What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today we’re gonna talk about Magic: the Gathering Arena (I’ll probably just shorten it to Arena for the remainder of today) and just how it’s truly changed the scope of Magic: the Gathering for players everywhere!

For anyone who doesn’t know, Arena is the name for the newest way to play Magic: the Gathering online, and is available for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. If you’re a tournament player, you’re probably already on Arena and playing at least one of the formats available on it. If you’re not then you’re probably not on Arena super often, if at all. Assuming that’s the case, here’s what Arena offers players:

  • MUCH wider access than before to simply being able to play the game than before. Normally, if you want to play Magic you have to either know someone who’s interested and available, or you have to visit your local gaming store. Thanks to Arena, you can just log on and play whenever you feel like it. This has always been true of Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO), but MTGO requires a PC. With Arena, all you need is a working tablet or the cell phone you’re probably reading this on now.
  • Variety! If you’re a relatively casual player and enjoy Commander, cool. Arena has a format called Brawl that’s basically Commander, but it’s 1-on-1 and each player has 25 life instead of 40. If you don’t wanna play casually, that’s fine too. Standard is the primary competitive format on Arena, and you also have Explorer (just like Pioneer, minus a few cards that don’t exist on Arena yet).
  • Fun, unique cards that paper Magic: the Gathering doesn’t have the ability to offer. Since Arena is an online platform, it created a space to introduce wacky, random effects that paper play doesn’t have the ability to replicate. If you’ve ever played Hearthstone, you’re probably familiar with this guy:

(Battlecry is Hearthstone for “ETB”)

…and if you are familiar with this guy, apologies for the trauma. It could have been Shudderwock.

OK… but how’s random a good thing?

Remember that the vast majority of the Magic: the Gathering player base is a lot more casual than even your average Friday Night Magic player who goes 2-2 every week. These random effects can lead to either elation or heartbreak in high-stakes games, sure, but random casual Timmy just wants to do cool things, and random things usually qualify as “cool things”.

But random cool things for Timmy isn’t the only benefit that Arena brings to Magic. As competitive players, we also massively benefit from the existence of Arena:

  • Since iPhone and Android users can now play Magic, you’ll have a lot more potential opponents to play against. You ever try to queue up a Standard match on MTGO and have to wait 12, 13 minutes for an opponent? That’s not a thing on Arena. I can’t imagine even waiting a full minute for a Standard match to fire. That’s how many people are on Arena now.
  • We’ve had people qualify for, and place well in, events as big as the Pro Tour and Mythic Championships by only having their smartphone as their means to play Magic. That kind of access has never existed in competitive Magic before, and this means that you, the reader, have a much-bigger-than-before chance of being able to level up and play in these huge tournaments!
  • Both Standard play and Standard cards get to remain relevant, especially now that we have a 3-year rotation system instead of two. In a world that had to worry about COVID, Standard dying as a format was a very real concern for a lot of people and local gaming stores, and Arena is honestly one of the only reasons the format survived the pandemic.

You mentioned MTGO and Standard. Isn’t it weird to have both MTGO and Arena?

Normally, a game would be stretched really thin if you had to have two different player bases to account for when doing things. Games like Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra, and Marvel SNAP don’t have paper versions of their game, so they don’t have to think about potentially “splitting their audiences”.

Luckily, Magic has had more than one player base for more than a decade, and each subset of the Magic: the Gathering player base has always been wildly different from the rest. Magic itself has always been aware of this, as the Johnny/Spike/Jimmy meme has existed almost as long as Magic itself has.

But think about it:

  • Your average Commander player straight-up does not interact with Magic outside of their friends or family that they play with. No Arena, no MTGO, and most of them haven’t even heard of The Professor’s YouTube channel.
  • Your average Friday Night Magic-level player probably plays on Arena and has invested up to $200 but has never touched MTGO because it’s “too full of netdecking tryhards” or too expensive to invest in (both of which, I can totally understand). These folks might not even own a PC to play MTGO on, but just about everyone has a cell phone that can play Arena!
  • Your average tournament grinder who is trying to win invitations to large tournaments like Regional Championships or even events like a Pro Tour or Mythic Championship is already invested enough in Magic to not mind having both Arena and MTGO accounts.

None of these player types are even remotely close to the others in levels of investment into Magic, but each of paper, Arena, and MTGO all thrive! Despite the existence of MTGO, Arena adds accessibility to the game that it’s never had before. Free-to-play access to the Magic: the Gathering world is something I spoke about in another article at length (To Unfinity… and Beyond!), and adding mobile access only opens up the world of Magic: the Gathering to the Real World, and I’m here for it.

Hopefully this all helps to shine some light on Arena and just how beneficial it is to Magic: the Gathering as a whole! Now that we know just what it brings to the (nonexistent) table, I hope to see some of you in the queues, and until then I’ll see y’all on the next one!

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