I have had the opportunity to play the new Magic: The Gathering online client MTG Arena. I will say it is a fun and engaging experience. There are some things I like and some things I dislike about the system.
To begin, in Arena you are given a decent amount of cards to start and they are formulated into introduction pack type decks for you to use from the first moment you sign on. These decks are fun and can be a great way to learn the game. In addition, there are booster packs available for you to open and edit the decks provided or make new ones yourself. However, this is one of the main problems with Arena. In order to upgrade your decks, you must either pay for packs, or win packs by grinding games online. There is no trading (currently) in Arena, and thus, in order to make a deck to the specifications you want, you need to pull the appropriate cards from your packs. There is a wild card system in place where one of the cards in your pack may be a wild card, thus allowing you to turn it into any card of the same rarity (which is a one-time use), but they do help with securing playsets. The ability to purchase packs for cash also skews the game in favor of those willing to spend the cash in most cases. The cards are still randomly slotted into the packs, so there is no guarantee you will get the cards you need. I have thoroughly enjoyed grinding games and watching my deck get better incrementally as I pull new cards and it has made the opening of digital packs a much more exciting experience. I prefer it to simply going online and buying cards from an online vendor to have them traded to me. That being said, I can see the in game economy getting out of whack pretty quickly, once players start to secure bona fide decks since there would be no real separation from the participants playing some form of the intro decks. Winning, not just playing, games or completing the challenges are the only way to earn packs or coins, so at some point the underpowered decks will find it more and more difficult to upgrade.
When it comes to game play, the graphics and mechanics engine is great. The animations, look and feel realistic and music score make it a truly engaging experience. Set stables such as; Hazoret or Glorybringer have full animations that come out of the cards, planeswalkers have voices, and the combat graphics make the game far more engaging than something like MTGO and are much closer to the dynamic feel of Duels of the Planeswalkers. The turn mechanics are also very good and are set up to expedite gameplay. The game automatically yields to the opponent if there is no possible play, taps mana for you upon castings spells and will skip phases of combat if nothing can be done. The key here is this can all be turned off manually if you want to, but leaving it on does not come with the risk of clicking through an important phase by accident.
So something that I do hope is expanded upon in the future is the number of cards available in Arena. Currently, there is a limited card pool that does not even encompass standard, the oldest set in the system is Amonkhet. Also, the current set up for draft is extremely infrequent and thus really holds back the system. I am sure this is something that will be added after the Beta, so for now, I will not gripe about it too much.
The thing I may be looking most forward to is finally being able to play this against my friends with Macs and even counsels in the future, since this was designed on an engine that can be used across platforms.
All in all, I have enjoyed the Arena Beta and am looking forward to see how it develops in the future and post Beta. I do hope the potential economy issues are fixed in its next iteration, but nevertheless, I think this is a great step forward for online play.
If you get paired against OsoGladiator, that’s me!