I’ve loved Magic the Gathering for a long time. When my wife and I started a Planeswalkers for Diversity chapter in Melbourne years ago it became this amazing social thing where we made lasting friends, and all of that happened because of how fun MtG is and its ability to bring people together.
One of MtG’s biggest appeals is that it’s an in-person game almost anyone can pick up, and there’s plenty of organised play in stores to meet other players and make new friends while bonding over an enjoyable hobby.
So many hobbies are solo, done from home, or require you to join an established team. There are so few where you can go and spend time with strangers with similar interests for a modest fee, or even for free once you have your own deck. It’s a social event that can happen during the day, without alcohol, and that’s so rare.
There’s nothing quite like building up a big board of green creatures, gaining life with white ones, and then seeing the look in their eye as you destroy your opponent. Or, you know, just have an enjoyable social game for fun, whatever. I’m sure the other colours are fine too.
I must admit, over the years I’d fallen a little out of love with the game. I don’t enjoy deck building, and I felt guilty leaning on my friends to help me, and the cost barrier to drafts put me off once we had a mortgage to pay. We got busy with other things, the events wound down, we played fewer games with friends on the weekends, and we slowly began to downsize our collection.
But, in January, something magical (get it?) happened: I got into MtG Arena. Arena is the (almost, it’s complicated) successor to MtG Online, and the way to play Magic when you can’t go out and play with friends in person.
I’ll admit that it doesn’t quite have the same appeal as the in-person events, but what does in the time of COVID when outside and other people are intermittently illegal? Playing with friends online in Arena has brought back some of the comfort and joy that in-person Magic used to bring, and I can do it in my PJs in front of the TV (which is now my bar for a quality hobby).
What brought me back was the new set, Kaldheim, which has a bunch of new mechanics and a Viking twist. That’s one of the best and worst things about Magic, as with all TCGs: every three months there is a partial reset where everyone has to get used to a new set.
I have to admit that I haven’t really gelled with all of the new mechanics, maybe because it’s been so long since I last had to learn the names of mechanics beyond deathtouch, lifelink, and creating tokens.
Some are great: Foretell is useful, because it’s kind of like laybying a card – you put down a deposit of two mana this turn, and then when you need it it’ll be a little cheaper to unleash.
Boast lets you pay a little extra to do an extra thing, but only if the creature is attacking, which is fine, I guess.
The new two-faced cards are neat because you can decide which face you want to play. These are much more fun to play in Arena because you don’t have to deal with a proxy card and having to keep the actual two-faced card in the box in a clear sleeve, because that’s exhausting.
Sagas are kinda neat and require a bunch of strategy, because they do one thing each turn for three turns and then go away.
If you have been thinking about getting back into Magic, but are also uncomfortable about going to a game shop with the great unwashed, you might be surprised by the amount of connection you get over Arena.
Maybe it’s just getting to experience something that feels a little like the old times, maybe it’s the really satisfying progression system that gives you new decks and cards for free, but Magic the Gathering: Arena (and, by extension, Kaldheim) is very worth your time.
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Alice Clarke is an award winning freelance journalist, producer and presenter. She also co-curates the PAX Aus Diversity Lounge. In her spare time she plays the drums, lives in Forza Horizon and builds Lego.