Wizards of the Coast introduces their upcoming online version of Magic the Gathering: MTG Arena, and Bill takes it for a test run.
This week at Hascon 2017, Wizards of the Coast unveiled the details of their new online Magic the Gathering game, MTG Arena. I had the opportunity to try it out in person and speak with some of the folks behind the game.
My Magic History
I am someone who primarily writes and podcasts about Star Wars collecting. Therefore it may come as a bit of a surprise that I am suddenly talking about Magic the Gathering. Indeed Magic is one of my favorite things in the world. I have just never been very active with competitive play and the meta game. I have been collecting and playing Magic with the same group of friends since 1994. Unlike many players, my collection is still intact. I never sold any of it off. I never started over. And it continues to grow.
Now that my friends and I have all have families, the opportunities to play are fewer and farther between. We have about four or five mega-sessions a year, and that is it. I also never jumped into Magic Online, which always felt expensive and hardcore for a casual player. Due to this sparseness of Magic in my daily life lately, I am hopeful and optimistic that this new effort from Wizards of the Coast will bring some more frequent play back to my life.
Magic: the Gathering Arena was developed by Wizards of the Coast’s newly formed Digital Games Studio, making it the first in-house digital release. The mission of the team was to develop a digital card gaming experience that bridges the depth of Magic Online with the graphic appeal of Duels. I met with Community Manager Nate Price at Hascon, who provided me with a demo of the game. Without any instruction I was able to start tapping lands and casting spells. Once the game state got a little more complicated, I did need some more instruction. But this is a game that anyone with Magic experience will be able to pick up and play with relative ease.
Visually, the artwork is the focus of attention. Cards in play automatically hide their text boxes using a system of symbols for a quick glance at states and abilities. And while this might look unlike the traditional Magic battlefield, the full rules and mechanics of the game are all there, and are easily accessible with a quick zoom. Graphically, there are lots of animations and sounds that seem to fit well with what is happening, breathing some life into the card game. The gameplay however never felt burdened by the graphics. The pacing still felt fluid and natural to me. But I did only play one single game. We will see how that pacing feels after 100 sessions.
The demo was a regular game of constructed Magic utilizing the dinosaurs and pirates of MTG’s latest set Ixalan. Eventually the team plans to add additional formats. It will be interesting to see what can be done. (I personally hope to see booster drafts added.) The game will be free to play with all cards available to those who earn them through play. But my understanding is that there will be ways to speed up that process with in-game purchases if you so choose.
MTG Arena is currently being developed for PC. But the game engine will be flexible enough to expand to other platforms when ready. The game is entering the closed beta phase of development. If you would like to participate you can sign up now.
I am excited for the potential of this game. If the developers deliver on their goal of making this a living, active, robust Magic the gathering experience, that is both rewarding and free to play, MTG Arena could indeed bring daily Magic back into my life.
Born in 1976, Bill Drewnowski grew up surrounded by Star Wars, the likely reason for his love of a great story. Now a father living in New England, Bill teaches high school English, including courses in science fiction and fantasy. Bill enjoys collecting books, posters, action figures, trading cards (including a huge Magic the Gathering obsession), and of course all things Star Wars. His favorite book is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. You can follow Bill on Twitter @DorkLair and Instagram @TheDorkLair.