It's pretty wild to stop and think of the impact Magic the Gathering has had on my life. I've spent more years playing Magic than not playing Magic, and some of my best friendships were kicked off by competing in random tournaments on Friday nights. Those friends got married, had kids, and I bought a house that I'm always working to fix up, which meant Magic took a bit of a back-seat for my local MTG crew. Hearthstone [Free] arrived at the perfect time to fill that void for us, as it cost nothing to play (versus putting together decks worth well over $1,000) and playing a quick game on your phone is just exponentially easier to do than blocking off an entire evening for an in-person Swiss tournament. When Wizards announced Magic Duels [Free], I was hopeful that this was going to bring me back into Magic in a big way, but Duels suffered from a unique problem: It was too casual for hardcore Magic players and too hardcore for casual Magic players. With Duels seemingly never really able to find its audience, Wizards dropped support for the game this summer, leaving the rest of us wondering what was going to happen with the future of digital (and mobile) Magic. We got our answer this afternoon with the reveal of Magic the Gathering Arena.

Twitch chat during the announcement summed it up perfectly: It's like full-fledged, real-deal Magic and Hearthstone had a baby. To expand on that, instead of the wacky restrictions and antiquated game engine of Magic Duels, Arena features the real Magic rule set. Full decks, no limitations of card types, or anything else they've fiddled with in the past in previous digital titles. This is the game of Magic that I've been in love with for decades. The interface has been Hearthstone-ified in that it's beautiful to look at, with different unique animations that go a long way to making this new iteration of Magic be just as watchable as a spectator esport as Hearthstone. Cards primarily exist on the battlefield as their rectangular card art and colored frames, with creatures displaying their power and toughness. At least based on the initial announcement, it seems like they've gone a long way to fix odd decisions made in Duels.

The game is initially launching on PC, but they've built the game in a "flexible engine" (Unity) which makes a future mobile release feel inevitable. It's also free to play, and aside from getting packs for free by playing you'll also (obviously) be able to buy more. It sounds like (potentially just in the beta?) Arena is going to focus on Standard in both constructed and limited play, with a "long roadmap" of features to come in the future. It wouldn't surprise me to see a Legacy-ish format in the future once they get more sets in the game, but it seems fairly clear that Magic the Gathering Online will be the place to be for players who want that experience.

Interestingly enough, in the FAQ they specifically mention that this game is not going to replace Magic Online which currently features basically every Magic card that has ever been printed. It makes sense, and seems like a messy problem to ever merge Magic Online with anything else, as MODO has its own (sort of odd) in-game economy that would get totally out of whack if suddenly you threw a ton of free to play players into the mix. Also, it seems like Wizards is open to the idea of connecting in-store play with digital play, which I'm super interested in as someone who can't often make it into stores to play.

During the Q&A session after the reveal, Wizards mentioned that playing Arena can have as much or as little granularity as players want. If you want to hold priority every single time you have it, you can. If you want to tap individual lands, you can. If you don't care about any of that and just want to play casually you can just do that too with the game managing all the nitty gritty stuff. Unsurprisingly, there's no trading, but presumably there's some sort of crafting system or other way to get specific cards as that's the way practically all these digital CCG's work.

For more information on the game, check out the Magic the Gathering Arena web site, watch the VOD of the Twitch reveal, and if you've got a PC sign up for the beta. I've got my fingers crossed that I get in, as I'd love to stream this game on Twitch. So far, I'm ultra-excited for Magic Arena, and I'm really hopeful Wizards learned from their mistakes with Duels and just absolutely knocks it out of the park with this release.

  • Alex_Gol

    I see little change (except UI one, which I looks pretty nifty, not sure how much practical though) in solving the problem with accessibility for new casual players vs. seasoned players. I think Duels' numerous little matches that taught you the mechanics were a great solution.

    That "bullet time" control mode is horrendous, if it shows that it is turned on by the opponent, as it may signify that that player will probably counter/do something in response, prompting to hold off (or "sand bag") or bluff in response.

    Also, again, just Standard. Let's see if they will add at least all of the Modern cards in the several years time (Haha, probably absolutely damn not, my friend. The same thing as with Duels).

