The spread of the novel virus COVID-19 has affected virtually every industry and community on the globe at this point. Restaurants everywhere (including the one I worked at) have closed down, as well as most non-essential businesses. Regrettably, this includes the majority of small game stores -- the sites of numerous local TCG competitions. Trading card games are unique in that a) at least two people need to be present to play and b) the collectible nature of these games incentivizes playing with new people. These factors mean quarantining is uniquely difficult for people who play games like Magic: The Gathering; many people (like me) are cut off from their playgroups entirely! At this point, I think it’s fair to ask: what will TCGs look like in a post-quarantine world?
To answer this question, I think we should start by looking at the TCG manufacturers’ responses to the crisis. Wizards of the Coast, producers of Magic: The Gathering have cancelled the rest of the 2020 season for the Players’ Tour and the Rivals League, as well as the upcoming Mythic Invitational in May. In a post on the Magic website, Wizards wrote that “Given the current recommendations from government and health officials, and out of an abundance of caution for staff and player safety, running the necessary events for the 2020 Partial Season isn't possible. Unfortunately, the 2020 Partial Season is now unrecoverable, and we will start fresh again next season, beginning later this year.”
While this is unfortunate for everyone competing in competitive Magic: The Gathering this year, Wizards stated that everyone in the Magic Pro League and Rivals league will retain their spots on the roster going into the 2021 season. Following a series of online Mythic Point Challenges and Mythic Qualifiers this Spring, the top seven mythic point earning MTG Arena players will be invited onto the roster as well.
It’s nice to see that Wizards is taking the necessary steps not to invalidate the efforts of competitive MtG players in the 2020 partial season, but the more important question is how they are treating their larger player base: the ones who just play for fun, or at a lower competitive level. To answer this question I loaded up MTG Arena for the first time in a month or so, to see what new features have been added. There are an impressive number of formats on the platform at this point, including Standard, Historic, Pioneer, Brawl and Drafts.
It being a Friday night as I’m writing this, I was able to play in a Friday Night Magic event on Arena as well! This was a nice surprise, and duplicating in-person Magic events on Arena or Magic Online is a smart response. The online FNM allows you to build a deck out of any cards legal in standard, even if they’re not in your collection! I loved this part, as I am not much of a grinder when it comes to games. I played a few games against random opponents and prompted two quick concessions with an obnoxious Sultai Midrange deck to claim my in-game rewards. Players can also screenshot their participation in the event and send a photo to their local game store on social media to receive a reward code for an exclusive set of sleeves.
Only three of these online FNM events have been announced, and the last one is next Friday. The theme will be Historic Brawl, requiring players to duel with Brawl decks from any point in Magic’s history!. To be frank, digital card sleeves are a bit of a letdown as far as Friday Night Magic prizes go. In the future with these events, it would be nice to see Wizards distribute codes for prize packs or promotional cards to stores as well.
Speaking of promotional cards, the global pandemic has not slowed the rollout of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths one bit! If players preorder a box of the new set, they will receive a promotional copy of the Godzilla: King of the Monsters promotional card as well as one other Godzilla promotional card from the set. Having looked at these cards I have to say, they’re beautiful. In addition, players will receive an additional reward code for MTG Arena if they preorder a box through their local game store!
In dark times like these it’s important for me to find ways to keep laughing, and one of the easiest ways to make me laugh is for large companies to make hilarious mistakes. One of the new Godzilla promo cards announced yesterday alongside Ikoria is, ironically enough, named “Spacegodzilla: Death Corona.” Realizing this is now in poor taste, Wizards released a statement on Thursday 4/2 explaining that Ikoria was finalized months before the pandemic, and the name refers to Spacegodzilla’s signature attack. While it is too late for them to change the card in the set’s first printing, they will be changing it to “Spacegodzilla: Void Invader” in Arena and future printings. However knowing the people that collect Magic cards, Wizards changing the name will make “Godzilla: Death Corona” a sought-after collector’s item; a unique artifact of our times. At the time I’m writing this, the card can be preordered on TCGPlayer for just over $300.In summary, Wizards’ response to the Coronavirus (other than cancelling all in-person events per quarantine guidelines) has been to increase events on Magic Arena for competitive and casual players alike, and to continue exploring ways to encourage players to interact with their local game stores from the safety of their homes.