Magic: The Gathering Arena is finally adding the ability to play against friends this week after fans of the game have requested the feature for months. The functionality will be called Direct Challenges, and will arrive on November 15.
Magic: The Gathering Arena is currently in an open beta period that started out a little rocky but has since flourished as the premier method of playing the popular trading card game online. An initiative from Wizards of the Coast saw the game's open beta begin with high profile streamers, including some who are better-known as Hearthstone aficionados, tackling Magic Arena as part of sponsored content creation. The result has been a huge influx in players and the best viewership numbers the physical game's Pro Tour has ever experienced on Twitch just this past weekend in Atlanta.
Now, one of the most crucial elements in any online card game is finally arriving. Magic Arena's friend challenges will be added to the open beta this week, and will allow players who have each other on their friends list to play games against each other. As of now, it appears that Direct Challenges will only apply to Standard formats, but there's a possibility that other formats will eventually be supported as Arena's card pool begins to grow with each set release.
It also isn't clear if Direct Challenges will support a best-out-of-3 match structure, which is the commonly accepted method of playing paper Magic. The Direct Challenge function does bring Magic Arena out of the shadow of its predecessor, Magic: The Gathering Online, which was still the preferred method of testing decks for professionals and thus frequently ended up being the client they used to stream Magic on Twitch. As Magic Arena's functionality expands to support broader play ability, it wouldn't be surprising to see some streamers take a gamble and switch over to the newer platform, even though the community remains divided on which online offering they prefer more.
While the addition of Magic Arena's friend challenges is a huge boon to the game's open beta, there are still some issues that need fixing before the game really establishes itself as a threat to entrenched offerings like Hearthstone. The biggest problem remains Magic Arena's card economy, which features a somewhat convoluted crafting system and a very stingy approach to extra cards. Acquiring extra cards beyond the four that are the maximum amount in deckbuilding rewards players with essentially nothing at this point, which can make buying and opening packs incredibly frustrating.