At this weekend’s Magic: The Gathering Mythic Championship,pro Lee Shi Tian used his moment in the spotlight to draw attention to the protests in his hometown of Hong Kong.
Tian entered the tournament stage wearing red scarf over his face, indicating his support for the pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong. (Protesters in Hong Kong wear masks to obscure their identity from government surveillance and stay safe from tear gas.) Tian was also covering one of his eyes like an eye patch—another symbol of the resistance.
Running a highly aggressive red deck, Tian was one of the few top players in the tournament who swerved away from the dominant decks in the format: predominantly green and blue-based strategies dependent on ramping up to bigger creatures and effects. The popular deck type is so oppressive that some believe one of its key cards, Field of the Dead, will be banned today. Tian’s deck is only part of what made his win against Carlos Romao and entry into the Mythic Championship’s Top 8 so exciting:
In an emotional interview after his victory, Tian explained, “Life has been very tough in my hometown in Hong Kong.” Apparently overwhelmed with emotion, Tian added, “It feels so good to play as a free man!”
On October 8, Hearthstone publisher Blizzard suspendedHearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai after he voiced his support for Hong Kong on stream. Citing a Hearthstone esports rule, Blizzard also pulled his prize money. The punishment, which many consider overly harsh, spurred a huge backlash against Blizzard and resulted in a significant movement to boycott the company and its games.
Days later, Blizzard reduced Chung’s suspension from one year to six months and returned his prize money, but the damage was done: Fans are furiously suspending their subscriptions to Blizzard games, protests are being planned ahead of Blizzcon, and senators like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ron Wyden penned a stern letter asking Blizzard to reverse their decision.
One other result of Blizzard’s punishment was popular Hearthstone caster Brian Kibler announcing he would no longer be involved in the digital card game’s Grandmasters competition. He said, “The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself.” Kibler, who made a name for himself as a top Magic : The Gathering player, casted the weekend’s Magic: The Gathering Mythic Tournament.
One tweet following the tournament suggested that Twitch mods for the tournament did not remove mentions of Hong Kong from chat, and Kotaku has reached out to the original source for verification of this. After his loss to pro Gabriel Nassif, Tian wrote on Twitter, “Thanks everyone supported me, Hong Kong, freedom of speech and democracy I saw the Twitch chat and I heard it. It has been a tough period for me but it also motivated me to shine brighter.”
“Dishonorable” isn’t a word you hear a lot in Magic: The Gathering. It’s good to win and bad to lose, and whatever strategy most consistently gets you that win is good in itself, too.
Knights know that’s not the case—that there are both honorable and undignified ways to win—which is a little ironic, because ever since Magic: The Gathering introduced its new, Arthurian-themed set Throne of Eldraine, a strategy I just can’t abide by has become very, very popular: milling.
Winning a game of Magic: The Gathering typically means knocking an opponent’s health to or below zero. Players will use a variety of strategies, including throwing big monsters on the field, denying opponents’ plays or gaining life, to keep their health up and push opponents’ health down. There’s another, less common win condition for Magic: The Gathering that in reality can only be described as more of a loss condition for your opponent: attempting to draw a card from an empty deck. The corresponding strategy to get you there is called “milling,” when you force your opponent to discard as many cards as possible into your graveyard.
Outside a Magic: The Gathering prerelease draft in Flushing, Queens earlier this year, I attempted to explain to a man with a very large vape why mill decks are dishonorable. It’snot the game, I said. You’re playing your life total game and your opponent is playing their mill game—it’s hard to interact with, plus, they’re barely interacting with my play strategy! He took a deep rip off that big boy and explained how it’s exactly the game. And the way you counter it is to win faster or add more cards to your deck. Bystanders agreed; milling is a legit strategy if it gets you that win.
