Last updated on June 16, 2021

Friendly Fire | Illustration by Anthony Palumbo

I’ve gotten a lot of my friends into Magic throughout the years. I’ve also made a lot of friends thanks to this game. Going to Friday Night Magic and other events or just hanging around your local game store (LGS) is a sure way to find others who enjoy this game as much as you do. I think that this social aspect is one of the most important parts of Magic.

I also think this is something that Arena has been lacking. The fact that you can’t add opponents after a game is a huge drawback. You can only add people you already know from outside the game, and unfortunately that all but eliminates the social aspect of the great game that is MTG.

MTG Arena Is Missing Connection Between Players

Natural Connection | Illustration by Wesley Burt

I’m really happy there’s a friend’s list and I love playing against my friends. But sometimes I’ll play against someone who has an interesting deck that I want to learn more about, or even someone who plays so much better than me and I want to congratulate them. Maybe I’ll get matched with someone who’s clearly a new player and I have the urge to offer some help with deckbuilding or strategies. I’ve done all of these several times before in my LGS and it’s always been a pleasant experience.

The development team behind Arena has been very focused on making any and all communications between players happen through the emotes system. They’ve added new emotes that you can buy and the release of Strixhaven even brought stickers with drawings of some of Magic’s most famous characters.

This system works well enough during most matches. You can greet your opponent, congratulate them for a good play, regret a bad move, and say “good game.” It’s all fine in theory, but it’s nowhere near actual interaction. You’re not actually talking to your opponent.

I’ve seen this being talked about by several people online. I think it says a lot when most players feel like something is missing from the Magic experience when you can’t connect with your opponents on a human level.

This feature has been requested several times, both in the MTGA Discord and on the official message board. There were already a lot of players asking for a friends list when the game was still in beta. We eventually got it with the drawback that you need a special number to add other players, and plenty of the same players have been asking for the option to add opponents ever since.

Why You Can’t Make Friends with Opponents?

Opposition Agent | Illustration by Scott Murphy

There isn’t really any official statement from Wizards that goes into why you can’t add your opponents as friends in Arena. Developers haven’t come out to say why it doesn’t exist. All we know is that the game doesn’t seem to be going in that direction anytime soon; nothing in the development roadmap points that way.

The only remotely similar thing that’s been mentioned is a “deck sharing” feature. This makes sense since a lot of players who’ve requested the friend add feature also mention wanting to talk decks and strategies with other players as a good reason to add the feature. I personally think this would be a good feature to add, but it doesn’t replace the need and want for some actual interaction with other players.

Since there’s no official info on why the feature isn’t planned for the future, I checked some forums to see what players were speculating as the reason, And there’s plenty of mixed opinions going around. Some think that it may be a cash grab because we have to use gems to buy new emotes and stickers. Some have said a general chat and even chats with your opponent would require mods which would raise cost too much. The most common sentiment seems to be that any form of chat that lets you talk to other players will lead to a huge increase in toxicity in the game. The safest assumption is that devs want to avoid that at all costs.

I would agree with the devs if this was the case. Toxicity in online games can get really bad and it can become a huge drawback for a game. But I think it’s a risk worth taking.

A Case For Connection

Secret Rendezvous | Illustration by Manuel Castañón

Even with all the possible negative situations we as players might experience, I still think some form of connection between players is very much needed. Something that feels more real than emotes and stickers.

Most players wouldn’t mind being exposed to some toxicity if it meant possibly having some real interactions with other players. I’ve played a lot of online games through the years and have come across people who were insanely rude, but I’ve also made friends and met some amazing people.

These experiences aren’t mine alone. I’ve talked with other players to see what they think about this.

Discord user R492 brought this up in the Draftsim Discord server:

Is there an article covering why MTGA doesn’t have any way of adding people you get randomly matched with?  I’d be interested in seeing why they’ve chosen not to allow interaction with other players beyond the one game you get matched with them, and why the only way to add someone is to find out who you know that plays the game and exchange info outside of the game.

Back in beta I never thought twice about it since that’s not an essential feature but it’s been 2 and a half years.

Some of my favourite memories of hearthstone were meeting people in the game.

After asking around some more, it was evident this was a common sentiment among players. Discord user Tinchovsky said:

I think it’d be a good idea (to add a feature to add opponents to your friends list) but the first thing I thought of was that I’ve sometimes felt like I wanted an emote that’d let me be mean to my opponents. But in all seriousness, I would totally use this.

I’ve had some really great games and I feel like I’d love to play against those people again. Ask about their strategies, see what decks they can build, all the things that help you become a better player.

I’m gonna pick up what I said back at the start, but I think a huge part of what brought me and other players into Magic was its social aspect. Local game stores are sometimes as important to Magic as the cards themselves. Finding out about new formats, playing against different strategies, and being able to learn a myriad of new things about this game we love are all things that are better done with other players.

