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Monday, September 11, 2017

Magic the Gathering Arena

Few days ago at 10pm of my time I joined many other people on Wizards of the Coast Twitch account to watch Magic the Gathering Arena - the new Magic game from Wizards of the Coast. Everyone expected something bad and I hoped that Wizards of the Coast can show us something really good and promising.

When I watched the game I was in awe. The game looks very well and is fast. It took me a while to figure out what is what, and what means what but soon I saw a game of Magic played in an Hearthstone-like arena where Dinosaurs were fighting Pirates.

Since there are many digital card games we as players already got used to certain things being present and we also expect how the game should look like in a way. Arena gives us all that.

Many people I talked to were telling me that this is just another Magic Duels. I tried to explain to them that this is totally different. While we can see animations and some things brought from Magic Duels this can be something much bigger and something that can evolve in a way we want if we let WotC know.

The first thing that Magic players didn't like about Duels is that it didn't use a full rule set. Arena has that and this is a huge difference. You can do anything you can possibly do in the paper version in the new rules engine of Arena. Yes, obviously there will always be the problem with loops and such.

This game also will allow us to play 'real formats'. With this I mean that there is no limit to cards in your deck based on rarity. Many of those players that think that Duels is not worth playing also do not even know about this. In paper we can play 4 copies of a card in a deck. In Magic Duels this applies only to commons. Uncommons are limited to 3 copies, rares to 2, mythics to 1. Also Magic Duels never got all cards from a set. It got a certain number of cards and usually the complex and strange cards weren't included (including Hangarback Walker). Some cards would simply be too powerful, some wouldn't be played and some may have been too complex. In Arena we will get the whole set as in paper or on Magic Online. We will be able to play Standard and that will also be the focus of this program.

Another thing that Arena does and neither MODO or Magic Duels can is that one can change the type of control one wants over the game. It seems that there is something like a full control mode which practically passes priority in every step and phase similarly to MODO with stops everywhere. Without full control one can cast spells and let Arena pay for them, pass priority in strange steps/phases etc and other things that we don't usually need to do. Those are things that can make the game more watchable, more approachable to new players and easier to learn. There are many benefits to this because it can bring also all the different players together. A more casual player may not know how everything works and probably won't need to have control over all those things. Players that are more technically skilled may want to use that (it will probably also require the other player to click more). Anyway this is something very unique and if done well, this can have a really huge impact on the player base. It will open doors to many new players that could be afraid of the rules.

What else Wizards of the Coast is planning? They plan to allow us to play limited formats. I doubt that we will be able to play a real draft or sealed deck because that would mean that we wouldn't need to draft on MODO or in paper. Something needs to be different and I can imagine drafting in a similar way to arena in Hearthstone. We don't know anything about this though so all we can do is talk about it, guess, be right or wrong but no one will tell us how close our guesses are.

The other thing that people want is Magic Online to be accessible on other platforms as well. Magic Duels is running on different platforms but no cross-platform play is possible. Arena is being developed on PC but it runs on Unity engine. This means that we may see Arena on other platforms. We will see it on other platforms with time, which can't probably be said about Magic Online. That hardly runs the same on two different PC configurations.

If you'd like to be part of the development of Arena, sign up for beta at playmtgarena.com. The beta access will be given in waves and if you have a Wizards Account and Duels linked, will participate in Ixalan prerelease online or paper, you might get a priority access. We will have a chance to give feedback and help Wizards of the Coast see what we want.

The game itself will be free-to-play. We should be able to acquire all cards through playing the game. There will be ranked for both constructed and limited. How limited will work in f2p game is a question since Duels of the Planeswalker sealed cost 2USD.

I also expect that playing Arena will be easy on a touchscreen. Playing Magic Online on a tablet for me was always very frustrating experience unlike playing Hearthstone, Magic Duels or any other new digital game.

I tried to take a video of me trying to play on a Lenovo yoga laptop

Arena also shouldn't mean the end of Magic Online. Magic Online should be more focused on other formats than Standard. It should also provide us with interesting formats to play like Cube, Throwback Constructed and Flashback Drafts. It should also become the place for casuals and pros. New sets will be normally added to Magic Online.

While I'd like to believe that Magic Online will be here with us forever I can also see that if Arena becomes the norm, it could slowly replace MODO. I can't imagine playing Vintage on this or any combo deck, but well who knows what will happen to Magic in few years time? Magic is evolving and after playing the game for over two decades I've seen it change a lot. I don't like this direction but this game is still the best designed trading card game in my opinion.

I'm looking forward to Arena. I really want to try it, play the beta and give my feedback to WotC. I expect that I won't like the game because I do not like flashy, animated stuff and 3d graphics, sound effects and music. I like to play Magic, the game I know from paper, and I'm not interested in all those nice things. There are probably not so many players like me and I understand that many people are not drawn to Magic Online just because of the way it looks like but they most probably will like Arena. I think Magic Digital can have a bright future and this could actually bring many more players to the paper game. It is up to Wizards of the Coast to figure out the economy and how they want to earn money from this so it wouldn't 'ruin' the other environments (Magic Online and paper).

Honestly I'm really afraid for the future of MODO but so far I've seen a lot of work done on the client. Everything is getting better. I am relatively new player, I've played Online just for few years. During that time though I had so much fun that you can't even imagine that. I could play the game I love. I could play any format, I could play competitive, casually. I could explore formats, build different decks, try anything I wanted. I could create content. Without it you'd probably never heard of me. I also met many people on Magic Online and spend a lot of time with them. Some I met then in real life, some I have yet to meet. I can't imagine living without Magic Online now and for that I am very grateful the software exists. I will hope it won't just cease to exist.

My thanks goes to WotC for making it, keeping it working and trying to make it work the way it should.

I will wish Wizards of the Coast luck with Arena, honestly it looks wonderful and if they managed to integrate all the rules in it, it can be truly awesome - something I doubted being possible.

S'Tsung

Magic: The Gathering Arena alpha game play