Before I get into some of the details in this game, I want to give a bit of my own personal background. I’m fairly new to MTG. In fact, prior to playing Magic I previously had zero experience with any sort of card games. I think my biggest glimpse into games like these was watching my friend JT play Hearthstone and screaming in excitement over “ruining children’s dreams.” They always fascinated me, but also immensely intimidated me. My roommate started teaching me how to play about a year ago and I played my first 2-Headed Giant event for the Rivals of Ixalan release in January of 2018. I had a great time playing and we came in second place at the event we were at. I still play that same deck with a few minor tweaks all the time when my roommate and I play magic at home for fun, but it’s hard to get well rounded practice that way. I tried playing Magic: The Gathering Online, but the interface was super complicated for me since I was still learning, and the cost of buying all of the cards was just not logical for someone who doesn’t already know exactly what they’re they’re doing. Magic: The Gathering Arena was exactly what I needed.
Even if someone doesn’t know how to play Magic at all, they can get started learning how to play on MTGA. When a player loads up the game for the first time, it takes them through an initial tutorial that leads through several matches against AI opponents. After each match, the player wins a card that introduces a new aspect of gameplay to be be taught when they face the next opponent. By the end, the tutorial has done a pretty great job of introducing all of the basic aspects of gameplay so even fresh players will have a general understanding of what they need to do. I think one of the greatest benefits of this game is that there is no required start up cost. This allows inexperienced players to test it out and see if it’s something they enjoy before they start heavily investing in it. When players begin, each account is given a starter deck of each color so that the playstyle of each can be tried out. What’s great about these decks is that each one is individually customizable, so the player can add different cards to them as they are acquired. All of the cards available in these decks are also able to be put into completely custom decks in the deck builder. Players interested in earning new cards and packs with little to no investment will be thrilled to know that there are weekly and daily quests that reward gold to help them grow their digital collection.
All of the rules and interactions from the paper version are built into MTGA. If players have a question about what a certain card does, they need only hover over the card with their mouse and it will zoom in and bring up all of the details pertinent to the card. As the player plays through each phase of the turn cards that are available to be played during each phase will have a blue highlight around them. These would be playable because the player has enough mana to utilize it and because the spell is able to be cast at the proper speed. This mechanic is so important for beginners because it helps them see what kind of interactions are available that they might not have known about. One of the downsides to this mechanic is that if there are no available cards to play, the game will automatically move on to the next step, which can give a very attentive opponent clues as to what is and isn’t available in the opposing hand. For the most part though, I don’t see this being a big issue. On the flip side, this can be used to a player’s advantage as well if they’re quick, crafty, and turn off the auto-turn function.
While this game is great for people who are just getting into Magic, it’s also got some great features for seasoned players as well. There are many events and challenges that can be played if players are interested in more competitive play. They can either pay to enter these events, or they can save up gold that has been earned from the different daily/weekly quests and use that to participate. Another important factor is that as the game is played, the player moves along a ranked ladder so that they will even out and be able to play against others at the same skill level. This keeps new players from getting discouraged by getting destroyed by those with a greater understanding of the game, and also keeps more seasoned players from getting bored with constantly going against opponents who are not a challenge to them.
In regards to deckbuilding, MTGA has a great interface system for sorting through all of the cards. As stated above, each account starts out with a number of cards to build decks with. When players open the collection screen they are greeted with many filters:mana cost, mana color, combined colors, card type, etc. Players can also use a search bar to find exactly what they need. Another cool thing that Wizards has added in is the wildcards. Each account starts with mythic, rare, uncommon, and common wildcards that can be used to redeem any card of that rarity in the game. Extras of these wildcards are also mixed into other packs that can be opened.
As of right now, Arena does not have any real user-to-user interactions. Wizards has stated in their update videos that they want to add in a friend list interface and the ability for custom matches, but that will come later. They will also be implementing an in-game chat system but they’ve stated that they have no intention of forcing it on all players and instead will have an “opt-in” function.
All in all, Magic: The Gathering Arena is already fast becoming one of the games that I’m most excited about, and it’s definitely worth starting up and diving into.