Last updated on February 13, 2024

Force of Negation - Illustration by Paul Scott Canavan

Force of Negation | Illustration by Paul Scott Canavan

Modern is, arguably, Magic’s most popular 60-card format, at least in paper. In the digital world, Magic: Arena is without a doubt Magic’s most popular digital client (sorry, MTGO fans!). However, Modern isn’t able to play on Arena, and Wizards doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to put the format onto the MTGA client.

Will we ever see Modern on Arena, though? And if so, when?

Will Modern Ever Be on MTG Arena?

Crashing Footfalls - Illustration by Dan Scott

Crashing Footfalls | Illustration by Dan Scott

There are many arguments for and against bringing Modern to Arena. The biggest argument for bringing it to the client is that it’s absurdly popular, and probably the most popular 1v1 format currently played in all of MTG. Bringing it to Arena, with its flashy interface and (arguably) smooth graphics would bring more eyes not only to players on the client but to content creators playing the format on Arena. MTGO is a solid client, but the interface puts some players off.

However, there also are plenty of reasons not to bring it to Arena. At least, there are a number of obstacles to overcome before you can boot up a game of Modern on your phone. Are they insurmountable? Let’s take a look.

Modern Needs Too Many Cards Not on Magic Arena

Probably the biggest, and most cited, reason for not bringing Modern to Arena is that there’s simply too much work to bring all the lands and spells not currently on the client that would be needed for a “true to paper” Modern experience. Of the roughly 18 thousand cards currently legal in the Modern format, only around half of them are currently playable on the client.

Of course, we don’t need every single card that wouldn’t even make it into the worst of the worst Draft deck. However, Modern is an incredibly diverse format, and players have their pet deck that’s all they want to play. For every multiple-deck all-star like Lightning Bolt, there are super niche cards that the likes of Saffron Olive would only play in their whackiest Against the Odds deck. While there are probably some easy initial pickings for a Modern-like format on Arena, it wouldn’t truly be Modern without these niche decks appearing on play queues.

One caveat to this need for many new cards are the Horizons sets. Modern Horizons, Modern Horizons 2 and even Tales of Middle-earth have changed the face of Modern (much to some players' chagrin). A good chunk of the Horizons sets and the entire Lord of the Rings set are already coded on Arena, so there’s a start for some of the more played Modern cards. Modern Horizons 3 is also planned to come to the MTGA client in summer 2024. However, there’s still a long way to go, even if all Horizons sets come to Arena from now on.

It's Difficult to Get Cards on Arena

Not only do Wizards need to think about getting the cards onto Arena, but they also need to think about how players will get the cards once they’re programmed onto the client. The Arena economy is notoriously maligned by many, and getting cards that aren’t currently part of the Standard rotation is particularly difficult.

With Pioneer/Explorer and Historic, we’ve had a number of Anthology sets. These only have a handful of cards in each, and there have been three Explorer Anthology sets, as well as a number of Remastered Draft sets, and we’re still quite a way short of true to paper Pioneer on Arena. Also, the only way to get cards from these Anthologies is to buy them from the store with cash when they first some out, or to cash in wildcards for them.

If you want to use wildcards, you need to get hold of them. For a long time, getting wildcards required you to open other packs and hope you open them/get them on the reward wheel. Now, you can get wildcards directly with cash purchases, although value of doing this is debated.

If Wizards wants to release a few thousand cards onto Arena to make Modern available on the client, they probably need to completely change how you acquire cards for non-Standard formats on the client. That, or just make a ton of money by making us pay for dozens of wildcards to complete decks….

Take Players Away from MTGO

Wizards could be shying away from adding Modern to Arena in the fear that it takes players away from MTGO, where it’s already getting money from them. While it may not be as much of an issue for Wizards now that they’ve handed the reigns of MTGO over to Daybreak Games, it’s still something they need to be aware of, and it could even have been part of the agreement when handing over to Daybreak.

Of course, they’d likely make more money with Modern on Arena, but the cost of taking some players away from MTGO is something they also need to weigh.

MTG Arena Will Damage Paper Modern Play

Not only would Modern coming to Arena potentially damage the number of people playing Modern on MTGO, but it could well affect the number of people playing Modern in paper. You only need to look at what Arena did for paper Standard play, which took a nosedive once Arena came out (yes, there were other factors, like the changes to Organized Play, but Arena was certainly a notable factor).

Commander can only sell so many boosters, and Modern is probably the other major format driving the price of singles other than that singleton powerhouse. No doubt keeping at least some formats going in paper is high in the minds of the penny pushers at Wizards (as well as those of us who enjoy paper play!).

