Can You Play MTG Solo?

If you’ve been hooked by the Magic: The Gathering (MTG) bug, you’ve whiled away many an afternoon building and playing decks with friends locally or on online platforms like Magic: The Gathering Arena. Whether jamming traditional 2-player games or the multiplayer madness that is Commander, the social aspect is what puts “The Gathering” into Magic.

What do you do when you want to get in a few games, but your friends are busy and the online matchmaking queues are constantly pairing you against the most toxic decks and players? Maybe you just want to take some time to run through some gameplay scenarios at your own pace or test new brews without the pressure of playing in front of someone else.

At this point, you’re probably asking “Can you play MTG solo?” – and the answer is yes!

MTG offers several ways to play and/or practice by yourself, using specialized formats or rulesets to simulate playing against an opponent through invented rules or the help of online tools. While not the same as a game against another person, you can still improve your skills, test your decks, and have fun with the game – at your own pace and expediency no less!

Some solo play options, like goldfishing, Horde Magic, and Deep IQ, pit you against an imaginary opponent to test your deck and strategies. Options like MTG Arena’s “Sparky” and the old Shandalar MTG game from the 1990s remove imagination from the equation, letting you play games against an AI opponent.

That said, there are other pros and cons to solo play, as well as rules, advantages, and disadvantages that each solo format brings to the table. Let’s dig deeper into these and find out if solo MTG is right for you!

Pros And Cons Of Playing MTG Solo


Solo MTG practice is good for familiarizing yourself with the game’s rules and mechanics so that when playing against others, you can make better deckbuilding decisions through the discovery of new card combinations and synergies.

Stronger knowledge of these core elements of MTG will also aid your decision-making skills, letting you get through turns more quickly and helping you avoid gameplay mistakes throughout the course of a game.

Solo play can also be a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend your free time without worrying about finding opponents or dealing with social pressure. You can choose from different solo formats that offer various difficulty levels and fun – it’s all in your power!

So to recap, playing MTG solo can help you:

  • Improve your knowledge and skills of the game at your convenience and pace.
  • Test your decks and strategies against different challenges and scenarios.
  • Experiment with new cards and ideas that you might not use in multiplayer games.
  • Have fun with the game without depending on other players or online platforms.
  • Explore different aspects and themes of the game that interest you.


While solo play has some definite high points, playing MTG solo is not without its challenges or disadvantages. The biggest one is removal of the human element of an opponent. Different people bring different trains of thought, gameplay philosophies, and unpredictability to the table, and there’s simply no full substitute for that when testing your latest deck.

Removing your access to these valuable aspects of gameplay will almost always stunt your growth as a player in the long run, as you remove access to these avenues of learning the more you lean on solo play’s structure and theory crafting.

Despite being the biggest problem, removal of a human opponent is not the only one. Here are some of the other potential drawbacks to playing MTG solo:

  • You may miss out on the social and competitive aspects of the game that make it more exciting and rewarding.
  • Naturally, most solo games do not get the same level of feedback or interaction that you would get from playing with other players.
  • Often you’ll face limitations or difficulties in finding or creating solo formats that suit particular preferences and goals.
  • Now and then, you may encounter problems or inconsistencies with the rules or mechanics of some solo formats that may affect your gameplay with future opponents.

Some solo MTG formats will suffer from these issues more than others, so we’ll discuss these challenges and disadvantages in more detail as we go through the different solo game types.

Types Of MTG Solo Formats

MTG has several solo formats that allow you to play the game alone and practice your skills. Some solo formats, like Magic Solitaire, have been posted on Wizards of the Coast’s website (sometimes drawing from older media like magazines). Other solo options will require specific software in order for you to play them, like Magic: the Gathering Arena.

In contrast, there are also plenty of solo formats that are unofficial and created by players from the MTG community. Each format has its unique rules, challenges, and benefits that make it worth trying.

The nuts and bolts of what you need to play these formats can vary; some let you use your own cards, others require a ready-made deck to face off against a virtual foe or a set of puzzles.

Without further ado, here are some of the most popular and exciting solo formats you can try out.

Goldfishing: The Solo Deck Testing Technique

‘Goldfishing’ is a Magic: The Gathering term for playing against an imaginary opponent by drawing a starting hand, then playing until you beat them.

This opponent won’t interact with you or stop you from achieving your goal, providing valuable practice for testing your deck’s speed, consistency,, and manabase, especially if you are playing a combo or aggro deck that relies on executing a specific strategy as fast as possible.

