Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Making Magic in the Arena - Bolas Control

Core Set 2020 has finally dropped in Magic Arena, and new decks are being developed as I write this. However, as I'm coming back from AnthroCon, I didn't have much time to build a new construct of my own.

So let's run a favorite deck of mine, Grixis Control, and see what new strategies people have come up with in the downtime. You can find the deck I piloted here, if you're interested. (I can't take credit for it.)

There's not a whole lot to say about my deck's strategy. The goal is to summon one of the two Nicol Bolas cards and stall the game long enough to get to one of their ultimates, winning the game. To that end, it's packed with cards like Narset to search for spells and removal to keep the opponent from getting a board presence.

What I am interested in is the various new decks I encountered in this stream. In particular, it is difficult to overlook the effectiveness of Temur Elemental decks. In particular, Risen Reef seems to be doing a lot of work for them. Between that the number of ways they have to accelerate mana, I get the impression it will be a major force over the next year of the format.

Another thing I want to call attention to is the... brief brush we have with the MTGA update system. After being in open beta for so long, the update issues really should have been addressed by now. In any other online game, the client would be able to handle updates as they come in, but in Arena players manually have to apply each update as they come. And as this game updates frequently, that can happen multiple times in the same week. It's nothing game breaking, but it's a minor annoyance that compounds after time a new patch is released.

What may potentially be game breaking is the new Mastery system, along with many of the other changes the monetization scheme has gone through since the beginning of Arena. Between all the cosmetics like sleeves, player avatars, and card styles, there are a ton of things players can spend gems (purchased with real world money) to customize their game. And yet, it is difficult for a free-to-play player to keep up with new sets without dropping even more money on packs. Against my better judgement, I've even spend real money to buy the gems I need for card packs more than a few times.

This Mastery system goes even farther to make packs harder to obtain through playing the game. In the old model, every 5 wins in a given week, up to 15 wins. would net the player a guaranteed pack of the latest set. But now, those 5 wins might advance the same player a mastery level, which might net them a pack (and maybe only if they bought the gold-tier mastery track like a Battle Pass in Fortnite). It's noticeably more predatory, meaning that packs are harder to come by.

I don't feel comfortable supporting the game the way I used to, and while I'll still play it because I enjoy the Standard format, I have to seriously think about my long-term prospects with Arena.

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