players are a strange bunch. On the one hand, we’re clamoring for all things new and exciting, and on the other, every time Wizards makes a change, we rise up like an angry mob
R&D must find it very frustrating.
Recently, Wizards announced their first One Million Dollar prize pool, and it’s for an Arena Invitational, with a new and unusual format – Duo Standard. Yes, apparently it’s very similar to something Hearthstone does. And, apparently, it’s also going to be in regular Arena, something called Arena Standard – I guess. They were rather nonspecific in the article.
But now, we Old-School Tabletoppers must come to terms with reality. Arena is not tabletop Magic.
Adjusting to that paradigm is something the community still struggles with, I think. Arena shares a heritage with tabletop Magic, and there certainly is some space that both games share, but there are also areas where they clearly diverge. Because Arena is its own game. I think there’s a tension here that people who are new to Magic through Arena might not be experiencing.
Tabletop Magic tournaments, especially in the competitive scene have always featured Best of Three events, with sideboarding. It’s an integral part of the game, and it’s what makes a diversity of decks and strategies possible. It reduces the chances of just being swept by a bad match up. It also adds a considerable amount of time to an event, as players must make sideboard decisions, which aren’t always easy or obvious.
But the digital realm is a different animal, and life moves faster there.
One of the really fantastic parts of Arena is how you can play at your own pace, in your own time without being chained to your computer. If you’ve ever drafted on MTGO before Leagues, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You were absolutely committing 4-6 hours of your life to that event. It could be a grind with lots of “hurry up and wait” as you wait for rounds to complete after you’ve finished yours. But in Arena, you don’t even have to wait for the other “drafters” to make their selections. You can even start picking cards on one day, and finish the next. That freedom is exhilarating.
Arena, from the start, was never focused on the tabletop player base. Arena was and is intended to be Wizards’ tool to thrust itself into the eSports market. The online world of CCGs and competitive CCGs is different from the world of tabletop gaming, and it’s different in a generational kind of way. Magic is the progenitor of an entire genre of gaming. Not too many games get to say that. It will always have that position of prestige. But it’s also saddled with some archaic attributes which are foundational to the structure of the game. Digital CCGs like Hearthstone have advanced past Magic in some ways.
One of those generational differences comes in how people “consume” the game. Digital gaming of this sort is quite frequently done on mobile devices, where quick matches are played while commuting, or while waiting for an appointment, if you just have a little time to kill. This different way to game lends itself, almost exclusively, to Best of One. At this point, the number of Best of One matches played on Arena VASTLY exceeds the number of Best of Three, by huge margins.
I have to admit here, I’m part of that older generation of Magic players.
My first reaction to hearing about a major tournament that’s being played with no sideboards was – SACRILEGE! What utter nonsense! Who ever heard of such a thing? That sounds like an unimaginably miserable experience! Kids these days and their digital gaming! Why in my day we suffered the paper cuts of *real* gamers! We were out on the playground getting fresh air and sunshine as we ground our cards against the blacktop!
But time stands still for no card flopper, and that’s OK. The Good Old Metas weren’t always good, and Tomorrow’s Formats aren’t as bad as they seem (with apologies to Billy).
There’s a rule in Improv called “Yes, and…” It suggests that a participant should accept what another participant has stated (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”).
For us First Gen (Dominarian), or even Second Gen (Ravnican) Magic players, I think “Yes, and…” is the way to go. We’re NOT losing the things we love about Tabletop Magic. We’re still going to have big tournaments like GPs and SCG events. We’re still going to have FNMs. And we’re still going to have Sideboards and Best of Three matches. AND, we’re going to have all the fun and faster-paced gameplay of Arena. We have the best of both worlds,