Tobold's Blog
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Magic the Gathering Arena

I've been in the Magic the Gathering Arena beta for quite a while, but only this week the NDA dropped. So now I can finally express how incredibly disappointed I am with this game. In Magic Duels they had a great game which was mobile and playable for all different sorts of players, including casual and new players. And they stopped supporting that to make Magic Arena, which is solely tailored for the needs of a very small hardcore crowd.

Magic the Gathering is 25 years old this year. So over the years there have been quite a lot of digital editions of the game. And every time, after a few years Wizards of the Coast stopped support of the current platform and launched a new platform. Which means that every time any cards you had bought became useless, and you needed to start your collection all over again. One needs to be very hardcore under those conditions to invest heavily into Magic Arena. But with Magic being the original pay to win game, the people who do invest heavily have a huge advantage over those who don't.

Because Magic Arena only features a single player vs. player mode, constructed, this mode is dominated by those hardcore players. You simply can't start up Magic Arena and play a fun, casual game. There are neither casual PvP modes like two-headed giant, nor are there any modes to play against an AI of various difficulty levels for practice or just plain fun. There aren't even less cutthroat competitive events, like limited mode leagues. There is only hardcore constructed, where anybody who isn't hardcore and who hasn't spent much on cards is just simply crushed. There doesn't even appear to be some sort of matchmaking algorithm to even try to get people a more equal opponent.

That means that the flow of play of Magic Arena for a new player looks like this: He starts his first game, gets crushed, then gets crushed again and again, until he either uninstalls the game, or pulls out his wallet to be able to play with the big boys. My guess is that very few people will opt for the latter. It is as if the developers had carefully studied exactly what made Hearthstone such a big success and then decided to do exactly the opposite. Magic the Gathering simply isn't such a mass market game any more that you can run a digital platform only for the hardcore.

I really don't understand why Wizards of the Coast had to stop supporting Magic Duels, they could have kept that one going for the casual and mobile players. There is no overlap in the target audience of Magic Duels and Magic Arena. And now I am really sad that there isn't any digital Magic game for me any more.

The collections have been reset and you start with the same number of cards as everybody, plus it is not possible yet to pay2win. You should at least, enjoy it while it lasts.

Limited is planned, and complaining about the matchmaking of a beta is not fair. You should at least give time to improve the product.

Knowing your appetite for puzzles, I've never understood how much time you spent playing the AI on Magic Duels, even the hardest AI gets crushed easily with less than optimal decks.
Complaining about a beta is fair when it is obvious where the finished product is heading.

The problem with "optimal decks" is that of a huge number of playable decks only a very tiny number is "optimal". Hardcore constructed play mode forces everybody to use those few optimal decks. "Fun decks" are unplayable in constructed, but you can play them against an AI. If the AI is bad, it is because developers are lazy and spend all their time programming silly graphics effects instead of an AI.
I really don't see how this is any different from Hearthstone. It's a slow free to play grind to acquire cards in pretty much exactly the same way. If anything the addition of 'wildcards' in packs instead of having to dust cards makes it less hardcore than Hearthstone, not more hardcore than Hearthstone.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't have much fun playing MTG Arena and have no intention on playing more until they add drafting in, but I wouldn't enjoy starting Hearthstone constructed from a fresh account either.

I also don't think it's fair to say Wizards recycles digital platforms over and over again when their first and primary such platform, Magic Online, has been online for SIXTEEN years and is still completely supported. Those cards are never going away.
You should consider giving The Elder Scrolls: Legends a try. I can't guarantee that you will like it, but it does pretty much avoid all the issues you mention.
Seems kind of an odd complaint when WotC just announced a new, more casual, multiplayer format in Brawl. It seems pretty obvious that they created Brawl just for Arena.
Meh, I'll stick to Shandalar
Shandalar comments never cease to amuse me. I'm not really a magic player, I know the rules and can definitely play to have fun, but I have never really been "into" the game, especially with how hardcore it is with only people with ridiculous amounts of disposable income succeeding...

And yet I still literally have fond memories of shandalar. That was, what, over 20 years ago? I've dabbled in most, but certainly not all, magic video games over the years as a casual and Shandalar is still by far the most enjoyable. How does something last that long, find success that early, and never match, let alone top, it? (Personally; I don't know if actual magic players have another widely considered best video game)
From what I can tell, Duels was an iteration of MtG, not an exact representation of the game. They are not building Arena to replace Duels specifically (which got killed as a side effect probably) but rather as a replacement to Magic Online (which blows chunks, IMO). In that regard, Arena is very welcome, but will definitely not cater to the casual playerbase of other CCGs.

It's clear that they want to emulate a proper MtG playing experience without having to leave your home. But that will also mean that if you are not spending 100+ Euros to get a "box" of packs when a set releases, you will not be building any Tier 1 decks.
It IS puzzling - I loved Shandalaar too, although when the AI got too many cards out it would more or less lock up.

The closest I've seen since is Etherlords (and its sequel). They are pretty cheap on Steam I think, so if you liked Shandalaar they may be worth a try.
I have never played MTG in my life. I am already in gold after less than a week. The free packs are generous and the game in digital format is a quick teacher. I win around 60% of my games with a green/black deck, that started as a "freebie" deck that I have quickly upgraded as I drew lucky, legendary cards (And a Pathfinder!)

In beta you can't spend money and I'm sure once there are friend lists, and whatnot by the time it goes live there will be plenty of opportunity for pure fun and casual gameplay. IT's not a hard game to be competitive in (I am proof of that as a complete rookie) and 150 games into my MTG career, I am thankful for this version. I'd never have been able to sort out the game otherwise! Or find time to play 150 games... or afford all the cards...

It's very slick and depending how they end up monetising it will be key to it's entrance and longevity. It's bang on in the beta on both.
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