Thanks, I Hate It: New Year's Resolutions for MTG Arena


It's a hallowed tradition to try and be better in the new year. MTG Arena, already the very best in digital Magic gameplay, has every intention of getting worse. Let's look at the actual plans, compare them to possible plans for actual improvement, and throw up (our hands) in despair.


For all its flaws, Arena still is the best digital rendition of Magic gameplay we ever got. It's beautiful enough to look at, easy enough to navigate, and close enough to the real deal. It's fast paced and does a lifelike approximation of how Magic works in real time against real opponents. It also afforded many of us an opportunity, affordable too, to play Magic during times when real-life encounters had to be limited. Much like shouting at anti-vax relatives, we're mad not because we don't care for Arena but because we do.

The Advantage of Digital

Cardmarket's pretty great, but when you want to complete a top-tier deck on a minimum of either time or dime, Arena has us beat. Mind, the sharp end of the stick is you can't use your Arena deck or its components on any other platform, including tables, and can't sell anything off again. But you can get in a lot of reps anytime of the day or night, which makes Arena the perfect test environment.

It also makes a neat deal for Wizards because they can sell people the same cards multiple times over. A player may own four physical copies of Fabled Passage as well as four digital copies. (Plus another four digital copies from another set because the system's duplicate protection is no match for the system's delivery method.) You develop a product once and continue selling it to people even after they've collected all of it. If you get/keep the traditional tabletop players interested in Arena and the Arena players interested in cardboard Magic, you reap the benefits of massive synergy effects. For free. What could be more lucrative?

Well, the powers that be have determined it's more lucrative to invest extra resources to develop even more new cards and to redesign the ones they already got. Synergy effects? How about we specifically aim to avoid any synergy by making sure the new cards cannot ever appear/work in physical reality?

No one has been asking for any of that, and many of us have been asking them not to do it and to, oh god, please, stop it. Yet here we are.

The Alch-nemesis

To be fair, they don't invest a lot of resources into developing the Alchemy cards. They couldn't even be bothered to let their usual editors take a look at the cards' names. Once upon a time, if you saw a Town-razer Tyrant, you knew it had to be fake because a real card would be called Town-Razer Tyrant.

Foe razing is honest work, an uppercase Occupation, whereas, if you raze towns, that's just low
Foe razing is honest work, an uppercase Occupation, whereas, if you raze towns, that's just low

Granted, this is merely one minor-type typo, a case of mistaken case. Grizzled Huntmaster, on the other end of the spectrum, features so much text for so little gain. Do you get what it's trying to say? No? Don't feel bad. You only need to note the volume to know it begs for an editor to come in and clean that stuff up. It's like a baby in a soiled diaper that way.

grizzled huntmaster

This is a true story.

The exchange took place on Twitter in 2021.

Out of respect for the dead, the names are being omitted.

In the interest of the survivors, the rest is quoted exactly as it was posted.

Pro Tour champion:
I'll give you my unpopular opinion [on Grizzled Huntmaster]. Sure its really complicated, more than most cards, but I think it's unique in way that makes it interesting ACTUALLY worth it.
Player with three Pro Tour Top 8s:
Why is thinning the deck a little ACTUALLY worth the extra text? Care to explain?
Pro Tour champion:
if I exile more copies from my library, don't I get more of them into my hand, but as duplicates?
Player with three Pro Tour Top 8s:
Ya that's not what it does
Pro Tour champion:
So if you exile a creature from your hand, you have another one in your library, you can grab two from your sideboard?
Player with three Pro Tour Top 8s:
Try again
Pro Tour champion:
Ok I guess you can get any creature from the sideboard? So if you exile one from your hand, three from your deck, you can get a duplicate of that creature 4 times?
Member of the Hall of Fame:
getting colder :(
Pro Tour champion:
I give up

The Crux of a Rotating Format

In the beginning Arena only knew one competitive Constructed option: Standard. But if you want players to invest—not just time and/or money but also effort, thought, emotional attachment—into game pieces for a rotating format, you need some kind of legacy format where the rotating pieces remain relevant. This goes double for a platform where you can't trade your cards away. This was the original purported raison d'être for Historic. This was supposed to be a place where all the cards rotating from Standard, sans banneds, would live out the rest of their lives in peace.

Alas, things didn't quite turn out that way. If you look at the most recent championship's Top 8 Historic lists, you'll find the average main deck containing more than fourteen cards that have never been in Standard in Arena's lifetime. If you only look at nonland cards, the statistic becomes worse. One deck even featured an even split: eighteen spells that are/were Standard legal and eighteen from extracurricular releases.

