Magic: The Gathering has been sweeping every continent for over 25 years and in recent years, Wizards of the Coast has been dipping their toes into the online gaming field with their popular card game. Their first attempt, Magic: The Gathering Online, didn't impress Magic fans very much but the newest attempt, Magic: The Gathering Arena, has taken players by storm. Many of our customers have latched onto Arena and overhearing a conversation about it at any Friday Night Magic tournament is almost guaranteed. Wizards has been encouraging the online play by offering Arena promo codes for players that attend drafts, FNMs and prereleases at local games stores. New Arena players are offered several pre-made decks to start with (like the Welcome Decks and Intro Decks offered in brick and mortar stores) or they can spend real money to purchase booster packs or enter events, gathering single cards to brew their own decks from scratch.
As interested as I was in this new Magic scene, I resisted getting involved in Arena. As a game store owner, the idea of our players having the ability to pay and play online for a similar gaming experience that we offer, scared the Beebles out of me. We worry enough about powerhouses like Walmart and EB Games selling sealed product, we don't need to be worrying about big companies simulating the tournament experience. Although joining in the wave of online competition seemed rather counter intuitive to me, I got to thinking; Arena's main draw is the opportunity to draft at any hour or day. As much as our lives are completely consumed by Magic, local games store owners and employees rarely have a chance to partake in limited format events like drafts and prereleases as we're usually the ones running the events. Due to this lack of participation I've found that on the rare occasion I do get to draft, I have a decent amount of anxiety about holding up the flow, picking poor cards in haste, or simply not being able to distinguish what cards are good in draft versus cards that would do well in a constructed deck. Having an opportunity to practice drafting at my convenience and behind the anonymity of a computer screen would greatly reduce my anxiety, increase my limited format experience and knowledge of cards' play value all the while still allowing me run events at the store. Not to mention, through this experience, I would become a more worthy opponent when I am able to play alongside my customers.
This made me consider how valuable the Arena experience would not only be for people who don't have an opportunity to enter events at stores but also for new players who are uneasy about joining a tournament for the first time. Regardless of how welcoming and easygoing a player group is, joining a tournament of any kind with players who have more experience than you is a nerve racking experience. While our generation has many strengths, let's be honest...social prowess and self-confidence are not high on the list for most of us (myself included). This is why Arena is great for getting started and building that confidence and knowledge. The program also separates each phase of a turn which is extremely helpful when learning the ins an outs of Magic turns.
One of the more controversial aspects of the game is the fact that there is NO live chat option between players. The only social interaction players can participate in is choosing one of the preset speech bubble options that will appear above their avatar such as “Hello!”, “Your turn”, “Thinking...”, “Nice!” and “Good game”. Depending on who you ask, this is either a horrible feature or a fantastic one. I, personally, am of the latter opinion. Although I have made a few good relationships through online games, the majority of my experiences with online gaming chat has been unsavoury, to say the least. I appreciate not being cussed at while deciding what cards to play. I also enjoy that Arena does not take the social aspect away from the local games store events. At LGS events players can chat and discuss decks with other players, even if that means they're discussing their online Arena decks. If anything, Arena's lack of live chat encourages players to communicate even more when in person because they're denied that while online. Not to mention, the absence of live chat means your games don't last forever while your opponent is trying to keep up conversation when all you want to be doing is slammin' down some sweet dinos.
Arena also encourages players to visit local game stores to dabble in other formats. The online game only includes the more recent sets of Magic (Standard legal) so if a new player gets hooked on the game through Arena and wishes to try other formats like Modern or Commander, they must visit a store. This, of course, supports the little guys like us. The first step to a successful business is getting people in the door; the rest is easy!
I suppose to summarize, I've found this: Magic Arena is great for beginners, it is not taking business away from local games stores and does not simulate the social aspect of Magic the Gathering. All in all, I'm really impressed with Wizards' new brainchild and I encourage you all to give it a try. Whether you're a veteran Magic player from the days of Alpha or have no idea what you're looking at when someone hands you a basic land, Arena is a fun way to pass the time and keep your mind stimulated.
(Side note: cats also enjoy watching the animations on Arena)