Saffron Olive on Magic: The Gathering Arena

Magic: The Gathering Arena is now in open beta

The other day I got the chance to chat with Seth (probably better known as Saffron Olive) concerning Wizards of the Coast’s new game Magic: The Gathering Arena. Seth works for MTG Goldfish, a family-friendly website that tracks card prices for both MTG Online and paper Magic cards, as the main content creator. There he writes articles about budget Magic: The Gathering decks, ‘janky’ off-the-wall deck ideas, and deck techs for a variety of different MTG decks.

Seth is also the main content creator for the MTG Goldfish YouTube channel. Upon visiting the channel you can find videos that go along with a lot of his articles where he vocally and visually explains the nuances of the decks he’s written about. Often, he plays full leagues with the decks using either the MTG Online or MTG Arena platforms so you can see them in action. Recently, MTG Goldfish has started a new series just for MTG Arena titled Goldfish Gladiators where Seth showcases decks, drafts, and other content on the MTG Arena client.

In addition to the articles and YouTube channel, Seth streams Magic: The Gathering content on Twitch at 6:00 PM Eastern Time every Tuesday and Thursday. You’ll often find him playing one of the decks he’s written about or a new brew he’s come up with. He interacts with Twitch chat by answering questions, offering constructive criticism on Magic decks that chat members share with him, and just in general laughing and having a good time with everyone watching. All of the Twitch streams are documented on the MTG Goldfish Replay! YouTube channel.

Working with MTG Goldfish to provide quality Magic: The Gathering content is Seth’s full-time job. Because of this, we thought he would be an excellent interviewee to discus MTG Arena‘s recent move into open beta.

Q&A with Saffron Olive

Daily Esports: Arena has had a bit of a rough go when it comes to building and stabilizing its economy. How much do you think it’s improved over the beta, and does it still need some work? If so, what would your recommendations be?

Saffron Olive: Arena has improved a lot since it started in closed beta about a year ago. At this point, the gameplay is quite good, with most of the problems revolving around other aspects of the game (economy fixes that are still in the works, a new deck builder, etc). As for my recommendations, there are two things. First, from the Wizards side, they need to come up with timely and effective solutions for some fringe economy issues (like what happens after you open a 5th copy of a card) and tighten up some of the non-gameplay aspects of the client. Second, the community has to come to grips with the idea that Arena is primarily for new and intermediate players and not designed (at least primarily) for hardcore tournament grinders and people who play non-Standard/non-limited formats (like Modern, Commander, Legacy, etc.).

With MTG Arena being released, and it only having cards from Kaladesh forward, do you think there is a possibility for WotC to use Kaladesh as the starting point for a new Frontier style format?

Saffron Olive: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if whatever post-Modern format we have in the future is tied to the cards available on Arena. It doesn’t make much sense to support two very similar formats (one for paper, and one for Arena) with slightly different starting points. This said, we’ve seen some Shadows over Innistrad cards show up on developer streams (although they aren’t in the client for the public) so the exact starting could be a bit earlier than Kaladesh if Wizards decided to release Shadows over Innistrad to the public.

MTG Arena removed the chat feature that MTGO has, going for a Hearthstone-style approach with emotes. It’s not a huge change, but it does remove a method of communication between the players. What are your thoughts on this, if any?

Saffron Olive: Chat has been a big issue in the Magic community lately. While I think the Magic Online chat is less toxic than some other games, there are still some instances of people saying some really horrible, mean things. I think that dropping chat for Arena is a way for Wizards to avoid this issue on their new client. Personally, I like having the option for chat (maybe some sort of opt-in system) because along with the handful of toxic interactions there are some really cool people to talk with as well, but I can’t really blame Wizards for avoiding it all together.

MTG Arena’s turn timer allows you to bank time in early turns to allow for longer time in later, more critical turns of a game. How do you feel the turn timers impact control decks who can sometimes take longer turns? Do you feel the turn time is adequate?

Saffron Olive: The current timer system on Magic Arena has some pretty major flaws, but the problems stem more from combo decks than control decks. While I could see slow control players (perhaps people just learning their deck) running up against the clock, I think that most experienced control players would be fine. On the other hand there have been issues with combo decks being unplayable since you time out in the middle of your big combo turn. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more adjustments to the way the clock works in the future. In its current state, it works well enough for a huge percentage of games, but it would be nice to see it adjusted to accommodate all playstyles and decks.

Do you think that it’s possible to perform well and obtain a good rank on Arena without having to pay real money? Does MTG Goldfish intend to produce any video content following a budget approach to the game like your Budget Magic series for MTGO?

