Released on: September 26th 2019
Available Platforms: PC
Price: Free (Has loot boxes, microtransactions and a Battle Pass)
Magic the Gathering (MtG) is the game people think of when talking about Trading Card Games (or TCG for short). The game has been around since 1994 and continues to thrive to this day. Magic the Gathering has many adaptations like comics, books, and of course, video games. Today we are looking at Magic the Gathering: Arena, a free-to-play PC game that seeks to bring the famous card game to the digital format. I have always liked MtG well enough and thought that making it into an online card game was a great idea. After all, we’ve seen it with the Pokemon Trading Card Game, so why not MtG?
Magic the Gathering’s lore is rich and deep. The player is a Planeswalker, a powerful sorcerer who can summon creatures from across all kinds of planes of existence. Planeswalkers can also cast powerful spells to defeat their foes. Mtg: Arena begins with the player meeting a fairy named Spark that guides them through five different opponents to escape the firm grasp on Nicol Bolas. Nicol is an insanely powerful Planeswalker who spells certain doom for all who oppose him. Fortunately for the player, they best him in the final tutorial match and are free from the strings of Nicol. Most of the story ends here for MtG: Arena, as the player, is now able to play the real game against other players online or against Spark for practice. It is a shame that the story kind of ends where it does, as a campaign would be a good source of training for fledgling players.
I’ll be honest; I wasn’t expecting that much graphical prowess when it came to MtG: Arena. That said, the game looks great! MtG: Arena is well optimized and the graphical effects the developers decided to add when summoning creatures, and when monsters attack each other, impress me. Depending on their player rank, the background changes to emulate the many planes of MtG. The player can unlock unique backgrounds for specific cards in the game, which is an enjoyable touch. These backgrounds are animated, giving life to what are usually inanimate cards.
The gameplay of MtG: Arena is what one would expect. It’s the MtG card game, but on PC. If the player already knows how to play the MtG card game, they will be very familiar with how the game works. New MtG players, will get a comprehensive crash course with the flow of the game. The first five games do a decent job of teaching the player how to play. If, after that, the player needs more information with how the game works, there is a thorough help section that answers a lot of questions. The help section also has many online resources that give hints and tips on how to play the game and building a good MtG deck. If the player forgets the definition of a keyword, they can hover over the card to get the meaning of the keyword. MtG: Arena has great gameplay flow. Selecting and playing cards is fast and fluid, battle outcomes play out clearly, and the game gives the player the option to stop the game to counter their opponent. With this attention to the flow of the game, MtG: Arena makes it easy for players to engross themselves.
MtG: Arena has several modes that may interest the player. The first is practice matches versus Spark. I like this mode since it allows the player to test any changes that they make to their deck. If the player loses to her, they will know that the changes to their deck didn’t work that well. There is the casual versus mode, where the player can challenge another player online to an unranked match. If the player begins to feel more confident in their skills, they can play in the ranked mode to truly test their abilities. The ranked mode places the player based on how many victories they claimed. Then there are event matches that require either gold or gems to participate (more on that later). If the player wants to play against a friend, they can add them to their friend’s list and challenge them directly. Each month the player will win in-game prizes depending on what rank they are when the month finishes. The multitude of modes that MtG: Arena offers are a great idea. They truly give the player multiple ways to test out their skills and their deck. I also appreciate MtG: Arena’s end of the month (referred to as “Seasons”) rewards for those who play the ranked mode. It gives players the incentive to improve that much more. The matchmaking in MtG: Arena is some of the best I’ve seen. Rarely did I feel like my opponent’s skill towered over mine. The superb matchmaking made matches feel impartial; I had a chance of winning every game.
While that is all well and good, there are a few issues I have with MtG: Arena.
One would expect the ability to read the cards to be an omni-important aspect of a card game. So why is the text so small? When sitting at a desk close to the screen, this is not that big of an issue. In any other instance, however, the text is unreadable. This issue is even more prominent if the player has problems with their vision. I tried looking everywhere for accessibility options, but couldn’t find any. I also tried using the magnifying glass program built into Windows, but MtG: Arena blocks it from working. If MtG: Arena insists on not giving the player the option to resize the text, it should, at the very least, offer an accessibility option to the player.
Since MtG: Arena is a free-to-play game, it is safe to assume it would have some form of monetization. The player can purchase gems (MtG: Arena’s premium currency) using real-world money. The player can use these gems to buy card packs (MtG: Arena’s loot box system), to compete in events, to purchase exclusive in-game card sleeves, background for specific cards, and pets. All the available premium options make the monetization options of MtG: Arena a little on the aggressive side. It is worth noting that these events are entirely optional. The player can also purchase packs using the gold they win from matches and battle pass rewards. MtG: Arena also has a battle pass. I do believe that this is a little much in terms of monetization, despite it being optional.
Another curious question I had was: why isn’t MtG: Arena available on mobile? MtG: Arena seems like the kind of game that would thrive on iOS and Android. It monetizes like a mobile game, and there are already a good number of TCGs on the platform. There may be a mobile release later on, but for now, it feels like a missed opportunity.
If one can get over the monetization and the small text size of MtG: Arena, it is a pretty good experience. Those looking to play a few games of MtG on PC will find what they are looking for with MtG: Arena. I would even recommend those looking to learn how to play at least try MtG: Arena. I do wish that the game would get ported to mobile devices.