MTG solo play goldfishing Commander
Ooooh, next turn I’ll be able to use Mayael’s activated ability!

Goldfishing can also help you familiarize yourself with the basic principles of your deck’s lines of play and what cards to look for in different situations, which is an effective method to develop a keen eye for consistent strategy building and expand on it.

You don’t need to limit yourself to a full game against a helpless opponent though, depending on your preferences and objectives. For instance, players may choose to play through a set number of turns, while others may stop after a certain amount of mana has been produced or cards are drawn.

You can even get out a second deck and play it against the deck you’re testing for additional challenge and to introduce interaction!

For an example of how to execute goldfish effectively, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a deck that you want to test or improve. Ensure a clear and consistent game plan can be executed without relying on your opponent’s actions or responses.
  2. Shuffle your deck and draw a starting hand of seven cards. Decide whether you would keep or mulligan that hand based on your deck’s strategy and mana requirements.
  3. Play out your turns as if you were playing against an imaginary opponent who does nothing but draw a card each turn. Optimize your plays and achieve your deck’s win condition as fast as possible.
  4. Record your results and observations. Note how many turns it took you to win, how much life you had left, how many cards you had in hand or in play, and any problems or issues you encountered along the way.
  5. Repeat the process several times with different starting hands and scenarios. Compare your results and look for patterns, trends, or outliers. Identify what works well and what needs improvement in your deck.

Some of the most notable benefits of goldfishing are:

  • It is convenient and accessible – goldfishing can be done anywhere, even if no one can play with you.
  • Goldfishing is free and straightforward. There’s no need to blindly test in a paid tournament and no need for any special software or equipment. You can use physical cards, online tools, or even proxies.
  • It can be fun and satisfying – you’ll be able to enjoy seeing your deck perform at its best and achieve its goals without any interference or disruption.

Benefits aside, there can also be a few notable drawbacks to goldfishing, such as:

  • Being unrealistic and limited – you can’t account for the interaction, disruption, and variance real opponents will bring to the game. You may overestimate or underestimate your deck’s power level or resilience based on goldfishing results.
  • For some, it can become repetitive and boring – you may get tired of playing the same deck repeatedly without any challenge or feedback.
  • When not playing against other people, you can’t account for decks or strategies in your local metagame that you might come up against. This can make it much more difficult to select the correct cards for a sideboard or identify particularly threatening cards to watch out for from your opponents.
  • You can’t practice the social aspects of MTG via goldfishing, such as how to read people’s reactions during a game.

Nonetheless, goldfishing is a valuable tool for players who want to test their decks and improve their skills. Just remember that it is not a substitute for playing against real opponents who can challenge you and teach you new things, but a complement to that experience.

Horde Magic: Playing Against An Unbeatable Horde

Horde Magic is another casual solo option of MTG that involves the player (or players) working to defeat a deck known as The Horde. Unlike goldfishing, where you play against a passive opponent who does nothing, Horde Magic pits you against an active and aggressive opponent who plays multiple cards per turn and attacks with hordes of creatures.

While Horde Magic’s origins go back to the Innistrad era to simulate the zombie apocalypse, you might recognize similar ideas from the Theros block’s Challenge Decks. There’s also nothing stopping you from making your own variation of a horde to battle against – Against the Horde can even run a wide variety of hordes for you digitally!

Horde Magic solo MTG
That…is a lot of zombies for the first 3 turns.

To play Horde Magic effectively, you should follow these steps:

  1. Review the full rules! These can be found in Peter Knudson’s original post from 2011 or the MTG WIki.
  2. Choose a theme and a setting for The Horde Deck. Decide what kind of enemies you want to face and what kind of environment you want to play in. For example, you could choose zombies in a graveyard, minotaurs in a labyrinth, or dragons in a mountain.
  3. Build or select The Horde deck according to the theme and the setting. The Horde deck should consist of 100 cards, primarily tokens (60% or so), and creatures that fit the theme. It should also include some non-creature cards that provide effects or challenges for the survivor(s) (though cards that require choices are often discouraged). Then shuffle the deck and place it face down.
  4. Build or select your survivor deck according to the theme and the setting. Your survivor deck can be any Commander deck, though it can be a more traditional 60 card constructed deck too. Shuffle your deck well and draw a starting hand of seven cards.
  5. Start the game with you taking three turns before The Horde gets its first turn. Note that you alternate turns with the Horde after its first turn. You start with 20 life, and The Horde has no life total; instead, damage dealt to it causes that many cards from the top of its library to be put into its graveyard.
    • If playing cooperatively, each additional survivor beyond the first adds 20 life to your shared total (so 2 players have 40 life, 3 have 60, and so on). Survivors take their turns simultaneously, as in Two-Headed Giant games.
  6. Play out each turn according to the rules for The Horde and yourself. On the Horde’s turn, cards are revealed from the top of its library until one appears to be a non-token card. The Horde may also cast cards from its graveyard or hand if possible, and has infinite mana to work with at all times.

