by R.A. Rowell
MTG: Arena is the premier digital collectible game based on a wildly popular trading card game in which you can't actually trade cards...
Magic the Gathering: Arena is a great way to experience the classic trading card game with a smooth, modernized interface far superior to that of its older brother, Magic the Gathering Online. Arena has one of the best free-to-play modes I’ve seen based on my experience playing during the open beta. You can get started with pre-made decks and earn new cards fairly quickly through the use of gold that you earn from milestones reached in-game. From what players have said, it seems that the game isn’t very expensive when it comes to acquiring cards you need for Standard decks, either. It all sounds well and good, so why don’t I play Magic the Gathering Arena?
You Can’t SELL OR TRADE Magic the Gathering Arena Cards!
My #1 issue with MTG Arena is that you can’t sell or trade the cards in your account. In fact, the only way to “sell” your Magic the Gathering Arena collection, should you decide you don’t want to play any more and recoup your investment, is to literally sell your MTG Arena account. This is what World of Warcraft players used to do, of course, and there are people starting and building up Arena accounts for this very purpose. The difference with World of Warcraft, of course, is you can trade items in-game. Players would, in fact, sometimes charge actual money to players to acquire certain super rare items (not that you were supposed to do this, but people sure did!)
Now, were you able to simply TRADE your cards inside of the game, I would actually play the game - most likely almost exclusively free-to-play, but I would still give it a go again. I actually enjoyed the gameplay, outside of the occasional server lag that occurs due to the massive popularity of the game. That’s because I enjoy Magic the Gathering enough that my enjoyment alone is worth the time and energy - and perhaps the occasional few dollars - to play the game without any thought of “earning” back my investment. Yes, you can “craft” cards using in-game gold, as well as gems that you can buy. But, it doesn’t seem that it’s a very cost-effective system, from what I’ve read.
Why Have a TRADING Card Game in Which You Can’t Trade?
I have in the past reviewed Epics Digital Collectibles, which is a digital collectible game that allows you to trade digital trading cards of esports stars. The key word there is TRADE. Yes, that game allows you to craft, as well. But, the key to the whole app is to actually TRADE. It seems immensely stupid to me to have a TRADING CARD GAME in which you CANNOT TRADE.
I wouldn’t invest my time and money into Epics Digital Collectibles not because it’s a bad concept - it’s fine - but because it’s simply not a genre that I’m super passionate about. My point is that I WOULD play Arena IF I could TRADE. The ENTIRE POINT OF MAGIC THE GATHERING IS THAT YOU CAN TRADE YOUR CARDS! Just saying.
That’s why after I spent a little time with the Beta and found out that they didn’t seem to have any interest in allowing in-game trading, I simply uninstalled it and left Arena behind. However, after thinking about it for awhile, I think I know why Wizards of the Coast decided to have a game in which you can’t trade.
The first obvious reason is that by disallowing in-game trades, you have to play to earn your cards. This means that you have to grind constantly every day to acquire the gold you need to acquire packs and “wildcards” to fill in holes in your collection to build decks. Honestly, the system they have in place is fine, BUT there should be some better way to exchange your cards. Because of how things are set up, super competitive players feel forced to spend lots of money in order to acquire enough packs and wildcards to fill out their collections for deckbuilding.
The problem for me, and I know I’m not alone in this, that trading is a big part of the game for me. I like swapping cards I don’t plan to play with to others that will. That’s a major part of the enjoyment for me with Trading Card Games. But, the trouble is, Arena was specifically aimed at newer players, who most likely don’t know the value of their cards and could easily be taken advantage of from a trading standpoint. So, was that why Arena was designed in this way, to disallow trading to make it fairer for new players? I somehow doubt that, although it makes some sense to me. As it is, Arena has its own economy that makes it a lot easier and cheaper to play Magic than it was in the past… or does it?
Magic the Gathering Arena VS Magic the Gathering Online
Yes, Magic the Gathering Online suffers from a buggy, antiquated interface. It’s not flashy and is constantly requiring significant weekly maintenance. BUT, in Magic the Gathering Online, you can TRADE cards! Yes, most trading is done via annoying automated bot accounts that use event tickets (and fractions thereof with “store credit”) as currency. But you CAN trade with other players, still. And, yes, plenty of people still buy Magic the Gathering Online event tickets on a regular basis with actual money.
Magic the Gathering Online also has the “eternal” competitive formats such as Modern, Legacy, Pauper, and Vintage. Arena has Standard, Draft, and the nonsense “Historic” which is Wizards’ lame way of allowing you to still use cards after they are no longer legal in Standard (for those unfamiliar with Magic the Gathering’s competitive formats, cards in Standard include sets only from the past two years).
Of course, Historic is going to introduce “curated” cards from Magic’s past, as well, to “enrich” the format. I’m not convinced it will. They’ve also added Brawl, which is the Standard-legal version of Magic’s most popular format, Commander - so I credit them with that. The beauty of Brawl is that it opens you up to playing with cards that would otherwise go unused. This was a good move on their part. But, Arena is still limited for the older players like myself.
So, Magic the Gathering Online isn’t going anywhere. It’s clunky and sometimes an absolute buggy mess. But, most of the time, it’s still good enough to get the job done. Sure, most of its player base that likes to draft has moved to Arena. It’s significantly more cost-effective to draft and play Standard on Arena, if that’s all you’re looking to do. But, for the rest of all, MTGO is not going anywhere. I wonder why…
If MTG Arena Allowed In-Game Card Trading, I’d Play!
I’m very passionate about digital collectibles and their growing status as tradable assets. So, it’s very important to me that if a game requires that the digital assets remain in the game’s ecosystem, there needs to at least be a way to trade those assets freely. It seems like Arena is little more than a cash grab to me, which is mildly upsetting for true Magic the Gathering fans. Even though there are many benefits to Arena for new and casual players, it’s pure entertainment value - which is both good and bad.
Honestly, it makes sense to me that the game developers wanted to avoid what happened with MTGO and the god-awful bot trading system that exists. Yes, you can trade with individual players, but that very, very rarely happens anymore. It’s almost as if they just don’t want to police the whole trading scene. But, as there is a rarity system in place, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to assign certain values to certain cards. After all, you have the wildcards, which in some ways is a great improvement over how MTGO works; because MTGO still uses the same pack system as paper Magic, some cards on MTGO get absurdly expensive!
I believe that Wizards of the Coast has a real gem with Magic the Gathering” Arena, but until they add in-game trading of some sort, there’s no reason for me to spend my time on it. However, I will be writing about news pertaining to it, as it’s still Magic the Gathering and it still falls under digital collectibles. Plus, I have hundreds if not thousands of articles worth of experience writing about Magic the Gathering in the past, many of which you can find at Gaming Successfully.
But, until Arena adds some form of trading cards, I will have to refrain from actually playing. MTGO, sure. Arena, nah. Currently, it’s not worth my investment. Hopefully it is someday, because this game has a lot of potential.
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R.A. Rowell is a collectibles enthusiast who comes from a long history of collecting trading cards in both sports and in Trading Card Games. He is passionate about educating the world about the future promise and benefits of digital collectibles, both on the blockchain and off.