MTG Arena and the Future of Online Magic

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Today's article is comprised of more questions than answers. Sorry about that! With that disclaimer out of the way, I think the questions raised in today's article are extremely important and will potentially play a huge role in the future of digital and paper finance. While I don't have a crystal ball with which to tell you the future, I can at least lay out some key ideas that are likely to have far-reaching effects down the road.

MTG Arena Is a Game Changer

The first premise (upon which all of my queries are built) is that MTG Arena is a game changer with regard to how Magic will be played in the future. It's still relatively new, so here's the lowdown in case you haven't gotten a chance to play it or have written it off.

MTG Arena is the new online play platform that Wizards has recently released. It's much flashier than MTGO and is a much more intuitive play process. In fact, it feels like one of the major reasons Arena exists is to directly compete with Hearthstone.

MTGO is a terrible program if you are using it for anything other than grinding playtesting for a larger event. It's non-intuitive, buying and selling cards with bots is frustrating and complicated, and it is a snoozefest to watch played. Arena directly fixes all of these problems in one big swoop.

There are a couple of key differences where MTGO still holds the advantage:

  1. MTG Arena is currently only Standard-legal sets.
  2. MTG Arena does not currently have actual PTQs.
  3. MTG Arena does not have a "redemption for cards program," or the ability to sell or buy cards. So, you cannot actually "make money" grinding MTG Arena.

Arena does not have any of these features—yet.

I'm not here to debate whether or not Arena is better or worse than MTGO, but to share my opinions. I think MTGO is the past and it is a bad program compared to what it needs to be in order to compete with Hearthstone in terms of attracting new players and views for streamers.

Also, I actively enjoy playing and streaming MTG Arena, whereas I actively loathe every second I spend on MTGO. Obviously, what I like isn't the be-all, end-all as far as public opinion is concerned. But it is telling that even with a decade head-start on MTGO, I was immediately like, "Yep, Arena is what I've been waiting for," the first time I played it.

One or the Other - You Can't Have Both

We can have both for now, but as is always the case, one of these systems will cannibalize the other in the long run.

MTG Arena has so many advantages, from being newer, better, faster, and more modern. All of the areas where MTGO is favored (older sets and PTQs) can simply be added to MTG Arena later.

My point, and my first question is: Does MTG Arena spell the end for MTGO down the road?

Obviously, MTGO is fine for now because it has features MTG Arena doesn't. However, as more and more people get around to picking up Arena, that is bound to change. Also, getting MTG Arena on IOS to be played from one's phone would be an insane game changer. Who wouldn't want to be able to draft or play matches from their phone while riding the bus to school or work?

As a streamer (subscribe and watch!), I have basically zero incentive to play MTGO over Arena. MTGO is much more difficult to actually play and is way more boring to watch.

Possible Fallout

I think the most obvious fallout from Arena is that it could potentially impact MTGO prices. In particular, Standard card prices. If people are interested in drafting and crafting Standard cards on Arena, are they really going to acquire these cards twice to play on two separate platforms? I doubt it.

You may be considering the following questions: Are people really going to foresake MTGO and jump onto the Arena bandwagon?

Great question! Yes and no. People who have gigantic MTGO collections and enjoy that program have very little incentive to start over on Arena. People who primarily play Modern or Eternal also have no reason to jump ship.

However, anybody new or in the middle has a lot of incentive to switch over to Arena. In particular, new players, since you can play and craft a collection without actually having to pay money. Daily rewards for simply playing the bad preconstructed decks against other low-tier players earn you gold, cards, and decks. It doesn't take very long to craft a constructed Standard deck without having to input much (if any) actual money.

I Have the Power

What does this all mean for MTGO finance? Well, I certainly wouldn't want to invest in Standard cards if there is a superior Standard Online play platform! However, the fact that Modern and Eternal are not options makes me more interested in investing in older cards.

I could easily see short-term gains for popular non-Arena staples, as people look to cash out Standard and reinvest into older cards. In particular, I'd consider buying into Legacy or Vintage cards such as Power 9 or dual lands as investments.

The reason I say this is that the moment that Arena expands its card pool to include Modern, the end of MTGO feels inevitable. Who would want to pay hundreds of dollars to acquire Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil when they could craft them for free using a Wild Card in Arena? Not I, said the fly.

Legacy and Vintage, on the other hand, are likely the furthest down the road, which makes them the best possible investment cards—assuming that you are buying the line of thinking that I'm selling today.

The Impact on Paper Magic

Will Arena impact the prices of paper cards? Hard to tell.

Again, the biggest concern is whether people want to own multiple sets of cards. Let me rephrase: "Will the average player want to own two sets of Standard?" We all know that the die-hards will own three sets of Standard if they think it gives them an advantage on Saturday!

Paper card prices are not driven by the demand of the elite players for cards to build decks. The elite players are such a small percentage of people who play Magic. If anything, elite-level players drive prices through influence on the metagame, by developing and winning with new decks.

The FNM and kitchen table crowd are who buy the bulk of the Magic cards. The elite players tend to borrow cards or cash in store credit. The FNM crowd whips out their credit card for a playset of the new mythic rare for FNM. If Arena gets people stoked to play Standard, it could be really good for paper prices. More demand = Higher $.

Also, it could be good for Modern prices as well. If players (in particular the newer crowd) are playing Arena online, perhaps they will be playing Modern at FNM. If Arena is attracting new players this could be good for the health of paper Modern.

Well, I think that gets me to the end of my article. I think I've more than delivered on raising questions about how Arena will impact future MTG finance. Don't sleep or ignore the fact that Arena is going to be a big deal just because it's a little bit slow to start. The program is fantastic and it's only a matter of time before the tide starts to shift from MTGO to Arena. In fact, it's already begun. Don't let the fact that there are a lot of vocal objectors who are deeply entrenched in MTGO fool you—Arena is the future and it is great.

Whatever you decided to be true about the future, make sure that the existence of MTG Arena plays into your plans, because it will be there.

2 thoughts on “MTG Arena and the Future of Online Magic

  1. 100% agree. I sold my MTGO collection 2 months ago and have not looked back. Arena is the future, it just will take a while to get there as WOTC milks every penny it can from MTGO.

  2. Agreed with your sentiments. The interesting part will be when WoTC start a MTGA economy. Will people be able to port over their collections from MTGO, or sync them?

    I’ve been enjoying MTGA much more than MTGO, and cannot see myself ever loading MTGO again.

    While Id like to see a few upgrades to MTGA such as more emotes, or a ‘show hand’ button, MTGA at the moment is pretty darn good

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