    • Alex_Gol

      Also I wonder how this design will handle 20 non-land cards on one side of the board, when even Duels struggled with that.

      • Alex_Gol

        Oh, yeah, it basically turns into a garmon, as expected. Can't see it being ported on mobile with this early UI solution any time soon. Maybe tablet only as Pokemon TCG does it (though I think Pokemon TCG can handle transition to phone screens).

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3c3c2c503835b4ae43046534cb0caf33dc95cc64ed77bfe36aacb04c9d16861c.jpg

      • Pi Holiday

        In HS they you can’t see the whole board and your hand at
        the same time. The hand can be minimized and maximized as needed, I could see
        them trying to do same with Mana, and stacking them with a number. Could be
        very clunky but who knows maybe they can pull it off.

    • Medievil

      since the process of doing that essentially means animating every single card working backwards, yeah, never gonna happen. going forwards is almost a certainty though.

  • Dave

    Soooo you've been waiting for a non-mobile Hearthstone clone?

    I sure as hell haven't. It's 2017. Mobile first should be the only thing anyone needs to think about.

    It's not even a particularly inspired looking Hearthstone clone either. Unless they really get their act together and get a mobile client out before they let people into a beta and announce some really tight synergy with the paper game (like paper packs get you digital packs or points towards digital packs) then I don't see any reason at all to give up my fairly invested hearthstone collection to dump money into Magic instead.

    Too little too late IMO unless there's really a lot more coming than they've announced.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      What?

      • Dave

        what's not clear?

        A non-mobile product in 2017 and beyond is a no-go when the competition is on every platform.

        It's so far a pretty basic hearthstone but with magic cards, and Magic despite being a household name for nerds has never actually been that popular.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        What the fuck.

      • Dave

        Ok.

      • TheKindMind

        lol I'm with Eli on this one.

      • Son of Anarchy

        Really Eli? I know it's the internet and all but that's hardly an appropriate response. And here I was thinking you were going for a family friendly vibe here.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Really.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        Eli: WTF
        Filter: WTF, sending message "Your Post is awaiting moderation"
        Me: WTF
        🙂

      • lavenders2

        Im gonna ignore the magic not being popular part, because thats quite literally the opposite of reality, but I feel like this magic game is supposed to be the bridge between hearthstone and magic online. You arent the target audience here, the target is people who want a game that isnt casual like hearthstone, but dont want to invest in a hardcore magic game yet. If you feel like you cant move away from your hearthstone collection, then you probably just arent ready for the next step up (or you just dont want to make that step) and thats ok, but you gotta understand there are a lot of people who want to move on from the growing casualization of hearthstone, but dont really have anywhere to go

      • Pi Holiday

        Dave,

        You do realize that
        Hearthstone is a simplified version of MTG right? Additionally, card games all
        have similar mechanics, meaning that they put cards on a board and they do
        something. Sort of like poker, rummy, hearts, etc., will look similar. One of
        the most amazing things that HS accomplished is creating an amazing UI. Being
        influenced by the UI does not make this a clone. Additionally, before HS
        numerous companies made their UI with plain card text and they were not as successful
        as HS. So, if a company wants to be successful it is a good idea to follow the
        industry standard. Another example is cars. All cars look relatively the same,
        they have for wheels, doors, windows, etc., but there is room to target various
        demographics and needs. If you watched the stream, all the rules (&priority
        window) will be available in the game. HS took all these rules out and other
        things like mana to make the game more accessible. Magic’s problem has always
        been accessibility and the priority and timing issues are hard to translate
        over to PC.As far as PC only, he did say that it is open for discussion and the
        game is still in Alpha, so there is time to address other systems. Furthermore,
        Gwent is doing pretty well as a PC only title. I do not understand why everyone
        acts as if success comes from beating the industry leader. This game does not have
        to be or strive to be #1 and if it never beats HS it is not a failure. Lastly,
        how can this game be a clones of a game that was inspired by this game?

      • DanCJ

        I’m guessing that’s the response Eli couldn’t be bothered to write.

      • Precious Tritium

        Magic has been popular since I was in middle school in like 1997. It's been popular for over 20 years at least. Hearthstone is just a really simple version of MTG. What are you even talking about?

