The newly-announced Magic: The Gathering MMORPG may be free-to-play, but it probably won't be free-to-win.

Hope You’re Ready for That MtG RPG to be Pay to Win as Heck

The newly-announced Magic: The Gathering MMORPG may be free-to-play, but it probably won't be free-to-win.
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As part of their ongoing crusade to extend my monthly bank statement into the 2-3 page range, Wizards of the Coast has seen fit to team up with Cryptic Studios and Perfect World to create an MMORPG based on the Magic: The Gathering CCG. While I cannot deny that this news did flicker the little Planeswalker’s spark inside of me just a bit, Cryptic Studios’ official page on the game includes a very scary little adjective: free-to-play.

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Heliod have mercy on us all.

As we all know, free-to-play games have to earn their money somehow, and that is through the oft-loathed practice of pushing the sale of microtransactions and premium accounts onto players. And although developers need to (and should) earn their fairly-earned compensation some way, the balancing act of offering rad in-game items worth spending money on while simultaneously not creating a huge gap in power between paid and unpaid users is one that few games can manage. With Magic the Gathering and Cryptic Studios in the game’s DNA, however, it’s hard to imagine that balancing act being pulled off. 

Magic the Gathering is, after all, the original pay-to-win model. Any longtime Magic player will no doubt have memories of going over to their friends’ houses for a day of spell slinging fun only for everyone to get stomped by the kid whose parents had no problems dropping $20/month on booster packs for their child. And of course the solution to that problem wasn’t to evaluate our strategies and maximize our mana efficiency and card advantage; it was to go out and buy more dang cards.

Similarly, Cryptic Studios’ previous MMO adaptation of a Wizards of the Coast IP, Neverwinter, has developed a bit of a problem with its microtransaction model. Though the game’s PvE content remains both fun and accessible, Neverwinter‘s PvP has somewhat devolved into a simple choice between pay-to-win or just-don’t-win, sometimes with over a year of grinding required to obtain items on par with those available for purchase using the game’s premium currency. 

No one wants to play a CCG just to get thrashed by the guy who went out and bought four Knight Exemplars and whatever version of Gideon was popular at the time. Likewise, nobody wants to play an MMO where walking into PvP territory gets you immediately ganked by some rando in premium armor. But if history is any indicator, that sounds very likely to happen.

I don’t doubt that Cryptic Studios can make a fun Magic: The Gathering MMO, but I do have concerns that they can make a balanced one. We can get as excited as we want to finally run through Innistrad in the shoes of a Planeswalker, but we must also be prepared for all the trappings of a free-to-play game that will inevitably come with it. So be sure to gather your money in addition to your magic.

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