With the release of Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate fast approaching, a spotlight has been placed upon MTG Arena. Unfortunately, rather than highlighting the fun that can be had with Alchemy in MTG Arena, the harsh spotlight has laid bare many of the client’s flaws. We’ve already picked apart issues with the client’s economy and lack of a campaign, but we’re far from finished.
Whether playing on Tabletop, Online, or via Spelltable, Magic: the Gathering can be a fantastic social experience. After years of being locked indoors thanks to a pesky global pandemic, many players are understandably excited about the return of in-person events for this very reason. Unfortunately, the social aspect of Magic: the Gathering is wholly lost on MTG Arena.
Unlike Magic Online and paper Magic, in which you can easily converse with your opponents and friends alike, MTG Arena restricts players to only talking with a limited selection of emotes. Calling the selection limited barely does it justice, as there are only eight phrases that all players have access to. This makes communication incredibly difficult and ruins any chances of forming friendships while playing the game.
Thankfully, this problem comes with several easy fixes. Firstly, Wizards of the Coast could introduce new phrases that allow players to communicate better. Whether hypothetical new emotes compliment or chastise your opponent, anything would be welcome at this point. Alternately, WotC could finally introduce player-to-player chat, similar to Magic Online.
No hope for the future
As much as we’d like Wizards to introduce more social features, it seems they have their own plans. It is, namely, introducing more social features at a non-insignificant cost. Since Wizards of the Coast is a business, this is hardly too surprising of a move. Nevertheless, it’s certainly disheartening to see.
So far, Wizards of the Coast has only introduced new emotes via MTG Arena’s store and Mastery Pass. Since Zendikar RIsing, WotC has introduced a handful of new emotes with every set release. This has at least allowed some players to better express themselves, however, not without paying a hefty price. For example, the four emotes introduced in Streets of New Capenna cost 1600 gems ($9.99).
While we’re somewhat inclined to say this is better than nothing, paying for the privilege of better emoting is egregious. All the more so when MTG Arena has such a limited selection of emotes, to begin with. Given how easy it’d be to introduce new emotes, we fear that WotC is doing this to entice players into purchasing the emote packs.
Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast have also shown no plans to introduce true player-to-player chat to Arena. Currently, you can only message another player on MTG Arena if you are their friend. Naturally, this negates unwelcome interactions. However, this comes at the cost of stifling any hope of social interaction. Players are also unable to add an opponent they’re playing against to their friends list without using an external program.
It’s social or bust
With MTG Arena lacking proper support for competitive play, we can’t emphasize enough how much this feature is needed. Should the push to paper leave MTG Arena’s competitive events obsolete, there will be one less reason to boot up the client. This issue could be mitigated by making Arena a haven for social play and events.
As the Alchemy format has somewhat proved, despite its unpopularity, MTG Arena has the potential for a lot of interesting mechanics and events. By entirely using the modern digital design, Arena could become a client that’s an intro to Magic focused around fun, not competition. While this may cause a disconnect between the different editions of MTG, it would at least allow Arena, Tabletop, Spelltable, and Online to exist without treading on one another’s toes.
With Wizards of the Coast having fixed a few of Arena’s major flaws since its launch in 2018, we’re starting to get worried. Without consistent updates and improvements, not just new cards, the promising client will fall out of favor entirely. This will leave new players without an approachable way to get into MTG.