MTG Arena 2019 Year in Review

Happily Ever After Art

Happy new year everybody! Magic: The Gathering Arena revolutionized the way people play MTG all over the world from new to veteran players alike as it first opened its doors to the public on September 27, 2018. With an open mind, we present to you 2019 Year in Review for MTG Arena. We look back at the good and the bad, revisiting the earlier days, reviewing their relevance to our current state as we look forward to an exciting future. This will be a very long one, so grab a cup of tea and relax – we hope you’ll stay until the end. Please enjoy our first MTG Arena 2019 Year in Review!


January 17, 2019: Ravnica Allegiance Release

  • The first major update of 2019 coincided with the release of the Ravnica Allegiance. The set included cards such as Hydroid Krasis, Growth Spiral, Wilderness Reclamation and several others that would be Standard regulars for the next year.
  • MTG Arena experienced its first major economy update, with the Duplicate Protection system and the resulting reduction of the Individual Card Reward (ICRs) upgrade rates. This change made playing the evergreen Constructed Event and Traditional Standard Event less worthwhile, as it had been one of the better methods to collect cards and earn Gold.
  • The ranked system had an overhaul earlier in December 2018, and the second “Preseason” began at the end of January and lasted until the end of February. The top 8 players at the end of the preseason received an invite to the first $1 million MTG Arena Mythic Invitational, which was a big incentive to climb the ladder.

February 14, 2019: Nexus of Fate Banned in BO1

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  • Nexus of Fate was banned in MTG Arena’s best-of-one (BO1) format. This decision was made on the basis that players were looping the card over and over again without having win conditions and even with them, making games take far too long. Most of you will remember the pain of having Nexus decks slowly lock you out of the game, and then take ages to close it out! At this time, the 30 minute match clock we have in BO3 now had not yet been released.
  • This was the beginning of the blurring of a contentious line between digital and tabletop Magic. Players would find out several months later that this distinction was only the beginning! Wildcards were refunded to players, as has become the norm.

March 27, 2019: Cosmetics Introduced

  • As is tradition for free-to-play games, MTG Arena rolled out its first line of cosmetics to the game, in the form of card styles, sleeves and more avatars.
  • The Mastery system was first introduced for new players going through the tutorial, a progression system that allows players to gain XP by playing the game and earn rewards along the way.

March 28, 2019: Mythic Invitational

The Mythic Invitational was held, beginning on March 28, an exhibition event for MTG Arena with a massive unprecedented $1 million prize pool. For this tournament, 64 players competed in a new experimental format called Duo Standard, where they played best-of-one games with two decks (which can be different or same).

This was one of the points of contention at the time, as the game mode meant that luck was a big factor in deciding the winner. Although majority of the MTG Arena users play BO1 games, it did not mean that the same appeal would carry over to a competitive setting and the format has not been repeated since. However, MTG Arena’s push for BO1 games continues until today.

April 25, 2019: War of the Spark Release

War of the Spark was a set based around Planeswalkers. They are traditionally printed only at the mythic rare rarity, but this time the Magic R&D team decided to experiment a little by making them also at uncommon and rare, as well as giving them passive abilities. The expansion’s highlight goes to Teferi, Time Raveler, which will later prove to become a staple in many decks to come.

May 11, 2019: Magic Pro League Kicks Off

Magic Pro League Weekly

The first weekly Magic Pro League (MPL) season kicked off without much fanfare. The members of the MPL were pitted against each other via MTG Arena to win a free pass into day two of the upcoming Mythic Championship tournament. There were some teething issues even from the beginning as the members were selected, the interest in these matches were low as they broadcast prerecorded matches and while the reward to players for winning was significant, it did not translate the same way to potential viewers.

May 23, 2019: War of the Spark Chronicles

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May 27, 2019: Mythic Championship III Qualifier

Mythic Championship Qualifier Event
  • The first Mythic Championship Qualifier for MTG Arena was held, giving players in the top 1000 Mythic ranks from the first two proper ladder seasons a chance to compete in the $750,000 prize pool tournament.
  • As seasonal in-game rewards are lacklustre as compared to the effort required to climb the ranks, these qualifiers that are held every three months or so have become the primary incentive.
  • Standard at the time was enjoying a diverse and balanced metagame – one of the best in recent times. Mono Red Aggro occupied 30% of the top 128 metagame! It was a powerful deck and at the same time a great option for new players to work towards, as it wasn’t jam-packed with rares and mythic rares. Many a player died a horrible death to turn two Runaway Steam-Kin in those days!

