'Arena' May Be The Future Of 'Magic' But It Runs From Its History

Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/59x77b/arena-may-be-the-future-of-magic-but-it-runs-from-its-history

I have to disagree with Cameron on a few things with this one. with the principle disagreement being the argument that Knight of Autumn or Ravager Wurm ‘clearly’ designed with Best of One in mind. MTG has had modal spells for a long time. the Command Cycle (not my picture) from Lorwyn being the egregious example. The Command Cycle was developed for release in 2007, and are spells that do essentially everything the color pie says the color can do. Split cards (which are cards that literally are turned sideways and have two separate cards on them), have existed since Invasion in 2000-2001. These modal spells are not a sign of best of one design, they are a sign of MTG doing what they’ve done for well over a decade. In fact the first modal spell of this type existed in alpha. Healing Salve. Modal spells have been a part of magic from the beginning. a Flexible, quasi-playable card existing in standard is not a design shift for wizards.

The other thing I disagree with is, well, I play best of three on arena all the time. You tend to even get matchmade faster playing best of three higher on the ladder. Its what the competitive players are playing, even in arena. While the ladder system (pre mythic) absolutely favors quick games, that’s more of a side effect of allowing anyone to play a ranked game outside of a tournament anytime they want. That’s an inescapable part of online ladder, it will be ground by players. Magic Online escapes this by making you pay for events to play in. by removing the online ladder altogether and operating on an automated tournament foundation.

I understand where the author is coming from, but it does read more bitter than it needs to be. The kind of article the mtg community has seen written about arena since it was announced.

Other than that keep it up! love yer column.

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I dunno, that mythic tournament taught me 2 things 1. Arena as a whole is much better viewing experience than paper magic and 2. The format they used to try and do a bo3 without sideboards was straight shit from an ass. Nobody wants to watch the same fucking esper control mirror over and over with games getting decided by library size.

Like, mark rosewater has come out and said that we’re going to see more modal cards like knight of autumn as playable “pre-sideboard” hate cards because they work better in bo1. It’s not just their modal nature, but that they’re perfectly playable creatures in their own right even if you removed the option to destroy an artifact or enchantment that double as a hate. We’re also going to see less cards that say “may” on them because that’s an extra click on digital formats every time (they just errata’d ajani’s pridemate because of this). Wizards has admitted they’re design shifting to accommodate arena, and that’s not even necessarily a bad thing but it is definitely a change and one they haven’t entirely figured out yet. And right now, as a competitive format paper magic is way better.

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I thought partly the PAX event ended up with so many mirror matches because it was only 64 players in an undeveloped format with lots of money at stake - that encourages bringing incredibly safe decks more than usual. Typically the coverage team looks to show a variety of strategies and players in the early/mid rounds and it tends to become more top tier competitive decks and more mirror matches as it gets closer to the top cut - here, the event was functionally an extended top cut, so it was very competitive-minded the entire time.

And because players had to bring 2 decks and play both with the order chosen at random there was need to make both decks good in all contexts - players couldn’t adopt a wider strategy against the field or have a more complex gameplan by choosing which deck to play and whether to switch based upon their opponent (only if it went to a game 3 did you get to choose the deck). All this completely pushes players into narrow holes for which type of decks to bring. Having 2 decks was supposed to replicate some of the strategy offered by sideboarding, but I feel like the randomness completely undermined it. Hopefully they make some adjustments if they run that type of format again.

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I’m still genuinely very annoyed about the Ajani’s Pridemate errata. I know that’s not the first time something like this has been done but I don’t really like making old cards function differently through errata unless a rules change made them non-functional. But then I’m also someone who thinks the old Wish cycle should still be able to pull things from exile.

I’m not terribly worried about the game changing, or its culture. A huge portion of the dedicated Magic audience are alpha-nerds who get off on scamming kids for cards and letting you know how suboptimal your theme deck you built for casual play is. An esports crowd isn’t gonna make that culture any worse than it already is.

My biggest concern tbh is that there will never be a strong Pox or 8rack strategy in Standard (or whatever Postmodern ends up being,) again. That was probably already the case, but attrition doesn’t make for good viewing, so it’s definitely for sure the case now.

EDIT: I guess you could expand this concern out to “Decks that produce gameplay that’s not fun to spectate will become less and less common,” which is a bummer because one of the coolest things about Magic is the bevy of different strategies and archetypes.

Surprised that people continue to link that “Magic Arena is killing Magic Online” article when it was generally dismissed as being very clickbaity almost immediately upon being published. Sure it’s got a big and shouty headline but even within the article it mentions that the value of MTGO cards was already massively depreciating because the economy of the game itself is increasingly becoming a mess. Here’s a different article highlighting better what the problem actually is with MTGO’s economy, which is things like the market flooding with cards and devaluing trading and the sheer abundance of unwanted rewards chests filling the system. Arena being used as a more visually appealing version of Standard isn’t going to replace what people play MTGO for, which has always been its legacy / modern formats.

