Chris Cocks became President of Wizards of the Coast in June 2016, before which he served as Vice President of OEM Technical Sales at Microsoft. We sat down with Chris to talk about his origin story, the future of digital Magic, and plenty of other fun topics.

This is part two of a three-part series, covering MTG Arena, the future of MTGO, and other future digital Magic games. You can read part one here. On Friday, part three will discuss the future of Organized Play, wrap-up the remaining interview topics, and provide the full transcript.

Magic: the Gathering Arena

Since its reveal in September 2017, MTG Arena has driven the discussion about what the future of digital Magic will look like. And to hear Chris Cocks say it, MTG Arena is the future of digital Magic. “[MTG Arena] the biggest and most important” product to come out of Wizards Magic Digital Next initiative, Chris told us in our interview.

MTG Arena’s development team has three goals when making the game: “[F]irst…we want it to be all the rules of Magic,” Chris said. “We want it to be super authentic. We want it to be all the mechanics played in paper. So you can play it digitally and it just feels right. Second, we want it to be super fast and super efficient for you. We want you to be able to find a match with someone who’s a great competitor for you and be able to play that match in a matter of minutes. And make it just so that if you want to play Magic, you can play it on the platform you want at the time you want very conveniently. Finally, we want to take that great artwork and that great imaginative spirit that kind of comes with artwork and we want to bring it to life for you.”

It’s easy to see how those rules have shaped MTG Arena. In order to provide the most intuitive and authentic gameplay, “[MTG] Arena is going to be very focused on Standard [and Draft] at launch,” Chris said. The unveiling of MTG Arena’s economy a few weeks ago showed just how committed Wizards is to making short play sessions as rewarding as possible. And the emphasis on graphics and animations is clearly aimed at bringing the cards to life. “Right now we’ve got animations in there, but we probably only have a percentage of the animations that we want to have,” he said. Animations like a “really cool animation for Embalm where basically they’re wrapping up the cards like a mummy on the screen. I think people will dig that.”

MTG Arena and Organized Play

Chris sees MTG Arena playing a big role in the future of professional Magic tournaments. In the future, “there’s going to be a mix of paper coverage and there’s going to be digital coverage as well,” he said. “You will see high level competitive events that will be focused on digital versions of the game,” likely similar to the current Magic Online Championship Series but with MTG Arena. Even further in the future, “maybe it’s a year or two down the road, [there might be] hybrid events where both are..showcased.”

MTG Arena Might Add Mac Support During the Beta…but likely by Launch

“We will support other platforms like Mac,” Chis said. “[T]hat likely won’t be until either the later stages of the Beta or around when we declare it as a launch game, but Mac will be a platform that supported as well as all the other platforms you would expect us to do. The timeline on those other platforms are as soon as we can prioritize it based on player feedback and what we think is the best thing to do to make a fun game.”

The Future of Magic: the Gathering Online

Given all of the hype surrounding MTG Arena, many players are concerned about the future of MTGO. But according to Chris, there’s no cause for concern. “As long as MTGO fans play it, we’re committed to MTGO,” he promised. “MTGO has been around for 15 years and we’d be perfectly happy if it was around for another 15 years. It’s the way our most die-hard fans like to play. They can play all of Magic on it.”

An Expanding Portfolio of Digital Magic Games

MTG Arena is just one piece in the larger puzzle of capturing fans of strategy games and the larger fantasy genre. To that end, Wizards has “about six different game or digital product initiatives going on right now that should launch inside of the next year and a half to two years,” Chris said. “Arena is what we’re focusing on now, it’s probably one of the biggest and most important of those initiatives.”

This array of digital products are aimed at engaging people outside of the 30-40 million people who have already played Magic. Chris says that “[t]here’s probably 250 million strategy fans…RPG and adventure games are natural extensions of [the fantasy genre and are] probably another 250,000,000 fans.” That means there’s about another 450-500 million [strategy and fantasy] fans out there that we think our IP would be super relevant for. The games you see us announcing and the partnerships that we announced them with will make sense.”

According to Chris’ (somewhat belabored) metaphor, Magic the card game and Dungeons and Dragons are the “castle that you want to defend and you want to take care of and you want to grow over time.” It’s the beating heart of Wizards’ fantasy IP from which they can launch “boats,” or these new digital product initiatives. “If a castle costs a trillion dollars to make, a boat costs a fraction of what a castle costs. Boats don’t always pan out. You can send a boat out and sail for 20 days and not find anything and it comes back empty-handed. And that’s OK. When we think about a lot of our digital initiatives, we think about them as boats that kind of extend our castles of Magic and DnD.”

Aside from MTG Arena, we already know about two of Chris’ “boats.” Cryptic Studios announced last year that is developing a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game using Magic’s IP, while just this week Netmarble announced that it would release a Magic Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) codenamed “Project M” sometime in 2018.

Staffing Up to Expand Digital Magic

Ever since Chris’s arrival and the start of the Magic Digital Next initiative, the job board at Wizards has been full of new job listings. Chris confirmed that it’s not just your imagination—Wizards has been on a hiring tear. “We have 600 people at Wizards. In the two or so years I’ve been here, we’ve probably hired 150 of them. A lot of them have been in our digital initiatives. I think people are starting to see the fruits of those labors this year with what we’ve shown with Arena and our closed beta.”

Wizards has traditionally been a company that promotes from within. Chris says that there’s a good reason for this. “Wizards is best in class at making tradable card games. There is no question that we have the best designers in the world on tradable card games. We invented the category.” While that strategy has been an unquestioned success in terms of its game design teams, Wizards has been heavily criticized for its staffing and leadership choices in regard to its previous digital products, like MTGO and Duels of the Planeswalkers. Chris acknowledged that, “We need and we’ve hired people who are experts” in game development from outside of Wizards in order to help Magic expand its digital footprint. The fact that the majority of the 150 people he has hired over the past year have been for Wizards digital initiatives is a clear indication that Chris is committed to increasing Wizards’ technical capacity in that regard.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap up the topics we talked about with Chris Cocks including the upcoming Dominaria expansion, creating products for a wide spectrum of consumers, organized play, and everyone’s favorite topic: card stock quality!

The interview from which this article draws upon was conducted by Rich Stein and Zac Clark. David McCoy also contributed to this article.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.