May 29, 2019: Chris Clay Parts Ways With Wizards of the Coast

Chris Clay, the game director for MTG Arena made an announcement that he would be leaving the team after three years, and was replaced by our current game director, Jay Parker. This was a surprising, unexpected and disappointing piece of news for many of us at the time, just months before Arena’s much-anticipated official release.

As user PEKKAmi perfectly put it – “His presence in Beta process built much confidence about the direction of where Arena was heading. Seeing what we have now in Arena, it is evident he incorporated reasonable player feedback.” He is now a game director at Immutable for the blockchain trading card game, Gods Unchained.

June 4, 2019: One Billion Games Milestone Reached

MTG Arena One Billion Games Played

Since open beta on September 27 2018, a total of one billion games had been played on Arena: an average of 3.9 million games per day across 251 days, and of 50000 simultaneous players. The free code OneBillion was given out to commemorate this milestone, which was redeemable for one War of the Spark booster pack. Here’s hoping Wizards releases statistics for what the numbers are currently, so we can see how far we’ve come!

June 21, 2019: Mythic Championship III

The first Mythic Championship to be held through the MTG Arena platform was won by “challenger” Matias Leveratto who, against all odds, battled his way through the tough qualifier weekend and the main tournament to win the trophy and $100,000 prize using his Simic Nexus deck. His vicctory was marked by an unforgettable moment in the final match where he drew the namesake card of his deck – Nexus of Fate – to clinch the title. The tournament also marked the return of Kai Budde, a legendary figure in Magic, who qualified through MTG Arena playing Esper Hero.

The hallmark of this victory was that Matias had just shown the world that you could be on the big stages, just by competing through MTG Arena. The opportunities are few and far between, but this was only just the beginning for Magic Esports.

July 2, 2019: Core Set 2020 Release

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The 8th and final set to be added to Standard was released on July 2, with some groundbreaking changes.

  • Wizards further monetized and innovated the game’s economy with the introduction of the new Core Set Mastery Pass, a progression-based reward system that recycles every new expansion. At this stage, players earned gold via daily quests and daily wins, and earned packs via weekly wins. Purchasing the Mastery Pass extended the rewards by awarding packs, gold and gems throughout the progression, as well as introducing a new cosmetic type (pets), and reaching the final level earned you a Chandra Exquisite Sleeve.
  • The new London Mulligan was introduced to mitigate further variance in games. This wasn’t their motivation, so much as the outcome. They did it to make mulligans less punishing, and “make games where one or more players mulligan more competitive”, as per their announcement.
  • Standard rotation was now on everyone’s minds. The next set to be released was due to make four sets unplayable in Standard and would introduce a new non-rotating format (Historic). Starting from this game update, all rewards and events were updated to only include cards from the most recent four set – those that were safe from rotation. This helped reduce feel-bad moments where less invested players might open cards they would soon be unable to use, and was therefore very well-received.
  • Core Set 2020 featured an abnormal number of powerful and exciting cards as compared to previous Core Sets:

July 10, 2019: Mastery System Update and Performance Issues

  • The mastery pass wasn’t well received by the community, as it was calculated that it would be extremely difficult to reach the maximum level, and many players complained about not having the time or inclination to do so every single day.
  • Wizards responded to community feedback and iterated the mastery pass. Adjustments were made so players could spread their gameplay throughout the week. Players were also given two codes for extra levels and it was communicated that upcoming special events would grant additional Mastery XP.
  • Players were also experiencing an issue with players being able to continuously click the new pet cat and lag the other player out. This was to be an issue highlighting the level of degradation in performance the client had been suffering until now, and the major update with Core Set 2020 was not a smooth release either.

July 25, 2019: Plane-Cation Chronicles

Plane-cation Chronicles

Core Set 2020’s special events were the Plane-Cation Chronicles spanning over 5 weeks. They were still free to enter, rewarded 1000 Mastery XP each and a set of special Basic Lands from Magic’s past. They required a total of 6 wins (down from 10), but the problem was that each event basically only lasted 48 hours, starting at Sundays and ending on Tuesdays. This caused many players to miss the events and though it was said that these lands would be available for purchase later on down the track, it still has not been made available yet.