    • Rob Scott

      This is in alpha/beta testing phase, you can't really use the argument that it isn't on mobile therefore it isn't worth anyone's time.

      What platform can you easily and selectively choose who gets access to your game whilst having enough players to ensure servers can handle the load? It sure isn't iOS.

      I doubt they have gone down the road of programming only for PC seeing as how we have got things like only showing the card art and not a whole digitally reproduced psychical card when it is played. Unity makes the transition fairly painless, the only thing they need to think about is UI but it looks like they are already on that road.

      I am looking forward to playing it. But I am wary as I have been burnt by digital Magic more than once.

    • Patrick Jahns

      Dude you talk about a 25 year old game, it's not a Heartstone clone.
      It has it's own lore, it's own mechanics and much more strategic depth than Heartstone will ever have. Heartstone doesn't even have resource management. It's sad that they only include the most boring format, but hey it could be worse.

  • Saveria

    No....Oh no. MORE hearthstone-like is the opposite of what I was hoping for. I want trading, I want access to older sets, some synergy with paper version of the game...I guess this could still turn out solid but my expectations are greatly lowered...

    • Rob Scott

      Older sets would be a massive undertaking and just increase the time it takes to get out, meaning that they then have to create more sets because there will be new ones out by the time they get the old ones done.

      Each card would have to have sound effects, animations, unique keywords coded for, and rule updates elsewhere to cater for unique card effects.

      It is a compromise between actually releasing the game and giving access to all cards.

      • Patrick Jahns

        Not really, they already have all the code from MTGO they just have to do is copy paste work. Yes they would have to do new animations and sound effects, but that is just not that massive.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        That's a massive assumption to make.

      • Rob Scott

        Clearly you have experience with their codebase. I guess I stand corrected then.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        I have lots of experience in migrating and dealing with legacy code, actually. In my life I've never run into a situation where you can just copy and paste code from something as antiquated as Magic Online into anything new and expect it to work. At all. On any level.

      • Rob Scott

        Eli, my reply wasn't to your post. I was replying to Patrick and his incorrect assumptions.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Whoops!

      • Medievil

        Not just antiquated, inflated even. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of rare, if not mostly unique abilities for cards in the legacy MTG formats, and every time you add ONE new mechanic to the pile, it had to be able to interact properly with every single one already in the system. Every new card has the ability to be exponentially harder to add to the system. If you've ever played HEX, you've probably read in the dev blogs about the nightmares even a SINGLE new game mechanic can bring to a digital TCG because of older card interactions.,

    • Pi Holiday

      Hearthstone-like is only referring to the UI, card effects,
      and animations.

  • Stetch

    Whats the main difference between this and the other 50 CCG’s out there?

    • DanCJ

      This is the original and the best. It’s been refined and expanded over 20 odd years to have a huge amount of depth.

      • Stetch

        Aaaah ok 🙂

      • hTristan

        The difference is it wasn't designed for online play in mind, therefore feels a bit clunky at times.

    • Michal Hochmajer

      Darn, DanCJ was faster.
      Answer is simple:
      20 years...of my life. :)))

    • Saveria

      Well, Magic is generally a deeper experience with more card types, and 'instant' spells and other abilities that can be played in reaction to what an opponent casts during their turn (or during your own turn of course). For example hearthstone feels like a really polished, very simplified version of Magic so if you pick up Magic it should not overwhelm you if you've tried and learned how to play hearthstone relatively well.

      Decks are larger than most other card games I think (60 or more cards) and there's decades now of card sets that have refined the gameplay so...really it's a richer, more varied experience with surprising stuff happening in games more frequently.

      • Medievil

        60 card minimum for constructed play, 40 cards or more for almost ALL limited formats. 30 or more for mini-masters.

      • Saveria

        Why are you telling me this?

  • DanCJ

    I never got runs to the latest Magic Duels, but I bought and loved the previous four.

    I don’t know why they never took off in the way Heathstone did as for my tastes, they’re better than Hearthstone in almost every way.

    • hTristan

      There's no real card collection to motivate the grind, no ranking system, people don't like having not enough/too much land, there's no equivalent of arena and it's harder to learn.

      • DanCJ

        I guess it means I want something different from the game.

