Magic: The Gathering opened a much-needed conversation about the economy of Arena, its dedicated digital client, during a March 17th Twitch stream and subsequent article on publisher Wizards of the Coast’s website. While the community praised concrete steps towards the addition of Pioneer and other needed improvements, those were overshadowed by explanations that felt dismissive and disheartening to many viewers.
The stream was hosted by Wizards’ Blake Rasmussen as he chatted with MTG Arena’s executive producer Chris Kiritz about where the digital trading card game’s economy currently stands, what’s wrong, and what the company plans to do about it. By the end of that hour, Kiritz had introduced two new products positioned as “first step” solutions in a longer, ongoing attempt to steer Arena’s economy in a healthier direction.
One was a Mythic booster pack priced at 1,300 coins (MTG Arena’s non-premium currency) that will contain a guaranteed mythic-rarity card among the other commons, uncommons and rares. The other was a Wildcard Bundle allowing players to directly purchase wildcards - used to redeem any card of the same rarity - at a hefty $49.99 (£38). The latter will arrive with the Streets of New Capenna set due at the end of April, but Arena players will see mythic boosters, which cost 300 coins more than a standard booster pack, for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty before long.
The article talks at length about how Wizards of the Coast imagines players to approach the game, saying many prefer to build and iterate on specific decks over the course of an expansion’s life in the forefront while others like to experiment with multiple strategies and builds at once. The company admits that the current options for acquiring cards - unlocking them in drafts, purchasing booster packs or using wildcards to redeem specific cards directly - privileges an iterative approach, especially for those wanting to keep Arena as free-to-play as possible. As was the answer to a lot of complicated issues, Wizards of the Coast claimed it was working on future solutions.
Many other card games, such as the Pokémon Trading Card Game, print redeemable codes on physical booster packs that reward a digital complement in-game. The lack of an equivalent in Magic: The Gathering (outside of one-time promotional codes) has become more obvious over time, especially as Arena continues to draw increased revenue for Wizards and parent company Hasbro. When asked about this absence on the stream, Kiritz said that the audience for paper Magic: The Gathering is much larger than those that play on Arena and thus those codes would be wasted between two communities with ostensibly little effective overlap.
Another popular community request is a “dusting” system wherein players can destroy digital cards in their collection for a currency that can then be used to craft new cards, often at a much reduced rate. Popularized by Hearthstone, plenty of other online trading card games have since picked up the practice as a way of giving players more control over how they acquire specific cards. Wizards of the Coast argued that their form of dusting already exists in the form of simply opening more booster packs and collecting the wildcards inside. This also avoids what the company sees as a negative outlook on an individual’s collection.
“We never wanted players to feel pressured to dismantle their collection to build the deck they want, only later to be disappointed when they realise they need to reacquire cards they destroyed,” the article said. “In addition, dusting changes the tenor of conversations around the game. Instead of ‘what should I build’ conversations, you get ‘what should I destroy’ conversations, which are inherently more negative.”
Players were quick to point out online that wildcard acquisition is one of the more broken aspects of Arena’s current economy, as rare lands and other format-staple cards burn through wildcards much quicker than they can be pulled from digital booster packs. The irony not lost on these same players is the addition of a $50 “solution” that won’t even reward enough wildcards to fill out a mid-grade Standard format deck.
Outside of economy talk, a paper-equivalent format that will exist beyond Arena’s current Historic will roll out in the next month or two, paving the way for an eventual experience identical to Pioneer, in play if not in name. Several different versions have been tested on Arena during limited-time events and received largely positive response. Wizards also announced upcoming improvements to deckbuilding, such as being able to set favourite basic land art and better duplicate protection for cards that exist in multiple sets.