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Magic: the Gathering Arena Closed Beta – First Impressions

Last week, Wizards of the Coast were looking for people to stress test their latest video game endeavour. Many people were granted access to a closed beta, to which Wizards gave out keys to the beta testers, which they can hand to 5 other people. I was fortunate enough to have Jake give me a key, so I was able to take part in the stress test. Before that though, I got to know the game a bit – So, here are my first thoughts of Magic: the Gathering Arena.

For the unaware, Magic: the Gathering is a bit of a passion of mine. I love the complexities of the game, including the extreme variation of decks. There’s something enjoyable about playing a game which you don’t really have a perceived ‘normal’ game, except for how your personal decks play. A green deck taking on a blue deck, would be quite different to a red deck vs a white deck – And a 5 colour deck is quite different to a mono- or dual-colour deck.

With this in mind, the issue a lot of Magic: the Gathering video games have is allowing that complexity to take place in video game format. It’s not easy to translate a card game into a workable, fun video game. Conversely, it’s interesting how a good card game on PC doesn’t necessarily translate so well to real life, such as Hearthstone (due to Hearthstones sometimes use of RNG’s (Random Number Generators) by the AI).

When I booted the game up, it did one thing I never like – A forced tutorial. However, for the sake of getting people up to speed on how to play the game, the tutorial wasn’t that bad. It was pretty quick with just five levels, allowing me to get through it in about 30 minutes. With that said, it’s not too taxing, but also gives you a little bit of freedom to think – Although ultimately you must do what the game tells you, damn it!

Okay, once you’re past the tutorial, with the hammiest vocals ever (which I adore it for), you’re in the main lobby. There’s not much to look at… In fact as someone pointed out, this would be the sort of thing you’d expect from a mobile game – and I’m not upset about that. A game like Magic: the Gathering Arena, (from here on to be referred to simply as Arena,) does not need to have a complex, grand opening screen – Because that’s not what you’re there for.

There are different game modes, but not Commander or even Modern – Yet.

Instead, the game is incredibly faithful to the real thing. It allows you to build your own decks, but it does try to assist you along the way. It’ll automatically put in what it believes to be the right amount of lands, although I do question why I’d need 24 in a 60 card deck, when many of my 60 card decks run 19 and are a-okay… But that’s a question for another time. You can turn that facility off – But the game doesn’t hold your hand if you want to develop your deck.

Interestingly, the game really excels in trying to give you the real experience… But naturally, a lot of cards must be bought via booster packs. Now, Arena will be a free to play experience, so they do have to make their money somehow. Unlike loot boxes, you always kind of know what you’re getting – x common cards, y uncommon cards and z rare/mythic rare cards. It’s all in all a wonderfully easy mechanic which works the same as it does in the physical format.

The game starts you out with 5 beginners decks, then giving you a sixth one when you do your first set of quests interestingly. Whether or not that was because I had joined around the time they put Kaladesh into the game, that’s another question. The starter decks are all somewhat competitive, but the one that works the best for me is the red/green deck, which simply stomps the opposition quickly.

Check below for our gallery of all of our images of the game:

Let’s quickly talk about the formats: You can play a casual game, which counts towards your quests, more on those later. You can play a competitive game, which is a best of 3 style game mode. You can play draft, which means you pay a larger amount to play, but you get higher rewards and you only play with the deck you draft – It gives you three “lives” as it were, before kicking you out. What I mean is, you have to lose three games before you’re out of there.

Quests are a way to generate income and booster packs for players. Unfortunately, at the moment, there’s no way to control what booster pack you’ll get – and I doubt there’ll ever be. However sometimes, when you get a Booster Pack, they’ll drop an uncommon, rare or even mythic rare wild card, which you can use to turn into any card of the same rarity. This becomes useful, when you want to build a deck revolving around specific themes. Of course, you can also pay to get your booster packs, but if you want to grind it out, you certainly can (and it doesn’t take all that long to grind some gold, so I’m pretty happy overall – Especially when most of the cards I pick are coming from the aforementioned wild cards!)

All in all, I’ve loved my time on Arena and thoroughly expect to be playing more of it in the coming months. I’m expecting it to come out on Android, to which I’d definitely get and install. The voice actors are fun, though incredibly cheesy. The animations are crisp and add a little something to the game. Now, stabilise them servers, Wizards of the Coast, and we’ll be gravy. All in all, a valiant effort – And seemingly a game to look out for.

What do you make of it all though? Are you going to give Arena a try, or do you think it’s just another game Wizards will forget about? Share your love, or distaste for Arena in the comments below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.


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