While MTG Arena has a lot of strengths, its economy has always been a sore spot. In fact, this is the case for MTG as a whole as there’s no denying the game can be expensive. To edge out an advantage, MTG players can pour hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars into their decks to succeed. The question remains, however, are Magic and MTG Arena actually pay to win?
For better or worse, that double-barreled question is a bit of a tricky one to answer. On the one hand, you can easily say yes, however, that answer is hardly infallible. Adding MTG Arena into the mix throws even more complications and nuance into the equation. Thankfully, breaking down complex Magic-based problems is one thing we excel at.
So, to answer the burning question once and for all, today we’ll be discussing if MTG Arena is indeed pay to win. Furthermore, we’ll also be highlighting what more Wizards could do to fix the less-than-stellar economy.
What is Pay to Win?
The definition of Pay to Win is where someone can buy gear or items in a game that progress the player at a faster rate, and makes the game largely unbalanced, even for people who have skill in the game without paying. By this definition, the answer is No. Magic Arena is no more pay-to-win than paper magic is.
Now is there a power disparity between top-end mythic cards and commons? Sure, but this is also true in paper, as games can still be won by free-to-play players against overpaid-to-play players. Many free-to-play players make it to Mythic rank on Arena all the time. The same goes for paper play.
If someone who has a $25 budget Mono-Red aggro deck shows up at a Friday Night Magic, and played against someone with a $400 Sultai Control deck, you say that the Sultai Control player is a “pay to win” player. The Mono-Red player can still win games against the Sutlai Control player, and the same goes for Arena.
While this budget balance can help to keep things cheap, notably, you don’t buy singles on MTG Arena. Instead, your options are either buying packs or using Wildcards to acquire cards. As a result of this, budget can often mean something different on MTG Arena. Rather than being monetarily cheap, budget Arena decks are often thrifty with Wildcards. Using minimal rares or mythics, these decks require fewer packs to be cracked and Wildcards used.
Thankfully, despite this major detail in what budget means, these decks are still strong on MTG Arena. Capable of winning games, players can easily climb up the ranked ladder, even on a fresh account. By upgrading your deck along the way, it’s often possible to acquire a compelling competitive deck before too long.
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So, if Magic Arena by definition is not “pay to win”, why do many in the community feel this way? This is once again driven by the economy. The economy on Magic Arena is such that if you’re a casual to even average player, it feels really bad to put money into the game.
The main reason behind this is the uncertainty in getting what you want when putting in money. Should you buy packs, there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you need. Even with Wildcards in the mix, you acquire them so slowly that progress becomes problematically expensive. This is even true of Wildcard bundles, which cost $9.99 for just four rares.
Thanks to this uncertain or excessive cost, many MTG Arena players default to grinding out Drafts or daily quests to acquire packs. Thankfully, these methods are rather effective, allowing players to grow their collection over time. The Mastery Pass is a great boon in this regard, as even the free pass offers a large number of packs. For those after even more, the paid Mastery Pass is a compelling alternative that rewards gameplay, not just spending money.
Alongside the Mastery Pass, the MTG Arena economy has seen a number of key improvements recently. Golden Packs, for instance, have made acquiring rare and mythic cards easier when buying packs. Additionally, changes to duplicate protection are ensuring that players don’t unnecessarily waste Wildcards or pack pulls. Thanks to both these features, playing casually is now more rewarding than ever before.
Despite the recent positive changes, the MTG Arena economy is still far from perfect. Thanks to this, you may be wondering what can be done. Thankfully, the other TCGs on the market provide an interesting case study of what works and what doesn’t.
Hearthstone is the main competitor to Magic Arena and has been around for a long time. Their economy is such that you can buy packs with gold earned in-game, or directly with money. They have a crafting system where you can disenchant cards for dust, and use that dust to craft new cards. The ratio though is a 1/4 dust return on the crafting cost. For example, if a Legendary costs 1600 Dust to craft, you’ll only get 400 Dust if you disenchant it.
I am personally not a fan of this economic system. I know that many have said that this would be enough, but in my opinion, this hurts more than helps. Many people would be dusting their collections to craft new cards for each set and be forced into purchasing packs again. Believe me, I’ve done it countless times on my Hearthstone account, and it has happened to many as well.
Legends of Runeterra
Legends of Runeterra is a newer TCG made by Riot Games and it’s economy is regarded as one of the most player-friendly ones out there. It has a hybrid dust and wildcard system, and a weekly vault system that increases in rewards based on how much you play. Dust, or Champion Shards as they’re called, can be gotten through various means, such as daily quests, the weekly vault, expeditions (their draft mode), and through breaking down unwanted cards. This is a very accessible way to craft cards for free to play players. For those who want to get their cards quicker, Wild Cards are purchasable individually through their store.
The only thing that this game gives up is the lack of “packs”, which has been something synonymous with Magic: the Gathering since its beginnings. If players are willing to give up the feeling of cracking open some booster packs on Arena, the Legends of Runeterra model is a really good place to start. It’s accessible to all kinds of players, and it’s not crazy overpriced. Each “Champion” wild card costs about $3, Epics, about $1.50, Rares about $.50, and commons about $.10.
Read More: Is MTG Arena Coming to Consoles?
Yu-Gi-Oh Master Duel
A brand new digital TCG that was just released today (January 19, 2022) is Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel. This new digital version of Yu-Gi-Oh brings nearly every card in the game to the table, with proper TCG rules, events, and more. Their economy is very interesting. You can purchase packs through Gems only. Gems can be purchased with real money but also can be earned through their PvE system, battle pass and missions.
Their pack system is where things get interesting. When you open packs, if you open 10 at a time, you get a guaranteed SR (rare) or UR (mythic). Upon opening one of those cards, you unlock “secret packs” which are effectively focused packs that align with the SR or UR that you pulled. If you’re looking to build a specific deck archetype or tribe, then this is a great thing. While this is cool, I don’t know how well it’d play in Magic Arena without some specific code to designate cards to archetypes.
Lastly, Cards can be crafted using a “dust system”. These points are acquired via dismantling cards of the same rarity, and some come through the battle pass and missions as well.
Got Any Trades?
Another concern from the players is the inability to trade cards. While a trading-up system might be a post-economy fix, this does bring up another option of wild card acquisition. That’s to incorporate a wild card trade-in system. Similar to the “dust system”, in this system, players would be able to trade a set number of wild cards up or down at a ratio. For example, you could trade 4 Uncommon Wild Cards for 1 Rare Wild Card, or trade a Mythic Wild Card for 4 Rare Wild Cards. This would allow players the flexibility to target specific wild cards that they need at the expense of excess wild cards.
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What’s the answer?
The answer to what is the economy players want most likely is something close to that of Legends of Runeterra, where ultimately the game is accessible for most players. One thing that we have to bear in mind is that Wizards is a company and has to make money.
As a result of being a profit-hungry business, real change to the MTG Arena economy may be more difficult than desired. After all, if wizards made things too good, players might love it, but the game might not be cost-effective. Ultimately, like it or not, this will be the main reason that profit is so slow going.
Hopefully, despite the potential lack of major change, Wizards is still a benevolent god to MTG Arena players. Providing numerous smaller economy fixes recently, it’s clear that Wizards is eager to do what they can. Hopefully, this will mean the game’s economy continues to improve over time, much to the enjoyment of players.
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