Lately, it's ambiguous when someone tells you they play Magic the Gathering. "I do too," you're ripe to say, "I've got all my cards in old binders kept since Ice Age
." The sentiment isn't exactly rejected, but clarified. Instantly, though you were effectively playing the same game, you and she are on different terms--as though you were playing two different games entirely. "Online," she says, "I play Magic Online."
It isn't that the games are different, but what separates Magic the Gathering Online from Magic the Gathering "table-top" is essentially time and resources. Though you'd like to, perhaps, spend six hours at a card-n-comic store every Friday, you'd rather be at home with your wife, your girlfriend, or your collection of miniature alien figurines. Also, while the cost of a pack of Magic the Gathering isn't astronomical, it does add up over time. The essential trade-off online, is that you're paying cost as opposed to cost-plus and tax--here, tax is close to 9%--or whatever price the card-n-comic store has booster packs inflated up to. Online, things are simplified.
And that's good too, since many practitioners of Magic "table top" have become engrossed in the online game as well. Last year at E3 2006, Mark Rosewater hosted a small group of world champions in a Magic the Gathering Online tournament, showcasing that even the pros have gone digital. For me, this wasn't half as appealing as seeing the pros I had read about--to some extent idolized, I admit--battling it out side-by-side.
The boom of Magic the Gathering Online originally was offset by a difficult to grasp interface. For many new players, pressing the F-keys repetitively isn't as appealing as actually playing the game in person. The interface of MTGO was a functional eyesore--like Spike TV is to VH1--that is to say, ugly. But it's an ugly duckling, as we are led to believe, because with version 3, MTGO just turned into a swan.
There still is room for improvement, of course. Justin Ziran, Brand Manager Marketing for Wizards of the Coast said, "We're trying to make it look smoother, but it's going to change." The interface is still meant to be cut and dry, functional, which it always was. But you'll notice that the edges of each page are softer on the eyes, rounder, like Wizards went through each with a belt sander, smoothed out the rough edges. The new look is quite pleasing, however it can interfere with the ease of play. So right now that smoothness is tentative.
Right now, the biggest changes have been to the card art and battleground layout. Now, the art has been upgraded to the point where you can actually read the signature of the artist, and the text is scalable, (YES!) so if you don't really need it, you don't have to have it. Also, the card's abilities and flavor text are in good resolution and the size of that text is scaled when you mouse over and select the card. A great improvement over the previous Magic Online.
With the ease of updating Magic Online, there is no reason for Wizards of the Coast to stop with Online III; they'll likely continue to improve on it until beauty is in line and not conflicting with functionality. Magic Online vIII is better than a leap forward in quality and function, it's more like slapping Leap on your Darksteel Colossus and swinging over a bunch of knights for the win.