It’s a Kind of Magic

Magic: The Gathering Online
Gameplay
graphics
audio
value
fun
Genre
Reviewed On
PC
Available For
PC
Difficulty
Intermediate
Publisher(s)
Developer(s)
ESRB
ESRB

I’ll make this clear up front: I’m not a great advocate of ‘collectible card games.’ I’ve played Magic: The Gathering and some of the other ones. But the sheer volume of knowledge required to even handle the basics seemed like too much squeezing for the juice. All the accounting required to keep everything straight killed the fun of it for me, and there would always be questions that arose during play, such as cards with seemingly opposable powers and situations that arose that required the intervention of a referee to determine what the correct course of action was.

But now Wizards of the Coast have an online version of Magic: The Gathering. And this one’s a winner. All the pesky ‘mechanical’ issues surrounding game play are taken care of by the software in the background. Lives, tapped and untapped lands, blocks and defenses are all remembered automatically. (If the above is gibberish to you then just trust me"it makes the game much more playable.) Now the only thing separating you from enjoying the game is your own ability to play and strategize.

Of course, MtG is an online game. You pit yourself against other players in what can really be a Darwinian test of skill. Some of the online players are truly masters of the game.

I admit it. I got spanked. Probably by some kid who was born after I graduated college. It hurt. Bad. In a ‘please help me I’m falling’ sort of way.

There are two factors contributing to player success. The first is one’s skill at building a deck. My first instinct to throw in every useful card I had was quickly revealed to be"inadequate. The better decks have fairly few cards. This apparently maximizes the chances of useful cards appearing at opportune times. And those useful cards would open a can of whoop-ass on me as I frantically discarded my lot while looking for something I could use with the current table.

The second, more sinister factor contributing to one’s success is the number of cards one has in one’s collection. This translates into ‘how much money has one spent purchasing cards.’ Sinister, indeed. As with all collectible card games, the cost isn’t in the game itself but in the cost of the cards.

Wizards of the Coast will give you the online client for MtG and a starter pack of cards absolutely free. To be fair-minded this is enough to become exposed to the game and play some of the other beginners in their online systems area for newbies. But once you venture into the wider world you can expect to get your head handed to you by the more experienced (and better-heeled) members of the community.

This is in lieu of the standard "monthly charge" that most companies require of their players. You won’t end up paying $9.95 a month for the privilege of keeping your character on someone’s server. Sure, giving away the basic game for free is tantamount to the strategy used by drug dealers, but in the long run it’s better than a monthly fee. This way you can stop playing the game for a few months, without penalty. And once you have built a "killer deck" you don’t need to purchase anything else to hold your own in the community.

And there is a community. A good one. While I found the online graphics (a bunch of people wandering around rooms with lots of tables where they could ‘sit down’ to enter a game) a little dorky, it conveys what it is: a place to play games of MtG of various levels of difficulty. But the best thing Wizards of the Coast has done is take an active hand in the community. There are constantly tournaments being run by Wizards or contests or something. This goes a long way in overcoming the boredom I’ve experienced in so many online systems. By keeping it fresh and alive Wizards ensures a happy and contented (and contentious) online community of players.

I honestly didn’t know if I’d like MtG Online when I got the software. My negative experience (mostly my own lack of patience with the game mechanics) inclined me to believe otherwise. But this one won me over. MtG Online is a fun game. It’s simple to learn and difficult to master, as any good game should be. I was also worried that the game would cost too much, what with buying endless packs of virtual cards and such. But I’ve come to think of it this way: the only way you’re going to spend money is if you’re enjoying the game. If you don’t enjoy playing you won’t be spending the money, right?

So if you like collectible card games in general and Magic: the Gathering in particular, this one’s a winner. It has all the fun of the tabletop game and removes all the hindrances. Sped up play and an active community make this one a real top draw game. I highly recommend it.

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