Each creature under The Horde’s control must attack each turn if they can and gains haste. Any choice The Horde must make should be made as randomly as possible. Your turns are played as in normal Magic – you draw at the start of your turn, cast spells, activate abilities, and attack and block as usual.

Your victory against the Horde is achieved when the Horde is out of creatures and cards in its library.

If this sounds up your alley, I’m honestly not surprised. Horde Magic truly brings a lot to the table for solo and cooperative games:

  • It is challenging and exciting – relentlessness and unpredictability await as you face many enemies that can overwhelm you with sheer numbers and power. You must use your skills (and teamwork if you choose to play independently with another deck or friends) to survive and win.
  • Horde Magic is incredibly thematic and immersive – you can customize The Horde deck to fit different themes and scenarios, such as zombies, minotaurs, dragons, slivers, or even Eldrazi. You can also use different settings and rules to create different stories and experiences.
  • It is replayable and adaptable – you can adjust the difficulty and variety of The Horde deck by changing the number and types of cards, tokens, and effects. You can also use different survivor decks to try different strategies and synergies.

While these perks are pretty awesome, it’s worth noting that Horde Magic has its drawbacks too:

  • It can become expensive and time-consuming to build or acquire a significant and specific collection of cards for The Horde deck and the survivor decks in paper (though can provide a workaround for the cost of Horde decks).
  • Preparing decks can take a lot of preparation and attention to detail to achieve reasonable balance.
  • It can seem unbalanced and unfair – you may encounter situations where The Horde deck draws too many or too few cards or plays cards that are too powerful or weak for the game state. You may also face cards not designed for this format and require random or arbitrary choices.

Whether you prefer playing solo or with friends, Horde Magic is a fun and immersive way to play MTG. It offers a different challenge and experience than regular games, allowing you to customize and create your own scenarios and stories.

Deep IQ: Deck Testing Against An Unpredictable Opponent

Deep IQ is a format for solo MTG play that allows you to play with your physical cards when you are alone or want to test your deck. Serving as kind of a cross between goldfishing and Horde Magic, you’re playing against an imaginary opponent whose actions are dictated by random rolls of the dice and the tables of effects they correspond to.

While this is an older format (it came out in Inquest magazine in 1996!) that has largely been lost to time, there have been rules updates in 2013 and 2017 to bring this classic up to more modern sensibilities. A Deep IQ game can definitely become quite the challenge as it progresses, with effects from your opponent that range from nothing to one-sided board wipes.

To prepare for a Deep IQ game, do the following

  1. Choose a deck that you want to test or improve. Ensure a clear and consistent game plan can be executed without relying on your opponent’s actions or responses.
  2. Determine which year’s rule set you want to use, and either pull up the Deep IQ tables or install the iOS app for reference.
    • The app also offers a few additional settings including a Commander mode, options for poison counters and day/night cycles, and more.
  3. Shuffle your deck and draw a starting hand of seven cards. Depending on your deck’s strategy and mana requirements, decide whether to keep or mulligan that hand.
  4. Start the game (2017 rules have you take the first turn). Turns alternate like any MTG game, you both start with the appropriate amount of life for the format you’re playing, and Deep IQ has no library or hand.
  5. Play out each turn according to the rules for Deep IQ and yourself. Deep IQ’s turn starts by rolling a d10 and looking up the result on the current table. Then it performs the action indicated by the result, such as creating tokens, removing your permanents, or directly dealing you damage.
Deep IQ solo MTG play options
Here are a few screenshots of the Deep IQ app from the App Store.

Naturally, you’ll have to make some decisions for Deep IQ as the game progresses, such as determining when it makes sense for it to attack and block, what the best permanent of yours to remove is, and so on. While on its face this system seems ripe for subjectivity and cheating, the only person who loses out in those scenarios is you if you fail to play honestly.

After all, the goal is to improve your gameplay, and the unfair effects Deep IQ can throw at you can make for some steep challenges to overcome. You’ll need to use your deckbuilding skills, game mechanics knowledge, and tactical thinking to win, and you may very well lose the majority of your games at first as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

So why choose Deep IQ for your playtesting?

