MTG Arena: Battlefield Survival Guide

Battlefield Survival Guide

MTG Arena: Battlefield Survival Guide

A Question of Space

One problem that MTG Arena will have to solve is how to display all of the complex information that needs to be known about the current state of the battlefield in a way that is effective and pleasing to the eye.  A standard battlefield configuration in a game of Magic usually has more layers required than other games like Hearthstone because each player needs to have set of land cards to manage independently from their other cards.  Because of this additional requirement, MTG arena has to find ways to save reduce the vertical space consumed by each card on the battlefield. Currently, MTG Arena converts cards on the battlefield into what they refer to as “Contextual Digital Cards” or CDCs.  When this happens the text area of the card that explains everything about how the card works is hidden.  How are you supposed to be able to know what abilities and keywords a card has after it has been played then?  The answer is a combination of animations and icons.

Jumping to Conclusions

The above infographic gives an example of most of the known icons and UI indicators that have been revealed in media shared with the public so far.  Some interesting patterns can be extracted based on the above image.

Cards with activated abilities have a circular icon with a white border in the lower left-hand corner.  If that activated ability requires the permanent to be tapped to activate it, the circle will contain the tap symbol.  Otherwise the circle contains a lightning bolt icon that looks very much like the lightning bolt shape used for energy counters.

Triggered abilities are represented by a hexagon shaped icon.  If the triggered ability has a thematic name, the hexagon shape will contain an icon that represents the spirit of the triggered ability.  For example, the Raid ability introduced in Ixalan and present mainly on pirate creatures is represented by a pair of crossed cutlasses.  If the triggered ability does not have a specific name a generic “clock” icon is used instead.

Evergreen keywords are represnted by an icon inside of a badge shaped like a shield.  Two attacking swords for Double Strike and a horned creature’s head for Trample are the two most intuitive for most people.  Some of the icons chosen for other abilities require a bit more creative thinking to make the connection between the icon and the keyword they represent.  For example, Menace is represented by a flaming eye.  I am not sure what about a flaming eye is supposed to communicate that the creature has to be blocked by two or more creatures.

One conern that I have for this sytem of icons is how well it scales as the game ages and more sets with more unique keywords are added to the card pool.  Magic has over 100 keywords already.  Is it feasible to expect players to be able to memorize the icon that represents each of these, sometimes complex, abilities?  Only time will tell on this issue.

Some keywords and abilities are represented by animations on the card itself.  Creatures that have flyling literally hover over the battlefield showing that they can cruise right over the heads of creatures stuck on the ground.  Permanents with summoning sickness have a pulsing animation over their card art.  Hexproof permanents have a glowing aura containing protective runes layered over their card art.

Wrap Up

It will be important to give lots of construcive feedback to Wizards during the beta period of MTG Arena, especially regarding these icons and indicators.  It is imperative that both experienced players and first time viewers on streams are able to follow the action during matches for MTG Arena to succeed in the space that the game is targeting.  What does everyone think of the icons we know about so far?  Do you already have suggestions on how to improve them?  Let me know in the comments below or tweet your ideas to @mtgarenapro!

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