A Return To Magic

kaladesh-prerelease

I have a long and varied history with Magic: The Gathering. Having mistakenly (or perhaps just out of curiosity) purchased packs back in the early 90’s during my Comic Book/Card collecting days, I hadn’t heard of collectible card games just yet. I was probably ten or eleven years old when the game was first released, and I know during that time I was probably buying Beta or Unlimited cards (which could potentially be worth some money at this point). Having no knowledge of this game, these cards were fairly useless. Eventually I would buy something other than a booster pack (probably some sort of starter deck) and find the tiny rule book enclosed within. Learning the game wasn’t something I was all that interested in doing though, so I remember playing the game with a few friends using our own rules, and then the cards were tucked away for a few years.

boosterbox_iceageFast forward to high school, where by chance I happened upon other nerds who were playing the game, and actually following the rules. I watched in awe as some pretty amazing things happened on those lunch breaks. It reminded me that I had cards lurking in a box somewhere, patiently awaiting my return to the game. Those cards were promptly found, and after much pleading with the parents I made special trips to a nearby hobby shop to purchase more on the rare occasions that I had money to spend. Many moons later, after pulling the boosters and singles together along with making trades with my cohorts, I had some pretty respectable decks, during the Ice Age and Mirage blocks. Towards the end of high school though, I cared less about the game, fell out of touch with people I played with and my interests shifted in other directions. Most of my cards were sold off. I didn’t think I’d play it anymore.

96343Jumping ahead once more, to a year or two outside of high school. A few friends of mine expressed some interest in the game. I mentioned my past knowledge and experience and offered to take them to that same hobby store I visited years earlier. Watching them buy up cards in a frenzy was too much of a temptation, and I found myself buying cards again as well. There had been several different sets that had released in the interim years, and a recently released 7th edition saw reprints of many cards I was familiar with. The boosters from recent blocks helped me flesh out several new decks and my collection swelled past its prior limits, mainly due to having more disposable income. I played rather casually for another couple of years, during the Odyssey and Onslaught blocks. But again, the time came when friends were less interested in playing, and perhaps we didn’t know that the game would continue to thrive for years. We didn’t know about various rule sets that could have potentially shaken things up and though it would have been wise to just hold onto these cards for my eventual return, I once again sold them off and wiped the game from my mind.

the_current_magic_online_logoI was aware of the existence of Magic Online around that timeframe, but it felt silly to me to purchase virtual cards. Of course I hadn’t fully moved over into the digital world, due to things being quite a bit different 15 years ago. Magic Online and the thought of “owning” virtual cards doesn’t seem quite so silly anymore, but I wasn’t willing to do it back in the day. It would have been a nice way to play the game with new people but my shortsightedness got the best of me once again.

In the early 2010’s there were several iterations of a Magic video game version released on the PS3 (and probably elsewhere). I almost bought a copy a few times, and then finally pulled the trigger on Magic 2013. These Duels of the Planeswalkers games had some shining moments, but I found that the AI was annoying to play against, and I never felt like I had total control over my decks. The loss of tactile sensation was also a problem. There’s nothing like opening up booster packs to find a super rare and awesome card. There’s nothing like sitting across from your opponent and beating them face to face. The video game couldn’t replicate these feelings in such a way that I found it enjoyable. Despite the fact that I played Hearthstone rather voraciously just a couple of years later and enjoyed my time with it, I just couldn’t play digital Magic. Perhaps my prior feelings about Magic Online weren’t unfounded after all.

magic_duels_logo
A competitor to Hearthstone emerged most recently from the granddaddy of CCGs. Magic Duels was Wizard’s answer to the F2P digital CCG model, and in some respects it was a fine game. It felt much like the earlier Duels games, but was essentially played just like Hearthstone. It failed to hold my attention, despite knowing that Magic is a better game than Hearthstone in many ways, I just need to hold those cards for it to have the same appeal.

