It's an exciting time for collectible card game fans everywhere now that Magic: The Gathering Arena is in open beta. Although it isn't currently fully featured, at least it's finally ready to download.
For the unfamiliar, Magic: The Gathering is a very fun collectible card game (CCG). Launched in 1993, it's the very first tabletop CCG of its kind. You take turns with your opponent while summoning creatures and using many other kinds of cards like spells, artifacts, and even special heroes called planeswalkers. In order to play these cards, you have to first have land cards in your deck and play them. Players have sixty-card decks with around 18 to 26 lands in each. There are five kinds of land: white (plains), green (forest), blue (island), red (mountain), and black (swamp). Some cards require white lands, others need black lands, and some cards require a certain number of white and black lands. Magic is a very complex game and there are many different types of cards so I'll just leave it at that for now.
This release is especially exciting considering Magic: The Gathering Arena is still new and most players don't have too many cards. When you first start the game up, you'll have to play the tutorial which has six stages of increasing complexity. In the first stage, you learn the basics of Magic such as playing lands, summoning creatures, and blocking. In later missions, you learn about advanced card types as well as keywords like flying and haste. The final tutorial mission is a battle against Nicol Bolas where you have to apply everything you learned in order to defeat the dragon planeswalker. If you're an experienced Magic player, you shouldn't have any trouble in the tutorial missions. The first four fights are scripted but the final battle seems to require a few more crucial decisions.
After the tutorial, you're given five basic decks; one for each color. If you've seen a Magic starter deck in real life, you'll know what they look like. These basic decks aren't very good and they don't have more than three copies of any given non-land card. I'm sure Wizards of the Coast had their reasons for constructing these decks this way yet I still had a decent win rate with them in PvP matches. Thankfully, I didn't get matched against anyone with competitive decks. That being said, there's really no valid excuse for the starter decks to be as bad as they are. Give the red deck more copies of Lightning Strike, the green deck another copy of Gigantosaur, and the black deck more copies of Murder. It would be so much more fun for new players if the starter deck had better commons and uncommons.
If you're still lost on how to play Magic or just need a helping hand, there are countless online resources and an in-game help menu that takes you to the Magic website and a couple of helpful YouTube videos. The resources cover the five colors of mana, how to build a deck, special card types, and more. With that said, let me go over the different play modes offered in Magic: The Gathering Arena. Limited and constructed events are always available to play which are tournament-style game modes that have a similar prize structure: win as much as you can and you'll be rewarded with more cards, gold, and gems. Lose two or three times and you're out. I like this prize structure since you're encouraged to give it your all but some play modes are prohibitively expensive, particularly Draft. It sucks for those of us who like Draft because we have to pay 750 gems or 5000 gold each time we play.
Sometimes, there are pauper as well as singleton events but not all of the time. Pauper is a popular format in the tabletop card game where only commons are allowed in decks while in singleton, players have 100-card decks with no duplicate cards. Being able to play pauper and singleton all the time would be awesome so why are they stuck to being temporary events? Anyway, there's also Play Mode that lets you take your constructed deck into the ranked ladder and fight your way through bronze, silver, and gold league, etc.
You can also send a direct challenge by typing in a friend code. Friend list functionality isn't in the game yet but is on Wizards of the Coast's to-do list. Also missing is any form of single player content. The only time you will ever play against the AI is in the tutorial. It's a little weird not to have single player content because without it, Magic: The Gathering Arena doesn't feel like a complete package. Not that I don't like playing against other players, I'd just like to sink my teeth into some kind of solo challenges as well.
Those are all my thoughts on Magic: The Gathering Arena so far. I like what I see but there are a few features that it desperately needs like permanent pauper and singleton, a friends list, single player challenges, and a less expensive Draft format. There are also problems with the economy and the in-game store but I'll get into that more in a future article.
In short, I like Magic: The Gathering Arena so far but it can be so much more. Hopefully, its issues will be ironed out while it's still in beta.