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How Expensive Is Magic Online, Really?
by marbleDavid Spears

Funny how the beta announcement has just been released, and already you have people crying foul before they even know what the real deal is. As an alpha tester for Magic Online, I would like to address some statements made by Mr. Yates. He has some legitimate concerns, but I think he is looking at this new way to play Magic entirely wrong.

Let's get some points straight first; I would use facts instead of points, but we are in beta and everything is subject to change. Yes, you will have to purchase the software, which will probably include a certain amount of points that you can use to buy cards and event tickets. As Dan over at IGNPC pointed out, if you are a good enough player, these may be all the points you will need. Except for the monthly fee (more on this in a bit), you can build a nice collection of online cards just by purchasing the software (29.99 to 39.99 maybe) and playing well in drafts. And, like real-life Magic, you can trade cards with others online, so even if you did bomb all the drafts, good rare drafters could probably get all the cards they need to build the decks they wanted to play.

How about that monthly fee? For the moment, let's call it 9.99. (I am not saying this is what it will be, or if there will even be one, but let's go with that for a bit.) How much money do you spend traveling to tournaments in real life? Food while you are there? Entry fees? This can be compared to what you will have to pay to use Magic Online each month. I know I would love to spend that little amount to get to play in tournaments every month. Sometimes the hassle of trying to find time just to make it to the card shop is a cost in itself! Which leads me to this point. You can play in a tournament online 24 hours a day, 7 days of week. We have less than a thousand testers at the moment, and I have never not been able to find a game. How cool is that?

Still not convinced? How about this? Wizards plans on supporting online play like they support real-world play with sanctioned tournaments, a rating system, and lots of prizes. This will be separate from you DCI tournament play and ratings, of course - but so what? I can see a whole new breed of players embracing the game because this software makes it so easy to play. Whole new groups of players will learn to play Magic, groups of players that may not have access to local playing areas, or who may not be able to travel to shops to play in tournaments. Or they just might not have the time to make a scheduled tournament. Now they can just log on in their spare time and game!

Magic Online is wonderful for all sorts of people. I for one like the awesome interface and the ability to play in any tournament format I want, anytime of the day. I have practiced a lot of Sealed and Rochester Odyssey drafts in hope that it will help me as I try to qualify for San Diego. I know many of you are saying, why not use Apprentice, but it is just not the same. The interface for Magic Online is light years ahead of Apprentice, and getting a draft started is so much easier. Plus, you get the added bonus of actually winning cards when you play on Magic Online. It is a wonderful tool to practice Magic like you need to succeed on the Tour and it makes it fun!

In order for Magic Online to succeed, there has to be some sort of pay-to-play feature. When you finally get a hold of it, whether in beta or when it goes live, you will see how much time, money and effort has gone into making it. The servers, the personnel, the quality of the program itself, all this requires money to maintain. It's not free. You can't play Everquest or Ultima Online for free. Why not be willing to pay to play Magic Online in the same fashion that Everquest has done for tabletop D&D?

Don't look at it as Wizards trying to take money from you. Think of it as a way to introduce the game to so many more. Think of it as a way for Magic to grow to the point where the Pro Tour may one day be equal to professional sports. That sound a bit dreamy to you? Not me. I think we will some day see Magic go mainstream. And I think with the online craze as it is, that Magic Online will help to usher in a new era for the game!

Before you cast judgment on Wizards for charging you to play the game, think about this: Many players are not lucky enough to be able to play in tournaments or have a lot of friends that play Magic. Some may not like the competitive nature of DCI sanctioned events and would love to have a more casual tournament environment where they still can be rewarded for playing. Some people would like to have an easy way to practice online with friends and play test partners or just other Magic players. All this can be done with Magic Online.

David Spears
Gnats on Magic Online