Magic: The Gathering Arena wants digital MTG to be “as much fun to watch as it is to play

Magic: The Gathering Arena

In the manner of a bodyguard hurling themselves in front of a bullet, I am hurling myself in front of a story about Magic: The Gathering’s digital free-to-play card game, Magic: The Gathering Arena [official site] in order to protect Alice and Brendan from it. SAVE YOURSELVES, FRIENDS!

1. I now just want to watch old news reports about Magic: The Gathering and enjoy everyone’s hairstyles and outfits.

2. “Magic: The Gathering Arena is the first game developed in-house by Wizards of the Coast’s new Digital Games Studio.”

3. “The studio is creating a Magic experience with the full rules and ongoing content support for new card sets, just like the revered tabletop game. The game is designed and built for digital gamers without compromising Magic’s core gameplay. Every element of the game design is focused on an engaging and dynamic experience, true to authentic Magic, to provide players and viewers fast-paced, exciting, and easy-to-follow matches.”

So yeah, they’re going HARD on the idea of staying true to the MTG experience but clearly being aware of the importance of streaming, so the idea of it being as fun to watch is a big ‘un. Hi Twitch…

4. I don’t play Magic: The Gathering, I just make various noises as people talk about it when we’re at the pub after a games expo kicks out so I have no specific insight here other than being a digital card bodyguard. I’m also not entirely sure how this differs from Magic Online of Magic Duels, just that it sounds more comprehensive than Duels and more focused on newness than Online. Perhaps you can help me with that one in the comments?

5. It’s kind of interesting how the game that people often use as a reference point when they talk about digital card games is getting its own digital version well after it feels like digital card game fatigue/saturation has been reached. Maybe I’m just basing that verdict off Brendan’s ever-slumped shoulders as the genre is mentioned, but the response to Dota’s card game being announced suggests I’m not wrong.

EDIT: I wrote “getting its own digital version” before I remembered about Online and Duels and then forgot to rewrite point 5 after doing point 4. The basic point about potentially missing the window for digital card game hunger remains, but obviously there’s a bunch of digital history and figuring things out that this point originally ignored.

6. That said, people who like Magic are probably hungry specifically for a Magic game and not an approximation of some sort. There are obviously workarounds – Tabletop Simulator springs to mind – but officialness is a different prospect.

7. That might be a blessing OR a curse, given how obsessed with MTG I’ve know people have gotten.

8. There’s a closed beta for Magic: The Gathering Arena so sign up for if you’re interested and the studio say that testing sessions should begin later in 2017 with the first iteration of casual Constructed play “with cards from the Ixalan release”.

I’ll quote directly so you know a bit more about what that entails:

“During the Closed Beta, we’ll start with Constructed play, where you can build decks using all 279 cards from the upcoming Magic set Ixalan. We plan to add Draft and Ranked Constructed later. Our goal for launch is to include all Standard-legal Magic cards. We have a long roadmap of features planned for MTG Arena and will share each one when we’re ready for your feedback.”

9. In case you saw the video length and went “ain’t got no time for this!” the actual gameplay starts at 6:45.

10.  There’s an online FAQ if you had questions about PC system requirements and priority access. The latter is linked with your other MTG activities in ways that are hand-wavingly mysterious to me but CODES are involved.


  1. Rane2k says:


    Number 5 is not entirely correct. Magic Online exists since 2002 and is an almost 1:1 approximation of the paper version of the game. That is also it´s problem, the pricing model is the same (A card pack is 4$, which is a lot.) and it has been fraught with technical problems.

    So this means that Magic: The Gathering is now available in 3 different online versions:

    Magic: Duels (simplified Magic, not all cards available)

    Magic Online (All cards and game modes, including draft, you could say this is the “expert” version)

    and now this new one, Magic The Gathering: Arena, which looks like it will also not have all of the cards (>20.000 in the paper version).

    Important: I can not recommend Magic Online, due to its pricing policies and technical problems, I just want to inform that it exists. :)

    • Rane2k says:

      An example from LSV´s twitch stream, on how it looks like:
      link to

      There used to be a category “Magic: The Gathering” on twitch, but I can´t find it anymore.

    • Premium User Badge

      Philippa Warr says:

      I should have rephrased that to more accurately reflect what is in point 4, as in that Duels and Online exist but WOTC seem to be really hammering home that Arena is the one where they expect you to get an online MTG that’s closest to the tabletop stuff. The point would broadly be the same but there’s a kind of wobbling towards Arena/digital evolution aspect that it elides.

      • Rane2k says:

        Yeah, it looks like it will at least be closer than Magic:Duels.
        The FAQ is actually rather helpful:
        link to

        Apparently Draft is planned, which is a big part of the paper magic appeal.