I didn’t encounter a lot of mill decks out in the wild of Magic: The Gathering’s online iteration, Magic Arena, until publisher Wizards of the Coast released Throne of Eldraine last week. Now, they’re everywhere. In games with pre-made decks, the mill strategy abounds, as players build decks around the very many new cards that transfer opponents’ libraries to their graveyards: “Merfolk Secretkeeper,” “Didn’t Say Please,” “Folio of Fancies,” “Syr Konrad, the Grim,” etc. The Magic subreddits and blogs are full of advice on how to build Throne of Eldraine mill decks on the cheap, what decklists are optimal. In my online draft games, where players construct decks using a set of cards limited by what CPUs pick I’ve had my entire library milled just after taking my enemy down to one or two health.
(Some Magic Arena players suspect that the mill strategy abounds in these online Throne of Eldraine drafts because of the way CPUs select cards.)
For years, ever since there were Magic: The Gathering forums, there have been Magic players who complain that mill decks are exclusively for newbies, that they’re not competitive, that it’s insulting to lose to and can make the loser too tilted to shake hands after a match. These complaints hinge on winning and losing. For me, after spending an hour, a day, weeks or months building a deck with interlocking mechanics, delightful synergy and satisfying traps, it wholly and completely sucks for an opponent to circumvent it and toss all your cards in the garbage.
With the limited resources of a card draft, it always makes sense to grab onto the best win strategy you’re presented with, and milling, for better or worse, seems to be a popular one. Yet milling is one of those things that calls into question whether winning is the most important thing of all. It’s not dishonorable for a knight to stab their opponent, but it is dishonorable for them to dig a ditch on the opponent’s side of the battlefield and fill it with quicksand before the swords are out.
Spoiler: It is. Sorry, knights. But I’d argue that the biggest flex of all is to win the game head-to-head—with all the back-and-forth drama that makes a good game of Magic so addictive.
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.
Magic: The Gathering might be about flinging spells and summoning creatures to also fling at your opponent—well, doing that through the medium of more delicately putting cards down on a table—but its the spell-flingers themselves, the Planeswalkers, that are the stars of this gorgeous new art book.
Magic: The Gathering—Rise of the Gatewatch, set to release in a few weeks from Abrams ComicArt, tells the story of eight founding Planeswalker members of the Gatewatch, and some of the most famous mages in Magic’s pantheon of characters: Jace Beleren, Kaya, Chandra Nalaar, Nissa Revane, Ajani Goldmane, Liliana Vess, Teferi, and Gideon Jura. In Magic’s story, the Gatewatch was formed as an alliance between some of the most powerful casters in existence to essentially be a multidimensional version of the Avengers, fighting the threats to every elemental Plane no other heroes ever could.
Rise of the Gatewatch will provide a visual history of each Gatewatch member, from their early days to the recent, climactic events of the War of the Spark expansion in the card game, all through lush and evocative art from across Magic’s history, including the cards themselves, packaging details, and even banner art made for conventions.
In some cases, it’ll be the first time ever fans have gotten to see some of these visuals printed outside of their original format. To celebrate its impending release, you can check out a sample of just some of the art included below, making its debut here on io9.
Rise of the Gatewatch hits store shelves July 23rd.
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Artifact was supposed to be so many things: Valve’s first proper video game in years. A marketplace that drew on the trading card traditions of yore and Valve’s cutting-edge community tech. A game with a player base of more than a 100 people at any given moment. Months after release, however, hardly anybody’s playing it, and Valve has said it’s taking the game back to the drawing board. Artifact designer Richard Garfield, who previously created Magic: The Gathering, has weighed in on what he thinks went wrong.
Speaking with Win.gg, Garfield and design partner Skaff Elias dissected their ill-fated collaboration with Valve, which they are no longer working on after having parted ways with the company earlier this year.
“My perspective was that there were three problems—the revenue model was poorly received, there weren’t enough community tools and short-term goals in place online like achievements or missions, and, perhaps because of these things, there was a rating bombing that made it hard to get the message out about what the game offered to the player who it was built for,” said Garfield.
Artifact’s controversial business model—which allowed players to obtain new cards only by purchasing or trading—was a big sticking point for many players. When pressed, Garfield refused to classify the system as pay-to-win. He explained that, in his opinion, there are two key parts of pay-to-win: 1) a big advantage conferred by purchasing something, and 2) the pure cost factor. Artifact, in his opinion, was free of both those burdens.