Provenance of cards in Top 8, Innistrad Championship

Historic is not a best-of of Standard seasons past. The best of Historic includes the likes of Muxus, Goblin Grandee, Collected Company, Faithless Looting, Enchantress's Presence … These are the cards on which decks are based, without whom the respective archetypes wouldn't exist at all.

A nonrotating format—take Modern for example—grows and grows until the card pool is so large that, eventually, Standard sets rarely exert a meaningful influence anymore. At this point in its lifecycle, you get Modern Horizons and Modern Horizons 2 and, soon, Tales of Middle-EarthTM. Historic, by contrast, bypassed the initial stage of organic growth and went straight to the degenerate stage of special releases specifically aimed at the format. Looking for a format where your old Standard cards remain relevant? Well, don't look at Historic and, by extension, don't look at Arena.

But wait, it gets better. By which I mean worse. Alchemy doesn't just add new cards at an unprecedented rate, making your old Standard staples look even older. No, it also changes how the most workable of your Standard cards work once they rotate out of Standard. Historic is a place where you can cast Collected Company on turn two or vomit 40 power worth of Goblins onto the board by turn three. But somehow Luminarch Aspirant's +1/+1 counter has to be downgraded from beginning of combat to end of turn.

luminarch aspirant luminarch aspirant

The (Real) State of Arena

Let's sum up the various competitive Constructed options the program offers.

  • Alchemy: Although based on Standard, this format is all about cards that do not and cannot exist in real life, and about cards working differently than they do in Standard/real life. It also requires considerable investment since you don't get any compensation when your cards are downgraded into obsolescence, and most of the Alchemy cards are of higher rarities.

  • Historic: Here you have to contend with even more digital-only cards and even more inexplicable changes to known cards. It also draws from a huge card pool, pulling important cards from as far back as Urza's Saga. The last time I built a Historic deck, I already owned many of the format's staples plus all pieces from Arena Standard, and still I spent 27 rare wildcards. ("The last time" likely doesn't mean the latest but the final time.)

  • Standard (best of one): You might expect Standard to mirror the real-world experience, but no. If you play single games, you can face decks with Goblin Trashmaster and Raging Goblin, both of which aren't in Standard, and an even better one-drop Goblin that doesn't exist offline at all. You may also run into the digital native "Ajani's Half-Mate."

cadet priest
  • Standard (best of three): Okay, but surely this at long last offers the same deal as the official tournament format we all know and love (to hate), right? Indeed it fulfills the minimum requirement of not allowing cards that aren't allowed in Standard. However, for several months now, Arena has been using a system for ladder play that allows a player to win the first game of a match, concede during the subsequent sideboarding intermission, and have this counted as a win. Don't like your (postboard) matchup? Why, do we have good news for you!

So that's the state of the program. What started out as the closest digital approximation of Magic we ever had now offers close to zero Constructed options that are analogous to the analog game. Instead we get bombarded by an endless array of gimmicky pseudo-cards exclusive to Arena. That may be nice if you're looking for a video game loosely based on Magic. But if you were hoping for a program to connect the worlds of cardboard and bytes, as Arena originally set out to do, you can't help but feel disappointment. The thing is, Arena could do both. Unfortunately it's focusing on the video game aspects at the expense of Magic's roots, discarding history and alienating tabletop players left (out) and right (on).

The erosion of standards marches on. Even keeping in touch with Standard is becoming increasingly difficult because even Standard doesn't work like Standard anymore. No less, it's becoming increasingly hard to justify the expense. Here's a list of the most recent sets and what fraction of their mythics I've collected on Arena

Throne of Eldraine: 100%
Theros Beyond Death: 100%
Ikoria: 100%
Core Set 2021: 100%
Zendikar Rising: 100%
Kaldheim: 100%
Forgotten Realms: 100%
Midnight Hunt: 74%
Crimson Vow: 55%

The New Year's Resolutions

Player feedback: Hey, Wizards! If you have so much bandwidth to create and implement so many wholly new Alchemy cards, can't you use some of that to build toward Pioneer again? It doesn't even have to be the full card pool at first. Just spare a few special releases to add the most relevant cards. We hear Pioneer's going to be the next big thing in paper play, maybe because it still is one of those organically growing formats. We could really use one of those. The synergy effects would be massive. We could even recommend the program again to people who want to get into actual Magic.

Wizards: No.

Player: Can we get some UX updates like default choice of basic lands, spectator mode, et cetera?

Wizards: No.

Player: Can you give us a wildcard refund when you change the cards on which we've spent our hard-earned wildcards?

Wizards: No.

Player: Could you at least remove the digital-only cards from best-of-one Standard and fix the sideboarding bug in best-of-three?

Wizards: No.

Player: Is there anything you can do for us?

