Magic: The Gathering Arena Review: Pure Online Magic

In 1993, the first modern Trading Card Game (TCG) was released with Magic: The Gathering. It is one of the most complex games of its kind in existence and nears almost 20,000 unique cards in all sets. Now that Magic: The Gathering Arena has left its beta and formally released, players have access to one of the best online versions of the game, available for both veterans and new players alike.

Arena is not the first attempt to replicate the intricate play of dueling with friends in real life, which is known as "paper Magic," or simply "paper." 2002 brought the release of Magic: The Gathering Online, which still today has a die-hard fanbase of players. The UI is considered archaic and difficult to navigate by today’s standards, though at its core it functions well. Other versions of Magic have also released yearly on Steam, but deck building is extremely limited, and those titles are more of a simple introduction to the fundamentals of the game through deck archetypes while lacking the core experience of deck building and drafting.

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Arena stands out in offering a strong deck-building component, appealing to new players, and is the best looking experience available.

Constructed, Drafting, Special Events, And Historic Mode

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Magic: The Gathering Arena offers players a broad range of modes that parallel paper Magic, with the exception of Commander (but who knows if that will ever be embraced in an online game). There is a casual and ladder mode for Constructed play, which like paper Magic or Hearthstone, consists of decks made from a Standard pool of cards. As the game offers players several free pre-made decks that can be fully customized after acquiring them, players can easily jump into constructed play and will have a broad range of deck archetypes ready to go. Not all pre-decks are made equal, however.

Drafting is another mode that is popular with the community, but that has a premium entrance fee. Like paper Magic, the player keeps all the cards they draft in the process and can win even more if they perform well. Special modes are often added on a regular basis and rewards cards with alternate art.

Finally, Historic is a second constructed mode that is non-rotating in the cards one can use. This means that players will still have a place to play their favorite decks long after they rotate out each year. However one wishes to play, Arena offers a mode for everyone. While some players may want even more modes, it is often best to cap a game at only a few, in this case, four. Adding too many modes can fragment a player base and escalate queue times to a point where one spends longer waiting for an opponent than actually playing.

RELATED: Magic: The Gathering: The 5 Best New Cards From Throne Of Eldraine (& The 5 Worst)

Is It Better Than Magic: The Gathering Online?

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Reviewing Arena comes in two parts. First, we must consider how it stacks up alone and against other online CCGs, and second, how it stacks up against Magic: The Gathering Online. This is a question that appears often in chat and forums and is valid considering the size of the community that plays both games. In the long-term, Magic: The Gathering Arena is probably going to have the most staying power. It not only looks fantastic and is constantly having new cosmetic features added to give it that extra level of shine, but it is also the best place for new players to learn how to play the game.

This means that more players will play Arena due to its accessibility, and the thorough tutorial and generous starting decks that players receive. Magic: The Gathering Arena is likely to have a strong, vibrant community for years to come as a result.

An Established Game With A Massive Community

Magic has had nearly three decades to form a community of casual and veteran players, and there is a wealth of information available to those who want to improve. One such individual is Merchant, who can be seen on Twitch and YouTube with an ever-increasing number of videos on budget decks for new players, as well as expert play and drafting.

RELATED: Magic The Gathering: The 10 Coolest New Legendary Creatures From Throne Of Eldraine

Via: youtube.com (Rogue Deckbuilde)Any veteran of paper Magic can sheepishly attest to spending far more money than they ever initially planned. A quick search online will reveal that constructing a competitive deck for Standard play can range from a budget deck of around one hundred dollars to several thousand. Magic: The Gathering Arena, meanwhile, is far more affordable, and the game is quite reasonable to free-to-play players.

This reviewer has played in the open beta on two accounts, one with no money spent, and the other with some real money used. I am happy to report that without spending any money, it was still easy to create numerous budget decks that worked to great efficiency in ranked play.

Via: youtube.com (Incbear)

Mono Red Burn, Green Ramp, and even a simple Blue Mill were all easily made without spending a dime. Eventually, I also created a strong Black-Green Golgari deck by saving Rare and Mythic Wildcards needed to craft the pieces needed, and not spending any money did not feel like a hindrance as a casual player.

Of course, the second account acquired similar decks faster since real money was used to purchase packs and Arena entries, but the point stands that one need not spend any money to still have a great experience in the game. Spending some money here will always be cheaper than attempting to delve into the world of paper Magic.

One of the big downsides of the game (although this may change in the future) is that there is no secondary market for cards. It is easy to understand why Wizards of the Coast would want to avoid this since scamming and unfair deals would suddenly take up much of their time, but it is a notable difference compared to paper Magic.

A Great Game That Stands Out In A Saturated Market

There are so many options for TCG and CCG players to choose from that it can feel overwhelming, but there is no doubt that Magic: The Gathering Arena is a fantastic game that merits a decent try. If you are a fan of all the other games in the genre, including Gwent, Eternal, Hearthstone, Shadowverse, and all the rest, this is absolutely worth a look. Who knows, you may find yourself with a new main CCG.

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