Present day. I met a girl. We committed. She has a roommate who plays the game. He has a similar checkered past with it as I do. He hadn’t played in years, and was sucked back in by a friend. He’s already rebuilt his collection. Pouring over his cards brought back so many memories but also reminded me that I hadn’t touched it in nigh 15 years and so much had changed. It was much to take in, but in doing so I felt the urge to rebuild my own collection again. Thankfully he had already done so, because he was able to provide some insight to things that had changed. My first instinct would be to attempt to rebuild my collection from memory, as in trying to gather up all of those long gone cards that would probably cost me some money, but might also be impossible. Reprints happen, but I’m sure many of those cards are hard to find. Well, it turns out that there are different types of rules that apply to the game that I was unaware of, though they were probably implemented after my tenure so long ago.

You can read about Formats here, but I’ll give an abridged version. Basically the main types are Standard, Modern, Legacy and Vintage. Standard includes the last two blocks and the standard set. However, the core sets of the past — Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, and 4th-2015 editions — are no longer made. Some of the cards from those sets are reprinted each block though, so familiar faces still make their way into the format. Modern goes back quite a ways, I think ten years or something. Legacy is all the old stuff from my high school days, and Vintage allows most of the broken cards from the original version of the game. Each set of rules limits which card sets you can pull from, and gives a sort of focus that we didn’t have back in the day. I had old cards mixed with newer cards all of the time, and that probably would have been considered Modern at the time. It’s actually probably better to have a more limited pool just to have a meta of sorts, and as new mechanics are added it’s nice to have a couple of blocks to choose from for interesting interactions.

20161017_122917

I’ve already purchased a nice chunk of cards to start a new collection. My older and wiser self has also decided that I’ll never sell them off again. This time I’m going to hold onto them for that inevitable return. Anyhow, this time around there were several options to start off a collection. I chose to pick up a “Deck Builders Toolkit” from the prior block, which provided a bunch of lands, some randomized cards from the set and a couple of boosters. I also grabbed a starter box for the newest set Kaladesh, which came with 10 boosters and more land, plus a health counter. I grabbed a couple other boosters, and most recently picked up Planeswalker deck that also came with boosters. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-600 cards at my best guess, all for under $100. So yeah, it’s a pretty manageable hobby if you don’t go crazy like that all of the time. My new found nerdy friend also pointed me in the direction of Troll and Toad, which is an online marketplace where you can buy singles, and they’re actually pretty reasonable. My package of singles just arrived and that’s where I picked up this bad boy:

qelvp1h

I also picked up some Ultra Pro Matte sleeves for protecting the cards while playing, which isn’t something I had done in the past. Might as well protect the investment. Deck building is definitely still one of the more rewarding parts of the hobby, and I am very much looking forward to honing a few decks into winners. I have yet to actually play, as this is all fairly recent, but I will report back with how things go when I get to that point. Do any of you guys play Magic? Thoughts and suggestions are welcome!

Magic Duels: Impressions

I’m sure there’s been points where I’ve mentioned my time spent with Magic: The Gathering, but since I’m going to spend this post giving my impressions of a game based on the original CCG, I figure it’s as good a time as any to detail my history with the IP.

Somewhere around fourth or fifth grade I started getting heavy into comic book collecting. This correlated with the collection of comic cards as well, and I spent most if not all of my allowance and other money I would come across on the hobby. At some point, while browsing through cards at a comic book store, I stumbled upon Magic: The Gathering. I bought a few packs, thinking that they were just some new set of collectible cards that I hadn’t heard of. Turns out, not only were these cards collectible, but also part of an elaborate game that I didn’t quite understand. Eventually I found a starter box, as the booster packs didn’t come with instructions. The small booklet packed with the starter box contained all I would need to know to play the game, but my young mind didn’t bother with learning the real rules. Me and a few friends made up our own rules and played with the cards. Ah, youth.

A few years later when I was in high school, I met some guys that were into the game, but already had massive collections. I had stopped collecting comics and cards at that point, but I did still have the small amount of cards I had picked up years prior. I started to talk with these guys and learned the nuances of the game. I started picking up more cards, and started trading. We used to spend our lunch break eating and playing games against each other. I amassed quite a range of cards from multiple sets and life was good for a time. Eventually I would put the game down again, and it wouldn’t be until a year or two after I graduated high school that I’d pick it back up again.

