Magic: The Gathering Arena developers explain how it will hand out the cards

The free-to-play digital card game Magic: The Gathering Arena will have two in-game currencies, Wizards of the Coast revealed today: Gold, earned through gameplay, and Gems, which will be purchasable with real money. Gems can be used in place of gold to speed things along, principal designer Chris Clay explained in a blog post, but while there may some cosmetic items that are restricted to real-money purchases, "there won't be any gameplay content that can only be unlocked with real money." 

There are five ways to earn cards in Magic: The Gathering Arena: 

  • Booster packs will be eight-card boosters containing five commons, two uncommons, and one rare or mythic rare.
  • Draft packs will contain 14 cards mirroring tabletop drafts, minus land. Drafting will also add cards to your collection, as any card you draft will be automatically added to your collection.
  • Individual cards will also be earnable through play. Wizards is currently testing a one-card-per-win system that will give players up to 30 cards per day.
  • Wildcards are special cards that have a chance to appear in the place of each card at any rarity in every booster you open. Wildcards have their own rarity of common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare. You can redeem a Wildcard one-to-one for a card at that same rarity.
  • The Vault, which is more of a progression-based system: Every time you open a booster, you earn progress toward unlocking The Vault. When you would collect a fifth copy (or more) of a card, you earn vault progress instead of adding that card to your collection. That reward system is still being tested.

Interestingly, Magic: The Gathering Arena won't have a traditional "dusting" system that enables players to put excess cards toward a crafting system, because "it would have limited our ability to be as generous with card rewards." The developers also want players focused on completing their collections rather than worrying about which cards to break down.

"In tabletop Magic, players can collect certain cards by trading for them. We discussed trading at length and concluded that for digital we could create a better experience if we gave players a different way to collect the cards they want," Clay wrote. "This is where we believe Wildcards and The Vault make it easier to collect the specific cards you want. Because you'll receive regular opportunities to receive Wildcards or crack open The Vault, collecting specific cards becomes much more attainable."

None of the systems currently being tested are locked down, and the real-money Gems won't be added to the game until the free-to-play elements are working properly: The Rivals of Ixalan update to the closed beta will go live on January 18 with gold, Wildcards, The Vault, and win progressions. If you haven't already signed up, you can do so at magic.wizards.com.