. I prefer transparent sleeves unless there is a good reason not to use them, and the small deckboxes don't fit larger sleeves anyway.

Then it came time to open the box. The Wizards-designed packs are great, and have more than 40 different themes across all five colors. There are predictable themes like Goblins, Pirates, Dinosaurs, but also interesting themes like "Doctor", "Heavily Armored", "Predatory", and others. I unpacked, sleeved, and played through the whole box in a few sessions with different friends. And I loved it! Balanced games, good interaction, fun stuff.

Once I got through the box, though, I realized a couple of things. The first was that I wanted more decks. Buying more random boosters was probably not going to be worthwhile: a box of Jumpstart is more than $100 and might include duplicates. (I got one exact duplicate in my box and another handful of duplicate themes with slightly different lists.) The second was that I wanted to make my own decks, to incorporate cards I've seen and wanted to play.

It couldn't be that hard, right?

Custom Jumpstart

Finding thematic cards for custom decks

Scryfall is the place to browse the entire history of Magic cards. You can search for normal attributes like name, color, and cost, as well as full ability text to find specific mechanics or references.

I love Scryfall. I use it to look at spoilers for new sets. I use it to look at cards referenced in Reddit or Blogatog posts. And sometimes I click on "random" and read cool cards, and use those random cards to find other random cards.

Jumpstart packs are 20 cards each, with 8-9 lands, so you only need to find 11-12 cards that gel together. Official packs are built a few different ways:

There are a near-infinite number of custom themes to choose from, spanning Magic's entire history. There are three good places to start, though:

Once you have a theme, you get to search Scryfall for cards that fit. For creature types and named mechanics, this is as easy as "type:bear" or "oracle:heroic". More generic effects can be hard to find, though, like "get something back from the graveyard" which has a lot of variation. Thankfully, Scryfall has a related website, the Scryfall Tagger. Here, you can search for two different kinds of tags:

It's easiest to see all the art/function tags and search for them on the Tagger website, but you can now search those tags on Scryfall proper as well. So if you want to find a creature wearing a hat, not just an artifact that is a hat, you can type "type:creature art:hat" into Scryfall.

So you've got a bunch of cards. They fit some theme. What's next?

Rules for building a Jumpstart pack

How do you know that your deck will work, and will be balanced against the normal Jumpstart packs?*

*Quick note here. You might not want your deck to be balanced with normal Jumpstart packs. This is reasonable, as the official Jumpstart packs are pretty low in power level. They're designed to be pretty easy to pilot, and they consist primarily of common cards to keep the monetary value of a pack consistent. If you want to make decks full of rares and old cards and other fancy business, go for it! I explicitly wanted to include the official Jumpstart decks in my collection.

To learn more, I turned to the internet, which has all the possible official Jumpstart packs on the wiki as well as a subreddit dedicated to custom packs. The subreddit lays out guidelines for constructing custom decks. The most relevant posts are the rules and the multicolor discussion. The "rules" are a little prescriptive, but they helped me come up with my own set of guidelines to follow:

This matches the distribution of the official packs. Most packs have only one rare, but some have two. Most packs have 8 lands, but a few with higher mana curves (or fewer options) have 9.

Official Jumpstart packs focus on creatures. The game is combat-focused, right, so the focus is natural. Creatures provide the game with inevitability: if you play more creatures than your opponent, you will eventually win through combat. The bulk of non-creature spells will hurt your opponent's creatures or buff your creatures, both helping you contest the board.

Reducing duplicate spells increases variety and lets you pick more cards in a theme.

The first rule codifies the focus on creatures that can be played in the midgame. Faster or slower themes can adjust this, of course.

Cards that require two pips (like Doublecast) or three pips (like Ball Lightning) are really hard to cast on curve. Your deck probably has cards of two colors and you only have a couple two-colored lands to offset your basics. However, a powerful late-game card with multiple pips (like Celestial Mantle) can fit if the deck has room for it.

Yes, the joke is that all three of those cards were included in official Jumpstart packs. Doublecast is not supposed to be cast on curve but it's still questionable in my opinion. Ball Lightning can be a game-ender, even if you don't cast it on curve, so it gets a partial pass.

Multicolor is a tough one. There's only one official multicolor pack, and it's a ridiculous five-color thing with two different WUBRG cards. I think a deck with aggressive multicolor cards (think red/white cards like Honored Crop-Captain or Tenth District Legionnaire) would fall on its face pretty quickly, even if you had expensive two-color lands... because you have to combine it with another deck, so its colors get diluted.

I think it would be possible to build a list with one primary color and one secondary color. You'd only include a few cards that needed the secondary color, near the top of your mana curve. Then, you could include a few lands to provide fixing without breaking the bank or the deck. I haven't tested this, though—none of my lists are two-color.

Removal spells are important for breaking through board stalls, though board wipes should be hard to find—they're a little too strong for the format. Use your judgement here. Also, if your creatures are cheap, pick removal spells that are expensive, and vice versa. This smooths out your mana curve and gives slow decks a fighting chance against a fast start.