Wizards: Glad that you asked! If you're unhappy with Standard play, you'll be happy to hear that Alchemy offers a unique and constantly fresh experience that we're sure you'll love. All you need to unlock the full card pool are 40 mythic wildcards, 44 uncommon wildcards, and 168 rare wildcards. But don't worry, more cards are underway, and the ones you already got are bound to change without warning or recourse.

Player: Thanks, I hate it.

Padme: At least we don't have to be concerned they're setting a precedence, right? In the real world, they won't just print untested designs, then change how the cards work later, right?

Padme: We don't have to be concerned about that, right?

lurrus lurrus

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and definitely not Cardmarket's.


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enrimassi(13.01.2022 17:02)

I stopped playing Arena during the Zendikar Rising spoiler season as I expected tons of new bans and did not want to waste wildcards. It was one of the wisest decisions in my life.

xcver(08.01.2022 16:35)

I totally agree. Digital only cards,. Are for me the absolute worst. Even worse in how it was implemented. I didn't even bother to open my 3 free Alchemy packs

I mean I got most m basically all the draftable cards because that is all I do.

One other thing to list is how there is no limited play on the qualifier weekend. Most people that mythic on limited play more limited and usually that is what they want to play.

So I often just do not participate. Now since it is Alchemy even more so.

So much going wrong here...

ThisNameIsBanned(07.01.2022 11:47)

Hilarious , informative and sad ...

Magic is the best game in the world, ran by the most incompetent company.

But somehow for whatever reason, it still sells cards and makes money ... So it will keep cranking out more.

valerio-sorichetti(07.01.2022 10:58)

I stopped playing Arena some months ago (I was only playing bo1 Historic and Brawl) because my old computer couldn't handle it anymore, and I'm not missing it at all. Especially seeing these new trends.

BMBA(06.01.2022 23:59)

Stopped to read after this "Much like shouting at anti-vax relatives".
Simply why?
Why bringing things like this up?
Vax or no Vax... This was supposed to be a article about magic. But OK...

TobiHenke(07.01.2022 07:20)(Edited: 07.01.2022 11:29)

BMBA – I needed a simile for the frustration you feel when someone you care about makes a stupid decision that hurts everyone else 𝘢𝘯𝘥 themselves. Somehow this came to mind.

BMBA(07.01.2022 11:37)

TobiHenke- maybe I was to hard? Yes maybe and I am sorry for that. Is just I am really tired every day the subjects being Vax vs NonVax and of course Covid.

I came to relax and read about magic, like normally I do to shut down the world in my head, but then I saw that and I just "flipped". My bad and I am sorry for that.
Promise to read the article later today and thanks for posting some good content.

This comment was deleted.

keywacat(10.01.2022 17:27)

TobiHenke How is one choosing not to take something we know does not work as promised 'a stupid decision that hurts everyone else 𝘢𝘯𝘥 themselves'?

Do you feel the same about people that don't take the flu vaccine? Do you make exceptions for people that have acquired immunity?

TobiHenke(11.01.2022 16:38)(Edited: 17.01.2022 06:37)

Keywacat – Regarding your final two questions: I do take magnitude of negative impact into consideration. Regarding your first question: I cannot adequately help you here other than to suggest you consult a medical doctor. They'll tell you how stupid it is not to get vaccinated.

Bongoking(06.01.2022 18:40)

This might work better with the real padme/anakin meme, maybe you can add hand drawn pictures at least to avoid copyright issues?

Vayra86(06.01.2022 13:16)(Edited: 06.01.2022 13:37)

Thanks for this article. Spread the word - go viral with this. Rub it in every day among your fellow players : Arena is now a F2P money pit that has nothing to do with real Magic. You could also play Candy Crush, as its less insidious on your time and money investment, but has about the same game elements. And Candy that's not rotating out either.

Hasbro has found the financial benefits of telemetry and data mining. The result: constant manipulation for max profit. Arena has been enabled that way, its the whole purpose of Alchemy. They even tell you: subject to change at any time. Warped format is the whole point, they simply create their own arguments to move players from one big meta to the next, not hindered by paper sets. This rabbit hole is deep and smells borderline criminal. They're banking on a new generation of players with lesser knowledge. The typical fools and money idea.

I've uninstalled Arena and knowing Hasbro, I'm not looking back. Our only shot at some sort of return to sanity (because the greed affects Paper too, just look at the # of set releases for confirmation plus the sorry state of Unfinity, where a similar screw-up between formats is about to happen) is if we massively boycot all of this nonsense. And let's not even begin to speak of the horrible quality assurance the last couple years. All hallmarks of a company that sets short term profit before long term health. To keep hold of the latter, its up to us, players, to voice concerns with wallets. Complaining won't help. Wallets do.

keywacat(10.01.2022 17:33)

Vayra86 You're right about complaining with our wallets, problem is getting enough people banding together that WotC cannot ignore us.

