Magic: The Gathering is, for many nerds, a flame that burns bright, hot, and intensely, and you’ll probably get burned. Any nerd knows at least one guy who shoplifted or stole from his parents to buy booster packs in middle school; I actually met a guy who, incredibly drunk, tearfully admitted to mugging a kid for his deck in seventh grade. It’s an ugly game.
Over the years, I’ve been to game shops. I’ve seen the drafts. And I’ve felt that wistfulness that one feels looking back at an old flame where the sex was great but everything else was a nightmare. Yes, it was expensive and it brought out the worst in me. But man, that moment, the moment where your deck comes together and you wipe the floor with some sucker… who wouldn’t miss that?
And now, you can do it without going broke!
Magic: The Gathering‘s latest app has been on digital for a month now, and it’s a bit like having a heroin dispenser open down the block when you’re a recovering addict. But really, Magic: The Gathering as a video game is more like methadone, or maybe opium.
You Never Have To Buy A Card
First, and most important, yeah, you can pay to unlock all the cards in a deck. Yeah, you can buy other decks. But you don’t have to. The game’s perfectly playable, once you shell out your ten bucks, with just the tools it gives you. As you win different encounters with different decks, you unlock cards for that deck, and as you beat bosses, or take on optional encounters, you unlock other decks.
The result is actually an odd mix of a strategy game and a one-on-one fighter, in the single-player campaign. Odd, but compelling; there’s nothing quite like kicking some ass with the right deck.
It’s Easy To Get Back Into It
Wizards of the Coast rather smartly has geared their app towards both hardcore Magic players and people who haven’t tapped a land in a decade. The tutorial is very good about explaining the basics, and figuring out just how nasty each card is is as simple as zooming in on it and clicking “More Info”. If you’ve never played Magic, or haven’t played it in twenty years, you’ll need the refresher.
The Pre-Built Decks Are Actually Pretty Good
It’s worth going through the single player campaign first, especially if you’re not sure about your skills, because you’ll unlock decks. The game actually has a surprising number of decks to unlock, and all of them are actually fun to use and geared around different strategies, whether you’re churning out swarms of low-level mooks to overwhelm your enemy, or racking up the lands quickly to send an Annhilator after their asses. You’ll probably wind up using only a relative handful of them, but the effort is nice and more importantly, it’s fun to go back to an AI opponent and try a different strategy.
The Computer Enemies Are Tough But (Relatively) Fair
“Fair” is a relative term here: This is Magic: The Gathering. One thing that is essentially unchanged is that the game is still about crushing your enemy beneath your heel. But, leaving aside the fact that, every single round, they always get a land, the computer enemies are actually fun to get a sense of and try different decks against.
Sealed Play Is As Entertainingly Terrible As You Remember
There’s nothing quite like the moment where you unwrap a bunch of cards and realize you have a bunch of duds. And then another pack, and then another… amazingly, you can recapture this feeling, and the hilarity that ensues, for free, with Magic’s app. Sealed Play is actually the game’s strongest mode in some ways; you can really get into the nitty-gritty of the strategy of deckbuilding at a minimal cost.
The app isn’t perfect; the control scheme can be clunky at times and the music is shockingly cheesy. But if you’ve been missing Magic but don’t want to collect the cards, this app might be a way to finally enjoy the game.