Magic: The Gathering Online - What's New and What's Next

Magic: The Gathering Online Product Manager, Ryan Spain, joins Magic Untapped to talk about what's new and what's in the works for the game.

There's a lot going on with Magic: The Gathering Online, the cardboard-to-digital variant of Wizards of the Coast's venerable collectible card game.

Part of that is because it has new life behind it courtesy of Daybreak Games, which recently acquired the rights to the online game from WotC.

Moving the game from WotC to Daybreak, however, wasn't exactly the smoothest.

"The transition definitely had its bumps," says Magic Online Product Manager Ryan Spain.  "It's really tough to take a piece of software -- and that's such a light term for what this ism this feat of engineering -- out of the company and the network and the systems that are supporting it as a digital entity under one company and putting it into another."

It's the kind of work one doesn't know they have until they fix the one problem that reveals the next and the next and so on.

"It's just the methodical you gotta do it, do it, do it until it all works," he says.

The handoff of Magic Online occurred in late 2022.  Since then, Daybreak Games has been looking at ways to improve the game while keeping up with Wizards of the Coast's myriad new Magic: The Gathering releases.

"We've been able to try a lot of things and take some risks and ask our players questions through introducing new features, new queues, new ideas and, just, gauging response," comments Spain.

Thanks to the feedback Daybreak Games has received from players, the company has been able to already implement a number of changes and improvements to the game.

"We've...reintroduced single-elimination, 64-player tournaments," he points out.  "That's been a huge success from player response."

The company is has also added to MTGO two-factor authentification, as well as expanded the software's Freeform variant to allow for better Commander and Oathbreaker player use.

WATCH: Daybreak Games' Ryan Spain chats with Magic Untapped about the future of Magic: The Gathering Online.

As far as for what's on slate for Magic Online in the future, Spain says there's quite a bit in the works.

"...looking towards ways to help people get cards to play with without having to collect them, but...[to] always make collecting matter on Magic Online," explains Spain.  "It's an important feature of the game, that it has pure object trading."

Daybreak Games is also looking at graphical improvements, including not just making foil treatments more appealing and less resource-hogging, but also in giving the game a complete visual overhaul.  Such an overhaul, however, isn't as simple as moving a few sprites around, as Spain points out.  It's quite the commitment -- one the company is hoping to be able to earn in the long run.

"It's the easiest thing to ask for in terms of, like, it's obvious that this could use a graphic update," responds Spain.  "But what you're fundamentally talking about is an engine update.  It would be wrong to simply to make a big effort to do a graphic overhaul under the current tech."

According to Spain, a major GUI and visual overhaul of Magic Online would be a multi-year effort and, simply put, there are more important fish to fry before Daybreak Games gets to that point.

"We need to improve the new player experience so that we increase our player base as so we can attract a demographic like the Commander player base that could be playing with [Magic Online] that's not," Spain comments.  "And, how many Commander players are newer to the game, they gravitate to Commander, they love it, but they don't really know about [Magic Online], because people don't talk about [Magic Online] as a destination for Commander."

Spain and the rest of the Daybreak Games team working on Magic Online hopes that changes.

"We want to become something the Commander community talks about as a digital destination for enjoying that experience," says Spain.

As it is, perhaps to Daybreak Games taking over the reins, Magic Online may be headed towards an upwards swing despite the ever-growing popularity of Magic: The Gathering - Arena as a digital destination for the 30-year-old collectible card game.

"It's just about defining where we want to get to and doing the things we need to do to get there," confesses Spain.

Part of that may be thanks to the folks now behind the software.

"It's an incredible crew of dedicated people that, in some cases [are] very new and...are making contributions," compliments Spain.  "There's a lot of unseen heroes that keep this venerable, amazing accomplishment rolling and I appreciate them."

Magic: The Gathering Online first launched in 2002 and, as it as been from day one, is still a free-to-play/"freemium" way to play Magic: The Gathering online.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.