Very few card games have withstood the test of time like Wizards of the Coast’s juggernaut franchise Magic: The Gathering. While it hasn’t quite broken into the mainstream as far as a digital counterpart is concerned, WOC is looking to change that with Magic Arena.
Magic Arena is WOC’s latest attempt to break into the digital scene that’s currently dominated by games such as Blizzard’s Hearthstone, and follows in the wake of Wizard’s Magic: Online, the Duels of the Planeswalkers series, and their attempt prior to Arena, Magic Duels.
The goal seems to be to make a more visually appearing game, which makes sense, given Magic: Online’s rather…barebones presentation. It looks like they’re going for the Hearthstone approach: make something that can be just as fun to watch as it is to play. But Magic is a fairly complex game, whereas Hearthstone is a bit more easier to grasp, not so multi-layered and complex; can Arena pull it off?
The game does have some nice visual touches. Cards you can use will have a magical glow around them, mana used to power cards will flow into the card before it hits the field, and of course there’s special effects for fireballs, lighting strikes, and other spells that sling around the battlefield. Throwing down Saga cards will have a scroll unravel and then disappear, and Legendary and Mythic cards will have little animations that play. Some Plainswalkers also
As far as features goes, Arena’s got some nice ones. When first starting an account you’re thrown into a tutorial mode, which is great if you’re new to Magic or need a refresher – for you vets don’t worry, you can bypass the tutorial and still get whatever rewards you would’ve received from completing it. While it doesn’t go quite into all the nuts and bolts of the game, it’s still enough to give newcomers and idea of how things work in the world of Magic.
There’s also full-on deck building that allows full customization, unlike the Duels series that featured limited deck customization. While Online did feature complete deck building, you also have to pay for access to Online as well as paying for booster packs; Arena is free to play and while there are microtransactions in the form of premium currency that can be used to purchase booster packs, there are still weekly and daily challenges that can net you in-game currency – usually enough to purchase at least one booster a day – as well as extra booster packs. In addition, new players can complete challenges that will unlock some pretty decent premade decks that, if you’re willing to put the time, gold, and perhaps even dollars into, can be formidable. There is an intro pack you can purchase for $4.99 that gives you some boosters and a good handful of in-game and premium currency to play around with, so if you find the game growing on you, that’s really not too bad of a purchase to consider.
Speaking of deck building, another aspect of Arena that’s unique and interesting is the “Wildcard” system. See, when you open up a certain number of booster packs you can get “Wildcards” for different rarity cards; these Wildcards can then be redeemed for any card that you don’t have of the matching rarity – you can even get uncommon, rare, and mythic Wildcards in booster packs. A neat way to collect that mythic rare card you’ve been eyeballing but can never seem to get in booster packs.
As far as game modes, there’s playing a single game either unranked or ranked, and doing the traditional best-out-of-three match typically seen in official Magic events. Ranked matches actually got an update December 13th that altered how match-ups are done and also changed the progression for rankings so it no longer takes what feels like dozens of wins to move up tiers; there’s also going to be rewards handed out at the different tiers when each season ends.
Format-wise, Standard is of course the main way to play. There are other events you can enter for a good fistful of coins or premium currency, and include things like sealed play and drafts – and yes, you get to keep the cards you play with in sealed play and drafts. Sometimes they’ll roll out special formats as well, such as the “Singleton” event where, with the exception of basic lands, you could only have one copy of each card in your deck! Though word on the street is Wizards might be incorporating a “Standard Plus” that sounds akin to the tabletop version’s Modern format – let’s hope so. I’d love to be able to play with my cards that fall out of rotation.
So far I’ve had an enjoyable time overall with Arena. While yes, it can be frustrating to have nights where I constantly lose, or to get a new deck I’m trying out smashed into oblivion, for a casual guy there’s still options such as playing with the premade decks, which can surprisingly be a lot of fun – the game’s algorithm supposedly takes cards in your deck into account when making up a match, so I get to play with the starter decks without having to worry about getting matched with someone who’s dumped cash into their deck. Well, in theory at least.
While the music is nice, and the visual flourishes are beautiful, I do think the game needs more attention graphics-wise if it wants to compete with the likes of Hearthstone. Magic seems like a game that could benefit from a lot of color and special effects – so I’d like to see more of that if possible. It’d also be cool if your chosen avatar spoke in game like Hearthstone too. I mean, Arena already ripped off the “Avatar Explodes in Magical Death When Defeated” thing from them, might as well go all in with it. Granted the game is still a work in progress, so we’ll see.
If you’re interested in becoming a planeswalker and slinging some spells, go ahead and check out Magic Arena. The game’s currently in Open Beta, and again, is free to play. Unfortunately, it’s only available on Windows at the moment. But still, log in, grab your deck, and let’s duel. Ignite your spark today!