Thoughts on Magic the Gathering: Arena

I’ve been in the alpha and beta test of MTG: Arena since last year. I’ve played about 5 games or so each day, on average. So I’m by no means a power player, but I’ve played enough to get a good feel of the game. For context, I’ve been playing Magic regularly since around 2010. I started just with tabletop, then went to my first prerelease with Avacyn Restored, in 2012. Since then, I’ve gravitated to being primarily a drafter. I have multiple commander decks and play that from time to time, but I try to get in at least one draft a week. I’ve played some standard, but while I enjoy the games, I dislike having to pay so much to get a deck I feel can compete against other decks.

However, I played Duels of the Planeswalkers extensively, followed by a ton of Magic: Duels. I had pretty much every card unlocked in Duels, to give you an idea of where I was with that. I loved being able to play Magic against other people for essentially free. I never spent any money on Duels. I earned all the cards by in-game play, and I could make any deck I wanted to, for free.

I’ve played some MTGO (Magic the Gathering Online), but again, the price tag turned me away. It’s not that I’m unwilling to spend money on Magic. I have two cubes (pauper and semi-powered), but paying money for digital cards isn’t nearly as appealing. So that hasn’t really been an avenue I’ve explored.

So I think I’m a fairly big target for the audience of Arena, Magic’s latest foray into the digital realm. I’ve followed the fan discussion boards, and I’ve been surprised at the amount of whining coming from many fan sectors. The biggest complaint at the moment is the economy. They feel it’s too expensive to get new cards. At the moment, buying a pack of 8 cards costs 1000 coins. You can get around 1000 coins each day by playing matches and completing quests, so you can get a pack every day. Each pack has a mythic or rare, two uncommons, and five commons.

The complaint is that to build tier 1 decks takes too many mythic and rare cards, and it’ll take too long to get there. Some fans are saying the game will be a colossal failure because of this imbalance. To which I say, “Whatever.”

Without spending any money, I’ve build a basic Red Deck Wins deck that I went 7-2 with last night in “Quick Constructed.” That’s a format where you pay 500 coins to enter and then win prizes based on how many wins you can get before you get 3 losses. (It maxes out at 7 wins, at which point you get 1000 coins plus three cards, which will be at least 2 uncommons and 1 rare, maybe better. I won two mythics and a rare for my 7 wins.) Yes, I’m an experienced player, but my deck wasn’t full of just mythics and rares. (Though it had plenty: 4 Hazorets, 4 Earthshaker Kenras, 3 Rampaging Ferocidons, 1 Rekindling Phoenix. So 5 mythics and 7 rares, give or take.)

With that basic deck, I can earn more coins the same way I did yesterday. For 5000 coins, I’ll be able to draft soon. With each draft, I’ll get 3 packs of 14 cards, plus 1-3 8 card packs as prizes, plus more currency to spend. Do I prefer to play RDW each game? No. But I’m certainly willing to play a bit of it to earn cards so I can start fleshing out my collection and working my way to other decks I can play and enjoy. Also, since the game only supports best of 1 matches right now (remember: still in beta!), I feel RDW is the best way to take advantage of the format. You’re incentivized to get matches done quickly each day so you can max your wins. But that’s just a stage for me. I’ll get beyond that to where I have decks good enough to compete with other archetypes.

In other words, I think I’ll be able to play Magic for free, online, whenever I want to, with a great interface, and minimal issues. This is fantastic. The game is miles better than Duels. It’s responsive and intuitive (for the most part). Yes, it still has bugs. It’s in beta test. It’s only available on PC at the moment, but there are plans for Mac and phones to be supported in the future.

The longest I ever wait to play a match, even with this smaller pool, is about 15 seconds. It’s true that sometimes those matches are unbalanced. I’ll be up against someone with a much better deck, or a much worse deck. But that comes with the territory of having a smaller pool of players since it’s still in beta.

I honestly don’t understand some segments of the player community at times. It’s as if they expect a game to be fully fleshed out and comparable to other games that have been refined for years. And then when their suggestions aren’t immediately incorporated, they freak out. Most of the criticism I’ve seen levied at the game has been baseless or overblown. The game is still being refined, but I see a lot of promise to it.

So if you have a PC and can score an invite to the beta, I encourage you to check it out. I’ve loved my time with the game so far, and I can’t wait for the drafting to begin later this week.

If you have any questions about the game, I’d be happy to answer them.

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