2020 in Review – A mixed year for Magic: The Gathering

2020 was really a tale of two halves for Magic the Gathering. As with so many well established games and gaming networks, lockdown was good for Wizards of the Coast (WotC), with MTG revenue up “double digits” in 2020. This was likely down to WotC printing more sets than anyone living on a budget can afford (11 products in 12 months), while also printing more broken cards than anybody needs.

Ikoria, for example was the best-selling spring set in the game’s 26-year history, and what did Ikoria have? Companion — a mechanic so broken that WotC had to change how it worked. This helped slightly, but even after nerfing the mechanic, cards like Yorion and Lurrus are still riding high. This comes off the back of banning a load of cards from Eldraine, the last set of 2019 which had more banned cards than anything else in recent Magic magic.

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It all makes sense though: nothing sells packs like hideously broken cards such as the current set’s Omnath — a card so overpowered that at one point, 72% of players in a single tournament ran it.

Obviously, it all made money for the company, but it’s also fair to say it put a lot of people off playing until WotC were forced to ban a premier card of a current set outright. Powerful cards are fun, but when they completely unbalance the game every few months, it starts getting players fidgety and frustrated.

And yet 2020 wasn’t all about powerful cards and profits. The summer saw WotC apologise for historic racism in the game, banning a series of very questionable cards in the process. Some were due to racist titles, art, mechanics or, in one really obvious case involving the KKK, all of the above.

And just in December, we had a statement about how the lore will be written going forwards, which has been taken as back-pedalling the retcon of the Nissa and Chandra’s burgeoning romance which was widely seen as queer-baiting by the audience.

All of this said, WotC has still been good to players during lockdown. The gathering part of Magic — getting together with your friends and family to play — has been severely impacted by Covid. Instead of going to your local game store to play Friday Night Magic, their digital counterpart MTG Arena lets you play from the comfort (and safety) of your own home. In order to keep up your engagement with the local game store owners, however, WotC dished out a ton of codes for free game skins (card styles and deck sleeves), which was a very nice gesture on their part, and much appreciated by players.

This doesn’t, however, change the fact that while Arena is free to play, it’s a pay to compete game, and the game can get very, very expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing. The aforementioned power creep we’ve seen this year has only compounded this problem.

Speaking of Arena, they completely missed Hasbro’s goal of releasing an Arena mobile client for the game in 2020. Thankfully, that’s something they’ll be putting right sooner rather than later!

All in all, 2020 has been a bit of a mixed bag, which sounds about right in the grand scheme of things. Some profits, some emergency bannings and an attempt at making the future of the game a little bit better.

Looking ahead, 2021 is set to be an exciting year, with a Viking inspired set first up, followed by a totally-not-Harry-Potter set, a D&D set, and then some fan favourites in the form of Innistrad, Time Spiral and Modern Horizons. Not to mention, the long-awaited release of MTG Arena for mobile is starting later this month!

2021 feels like it will be a good year to be a Magic player, but that all depends on WotC steering away from the issues that 2020 has thrown up.

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