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Friday, March 23, 2018

Magic Arena - March 22 Update

On March 22nd the NDA was lifted which means that we can finally talk, write and stream Magic Arena. The downtime was actually shorter than expected so many of us jumped in to see Arena in a very laggy state similar to what happened with XLN and RIX sets on MODO. It was pretty much unplayable but I still tried to play some games. After few hours this was fixed so I decided to stream few more games even though I knew that I was already half asleep. If you wish you can watch the second stream since after the first stream I managed to find the setting that stores the past broadcasts. I somehow messed up everything else though from sound source, not managing to rename my stream/game etc. Third stream is below or you can check twitch.tv/stsung.

With this update there was an account wipe and we got new starting collection that contains 10 preconstructed decks (of all color pairs), 3 packs of each set (from AKH to RIX), 1 rare, 2 uncommon and 4 common wildcards.

It means that from this day on we can play with AKH, HOU, XLN and RIX cards. We were playing XLN block constructed and that was very boring format probably due to people copying decks from each other and not playing many brews. Everyone was tired of Merfolk and Dinosaurs. So what kind of decks will emerge now? Ramunap Red and The Scarab God decks? It is up to us to figure that out, it will depend on how fast we can progress.

Magic Arena changed quite a lot visually and that is pretty cool. There is changed layout on the main screen which nicely shows quests and rewards that can still be earned. Visually there is a lot of transparent stuff with some glow and it even looks relatively coherent now. The buttons, especially the PLAY one, are more flashy or also got some transparency. While the Play button changed and it is difficult to miss it this time, it still requires us to click on a deck, choose one and click on play (and play) - meaning requiring us to do more clicks than we would want to. I also noticed that it changes decks once in a while based on random as it seems.

Another thing that I expected to change was the deck builder. It looks fairly different but in terms of function it didn't change at all. It needs to be reworked. We need actual filters on cards in a deck, see the number of types of cards, number of all cards in a deck etc. on that one single screen. We shouldn't need to switch views or show some statistics for this to be available to us (if it is).

Pack layout changed (like Eternal) and it got new animations and such which is cool.

Victory and Defeat screens are in theory better but still look meh. At least we don't need to stare at them for ages anymore.

When I was setting up my stream on the previous version of Arena I really didn't like what I saw in the video feed. So when I viewed my stream from today I was nicely surprised - it looked good so good job, Wizards. If the game will get more and more polished it may one day be cool. We got more and more animations and I'm not a fan of them. The one that I actually like is what happens when you cycle a card - it goes puff and it's gone. Otherwise I wasn't fan of the ones I saw - Glorybringer, Legion Lieutenant, or Embalm/Eternalize. The animations that happen on the stack are also not great when they happen during combat or at the time when the client decides that it is your timer going out while your opponent is trying to do something (this is to be fixed one day). With many triggers in play (even with just few) you can time out because of these triggers and animations even if you are in 'F6 mode'. I saw this happen to my opponent yesterday and it happened to me too on the first day but I thought that it was just due to the lag we were experiencing. Obviously it can happen even without the lag.

The sound got in overall better too. And with better I really mean better. The difference is huge for someone who is hardly a sound expert. After playing Arena before this patch I realized that the sounds I hear and BGM is kind of a mess and I couldn't figure out what is wrong. After reading some posts on the forums though I realized that what I'm looking for is clarity and also being able to distinguish certain sounds for something. For example when playing Hearthstone or Eternal I know cards by the sound or 'quote'. When you play a card and it says 'One shot, one kill' you immediately know what the card is and what it does. Similarly I can distinguish when a player is about to attack since the cards make a sound my brain translates into something I understand. In Arena I don't have that kind of experience and even after playing with the cards for quite a bit. This changed though so it is possible I will eventually assign sounds to cards in a similar way I have that when playing HS or Eternal. For example while I was playing Arena last time and chatting with someone on MODO I heard some strange sounds. It made me curious so I looked at the board state and found two cards that changed. One sound was obviously made by one Vampire and another one by another creature. I know that this is something you won't probably hear in the stream (since I screwed that up), if you will play the game on your computer though, try paying attention to the sounds and see if they are sufficient for you or not. I'd say it needs more voice acting and still more distinct sounds.

BGM is cool, not Heroes of Might and Magic 3 cool but good anyway.

So sound-wise the BGM is nice, the card effects are more audible and more distinguishable but still it hardly matches the clarity of Hearthstone or Eternal.

There are more things that got better in-game. I discovered some during my streams (as well bugs or things that weren't supposed to happen). Some of the things we complained about in the previous versions got fixed. The flow got a bit faster even though it was difficult to see with all the lag we experienced after Arena went live. One of the biggest disappointment is that lands still move around and I still misclick no matter how well I try to click on the land I want. Language support is still obviously not working, instead of blank squares it lists the name of the language your system runs on.

Economy
The problematic part though is the economy. Many of us didn't like the economy in the previous iterations and now it got even worse or rather it was nerfed from the previous version. We had some expectations and we thought Wizards would take a certain direction regarding that economy. They didn't though. They even went in the opposite direction. Getting the cards we want in Arena which now contains four sets will be even harder than before. But who knows it may end up being better in the end? I can't compare the two since the one is under NDA.

As someone said getting 225 quests instead of 200 is good. We don't see 300 or 500 quests often though (I still didn't get one even). We get random Mythic in the Vault, less Mythic Wild Cards in general and in total less packs (if we will recalculate everything to packs - now being 14 packs per week, it was higher before). So how is the economy better now? In general we can describe it as #feelsbadman. Many players came back after stopping to play Arena patched with the February patch hoping it would get better. They came to find a worse iteration of the economy, at least that is how we view it. Many left again, others will try to see if by a chance it didn't get better.

Those of us who complain are actually trying to see the big picture. I understand that many people are complaining just because they can and it seems to be the thing to do nowadays. Many people I talked to though considered way more factors and made their own point of view on the economy and found it lacking and slow. Many of those players I talked to play F2P games or are avid competitive players. As for casuals those are so far pretty disappointed, maybe not by the economy, but by the 'hostility' of the environment for them. Precons are a good start but not a little step towards an environment that should cater to different player groups.

I still think that Arena is targeted at casual players and new players but that's exactly what we have no idea how will work out. We have ranked matches, best of 1 and many players that are already invested in Magic. The target audience as I see it just gets crushed. Maybe they will prevail and find that it will be a place for them. What do these players want from a game like Arena? I don't know because they are not vocal enough about that. So far we can see them complain about constantly losing games, but what would make the environment friendly for that? Interaction with players?

I think that the lack of chat is actually a problem since you won't be able to find players you could connect with somehow. I don't know, maybe it is not necessary, but I'd want to find players to play with, talk to and whatnot. How does it work though elsewhere?

Apart from different economy and a lot of work on visuals and sound we didn't get anything new. When we will get Limited? Standard? Best of 3 matches? No one knows but we hope that soon. Limited is very important, without that Arena won't work for the masses, it's also where most of the money lies. I also expect Brawl to show up in Arena sooner or later - that is a new 60 card singleton EDH like format (you can also use planeswalkers as a general). Enough of writing here is me streaming Arena for a bit if interested with some really strange (and bad) decks!