My two best friends at the time were susceptible to new ideas, and though they had both heard of the game before, neither had played it. I explained to them that they would have to put some money into the initial investment, but they could use my cards (I had enough for several decks) to see if they liked the game. This eventually lead to both of them buying some cards, along with one of them convincing their younger siblings to get involved as well. This lead to two headed giant games, or four player free-for-alls, complete with backstabbing and alliance forming. It was all good fun but eventually everyone grew tired of the game, and we moved on. I gave my cards to one of my friends and haven’t touched a physical copy in years. This makes me sad.

On a whim, I bought one of the Duels of the Planeswalker games on my PS3. I believe it was the 2013 version. Either way, it was intriguing enough but I didn’t like the business model, in which you bought the game but then had to work through it to earn cards, buy extra cards through DLC packs, and though you could play against others it didn’t feel like the experience I wanted. I had always heard about Magic Online in the past, but it was the same significant investment to make decks, and I had already spent that kind of money on real world cards. It also sounded buggy and inconsistent.

Finally, building upon the engine that was present for the Planeswalker games, there is a new iteration of the classic card game called Magic Duels: Origins. Taking what I liked about the older games but making it free to play and on a Hearthstone-like model, where you earn in-game cash you can use to buy packs of cards, and being able to build your own custom decks and play a story but also other players feels like the game I’ve been waiting for. I liked Hearthstone well enough, but Magic was always my card game of choice. This is a suitable replacement from what I can see so far.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The game field is setup exactly like it was in the Duels of the Planeswalker games, with graveyards, draw piles, your health totals, hands and the field of play. Animations take care of combat between cards and opponents, and you can zoom in on any card that you want to check out, opponent’s included.

2015-08-12_00005

The game wants to force funnel you into tutorials and the story mode, where you’ll earn coins and cards, and learn the basics of the game. More experienced players might want to skip the tutorials and jump right into deck building, and this is possible, but I decided to play through these opening stories anyway, because it’s been a while since I last played Magic.

2015-08-12_00006

You can click on the store, and it will discourage you from skipping the recommended routes, but once inside you’ll get a starter box, that contains a large variety of cards for you to build decks with. However, some cards and coins are earned through playing the story so it’s recommended to do so first. I jumped around just so I could get screens to show you guys.

2015-08-12_00010

There are several pages here, but I opened the starter box and it comes with a bunch of cool stuff. I didn’t even look through it all, but I’m sure building decks from these cards will work just fine. The store isn’t too crazy either:

2015-08-12_00008 2015-08-12_00009

There are options for buying packs with the in game currency of “coins” and then you can buy coins with real world money. The model is exceptionally fair because rather than getting extra cards and having to disenchant them for dust ala Hearthstone, there is an intelligent pack system that keeps you from getting more cards than you can legally have in your collection. Tobold details this very well, and breaks down a full collection’s monetary price if you so choose to spend some real money on the game. I did spend real money on card packs in Hearthstone, but I think this time around I’m just going to farm for currency and build up my collection that way. I guess we’ll see if I can be competitive like that, and make the decision later.

So overall I think that this game is going to be better than Hearthstone in many ways. We’ll see how they continue down the path, if they add new cards regularly enough and if they try to add other over-priced fluff bullshit. It’s free to play on Steam right now, so if you’re interested go download it!


My daily run in Nuclear Throne today was super difficult. The RNG provided more open areas and a ton of enemies, whereas the first world is usually pretty void of creatures. As a result, you’ll get another short video!

#magicduels #magicthegathering #collectiblecardgame #freetoplay

Beta Time: Hearthstone

I have been harping on the subject recently, I know, but I still couldn’t get anything going on the MMO front. I tried Neverwinter and Rift again, and I wasn’t being picky — at all. Both games are simply unplayable on this machine. I gave up on trying to make EQ2 work, and I’m not feeling LOTRO or any of the other free to play titles. This leaves me at a crossroads: I either wait and dump some money on some of the expansions for games I enjoyed but haven’t played in a long time (EQ2, WoW), or wait until I can afford a new computer, or some combination of the two. Tax season is upon us, and I am getting a sizable return, so I am almost 100% sure that I’ll be building a new computer when I receive it. In the meantime, a game that I had never really thought about playing made its way onto my hard drive and has already stolen nearly a whole day from me. The game in question: Hearthstone.