Or, they could always just upgrade MtGO a bit and leave the actual gameplay there directly relatable to paper, so people that want to play Magic, well, Online can actually do so in a flashier fashion.

Then Arena can keep devolving into the video game experience they obviously want it to be, maybe some of the experiments they take with it will translate into something interesting for Magic players.

Lavilledieu(06.01.2022 13:14)

Lol that New Year's Resolutions section. That's the best summary of all the Arena frustrations I've read. There is one other, somewhat personal, issue I have with Arena: they want to charge me for cosmetics, yet the choice is poor. Like, I really want the Lurrus pet, yet I'm unable as pets are never available again. I don't even know how I get the basic lands from older sets in Arena, some of them are really pretty. From another recent article, I did somewhat agree that Arena is quite bad at actually selling their cosmetics, something other f2p games make heavy use of.

pikolak(06.01.2022 21:53)

Lavilledieu Oh yes, that is so true! I am not a big fan of cosmetics, but as a Czech player I once entered a game and saw my opponent's sleeves which had the flag of Czech Republic... I went to the store after that match to purchase that and it wasn't there... I kept checking almost every day, ready to spend gems.... They were never there.... Same with old frame basics.... The game had so much potential but they are making weird choices in the development

Groox(06.01.2022 12:46)

You said everything I think about Arena.

I played the game from the beta, and I stopped a little bit after the "Arena Jumpstart" set (I don't remember the exact name) with unique cards Arena-only was released.

The fact is: they could just make a different queue and create 2 different environment letting the players choose which one they prefer.
This method would be beneficial for everyone.
Those who like the real magic could stoll play something similar.
Those who like the hearthstone-like arena could still play hearthstone, or arena, or both.
Wizard could see which one is preferred and invest their resources in the right direction, don't letting people go mad, and keeping more players on their moneygrab machine.

I don't understand why they're not doing those queues.

(I'm sorry if I wrote something unclear, I'm not english)

Vayra86(06.01.2022 13:28)(Edited: 06.01.2022 13:29)

Groox I've been on the exact same trajectory in Arena, it was insta-uninstall when I saw Alchemy and Jumpstart with digital only stuff.

I guess we've been cheap beta testers for WotC, heck we might have even made them a profit getting Arena to a point where we hate it.

Alkoic(06.01.2022 11:03)

Do they care about capitailzation errors ?
-> https://feedback. Wizards. Com/forums/918667-mtg-arena-bugs-product-suggestions/suggestions/40754677-lands-capitalization-in-french-client
They rather, should I say Rather?, adding to the list (The List?)...

Player: Could you fix capitalization errors on cards?
Wizard: no.

Spark(06.01.2022 10:41)

Spot-on! Glad to see people speak up and directly address these issues. I have started to play Arena a few years ago with great excitement just to get increasingly alienated from the game since approximately Eldraine. Even if I feel like playing Magic, I can't get myself to start Arena because it just doesn't do what it used to anymore, it stopped feeling like proper Magic.

Naltoc(06.01.2022 10:36)

On point. Arena was great for limited and standard and I really enjoyed historic. Digital cards had me balking initially, but they were okay'ish. Alchemy and the Hearthstone mechanics just had me uninstall. I used to buy a good amount of gems per year, now they see none of my money. If I wanted to play Hearthstone, I would, Arena was for Magic and Alchemy just isn't that.

pikolak(06.01.2022 08:48)(Edited: 06.01.2022 08:48)

I was so excited for Arena back when beta version was released. It was great way for me to play standard and after a while I wanted to fully support the game and purchased the largest gem bundle. I purchased gems few more times over the first few years. I loved the Ixalan-Guilds standard and even the later ones were good. This was perfect way for me to play standard since I did not often have time to play at LGS. Then Historic came and it was like the old extended format - great! Then they started releasing anthologies for it.... I wasn't a fan but it was ok. Then digital only cards came.... I started playing less and less, eventually uninstalled and I have to say I do not miss the game AT ALL. Now I read about Alchemy and I am just laughing....... While preparing my paper premodern deck for the next real tournament...

Ida-Howling17(06.01.2022 08:04)

I'm quite a bit over sixty, so there aren't that many gaming partners to play Magic with in real life, and Arena seemed like a good substitute for quite a while. I'm having more and more doubts about it, and the article really, truely speaks from my heart - thank you! It's all about getting as much money out of it as possible, not about combining real and online play anymore (think of the upcoming "new" edition "Innistrat: Double Feature"). And the effects of Alchemy are visibly spoiling my fun to play.