It was easy to get into Magic: The Gathering when I was 11 years old. The air was crisp, and the leaves were turning, as September 1994 rolled into October. The game was taking over my schoolyard thanks to Ms. Dierdre Lukyn, the coolest teacher at the school. Like any young soul who wants to be part of the action, I bought a starter pack and some boosters and mashed my favorite cards together with some lands. I didn’t know what I was doing. But it didn’t matter. Nobody had any idea about how to build a good deck. Competitive play didn’t exist then the way it does now. Nobody cared. We were kids falling in love with a unique card game that made us feel like wizards.
Over 25 years later, Magic remains a mainstay in my life. I still play games against those same schoolyard rivals. I follow the news daily. I’ve played in tournaments, and I watch my favorite players stream the game. More than Tolkien, more than Final Fantasy, more than anything else, Magic: The Gathering turned me into a fantasy fan.
It’s always been easy to get into Magic, and the latest effort to reach new audiences is Magic: The Gathering — Arena, and it’s creator Wizards of the Coast’s most ambitious digital product since 2002’s Magic: The Gathering Online. Arena is the latest in a long line of digital Magic products that have attempted to bring the gameplay of the original paper game to computers, game consoles, and phones.
In June, less than a year after entering its open beta phase, Arena celebrated its one billionth game played. A billion. That’s a big number, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number of games played in tournament halls and around kitchen tables since Magic’s original release in 1993. But the relationship between digital and paper Magic isn’t competitive so much as symbiotic.