Wizards of the Coast’s newest Magic: The Gathering video game MTG Arena has many great features but is it a Hearthstone killer? Not yet. That isn’t to say that our first impressions from the MTG Arena closed beta aren’t considerably favorable though. We’ve played around with the MTG Arena closed beta and there are many things we love about the newest way to play Magic.
Let’s talk cards. One of the most disappointing aspects of Magic Duels was that it featured a very limited number of Magic: The Gathering cards when it was first released. Players of Magic Duels were promised that each new set of Magic: The Gathering would be released alongside MTG Duels. Sets were delayed by months and players were frustrated because Magic Duels was plagued with launch issues which ranged from display issues to Magic cards not interacting properly with each other. MTG Arena already boasts all of the Magic: The Gathering cards from the following sets: Dominaria, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, Ixalan, and Rivals of Ixalan.
Most importantly, you can play MTG Arena for free and without having to pay a single penny. Compare that to MTG Arena’s estranged grandfather Magic Online, where diehard fans of Magic: The Gathering must pay full retail of $3.99 for a booster pack. In MTG Arena, we were able to earn an eight-card booster pack from winning five games and were also able to collect enough gold to buy another booster pack from the MTG Arena store within just a couple of hours of playing. While the economy is still in flux with what specific values of rewards players can earn and how much boosters and events cost, the progression in MTG Arena is much faster than what we experienced in Magic Duels.
There are two currencies in MTG Arena– gold and gems. Players earn gold through normal play by completing a variety of quests such as “killing 25 creatures,” “casting 25 white spells,” and winning. Gems are a premium currency which can be earned through winning booster drafts or purchasing with real-life money. Players can also open wildcards in booster packs which may be redeemed for any Magic: The Gathering card of the rarity of the wild card. There is also a “vault” which fills as you open booster packs and acquire more than four of a Magic card. Once your “vault” is full, it gives you additional product and in-game rewards.
Wizards of the Coast is allowing players in the MTG Arena closed beta to purchase gems. Although there will be another account wipe in the future, players will be credited with the total amount of gems they’ve purchased when MTG Arena officially launches.
What about actual gameplay, though? Everything you’d expect to see from the natural evolution of Magic Duels is present in MTG Arena. There’s also a couple of drawbacks we don’t like. When playing the red white preconstructed deck, we had two Mountain and two Plains on the battlefield with a Lightning Strike and a Pillar of Flame in hand. When we cast Lightning Strike on an opponent’s creature, the AI in MTG Arena tapped both Mountains. We were unable to play the Pillar of Flame to deal the final damage needed to take out our opponent’s creature. In addition to mana tapping issues, it seems that the variance for mana screw and mana flooding is equally prevalent. In one game, we only found two lands despite reaching past turn seven.
MTG Arena has a lot of potential. Provided that Wizards of the Coast actually delivers with their promise of releasing each new Magic: The Gathering set without delays and bugs like we saw in Magic Duels, it’ll be a fantastic game worth playing.