August 18, 2019: Mythic Championship V Qualifier

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Standard was enjoying a relatively diverse and healthy metagame at the time, and the Mythic Championship V Qualifier was a very interesting event. The top decks to beat were Orzhov Vampires, Bant Scapeshift and to some extent Mono Red Aggro. Stan Cifka and Ondrej Strasky made their way into the top 16 using an unknown deck archetype called Kethis Combo, which seemed almost unstoppable at the time and quickly became part of the metagame.

Chris Kavartek, now member of the Magic Pro League, qualified with his take on Mono Green Stompy featuring Vine Mare – particularly strong against Field of the Dead and Vampire decks at the time. This was only to be the beginning that demonstrated his ability to build unique, meta-targeting decks for the occasion.

August 19, 2019: Epic Game Store and macOS Announced

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As MTG Arena attempts to reach out to a wider audience, Wizards announced at Gamescom that they will be bringing MTG Arena to the Epic Games Store and a macOS version was in the works. Unfortunately, the mac version is still nowhere to be seen and players are using workarounds such as Nvidia GeForce NOW to play MTG Arena. Hopefully, this is not too far off now and perhaps start hearing news about developing MTG Arena for mobile platforms!

August 29, 2019: Historic Announced

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With the release of a new set came Standard rotation and all interest was on how MTG Arena would handle the eternal, non-rotating format named Historic. With the State of the Beta in August, the roadmap for the format was detailed and how it was planned to be supported. The controversy behind this announcement was that once the format became officially introduced in November, two Wildcards would be required to redeem for one Historic card.

September 4, 2019: Eldraine Courtside Brawl

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The September update rolled out, and a surprise event was awaiting players – the Eldraine Courtside Brawl. This signified the introduction of Brawl to MTG Arena as well as the preview season for the upcoming Throne of Eldraine set. Players were able to play the four preconstructed Brawl decks that also includes some of the new cards. Another kicker was that the rewards for the event gave Throne of Eldraine cards that you could play in the upcoming Standard 2020 event!

Singleton had been a popular format so far in MTG Arena, and Brawl was not going to be any different. Though the format is practically not played in paper Magic due to the existence of commander, Brawl was the only real option MTG Arena players were going to get for the time being.

September 9, 2019: Standard 2020

Ranked Standard 2020

Core Set Mastery was about to end with the release of Throne of Eldraine and Wizards introduced a repeatable event called Standard 2020 that granted Mastery XP to catch up. This was a welcome decision as the system received some backlash when it was first introduced. As a result of all the feedback surrounding the mastery system, this was later to be reflected in future mastery systems so players have much more leeway in reaching the desired level.

September 13, 2019: Historic Update

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Wizards reverses the decision for Historic Wildcard redemption, and players make a small compromise where the Historic Play Queue does not progress daily or weekly wins. The initial announcement was something a bit too blatant that the reversal did not even feel like a win at the time.

September 26, 2019: MTG Arena’s Official Release Date!

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  • The release Throne of Eldraine also marked the official release date of MTG Arena, and its departure from the Open Beta status. A code for a Fblthp avatar was also sent to all Open Beta participants, and Renewal Rewards were given out to help players with the coinciding Standard Rotation.
  • This occasion was also celebrated with a set of events that allowed you to access all the Standard cards in MTG Arena with unprecedented rewards.
    • Play Any Deck: This event allowed you to play 12 games using all the cards, including ones from Throne of Eldraine. It was a good opportunity to test a variety of decks without having to purchase them!
    • Win Every Card Challenge: The follow-up event was the real deal – winning 12 times rewarded you with a copy of every Standard card.
  • Throne of Eldraine will prove to be a high powered set with many cards that become staples in the Standard metagame. From the beginning this may not have been too obvious as players tried a variety of different decks in the beginning, but what was to follow over the next few months will prove to be a tumultuous time for the Standard format.
  • The release of the new set also signified the beginning of Historic, but was met with no fanfare. At this point there was practically no support nor visibility for the format (see above) – you could queue with your Historic deck on the Play queue and be matched with others doing the same (something you can still do now).

