"Play draft." That used to be the standard advice. If you wanted to get value for money out of Magic: The Gathering Arena, buying booster packs was for suckers. Instead of dropping 1,000 gold on a pack of eight random cards, you were better off paying 10,000 gold to sign up to a draft event. There, you and seven other players chose one card at a time from a rotating selection, each constructing a 40-card deck with which to play against the others (while also hoovering up any rares that caught your eye).
As well as keeping all the cards you picked, you'd earn prizes—both Arena's premium currency of gems, and booster packs—for every match you won in the event. Maintain a win rate of just over 50% and you'd be getting the best value possible in Arena, according to the lengthy guides and analyses of Arena's economy (opens in new tab).
Not everyone likes playing draft, though. It's a solid time commitment, and is better when you're already familiar with a set. Third-party extensions like the Untapped Companion (opens in new tab) and MTGAssistant (opens in new tab) include draft helpers to recommend card picks and explain potential synergies, as well as logs to make sure you don't select cards you forgot you already own. The popularity of these apps suggests I'm not alone in finding the process a headache. I've never been into deckbuilding under time pressure anyway—that's stress I don't need just to feel like I'm getting the most value out of a game that's supposed to be fun.
The standard advice has changed, however. Playing draft is still a good way to complete a collection, but it's not the only good way. Now, every 10 boosters you buy from The Brothers' War set, which was released in November, earns you a free Golden Pack with six rare cards—at least one a mythic rare—from across all the sets currently legal in standard play. Even boosters you buy with gold earned from winning matches and completing daily quests count toward the next Golden Pack, meaning that just by playing on the regular you're also opening Golden Packs on the regular.
It should come as no surprise that opening a Golden Pack feels good. Magic: The Gathering's boosters are the original loot boxes, the physical packs of cards originating the idea of paying for a randomized bundle of stuff to expand a game you were already playing, and videogame designers have spent years perfecting the look and feel of opening digital crates of stuff. Presumably there are entire teams dedicated to making sure the right amount of light spills out of them, adjusting the anticipation-building delay before they release their contents, and making those contents fly out like they're bursting from a birthday cake to give someone's grandfather a fatal heart attack.
I haven't played draft since The Brothers' War came out, and haven't felt like I'm missing out. Every regular booster is another step toward a Golden Pack, and each one I've opened has filled gaps in my collection.
Normally you get used to concentrating on the latest set, both because it's the new hotness and because that's where the free boosters you score via Arena's mastery track come from. (Unless you pay for the equivalent of a battle pass, and to hell with that. Down with battle passes.) But as well as a couple of cards from The Brothers' War, the rares in any Golden Pack could be vampires and werewolves from the Innistrad sets, cyberpunk samurai from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Prohibition-era angels and devils from Streets of New Capenna, or retro throwbacks from Dominaria United. That variety makes them more fun to open, and now that Arena has set collection stats on your profile page it's weirdly satisfying to know those numbers are going up.
Golden Packs have made Arena's economy feel generous for now, but that feeling might not last. While boosters from the recently released spin-off expansion Alchemy: The Brothers' War count toward Golden Pack progress, Wizards of the Coast hasn't said whether that'll be true of the next set. When Phyrexia: All Will Be One arrives in Arena on February 7, I might have to go back to playing draft and grumbling about it.