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Returning to the Fold: MtG Arena & Hopes Before the Apr 26th Update

25 Apr

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Magic the Gathering: Arena is Wizards of the Coast‘s next digital iteration of Stainless Games’ Magic Duels. They have taken over development and have created a glitzier version which I appreciate. This update sports a new engine to allow for easier integration of new cards (and perhaps old too) when this product comes out of Beta testing. This change may happen very soon. On March 26th, new features will open up and Dominaria is being added. I am more excited to play this new set more so than owning the cards.

I played this set during the prerelease weekend and did better than expected. The practice I got in with the video game helped me win a few games than be smeared. WotC’s goal to bridge the two formats worked. Soon, I can ditch Duels in favour of Arena once the testing tag is removed. I may still continue to show up at some local game store events, but I feel like I’m done “paying” to play. As long as Arena has a mode for casuals, I will be sold on this new product. I have far too many hobbies where I sink just as much money into, and those I’m not too deep into will have to go. Daily quests for coin rewards are far more appealing to take on. Packs of cards now have wild cards that can be exchanged for specifics pieces. This feature is terrific, such that nailing any card is possible. To do this for the physical game means spending a lot of money for multiples of a killer card.

In the Beta product, this product focuses on player vs player battles. Coming changes include “best of one” events (no clearer definition is offered in the press release), an improvement in how to earn currency and added features. I am hoping narrative elements (much like in Duels for starting players) will be included, and perhaps also a test mode for experimental decks. Playing against opponents around the world is enjoyable, but I want a space where wins and losses are not recorded under DCI league. Supposedly, this feature is available in Magic Online; however, this iteration is as old as the Commodore PET displayed at the Royal BC Museum — it’s not a user-friendly system.

Thankfully, premade sets help take the edge out of designing a decent deck. Surprisingly, I have managed to move up the ranks with these. People wanting to experiment or learn how Ixalan works before investing in any cards will enjoy Arena. Those who wanted to play the complete Amonkhet series digitally can putz with it here since Duels abandoned further development (and I am refusing to touch MTGO). Some players reported not enjoying this series as much but I love it for the Egyptian theme. My other online handle is Edohotep (on Twitter and Facebook) for a reason!

Anyone interested in participating in this testing period is best advised not to spend too much time grinding for coins/ cards to create a customized deck. With Dominaria included, I suspect this game is getting ready for prime time. Another data wipe will take place (i.e. all the cards gained will be erased) and coins earned reimbursed so all the players can play on even grounds.

The graphical user interface and combat system still suffer from a few bugs. Sometimes selecting cards require more than one click to register when blocking. Knowing how gameplay stacks will help prevent the mistakes I have done to not occur. A new feature to allow players get extra time to plan out their moves is nice, however, it automatically activates when there were times I wish a pop-up confirmation would appear instead, giving me a choice. This option appears after enough pips are earned after playing moves within a few seconds than in minutes.

One undocumented feature is the selective chat. Players hover the mouse pointer over their character and five quick text options pop up. This feature is nice, but with no appropriate responses, no decent back and forth conversations are going to occur.

The improved deck builder is nice, but with no documentation, not everyone will realize the search by function considers many variables to find specific cards. Players can hunt by card name, type, ability or function. This beta testing is geared more for current MtG players than newcomers. I’m somewhere above neophyte and am by no means an expert. Some of Arena’s interface features are discovered by experimentation.

On my wish list, I would love to see my cards from Duels get moved over to Arena. Sadly, I doubt WotC will allow it. To shuffle the database from one system to another is easy. At the same time, It would mean lost revenue for the business and they tend to prefer profit over keeping a fan base happy. Only time will tell if Core Set 2019 will revamp the card design to include a barcode for gamers to scan in to have both a digital and physical version of the card to play in both realms than this company’s plan to integrate, as explained in their FAQ. To implement a system to scan in all past owned cards to electronic is not easy. When proof of ownership can be questioned, I feel going forward with new cards can even out the status quo.

At least in the meantime, my passion for this card game is with the virtual realm. I have no problems spending hours to gain coins to purchase cards. In the long run, my wallet appreciates it.

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