One of the most popular and skill-testing ways to play Magic: the Gathering is to draft. More than just the gameplay itself, drafting involves picking cards from a small set of booster packs, and then reading signals from another seven players in the “pod” to determine your optimal deck. It’s highly variable, leading to a unique experience every time. And since Magic‘s latest digital platform, Arena, launched several years ago, players have been able to participate in a slightly streamlined version of draft that limits players to picking cards against computer AI. However, beginning on April 17th with the release of Magic‘s latest expansion, Ikoria: Land of BehemothsMagic fans will finally be able to participate in the full draft experience as Arena adds live player draft queues to the mix.

Player Draft: What you Need to Know

According to Arena‘s executive producer, Chris Cao, who recently spoke with reporters alongside Magic‘s communications manager Steve Sunu, Arena developers worked closely with the development team of Magic‘s other digital platform, Magic Online, to recreate the “most authentic [draft] experience we can.” This feature is more important now than ever amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, since players in America have largely lost the ability to draft together in person at local game stores.

Player drafts are one part of a larger change to Arena‘s draft ecosystem. Rather than two draft queues, a ranked best-of-one and an unranked best-of-three, Arena will now have three types of draft queues which break down as follows:

  • Premier Draft
    • Cost: 1500 gems or 10,000 gold
    • Format: Best-of-One, play until 7 wins or three losses
    • Draft against 7 other human players
    • Always the latest Magic expansion
    • Ranked
  • Traditional Draft
    • Cost: 1500 gems or 10,000 gold
    • Format: Best-of-Three, rewards based upon three matches
    • Draft Against 7 other human players
    • Always the latest Magic expansion
    • Unranked
  • Quick Draft
    • Cost: 750 gems or 5,000 gold (same as current price)
    • Format: Best-of-One, play until 7 wins or three losses
    • Draft against bots
    • Rotates through different Magic expansions
    • Ranked

In essence, Quick Draft remains the same as the legacy bot-draft experience on Arena, while traditional drafting with bots has been entirely replaced by a player draft experience. Traditional draft now also has a gold entry cost, allowing free-to-play players to participate (albeit at a relatively higher cost).

According to Cao, that relatively larger barrier to entry in Premier and Traditional Draft has allowed the Arena team to make the rewards structure more favorable for players who want to make their money back and “go infinite” on drafts. The details of this reward structure will be revealed in the coming days.

One relatively large difference that will remain between the real-life draft experience and the Arena player draft experience is that games will be played in a “league” style. Rather than playing against other players in your draft “pod,” which limits you to playing drafts in often multi-hour chunks of time, you will be able to pick up and play your draft deck against other players at your convenience. Whether you have twenty minutes or twenty hours, you can draft at your leisure!

To celebrate the release of player draft on Arena, all players will receive a free draft token later this April so that they can test out the format.

Arena‘s Bright Future features Cube, Mobile, and More

In addition to explaining the details of player draft to reporters, Cao and Sunu also teased other future additions to Arena‘s rapidly expanding capabilities. “Later in Q2,” the development team plans to add Cube Draft to Arena, which will allow players to draft some of the most powerful cards throughout Magic‘s twenty year history and play a very different style of game than many modern Magic players might be used to.

Additionally, Arena platform ports to MacOS and Mobile are in active development. No release dates have been revealed yet, but Cao sounded hopeful and said that there was a build of Arena on mobile already being playtested internally.

For fans of Commander, one of Magic‘s premiere casual game formats, the game mode is still under active discussion, alongside a discussion about introducing multiplayer more broadly in the distant future. Despite the existence of multiplayer Commander on Magic: the Gathering Online, the Arena development team has expressed uncertainty that the “social elements” of Commander translate to Arena in a way that makes the format feasible. Regardless, it remains as a consideration in Arena‘s roadmap following the MacOS and Mobile ports.

And while Commander’s future on Arena remains uncertain, those whom have been participating in the free Brawler’s Guildhall event in the midst of the pandemic will be excited to hear that Brawler’s Guildhall will remain free and continue throughout April, and possibly through May.

Finally, Cao teased the reintroduction of an old Magic expansion, Amonkhet, to Arena, as well as the future release of a “Pioneer Masters” set designed to introduce other old cards to Arena‘s gameplay ecosystem.