“I am an OK player and a mediocre deck constructor in Artifact, and access to all of the cards won’t change that,” he said. “I might be able to overcome the mediocre deck construction by copying someone else’s deck, but it won’t make me an excellent player. Likewise, I can spend thousands on golf clubs, but it won’t make me a golf champion.”
He went on to say that top-tier decks in Artifact “generally” cost less than equivalent decks in Magic and Hearthstone—which is, if nothing else, definitely true now, given that Artifact’s Steam marketplace has turned into a ghost town. Garfield acknowledged that Artifact might not be the best value proposition for people who are used to playing digital card games instead of traditional card games. He said that the business model “appeared generous to Magic players, but stingy to players who expected free-to-play with grinding for cards.”
More and more Artifact players expressing their dissatisfaction started to affect the development team. But Garfield, Elias, and their former co-workers at Valve pressed on.
“I think it goes without saying that people were upset on the team,” said Elias. “As the situation got worse, we all felt worse. You can’t be a dedicated professional and not have this stuff stress you. But everyone kept trying because the game has a lot of potential. People worked really hard at pushing out updates, and I expect they still are.”
Despite how poorly (and, on Twitch, porn-y) things have gone, Garfield still thinks there’s a solid foundation underlying Artifact. That, he believes, could end up being the game’s saving grace in the long run.
“I believe it’s a high quality game that offers something very different than what’s already out there,” he said. “It has more kinship with an RTS than any other TCG, for example… I think the team has an excellent story, if they can figure out how to share it with the right audience.”
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
I’ve begun to think of my weekly, local Super Smash Bros. tournament as a sort of doctor’s appointment for my ego.
Regulars tell me that it’s normal to just win one or two games at these things, yet selection bias mandates that the people who attend a lot tend to be confident that they’re really, really good or that they’re on the pathway there. The only way to learn, the wisdom goes, is to get pummeled over and over by people better than you until—through smarts or osmosis or telepathy—you identify and absorb why they win. Better yet, they might just tell you to your face.
I met a guy at one of these things whom I’ll refer to as “Inkling senpai.” He and I main the same Super Smash Bros. fighter—Splatoon’s Inkling—except he’s on another level. He always places third or fourth in the total standings, beaten only by possessed Smash players whom I assume sacrificed something to some demon.
He’s also all about feedback, always offering it in an upbeat tone with a lot of smiles and encouragement. “You need to throw an ink bomb every time your opponent is off-stage,” he told me once. “You’re not adapting; you’re being predictable.” Once, he said, “I downloaded you.”
I graciously accept Inkling senpai’s feedback and do my best to hold it in the top of my mind even while, on the ground floor of my brain, my impulses are firing off faster than I can consciously keep track. Slowly, I honed my back-airs and edge-guarding until my toolkit became more menacing. I’ll fling an ink bomb off-stage and, sometimes, it’ll knock the opponent into the ether, earning me a win. Last night, I placed fourth.
In my experience, competitive gaming meetups are one of the only venues where people (complete strangers, even) give each other clear, cut-and-dried feedback. Not just the basics like “you suck” or “great job”—thoughtful analyses of what you’re doing and whether it’s getting you where you want to be. In other situations in life, people might not give it to you straight. If you really flubbed your lines in the school play, your parents might say that it wasn’t even noticeable. When your going-out outfit is too much, your friends might laugh, telling you, “What a look!”
I’ll never forget when, at my first Magic: The Gathering tournament, an opponent who had just beaten me meticulously and tonelessly pointed out every single bad move I made before taking my deck in his hand and pulling out the cards he thought weren’t helping. At first, I was offended, sorting some of them back into my deck. That’s not a normal thing to do, I thought, even though he clearly meant no harm. Then, as I moved to sit across from my next opponent, I remembered some of his advice—leaving my mana untapped until after the attack phase—and ended up beguiling this new challenger into my first win. It’s hard to say whether the stranger was right to offer unsolicited feedback, but it’s arguable that, just by entering the tournament space, he and I shared the same goal of improving. In the end, I left the hobby shop that day with a score that made me proud.