News about Hearthstone, the new CCG from Blizzard Entertainment (or whatever hyphenated bullshit name they use today), has been appearing around the community for a little while now, and I was starting to think I needed to add in my two cents. My original idea (based on things I had already read) was going to be a protest about how computer based CCGs aren’t nearly the same as their hold-em-in-your-hands counterpart. But then I got to thinking about it, and decided that I needed to at least play the game before I could logically make such claims. The game is currently in open beta, and is free to play for anyone, so I downloaded it a couple of days ago.

Anyone who has known me over the years will know that I was a huge Blizzard fan before they got into the MMO business, but didn’t play that MMO until long after its release. I enjoyed WoW well enough, but knew more people playing and enjoyed EQ2 more early on. Despite enjoying the worlds of both Norrath and Azeroth along with the lore, I was firmly on the EQ side of the fence until I gave WoW a serious go in 2010. But I digress. Hearthstone is based on the lore of Warcraft, but it is a CCG through and through, so the MMO commentary wasn’t overly necessary, aside from now mentioning that EQ did this whole deal a while back with Legends of Norrath, but I couldn’t take that game seriously. I’m not sure if it was because I couldn’t take time away from playing the MMO at the time, or if LON just sucked. Hearthstone on the other hand, has Blizzard’s trademark polish, and the game is addictive as hell, despite a low barrier to entry. The comparisons to Magic: The Gathering are obvious, but most would argue that Hearthstone lacks the same depth. This is true, but its not necessarily a bad thing. Sure there are less cards (MTG has had over 20 years to create cards) and less mechanics, but this is only the beta. I’m sure cards will be consistently added, via “expansions” much like other CCGs are wont to do.The meta game for Hearthstone is what will keep people coming back for more. Not only are decks split into “classes” (class specific cards mixed with neutral cards) so each hero plays differently, you gain experience individually, so the potential for “rolling alts” is there. There is also a quest system that rewards packs of cards or gold that is the in-game currency to buy more packs. Buying is limited to 1 pack at a time for 100 gold, but packs can be purchased for real cash. The micro transaction system is non-intrusive (at this point) and I could see myself spending some cash on packs once the game is live.

When starting the game you are thrust into a tutorial that is easy enough to complete and gives a feel for the game. I was thrown off by the fact that minions weren’t able to block attackers unless labelled with “taunt”, as a MTG player that was disturbing. But once you get used to it, it isn’t so bad. Playing practice matches allows you to play against all the classes and beating the AI unlocks the class for you to play. Playing each class to level ten will open all of that class’s basic cards. Opening packs in the only way to earn expert cards, which have rarity levels (think colored gear in MMOs). Once you level past ten rewards are further apart, but I have yet to level up far enough to see what the next rewards will be. Playing against people is where the real fun lies, and as your deck becomes more powerful it is recommended to make a custom version of your class’s deck and fine tune things. Also part of the meta game, there is a crafting bit where you can disenchant cards you don’t want to earn dust that you can use to then create cards you do want. This appears to work on any rarity of card, though the higher you go the more they cost.

I leveled the Mage you start with up to ten, but wasn’t that thrilled with the class. The Warrior was what I played next, and he was fun for a moment, but still not exactly what I was looking for. Next I tried out a Warlock, which was the class I played in WoW, and I was in love! Despite the self-destruction and chaos the deck brings, the utility really shines. I may damage myself, but you’ll get damaged too! And then I’ll heal up and draw cards to boot! I still want to level all of the classes to ten just to see what the decks will be like, but I’m worried about the impending beta wipe that will most likely occur before the game is live.

So this isn’t quite an MMO but it scratches an itch nonetheless. CCGs are something I’ve always enjoyed, and this is a way to play one without having to spend a ton of money to buy actual cards, or without having to find like minded people with cards/time to play with.

Next up, more analyzing/strategy.