October 10, 2019: Throne of Eldraine Bot Drafting Update

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As more players delved into Throne of Eldraine drafting, it became evident that drafting with bots were starting to become an issue. A prime example of this was bots underrating Merfolk Secretkeeper and the underlying mill cards, which resulted in players ending up with many copies in their decks that opponents could do nothing about. A hotfix was rolled out to update the bot’s pick priority, but this also highlighted the need for drafting against humans in MTG Arena.

October 16, 2019: Mythic Championship V

The release of Throne of Eldraine was also not kind to Standard! While Throne of Eldraine had a high impact on the new format, Field of the Dead and Golos, Tireless Pilgrim were dominating the metagame. It had been a known factor for a little while, as Bryan Gottlieb won the Fandom Caster Cup with an early version of the deck. This had called for an earlier than usual banned and restricted announcement that was to be made straight after the tournament, on October 21.

Almost 40% of the decks from Mythic Championship V, the second big stage for MTG Arena, were the Bant Golos decks. With all the decent answers against the land now gone (Blood Sun, Alpine Moon, Field of Ruin), the deck was able to generate a stream of Zombies while ramping up with Golos. Another issue was that the deck was also quite slow, and mirror matches made that even worse.

Despite all that, the eventual winner was Javier Dominguez – the reigning World Champion – who used an aggressive Gruul deck that worked especially well against the slower Bant Golos decks.

October 21, 2019: Field of the Dead Banned

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As many would have expected, Field of the Dead was banned in Standard on this day and this was only the beginning of a volatile period of Standard and MTG Arena. Players had not 100% caught on to the overpowered cards from Throne of Eldraine, as Field of the Dead was not the only culprit and it was masking the underlying issues on hand, as we would find out later.

October 24, 2019: Brawl Launch Announced

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With the October update came the official launch of Brawl and the accompanying celebration event. Brawl was already well received and anticipated in the preview Eldraine Courtside Event. The biggest issue here was that as announced in the State of the Game few days earlier, Wizards decided that Brawl could only be played for 24 hours every Wednesday – calling it Wednesday Brawl – in the excuse that it would spread out the playerbase across queues. This was met with another community outcry, almost as big as the Historic Wildcard announcement. Despite all this, the decision was held firm and it still continues today.

This led to the community resorting to alternate ways of playing Brawl on-demand through Direct Challenges, using a Discord server (most popular one being Brawl Hall) or a matchmaking web tool called ArenaBrawl.net.

The update also revised the progression of Eldraine Mastery providing further leeway for players by granting 25 XP per daily win, up to 10 wins per day.

October 26, 2019: Mythic Championship VII Qualifier

Field of the Dead was banned, and it quickly became apparent what the most powerful strategy in Standard was – decks built around the powerful Oko, Thief of Crowns and the Food mechanic. The Mythic Championship VII Qualifier Weekend metagame consisted of almost 60% Food decks.

37% of those were the Sultai variants, which splashed black for some black cards but mostly for Noxious Grasp. What is usually a sideboard card, it was being included in the main deck due to the dominance of green cards in the format and it was the most efficient answer for them. The format was under jeopardy, and it was only a matter of when, not if, further bans were necessary.

November 3, 2019: Festival of the Fae

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Festival of the Fae were the special events for Throne of Eldraine (similar to the chronicles we’ve had previously) spanning over three weeks. The rewards were cosmetic, the showcase card styles for the Adventure cards.

The major change for these events were going from being free entry to requiring an entry fee of 2500 gold or 500 gems. This set a precedent going forward for future events, despite the free events generating a lot of interest and community satisfaction.

November 8, 2019: Mythic Championship VI

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Mythic Championship VI was not held in MTG Arena, but the format was Standard which made it relevant. Results from the preceding Mythic Championship VII Qualifier made it apparent that green cards revolving around Oko, Thief of Crowns were too powerful and created an unhealthy format. For this tournament, over 56% of the players opted to play a Oko Food deck and the eventual winner Ondrej Strasky took out Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa in a Simic Food mirror match final.

