What is Magic the Gathering: Arena?
Magic the Gathering is a tabletop card game that needs no introduction to those who’ve been into this kind of entertainment for years. Issued in 1993, it’s the eldest collectible card game based on the idea of an American mathematics teacher Richard Garfield. Originally planned to be a board game, due to the estimated manufacturing cost eventually turned into a deck of cards. Wizard of the Coast studio, also well known for issuing Dungeons & Dragons manuals, is responsible for the production. The game quickly became very successful and is considered to be the most unquestionably iconic representative of its genre. Magic the Gathering: Arena is the latest and the best attempt to transfer the game into the world of the virtual competition, for which the internal part of Wizards of the Coast - Digital Games studio is responsible. Former efforts were not perfected to that point yet, talking of Magic Online, issued in 1999 by Leaping Wizards Software studio and Magic: the Gathering Duels available for several years on the Steam platform. Those two have been dropped towards Magic the Gathering: Arena. It’s worth mentioning that alongside the game issue, the studio has also invested in a comprehensive promotion of the game, involving streamers and youtubers. Furthermore a big budget has been allocated for the e-sport expansion, which may account for a competition for the Heartstone game dominating this area so far.
Description of the game
The gameplay in Magic the Gathering: Arena for the PC platform is no different than former adaptations of Wizards of the Coast’s card game, representing the original rules quite accurately. The rules are simple - the player takes on the role of a magician casting powerful spells and trying to defeat his opponent. To this outcome there are decks of cards available (containing 60 cards at least) providing the spells, artifacts, strange creatures, bogeymen etc. The universe of Magic the Gathering: Arena game is truly impressive. The gameplay’s background are “planes” - fantastic worlds full of various creatures and freaks. The great wizards and monsters able to use magic are planeswalkers - the most powerful characters that have an ability to move between the worlds. In each world a different story takes place - wars, plots and other events vary depending on the location. The planewalkers fight against each other with the use of spells and various creatures to the point when one of them has lost all the energy points. There are five colours of cards available in the game out of which we create our decks: black, red, white, green and blue. Every colour means something different and is responsible for different lands, has its pros and cons and its own mechanics of gameplay. The necessary requirement for playing a card is to have an adequate amount of lands, which are an equivalent to mana, known from other card games. It’s worth mentioning that it’s possible to play Magic the Gathering: Arena not only in pairs, but also in groups up to five players! The game has a small gear requirements, the typical PC will definitely be sufficient without a negative effect for graphics. Given graphics are the game’s strong suit, very appealing to the player’s eye, both when it comes to menu as well as the battlefield. The graphic design of cards has been significantly improved, with the description font much smaller (and only visible in the card review) towards bigger and often animated and sound accompanied illustrations. There is a good and clear tutorial included in Magic the Gathering: Arena game that allows the player to learn all the basic techniques and mechanics. It’s a great facilitation for new players. Magic the Gathering:Arena’s makers connected the PC game to the real tabletop game which means, amongst other things, that new decks of cards appear both in the virtual and real world. The implementation of cards is being supported by the new Games Rules Engine - GRE, which allows to add multiple effects, develop and improve the rules of the game.
Magic the Gathering: Arena is a free-to-play production with an additional option of play-to-win system, where you pay with real money. That implies two currencies are being used in the game: the Gold and Gems. The player gets the Gold during the gameplay (by winning battles, accomplishing missions and such), while Gems are the premium currency to buy for real money or to get during the game related events. The interesting solution is a possibility of exchanging the Gold for Gems, which allows to unlock all the game’s options without spending a penny. It is very significant in order to prevent the players willing to spend money from getting the advantage over the others. In short, Magic the Gathering: Arena’s authors took care of the fair-play system of the game. It happens sometimes that the player has to pay with Gold to participate in an event but collects the prize in Gems. You can get new cards by opening the “the packages” but also through completing tasks, finishing levels and accomplishing daily and weekly challenges. Wildcards are an interesting option worth mentioning. They appear in four colours at once, have a specific value and can be turned into a card of colour we need at the moment in order to cast a spell or create a land. The publisher of the game often does special promotions e.g. in celebration of Christmas, when codes for free cards are being generated.
The virtual version of the game is no different than its tabletop prototype. Naturally, in the virtual version, the first step will be downloading the client in order to create a user's account. After the account has been created the player may use a tutorial consisting of five chapters and five opponents (bosses) in each of them. The tutorial will teach the inexperienced player all the necessary game’s mechanics, such as the selection and use of cards, attack blocking, use of minions and combined skills of the allies. Careful completion of the tutorial will give a great knowledge and insight into the game to the new player. The Magic the Gathering: Arena’s makers applied the rule of “easy to play, hard to master”, thanks to which it’s easy for inexperienced players to start the gameplay but also it doesn’t get boring with its development or considering the experienced players’ needs. The gameplay’s system can be defined as the combination of Magic Online and Magic Duels. One round in Magic the Gathering: Arena game consists of a few phases, where the player may use adequate kinds of cards - from the strange creatures to magic. The specific stages are:
- Unkeep untap
- Draw - the selection of cards
- Main - summoning creatures and casting spells
- Attack - an attack on the enemy (the opponent’s in the defense phase)
- Main 2 - summoning creatures and using the magic for the second time
Rounds of the game are quick and dynamic, played in one-vs-one mode and their purpose is obvious and clear - to bring the opponent to the negative energy points value. What differs MTG:A from the other card games is the fact that the so called mana, which is necessary to play the units has been replaced by land cards. Those cards offer mana of a specific colour and sometimes feature powerful properties. The experienced players (e.g. those who have played the Hearstone game) may be surprised by the fact that there's no possibility to attack the enemy's units with units of the player, the only way is to block their attacks. Magic the Gathering: Arena is a fully interactive game which means if only the player is in possession of an adequate card and a sufficient amount of mana, he’s able to counter the enemy’s move at any time. The gameplay, as in the case for its prototype, presents a very high quality. There are five different ways of getting new cards in Magic the Gathering: Arena:
- Booster pack - the pack consisting of 8 cards, including 5 common, 2 uncommon, 1 rare or mythic rare card. Booster packs may be purchased for both currencies implied in the game. Booster packs change every few months, so the game is being refreshed regularly with new cards and therefore new mechanics.
- Draft packs - consisting of 14 cards being “mirroring tabletop drafts”. Lands not included.
- Random individual cards - to be gained during the gameplay in exchange for completed tasks, challenges and such.
- Wildcards - very special cards, that may occur randomly in every new booster pack. They vary between each other with the frequency of the prevalence. Those cards can be exchanged for needed cards of the same class and value (e.g. a common card for a common card).
- The Vault - it’s a progressive system. Each time the player opens a new booster pack, he’s getting a bit closer to unlocking the system. Every fifth (or higher) copy of the given card in the deck is being turned into experience points instead of being added to the deck. Experience points bring the player closer to unlocking the Vault system.
Players familiar with other card games, e.g. Heartstone, may observe the lack of “dusting” activity. Dusting (destroying) the extracurricular cards would effect with a raw material necessary for creating new cards. There is no such solution in Magic the Gathering: Arena due to the fact the authors prefer the players to build their collections instead of wondering which card to get rid of. There’s no option of exchanging cards between players either. Spite of this the player’s collection will be completed with Wildcards and the Vault system. Magic the Gathering: Arena is a very well done transfer of the classic tabletop card game to the PC screen that additionally has the feeling of an actual face-to-face gameplay. In case you haven't had an opportunity to immerse yourself in the fantastic world of magic and strange creatures - it’s high time to reach for Magic the Gathering: Arena!