Magic: The Gathering Arena’s economy sounds surprisingly reasonable

Magic: Arena

While I’d never describe myself as a die-hard fan, I’ve dabbled in Magic: The Gathering since the 90s across its physical form, the early RPG-like Microprose adaptation of the game, and even a bit of Magic Online, which is still running despite having barely changed over the past 15 years.

The latest digital adaptation, Magic: Arena is currently in closed beta testing, and the developers have just outlined their initial economic plans for the game. While it may sound a little daunting, the abridged version is that this sounds more generous than Hearthstone for casual players, at the very least, although they’ve yet to pin down the final real-money pricing for the game.

For starters, Wizards of the Coast say that the price of Magic: Arena cards will not be linked to the price of real-world MTG boosters, as is the case with Magic Online. Presumably, this being the flashier, more accessible ‘entry level’ Magic game, they’ll be pricing cards a little lower. Plus, being generous might help attract players away from Hearthstone.

MTG Arena will be entirely free to play during its initial beta testing period, without any microtransactions, so that they can tune things to be fairer for the free players. The plan is that semi-regular play will be able to earn you around 3-4 eight-card booster packs a week (with them aiming to front-load the rewards), with each match won paying out an additional random card, up to 30 per day. Given the sheer number of cards in Magic, and the semi-rigid nature of the colour system a single card might not be especially thrilling as a reward, but it should add up over time.

Perhaps the most coveted of all the rewards players can earn will be the Wildcards. These special tokens occasionally replace regular cards in boosters, but retain their rarity level, then can be traded in for any one card of the same rarity. While not quite as convenient as trading with players, this should at least give players a chance to grab that one vital card that they need to complete a deck without having to grind through endless boosters. Wildcards may pop up as rewards for multiple daily wins or consecutive victories as well.

One of the more mysterious and vaguely defined quirks of Arena’s economy is the Vault, a progression-based unlock system. Every booster pack opened moves you a little further along the Vault reward track, and once your collection is sufficiently beefy, any fifth copy of a cardĀ found (you’re only allowed 4 of any given non-land card in a deck) will automatically be converted into additional vault progress. Hitting certain Vault milestones will unlock additional goodies, including ‘a number of Wildcards’, although given how vaguely worded it is, I get the feeling this particular aspect is still a work-in-progress.

Magic: The Gathering Arena is currently in closed beta. I’m sadly not in this one myself, but if you want a chance at getting in before the average player becomes a hyper-experienced card-slinging demigod, you’ll probably want to sign up here.


  1. heartlessgamer says:

    I can’t help but feel that we are missing a chance at some of the old school Magic intangibles such as playing for an ante and player-to-player card trades. I feel like that would bump this up a notch and ante could give a real edge to streaming (assuming some sort of anti-stream-sniping solution with the game). Ultimately if this just marginally makes it easier to stay relevant than Hearthstone does then its a loss. MtG, in my opinion, does not have the power in the digital space that Blizzard had going into Hearthstone.

    Any legitimate MtG player that wants online play is going to trend towards existing MtGO. Any player that has wanted to dabble is probably sick of having paid for multiple different digital iterations that burned out quickly after trying to nickle and dime their way with microtransactions.

    I feel like the only item of Arena that may drive it will be draft play.

    • bglamb says:

      The ability to play for ‘ante’ was removed because it was considered gambling in most parts of the world, and as the game is otherwise suitable for children, the was a major problem. There is almost no chance that it’s reintroduction would be feasible, from what I understand.

      And on a personal note, the complete failure of Wizards to provide a proper marketplace for p2p trading on MTGO is abominable. A proper auction-house style system with Wizards taking a tiny cut of each sale would be vastly preferable to the current state, where the marketplace is provided almost entirely by ‘bots’, which siphon money out of the system in exchange for what should be a free service.

      Plus, if you ever have issue with a trade, the standard response from Wizards is “We don’t support bots”, which is spectacularly unhelpful considering that they are the only thing that makes the marketplace there even part-way functional!

    • aepervius says:

      Did any significant number of player play ante ? I remember that during out play at the university, *nobody ever* played ante, the risk of losing a costly rare card being way too big. And in regional play and tournament those cards were actually not allowed.

      I can’t even recall any ante card in the later expansions…

      ETA: heck looking at this : there does not seem to be many, link to most of them being from middle of the 90ies…

      • malkav11 says:

        It was abandoned very quickly and I for one never used ante. The point was to have fun with my friends, not raid each other’s collections.

        • Yglorba says:

          The only place where I’ve ever seen it used is Shandalar, the ancient computer game that combined Magic with a sort of RPG overworld where you would run around saving towns and exploring dungeons (with combat resolved using MTG, of course.)

    • MasterDave says:

      Nobody ever seriously played for ante even in 1994. I was there.