Rare are the circumstances where nearly everybody in a given room is there to grow, sincerely and whole-heartedly. It’s like living through a montage training scene in a shonen anime, but real life includes all the mundane feedback that the video editing skips over. You have to put aside your ego, and so does whoever’s offering counsel. Feedback can be as toneless as your doctor checking your blood pressure, as thoughtful as your best friend telling you that going blonde would clash with your wardrobe.
Then I log onto Overwatch, a separate realm where unsolicited feedback is king, despite the fact that few people can accurately pinpoint why their team lost. Most of the feedback isn’t helpful, or isn’t coming from a place where that matters. It’s a team-based first-person shooter, so players don’t always have a great vantage point on what their teammates are doing. And because it’s six versus six, a player might not die because they suck; it could be that their healer wasn’t healing well enough, that their tank wasn’t adequately positioned, that their damage-dealer wasn’t taking down their targets. On top of this, Overwatch is an online game. Anonymously and physically distant, players can be needlessly rude without having to see their teammates’ crestfallen faces. Regularly, I hear players elevating “blunt feedback” onto the level of straight-up harassment.
Prescribing rules around feedback is tricky, since it depends on a given person’s tolerance for criticism and personal gaming goals. (Competing online as opposed to in-person, however, does seem to make a difference from an empathy standpoint.) There’s a way to do it with love that makes your gaming community more supportive and more powerful. There’s also a way to do it spitefully, with an overtone of superiority and abuse.
For me, the sweet catharsis of knowing what I did wrong fills my losses with purpose. Just make sure to ask me if I want to know first.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
Magic: The Gathering is a game about slowly (or quickly) squeezing the life out of your opponent until they’re demoralized, defeated, and feeling the weight of their many, many mistakes. That’s why I am unhappy with the lot of you serial conceders depriving me of that.
I’m not a great player of Magic Arena, the latest digital adaptation of the 26-year-old card game. I’ve been known to forget that a creature has vigilance or keep a game-changing Instant spell in my hand until the match is well over and the lights have been turned off. But like everybody who plays something a lot, sometimes I win at Magic Arena. And a good number of those times, I get the satisfaction of watching my opponents’ health deplete to zero. Other times, they concede.
The “Concede” button is buried in a little menu on the top right of Magic Arena’s play screen. Despite this, it plays an outsize role in my daily games. Opponents will concede when I play a second Planeswalker. They’ll concede when I have too many flying creatures they can’t yet block. They’ll concede when I tap eight mana for a big, chonky worm creature or when I rapidly gain health. It happens a lot.
I accept some of these concessions—if the opponent hasn’t drawn mana since turn one or if my goblin army is staring down their three remaining hit points, for example. Personally, I’d rather lose than concede unless it looks like the game will go on for all eternity. Opponents who concede early obviously don’t feel this way.
I want to give these Magic Arena players a pep talk. I want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them, and say, “Listen, man. Don’t be insecure. I’m not that good at this game. I promise you can kill the second Planeswalker.” I want to chide them for being wimps. “Come on. Really? I have 17 health. You have 15. We have literally the same creatures out.”
There have been games when my opponent, hovering at two health, musters all of their optimism and courage to stick it out. And sometimes, those opponents pull through and beat me. Kudos—that was hype. Other times, they don’t, and I experience the sweet feeling of a victory seen through. My master plan comes together (or luck blows a kiss my way), and I reap the rewards fair and square. Bliss!
I’m well aware that I won’t convince serial conceders to mend their ways by appealing to empathy. That’s not how the internet works. Think of it this way, though: A concession is not a natural conclusion; it’s a calculation meant to optimize time spent playing and winning. If things are looking grim, the serial conceder may intuit, conceding and moving onto the next game will offer more opportunities to win and more favorable conditions for doing so.
Some possibilities: These serial conceders are gifted with psychic powers (or hacking skills), which grant them complete knowledge of every card or play possibility. Or maybe they’re just great number-crunchers and ought to play poker instead.
I have it on good authority that losing is fine—even educational. Losing is part of the game, even, and not something to overlook as useless. I also have it on good authority—not mine, but others’—that what differentiates Magic champions from chumps is the ability to turn a game around at the eleventh hour. My challenge to serial conceders: Stick it out. See what happens. Let me beat you.