  • It is simple and flexible – you only need a set of tables, a d10, and your own deck to play. You can even customize the tables and the rules to suit various playstyles.
  • Deep IQ is interactive and unpredictable – you’ll face an opponent that can do different things each turn, so you’ll often have to adapt and respond carefully to come out on top.
  • It is fun and rewarding – you’ll be able to enjoy playing MTG by yourself while testing your skills and deck against a virtual opponent who has the ability to create tougher situations than you might see against a human one. You can also track your results at your own pace and see how your performance progresses over time.

Deep IQ may seem like a natural step up from goldfishing, but it has drawbacks too. These include:

  • The fact that some may find it a bit too unrealistic and limited – you can’t account for the interaction, disruption, and variance real opponents will bring to the game, especially since some of Deep IQ’s interactions are more powerful.
  • Deep IQ can be complex and cumbersome – you have to follow many special rules and exceptions for Deep IQ’s actions and cards. Some may also find it annoying to keep track of things such as dice rolls, tables, triggers, and effects (though it is often worth it at the very end).
  • You won’t gain any experience with the human elements of playing against people, such as reading body language and tells.

Overall, Deep IQ is an exciting and engaging MTG solo format that offers a unique challenge to players who want to test their skills against a formidable opponent. While not a perfect playtesting option, you’ll learn a lot more than the theory crafting of goldfishing can teach if you have the time and patience.

Theros Challenge Decks

I mentioned these a little earlier, but these three decks were released throughout the original Theros block, encountered via the Hero’s Path Game Day events for Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey Into Nyx. Each resembles a variation of the Horde Magic format, and you could earn special cards to aid in games played against them during the year.

The rules for each deck can be found on the MTG Wiki if you aren’t able to source them in paper:

Like Horde Magic, this format can be played on your own or with friends, and if you didn’t get your own copies of the cards over a decade ago, Against the Horde has you covered with a digital option that replicates the experience.

Garruk the Slayer

This solo format was released with the Magic 2015 prerelease (though another player can play as Garruk as well). Using an oversized Garruk the Slayer card at 20 loyalty as your opponent (though a digital one will do too), you played your prerelease deck against this card, trying to reduce Garruk’s loyalty to zero to win.

Garruk cannot be removed from the field or returned to the hand in any way, and activates one of its abilities each turn.

There’s nothing stopping you from playing a regular deck against Garruk instead of a sealed deck from Magic 2015, but that will take a lot of challenge out of this game mode, so you might want to find ways to give yourself a handicap if it gets too easy.

Magic Solitaire and Mana Maze

Magic Solitaire is a twist on classic Solitaire, using a MTG deck instead of a standard deck of 52 cards. Cards are placed in 7 stacks the same way you would set up a game of solitaire, and the remainder of your deck is placed to the side, as normal.

Lands are cleared the same way as you would Aces in a normal deck, with each color going to its own pile up above the stacks. You may cast cards showing face up on the stacks, placing creatures in front of you and using spells as normal against cards on the stacks. Mana is used from your redeemed lands, and lands are sacrificed as they are used.

Your remaining deck may also be utilized as in normal Solitaire – but the top 3 cards of your deck are drawn face down instead. After this, you may flip over the top card of your deck and either put it with the lands up top or cast the spell as appropriate. This single card is considered your hand.

Once you clear the 7 stacks of cards, you win! But there are a few twists that make this easier said than done:

  • You can only control one non-Aura permanent at a time
  • When you attack with a creature or use a permanent’s activated abilities, it is sacrificed after damage or resolution
  • If more than one copy of a card is ever face up at the same time (including your hand), it is moved to the top of a stack containing that card
  • When you run out of cards in your library, shuffle your graveyard into your library. If you empty your library 3 times, you lose.

Mana Maze is a slight variation of this idea, and has an updated ruleset from 2019 you can draw upon if you’re looking for a slightly cleaner set of rules to work with. (Credit to u/Vanvelding for putting this together)

MTG Computer Games

Special solo formats aren’t the only way to enjoy MTG by yourself – you can simply fire up your computer for all the deckbuilding, solo play, and games against human opponents over the Internet you could ever want!

While there have been several MTG computer games released over the years, three have risen to really be considered the cream of the crop when it comes to solo or online play. That doesn’t mean the other games not mentioned here are bad – they just don’t quite measure up if you want the best possible solo MTG experience.

