This review has been in the works for so long the text editor for the site was still in an old format. I’ve never planned for this to be a big definitive review as it’s hard to quantify something that changes and adapts regularly over time but as there’s a large single player component still present and multiple options for multiplayer, it’s as good a time as any to write this up (lucky you!) 3 years of playing this live service card game in mostly Standard Ranked mode is more than long enough to finally discuss if it’s worth popping on and getting into Magic The Gathering Arena.
I’ve been playing Magic The Gathering as a physical trading card game since my 6th form days. Pokémon was blowing up, the trading card game was just getting into high gear with jungle themed decks and Yu-Gi-Oh was getting into the good pharaoh stuff. After plenty of casual games, the classic MicroProse Magic: The Gathering (from 1997) and playing the fantastic Xbox 360 Planeswalker titles I had a bit of a hiatus from Magic. It was the big launch of Arena that got me back into the card game as Hearthstone (and Blizzard) had become such a chore that I could no longer be bothered with it. The best thing about Magic was that I found that it never really leaves you, those core skills still work after all.
MTG Arena does a great job of bringing you up to speed and teaching both the basics and the new systems Magic has brought in over the years. I’ve always felt like the Pokémon Trading Card game was fantastically simple to pick up and play (and obviously high levels are complicated mixes) Yu-Gi-Oh was the middle ground where memorising what chains and works together was key and Magic The Gathering was the chess of trading card games. Where Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh games were typically quite short a Magic game could last for up to an hour, using up every single card in a 130 card deck to try and just get the momentum shifted your way. Perfect for a computer to work out the numbers for you.
The plethora of modes and options to play in MTG Arena is now so much that with each big update I have to re-familiarise myself with the Standard Ranking options. You have Commander decks where you can keep a specific card out of the deck to summon at will, Brawls between multiple opponents, Drafts where you’ll be building your deck before each fight, Historic decks with classic cards and Alchemy with new computer only cards, all with their own ranking tiers. Thankfully everything is explained and you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating to the style that suits you. I’ve always found standard ranked 1vs1 works for me but there have been ‘best of 3’ ranked matches that felt playing in a grand master tournament.
Controlling MTG Arena is a bit of a mixed bag as all computer versions of Magic have been. For the most part it’s fantastic with the game typically finding the right balance between pausing to ask if you want an effect triggered or using the right mana energy cards to optimise summoning. The option to skip until certain moments can be frustrating as auto-skip tends to wait a little too long when certain effects occur. Every motion is easy and accessible, you’ll find yourself idly tapping space to skip parts of a turn when the games flow is fast. It’s a lot like playing the current Yu-Gi-Oh Master duel where there’s a trade off for the fact there are moments you’ll want to pause and look at the effects the same as if you were playing with physical cards.
Visually every piece of artwork for MTG Arena is stunning. Wizards of the Coast knows this and almost every important card will have multiple ‘styles’ which allow a little movement, visual flourish or different style to the card. Collecting all of these takes a lot of grinding despite the free currency (coins) is quite easy to obtain, as is the EXP you’ll gain through daily and weekly challenges. That being said this is the first trading card game I’ve felt the Fortnite urge to buy into a battle pass and clear with every season. Collecting the paid currency through the battle pass and topping up with cash when it’s not enough. The artwork and customisation options have been fantastic and given how long every game takes the ’30 weekly wins’ becomes a possible goal. There are plenty of duels I’ll hover the mouse over a card just to look closer at the art and resist the temptation to buy a physical copy of it.
Monetization is always rife in these games but what surprises me the most with MTG Arena is that despite the store front being packed, it regularly has sale items that are beautiful variants for affordable coin. The quests for more coin and exp to level up the pass overlap so if you have a quest for 30 fire/water spells and one for 30 swamp/fire spells, a deck of fire spells will have you finishing both in 2 or 3 games. It’s the same with finding the premium currency in both the free version of the battle pass and in store for coin (even finding large amounts of coin in the store for sale for small amounts of coin) The original starter decks in 2019 had great synergy and easily got plenty of wins before needing to start expanding with packs. The fantastic thing about Magic is how a lot of those cards are still essentials even today.
There is a reason this review is of the PC client for MTG Arena and not the mobile. Despite being a cut down version to run on other devices (sharing your collection between) I’ve found the mobile game quite clunky and slow. My mobile isn’t a flagship but it’s no slouch either and it feels strange to go from an optimised Hearthstone or Legends to such a mess. The PC version of MTG Arena is no slouch either. That high resolution artwork and visual flare definitely take a toll. There are times I’ve heard the PC fan spin up and had to dial the effects down just to get things back to running smoothly.
There’s an element of ‘how long can these good vibes last’ in MTG Arena, with the latest expansion focusing on 3 mana cost cards (3 different types) it does feel like a push into making Arena more difficult and needing specific cards to win but for now you can still play and enjoy. MTG Arena is a great game to fire up, pop a podcast on and zone out for a while. The cards are beautiful, the mechanics are solid and it feels less like a grind, more like a quiet evening sitting playing cards with strangers.
8/10 – The Arena is Gathering The Magic