Saffron Olive: I think it’s certainly possible to free-to-play competitively on Arena. While it takes a lot of work and grinding (and also careful management of your resources) it can be done. One thing we’re working on at Goldfish is a free-to-play Arena series to see just how practical it is to compete without spending any real money.

Speaking of rank, this is a new thing for MTG. MTGO didn’t offer Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc. as ranks for personal accounts. What are your thoughts on this?

Saffron Olive: I’m sort of waiting to see how this plays out. Over the course of the beta, rank has been pretty confusing on MTG Arena with lots of stories involving people winning matches and losing rank and other weird stuff. I think it could be a good system – it works well in other games – but we’re not quite there yet on Arena. Hopefully, the system will become a bit more clear and logical as the game moves through open beta.

Will you continue to produce your standard content via MTGO, or are you thinking you may move to MTG Arena for it? Why or why not would you consider Arena?

Saffron Olive:As far as content is concerned, I think it’s really up to the audience. With the game in open beta now we’ll certainly try more Arena videos and streams and see what the audience likes best. Since we play a lot of Modern Magic Online will still be a huge part of content, but there’s a chance that Standard content moves more and more towards Arena over the next months or year, it will depend on what people like watching most.

Anyone who watches your stream knows you’re a big proponent of Momir Basic on MTGO. This format was recently added to Arena, but the gameplay is a bit different since Arena has a much smaller cardpool than MTGO. Do you think the smaller cardpool hurts the format? Does the smaller card selection allow for more strategic decisions? Overall, which Momir version do you have the most fun with?

Saffron Olive: I’m probably a bit biased here since I’ve been playing the Magic Online version of Momir for a long time. To me, the full card pool on Magic Online makes its version of Momir feel like “real” Momir, while the Arena version is sort of a weird, knockoff brand of Momir. However, both versions are fun, and I think the Arena version will improve a lot as the next few sets are added. Momir thrives on variance, and the biggest issue with the first run of Momir on Arena is that there was only one nine mana creature, so everyone knew if they could get to nine mana they would automatically get a (very powerful) Zacama, Primal Calamity whenever they wanted it. As more sets are added this issue should solve itself. While they Arena version of Momir will never have the “oh my god, what is this horrible creature from 1994” feeling of “real” Momir, I think it will be a fun and playable game mode.

As a guy who brews janky decks for both fun and as a living, how well does Arena facilitate janky deck building and testing?

Saffron Olive: One part of Arena that I dislike is that it’s pretty punishing for brewing and trying new decks. While building a single tier deck isn’t too hard or too expensive, there isn’t any way to trade or dust cards so switching decks is very difficult. Plus, since the game doesn’t have a real economy, a janky mythic like Star of Extinction is just as expensive as a tier mythic like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria which makes it hard to spend your wildcards on cards that probably aren’t good enough to see competitive play. I’m super lucky that I can justify getting the cards I need as “work,” but if I didn’t build janky decks for a living Magic Arena would be prohibitively expensive for my playstyle (which involves playing a lot of bad cards and playing a lot of different decks).

Is there any upcoming MTG Goldfish Arena content you’re excited about?

Saffron Olive: Right now, the thing I’m most excited for is the free-to-play series, which I think will be really helpful to people just starting off on Magic Arena. Otherwise, I expect that we’ll see Arena featured on some of the regular series (like Against the Odds and Budget Magic) every now and then as well.

A screenshot from Magic: The Gathering Arena

Conclusion

Overall, MTG Arena is progressing well through its beta stages. It has some obvious problems that Seth mentioned in the Q&A, but this open beta is a way for Wizards of the Coast to get more feedback on how to fix those issues. Beta testing a game is all about community, working together with everyone involved to provide constructive and relevant feedback to the developers of the game. If you have any feedback (suggestions, bug reports, etc.) you’d like to make available to Wizards of the Coast, you can do so on the official MTG Arena forums. You can also use the forums or the MTG Arena Subreddit to discuss the client with like-minded individuals and MTG players like yourself!

Getting to interview Saffron Olive was a pleasure as I am a subscriber to both his YouTube and Twitch content. He’s every bit as genuine and nice one-on-one as he is with his Twitch chat. If you’re in the market for more good, clean Magic: The Gathering content, look no further than MTG Goldfish. You can contact Seth via his Twitter where he is very active in discussing MTG news with the community.

Thank you all for reading, and feel free to like and share if you found this interview interesting! I’ll see you guys in the Arena, where we may even run into Saffron Olive!

I’m Avinan, working in association with Daily Esports to cover Heroes of the Storm and Magic the Gathering news.