      Trading, and the virtual economy run by bots in MTGO is the worst thing about MTGO and I’m more than happy to abandon that to the wolves. I would have actively avoided this new game if it was basically MTGO with a Hearthstone interface and I’m very glad it isn’t that.

      As-is, it doesn’t seem like they’re terribly interested in microtransactions other than the model we’ve been used to for approximately 25 years, which is to say Booster Packs. You wanna buy ’em, cool. You don’t, seems like there’s plenty of free card progression to make the game more than playable for a free player the same way Hearthstone is. Draft seems like the worst mode to me, in that the draft packs will be probably a week’s worth of free gold accumulation for a single draft. Anyone serious about anything will want to stick to MTGO where you can just mainline drafts for the same price as a retail store (lol at how THAT model has stuck). Same goes for any real constructed play since it seems like you’ll have to spend a bunch to make a normalized paper constructed deck and you can’t just buy your way to the deck you like, you’ll have to (gasp) play the game to get there.

      Weird how people complain about having to play a game they want to play more of, but that’s the world we live in.

      • malkav11 says:

        Well, it all depends on what you’re getting out of the experience. Hearthstone’s business model drove me away because I just wanted to fiddle with fun cards and try out decks and take on themed puzzle style encounters, and you gain new cards through play only very slowly, the themed AI encounters are expensive and compete for the same resource you’re using for new cards (yes, they reward a few at the end but meh), and until relatively recently you had to actually win PvP encounters to get any gold to speak of, period. Which was nigh impossible without a cash investment, especially as they started rotating sets, and made the whole process rage-inducing and decidedly unfun. Had they set it up so that I could make steady progress by playing the game the way I was interested in playing, I would have had no complaints and might still be an active player.

    • RuySan says:

      I had a friend that thought “Ant” and not “Ante” cards were banned from tournament play.

      Man….those ant cards were surely overpowered.

  2. wunkerdind says:

    If it “has an economy” then the game is unreasonable. No more will I play card games where I don’t immediately get *all* of the content. Hearthstone is so bad it’s more fun to watch streamers play with the $1000 worth of packs you have to buy.

    Small card sets are the future, and not these huge bloated card sets that come out of wanting to nickel and dime your players to death.

    That’s why Monster Slayers and Slay the Spire are doing so well. WotC and Blizzard are having their lunches eaten by developers who aren’t such massive turds to their player bases. I can only hope this trend continues.

    • Faldrath says:

      While there is some truth to that, there’s a pretty big mechanical difference between games like StS and Monster Hunters and stuff like Magic and Hearthstone – in the former, you build the deck as you play, in the latter, you do it before you play. Those scratch different itches, and some people much prefer theorizing different builds entirely and then test them in the game, whereas others prefer to make snap decisions as you go. I’m actually in the latter camp, so Magic and Hearthstone do little for me. But I wouldn’t reduce this scenario to simply “greed by large companies”. (Of course, whether a “plan before you play” game like Magic and HS *needs* to have cards you need to acquire separately, be it ingame or through real money, is another question.)

    • Yglorba says:

      While I agree with you to an extent, in a game like MTG I’m not sure getting all the content would even be a fun choice. It’s a collectable card game – collecting cards and building your collection is part of the fun. If you look at comparable singleplayer, single-purchase games, they usually retain that feature even though it’s not monitized.

      It’s more like Pokemon or Megaman Battle Network or TWEWY where building a collection of cool powers over time is part of the game. I mean, obviously they’re also going to monitize it and how aggressive they are with that will decide whether it’s fun or not, but I don’t think that “you start with nothing and build a collection by playing” is necessarily bad for a game of this type.

    • April March says:

      Sorry, but M:tG is having its lunch eating by Hearthstone, which has the exact same sort of economy you despise, but is geared from both the gameplay and microtransaction perspectives to being internet-based. I’m glad stuff like Slays the Spire exists but if there is a downfall of M:tG it isn’t contributing to that any more than mountain bikes are contributing to the downfall of the Jeep corporation.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      How is it any different from the actual card game? I don’t recall spending a flat amount of money for EVERY card in MTG. Besides which, as long as the game has free entry then a transaction based economy is justifiable; especially if it’s actually fair, unlike Blizzard’s.

  3. TillEulenspiegel says:

    This does sound pretty good. I kinda like that there’s no “crafting” system where you can destroy cards. The advantage of Magic for me, in contrast to Hearthstone and basically every other digital card game, is that the complex game mechanics make card collection and deck building a lot more interesting.

    As long as there’s space at the lower ranks to play (and sometimes win) with weird custom decks from your small random collection, I’m hopeful that MTG Arena can be something genuinely new and special in a crowded market.

