Magic Arena’s community was in an uproar this past weekend over the latest state of the beta, mostly over the announced plans for Arena’s eternal Historic format that will become relevant with the coming rotation. It’s likely that Wizards will backpedal in some way in response to the community, but here are my thoughts for now:
Historic cards to cost double wildcards to craft
This is the universally-reviled bit and has been the target of much outrage, accursing Wizards of being greedy etc. On this point I am in agreement with the community that yes, this sucks. On the other hand, I’ve learned not to be outraged by ridiculous DLC/microstransaction pricing. If something is too unaffordable, I simply won’t indulge it. If I can’t afford to craft a historic deck, I won’t play the format, until I can. More on this later.
WotC’s plans for Historic looks to me like they are trying to replicate the “scarcity” inherent to paper eternal formats like Modern and Legacy. Arena is actually a bit more generous that either MTGO or HS, since both of those don’t sell boosters from older sets in their stores. WotC still plans to have Historic sets available, though only in 45-pack bundles (I don’t care about this either, as I rarely purchase packs anyway, but some people also dislike this change). The 2-for-1 crafting cost is still uniquely Arena and thus their own bad decision.
In general, digital games have to have slightly different business models than IRL counterparts. Arena is unique in this regard since it’s the only modern digital CCG that has a strong paper analogue. Trying to replicate the scarcity of paper Magic may have made sense for MTGO, since that platform allows trading and thus cashing out, but for Arena it doesn’t make sense.
Most likely the goal is to ensure that Standard is the main gameplay mode especially for newer players, as Standard generall drives sales. But increasing the crafting cost is unnecessary. The barrier to entry for Historic will already be pretty high for a new player anyway, even if the crafting cost was 1-to-1, since a new player will have more sets to catch up with. There is no sensible reason for doing this, as it is only setting Historic up for failure.
Curated cards to be periodically added to Historic
For this one, the community is more split. There are those like me who consider this a good idea, as long as they are conservative with the power level of the curated cards added to historic. My personal preference is that they release cards that were pretty good in standard during their time, but haven’t really found a good place in Modern, so that they have a chance to shine. Clouding the issue is a recent tweet by the official twitter where they suggest that examples of curated cards could be Brainstorm, Firebolt, Wurmcoil Engine, and Dark Confidant, all of which are at least Modern power level.
Those who dislike this change seem to be mainly because they don’t want Historic to be Modern or Legacy. I’ll be honest, I would love it if I could play Modern on Arena. But technically, it’s not likely that the historic format will ever be the same as Modern (or Legacy), unless WotC goes crazy. It’s highly unlikely that they would add the Tron lands or Storm cards or Dredge cards into Historic for example. It would take a lot of cards for historic to even come close to Modern. But I understand the concern – there are a lot of broken cards in Modern and Legacy, and WotC is made up of humans, so there is a nontrivial risk that they will screw up and add something ridiculous into Historic, breaking the format. The Brainstorm inclusion in the tweet linked above certainly doesn’t help.
I understand the appeal of having an eternal format that is Arena sets only, moving forward. Some also want the previous Arena-implemented sets (Shadows over Innistrad, Kaladesh, and Amonkhet) to be included as well. Some prefer that Arena start adding sets one by one working backwards and stopping at Magic Origins. In general, these are all in the same vein. The idea generally is that more recent sets are more “balanced” in terms of power level, especially since Play Design is now a thing, thus the format will probably be healthier in generally than Modern which is a turn 4 format.
There’s also a secondary concern that adding curated cards so often (the initial plan is quarterly) will shake up the metagame more often and make Historic even more expensive as a format to get into, as you need to be getting new cards every so often. The assumption is that the curated cards will be high power level staples which would be necessary to participate in the format. Again, such concern could be mitigated by careful curation. If the curation is done well, each batch of new cards could introduce new strategies and make small changes to the metagame without necessarily invalidating entire decks. And again, there is a nontrivial risk of screw-ups.
To assuage these concerns in general, what I would do if were WotC would be to introduce two eternal formats instead. One is just Arena eternal - all Arena sets (maybe including Amonkhet, but people don’t seem to like Kaladesh very much for some reason), and a second one which is basically just what they’re already planning for Historic. More options is always better (although it might “confuse the new players”, whatever that means).
Managing your own expectations
Circling back to my point earlier. If Historic is too cost prohibitive, I won’t play it, until I can. In many ways, it’s a case of managing your own expectations for an online game. I like playing Magic, and Arena lets me do that at a manageable cost (i.e. free and conveniently). The addition of the Historic format doesn’t change that. I can still play Standard regardless of whether I can afford Historic or not. Until this state of the beta, I wasn’t even thinking about what happens to my cards that are rotating out, whether I’ll be able to use them again or not. For most of those cards, I drafted them, I played with them, I used them with standard decks and I generally enjoyed my time playing Arena (Nexus of Fate notwithstanding). It helps that I am a f2p player, as all I invested was my time, and since I enjoyed my time, it was not wasted time for me no matter what happens to those cards.
I guess it’s a different matter if you’ve been paying for the cards? IDK, I have a friend who’s bought at least a bundle every time a new set comes in, I haven’t heard any complaints from him. If you’ve invested more into this game, I get that it’s a feel bad if you can’t make the most of the game by participating in all the available modes because of cost.
It’s a bit like Wild in Hearthstone. I played Hearthstone for a while before rotation became a thing, so I had a lot of cards that are now only playable in Wild. I don’t really play HS anymore, but in the short time when I was active and Wild was available, I probably played only a handful of games. And I never disenchanted all those cards, even if I didn’t get to play them much. I don’t care that they’re just sitting there not doing anything.
I’m looking forward to how WotC responds to the outrage.