Magic: The Gathering Arena

MTG Arena is easily the most popular and accessible digital MTG client available today, boasting access to a wide array of recent Standard sets plus some miscellaneous inclusions meant to further bridge the gap between paper and digital play for formats like Pioneer.

In addition to the options for playing against real opponents in formats like Standard, Brawl, and Arena-Exclusives like TImeless, you also have access to bot matches against Sparky, Arena’s AI opponent.

MTG Arena Sparky Solo Game

Sparky’s no pushover when you’re just starting out in Arena, and the interface for gameplay is clean and easy to understand, making it a great option for playtesting decks or simply scratching the itch for a few constructed games. You and Sparky also have a good variety of decks to pull from, which will keep things fresh for an afternoon without issue.

Arena does have a couple tradeoffs for all this good though. Card acquisition in this client is pretty slow, especially for building a whole deck, and if you decide to buy packs with money, it can still be very pricey to get the cards you want.

Additionally, Arema rebalances existing cards and has exclusive cards, meaning that outside of Standard, your gameplay experience in Arena is likely to differ substantially from what your opponents will throw at you in paper play.


While this 1997 game is only available via abandonware sites nowadays, it has consistently been praised as a great way to experience old school MTG. The solo game mode features a surprisingly competent AI behind your opponents, and there are even some adventure and RPG elements mixed in to add some unexpected, yet welcome, depth.

Options to simply play against AI opponents and other players are also available, allowing you to slug it out with some of the most powerful Magic cards ever created without having to pay the thousands it would cost today to assemble a Vintage deck in paper.

While this feature will likely be of most interest to those who play formats like 93/94 (known also as Old School), there are modded versions of Shandalar floating around with much more modern card pools, and they have been very well received by those who have tried them.

The only real drawback to either iteration of Shandalar is that it can be really hard to install this game on a modern operating system, so be prepared for a fairly steep barrier to entry on that front. As with any abandonware or modded game project, use good judgment when downloading files from the Internet as well.

Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO)

Originally released in 2002, MTGO still operates today as a nearly ideal online Magic environment in some respects. You can buy and sell cards in your collection to other people, prices are generally affordable, and most cards released are available without having to wade through Arena-esque errata or online exclusive cards.

This opens up access to formats like Legacy and Vintage in a way no other online Magic client has, in addition to other fun options like Cubes, Commander, Modern, and pretty much any other format you can think of without the need to take out a 2nd mortgage like you would to build some of these decks and experiences in paper.

Magic the Gathering Online collection
Not a bad collection of cards for a new account either.

Despite some glow-ups over the years, there’s no getting around the fact that MTGO has not exactly aged gracefully, however. Perfectly understandable as the game is over 20 years old, but there are perpetually bugs and glitches to work around as it is an increasingly impossible task to catch every interaction a new card will have with all other cards and aspects of the client.

Tips And Tricks For Playing MTG Solo

Who says you need another player to have fun with MTG? Thanks to all these options, playing solo can be a blast and a great way to improve your game. We’ll cover some final advice and techniques to help you level up your solo play and take your MTG skills to the next level.

  1. Use the right tools: Whether playing with physical cards or digital tools, ensure you have everything you need to play effectively. This includes sleeves, dice, playmats, and other accessories to make your solo games more enjoyable.
  2. Experiment with different formats: Several solo formats are available for MTG, and there are doubtless others beyond those covered here. Don’t be afraid to try different formats to find the ones you enjoy the most.
  3. Use online resources: Many online resources are accessible for MTG players, including deckbuilding tools, forums, and communities. Take advantage of these resources to improve your skills and learn more about the game.
  4. Track your progress: Keep a reliable record of your solo games to track your progress and identify areas for improvement. This can help you identify your deck or gameplay weaknesses and make necessary adjustments to improve your overall performance.
  5. Adjust the difficulty: Depending on your chosen format, you may find that some solo games are too easy or hard for you. Play around and find the perfect challenge! You can adjust the difficulty by changing some parameters, such as the number of cards in your deck or your opponent’s deck, the starting life totals, the number of turns or rounds, or your opponent’s abilities.
  6. Practice, practice, practice: Like any other game or activity, the more you practice playing MTG solo, the better you will become. Set aside regular time to play solo games and work on improving your skills.
  7. Have fun: The most important tip for playing MTG solo is to have fun. Don’t worry too much about winning or losing; focus on enjoying and learning from the game! You can also add some flavor and personality to your solo games by creating stories or scenarios for your characters, decks, or opponents. Go wild with your imagination; it may be the key to learning creative tactics!

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