        The only glaring flaw is the shallow card pool. All cards from 1993 to ~2015 will be missing. That means the Modern, Vintage and Legacy formats will not be playable, and the casual formats (Commander etc.) will also not be near their paper equivalents.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      You’re also forgetting about the 1997 version of Magic from Microprose and Sid Meier :
      link to (showing off a modded version of the game)
      Featuring a whole RPG built around it, online multiplayer and sealed deck.
      It has also been heavily modded since release with a lot of the new cards being added and things like the Momir basic, EDH, Drafting, Planechase formats, and Challenges.
      You can get the modded versions here :
      link to

      • malkav11 says:

        Well, no, you can’t. Or at least, not the singleplayer RPG version. Apparently someone ticked off the sole developer of the mods and they pulled the files several months ago.

        • BlueTemplar says:

          Damn, I hoped it was temporary… looks like that even the links to other people’s online backups of his work were removed!

          I actually have what is probably the latest version, but I’m not sure how I feel about sharing it considering…

    • BlueTemplar says:

      EDIT : looks like that I triggered comment moderation by trying to add a link in an edit (which was a mistake in the first place when I pressed Enter by accident mid-comment).

      You’re also forgetting about the 1997 version of Magic from Microprose and Sid Meier :
      link to (showing off a modded version of the game)
      Featuring a whole RPG built around it, online multiplayer and sealed deck.
      It has also been heavily modded since release with a lot of the new cards being added and things like the Momir basic, EDH, Drafting, Planechase formats, and Challenges.
      You can get the modded versions here :
      link to

  2. Brinx says:

    Magic Online has a virtual economy to buy cards, meaning it is pretty much a virtual analogue to the physical card game.

    How this is supposed to really differ from Magic Duels I habe no clue. Seems like they could just slap the new UI onto Duels. But maybe they want to get away from it, because I can’t imagine Duels going so great after its horrible launch.

    Edit: Too slow

  3. Scio says:

    Perhaps it’s a bit rude, but I’m compelled to present Eternal the card game to the people in this thread, just in case.

    • malkav11 says:

      Hex is also an excellent alternative. I strongly suspect both will end up being better put together and more digitally innovative than official Magic games are likely to be anytime soon. I haven’t tried Eternal as it appears to lack the singleplayer content that I am mainly looking for in these games, so I can’t really compare it with Hex. But they both have strong design influence from Magic while actively taking advantage of the digital space and addressing some of Magic’s core issues, so if that sounds promising…

      • RuySan says:

        Eternal has lots of single player content:

        Campaigns, Puzzles, Forge (essentially single player drafts) and Gauntlet (play against AI players until reaching the boss). All have nice rewards and the game is very generous. More than any other card game i’ve played.

        • malkav11 says:

          I don’t think campaigns were around when I last looked at the game. the others aren’t really the sort of thing I consider substantial singleplayer content but hey, it’s something.

    • Captain Narol says:

      Eternal is currently my favorite digital CGG, it’s as deep as Magic and very generous in rewards so that you can collect cards quite easily without spending money.

      Hex is nice to play too, but its economy is focused on Trading so you have to invest money to be competitive in PvP, which makes it more niche as people who don’t to spend money will stay away of it.

      • malkav11 says:

        Yeah, I suspect trying to go pure F2P on Hex would not be the best experience. But then, Hearthstone is a pretty terrible experience if you’re not spending any money, and given how many people have assured me Hearthstone’s F2P model is “generous”, I’m always skeptical when people claim other games are.

        Personally I don’t have a problem spending money on a game I enjoy, but I can’t afford to make that kind of investment in multiple card games and Hex has been so laser targeted at what I want out of these games that it makes the most sense as my focus. (That and the Kickstarter bonuses made for a real leg up that other games of this sort haven’t offered.)

  4. Carny says:

    Magic online is more or less a 1 to 1 translation of the physical game. It also mirrors the pricing structure of the physical game with cards being avaible in packs that cost the same as the physical packs
    The cards can be redeemed for physical copies (only newest sets). It has (I think) most of the physical games 20.000+ cards and you can play all physical formats.

    Its maindraw back is an incredible ugly and unhandy client and multiple technical issues.

    Duels. A “gateway” to real magic – it never really took off as Duels use a limited card pool and (for some inane reason) you were more restricted as usual when it comes to copies of each card.

    Arena looks a lot better than Duels and presumably it will contain all new sets going forward from this day. If it also follows the paper versions deck-construction rules then I predict that i can be a major succes however (and this is coming from a lifetime mtg player) I am not sure that HS is not just a better online game. Magic is complex and finicky and even if the nice interface is an improvement – then it will never allow the kind of fastpaced blowouts that make HS such a great view.

    • Cederic says:

      My friends and I enjoyed Duels much more than the paper game.

      It’s because someone else designed an excellent deck and you got to play with it, instead of going, “Shit, I don’t have that card. Or that one. Or that one” and spending hundreds of dollars on cards only to find that someone’s built a perfect counter-deck and you have to start again.

      Deck building is not fun for a lot of people. Playing with them is. Duels gave us that.

      • malkav11 says:

        It did it better back when they were annual installments that didn’t allow deckbuilding, but alas, the expectation seems to be that people want to deckbuild.

        • BlueTemplar says:

          IMHO in the latest Duels installement we got the best of both : full deckbuilding AND quick to make, almost pre-built decks thanks to the Deck Wizard!