You can do all of these on your own. If you play in Arena, you’ll find several decks with vastly different strategies that keep us informed of any new formats. And there’s also us here at Draftsim. But in all honesty, I never would’ve come to love MTG as much as I do if it weren’t for all the people that I got to interact with.

Vorthos players who infodump you on lore, which is oftentimes not entirely right but they sound so excited that you don’t care; competitive and veteran players who enjoy helping newer players build better decks for the fun of it; new and younger players who always lose their minds when you play some expensive or special card. There are a million and more types of players you can meet at an LGS, and they’re all vastly different.

We’re all people with very different personalities and attitudes. Magic may even be all we have in common. But we do have it in common, and that’s an amazing thing. During the better part of the last year most, if not all, LGSes have been closed due to the pandemic.

Don’t get me wrong, MTG Arena couldn’t have come out at a better time. But that real connection between players has been on pause for a long time and it’s something that Arena hasn’t been able to emulate. I haven’t been able to make any friends through Arena and I find that sort of disheartening.

Other Games Do It

Teach by Example | Illustration by Johan Grenier

I understand that playing a game in a physical and a digital format are completely different experiences. I don’t expect Arena to feel the same my LGS did, but that doesn’t mean that we should give up on trying to establish connections through Magic.

Almost every online game has some way to chat with other players, be it general chats in the lobby or in-game chat during matches. Even the new Magic Legends game has a global chat.

Different types of games will have different needs for a chat. In a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game like DOTA 2 or League of Legends, an in-game chat is absolutely necessary because you need to coordinate your strategy with your team. But these games also let you speak with your opponents, which isn’t strictly necessary. You could very well go your whole game without ever speaking to your opponents and the change to the actual gameplay would be minimal. And I can personally speak to how toxic these chats can be. But the truth of the matter is that for every game where I had to endure some terrible toxicity in the chat, I had two more where players constantly made jokes and everyone was extremely friendly.

Discord user R492 brought up the Hearthstone feature to add your opponents and chat with them when talking about Arena’s lack of connection:

It’s definitely possible I was just lucky but I never met anyone on Hearthstone through the friend feature that I didn’t like. It’s possible that people were only adding people they beat or getting requests from people who were upset and wanted to vent about losing, but that’s just setting themselves up for failure.(…) Towards the end I think I spent more time chatting with people and playing custom games than I did in the ranked and normal queues, and it’s what kept me interested in the game.

I’ve never played Hearthstone myself, but I know for a fact that I’ve had very similar experiences in other online games. I also know a lot of people who’ve had experiences similar to this one, even forming real-life friend groups with people they met in online games.

I think Hearthstone was able to manage this quite well by restricting chat to players on your friends list. This means that both players have to agree to the interaction and either one can unfriend the other if the conversation turns too toxic.

Other online card games use a system similar to this one. Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links! is the only other online card game I play, and it has this very same feature.

I think a lot of what sets the tone of the conversations with your opponents in online games is your own attitude, too. Even in games with general chats. Although the more aggressive players are louder sometimes, most of the people who are there just want to have fun.

Discord user CowHypnosis said:

I’ve played a fair share of online games and I always try to be friendly towards everyone. Sometimes I just randomly strike up a conversation by talking in the global chat and most of the time I get hilarious responses from both opponents and teammates. I’ve even made a few friends that way.

Suggestions for MTG Arena

Advice from the Fae | Illustration by Chippy

I’m not a game developer, so anything I state here is as a player and fan of the game. I’ve said it before, but I think the chance for us to add players we just had a match with to our friends list would benefit Arena the most.

This would allow for a wider variety in game play and would make the Arena community feel more real. It wouldn’t feel like MTGA fans are just Magic players who had no other choice because they couldn’t play in real life.

But there are still other options in the eventuality that this kind of chat is too risky due to all the possible toxicity. A general chat in the game menu would work wonders. It could allow you to discuss the current game modes and meta with other players, maybe even adding players from that chat so you can make new friends.

Another thing I’d love to see are faction-specific chats or rooms. Take the Strixhaven College Cup event we recently had for instance. The game had you choose one of the five colleges and represent it in different ways. It almost feels like they want to build a stronger community, but doing so without a group chat for each of the colleges feels like it falls a bit short. I would’ve loved to be able to chat with other Lorehold members and share why we liked the college or what drew us to it. That would’ve made me want to represent the college a lot more than just having card sleeves.

Options like these would also allow the devs to have a team of mods who can make sure the chat never gets too toxic. Let’s add to that the possibilities to report, mute, and block other players. And I don’t think this would generate a loss for the studio, since it’d make players want to be more present in the game. More of us would be interested in sleeves or nice avatars if they could actually lead to nice interaction or even a friendship. More players would probably buy stickers and pets if we thought we might get compliments from other players for them.

There obviously might be something that I’m missing since I’m not a game dev. But I know that having a stronger connection with other players would make me spend a lot more time in the game. And probably more gems.