        For me I played the single player campaigns where you earnt a card every time you won a battle. Multiplayer only games never felt like they had the same feeling of progression as campaigns.

    • Michal Hochmajer

      Are You talking about MTG: Duels of the planeswalkers 20xx ? Man, this is prototype of game I love and hate at once. Most were buggy as hell on release, with long update schedule. Was it 2013? Where game was laggy, often crashing and best of all, You've lost progress (unlocked card) for unknow reason. When was game updated to playable state? 6 months later... 🙂

      It's ok, if some gameplay rules are broken here and there. It is complicated game mechanic wise, after all.

      Stainless games is on my black list since then (I am caution when trying their games).

      • DanCJ

        I am. I waited for the sales, so they must have ironed out the bugs by the time I bought them. They worked fine on my PC/iPad.

    • Saveria

      I think dotp 2014 was my overall favorite. I liked the compromise of freer deck building in a small pool of unlocks but faster card unlocking than the later 2015 (one cars per unlock is just too slow for me...). I also thought the campaign in it was the most fun. However 2015 had options I liked a lot such as being able to build decks for the AI opponent to play, rather than random or base forms of the pre-built decks in older versions...

      I do miss the challenges a lot. They were really fun to figure out. They watered them down a lot and then just dropped them, I was so disappointed.

      • DanCJ

        That was the second iPad version right? Yeah, that was my favourite too.

  • Jason Werner

    I really hope this has cross platform play, at the very least, let me use the same collection on different devices.

    • Medievil

      it should be a server access login regardless of what device you log in from, in the same way hearthstone is. but this is PC only for the beta, atm.

  • baelnor

    This looks good, but I hate the timing and interaction flow of MTG. Something in between HS and mtg would be great. HS is too simple/random

    • Sebastian Kanisch

      HS is just play a card that creates random cards e.g. cabalist tome

  • WP

    Seems to me if they took the current Magic Online and made it look/act more like this Arena version, it would attract just as many new players and maybe even bring back former players... I just get tired of the repetitive WotC releasing a new iteration of the game, with cool graphics/sounds, limited card set access, and then ends up being abandoned, only to come up with a new name and look and limited features a couple of years later.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I really don't think they can do anything new with Magic Online and have it attract any new players. Like it or not, players in 2017 expect to be able to earn cards for free. Magic Online is even more expensive than paper Magic, as at least in the paper world you can get discounted packs by buying boxes or getting involved in group buys. People always get worked up over the Hearthstone new set $50 preorder bundle, but on MODO $50 isn't even going to get you enough cards to assemble anything but a pauper deck.

      • Zaraf

        Doesn't Magic Online have some kind of physical card to digital card conversion process? One thing I really liked about Magic Online going from the physical game was that you could easily create multiple decks without needing tons of copies of various cards. In physical decks, if you wanted 4 of the same deck in two different decks, you had to have 8 copies or deal with a lot of shuffling around of cards between deck usage. No such problems with the online versions since you only need max 4 for all of your decks.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        If you have a complete set of cards you can turn them in for a complete set of physical cards, yeah. Requires a ton of wheeling and dealing or opening loads of packs, and you usually end up with tons of cards you don't want. Unless you're able to go infinite on MODO and farming up these cards don't cost you anything it's usually better to just buy copies of the physical cards you want instead.

    • MikeC

      I have played Magic Online for many years, and would love to see a new client. I've basically stopped spending money there because the current one is just so very bad. But since I have a large collection I can just keep playing with my friends with the collections we already have. The problem for WoTC is they gain no new income from us. So you can see why they'd want to start over with a new client and hopefully see everyone migrate to that over time, spending new money to buy new cards packs. As long as it is a great version of Magic, I am okay with that, even if they end up shuttering Magic Online down the line.

  • Reignmaker

    Magic doesn't need any introduction, but Wizard of the Coast needs to prove it can create a digital experience that feels better than Hearthstone. Gamers mistakenly assume that all you need is a superior mechanics.

  • Medievil

    the stack is a nightmare when it comes to a programming standpoint, since it's suddenly a reverse causalty pileup. this would be even WORSE if the original Interrupt mechanic still existed, and is still bad enough with even the split second mechanic existing to outright replace it.

  • Onikage725

    De king...has returned.