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'Magic: The Gathering'

Trading card game comes to PC with intuitive online system for casual and seasoned players

“Magic: The Gathering Arena” brings the popular strategy card game to life on PC.

WIZARDS OF THE COAST/TNS

By BRITTANY VINCENT | Shacknews.com | Published: December 21, 2018

“Magic: The Gathering” is the legendary trading card game by which most other new games are measured. Ever since it debuted in 1993, it’s been “the” go-to game when it comes to collecting, trading and decimating our opponents. Having grown up with “Magic” myself (Mercadian Masques, represent), I’ve played it at nearly every stage in my life, though I spent most of my childhood swapping between that and the “Pokemon Trading Card Game.”

Unfortunately, I’ve never truly had any reliable way to enjoy the game beyond my adolescence because I can’t find anyone to play with beyond my loved ones — and as we all know, we need varying opponents to keep things fresh. Outside of local card shops already rife with cliques and unwelcoming players or begrudging family members, who do you turn to when you just want to get in a great game of “Magic”?

“Magic: The Gathering Arena” is a fantastic alternative, it turns out, to real-life play with digitized versions of familiar cards. If you don’t have anyone to play with and want to get in some “Magic” matches without having to purchase a new set of cards and decks, “Arena” is a great alternative.

Prodigal wizardry

“Magic: The Gathering Arena” is a digital playground where you can soak up as much “Magic” as you could possibly want. It’s meant simply to act as a conduit for players looking for a way to take their game online, or at the very least, have fun with it in the virtual space. It accomplishes this task nicely.

With a selection of cards in-game taken from their real-life sets, such as the core “Magic: The Gathering 2019” set, Dominaria, Guilds of Ravnica, Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan, it’s just like purchasing a ton of decks and then hopping in line to play match after match with strangers. That’s meant in the best way possible, of course.

Leveling the playing field

The beginning of the game takes you through the tutorial, and offers you a handful of starter decks to get you on your way to creating your own in no time. It’s not an extremely simple game, and you might find yourself frustrated by losses early on (especially if you aren’t a seasoned player), but it’s well worth learning and putting the time in if you plan on getting better. Learning from the AI-controlled opponents and real players can only help you in the long run.

The streamlined setup lets you buy booster packs, individual cards, collections and more in a neatly arranged and attractive set of menus. There’s a detailed tutorial that new players can complete before jumping in, especially since newbie “Magic” players will need quite a bit of handholding before they can become anything resembling formidable opponents.

Of course, as this is a free-to-play title, there are microtransactions to contend with — that’s how you buy additional boosters and cards, after all. Luckily, you can earn coins to buy these by completing goals such as playing X amount of mana or something similar. You can spend the coins on whatever you wish, be it spending time in other modes aside from Quick Play or more cards.

You’ll earn enough coins per play for a new booster pack at the very least, so you won’t notice the free-to-play trappings much, and it’s a very fair system. It’s a little harder to earn gems, however, which are required for buying multiple booster packs at a time or joining ranked Draft matches. If you spend enough time honing your craft, though, you’ll earn them at a decent clip. This means you’ll be waiting quite a bit for the more “important” and powerful cards you might need to hone your deck further, though, and the game is chock-full of what feel like expert-level players, so you might find yourself having difficulty progressing because of this. You’ll just have to be patient.

Making magic

The game takes all aspects of play and enhances them in ways you didn’t even know you needed. It speeds things up in a great way, shuffling and drawing cards, tapping and uncapping, and taking care of things you’d normally keep track of for you so all you have to do is focus on strategy.

It attempts to bring the card game into the real world. You can actually purchase a deck you’ve built in real life, if you so choose. Most of all, there’s hardly ever a shortage of players at any given time.

“Magic: The Gathering Arena” is a fantastic effort when it comes to bringing the grandmaster of trading card games to the digital world, and while it’s been done many times before, this finally feels like a great and modern way to translate the game into a modern hub for players who want to take their game online and conquer other players.

Platform: PC
Online: magic.wizards.com

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