November 13, 2019: Historic Anthology 1 Announced

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The November State of the Game was announced, and it was almost time for Historic to be officially introduced after much controversy. A set of 20 curated cards called Historic Anthology 1, was to be introduced to the format to “expand the format in interesting ways. Some are nostalgia plays, some are fun build-arounds to enable new archetypes, and some are powerful new tools.” The plan is to have a set of such cards added every quarter.

This was also the first time that they acknowledged the possibility of other formats that involves older sets, such as Pioneer. The initial plan mentioned was to “add “remastered” versions of older sets and condensing them into a single larger set that includes the most relevant cards.” in later 2020. As some may know, older sets are already in the game (such as Amonkhet) from the closed beta days.

November 18, 2019: Three Cards Banned in Standard

Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer joined Field of the Dead in the Standard banlist. Oko was mostly expected as the card was making an impact not only in Standard but other paper Magic formats as well. Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer had actually been already banned from Pioneer (December 2 and November 11 respectively) and followed suit in Standard as well.

December 6, 2019: Mythic Championship VII

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The final Mythic Championship of the year and the conclusion of the competitive Magic season, was held in the post-Oko ban Standard environment. A lot was on the lines for many players, as the results of this tournament could affect their position in the Magic Pro League and the new Rivals League in 2020 – even for players not participating!

The metagame of the tournament itself was a battle between Fires of Invention (Jeskai Fires) and Cauldron Familiar/Witch’s Oven (Jund/Golgari Sacrifice) decks, the most powerful strategies of Standard after the bans. The headline of the tournament however, was a deck that the team of Seth Manfield, Brad Nelson and Javier Dominguez brought to the tournament – Simic Flash. Anticipating a slower metagame heavy on Jeskai Fires, Seth Manfield took the existing Simic Flash archetype, traditionally with more creatures such as Spectral Sailor and Brineborn Cutthroat, and replaced them with a ramp package consisting of Growth Spiral, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and even Paradise Druid. All three of them made top 8 of the tournament with Brad Nelson being runner up, which made this deck choice a genius stroke by the three players.

Another story of the tournament was the journey of Chris Kvartek (Kvartech) and Miguel da Cruz Simões (edmvyrus), who both qualified for the tournament by playing only on MTG Arena for the second time, making this an amazing feat. After the tournament, they both joined the ranks of Magic Pro League and Rivals League respectively, which demonstrated their skill and instilled hope to prospective MTG Arena players out there. Regardless, nothing could take away the spotlight from Piotr Glogowski’s victory with his undefeated record with his Jund Sacrifice deck.

December 10, 2019: Brawlidays and Historic Suspensions

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  • To further add fuel to the fire caused by Wednesday Brawl, MTG Arena announced with the December State of the Game that players can pay a fee – a whopping 10000 gold and 2000 gems – to be able to play Brawl until January 16, 2020. This was under the guise of a “holiday event”, coining the term Brawlidays and a very minor “reward”. This was met with disdain with the vocal community where the consensus was that a Brawl queue should be available at all times, without prohibitive costs.
  • Along with Brawlidays, came Rhys the Redeemed as the card was made available as legal to be played in both Brawl and Historic. This was also a puzzling decision that further blurred the line of digital and tabletop Magic as strictly by definition, Brawl only allows Standard-legal cards as a rotating commander format. If one was to play Rhys in tabletop Brawl, it would not be allowed to do so. The silver lining is that a majority of the players play Commander, and Brawl is largely a fringe format despite Wizard’s effort to push Brawl in paper Magic with Throne of Eldraine.
  • Historic got an update with this patch as Field of the Dead, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer becomes “suspended”. The same cards are also on the Standard banned card list, and it did not come as a surprise as these cards proved to be far too powerful. The only surprise was using a new term “suspension” rather than “banned”, as they state that cards in such list have a possibility of becoming unsuspended in the next Historic season, or moved to a permanent banlist altogether. This announcement was also met with confusion as players perceived this as a way to avoid refunding Wildcards again, since Historic is a digital-only format, the banlist is not as rigid as paper Magic.