        • Hmm-Hmm. says:

          Well, yes, I think many people do like deckbuilding to some extent. But as Cederic alluded to, the difficulty of actually assembling a deck that is to your liking plus the meta (who cares what you like, play what works) kind of complicate matters. At least having some decent starting decks helps, although I think that the environment of earlier Duels titles helped because there’s not much of a meta when there are only a limited number of decks to choose from.

    • Captain Narol says:

      Magic Duels was a nice way to play Magic for free, but WOTC had already announced in June that Duels won’t get new content anymore as they focus developpement on their new lineup of games (ie Arena, mainly).

      Basically at the present point it’s a dying game, with a slowly shrinking population, but still the best way to play Magic for free until Arena is out of closed beta.

      Arena is clearly a Duel 2.0 with the complete “True Magic” rulesets and the goal to concurrence Hearthstone for the leading position in digital CGG esports.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      IMHO the rarity restrictions were a good thing. Magic has been warped too much by the new, overpowered mythic rares.

  5. Scurra says:

    Just a couple of questions of site policy, that basically come down to: will you be covering this product in the same way you cover e.g. Hearthstone?
    You’ve got another piece today covering some minor card changes in Hearthstone – not even a new set of cards – will you be doing the same with Magic from now on? (I guess not, because Duels didn’t get coverage beyond “hey, Duels exists”, and Magic Online might as well not exist at all.)
    Does the purely digital nature of Hearthstone (and other similar titles) give it some additional status?

    • malkav11 says:

      I can’t speak for the site but it seems like ongoing coverage is in significant part based on whether staff actually play it, and it seems like there are people playing Hearthstone and Duelyst and maybe not so much the others? I myself would like to see more Hex content, but it is what it is.

      • RuySan says:

        And as expected is also a result of popularity. Eternal is very good yet it doesn’t has as much cover as either the games you mentioned.

      • Someoldguy says:

        The most popular games get lots of coverage. That’s why we get a new article every time someone sneezes in Plunkbat at the moment.

  6. Saboera says:

    Very excited about this, always enjoyed Magic but living in a small city, I never managed to regularly play. There was a place nearby that did Magic Friday Nights but the handful of people played mostly Pokemon and when they played Magic, it was usually Commander.

    Duels was disappointing to me, lack of all cards combined with rarity limits and a ton of other issues made me bounce pretty hard after the first month. It still has a ton of issues to this day. I’m glad they’re trying again but this time in-house instead of outsourcing it to Stainless.

    Can’t wait to try it out.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      EDH is a pretty cool format, you should put yourself together a deck and go back. Don’t be put off because people aren’t playing standard.

      • Saboera says:

        I did have a deck for the format cobbled together from the old cards I had but it was incredibly hard and overwhelming to play. It was fun but my opponents decks usually were on a whole other level.

        The biggest problem I had was that I could barely get a match or two in the entire length of the afternoon so I never committed to buy more cards and at some point decided it wasn’t worth my time anymore. I wish I could give it another shot but sadly the small gaming shop that was hosting it closed.

  7. icarussc says:

    I’ll bet $100 their long roadmap includes phasing out MTGO within five years provided that this takes off.

    • Captain Narol says:

      MTGO will probably stay as a museum where you can play cards from old sets, but indeed the plan is clearly to make Arena their new flagship.

  8. BlueTemplar says:

    So, this looks really exciting, but I can’t help but wonder about several things (I haven’t watched the whole video, so please point me to the relevant times if they answer my questions.) :
    1.) They claim to fully replicate the complete Magic rules, so how do they deal with the complex turn structure and passing the priority without bogging the game down?
    2.) How do they deal with complex board states with 20+ cards in play, especially if those have status effects that seem here to have (great looking) animations associated with them? (Both from a lisibility/user interface aspect and the not-slowing-down-the-computer-to-a-crawl aspect.)

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Ok, so now that I’ve watched both videos :
      (2nd one is here : link to )
      1.) After about the first half of the video they introduce the “Full Control Mode” (which can be toggled during the game)… and then later say that you can customize how deep you want it to go.
      It would seem that, like in Microprose’s MTG you can click a phase to fast-forward there? (Though I think I’ve only seen it being done with “End Turn”, and I’m not even certain.)
      2.) Towards the end of the 2nd video, one of the players has 10+ permanents in play and his side of the board zooms out (just like in Duels). (Still wondering about the impact on framerates.)

      P.S.: Can’t wait! Fingers crossed for a closed beta spot…

  9. BlueTemplar says:

    4. I don’t play Magic: The Gathering, I just make various noises as people talk about it when we’re at the pub after a games expo kicks out so I have no specific insight here other than being a digital card bodyguard. I’m also not entirely sure how this differs from Magic Online of Magic Duels, just that it sounds more comprehensive than Duels and more focused on newness than Online. Perhaps you can help me with that one in the comments?

    I don’t want to be rude, but couldn’t RPS have had someone that has actually played Magic to cover this article??