Magic: The Gathering Arena isn’t the same as ripping open Magic packs with your childhood best friend on a sunny park bench, but it is the next best thing. The digital card game, available on PC, smooths down the coarser aspects of paper Magic games, making for an easy landing pad for newbies and a great user experience for Magic veterans.
Released in open beta last September, Magic Arena is the second video game adaptation to recreate the 26-year-old paper-card game. The first was 2002’s Magic: The Gathering Online, which, to gamers outside its dedicated fanbase or spoiled by Hearthstone’s delightful user experience, may now look clunky and unfriendly. Magic Arena is slated for a full release sometime this year, but right now, it’s a fully playable game that’s widely been well-received by newbies, lapsed fans, and hardcore players alike.
Just like its paper-card predecessor, Magic Arena is—on its most basic level—a strategy game that has two players pit their Magic decks against each other. One loses when their health is depleted from 20 to 0 or when they attempt to draw a card after the entire deck has been played or milled. Card types include creatures, which can deal or block damage; sorceries, which cast spells; enchantments, which cast long-term spells; and more. To “cast” a card, players must have the requisite amount and color of mana, Magic’sname for resources.
Last week, three researchers published a paper arguing that Magic is so complex that it could stump a computer. It is; at its highest levels, it’s a game of poker-like odds crunching, cold-reading opponents, research, and big-variable calculations. Deck construction relies on balancing powerful cards against the need for coherent, interlocking mechanics. Luck plays its part, too. There’s a reason that hobby shops are still packed with players excitedly peeling apart packs at new Magic sets’ prerelease tournaments. The game has one of the highest skill ceilings out there with an enticingly low barrier to entry.
Magic Arena is pushing that barrier to entry right into the ground with its clear emphasis on accessibility, riding on the heels of Hearthstone’s success. I’ve played Magic casually since college and, over the last two years, started regularly attending tournaments in hobby shops. Magic Arena’s digital environment has been nurturing enough to help me start taking the game seriously. It offers a thorough gameplay tutorial —perhaps too thorough—complete with five educational games against a computer. Seasoned and intermediate players will find these games tiresome and the voice acting a little cutesy; beginners and lapsed players will find them essential.
Magic Arena streamlines tedious aspects of physical gameplay while lengthening the ones that inspire deeper strategy. For example, it helps to see opponents’ card layouts and create decks using the same card more than once. A more subtle feature is seeing each stage of combat made distinct. Arena separates each phase, making it possible to fathom subtle openings for instant spells or creature casting that even intermediate players may not have otherwise capitalized on. Assembling decks is seamless, too, and people who were intimidated by paper cards now have less to fear. Magic Arena automatically sorts and organizes cards by color, mana cost, card type, whatever, in a way that makes it easy for players to conceptualize potential strategies and combos.
Also in the category of user-friendliness, I love always being able to catch a game of Magic’s booster draft (where players assemble decks by taking one card out of a pack before passing it to the next person) and sealed deck (where players create decks using the contents of several new packs). Magic Arena has been a gateway for me to participate in these games without competing at a hobby shop and—I’ll say it—being the only woman in there. Typically, I played Magic with decks I’d hastily assembled with friends or official pre-constructed decks. Often enough, that’s fun, but if somebody shows up with their asshole goblin deck or their “mill all of my cards” deck, I don’t have a great time. Playing Limited—the name for those modes—whenever I want means constructing decks using the same card pool as my opponents and challenging myself to be as resourceful as possible. I prefer that to the Standard format’s tendency toward opportunistic mean-spiritedness. (Being the best in Standard, where players build decks with whatever recent cards they have in their collection, can mean hemorrhaging money on packs and single cards.)
A lot of fans are calling for publisher Wizards of the Coast to add more formats to Magic Arena. Currently, the main modes are standard constructed, sealed deck, and booster draft, ranked or unranked. Wizards will, in time. For now, I’m having a hard time tiring of the formats currently offered, especially since the current Magic set is so much fun. That said, it would be nice to pair up with a teammate for a two-versus-two game, and as it stands, Magic Arena does not currently have a friends list (players must “direct challenge” each other at the same time).
