Wizards Unveils Magic: Arena, and the Future of Magic Digital Next, by Kerry Meyerhoff

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Magic the gathering Arena Banner

Wizards of the Coast just unveiled Magic: the Gathering Arena, and the future of Magic Digital Next

Recently, there has been a big buzz among the community about Magic‘s digital scene. Although the paper game has gone from one success to another in recent years, the digital extras that constitute the game’s online versions have not always been as successful. Duels of the Planeswalkers, the original digital story franchise and an exception to the norm, was popular throughout all its incarnations and brought many people into the game as an introductory tool. Magic: the Gathering Online, on the other hand, which is incidentally Magic’s main ongoing digital product, is commonly known to be pretty archaic software which is sometimes frustrating to use.

In 2015, Wizards released Magic: Duels, the newest and ‘final’ version of Duels of the Planeswalkers, which was meant to also be an ongoing project where players could buy booster packs and build decks, and would have new sets and stories added as they came out alongside the paper game. However, it was announced recently that Hour of Devastation onwards would not be released on Duels, and that though the game would still be downloadable and playable, no more cards would ever be added to it. This raised many questions from the community about the future.

However, Wizards would only reveal that they had concocted a long-term plan for the future of digital Magic. They call it ‘Magic Digital Next’ – an umbrella term for many online and console products in the pipeline for the next few years. This includes hints at a Magic MMORPG, updates to MtGO‘s software and many more coming up. Most of the information concerning the timeline of upcoming games and exactly what we can expect will be revealed this weekend at Hascon, but as a preview, the first of this new collection of games to be released, Magic: Arena, was unveiled tonight on a Twitch livestream.

Magic Arena
Magic: Arena start of play, opening hand

Essentially, Magic: Arena is an updated version of 2015’s Duels. It’s slicker, smoother and with more streamlined visuals. Executive Producer Chris Cao spoke on tonight’s stream about it being a way to ‘bring ‘authentic’ Magic to life, and be as much fun to watch as it is to play’. Clearly, Wizards have a vision which focuses on streaming and watching Magic a lot more, and this is obvious in the way this game looks. The smooth, fast animations and gripping sound effects add excitement to the experience, the cards themselves only have their art and mana cost visible whilst in play (both creating more space on the battlefield and showcasing the most important and visually striking elements), and the planeswalkers have become beautiful full-art creations accompanied by voice lines on entry to the battlefield and when using loyalty abilities, making them feel like true companions during your duel.

Despite this, Chris was also keen to ensure that the other key point of Arena shone through. The rules engine behind the game is much more advanced than that of Duels or the previous Duels of the Planeswalkers games, and more similar to MtGO. It has a full and comprehensive rules engine behind it, and during play you can activate ‘Full Control Mode’ similar to MtGO‘s system, allowing for complex concepts like priority, the stack and turn order to resolve slowly and correctly in every situation. This is a huge step up from the watered-down rules that were implemented in Duels, and is very promising for the future of Arena as new sets, cards, and mechanics are added.

All in all, Arena looks like an exciting and visually pleasing new addition to the digital family. Very few solid facts were announced about the game outside of the visual aspects, however we do know the following:

  • The game will be free to play. It is possible to earn both cards and booster packs without paying real money.
  • There will be booster packs similar to Magic Duels, but there are also ‘other ways’ to obtain cards as well – potentially linked to Wizards’ attempt to try and tie in real-life play with digital gaming.
  • It will be available on PC to start with, and correspondingly, the beta is only available on PC, but there may be further support in the future for other platforms as well. Chris Cao only said, ‘Well, where do you want to play it?’
  • At the beginning, the only format that is supported will be Ixalan constructed, but there will be a ranked ladder as well as casual play, and very soon after release, both draft and sealed will be added to the list of formats.
Magic Arena Game Play
The striking new animations in action!
Magic the gathering Arena Attack
Magic: Arena in action

As far as the rest of the Digital Next products go, there will be more information revealed this weekend at Hascon. It has been confirmed, though, that Arena is only the ‘first’ in a series of new games coming soon in the future.

They were also very clear about the future of MtGO, something that many players had been asking about. An article was published from Wizards HQ today detailing future plans for MtGO in the wake of Arena’s release. They have stated that since Arena will be focusing only on sets from Ixalan onwards, MtGO will continue to be the only online platform with older cards and sets, and will be fully supported with new sets, as well as Cubes and Flashback drafts, and therefore will still provide a unique experience to the player. With that in mind, MtGO will be going through some changes as well, mainly altering the Play Lobby and Collection interfaces, and improving the stability of the game, as well as reducing the amount of downtime necessary for server maintenance.

The Magic: Arena closed beta will be happening soon. Wizards are trying to close the gap between the paper and online versions of the game, as at the moment there is a big disparity between paper Magic and MtGO. Therefore, Arena will be highly focused on benefits obtained from in-store play as well as online, and in this vein, playing in-store events will be a path towards getting a beta invite. The focus is on player feedback, as they stressed that they will be taking suggestions and comments from beta players on board during final development. They hope that this program will prosper and become a key platform for organised play, and are keen to ensure that it’s as player-friendly as possible. If you’d like to get involved, it’s very easy to do so.

Simply playing an Ixalan prerelease either in-store with a DCI number or on MtGO will put you on the priority access list. Alternatively, if you are an old Magic: Duels player, you can sync your Duels online account with your Wizards ID to be put on the priority list that way. For more information including beta dates and full instructions, or to sign up for the beta, visit PlayMTGArena.com.

Magic Arena: Get involved!
Magic: Arena – Get involved!

It’s really important to have our voices heard as a community, because that’s the only way that changes happen the way we want them to. Wizards has taken the first step here in reaching out and asking us for feedback, so we need to give it to them to make their products, and our play experience, better. Make sure you sign up for the beta and get to have your say! Again, you can do this at PlayMTGArena.com.

Did you miss the Magic Arena World Premiere show? Not to worry, I’ve included it below so that you can see Magic: Arena in action for yourself!

Watch live video from Magic on www.twitch.tv

Community Question: Are you excited for the new Magic: Arena game? Do you have any predictions about what we will hear from this weekend’s Hascon, or on any new products that will be released with Magic Digital Next?

Feel free to tell us in the comments!

Thanks for reading,

Kerry Meyerhoff

Wizards Unveils Magic: Arena, and the Future of Magic Digital Next, by Kerry Meyerhoff
Wizards of the Coast just unveiled Magic: the Gathering Arena, and the future of Magic Digital Next

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