As a digital platform for Magic: the Gathering, MTG Arena has several key strengths over the traditional paper TCG. Whether it’s the accessibility features that allow more people to play or digital freedoms to create new formats, MTG Arena has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, MTG Arena isn’t purely improvements over its paper counterpart. With bugs and missing sets causing players anguish, MTG Arena is often the butt of many jokes. Surprisingly, however, it now appears that one of the greatest strengths of MTG Arena is being labeled a “big concern.”
Draft? Completed It Mate
Accessibility throughout the entire games industry is rarely seen as a bad thing. For developers and players alike, being able to play your favorite game more easily is something to celebrate. In MTG Arena, however, the ease at which people can play Magic: the Gathering is starting to be problematic. Unfortunately for Wizards of the Coast, this may be a problem without an easy solution or even one at all.
Recently, the issue of ceaseless online play was posed to Magic’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater. While asking, “is there any concern regarding how much faster it feels like sets are ‘solved’ with regards to limited,” fingers were pointed at MTG Arena. Magic Online isn’t immune from the same criticisms; however, the speed of sets are “solved” definitely feels like it’s increasing.
As the user Jericuboritox points out, “it feels like a week or less after a set releases, limited-focused podcasts will have episodes ou where they talk about the 50+ drafts they’ve already done and all the data that’s been collated digitally.” This gives players a near faultless draft guide very early on in a set’s lifespan.
In answering this question and astute observations, Mark Rosewater confirmed that yes, “it is a big concern.” Unfortunately for WotC, however, while concerning, this issue can’t easily be fixed. Instead, thanks to the nature of the content-hungry internet and players, this problem will only get worse. This is thanks to, somewhat understandably, everyone wanting to win and be the best.
No End in Sight
With a strong drive for success and, more importantly desire to get value from Drafts, players will always seek out tips to improve. This encourages players to invest heavily in practice or seek outside sources for help. Once the onus falls to content creators, divining the best Draft guide becomes an all-out arms race for success. Being the first to release an accurate guide is a surefire way to get clicks, after all.
Previously, back in 2002, this wasn’t nearly as much of an issue. Pre 2002, Magic Online was barely a glimmer in Wizards’ eyes, so there was no easy way to play Magic. Without a local playgroup, fans were forced to trek down to their nearest LGS to play or Draft the latest new set; Judgment. While terrible for accessibility, this ensured that solving the Draft meta took a long time, keeping the format’s meta healthy.
After June 24th, 2002, however, Drafting became much more accessible. No longer did players have to wrangle a playgroup or wait a week, Drafting became as easy as pushing a button. This allowed players to Draft more than they had before. Outside of the LGS, it wasn’t just about having fun with a social format anymore. Instead, a lust for winning started to take hold, encouraging players to play countless Drafts until they were unbeatable.
Following the launch of MTG Arena in 2018, this issue only became worse, as Drafting was once again more accessible than ever before. While the MTG Arena economy is a concern of its own, going infinite in Drafts is surprisingly doable. This allows players to literally play endless Drafts, giving them no end of practice. As a result, solving the Draft meta becomes a question of when not if.
The Popularity Problem
While Mark Rosewater has deemed this issue “a big concern,” there’s no natural way to fix it. Limiting the number of Drafts available is an untenable solution that’s bad for business and popularity. Creating an overly complex draft environment would only delay the solving for a little while at best while concerning casual players. Alchemy’s rebalanced Drafts may actually be the best solution. However, this isn’t possible on paper.
Ultimately, this problem is only going to get worse. Thanks to MTG Arena, Magic: the Gathering is more popular than it’s ever been before. With more people playing Magic, the time it takes to solve a new Draft has been further driven down. Not only are there more players sharing results, but content creators are also more incentivized to be the first to figure it out.
Thanks to Magic’s growing popularity and the number of games being played, Draft isn’t the only format being solved. As Mark Rosewater noted in a follow-up question, “the speed by which any format gets solved through the high amount of online play is an issue.” While the upcoming rotation will undoubtedly shake up Standard, it’s only a matter of time before the best deck emerges.
With Dominaria United launching early on MTG Arena, it’s possible that Standard and Draft can be solved before the new set launches on paper. Releasing on MTG Arena on the 1st of September, players will have an entire week to play as much as they like, giving them plenty of time to figure out the new meta. This takes away a huge deal of exciting discovery from Magic’s most devoted players on paper. Thankfully, this is at least an issue Wizards can quickly fix for future releases.
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