Magic: The Gathering Arena
MTG Arena has allowed Magic to move into the world of competitive esports. Screenshot by Esports Edition.

From Tabletop to Online: How Magic: The Gathering Evolved

Jan 8, 2019
MTG Arena has allowed Magic to move into the world of competitive esports. Screenshot by Esports Edition.

The World of Esports Has a New Contender

Magic: The Gathering has been around for just over 25 years, but until late 2018 it existed purely as a tabletop game. The collectible cards, when not being stashed away for safe keeping, have been used to play one of the best (in my opinion) strategy card games of all time. But gaming has come a long way since 1993, and in order to adapt Wizards of the Coast have released a new iteration of their game, Magic: The Gathering Arena.

MTG Arena was first available as a closed beta game in September 2018 and has since progressed into open beta. It’s free to play online, and players don’t need any previous experience with Magic in order to download and play. However, since you’ll be pitted against other players online, you should be warned that your opponents may have a few years of experience under their belts already.

Playing Magic: The Gathering Arena

When you first download and launch MTG Arena, it will make you play through the tutorial. There is no option to skip it, so be prepared to play through a few games. After setting up your account name and selecting a Planeswalker as your avatar, you’ll be brought through the basics of the game.

If you’re already familiar with Magic, this will be annoying. Each game will explain the different types of cards—mana, creatures, enchantments, instants, and sorcery—and how and when to use them. It will also explain the different turns, what a graveyard is, and give general tips about when you should and shouldn’t attack.

After finishing the tutorial, you’re given five single-color decks to start off with. They aren’t the greatest, but they provide a good starting point. For new players, these decks introduce different types of cards, and what their play styles are like.

Magic: The Gathering Arena Decks
You’ll be rewarded duo-color decks as you play and win more games. Screenshot by Esports Edition.

For more intermediate players like myself, it’s a bit annoying not being able to use what you want, but it also forces you to become more familiar with new types of cards. I personally rarely use blue cards but found myself having to use them to complete a daily quest, so I had no choice but to learn what exactly you should do with a lot of flying and artifact creatures.

Players with a lot of Magic experience will likely find this annoying but shouldn’t have a problem grinding through to get new cards.

Building the Perfect Deck

Like many free-to-play games, MTG Area boasts that you can access all aspects of the game without paying anything out of pocket. While that’s true, there is a catch: you better be ready to grind for what you want.

Yes, you start with five single-colored decks, and can get free decks each day for completing quests when you first start out, but these pre-made options may not be what you’re looking for. They certainly aren’t what I want to keep playing with.

Getting new cards to build a whole new deck is a bit difficult, but it’s not impossible. There are daily quests that will reward you with coins (as do wins), and you can then use those coins to open booster packs. Who doesn’t love the joy and suspense of seeing what a new booster pack holds for you?

You will also be rewarded with wildcards, which can be used to get permanent cards of the same value (common, uncommon, rare, and mythic). You can craft these into cards you already have, if you’d like doubles, or new ones. You’ll get a prompt asking if you’re sure you’d like to redeem a wildcard—make sure you choose to do so wisely, as you cannot reverse it.

Magic: The Gathering Arena Wildcards
Wildcards can be used to create permanent cards of the same value. Screenshot by Esports Edition.

Some people might choose to immediately cash in their wildcards to begin altering their starter decks, but I’m saving mine. Once I start building decks there will likely be specific cards I know I’ll need, or really want to try, so I’m hoping to use mine more strategically. However, the beauty of MTG Area is that you can ideally get all your cards for free, and experiment to your heart’s content without spending any actual money (which tabletop doesn’t allow for, as my bank account likes to remind me).

One downfall to MTG Arena, when it comes to deck building, is that they don’t specifically explain what you should or shouldn’t be doing. For experienced players, this isn’t necessarily a problem, but newbies might find themselves a little lost.

While there are many online resources that will explain mana-curves and bases, MTG Arena offers no tips. While there is always some trial and error when it comes to perfecting a new deck, new players may get a little overwhelmed.

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Merging with Mainstream Esports

Releasing MTG Area has made Magic accessible to a whole new audience. On the one hand, you no longer need to shell out money every time a new set is released in order to keep playing standard tabletop. This makes the game readily available for new players, and those who enjoying online gaming.

On the other hand, with an online platform, Wizards of the Coast have now been able to enter the world of official esports. This makes perfect sense, given the rise of esports, and the number of professional players, fans, and sponsorships that are available.

2018 was the inaugural year of the Magic Pro League, which will continue in 2019. 32 international players have been signed on and will compete in a mixture of both tabletop and MTG Arena. There will be weekly matches, as well as tournaments and Mythic Championships for players to compete in. The year will also end with a World Championship, which will again include both tabletop and MTG Arena.

Each of the 32 international players have been signed on with a yearly salary. However, the prize pool for 2019 is a combined $10 million dollars. And that money isn’t necessarily just for the pros.

The Mythic Championships will be open to both professional players and community members, albeit by invitation. However, it is refreshing to see that these tournaments will have pros and everyday players pitted against each other. The first Mythic Championship will take place at PAX East in March.

End Step

MTG Arena has opened up Magic: The Gathering to a new audience of players and fans. You no longer have to save up money to buy physical cards, or wait around for friends to get together to play. Now, you can queue online and play a game without little to no wait time, and experiment without breaking the bank. And with Magic emerging onto the esports scene, who knows what will come next?

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As the Digital Content Manager for Esports Edition, Lizz spends most of her working day ensuring that top-quality content is available on both Esports Edition's website and social media channels. She works closely with the editorial team in developing content strategies, organizing publication schedules, and ensuring that overall operations run smoothly. Outside of her regular 9-5, you can find her either buried in a sci-fi book, or trying to achieve her unrealistic goal of becoming a Challenger-level ad-carry in League of Legends.
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