Wizards of the Coast has detailed what new features will be coming to Magic: the Gathering Arena on March 12, and there's quite a few things to go through. Let's take a look:
Historic Anthology II: this addition was announced last week, but today's update went into a bit more detail. 25 new cards will be added to the card pool, including several from the original Theros block that feature enchantment creatures and enchantment build-around cards. The newly-added cards were chosen in part to better complement the upcoming remastered released of Amonkhet and Pioneer Masters. The cards being added are:
- Platinum Angel
- Maelstrom Pulse
- Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- Pack Rat
- Meddling Mage
- Waste Not
- Dragonmaster Outcast
- Ancestral Mask
- Nyx-Fleece Ram
- Brain Maggot
- Barren Moor
- Forgotten Cave
- Lonely Sandbar
- Secluded Steppe
- Tranquil Thicket
- Inexorable Tide
- Sigil of the Empty Throne
- Virulent Plague
- Bojuka Bog
- Ghost Quarter
- Knight of the Reliquary
- Goblin Ruinblaster
- Merrow Reejerey
- Ranger of Eos
Players can start enjoying these cards on March 12, which is when Historic Ranked play will first become available. A full schedule of Historic events, which include Historic Brawl, Historic Pauper and Historic Challenge, can be found on the Magic website.
I am not enough of a longtime Magic player to be familiar with these specific cards, but I am glad to see this addition happening, and I'm especially glad to read about how the cards were chosen. The game works best when synergy is at its maximum, so seeing WotC build the game around supporting future expansions is definitely a good sign. On top of that, having more cards available to play with is inherently enjoyable and satisfying. I'm excited to see what sort of strategies and decks will be built around these additions, especially when Amonkhet and Pioneer Masters hit. I can't wait to become furious at a well-played Platinum Angel.
Secret Lair Thalia: Beyond the Helvault: To celebrate the new Historic addition, a new Secret Lair drop is happening on March 12, based around the card Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. This drop includes four different card styles, along with a special card sleeve; note that this Secret Lair drop does not include any actual copies of the card, just the alternate art styles. This doesn't jump out at me much, especially when I consider the relative price of Secret Lair packages, but so long as collectors don't feel like they're being bled dry, I'm not going to complain.
Cube Sealed: Possibly the biggest news coming out of this update is the addition of Cube Sealed to Arena. This won't be dropping until April, but apparently WotC was too excited not to announce it now, especially since cards from Historic Anthology II will be part of the cube that is being developed. There will not be a traditional or ranked draft initially, as WotC feels the experience wouldn't work as well with bot drafting, so Sealed is the only option for now (though they mention they are working on drafting with other human players). This will be the first "phantom" event for Arena, which means that cards will not be added to your collection. This also means, however, that the typical rarity distribution is going out the window, and players who participate in Cube Sealed may find a lot more than six Rares on hand.
I'm personally not a big Cube fan, but I know many people who are, and I think they'll be happy to see this addition; plus, new game modes are always appealing on their own, and players will not get bored quite so quickly. It is disappointing, however, that it seems to be releasing initially as a gem-only format. I feel like far fewer people will end up playing it as a result, and it's not really going to come into its own until Ranked and Traditional Draft become available. I understand the rationale, but that doesn't make it less of a disappointment. I am curious to see what cards will end up in the cube, though; apparently, we'll be finding out next month.
Some new features have been added that have nothing to do with new cards, as well.
Direct Messaging: Finally, you can talk to your friends! You will be able to send messages to people on your Friends list through Arena itself. For those who want to concentrate, you can set yourself to Busy, or make yourself appear offline. You still can't send messages to your opponents, but given what the entire internet is like, this is certainly for the best. To celebrate the new feature, Arena will grant quest progress to anyone who plays games with their friends, until the April update is launched. Personally, I think this is a great addition, especially when you can add friends entirely outside of some sort of third-party client, like Discord or Steam. This will make Arena feel much more like a complete product, as well as a self-contained one.
Color Challenges: WotC is completely revisiting the way they bring in new players, and as a result, Account Mastery is being removed in favor of Color Challenges. Each of the five Magic colors will have five associated challenges, designed to teach players the ins and outs of playing each color; on top of that, failing a challenge will present the player with a useful tip to help them take advantage of a specific color's unique flavor. Color Challenges will now grant player rewards, the way the Account Mastery system used to do. As someone who mainly sticks to two or three familiar colors due to their inexperience, this seems like it will be a useful feature for new players, and for me specifically. Finally, I can gain some sort of mastery over the color red.
Responsive Emotes: Arena will be adding two new emotes to the current pool: "Thanks!" and "Sorry!" These will appear in response to other emotes from your opponent, giving you an opportunity to be more polite and contrite.
Sleeve Updates: As a final note, Arena is updating and improving the UI for selecting sleeves, making them easier to scroll through. Players can also specify a default deck sleeve.
Overall, I think Arena is developing quite nicely, and these updates are a non-trivial improvement to the current package. The ideal form of Arena is as a digital hub for all things Magic, and the addition of old cards, Cube Sealed, and social functions like Direct Messaging will help the game get to that place. Right now, the offline Magic experience requires research, organization, and time that doesn't need to be spent on Arena, which makes it a very appealing option for new and old players alike. I dream of a version of Arena that will be able to encompass basically any Magic-related activity, and include a stronger social aspect on top of that. Things like chat rooms for draft participants would be a good way to get to know more people, and would help to capture that feeling of being at a bustling pre-release event or something to that effect (so long as chat moderation is solid, of course).
Right now, the biggest missing feature is human drafting instead of bot drafting. I've heard more than a few complaints about bot behavior when drafting, and anything that brings the online experience closer to the offline experience is a win in my book. On top of that, we now know of other features that are being blocked by the lack of human drafting, specifically the non-Sealed versions of Cube. Sure, it might end up being slower, but when players who cause trainwrecks are forced to take random cards as punishment, I'm sure behaviors will change quickly. Overall, I'm excited to see major additions and changes like this, and I'm curious to know just how far Arena can go.
For more details on the update, check out the official announcement on the Magic website.