Last updated on June 17, 2022

Teyo, Aegis Adept - Illustration by Billy Christian

Teyo, Aegis Adept | Illustration by Billy Christian

Jumpstart: Historic Horizons has stirred up some opinions online. Not like that’s hard. This new instance of the Jumpstart event doesn’t just bring themed packs to build a deck like the previous edition. No, no. This time we’re also getting 31 new MTG Arena-exclusive cards.

If you’ve been into Magic for a while, you’ll know the type of discourse changes like this can stir up. I’ve heard the phrase “Magic is dead now” so many times. But MTG is still alive and kicking so far, and I have to admit that I was part of the very-opinionated-about-this gang when this Arena-exclusive set of cards was announced.

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The Simpsons

What Are Arena-Exclusive Cards?

Hallowed Priest - Illustration by Kim Sokol

Hallowed Priest | Illustration by Kim Sokol

Arena-exclusive cards are what it says on the box. These are cards that only exist in MTG Arena and nowhere else. They never got a paper release, and they most likely never will. No matter how much we want Inspiring Commander for, well, Commander.

How Can You Get Arena-Exclusive Cards?

Arena-exclusive cards were introduced for the New Player Experience to help introduce new players into normal gameplay. A selected group of these cards were then added as non-rotating, Standard-legal cards available through the mono-colored starter decks.

So every single Arena player has at least one copy of each of these cards. Only existing in the beginner decks also means that you can only get more by spending wildcards.

In the case of the new Historic Horizons cards, you can get them through the packets in the event or by crafting them. So by the time this event is done, the only way you’re gonna be able to get any of the Arena-exclusive cards is with wildcards.

Tutorial-Only Cards

Following the release of Alchemy: Kamigawa in patch 2022.14.0, cards from the Alchemy Base Set are no longer legal in Standard BO1. This includes cards like Hallowed Priest and Inspiring Commander, which are now only legal in digital formats like Alchemy and Historic.

Alchemy Cards

Alchemy: Innistrad

Alchemy: Kamigawa

Alchemy: New Capenna

Some Story on Digital-Only Cards

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary - Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

I’ve already mentioned that digital-exclusive cards aren’t new to Arena, and that’s true. But they weren’t new to Magic when the first set of Arena-exclusive cards came out either. We’ve had cards that only exist digitally for a while now. And by “for a while,” I mean a whole 24 years.

That’s right. Way back in 1997, Wizards released their first MTG video game, which was nicknamed “Shandalar” since it took place in that plane. This game came with 465 “real” Magic cards, and a set of 12 digital-exclusive cards known as the Astral set. These cards had effects that were basically impossible to replicate in paper Magic. The idea was to take advantage of the digital format to try new things that could push the boundaries of what the game’s mechanics could do.

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The same thing happened a couple years later. A Japan-exclusive game released for the Sega Dreamcast in 2001. The game included cards from Sixth Edition, Tempest, and Alliances along with a new set of 10 digital cards. The design behind these cards was similar to Shandalar, using a lot of random effects that would be hard or impossible to replicate in real life.

Let’s go forward a few more years. It’d be fair to say that, sure, I’ve only mentioned cards in games that in no way affected paper Magic or its formats. A few digital-exclusive cards in a 1997 video game won’t affect the game’s meta much. But MTG Online has its share of exclusive cards, too.

The Vanguard format came out back in 1997 (a lot of new things that year, apparently) and introduced a completely new way to play Magic and players complained about Magic dying back then, too. This format was slowly banished from paper Magic, but it’s still very alive in MTGO. There’s an entire playstyle around Momir Vig, Simic Visionary. It’s one of MTG Online’s staples and can only be played on the platform.

And so we finally arrive to MTG Arena. We already have the non-rotating, Standard-legal cards from the Beginner Set, and now we’re getting a whole new set of digital cards. There’s a chance that their impact will be felt throughout the game, just as much as it might fade into nothing in no time.

Are They Powerful Enough?

Boneyard Aberration - Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

Boneyard Aberration | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

Almost anything can be powerful enough in Magic if you put it into the right hands. The entire Pauper format is based around that, after all. That being said, there’s good cards and there’s jank, as with basically all sets.

The Beginner Set

The Beginner Set cards are almost exclusively entry-level cards. I’d dare say that Hallowed Priest is the most played card from the entire set, especially now that lifegain has made its way back into Standard. Inspiring Commander also sees some play and can be an interesting card in the right deck.

Neither of these are fundamentally broken, though. They see some play, they work pretty well in some decks, and that’s about all they have to offer. Of the entire set, only two of them see any significant play.

Jumpstart: Historic Horizons

Tome of the Infinite - Illustration by Joseph Meehan

Tome of the Infinite | Illustration by Joseph Meehan

I think Jumpstart: Historic Horizons is a different story. These aren’t just digital-exclusive cards. They also bring game-changing effects. The two most interesting cards in the set to me are Davriel, Soul Broker and Tome of the Infinite. I think the offers and conditions plus the new conjuring mechanic is interesting to say the least. They don’t seem too overpowered at first glance, and they bring some interesting new interactions to the game.

Another card that caught my attention is Benalish Partisan. I’ve seen a lot of people playing cycling-themed decks. A card that comes back from the graveyard stronger every time is easily breakable. Most cards with “perpetually gets” scare me a little, if I’m being honest. I’m well aware that a lot of this fear comes from not knowing how the mechanic is gonna play out when applied to a deck.

I see something like Davriel’s Withering and immediately think of all the ways cards in my decks could be rendered completely useless if someone plays it well. But maybe I’m just scared of the unknown. And having conditions that don’t fade when a card goes into the graveyard or exile also feels like a big change from how Magic has worked since, well, forever.

Will Any of These Cards Ever Be Printed in Paper Magic?

