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Magic: The Gathering Arena Hot Takes

During a special livestream event today, Wizards of the Coast revealed Magic: The Gathering Arena, an all-new free-to- play digital game that brings authentic Magic gameplay to gamers, streamers and fans around the world.
This morning I awoke, navigated my phone to twitch, booted up the Magic the Gathering stream and hopped in the shower. An unexciting time for most at 6am, but for myself it was time to hear all about this MTG Arena that Wizards have been so secretive of for so VERY long. And boy howdy, were we not disappointed.
WHO IS THIS AIMED AT?
MTG Arena is not supporting older sets and seems aimed at new, casual and returning players, but with a focus on NEW players and the newest sets to bring those players in. This doesn’t mean anyone’s opinion on MTG Arena should be discounted by any means.
What does it mean for me? I’m a massive commander player, anyone who knows me, knows that I run a twitch show called Commander: the Gathering with Dyoshii and that we both share a deep love for Magic: the Gathering (MTG). I could say that I may even be a little fanatical at times, but that’s not so bad. I’m a fan of MTG, I live it, breathe it, but Wizards haven’t always made the best decisions when it comes to digital product in my personal opinion. Or at least, they haven’t always hit the right note when lending off the MTG licensing.
LADDERS MAY MEAN COOL DIGITAL REWARDS
Wizards have stated that there will be a Standard Constructed ladder and a Draft ladder, so as this is a F2P (free to play) digital game one could expect that cool card backs and other digital rewards would be on offer. Maybe special alternate art of your favourite cards, special avatars and even a certain amount of in game currency and booster packs. We will have to wait and see what they have in store for us.
In saying that, what will happen when a set “rotates” out? Will we get reimbursed for any costs that we outlaid for the privilege of playing, or will those cards simply be removed and not be able to be used. Or perhaps there is another option we have yet to consider. Being given full access to all current standard sets would be a massive step up and a huge way around rotations and “Mr Suitcase” (an old term used for someone who buys every card to ensure they have 100% access). However, this is a free to play game and if you give players all the cards, how are you making any money?
NO DIGITAL MARKETPLACE?
At this stage there has been no word on if there will be a digital marketplace for you to buy/sell/trade cards. This is a really big deal if it’s not on offer, or at least that’s what MY brain wants to say. I play Hearthstone, I can craft single cards by getting a crafting dust just from playing the game, however those Hearthstone decks can only have a maximum of forty cards, require no lands and max out the rare/epic slot at two card and the “legendary” (mythic) cards at one per deck of a given Legendary card. Magic in paper form can have up to four copies of any given card and that can make paper MTG really expensive for top tier decks. How will this be addressed?
This is the issue that I had with MTG Duels, it was a solid game and great for new players, however decks were limited and didn’t prepare new players for the real crux of MTG, building decks and refining them. It tried to baby those players into card selection, but the AI wasn’t smart enough to offer up GOOD cards, instead offering up some terrible options to go in a deck. One could argue that there are enough resources around on how to build and test your decks, but this needs to start at the entry level so that those players can learn and grow. I would also love to see the mana-curve and other more advanced statistics of your deck included so that new players can get a good grasp of “why you do this” straight up and not when they try to attend a store FNM with a deck mana-curve starting at 5 converted mana cost.
MTGO IS NOT GOING AWAY…BUT…
Okay so the elephant in the room is Magic Online and it’s there, lurking in the shadows. So far as we know at this stage, there has been zero official word on visual changes to MTGO and this is fairly disappointing. MTGO looks like a terrible legacy system in comparison to visuals and Wizards NEED to update it to match Arena if they want players to digitally crossover. Wizards have clarified that your MTGO collection is safe, MTGO will continue operation. I can’t stress enough how ugly the MTGO user interface is and how much it feels like a uni student’s pirate server.
ESPORTS FOCUS
Wizards has been looking for an “in” for some time when it comes to the highly competitive (and lucrative) ESports scene. I remember having talks with reps a few years ago about how they were starting work on new ways to make the game available not only to the public, but also to move towards an ESports focused direction so that they could get more eyes on the game and entice a whole new generation to play. A smart move to be sure, but is it too little too late? ESL is struggling without a high prize tournament and Magic has suffered from the pro-tour being a rather low end prize payout compared to other games, such as League of Legends or Paladins. I can see this being a troubling area moving forward and Wizards needs to consider advertisers and sponsors to raise additional capital for larger prizes.
Wizards have stated that MTG Arena will be fast paced and easy to follow, this shines through on the user interface, animations and VOCAL TRACKS. Yes, they have finally gotten voice tracks in a digital game so when you play a Planeswalker, you FEEL like you played a powerful Planeswalker. This has me very excited as it assists with the visual spectacle and translates well on streams.
PROS

  • NOT a replacement for MTGO, sets will still be added to MTGO going forward.
  • Ladders for Standard and Draft formats.
  • Looks geared towards getting new players into the game
  • Visuals are already better than Magic Online, and Arena is only in BETA

 
CONS

  • PC only BETA with no current plans at release on mobile devices such as tablets and phones, though Wizards have stated the engine is flexible and may come to other platforms at a later date
  • English only at this stage, other languages to follow later in development..
  • Supporting ONLY standard, draft and sealed. No Commander or any older sets, no news on what happens at rotation.

At this point I’m excited for the future of digital MTG, however I would clarify my feelings as cautiously optimistic. We can’t wait to see how this plays out as this COULD be the big digital break we have been waiting for.
Fans can sign up for the upcoming Closed Beta at PlayMTGArena.com