Wrap Up

Prosperous Innkeeper | Illustration by Eric Deschamps

I can’t say that allowing more interaction with other players will make the game more money. What I do know is that a lot of players want it, and that means it would increase user engagement. Players might even spend time in-game even if they don’t want to play, just to chat with other players.

Magic is a social game. It always has been. It even has “Gathering” in the name. And with most players having to stay in their homes for a year, having an online spot where we can all share our love for it while playing would be a lot nicer than playing an endless series of matches against faceless players who can’t really express themselves.

But all we can do for now is hope. Maybe someday we’ll get a proper way to add new friends in Arena, or even chat rooms so we can share the love for this game while we’re actually playing. But while we wait for that, why don’t you check out our Arena Tutor? It’ll help make the game even more fun for you, especially if you draft a lot! And don’t forget to join our Discord, a great place to meet other people who love this game as much as you do.

And with that, I’ll be off! Stay safe and have fun!

11 Comments

  • willy mophunk June 16, 2021 10:50 am

    lets be honest. 99% of the people on Arena play netdecks and have 0 creativity so I don’t see why a chat would be good.

    • Dan Troha June 16, 2021 11:10 am

      I believe the author addresses this in the article. There are many other reasons to make a human connection other than to share decklists…

      Also, can you link to some data regarding your 99% claim?

    • Michael Leue June 17, 2021 9:57 pm

      I don’t play netdecks for three most part, and among my opponents, I see only maybe 2/3. I fully expect that people who netdeck end up seeing a larger proportion of the same decks, simply because the match- making system is biased to make mirror matches happen more often.

      If you pay close attention, you’ll notice about 1 in 3 games is against a deck that’s “kinda” like your own, and that’s true whether you play a netdeck or something totally off the wall. The matchmaking isn’t fully random and you can exploit that if you want to see more rogue decks.

  • Chris Hansen June 16, 2021 11:22 am

    For real? I avoid most soical media and game lobies bc they are TOXIC. The fact there is no communication with people is the best thing about arena

    • Solomon June 16, 2021 3:04 pm

      That’s right, let’s remove the Gathering in MTG and pretend we’re playing against bots. Truly a wonderful reflection of how social a true game of Magic can be.

    • Michael Leue June 17, 2021 10:01 pm

      A well- moderated space is enormously better than utter silence. Competitive games don’t automatically result in toxic environments, if there’s clear rules and enforcement. The problem is that enforcement is somewhat expensive and designers don’t want to fork out the cash even when it would make their game enormously better.

  • Ferret June 16, 2021 12:47 pm

    I mute emotes. Why in Urza’s Name would I want to talk to these people? Besides, the opportunity for abuse and collusion would be absurd. If you want chat, play MTGO and leave Arena alone…

    • Michael Leue June 17, 2021 10:12 pm

      Emotes are a horrible system. They turn every single interaction into a negative one. They have made saying “good game” and “thank you” into something rude. The simple fact is that the narrower our communication options get, the higher the proportion of negative experiences we’ll see. Nuanced language results in thoughtfulness and empathy far more often than catchphrases.

      As for collusion concerns, having in-game communication makes it easier to catch, not harder. If people resort to Discord or Skype to collude, they’ll never get caught. Making communication easier also disincentives cheaters from using more difficult, more detection-proof methods.

  • Frank Castle June 18, 2021 9:39 am

    Overlays will get you the gamer tags for every opponent you ever play. But it’s better to make friends through community rather than random strangers in mtga. Wotc specificity doesn’t have this feature avail to everyone for your protection.

  • Steph June 23, 2021 11:43 pm

    having an in-game chat would do wonders… no one likes radio silence. as long as you can turn it off, or mute the other person if they get too “toxic” (or if you just don’t want to interact for whatever reason), then i don’t see why people think it’d be a bad idea. also it would help report rude/annoying players (people who spam “nice!” when they’re losing, i’m looking at you) since they’d probably spam your chat as well. everyone wins.

    i would also like to mention that showing the gamer tag has a huge chance of backfiring. with a chat available, if you’re having a good time with the other player, then you can just type and send them your gamer tag 🙂

    great article btw, very well written

  • Nick July 11, 2021 1:59 am

    I play VR poker instead of other poker because I can talk and hang out with 8 players. Without that it’s completely boring. Taking the social element out of a very social game like MTG seems insane. Hearthstone did it because they were trying to target little children. That is not the fanbase of MTG. MTG should have even MORE social aspects than first person shooters or DOTA, instead they have chosen to have NONE. This game could have been thousands of times better and you could meet and talk to people from around the world. Instead they choose to segregate people. Almost every online game now has real time chat. This one would benefit from it even more than some of those others yet people are not even allowed to text chat. This is one of the all time dumbest decisions and probably why I think it’s just an OK hearthstone clone and not something more. Bad job guys. Really.

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