Magic: The Gathering feels like something that should have died around the same time as pogs and new episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life. Maybe I’m just having a real old guy moment, but it’s astounding to think that it’s been around for over 20 years. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but still vividly recall the time one of my middle school friends claimed to have found an impossibly rare Black Lotus card, yet was never able to produce it as proof. I believe he also once said that his uncle worked for Nintendo.
Adolescent tall-tales aside, Magic’s longevity is pretty incredible, especially when you realize that it’s basically just a physical version of a play-to-win multiplayer game featuring unlimited DLC. I myself, as recently as a few years ago, went through several stages where I spent a lot of income that shouldn’t have been so disposible in a quest to build better decks. Come to think of it, I still have a lot of unsold cards collecting dust in the basement, right next to a shoe box documenting my brief flirtation with the Dragonball Z card game.
Don’t judge me.
As proven with Hearthstone and others, the CCG format has always felt like it should fit in a virtual space, so it was only a matter of time before Magic made the jump. The transition has been… tricky. Up until 2015, the series hadn’t even allowed players to customize their own decks, an odd choice given what Magic is all about. At the time, I saw some defend the decision, since it made it feel more like a puzzle game than a simple quest to build the strongest deck. There may be some truth to that, but 2015 isn’t going to prove the argument one way or another. You’re still set on a fairly rigid path to start, only able to deviate and personalize your deck after a considerable amount of grinding… or paying for more cards in the shop. Given it’s now over a year and a half after release, the shop no longer exists, so grinding is the only option. While the AI isn’t much of a problem against my tried and true “pick blue and win” strategy, I can certainly imagine scenarios where the pre-made deck options were simply not up to snuff in the later game without some very fortunate booster cards. ‘
The whole magic (no pun intended) of a CCG is that you are never truly out of options, so long as you can get more cards. Deck building is arguably more fun than playing the actual game, but the UI is so clearly phone-biased that even something as simple as adding a card to your deck feels like an ordeal. Often I simply didn’t bother adding new stronger cards because I didn’t want to deal with the interface.
It’s been brought to my attention that there is an alternative, MtG: Online, which is much less stylized but more to the speed of a seasoned veteran like myself, not needing the game to stop every few seconds to explain to me what “trample” is. I suppose I’ll give that a try at some point, but the existence of both leads me to the conclusion that Duels of the Planeswalkers is designed to be more of an introduction for new players, hence the more restricted experience. If that’s the case, I have an easier option for those people. Go to Target and buy a starter deck.