Problematic Mechanics

Some mechanics are particularly difficult to put into a digital client, and no doubt Modern has plenty of these. In the past, Emrakul, the Promised End’s Mindslaver effect has been noted as an issue, and it’s been suspected that delve mechanics took a while to come to the client because they were difficult to code.

Mechanics that come to mind that could be an issue include the likes of dredge and cards like Bridge from Below and Krark-Clan Ironworks (although both of these are now banned in Modern). While it wouldn’t be impossible to program any of these in, it’s likely seen as more effort than it’s worth when combined with all the other mechanics that would need to be included.

Commander Over Modern

The format that I see players clamoring for on Arena most has to be Commander. This isn’t much of a surprise, given that it’s the most popular way to play Magic in paper currently. There’s huge demand for 4-player matches, which would be difficult to introduce to the client, but there are surely people high up at Hasbro who’d want to see the Commander market tapped in a digital client before Modern.

Of course, it may just be easier to build a new client from the ground up to handle Commander.

Arena 2?

It may be a bit hard to believe, but Arena was first released to Beta in 2017. While there are no current plans (at least not publicly) for Arena 2.0, the development team could well be looking at the long-term plans for the client in the next few years. Of course, they could always continue with the current Arena client for over another decade. Hearthstone is over 10 years old, and MTGO is almost older than the dinosaurs. But am I writing off a successor to Arena? Absolutely not.

Modern vs Pioneer/Explorer

If we want to seriously think about how Wizards might introduce Modern to Arena, we could look at how they’ve handled the introduction of Pioneer.

Originally, we only had Standard as a Constructed format on Arena. Then, when rotations started happening and people wanted somewhere to use their rotating collections, Historic was added to the client. Over time, more cards were introduced directly to the client, including digital-only cards that were used in Alchemy, and players wanted a place to use their old Standard cards, but also didn’t want to play with/against digital only cards. In response to this, Explorer was announced as a route to introducing Pioneer.

Explorer was first introduced in April 2022 and was brought out as a placeholder while cards were introduced to the client to allow a functionally identical format to paper Pioneer (i.e. a format where all the “important” cards are included, but maybe not every card legal in the format, but sees no play). We’re expecting this convergence to happen late 2024, or early 2025, with “Pioneer Masters” bringing a draftable set to Arena with the all key missing cards from Pioneer included.

It's worth noting that Pioneer Masters was first announced to release all the way back in late 2020, but it was delayed and then shelved. This just goes to show how much they’ve flip-flopped on the decision to introduce Pioneer to Arena, no doubt partly due to the amount of work needed.

Modern vs. Timeless

The most recent format introduced to Arena is Timeless. Over time, through bonus sheets in Standard sets and bans in other formats, there have been a number of cards introduced to Arena that were deemed to be even too powerful for Historic. To give players a place to play these cards, Timeless was introduced.

This is the Vintage/Legacy equivalent format for the client, with an aim to only restrict problem cards rather than outright ban them. It’s proved incredibly popular from the outset, and if my YouTube feed is anything to go by, content creators are having a field day with the deep pool of cards available. Mimics of past and present Modern decks are popping up, with archetypes like Traditional Jund and Blood Moon decks popping up all over.

The introduction of Timeless may stave off some of the desire for a Modern-like format for now, giving the players who wanted a place for some of these classic cards and decks to live something to play. Over time more Modern cards may be added to the client to play in Timeless, and other Eternal Arena formats. Who knows, we may even get to a point where we can Play Modern on Arena naturally!

Wrap Up

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer - Illustration by Simon Dominic

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer | Illustration by Simon Dominic

There’s definitely an appetite for Modern to come to MTG Arena, however, there’s also a lot of hurdles to overcome before Wizards can open their first Modern queue. If I’m being totally honest, I can’t see Modern coming to the client. The juice just isn’t worth the squeeze for Wizards, and to introduce that many cards to the client would take an incredible amount of time and effort that I’m sure they’d want to direct elsewhere.

What do you think? Do you want Modern to come to Arena, or are you happy enough with the formats currently offered/playing Modern on MTGO? Are there any cards from Modern that you would like to see brought to Arena? Personally, with Timeless now introduced, some classics like the Tron lands are way past due, and in easy include in an Anthology set. Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on the Draftsim Discord, and which cards you think should be brought in.

Until next time, I hope you’re enjoying Magic, no matter what you’re playing and where you’re playing it!

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