[REVIEW] MTG: Arena
Magic: The Gathering Online and F2P!
I’ve been playing MTG Arena since the early alpha. The addition of dinosaurs brought me back to Magic after not having played for probably 10 years. My Creator application was recently approved, so I wanted to write up a review before I got access to all those benefits. I’ve spent $20 total so far, and played over 550 games. What follows is purely a review from a normal player’s perspective.
For anyone that doesn’t know about Magic: The Gathering, the card game itself, it’s basically a strategy game. Hearthstone is actually based on MTG. You build a deck of 60 cards and fight against an opponent. These decks are based on five colors – Red, White, Green, Black, and Blue. Red for example is fire and dragons, White is knights and angels, Green is elves and animals, Black is zombies and vampires, and Blue is ocean dwellers and flying creatures. This list is not exhaustive, there are White flying creatures and Red zombies, but it should give you a general sense of each color. You can also mix the colors playing White/Green, Red/Blue, or even Black/Green/Red. Your options are endless.
The crux of MTG Arena is that it’s a CCG or collectible card game. This means that you get cards in booster packs, and it’s all randomized to a certain extent (like baseball cards). Unlike a lot of CCGs though, the randomness is somewhat controlled. Each booster pack is guaranteed 1 rare, 2 common, and 5 commons. In MTG Arena, you can only use 4 of any given card in a deck, and most cards you don’t need 4 of. In addition, there are other mechanics in place for when you get duplicates that let you turn them into Wildcards you can exchange for any card in the game. TLDR, it’s really a pretty fair system.
Every player starts with access to some basic, but still really good, starter decks. These are free, and as you play the game you are awarded booster packs regularly to supplement these decks with. You acquire booster packs by leveling up your Mastery, spending in-game currency, or with gems (bought using real money).
For each new expansion in MTG Arena, there is a Mastery system to level up. As you level up through this Mastery system, you are awarded booster packs, in game currency, random cards, card designs, Mastery orbs, and even gems. The amount of levels in the Mastery system vary depending on how long the season will go. The Mastery Pass will triple these rewards, but I’ll get into that a little later when we talk about monetization.
Gold is earned through various things. There are daily quests, weekly quests, and of course Mastery levels that reward gold. You can earn enough gold to buy one booster pack per day if you complete your daily quest and win 4 games. You can stack up to three daily quests if you can’t play, so it’s not really a game where you are forced to log in every day. And your daily quests can be completed simultaneously, so it doesn’t penalize you timewise either.
Pretty straightforward, gems are bought using real money. Individually, booster packs cost 200 gems. Drafting, for example, costs 750 gems. Even if you lose every game, you’ll end up with 4 packs and get 50 gems back. That’s 4 packs for 700 gems. There are some very convenient ways to get the most out of your gems.
Every F2P has it’s microtransactions, and MTG Arena is no different. What is different about MTG Arena is the value it offers. The Mastery Pass which I mentioned earlier, is probably the best example. For $19.99, you get 5 booster packs and 4 card styles (cosmetic-only alternative art for cards) every 10 levels. There have been 100 and 110 levels for the last two expansions respectively, granting you 50 booster packs, 40+ card styles, and other extras for just $19.99, along with a ‘pet’ you can use on the virtual gameboard. The fire-kitty and fae fox so far both make sounds when you click on them and can change colors if you desire. They’re more like ornaments than pets I suppose, but you get the idea.
Gems cost $4.99 for 750, $9.99 for 1600, $19.99 for 3400 gems, and up and up. Some events are gems only (Eldraine sealed for example), but most also have a gold price.
Other cosmetics include alternative art (card styles), sleeves (card backs), and profile avatars. These are all cosmetic only and range from 500 to 1200 individually, or 800 to 2500 for the bundles.
Games and Queues
There are a TON of game modes, and queues have always been very fast (we’re talking seconds here). There is a standard Play mode where you just play a game of Magic. There are seasons of “Ranked” (which you are again rewarded with booster packs, gold, and card styles for playing in each season). Occasionally there are special events like Pauper (where you can only use common cards) and singleton (where you can only use 1 of each card) to play in to change things up. Mostly the special events are free, but I have seen one that required Gems/Gold. There is a bot game mode where you can play against AI. After level 10, you no longer get XP or daily quest credit playing bot games, but you can use it to test out deck ideas. The AI is pretty bad, but it’s good enough to get you pointed in the right direction. There are also traditional and ranked draft, and soon Historic mode where you can play with cards outside of the current Standard rotation. There is a HUGE variety of game modes, and I haven’t even listed them all.
I’ve sung the praises of the game so far, so I’ll be frank with the one big con the game has. You need a lot of patience at first, but less and less as you progress. Magic: The Gathering has been out for decades, and there are a lot of passionate and dedicated players. The game does have a ranking system, so you’re not going to be facing endless hordes of MTG Arena pros, but those players are out there. You’ll need to be patient when building decks and acquiring cards (unless you have plenty of money). You’re going to lose some games, and sometimes that’s because of skill, and sometimes it’s because of lack of cards. MTG Arena is easy to learn, but hard to master. If you’re happy to bounce in every once in a while and play a few games, you’ll enjoy it. If you want to log in and win all your games in an hour, you better be willing to put in the time. Skill will always win games; The order in which you play cards, the addition of the right amount of instants/creatures in deck building, etc. Money can put the right cards in your deck, but it can’t play them the right way.
The Wrap Up
As a free game, MTG Arena really is a first class game, especially if you’re short of funds. You can acquire all the cards with in-game currency, it has a fair monetization system if you choose to use it, and it offers plenty of fun, challenge, and variety in gameplay. I found out that all kinds of people I’ve known for a while also played MTG Arena, and have enjoyed the added bonus of playing against them. Download it for yourself, play through bot games until level 10, and then see where you stand. If you’re still standing, come play against me! I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot share, and a very enthusiastic Twitch community willing to do the same.