Scent of a Gamer

From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.

Enjoy with care: a Magic Arena review

Wizard’s latest digital offering has now been officially released. After years of stumbling in the digital sphere, the company has finally come up with a game which is engaging and fun.

Will it stand the test of time? Magic itself has been going for over 25 years, so the signs are positive. It would take a series of sustained errors by the developers to crash this bus.

This review is based on my experiences playing through the closed and open beta stages of the game, through to the release week. I have divided my observations into three sections; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good

The game is a great representation of Magic. Playing is made easy, as the tabletop simulation aspect is dialled back to take advantage of the digital medium in many cases. Cast a fireball and watch a fireball go across the screen and incinerate a target creature. Cast a lightning spell and watch a bolt of lightning achieve the same effect.

Many rares have their own animation, either when they enter the battlefield or when an ability is activated. The planeswalkers display their full art by default, and the abilities are revealed when you mouse over them. Planeswalkers also have voice lines for their abilities, and with the number of planeswalkers in Standard right now that’s a lot of chatter.


The game is absurdly generous to new players, making it easy to get up and running without spending huge amounts of cash. Once you’ve created an account and completed your starter games and quests, you will have received 15 free decks to play with and build around.

12 of the 15 starter decks all new players receive

As far as in-game currency is concerned there are two types. Gold, which is earned through several means, and gems, which can be earned or bought directly from the in-game store.

Quests to complete

Each day you’ll receive a quest to complete. These quests revolve around playing games (winning is not necessary!). Typically, they will ask you to cast a number of spells of two specific colours, e.g. cast 20 blue or green spells. Quests award either 500 or 750 gold, and you can have up to 3 active quests at a time. You also receive experience towards the mastery track (see below) each time you complete a quest.

Ladders to climb

Each month there is a competitive ladder, which is free to enter. You can win up to 5 boosters each month through the ladder, depending on your appetite for play. Ranks go from Bronze a the lowest end to Mythic at the high end.

To move from Bronze to Silver, you need a win rate of over 0%. The closer your win rate is to 0%, the longer it will take you to move up.

To move from Silver to Gold you need a win rate of over 25%. The closer your win rate is the 0% the longer it will take you to move up.

Progression in ranks from Gold through to Mythic is the same – maintain a win rate greater than 50%. Once you are at Mythic, you can either relax, or start a whole separate progression to receive a numbered rank, which is available to around the top 1200 players.

Each month the ladder resets, prizes are awarded, and your starting rank on the new ladder is based on the rank you achieved on the previous ladder.

Mastery to achieve

Each standard set heralds the release of a new Mastery Tree. Progression through the tree (free to enter) awards prizes at various levels. Buy a Mastery Pass and you unlock even more prizes but at a cost of 3,400 gems. However you can choose to buy the Mastery Pass at any time, and when you do you’ll receive all the awards for levels already achieved. For example if you buy a pass at level 33, you’ll receive all the mastery track rewards for levels 1-33 immediately on purchase.

Last time I bought the pass only when I’d already reached level 100 and received quite the windfall, including 2,000 of my gems back.

The bad

The bad is mostly a list of obviously missing features. As I mentioned above, the things which have been implemented have generally been implemented well. There are a few notable exceptions to this though.

User Interface Issues

I won’t go on about this, but the user interface, which is mainly good in game, is often clunky and inconsistent out of the game. if you want to hear more you can watch almost an hour of an exasperated Nox pointing out the flaws here;

What social?

There are no social features in this game, and the only way to play against someone you know is clunky at best. In terms of meeting new players – forget it. You have a few stock phrases to use for communication and that’s it. There is no way of meeting someone in game and arranging to play together later.

If you do know someone who plays you can organise (outside of the game!) to play. Send a challenge code to them, and have them do the same. As long as you both send the code within the same hour, the game will start. Repeat each time you want to play.

Ways to play

A couple of game modes, Brawl and Historic, are not offered very often. The game wants to strongarm you into playing Standard by removing your options not to do so. With a large player base, not having these modes available all the time is definitely a gap.

The ugly

No trust

Recent actions by the game’s developers have come across as cynical, grasping, and lacking any level of respect for the customer base. Two examples are the introduction of the Mastery Pass and the release of Historic.

The Mastery Pass required daily play to complete when it was released. Not encouraged, required. If you missed a day, or failed to win three games in a day, your chance to earn that experience was just gone. Instead of encouraging people to play, it seemed designed to make people distressed when they weren’t playing. After an outcry, the developers saw sense and changed it to where it is now. The outcry should not have been necessary.

art by Ryan Pancoast

Historic was launched with the curious rule of breaking the established system of Wildcard. Instead of one Wildcard for a card in Historic, it would now cost two. So you would pay two rare Wildcards for a single Historic rare, and so on. This, the developers disingenuously claimed, would make the format ‘more fun’.

The developers dug their heels in at the outcry resulting from this, but ultimately relented, in return saying Historic would only be periodically available.

As a result of these actions it’s hard to assume that the way you like to play the game today will still be available tomorrow, or that a promised featured will be implemented in the way you assume. A lack of trust and a level of uncertainty have been created, and these won’t go away quickly.

art by Scott Murphy

Overall – worth the time, but be careful with your money

I would recommend Magic Arena, but you may prefer to limit yourself to the free-to-play aspects. For myself I’d like to see six months go past without some ludicrous change implemented by developers who seem to hold their customers in contempt. The paid experience is mostly worth it, but it’s hard to tip money in when what you get back could change.

However the core experience of Standard gameplay, including draft and sealed, works and it works well. The Wildcard system takes the pain out of acquiring cards, and Arena is easy to play, day or night.

2 comments on “Enjoy with care: a Magic Arena review

  1. Bookstooge
    October 6, 2019

    So Brawl isn’t available all the time? How do they implement that? Singleton would definitely be the way that would get me into Arena and that doesn’t sound promising.

    Of course, I’m just hesitant overall about digital magic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • davekay
      October 7, 2019

      I think just before or just after rotation is the best time to start, but yeah the lack of Brawl surprises me. Maybe they will change things further down the line, we’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on October 6, 2019 by in Computer Games, Magic the Gathering, Review and tagged , .
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