Nothing will ever replace the experience of exchanging part-time job money for a foil Magic card under glass at the hobby shop. That’s a sensory experience above all—well, almost all. Getting free stuff is a close second. Magic Arena, which is playable for free, is generous with its resources (gold and gems), for the most part. Players can use these to buy packs and participate in drafts. A 750-gem bundle for $5 lets you participate in a ranked draft that comes with three packs. That same bundle of gems can be exchanged for three packs (600 gems) or card sleeves (600 gems). Physical Magic packs go for about $4 each. It’s not a bad deal, and Magic Arena offers players packs and cards just for logging in, playing, or winning, but the truth is that playing Magic Arena and spending no money means being either uncompetitive or very, very good.
Is that an issue? Not for people who play a lot of Magic. Cards were the original loot boxes. Microtransactions come with the territory.
I invested $5 in Magic Arena’s Welcome Bundle, which included five packs and had enough gems for a sealed deck with six packs. After winning several draft games, I earned enough gems to play in another draft without investing more money. When I didn’t do as well, I had to buy in again. If you’re somebody who immediately wants the best cards for the strongest decks, and you want to competitively play in the game’s Standard mode, you’re going to have to buy a lot of packs, but it’s still cheaper than paper. The issue, of course, is that players can’t redeem paper cards they’d collected over the last 26 years in the game. In fact, few past sets are available at all—mostly ones from 2017 on. Reached for comment, publisher Wizards of the Coast said, “There is currently no plan to add the ability to transfer cards from paper to Arena, however, some physical Planeswalker Decks from stores have a code to redeem for that same deck in Arena and pre-release ‘Sealed’ play sets have a code for redemption in Arena.”
Outside of the game’s mechanics, Magic Arena has a lot of growing to do as it approaches its “full release.” Arena deserves more background art and better, more listenable music—both currently feel like afterthoughts. For a game that’s historically so loving of aesthetics, Magic’s new digital card game is a little sparse on the bells and whistles.
It’s impossible to predict what Magic Arena will mean for the paper card game’s future. That said, it’s easy to look around and see hype for the game snowballing alongside Arena’s release and the launch of Magic’s new esports league. For my part, Magic Arena’s pitch has finally gotten me hooked on a game I’ve been playing on and off for seven years. Its ease of play makes the average Magic game more of a ballet than a stop-and-start football match. As most of its clunkier aspects game melt away, the heart of a card game that has nearly three decades’ worth of staying power shines through.
Magic: The Gathering’s pro League just got its first female player. Jessica Estephan, who is from Australia, was also Magic: The Gathering’s first Grand Prix winner. Earlier this year, Kotaku reported on how publisher Wizards of the Coast wanted to make Magic less of a boys club—it looks like they’re keeping their word.
War Of The Spark, Magic: The Gathering’s latest expansion, is available one week early in Magic: The Gathering Arena, the card game’s digital version. It’s already shaping up to be one of the more memorable climaxes in the game’s recent history.
Narratively, War Of The Spark couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune cultural moment. As the current chapters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Game of Thrones come to a close, Magic’s latest expansion plays with ideas from both. A team of powerful heroes called the Gatewatch battle Nicol Bolas, a powerful Elder Dragon who threatens the multiverse and has raised an undead army to assist him in his quest to become its most powerful being.
While other Magic expansions are themed around a particular magical plane of existence, War of the Spark focuses on the confrontation between the Gatewatch and Bolas, and as a result is full of powerful creatures, big spells, and climactic games that tend to go late. This showdown mentality also factors into the two major mechanics at play in the new set.
The first is called Amass, a spell effect that allows a player to summon a 1/1 zombie army token and then stack on more and more +1/+1 counters every additional time a card with Amass is used. This is Bolas’ army of the undead, and it synergizes with existing mechanics like Proliferate, which adds one to all sets of counters someone currently has in play. And because the zombie armies don’t cost black mana to play, they’re available to every deck type, even though Amass is most prevalent in blue, red, and black cards.
