• Videogames: Games to stay at home (IV): Magic Arena

In the first months of confinement, similar images appeared on internet forums, such as Reddit, and social networks; a job halfway through engineering and DIY that used boxes, cables, and perhaps rubber bands positioned so that a cell phone camera could focus on a mat and the deck of cards. Why resort to this instead of a version to play online? Simple: they are not just any cards. Because this is the story of Magic cards in times of coronavirus.

For those who don't know it, Magic (full name 'Magic: the Encounter' ) is a collectible card game created by Wizards of the Coast that has almost 30 years of history. In these decades it has been evolving while conquering playgrounds, kitchen tables and stores that began as comics and ended up specializing in this entertainment. Maybe you don't know how to play - learning is easy; Mastering it, complicated - but you probably know someone who does.

The funny thing is that Magic has not one, but two clients to play online, Magic Online and Magic Arena. The first is more complete and somewhat more archaic in design, while the second only has cards that appeared in the latest expansions and is visually much more prepared for what is expected of a video game in this decade.

Magic Arena

From Wizards they confirm this trend in an email and affirm that since February the number of new digital players has grown more than the drop in the physical game has supposed. "Players have also increased the time they spend in-game in this period," the company boasts. Neither option available, however, seems to have been able to completely replace the experience in person. Of those powders, these camera boxes that we mentioned before.

"We know that some of our regulars have looked for a way to do it," says Esther Trujillo , a member of Ithaca, a two-story store in the center of Madrid dedicated exclusively to Magic cards. The inventions, he explains, are especially useful for Commander - a multiplayer and more casual format in which it is very common for participants to make momentary alliances and which has become the most popular way in recent years - and for other experiences that have not they can substitute with the tools that Wizards offers. "We have seen cardboard structures, tripods, mobiles, double cameras, multi-call tools ... a little bit of everything."

There is another factor that joins this: the essence of this hobby is that it is a collectible card game . In other words, almost all the players started in a physical environment and built their decks with cards from a very tangible sealed cardboard. Opening an account in Arena or Online is free, but getting a sizeable collection will take a long time ... or some money.

Whichever option is chosen, they will not cease to be virtual goods and, as with books and e-books , there are always those who prefer the traditional experience. When it comes to opening envelopes, it is difficult to find a person who does not prefer to do it in person. Thus, the digital version of the cards is still more difficult to appreciate than something you can see, touch, smell and store in a shoe box when you get tired in case you give up playing again in a few years. Or in another pandemic.

"In this aspect Magic Arena, and to a lesser extent Magic Online, play a fundamental role", summarizes Trujillo. "In addition to serving as tools to keep the spark burning among players who were already active, they have prompted many former players to resume the hobby by taking advantage of the greater amount of free time." However, they are like virtual rods: a substitute. The good will come when the terraces and shops open.

Magic Online

These, by the way, have continued with their activity with the sale of letters on the Internet, although for Ithaca it has not been enough: "physical sales and events are our hallmarks and for this we are committed to a large venue in the center." Thus, their turnover has fallen, they have had to do an ERTE and they have continued to pay the rent for a place that no one can go to buy or play games. "Even with everything we consider ourselves lucky because with that online sale we can maintain ourselves, something that many other businesses or stores without online sales are not lucky enough to say; it is being a very difficult situation for most."

Wizards was also affected, both in its day to day -in mid-March they closed all the offices that were open- and in the distribution of the game: the confinement arrived just when its last expansion was due to be launched (Ikoria: World of Behemots) , which was delayed in several markets.

The firm has a symbiotic relationship with the stores, as it does not sell its product directly to the players, so it depends on them to distribute it and organize tournaments. In this time, they explain, they have worked with them so that some competitions could be held virtually in Arena and that the store would take the benefits. "In general we are happy with its involvement, but we hope that it will intensify and continue, because the recovery will be difficult and we must work together," explains the Ithaca member.

The flip side of the coin is that community that turns to DIY to make their online matches as close to the old normal as they await the arrival of the new one. They send messages of support on social networks, in WhatsApp groups or when they buy products online. "It is his way of telling us that although online formats exist, it will never be the same," summarizes Trujillo.

"People still have their hobbies outside of the computer or tablet and their need to contact other people without a screen. This need is not going to go away with the Covid-19; we've just had to temporarily put it off, and then we'll adapt." After three decades, dozens of expansions, and two online versions, Magic cards are still that: a card game. " The encounter will not go away, " explains Wizards, recalling the last name of his product. "Gaming in person is the soul of Magic."

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