Hi. My name is Garth and I like Magic the Gathering. I have for many, many years. For many years I played, for a short while I tried to get competitive as well and I spent a lot of time and money on Magic cards. Buying boosters. Buying whole boxes of boosters, buying from online stores. Travelling to events to sift through files for a chance at acquiring a treasure: some card or cards I really wanted but felt were too expensive for my taste. Foil versions, especially limited foil versions like the ones you got for attending certain events, winning certain events or buying a box. I traded cards, I kept up to date with trends and I brewed decks. Eventually, the time and money became too much for me and I all but quit, hanging onto some evergreen decks and pretty cards while selling the rest (Commander for life, friends!).
You are possibly wondering why I am telling you this? Maybe it is because you see a bit of yourself in me, or so that you know what type of purchaser and player I was. I loved foils, alternate arts and the like. I paid good money for full art lands for my Commander decks. I bought limited gift boxes for special sleeves, life counters and premium foils. I was someone hooked on exactly what I think Wizards of the Coasts wanted: I bought cards not only because they won games or were good in a deck, I bought cards that were pretty or rare.
I recently started playing Magic the Gathering Arena. It appealed to me because I no longer had to look at card prices for trading. If I wanted a certain Mythic Rare, I just needed to spend a Mythic wildcard on it. Free booster packs? I just needed to win a few games, do a few quests and they flowed in. Sometimes there are code drops online and I get a bunch of packs for the game. It falls into a similar space as other online CCGs: I can spend money if I want to get more cards quickly, or I can just play day by day and slowly build up my collection over time. That I am fine with. You get a fair number of cards through normal play, as well as some nice cosmetic items, such as animated cards that stand in as a digital replacement for foils.
But the latest expansion, Core Set 20, has a battle pass attached to it and I feel it is rather predatory. I was worried at first that I was just thinking that because many battle passes follow a trend of encouraging you to spend money and that perhaps that is why I didn’t like it. So I tried to play on as normal and see what happened. Now it has been a short while and I can’t tell you how tempted I feel to spend money on the battle pass and in a world where we are looking at the dangers of microtransactions, the psychological work and theory that goes into crafting these experiences, I had to write down what it was about the battle pass that bothered me, perhaps to prevent diving down a rabbit hole of purchases, but also to maybe prevent someone else from doing the same. And maybe, just maybe, so that this doesn’t become a trend in MTGA going forward.
Welcome to the Battle Pass!
The new Battle Pass for MTGA, the first ever, has two tiers: free and paid for. If you don’t fork over your gems, you can’t earn anything from the paid for track, no matter how much you level it. This isn’t exactly new, some battle passes have used this tactic before. What is problematic here, though, quickly becomes a list, so let me take you through a few things I find wrong with it:
1.) The big draw of it, an elemental cat that sits on your game board, is only on the paid for track. A big part of the draw to the battle pass is something new, something cute and fun. But to get it you have to pay for the pass. Even if you hit level 100, you won’t get this kitty. It might seem dumb, but this is playing on the sense of it being limited, and hell when I have to wait for someone who has set the game to require them to pass every time I finish a phase, I wouldn’t mind a little critter to click on to while away the time. (Also please, don’t set this option in your game, I hate you if you do.)
2.) Even if you don’t have the paid track, it pops up on your main screen as the next reward you will get. MTGA can be seen as a bunch of small objectives: You get a quest to do every day, stacking up to three quests. You get XP, coin, card packs and the like for your weekly win count, up to 15 wins. Your mastery level goes up over time and you will earn some cards, a few cosmetics and even a few decks to help you get started at the game. As I mentioned before, in many aspects MTGA is generous with the rewards you can earn through play. But now, mixed in with all the objective trackers for gold, XP, mastery and the like, is the battle pass tracker and it doesn’t care that you didn’t buy the battle pass, it will show you the next reward that happens if you level up. You know, just in case another nudge will help you make the purchase.
3.) The main draw is causing issues. You know that cute little cat, the thing you can only get if you buy this pass, has some issues right now. Someone on Reddit has posted that they were suspended for five days after clicking on the cat too much, because for some reason the effects of clicking on the cat in your client are transferred to the other player’s client and it can cause lag or a disconnect. Being suspended for getting fidgety when waiting for your turn and clicking on the new thing you spent money on? Okay…
What I am really worried about is that this is the first of many such passes. Will there be a battle pass for every card set? Am I the only one that feels this way? I saw some discussion when it was announced, but that was YouTube chat, a place that is apparently full of people who hate everything but watch it anyway to comment. If I crack, will I end up dropping money every set to make sure I get the pass? How long until I need a few more levels too, to get the next big milestone. Or can I ignore it, pretending it isn’t there as I enjoy playing Magic again, without the expenses I used to incur when trying to be competitive in Standard? Or will it give me a bad taste in my mouth? This is just the first one, so who knows how it will be leaned into from here on out.
I mean, it is only $20 right? *Sigh* Someone send help. Or tell me what you think about battle passes.