Efficiency, getting as much done with as little as possible, is a big virtue in Magic, and Amass leans into that by helping you create an army of creatures while also playing spells that provide other benefits. Aven Eternal is a 3-mana blue card that’s 2/2 with flying and has Amass 1. So in addition to getting you two creatures for the price of one, the second also has the potential to continue growing in power over the course of the game.
Another card, Contentious Plan, is a 2-mana blue card that proliferates and lets you draw a card. This gives it a lot of utility for such a cheap card once you’ve got a few different zombie armies in play.
War Of The Spark’s other focus is planeswalkers, the powerful characters who stand separate from the rest of the battlefield and provide more complex and often extremely powerful benefits. Traditionally, planeswalkers have been a rarified Magic mechanic, incentivizing players to build entire decks around one specific, very powerful planeswalker card. War of the Spark lowers the barrier to entry by adding weaker planeswalkers at lower rarities. Every booster pack in this set comes with at least one planeswalker, which results in decks where it’s not uncommon to be playing with two or three different planeswalkers at the same time.
Blue Illusionist Jace, founding member of the Gatewatch, is back, this time with a mechanic where the player who uses him automatically wins if it’s their turn and they have no cards left to draw. But there are other planeswalkers like Narset, Parter of Veils, a blue uncommon that prevents opponents from drawing more than one card per turn. Or Ral, Storm Conduit, a blue-red rare who lets you play duplicates of spells and deals damage to the opponent every time you do.
Since there are multiple planeswalkers for every occasion, it means every deck needs a Plan B, C, or even D. There aren’t a ton of cards that facilitate quick, aggressive rush play in War Of The Spark, which means games have time to develop. There’s a big emphasis on being able to close out with big showstoppers like Finale of Devastation, a green sorcery that lets players search their deck for their strongest creature and buff it by a huge amount if they have enough extra mana to spare. And with green planeswalker Nissa, who doubles the mana you get from tapping forests, that’s often the case.
In addition to being a lot of fun so far, especially for people like me who enjoy more chess-like matches that don’t turn completely on someone just happening to get the right card early on, War Of The Spark also highlights some of the major benefits of Arena being digital. While I still prefer to play face-to-face with other people and hear the sound of cards snapping as they’re played from a human hand, there’s a lot of complicated stuff going on in War Of The Spark.
In addition to keeping track of multiple zombie armies with multiple plus-one counters, there are often lots of planeswalkers to manage in addition to the normal minutiae of creature and land management. Many times while playing over the weekend, I was relieved to be able to rely on the game to automatically be doing my upkeep for me rather than have to keep track of it all by myself, or negotiate mental lapses out loud with someone sitting across from me.
I’ve played Magic off and on for decades, but always mostly for fun. War Of The Spark offers a ton of tools for crafting high-stakes plays, exactly the kind I’m looking for as a chronically lapsed player. Even though Arena hasn’t fully launched yet, it already helps a lot by helping keep so much of the busy work involved in the game from upstaging the grand strategies and high spectacle.
Japan’s Yuuya Watanabe, twice player of the year and a member of Magic’s Hall of Fame, was kicked out of Mythic Championship II in London over the weekend after judges found markings on the back of some of his cards.
During a deck check in Round 15 at Mythic Championship II, the judge staff noticed an issue with Yuuya Watanabe’s deck where the sleeves of his Urza’s Power Plants were marked in a specific way. Three Urza’s Mines and one Urza’s Tower had a different marking, and three Urza’s Towers and one Urza’s Mine also had a different marking. No other cards in the deck nor sideboard had any of these marks. The judge staff determined that the odds of this happening by accident were close to nonexistent, and disqualified Watanabe from the event.
This infraction will be further investigated by the MPL, according to Wizards of the Coast representatives.
In response to the disqualification, Watanabe tweeted that he didn’t realise the cards were in any altered state until judges pointed it out to him, before moving on to accept their decision and apologising to fans for letting them down.
Watanabe won Magic’s World Championship in 2012, was Player of the Year in 2009 and 2012, has seven Grand Prix victories, was inducted into the Hall of Game in 2016 and won the World Magic Cup in 2017 with Japan.