Coming to Magic: The Gathering Arena on August 12, the Jumpstart: Historic Horizons expansion adds a trio of new game mechanics that only work in the digital version of the popular trading card game, along with 31 new digital only cards. The move away from traditional paper is rubbing some fans the wrong way.
Despite all of its fancy digital bells and whistles, Magic: The Gathering Arena has stayed pretty true to the physical version of the game. Though some digital only cards were present in the game as part of the new player experience, for most part, any deck you could build and play in the digital game could be recreated in physical form. The new mechanics introduced in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons change that.
Though most of the hundreds of cards coming in the new expansion are from physical Magic card sets like Modern Horizons and Modern Horizons 2, it also includes 31 new-to-Magic cards designed specifically to take advantage of three new digital-only mechanics. There’s “Seek,” which grabs a random card from your deck while matching a specific criteria without having to shuffle or have the player make a choice. The “Perpetually” mechanic permanently changes the properties of a card for the remainder of a match, no matter where it goes, back to the deck, to the graveyard, whatever. Finally there’s “Conjure,” which creates cards out of thin air. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a Stormfront Pegasus in your deck. If a card says you conjure one, it just appears.
Obviously none of these new mechanics would work in a physical Magic: The Gathering match. Players cannot conjure cards out of nowhere, and keeping track of a perpetually changed card would be a real hassle. By adding these new digital-only mechanics, Wizards of the Coast is capitalizing on Arena’s digital format, slowly pulling it away from the in-person experience. Some might consider this a good thing. Others, like many of the commenters on IGN’s exclusive card reveal tweet yesterday and some members of the Magic: The Gathering Arena Reddit page would prefer Arena remain as faithful to the paper version of the game as possible.
I’m on the fence. I’m all for digital-only game mechanics as long as they don’t get too wacky or out-of-control. A little here, a little there. If I want to play a digital card game that would never work mechanically as a real-life game, there are plenty of those on Steam. For now, let’s see how these modest new additions work in practice and decide what to set on fire from there.