By Kate Thompson
Do you love your mobile device? I do, too.
Do you love card games? I do, too! It’s like we were meant to be best friends!
This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be doing that focuses on digital board gaming. I’ve been aware of digital implementations of board games for some time now, and have been a fan of video and mobile gaming for even longer. Mobile gaming is getting more and more advanced and competitive, and the selection available is huge! Hopefully, this series of posts will help you find some new high-quality digital games to keep you entertained when a full-on traditional board game isn’t convenient.
Today I’ll start talking about my favourite card games, and I will give a brief review of the digital implementations that exist for them. This genre is one of my all-time favourites, I have always gravitated towards it. I have spent a large proportion of my gaming time on card games. I may not be qualifying for the Magic Pro-Tour, but I do have a good understanding of the strategies and mechanics that make a card game work!
Read on to hear about the digital implementations of Magic: The Gathering that I have tried!
If you like card games but have never tried Magic: The Gathering you must stop reading immediately and rectify this unforgivable omission! In all seriousness, I don’t think I need to spend much time convincing you that Magic is a good card game. It pioneered the collectable card game genre, and it is so good that it has stood the test of time -- it’s been around for 25 years now, and its popularity is only growing.
My goal today is not to convince you how good Magic is, though. My goal is to let you know the best way to play this game digitally. So let’s try to stay on track…
There are actually several digital implementations of Magic, and they all have slightly different strengths and weaknesses.
Magic: the Gathering Online
This platform has been around since 2002 and has gone through several versions since then. I only have a little experience with the platform from when I tried it out for a few months several years ago. This version of digital Magic is very much a direct translation of paper magic and the formats that it is played in. So, you can construct a deck from cards that you have collected and then play against others. There are also tournaments, drafts, and sealed events that you can sign up for and play in, and these work very much in the same way they would in real life. So, you must pay an entry fee either with booster packs or event tickets. These can be purchased with real money or accumulated as prizes from doing well in events. Then, you play in real time with other players, including any deck building or drafting that might be involved.
This is a really great implementation of Magic in the digital world. If you want something that translates quite faithfully from how the game works in paper form, this is the platform for you!
However, there are some drawbacks to the platform that dissuaded me from continuing to use it. The user interface is functional, but not stunning. There is a bit of a learning curve to figuring out how to play the game. All the rules are there, but you need to learn how they have been implemented in the digital format.
I mentioned that everything occurs in real time, and this is important in any game where you are playing against another person. There needs to be enough time for each person to take their turn, but time must also be limited to ensure no one is waiting around for too long. The result is that sometimes you end up not having as much time to think as you’d like… and sometimes you end up waiting around for your opponent. This is the case when you play in real life, as well, but it’s still a disadvantage compared to many other digital experiences.
Another thing that didn’t appeal to me was the need to painstakingly create an entirely new collection of cards. This might be easier to do without spending money if you are a very skilled player, but I am a casual player and found it quite difficult to amass any significant collection without having to spend real money. I don’t mind spending money on Magic cards, but if I do I would much prefer to have a physical card than a digital one. I really wished that the cards I purchased in real life could be added to my digital collection so that I wasn’t paying for the same cards twice. So, that was pretty much the end of Magic the Gathering Online for me.
I think Magic Online is probably best for seasoned Magic players who are confident in their skill level and isn’t as good for players new to the game. Experienced players will build a collection more easily from winning product, and I suspect will appreciate that faithful replication of paper Magic in this digital format.
There are several versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers going back to 2009. Magic Duels is very similar and is available on Steam, iPhone, iPad, and Xbox One.
These games are what I would call a digital variant of Magic. The rules of the game are the same as in paper magic, but the format of play is different. Many of the play modes in Duels pit the player against a computer rather than another real player. These campaign story modes are pretty interesting, and I can see the appeal in them. It’s a more traditional video game feature, and I think it was implemented well. It adds something to the Magic experience that is hard to include in paper play.
A selection of pre-made decks is available that can be upgraded with new cards. So there is some customization, but you don’t have to build a deck completely from scratch if you don’t want to.
This version of the game is quite engaging, and the campaign mode in particular will be great for anyone looking for a video game version of Magic. In addition, many people will enjoy being able to skip deck construction and just play with or tweak the pre-made decks that get unlocked.. Where Magic Online might appeal more to seasoned Magic players, Duels is more beginner friendly.
Magic the Gathering Arena
I received beta access to MTG Arena months ago, but I was only able to start playing it this week because I use a Mac. So, not only is this game in closed beta, but you can currently only play it on PC. However, I still wanted to talk about it because I am quite excited about this platform. Eventually, it will be open to the public (or, if you want, you can sign up for a beta key here), and they have said it will be released on other platforms. I am very much hoping for a Mac release but would be super impressed if it came to mobile as well.
So far, it feels to me like MTG Arena hits the perfect compromise between Magic Online, which is a very faithful digital implementation of Magic, and Duels, which is a video game version of Magic. Arena reminds me a lot of Hearthstone, and (as you will surely read in a future post) I love Hearthstone.
In MTG Arena you are able to customize your own decks with cards you add to your collection, but you do receive some pre-made decks after completing the game tutorial and some ‘quests’. In this way, it’s similar to Duels. I particularly like the way they have implemented drafts in Arena. Like a Hearthstone arena, you draft a deck on your own to start. When you are ready to play a game, you are matched up with someone else. You can continue to play games until you have either won 7 or lost 3, whichever comes first. Then, you receive a reward based on how well you did, including booster packs of cards and gems.
It’s hard to make any hard conclusions about a game that is still in beta, but I’m feeling very positive about it so far. It seems like it hits all the sweet spots, and will be something that both seasoned and new players will love. In the end, the game is still in beta, and so things will continue to change. Fear not, though! I’ll keep playing, and I’ll keep you up to date!
To summarize, I have found that all digital formats of Magic have distinct benefits. They are all high-quality platforms that reflect the standards I have come to expect from Wizards of the Coast products. You’ll find something you like in all of them, but I hope the above points will help to steer you in the direction that will be best for what you are looking for in a digital implementation of Magic: The Gathering.
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