From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
Magic the Gathering Arena has emerged into open beta and is ready for general play. It’s a good way to play Magic if you previously played the game but find it difficult to make the time. Also if you haven’t played before but have been interested, Arena is a nice place to start off.
The good stuff
Arena provides an easy way to play games of magic quickly. The field is divided into best of 1 games and the more usual best of 3 matches. Events using best of 3 are all labelled competitive. So a competitive draft, for example, is best of 3 games, while a Quick Draft is best of 1.
In game graphics are good without getting in your way. I could happily liv without the card animations for mythic cards, but they aren’t terrible by any means, and they don’t interfere with the game. Using spells is an easy case of dragging the card from your hand over the battlefield and letting go. The game will tap your lands automatically unless you manually tap exactly the mana you want to use first.
Each day you’ll receive a minimum of 1 quest. Most quests pay out 500 in-game gold, and no quest requires you to win a game in order to complete. You can earn up to 3 packs per week by winning. Your 5th , 10th and 15th wins of the week each award 1 pack.
Capping rewards like this has angered some players, but I like that the game encourages a responsible level of activity. Games that continue to provide rewards based on (in effect) hours played tend to encourage unhealthy habits and it’s nice to see the game designers consider this in their reward structure.
When you open your Arena account you are taken straight into the new player experience. This gives you a series of scripted games against computer opponents. These games are designed to teach you the interface, not how to play Magic as such, so bear that in mind. After you’ve completed the new player experience, you receive 5 basic decks, 1 for each colour.
Over the next week you’ll receive a further 10 decks, 1 for each colour pair, which you obtain by completing quests. These 15 decks give you a good starting boost your collection and include some highly playable cards such as Vraska’s Contempt and History of Benalia. You can freely use the cards in these decks to create new decks, and as you win or buy packs you’ll have more cards available.
Some free advice
Use gold to enter events, not to buy packs. Use wildcards to obtain decks, not individual cards.
1,000 gold will get you a random pack of 8 cards. This is a terrible way of acquiring the cards you need for a particular deck. You’re better off using your gold to enter events. You’ll get packs by completing quests and winning games, by all means open those as soon as you get them.
Likewise wildcards can be earned from opening packs and you can redeem a wildcard at any time for a card of the same rarity. The best way to use wildcards is all at once, to complete a specific deck you want to use. Don’t succumb to the temptation of using individual wildcards here and there to get interesting cards you just lost to. You don’t want to waste wildcards. Be patient, and work towards completing specific decks you’ll use for a while.
You can use real money to buy gems, which in turn will purchase either packs or event entry. My advice to newer players is hold off on the purchases at least until you have the 15 starting decks and have gained a feel for the game. Then decide if you want to put money down.
The game is an open beta, and this shows in certain features which are missing. The big one is a friends list, and the ability to make friends, see when your friends are online, and play against specific players. None of that exists as yet. Several of my friends play this game, but I’ve never met any of them and probably won’t until these features are implemented.
Another gap is the inability to play against the computer. All games played must be against a human opponent. I’m surprised at the lack of computer-based challenges, especially for newer players.
Last comes collection management. Building decks and choosing specific cards is needlessly difficult. Just try adding a specific basic land art to your deck, you’ll know what I mean.
The other unknown with collections is what happens to cards on rotation. Arena is based around Standard, but cards rotate out of that format every year. The developers dodged the question this time around by using rotation to wipe all closed beta accounts and move to open beta with fresh account. But that was the final account wipe. Hopefully they will have a satisfactory solution in place before this time next year.
Given that it’s free to create an account and start playing you should at least give it a try.