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Magic For the 21st Century- A Comprehensive Review of Magic Arena

Written by Ryan the Goblin King on . Posted in Magic Culture

Magic For the 21st Century- A Comprehensive Review of Magic Arena

Ryan the Goblin King

Hailing from Goblinville, IN, Ryan AKA the Goblin King has been brewing Standard decks since Kaladesh block. Ryan has only one goal as a competitive Magic player and that’s to participate in a pro tour where every participant brings with them only the finest in jank.

It’s here- the future of Magic. And you know how I know it’s the future and not just some flash in the pan, iPhone Magic or well, MTGO? Because the computer gives you a free mulligan.

Have no fear Magic players, the future is here.

Yep, you heard that right, a free mulligan. Not happy about that soon-to-be triple bogie that you shanked 500 feet to the right of the tee? Well, it’s free, that no-lander that didn’t even happen. Well, sort of. In Magic Arena, unlike paper Magic, and MTGO, the computer chooses two starting hands for you and then automatically picks the one that has the more even distribution of lands and spells, so, in a sense, a free mulligan.

You notice the difference immediately. Less feel bad losses, more grindy games that feel a lot like wars.

It’s cheap too, incredibly so. I’ve got two Teferi, two Ral, my entire control suite of spells, a decent mono-red deck with 4 Phoenixes and I have yet to spend a cent on the game- it’s value driven Magic for sure.

The store feels sub-optimal at first. You simply don’t have the option to buy singles outright. You can pick singles, as you buy up booster packs in the game you’re allotted 1 rung in a 6 segment circle that will get you a ‘free’ mythic or a ‘free’ rare, and so on and so forth. So with 6 boosters purchased you get one single of your choice that’s either a rare or mythic in addition to the wildcards that come with the packs.

Of course, the financial ecosystem is wholly different from anything else in Magic. It’s not like Magic Online where cards are simply cheaper. And it doesn’t have the pitfalls of paper Magic (price of gasoline, having the highest prices). MTG Arena feels like a value-laden proposition for anyone interested in such a thing.

It doesn’t replace paper Magic. It doesn’t replace the human motions of fiddling through your deck or looking through your cards or talking to your opponent. The competition is at times intense, but never in a way that could ever truly be replicated in person. I don’t talk about my win with my opponent, I click ‘good game’ and am on to the next one.

The animations are both interesting and frustrating. From a players point of view, Niv-Mizzet is the worst Arena card ever created. The time it takes to filter through each triggered ability and the thunderbolt animations that accompany every one are a bit frustrating from a time point of view. On the contrary, the enter-the-battlefield animation of Niv-Mizzet is interesting and very cool to behold- it’s a pinkish dragon descending onto the card and breathing fire all about.

The feeling of the meta is of a combination of both skilled and unskilled players. Every now and then I’ll be playing a player that plays their instant speed spells at sorcery speed, or runs head on into a Settle the Wreckage but for the most part, the players that I’ve played against seem to have a nuanced understanding of the rules and a respectable knowledge of the intricacies of the stack.

I like the shop. At first I hated it, I didn’t at all like the proposition of having to buy packs and slowly earn up wildcard cards in order to put together the deck that I wanted. But the brewer in me has been completely thrilled by this proposition. I’m constantly testing out a cool new rare just because I like the art to see if maybe there’s something there. It oftentimes feels like there’s not- but it’s still fun all the same and I swear we haven’t seen the beginning of Firemind’s Research.

The meta seems varied devolving into controlling. If the meta is anything on Magic Arena- I’ve found it be controlling. Turn one island, turn two Steam Vents. ‘This again’ you find yourself grumbling. It can be grueling at times, facing your third grindy control match in a row but for the most part I’ve found those games to be the most fun. Even with the plethora of control match-ups, the meta still feels varied. As soon as Guilds of Ravnica was released red decks were running amok. Since then I’ve seen a decent number of token decks, and now it feels like the Golgari decks that have been performing well in recent weeks have seen an uptick. Four Gruesome Menagerie is a nightmare inducing thing for a blue mage to behold. Of course, this is all anecdotal. But I have been playing a lot of Magic Arena.

You’ll get good. This is the biggest thing that anyone that plays online Magic will tell you. I wonder how many games I would’ve unsuspectingly lost in the future had I not known how priority actually works by being told when I can and can’t do things in the game of Magic. But if you’re ever wondering, can I do this now, that little timer on the right, or lack thereof, will be there to remind you.

It’s not Magic Online. I can’t speak too much to Magic Online seeing as how I’ve never played it. My limited experiences with MTGO involved buying a black-white vampires deck back when that was a smart thing to do, realizing how ridiculous it was that I had a timer on how long I had to buy a bunch of cards, and proceeding to never log back on again. No, Magic Online was some thing from that 90’s, that, much like Windows XP, managed to slip its way into the homes of unsuspecting individuals for far too long, and, I imagine, Magic Arena is it’s rightful, if belated heir.

It feels really smooth. Once you get a hang of some of the minor intricacies of things (you click on everything) the game pretty much guides you on it’s own. Just make sure you read the prompts as Siege-Gang bombing your own creatures is something that you only want to do once.

It’s Magic anytime, anywhere for almost any reason. Magic Arena is still in it’s infancy (it just got out of closed beta) so, at this point, there are simply things you can’t do. You can’t play Commander, or Legacy, or Vintage. You can’t play in competitive leagues where your results will be published on the Magic website. But you can get into infinite one-of games of Standard, or draft, or play in competitive 2 of matches of Standard at anytime, anywhere, with any 60 (or 75) cards you can come up with.

It’s come a long way. THIS. If you have had the misfortune of playing Magic Arena in the early beta, you can attest to how poorly it ran and many of the bugs that accompanied it. It’s been a while playing and while I have found some minor annoyances (not being able to undo x-spells such as Syncopate). I’ve found this version of Magic Arena to be nearly bug-free.

Where to go from here. When I look at how Magic Arena deals with opening hands I begin to realize just how endless the possibilities are for improving Magic as a game with online play. I hope the creators of MTG Arena will go even further and build an algorithm that allows for players to more consistently draw an even number of lands and spells, thus allowing for less screw and flood feel bad losses. I also look at the way of distributing cards and wonder if Magic Arena’s card drops couldn’t be carried out in a way so as to influence the meta. This last idea could of course disrupt the ‘pureness of deck building’ and may not be in the best interest of the game.

It’s addicting. You’ll find yourself at times, looking at the clock and wondering where the time has gone, or how you missed the wedding, or why you don’t have any friends anymore. It’s certainly addicting and as with any hobby, it’s an addiction that it’s best that everyone try to keep in check.

It’s a deck-builders dream. I’m sure I haven’t but it seems like, after I finally got hosed by 4 Gruesome Menagerie, that I’ve seen every relevant new card to come out of Guilds of Ravnica. The game has done a good job of giving me powerful and interesting cards to brew with too. The free decks that you win when you first start the game give you access to staples such as Rekindling Phoenix, Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Resplendent Angel, Carnage Tyrant, History of Benalia, Siege-Gang Commander, and a number of interesting build arounds.

It’s fun. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times but never in my life have I found myself being so vocal with my computer screen. Magic Arena will never be what paper Magic is. But it’ll always be a fun escape for any Magic fan, and in some ways, it’s Magic in its purest form.

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