What's a "way to win"? This is vague. The simplest way to win is to stick a big creature on the board and attack with it. Some other ways to win include Planeswalkers (Chandra's third ability) and milling (Teferi's Tutelage in a long game). Again, use your judgement here.

Zero double-sided cards is a complexity/logistical preference. The sleeves I use are fully transparent, so if I wanted to shuffle a double-sided card into the deck, I'd need a dummy/marker card for it. In the future, I'll consider some of the simpler double-sided cards (with lands on the back, like Akoum Warrior), or maybe some of the very spectacular meld cards. I'll probably stay away from the Strixhaven deans, though.

Avoiding indestructible, shadow, or other strong evasion is for balance reasons. It's important to allow removal spells to work most of the time because they're chosen for reasons other than raw power. Also, creatures that can't be blocked or removed can turn close games into non-games. Temporary usage of indestructible, unblockable, etc. is of course fine (think Heroic Intervention) and repeated effects are OK if they're expensive or have a narrow use.

Land destruction is something that Wizards doesn't print very much, and for good reason. If those kinds of effects are good, they lead to non-games or runaway leaders. If those kinds of effects are bad, they don't get played. Would I throw out an otherwise useful card if it had the ability to destroy a land, too? Probably not, especially as a singleton, but those cards are few and far between.

Color screw effects are similar. Way back in the very first set Wizards printed cards like Red Elemental Blast, existing exclusively to hose decks with a certain color in them. For a while, they printed cards like White Knight that have a strong advantage against a certain color. These color-specific effects have mostly gone away for reasons of fairness and fun. Again, if a thematic card has an extra color-screw effect attached to it, I don't mind, but I'm wary of blowing out an opponent due to the color they were playing.

Buying cards and accessories

My recommendation, if you're buying cards casually? Use Card Kingdom. They had every card I needed for my custom decks. According to my friends (who buy more Magic cards than me), they have the fastest shipping times and best customer service. Your other options are worse in terms of reliability, risk, inventory, and service, though you might be able to find a better deal on an expensive card by cross-referencing multiple sites.

When buying for my decks, I found that most "new" (modern border) cards were available in NM (near mint) and/or EX (excellent). Older cards were often available in NM, but sometimes only EX and lower. I only bought NM or EX cards to keep from getting a card with a marked edge or other subtle blemish—important with clear sleeves.

Official Jumpstart packs don't come with a decklist, which in my opinion is a tiny failure on the part of Wizards of the Coast. Separating two packs of the same color can be difficult, especially when cards like Capture Sphere are in half the blue decks. You can look up the lists on the wiki if you need to, but it would be nice to avoid this.

The folks at Burger Tokens (the same company where I bought my deckboxes) have a theme card builder that will build a pretty-looking theme card and decklist for you. You can download those pictures and print them out or have them printed professionally. I've considered ordering a deck of custom face cards for all of my packs, including the official lists, but I haven't done this yet.

The box I had on hand to store the Burger Tokens deck boxes was a BCW Monster, which will hold 88 packs (four rows of 22 packs each). Right now I have 40 deck boxes in there, taking up most of two rows, with the other two rows filled out by empty boxes and a small container of dice. Any similar card storage would do for the deck boxes, of course, but this is a good size for holding everything for now. BCW boxes are cheap, sturdy, and I have a bunch of them stashed away.

My custom Jumpstart lists

I keep all my deck lists in Scryfall. For all its usefulness, it's not the best place to organize a lot of deck lists, but minimizing the number of websites I need to use is worth it.

Update: I still do the first stage of deck brewing in Scryfall. It's the best place to create an unbounded list while searching for cards that might fit. It falters when it comes more intricate deck-building, as well as organization and accessibility. I now export deck lists to Moxfield once I'm ready to make cuts and finalize the list.

This means that all my finalized deck lists are public on my Moxfield profile, so head over there to see what I've brewed! There's no specific organization on the profile page (I believe decks are sorted by date last updated). Each deck has a very short "primer" that I use to document any synergies or themes that you might not catch just from the name of the deck.

While I liked building every list, my favorites are the somewhat unexpected ones, like Runes or Dying or Dogs With Jobs, which pull from multiple sets or just focus on a hyper-specific set of cards.


I spend a lot of time reading about and thinking about Magic. My tendencies and preferences as a player led me to really enjoy Jumpstart, and also led me to enjoy building small thematic decks for the format. It's quick to set up, it's competitive, and it's interesting.

Playing Jumpstart with my friends has been a lot of fun so far, and I'm looking forward to playing with even more cards from across Magic's history.

If you have any interest in Jumpstart, whether through playing official packs or building custom decks, I encourage you to give it a try! It's very approachable and can be tailored to your interests in a way that I love. If you have any questions about my methods, decks, or how to get started, don't hesitate to contact me.

What's next? I mean, other than building more decks, all that's left is to play more Magic!

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