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‘Magic the Gathering Arena’ is Exactly What I’ve Been Waiting For

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.