Opinion: What Will Magic: The Gathering Arena Be, Post-Pandemic?

Throughout the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, tabletop gaming companies have tried their damnedest to stay relevant in the current climate of the ever-shifting paradigm of the world. Some companies, like the ever-present Games Workshop, have seen some key locations in their chain close and then open again thanks to their diligence in the face of the crisis, while others, like Red Republic Games, seem to have been halted entirely by it. But one particular company, Wizards of the Coast, has been doing quite well, especially regarding their trading card game Magic: The Gathering. This is particularly true because, despite a lack of in-person contact over the better part of last year and even part of this one, Wizards has Magic's newest digital interface, Magic Arena, to thank for sales and, ultimately, promotion of the game. But what happens when Magic Arena has to contend with venues opening back up to play paper Magic? We think Arena will still do well but will be hampered by the rebirth of the paper Magic scene on a wider scale.

Magic: The Gathering Arena will see itself be generally eclipsed by physical play once the pandemic ends. (Image attributed to Wizards of the Coast)
Magic: The Gathering Arena will see itself be generally eclipsed by physical play once the pandemic ends. (Image attributed to Wizards of the Coast)

Many Magic: The Gathering players have been lamenting the issues of mostly being unable to play the game with their friends locally, rather opting to play over Spelltable with those friends or even with a few random strangers. This interface is generally best for playing multiplayer Magic, such as games of Commander, but can be jury-rigged to allow for more conventional format play if need be. Because Commander has been noted by Wizards of the Coast as Magic's biggest draw-in as far as formats are concerned, it stands to reason that Wizards needs to keep interfaces like Spelltable running in order for the game to continue to thrive.

Conversely, Magic Arena offers no such multiplayer experience yet, and while it deals far better with the dealing of hidden information than Spelltable does or even can, we have seen no evidence of major effort on the part of Wizards of the Coast to facilitate that experience. Remember, this game is called Magic: The Gathering for a reason. It isn't Magic: The Isolating, and that gathering is what people are flocking to the game to have in the first place.

So, when the gatherings can reoccur on a grander level than what we can currently get going, either perhaps by a herd immunity, much better use of masks, or (the unlikely event of) the full eradication of COVID-19 and its offshoot variants, we can expect Magic Arena participation to sharply drop while paper Magic once more begins to rise. Thankfully it's not likely that Arena will go along with COVID, because Wizards of the Coast does need that digital interface to stay current against games like Hearthstone or the like, but nevertheless, it's not what the players of this game are all about. Therefore, we believe the interface will be hindered by paper play.

But what do you think about the lasting play on Magic Arena? Will Wizards of the Coast have some trump card (if you'll excuse the expression) to keep players on it? Or will it truly wane in the wake of the pandemic's eventual, if unlikely, demise? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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About Joshua Nelson

Josh Nelson is a Magic: The Gathering deckbuilding savant, a self-proclaimed scholar of all things Sweeney Todd, and, of course, a writer for Bleeding Cool. In their downtime, Josh can be found painting models, playing Magic, or possibly preaching about the horrors and merits of anthropophagy. You can find them on Twitter at @Burning_Inquiry for all your burning inquiries.
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