The weirdest thing here is that Hearthstone pro play unilaterally uses a best of five format. Players bring four decks, all of different character classes, into the tournament and are allowed to ban one deck from the opponent’s roster. The primary format changes are whether or not it is elimination (“can your three decks best all three of theirs?”) or full victory (“can you win with all three of your decks?”) So Arena’s single match format is an acceleration not reflected in Hearthstone or even the recent competitive hit DOTA Autochess, where tournaments are no-elimination full day affairs for groups of 32 players.

And I think that decision makes the game LESS competitively accessible. Having multiple decks allows for multiple types of skill to make sense, which makes matches less repetitive AND players’ decks less identical.

(Agree with @Halfwing though, Choose One’s an old mechanic in Magic, Dominion, and Hearthstone. It’s fiiiine.)

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It does feel strange that this article acts like Best of 3 doesn’t exist in Arena at all and underlining that point as how it makes it an entirely different game than paper magic. The author does say they’ve been playing the game for a dozen hours a week, but I do have to wonder if somehow they’ve missed that they could play with sideboarding and (ranked!) Bo3 matches all this time.

It’s worth also mentioning that there are options to turn off nearly all the QoL features that made the author feel ‘melancholy’ – you’re able to manually tap lands, order triggered abilities, assign combat damage, and choose replacement effects if you want to, and can even set the game into full control mode to turn off everything completely.

Basically, I really fundamentally disagree that creating and supporting the game is a sacrifice at all, and I was really hoping to come to this thread to see if the author had any additional comments on the subject. I hope they will.

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What resonated for me from this article was definitely the question of whether Arena offers what makes Magic stick with us in the long run. I would never say I like Magic because it’s easy to pick up and play. Arena is an active attempt from the top down to make that less true, but I don’t think it really works. I can fire up a Best of One game with a burn deck and still be unsure I’m making the correct decisions from the first second of play. Sure, there’s a level of expertise I’m lacking playing a role. But there’s also the strategic core of the game: hidden information, calculated risks, and hoping your plan sticks together long enough to get a GG.

Choose one isn’t new but like, knight of autumn would be a perfectly playable card if it only had the 2 counters or 4 life options on there but they bolted a naturalize in too so you could have a mainboard plan for enchants. It’s a very different sort of modal than say, cryptic command.

I guess the difference in my eyes is that, well, Neither of the cards mentioned are considered staple cards, even for their colors.even in Best of 1. They just arent strong enough for the meta, Crushing Canopy was often preferred for decks running green compared to a similar effect at the same cmc, that also could heal or be a body, because killing a flyer is more relevant than being a body.

Ravager Wurm is just a bad card, at least until rotation, when the game could be different for it. Theres a reason its at mythic rarity and sub 1 dollar, its not particularly playable, and two flavor-based abilities doesnt make it a bo1 designed card. it’s closer to an exarch than anything else. Overcosted for stats, but a themed ETB. The difference being, killing non mana lands or fighting a creature is often just not really enough to matter, compared to brutalizer’s tutor or tuck.

No one is arguing Bo1 isnt drastically different in terms of depth or the way the game is played/constructed. but arguing that Arena’s only thing is best of one, just seems like a mistake, it’s not… I could have read a similar article on CFB or any old MTG blog from someone who is just being curmudgeonly about a new thing. Cameron does really good work, so it was surprising to see this article come out with that name on it.

Its also odd that “wotc is designer for a thing that isnt tournament” which, even if true, isnt new either. there are TONS of unplayable cards aimed at kitchen table play. you can pick up half any set on release and get more use out of them as coasters than even sideboarded. Because big chunks of sets arent designed for constructed standard bo3. thats been the case essentially for every mainline set. Why would it be even a noticable deal if not for some resentment in the mtg community for a new platform, some of which stems from elitism, some from bigotry (women or femme players who play mtg arena tend to get harassed a lot more than similar demographics in hearthstone), some from concern about change.

I don’t know. i just didnt a piece that reads more like those complaining blogposts than a waypoint article.

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Oh, trust me, I agree that card on paper is a little overtuned. But it’s not the mechanic that’s the problem at all. And @Halfwing seems to know the scene to speak to whether or not those cards are auto-include. Lots of people in Hearthstone have complained about certain cards or strategies that are not actually all that successful at a competitive level, which is what this article is focused on. Gauging what’s going on in a competitive scene is very hard - but blaming a mechanic that has existed for literally almost two decades rather than the balance of the current rotation is questionable. Further crediting the choice to implement an already established mechanic to a later game that only utilizes that mechanic in one of the game’s nine classes (along with crediting that game’s influence for a Best of 1 format that the game does not use in competitive play) moves into the reactionary.

EDIT: Apparently, there’s a new Hearthstone tournament format! “Specialist” involves bringing three decks of the SAME class to the tournament, labeled Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. The secondary and tertiary decks are 25 cards the same as the primary, plus five cards of your choosing. You’re allowed to continue using your primary in matches after the first, or transition to another.

So far it is being described by Hearthstone players as “the most toxic meta in the history of the game” due to a mistake in tuning a particular Control Warrior strategy that takes advantage of some overtuned mill effects. It’s something like 75% mirror matches of the slowest deck in the game right now - tournaments that used to end in six or seven hours are reaching top 8 at 3 am, officially making the game less accessible to…well, most people with responsibilities, honestly.