Angelic Reward - Illustration by Denman Rooke

Angelic Reward | Illustration by Denman Rooke

My safest bet would be on a hard “no.” There seems to be no interest from Wizards in physically printing any of these cards, and the new Jumpstart cards are essentially impossible to cross over to paper Magic. The effects depend on the digital format’s advantages to track any effects and avoid cheating or errors.

The only chance any of these cards will ever seeing any kind of paper play would be if they decided to print out the Beginner Set cards. But I don’t see any reason why Wizards would be interested in doing that. Some could get printed as filler in some sets, but who cares if we get something like Shorecomber Crab in paper Magic? No offense if this is your favorite card, for some reason.

Are They Actually Good for MTG?

I’m talking exclusively about the new Jumpstart cards here. All the other Arena-exclusive cards could very well have cardboard counterparts if Wizards wanted, which makes them pretty inconsequential to the discussion.

There is so much discourse about whether or not these cards are actually good for MTG. I’ve seen opinions go from, “this will ruin Magic forever and there is no going back,” to, “this will literally have no impact on the game whatsoever.” I’d rather stay in a middle ground between them.

I think this set will have an impact on Magic, more specifically on the Historic format. But I think they’re far from being what finally kills the game forever. There’s a lot of discussion around all the pros and cons of what these cards bring to the game, and that’s what we should pay attention to when discussing them.

The Pros

Cruel Cut - Illustration by Caio Monteiro

Cruel Cut | Illustration by Caio Monteiro

The strongest contender on the “pros” side is that the digital format brings a myriad of possibilities when it comes to game design. Something like Davriel, Soul Broker’s -2 ability never could’ve been done in traditional paper Magic. I don’t know if it’ll actually work well or not, but I think it’s a very interesting design choice nonetheless.

The conjure mechanic also gives us access to a lot of cards that would otherwise never be put into Arena. Especially since the cards themselves aren’t technically on the digital platform. You can’t add Swords to Plowshares or Dark Ritual to your decks, but Tome of the Infinite lets you “cheat” them into a game anyway.

Another thing these cards have in their favor is that they’re only going to be legal in Historic. Something like the cards I’ve mentioned in Standard would be a complete mess. But Historic is a format that benefits from weird mechanics. Having access to so many cards from Magic’s history makes for some bizarre deckbuilding possibilities. These cards can drive that bizarre factor up in a great way.

The Cons

So what are some of the cons? First there’s the risk of effectively breaking the format. A set of new cards can warp a format beyond return, and that could ruin it forever for a lot of players. It changes the entire meta into something completely new that you can’t go back from without banning every card in the set.

This also means a complete separation from paper and digital Magic, in Historic and Alchemy. Mechanics like these can fundamentally change the way the game is played. Sometimes this can be good, but it’s always scary. I think we can learn from Vanguard’s history in this situation.

The format is now almost exclusive to MTG Online. But people play it a lot, and it’s well-liked by everyone who does. Maybe we should consider letting go of the paper version of Historic and embrace it as a fully digital format. Legacy and Modern still exist, after all.

Some players argue that mechanics like this are simply “not Magic” and what’s gonna finally drive them, and everyone else, away from the game. “Magic is dead.” The same thing happened with the energy counters from Kaladesh, the double-faced cards from Innistrad, phyrexian mana, planeswalkers, border changes, the introduction of Standard, and even the introduction of the 60-card deck limit.

If all of these predictions had turned out to be true, Magic would be the most prolific zombie of all time. And I don’t mean to offend anyone by this, because I’ve held some of these beliefs myself through the years.

My Personal Opinion

Inspiring Commander - Illustration by Antonio José Manzanedo

Inspiring Commander | Illustration by Antonio José Manzanedo

MTG has changed a lot over time, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Paper Magic still exists and always will exist. The cards are already printed. If you want to play with the Standard rotation and rules from 1999, you absolutely can. You can proxy any card you can’t buy.

And trust me, you’ll always find people who want to play Magic in the weird, specific way that you like to play it if you look for them. There’s an endless list of fan-made formats. As long as you’re not playing an official event, you can play however you want.

After my initial rejection of the idea, I think this new set of cards can set an interesting precedent. If they’re a complete failure, then the design of digital cards will get dropped or have to be rethought from the ground up. And if it’s a success, then we might get a lot of interesting new designs in coming sets.

My only real gripe would be if these digital-exclusive cards start driving a wedge between digital and paper play of formats like Standard or Modern. And that’s probably my own bias speaking. I think the non-rotating cards from Arena are a big enough difference between paper and digital Standard.

It’s worth saying that a lot of decisions like this one haven’t really worked out well. If anything, I think the history of things like phyrexian mana shows that Wizards does learn from their design mistakes. Sometimes things come really close to actually breaking the game, and those things can be fixed more often than not.

I honestly hope these cards turn out to be fun and good without breaking the game. I’m willing to accept Historic as a digital format to see what interesting cards and mechanics can come from it.

Wrap Up

Soulhunter Rakshasa - Illustration by Caio Monteiro

Soulhunter Rakshasa | Illustration by Caio Monteiro

I hope this doesn’t stir up too much drama in the comments. I’m well aware that it’s a controversial topic right now and that my opinion on it may not be the most popular one out there. I try to keep a positive outlook on Magic, even if I don’t agree with a lot of the choices made by Wizards, because I’ve seen a ton of ups and downs through the years. And after all of it, it’s still one of my favorite games of all time.

So what do you guys think? Are you skeptical about these new cards? Or do you think they could be a fun way to explore new mechanics and design choices? Feel free to leave a comment and tell us what you think! And don’t forget to check out Arena Tutor to make the most of your digital-exclusive games. That way you’ll know exactly which of the new cards to pick!

That’s all from me for now. Until next time!

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