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Magic: The Gathering Arena Revealed! A Look into the Future of Online TCGs

Alright. If you’re here then you must be as excited as I am and/or curious about the constantly speculated project of Wizard of the Coast once titled, Magic: Digital Next. A few hours ago, the World Premiere of Magic: The Gathering Arena aired on Twitch and yes, by the grace of our Eldrazi Overlords it will be FREE TO PLAY!

First thing that you need to know is that it is still in it’s Alpha stage and will be soon open for a Closed Beta Testing. So if you’re interested in becoming a tester and providing player feedback then you can do so by signing up at


Getting the Lay of the Land

At first glance, Magic: The Gathering Arena is the offspring of the now discontinued Magic: Duels that appeared in 2015. In many parts it is and some improvements have been made from it’s former counterpart. Now it largely plays quite similar to Magic: Duels and that is most likely the intent of creating a smooth gameplay flow that the players have responded to quite possitively.

The Battlefield

Okay, so the layout looks pretty similar to Magic: Duels in it’s simplicity but with added User Interface options to help keep track of the game in the Phases of a Turn (The Upkeep, Draw Step, Mainphase, Combat and Damage, Second Mainphase and the End Step). Phew! What a mouth-full. You have your deck, The Discard Pile and (not seen here since no cards have been exiled) The Exile Zone. You can hover over the cards to enlarge and read the descriptions. Same can be done for anything else on the battlefield with the exception of the top of your deck.

Following in the footsteps of Hearthstone, we have a very nice looking game board with lush greeneries set in the latest plane of Ixalan. A BIG Improvement over the dull flat green board of the very outdated Magic: Online released in 2002 and is still in use today.

Flashy Lights and Sounds and Visuals.

Among the other improvements are the new sound clips and animations for each and every Spell and Creature. You won’t get stock roars and annonying sounds that repeat for every creature.

Summoning the Carnage Tyrant!
Gabby makes a Dino walk the plank.

The Planeswalkers are going to get their own voice lines and react to how events play out on the battlefield. I know this has already been done in games like Hearthstone, Shadowverse and the like but its good to finally see MTG catching up to the times.

Another aesthetic change that was made is that cards on the field only show the important details to remove clutter. Power/Toughness and abilities are represented in icons. Mana costs and texts are no longer displayed but can be viewed if you zoom in on the card.

Tapped creatures and permanents become grayed out with a tap symbol on top of them to show they are used. Other key visualizations include summon sick creatures which are represented by a swirling fog in the card and hasted creatures, electrolyzed by lightning so a player can have some idea of what to expect from the card.


Readability and the Stack.

Now we dive into what makes Magic complicated, the text. Wizards have done a pretty good job of simplifying the mechanics of the game thus far but you can’t avoid cards that just do a lot of stuff. Thankfully, it becomes as easy as mousing over the card to quickly enlarge it.

Games in Magic often involve a lot of interaction and that’s where the stack comes in. I will not go into this complicated topic but the image I captured below clearly depicts action going on the stack and arrows pointing into what they affect. Pretty good I would say. Legibility in a complex game goes a long way.

All the text you could ever need.
The Stack (it’s complicated).

Player Nuances.

Magic: The Gathering Arena will be accessible to both new players and veterans alike with the option to choose have mana tapping as automated or manually tapping mana as you choose. The option to set stops in any phase of your turn wasn’t shown in the video. I hope they do plan to implement this as this would be most helpful to some decks that need to stop in the upkeep and so on.

Have it your way.

That’s mostly what the stream showed us as to what the Alpha version of the game has to offer. As to the manner of the Trading system, Buying cards or supporting Formats, we will just have to wait for the next announcement. What we do know is that they still plan to keep MTGO (the old system) around since there are still a lot of players using it but hopefully we can shift onto a more updated platform soon enough. So what do you think about this new version? Will you stick to paper Magic or dabble in both? Let us know.

Mikhail Jacinto

Planeswalking artist and Magic: The Gathering Nerd. Loves Fantasy Illustrations, loves playing games that feature fantasy illustrations and loves illustrating fantasy that will one day hopefully be used in games.

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