    • malkav11 says:

      The exception would be Hex, which has all the complexity of Magic and plenty of very cool, transformative digital-only mechanics. And not just the possibility of playing and maybe winning with weird custom decks in constructed PvP (something that I’m honestly not that interested in myself), but unlike virtually every other digital card game, a robust (if still in progress) singleplayer mode with singleplayer specific cards, equipment that modifies cards, and RPG style characters that have additional perks and deck construction modifiers. (Not to mention collectible mercenaries that facilitate still other deck styles.)

      We’re finally starting to see -some- attention paid to singleplayer content in other games, but it’s still been pretty lightweight in comparison.

  4. Vandelay says:

    Well, if Wizards of the Coast keep releasing digital versions of Magic, I’m sure one of them will finally stick. This does sound like they are heading down the right route, but I’m guessing most people are either dedicated to Magic Online or are fed up with the many different iterations they have put together and dropped.

    In other, slightly more interesting, digital card game news Fantasy Flight announced a little while ago that their first game from the new Interactive wing is going to be an adaptation of their The Lord of the Rings card game. This comes with the “The Living Card” tagline too, so we will presumably not be seeing the same old business model that other popular card games have gone with.

    I think that is great news, as the model always seems so much fairer (even if it isn’t always cheaper) than the alternative. Bit disappointed that they aren’t going with one of their other properties, as I personally have no interest in Lord of the Rings, but I hope that this is a sign that they might do the same with Netrunner, A Game of Thrones or the new Legends of the Five Rings. It is good to see them bring a co-op game over though, as that will set it quite apart from the competition.

    • April March says:

      I’d like one of the many computer Magic games to stick, but at this point I’m not even certain it is Wizards’ plan for one of them to do so – besides Magic Online, of course.

  5. Rindan says:

    I like how the economy is described as “reasonable”, as if there is a trade off between having a game that is good, and have a game that sucks, with the developer wanting to make the game suck.

    That’s a pretty fair assessment of “free to play” games.

    “Free to play” games that are not built around cosmetics are games that has some shitty mechanism that you want to avoid, and that you can pay to avoid. Further, they always try and cloak this mechanism a little bit, so it is generally annoying obscure and involves a pile of currencies and transformations. It sucks.

    I’ll pass.

    I’ll tell you the game I would play. I’d play a game that they sell for money, and that money gives you the complete game. Expansions and cosmetics are also totally cool. If they want a progression system where you buy cards, that’s cool. Fake game money sounds like a great way to do that. Fight your way through tournaments for cash prizes, compete challenges, bet your fake money, whatever.

    These “free to play” mechanisms always shit up a game when they touch game play.

  6. damicore says:

    You shouldn’t have written this if you’re out of the beta. This game is NOT more generous than hearthstone by any stretch of the imagination. To be so, you should be able to farm a T1 deck in the same time you would in HS and that’s not the way it is at all. That is really all that matters to most players.

  7. Cederic says:

    Will Wizards of the Coast block your access in this game to the several thousand dollars worth of digital cards you’ve bought because of a comment you made on another platform?

    Just that, I can’t believe people would actually give these guys money given that’s how they’ve previously run their business.

    • Rindan says:

      No clue what you are talking about, but from the shitty and vague way you word it, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that this is not something I have to worry about. I can tell, because you got super vague about what “the comment” was. If it was a comment you were not embarassed to defend, you would have said something like, “…because you criticized their business model on another platform” or “…because you left a bad review about a new expansion” or something of that nature. You didn’t. You needed to use innuendo.

      Let me guess, someone did something racist, sexist, or homophobic, that was in some way linked with the game or the game’s community, and they got banned to the anger of men’s rights activist or alt-right activist everywhere. Amiright?

      Yeah, I think I’ll be okay. Just don’t be a shit head and you will probably be cool.

      • Cederic says:

        I don’t know the specific comment, but I also don’t care. If someone wants to be a shit head on twitter or facebook or twitch then that’s their choice. It doesn’t justify an entirely unrelated company destroying several thousand dollars of investment in a game.

        I don’t have to defend or decry the comment to know that the company selling the game is out of order.

        • Rindan says:

          lolkay. You too don’t know anything about the incident you posted about, but you do know that that guy they banned DEFINITELY didn’t do something to deserve it, and it was several thousand dollars investment.

          I am literally sitting here at my computer laughing and having a good chuckle. Thank you.

      • Neutrino says:

        Cederic didn’t say anything shitty, or vague and nor was it innuedno. I understood what he said perfectly.

        What you said sounded pretty shitty though.

        It sounded as though what you said was that if you aren’t a neo-liberal, feminist, LGBT or BAME agitator that you deserve to be treated like shit for having an opinion that does not conform to what modern far-left facism finds acceptable these days.

        • Rindan says:

          lokay. Cederic didn’t say anything vague, he just said that they banned a guy “about a comment he made on another platform”. He latter clarified that he knows nothing about the case. K. Totally not vague at all.

          Also, yes, I definitely said that only screaming leftist are allowed to play video games. My words exactly.