Magic 2013 for iPad
Never having played the popular Magic: The Gathering (MTG), I thought it would be fun to learn. I have several friends who play competitively (boys AND girls), so I invited them to teach me the game. I knew that there had to be more to it than a fad because it’s been popular for two decades with over 12 million active players. I’ve learned this past week that it’s not difficult to play, but takes a bit of intellect to master because of all the strategies offered by customizable decks. What better way to hone my skills than to play the iPad version, no?
With the traditional MTG game, a player purchases some MTG cards and then customizes his or her deck with rare and sometimes expensive cards by trading or buying and selling with other players or often through hobby gaming shops. Although one can start playing for about $25 or so, it is not uncommon for experienced players to spend hundreds of dollars pimping out their decks with powerful and tricky cards that may catch their opponents off-guard. The iPad version, Magic 2013, is more simplified because it offers far fewer card choices, and it is available for FREE. What’s not to like?
I want to like this game. See this screen? It’s pretty good fantasy art, taken from the actual artwork found on MTG playing cards. But get used to this screen because you’re going to be seeing a lot of it.
And this one too.
That’s because this game crashes frequently. Thankfully, it usually doesn’t crash during gameplay; most of the time crashes come after making a purchase or when navigating from screen to screen whereupon the app just quits. Relaunching doesn’t seem to make it any more or less unstable.
The game itself is easy to navigate. There are 9 main areas where you can delve for more information:
Help & Options, Leaderboards, Deck Manager (where you select the deck you’ll be playing)
Player Status, Campaign (where you spend time playing the game), Multiplayer
Custom Game, Store (where you make in-game purchases of decks), Extras
In a standard Magic: The Gathering duel, two players face off. They each take the role of a wizard of great power (a Planeswalker, and the cards the players draw from their decks represent Land, Creatures, Enchantment, Sorcery, or Instant events which can be played on one player’s turn or on his opponent’s turn. Gameplay for the standard MTG game usually involves a deck with 60 cards, ~20 of which are Land cards. One usually starts his turn by playing a Land card, from which Mana (magical power) is drawn. To play the other cards, a player must “tap” the Land cards he has played (usually by turning them 90 degrees), demonstrating that Mana has been sucked from the Land – this is familiar to anyone who has read the popular Eragon series of fantasy novels. This regulates the play of stronger and more powerful cards, which require more Mana to cast – which means they cannot be cast until later in the game. The best way to understand the layout of information on each card is to read the description straight from the Wizards of the Coast website. Creatures attack the other player or his creatures, and can do a stated amount of damage. Each player starts with 20 health, so a good strategy is to block creatures from attacking you, and to attack your opponent before he kills you. Enchantments usually add power to your summoned creatures, and Sorcery cards can be used to nullify his Creatures and Enhancements. When a player reaches 0 health, he has lost the duel. It is possible to play the game and not spend any attention whatsoever on the fantasy backstory that Wizards of the Coast has written. I have not yet encountered Artifact cards within this game.
The iPad version plays a bit differently, but it still uses the same idiom of the cards in your hand, the cards played on the table, and the cards waiting to be drawn from your deck. The decks I unlocked only had 32 cards or so; by MTG rules, there can be no more than 4 of any kind in a deck of 60 cards. Gameplay lasts 15-20 minutes per duel, which is comparable to the games I played with the dead-tree version. The animations during gameplay are helpful and not too distracting. Sometimes I found that the game skipped my turn or went straight to the Combat round without allowing me to first cast Land/Mana or other cards from my hand. Although there is a “Restart Duel” option, it shuffles the cards in your deck so it is not possible to go backwards. The game would be more enjoyable without this bug.
When I first started playing, I was often dealt difficult hands (five Lands, and every card drawn was a Land). I found that if I made a few inexpensive in-game purchases, I was dealt better cards and was able to win a few games. There’s no way for me to prove whether or not this was coincidence. But I started out paying $10 to unlock some game features, and then shelled out 99¢ each for 5 unlocked decks. Ok, it still seems fairly inexpensive. But for some reason, I got messages stating that although I had purchased a deck, it still hadn’t downloaded. Then I ended up clicking to buy FOIL versions of the online decks, which seem silly because it’s not likely that the RGB display of the iPad could accurately display silver reflective foil like the paper-based cards. I’ll just chalk that up to my own ignorance. Amount spent: under $20 so far.
Now that I have won a few games, it’s not embarrassing to check the leaderboards and see that I’m ranked #114,389. I have no idea how many copies of Magic 2013 for iPad they have sold, but versions of the game are also available for XBox 360, Playstation III, and Steam (Windows or OS X).
There are additional game modes (two player, Multiplayer Free-for-All, Revenge, PlaneChase, Two-Headed Giant) as well as unlockable challenges.From what I can see, there’s no explanation of what great tasks I must accomplish before unlocking these challenges, so it’s not really a challenge as much as it is a hidden surprise. Call of Duty handles unlockable challenges in a better manner.
I purchased an additional Magic 2013 set for $5 which I had hoped would reveal new cards, but instead it downloaded more locked decks of cards to purchase, so it appears that there’s plenty of in-game purchases left should I so desire. This game is enjoyable but I now see the multitude of ways Wizards of the Coast can use this as a method to extract more money from OCD-afflicted players. WotC has a mixed track record with software they have developed over the past 3 years (i.e. nearly 2 million complaints on their D&D Character Builder), so I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting fixes any time soon. The standard, non-iPad version of Magic: the Gathering is more fun, because you’re across the table from a real live human with better intelligence than the iPad’s AI. If you’re not scared of having your butt handed to you by a 15-year old, you should check out your local hobby gaming store for Friday Night Magic, nearly every Friday night, to participate in the weekly contests.