Editorial

Magic: The Gathering Arena – A Beginner’s Perspective

I’ve personally never understood the appeal of physical collectible card games or trading card games, especially with the rise of digital formats of such games.

I think spending money on physical cards, then being able to do hardly anything with them; while simultaneously being required to keep them in excellent condition on the off chance you ever take them to a tournament or something, is more effort than it’s worth. Granted, I do like the prospect of older, out-of-print cards having significant monetary value, but then again, I think I’d have to be absolutely out of my mind to spend hundreds of dollars on a rare card meant for a game like Magic: the Gathering.

With that said, as I alluded to in my previous statements, I significantly prefer digital versions of card games as opposed to physical versions. Having a graphical interface that allows me to manage all the cards seamlessly I currently have, as well as potentially purchase more cards if I so desire, mainly appeals to me because I don’t have to keep track of where my binder(s) of physical cards might be, or the number of money cards I no longer want might be worth if I should choose to sell them.

Hearthstone, Blizzard’s massively popular digital collectible card game based on the Warcraft universe, was my first real experience with a digital card game that I truly enjoyed. I was even somewhat decent at it before I stopped playing as seriously as I once did. That’s at least more than I can say for my first experiences with a physical trading card game; for the record, the game in question was Yu-Gi-Oh!, which I haven’t played since elementary school. Yet, for some reason, I still have the binder full of all my physical cards.

A few months ago, a close friend of mine convinced me to try a digital version of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) with him. This version is known as Cockatrice. It can be extremely daunting for complete beginners such as myself because it provides free access to every card that has ever been printed and every game format ever popular. Its lack of a detailed, automated in-game interface also requires players to execute every step of their respective turns manually, such as declaring attacks and blocks, deducting and adding life points when appropriate, and so on. Needless to say, it’s quite a lot to take in and can lead to a lot of forgotten steps at first.

Thankfully, the friend who convinced me to try it is an expert when it comes to MTG. He’s been playing for years and has quite a sizable physical card library. He graciously agreed to guide me through every step of the learning process, and he has been extraordinarily patient with me as I’ve progressed on my journey to learn the game ultimately. At least it wasn’t at all as though he had thrown me into the deep end of the metaphorical pool and expected me to learn to swim because that’s an excellent way to easily become equally discouraged and confused when it comes to a game like MTG.

Despite all my friend’s tutelage, though, I was still on rather shaky ground when it came to my understanding of MTG‘s many complex mechanics. All I truly understood was that the game had something bad rap because it let players build decks that were purposefully quite annoying, if not literally impossible, to play against. I knew I wanted to build decks like that to be a jerk. Then, as fate would have it, another digital version of the game was released in closed beta. Thanks to one of my colleagues here at CultureDent, I entered said closed beta and saw what true digital MTG was like.

This new digital version is known as Magic: the Gathering Arena. It’s similar to Hearthstone in certain ways, such as the fact that there’s currently no way to trade or sell unwanted cards, and there’s an in-game store that allows you to purchase additional packs of cards for real or in-game currency. There are also various sets from which players can acquire cards depending on the kinds of decks players may want to build.

Upon launching MTG Arena for the first time, I was greeted with an in-depth tutorial, which managed to significantly expand upon what knowledge I already had of the game’s mechanics. The tutorial was presented so that I found it to be beginner-friendly enough that I could actually retain the information presented to me. I considered that to be an excellent way of going about the tutorial process; the game didn’t overwhelm me with the more advanced mechanics available from the get-go in Cockatrice if you know what you’re doing. Instead, it focused on making sure I had a solid grasp of everything I needed to know to play the game decently enough.

Thankfully for a novice like me, MTG Arena only currently allows one-on-one matches in the standard play format. That means I likely won’t have to deal with any four-player matches in, say, the EDH format (also known as Commander) within MTG Arena anytime soon. Thus, I have less to worry about while playing.

The game does offer many different ways to play, despite its lack of supported formats though. For example, it often features limited-time events in which players can participate if they’re using a certain deck style. These events commonly require players to use a singleton deck of cards from a specific set, meaning they can only have one copy of most cards in their sixty card deck. This “singleton” stipulation excludes land cards which, for those unaware, are the cards that give players a resource known as “mana,” that they can spend to play their other cards.

I should also mention that I quite enjoy the fact that cards are quite easy to acquire. As I mentioned earlier, an in-game store allows players to purchase packs of cards with either real or in-game currency. Thanks to daily quests, and the rewards from the aforementioned time-sensitive events, in-game currency is also easy to come by. One pack of cards costs one thousand in-game gold; daily quests provide between 25% and 75% of that amount. Time-sensitive events often reward significantly more depending on how many games players win within each event.

There also exist so-called “wildcards” of various card rarities. These wildcards allow players to craft any card they want, so long as they have at least one wildcard of corresponding quality. For example, if I wanted to craft a card whose designated rarity is common, I would need a common-quality wildcard. If I wanted to craft a mythic rare card, I’d need a mythic rare wildcard, and so on. Wildcards can be acquired from opening packs outright as rewards from events and are guaranteed to be awarded after the player opens a certain amount of packs.

With all that in mind, I must say I’m quite glad MTG Arena exists. It didn’t initially spark my interest in Magic, but it has managed to keep me invested in a digital card game I originally wanted nothing to do with. I’m also glad that the developers recently added in the ability to directly challenge certain players so that I can play against the friend who taught me almost everything I know about MTG‘s mechanics. He and I can try our new decks against each other and measure exactly how mechanically inclined and/or outright overpowered they are before we take them into ranked play. It would seem that I have MTG Arena to thank for both keeping me interested in MTG and giving me another thing in common with one of my closest friends.

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