December 12, 2019: Friends List and Theros Beyond Death Previews Begin

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  • The December update introduced the anticipated Friends List to the game, after being postponed from the previous game update and not even being mentioned with the State of the Game. With this initial release, players were able to add and challenge a friend, but other than that it was largely a disappointing roll out with just the most basic features. Hopefully this will soon be expanded to include features such as seeing match history, recently played list, deck sharing and maybe even a messaging system.
  • The Game Awards After Party event went live not too long after the patch, where we were able to play with one of the preconstructed singleton decks that included iconic Magic cards – such as Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall! This was significant as these cards even had their own unique animations, and it meant adding older cards from Magic’s past was not out of the question.
  • At the same time, the decks from the event included several cards from the new set, Theros Beyond Death including the key planeswalkers Ashiok and Elspeth, which marked the beginning of the new set’s preview season and the preorders were also made available.

December 17, 2019: Esports Update

To wrap up the year, an update was announced to the competitive structure for Magic: The Gathering. With the end of the season, new Magic Pro League members and formation of the new Rivals League was confirmed, as well as the dates and requirements for the upcoming MTG Arena Qualifiers and the Mythic Point Challenges.

The major news to come out of all this was that the annual Magic World Championship XXVI starting February 14, will be played for the first time in MTG Arena. This is a significant push for digital Magic, as well as being a massive platform for advertising the client to viewers. The tournament traditionally featured a variety of formats, and with MTG Arena being less flexible in this regard, will be interesting to see how it will be played. For example, it was suggested that drafting could happen via real cards, and then the games itself could be played on MTG Arena.


Wrapping Up

Thank you for reading this wall of text all the way to the end! In summary, one could say 2019 was a mixed bag for MTG Arena – from the excitement of the open beta to the official release and a volatile Standard environment caused by excessively powerful cards in Throne of Eldraine. As for the website itself, we wrote a little about what’s coming here.

In 2020, it will be up to Wizards of the Coast and the MTG Arena development team to prove their success in the digital sector using the strong pre-existing intellectual property, loved by many, as a foundation. We hope to at least see the following this year:

  • Bot drafting: Bots are starting to show their limitations and our ability to enjoy drafting. At a minimum, we wish to be able to draft with other players, and for players with more time, an option to play within the draft pod. It feels like the current drafting experience does not truly highlight the fun and challenge it can provide to players, and rather a “drive through” version of it.
  • Format availability: At a minimum, we feel Brawl should be available to play without having to pay a fee and not restricted to once a week. It is already a non-competitive format that offers no real rewards other than daily wins. Historic is starting to show decent support at least, in the form of ranked queues and evergreen events in the “off-season” as well as Historic Anthology. It had been stated that they do have other formats in mind, such as Pioneer, but at this rate it feels like it will be more than a year away.
  • Non-PC availability: macOS version of MTG Arena is still in the works, and hopefully that will come soon. It may be a long shot this year, but a mobile version should not be out of the question for MTG Arena as it attempts to capture the larger audience.
  • More features: The new friends list was bare bones, but in 2020 we hope to see more useful features within the client, such as replays, spectator mode, deck sharing, and hopefully more so that MTG Arena can compete and stand out from other similar games.

What do you think? Do you think MTG Arena has progressed well so far this year? What features do you want to see the most? Have we missed something here? Let us know in the comments below, and remember you can come discuss this article and anything MTG Arena related in our Discord!

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John Sheehan
John Sheehan
6 months ago

There were basically no actual feature updates in 2019. Only monetization.

Chris Chris leaving was a huge red flag. The lead developer leaving the project a handful of months before launch?

I stopped logging into the game this Fall, and I honestly wish I had quit sooner.

Brendan Smith
Brendan Smith
6 months ago
Reply to  John Sheehan

We don’t miss you.

Lorenzo Giulioni
Lorenzo Giulioni
5 months ago

Waiting for the mac client! *-*

Peter Lustig
Peter Lustig
5 months ago

Monetization, yeep thats exactly the thing they do! Hiding draft and sealed behind paywalls 2020 really sucks. 5000 gold to play draft, only to get OLD CARDS from last year you allready own and a small ammount of diamonds, well if you are lucky to win… 1500 diamonds to play sealed (after playing 10 drafts for 50.000 gold to get them), where you actually can get the new Theros cards… Of course this all is headed towards luring the players to invest real money… Sure the whales (players that invested 1000s of $) will benefit from this P2W system! Yeah… Read more »