At day two of the inaugural HASCON, Rogues Portal had the opportunity to get an exclusive first look at Magic: The Gathering Arena. This new digital game combines all the best parts of the world’s biggest trading card game and puts them on your PC. When Magic was introduced in 1993, it invented the wheel for tabletop trading card games. Several other games have followed in its footsteps, but none of them have the same range of depth and reach as Magic.
Now, as Wizards of the Coast approaches Magic‘s 25th anniversary, the company is diving back into digital gaming. Magic Online, released in 2002, was the first digital trading card game. Magic: The Gathering Arena is on a whole other level. With the popularity of games like Hearthstone and Elder Scrolls, Arena seeks to get in on the ever-growing digital card game sector, which SuperData estimates is worth nearly $1.4 billion.
Magic: The Gathering Arena Gameplay
In Saturday’s demo, Rogues Portal played one round of Arena using a green and red deck. We were presented with the option to play dinosaurs or pirates and really, is that a choice at all? Dinosaurs all the way. Arena is a fast-paced version of tabletop Magic that offers features like auto-tapping and phase forwarding to move the match along. If you can’t attack or block, you can hit buttons to skip ahead in your turn. There’s an option to mulligan your cards when they’re dealt; you can also rearrange your cards in your hand, just like with a physical deck.
Arena is also meant to be visually stimulating. Creature cards shake the play area, rise out of their cards like spectral horrors, and inflict hard-hitting damage that can literally explode your opponent’s cards. These visual effects, according to digital product manager Dan Tovar, are meant to make Arena worthy of streaming.
The formatting of Arena is meant to entertain both current Magic players and new ones; it serves as a great introduction to digital card games for people who have never played. It also serves as a gateway into the vast world of Magic: The Gathering for a whole new generation of gamers who already love other digital card games.
Interview with Vice President of Global Brand Strategy Elaine Chase
After our demo, Rogues Portal caught up with Elaine Chase to talk about Arena and what to expect of the game once it launches its closed beta later this year.
Rogues Portal: Is Arena going to be a mobile game or is it just for PC? What platforms are we looking at?
Elaine Chase: We’re developing on PC first and we’re looking to get that right. Our intent is very much to try to bring it to other platforms; we’ve built it on Unity which is very flexible and will allow us to do that. But as I said, we’re going to get PC right first before we make decisions on where else to go with it.
RP: Magic always has a lot of expansions. Is Arena going to have the same? Will there be expansion packs?
EC: Yeah. It’s going to have the same exact tabletop releases for our frontlist releases. Same time, same sets, full sets, all the cards, altogether.
RP: So, if people prefer the tabletop game, they can do that versus the online Arena?
EC: The great thing about Magic: The Gathering is that we want people to play it, no matter which way they want to play. Right? Tabletop is kind of our ultimate experience because that’s the thing that lets you sit face to face against somebody else and have that social experience and build that community in real life. But we know it’s hard to get people together all the time. So we want Magic: The Gathering Arena to be there for people who can play anytime, on their own schedule, when they need to.
[It will also] introduce a whole bunch of digital gamers who have maybe never had the chance to sit down and play tabletop Magic before to the world’s best strategy game.
RP: How long has Magic: The Gathering Arena been in development?
EC: So, Magic came out originally in 1993, right? We’re coming into our 25th anniversary. We invented the trading card game category. We were the first and still the best trading card game, in my opinion. We came out with the first digital CCG [competitive card game], too, with Magic Online which came out in 2002. Magic Online is still running today; it’s got a vibrant fanbase in it and it has a backlog of all kinds of cards from Magic‘s history and all different kinds of play formats.
At the end of the day, we looked around at today and said, “wow, there’s a whole new generation of people who are loving digital CCGs and we need to put out an offering that is really appealing to them, that will give them a taste of the world’s best trading card game.” So that’s what we’ve been working on.
We’ve been working on Arena for a while, but we want to get it right and at the end of the day, we need to put it in front of our fans and get their feedback on it before we think it’s done.
RP: As far as the visual components, Dan Tovar mentioned that streaming is a big thing. Is that something you wanted to make sure that you tapped into as well?
EC: Absolutely. Back when Magic Online was released, streaming didn’t exist. It wasn’t a thing. Magic Online was optimized to really just kind of replicate tabletop and be that just, “me in front of my computer” playing experience. What we’re doing with Magic Arena is that we want something that’s fun to watch, something that’s fun to stream, something that will be able to compete in esports, something that’s visually engaging both to play and just watch.
RP: As far as actual gameplay goes, will there be any focus on random elements outside of the player’s control, like cards that copy another player’s deck?
EC: The cards are going to replicate what’s in tabletop as we go. Magic is so deep and there are so many different things that you can do. It’s super exciting, so just, welcome to the world of Magic! There are so many effects and so many things that are super cool.
RP: Is there anything in Arena that can’t be done in digital form, other than the visual effects and the speed of play?
EC: The speed, the visual effects, the fact that it makes sure that the rules are played correctly. It can definitely help dissuade people from having incorrect rules or questions or whatever. The nice thing about Arena is that with tabletop, once you print a card, it’s there and you can’t really do anything else with it. In MTG Arena, we get to bring that to life. We get to have dinosaurs burst out of the frame and roar. When something affects power and toughness, we get to actually show that on the card instead of having people pile up the table with 20 billion counters.
This is an experience that will make it easier to play, because it helps keep track of all that kind of stuff.
RP: What about Magic tournaments? Will there be anything like that for Arena?
EC: Esports is going to be a critical point of what we do. We will be going out there and having ways for people to compete and connect into tabletop gaming experiences, too. All of that is still yet to be determined. Right now, we’re focusing on getting the game right.