Showing posts with label Duels of the Planeswalkers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Duels of the Planeswalkers. Show all posts

Monday, October 08, 2018

Magic the Gathering Arena; thoughts

I have played Magic the Gathering (MtG) on and off since the 1990s.  I began around the time the Portal starter sets and Tempest card-set (part of the Rath Cycle).  To this day, the Sliver cards remain some of my favorite.  Post 2002 I shifted from paper to MtG Online (MTGO) as my gaming habits moved from physical games to the digital space. 

About this time my gaming focus became dominated by MMOs and my MtG cards were boxed (digitally and physically).  For years my only interaction with MtG was to wax nostalgic at players in my local game store while I played the new hotness of the moment (Dreamblade, World of Warcraft TCG, The Spoils TCG, etc).  In the late 2000s, MtG: Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP) made its way onto the PC and it drew me straight in with the promise of a better interface (MtGO was not the best digital representation of the game at the time) and limited decks (i.e. you didn't have to know how to build a deck; you just focused on playing).

DotP was followed by additional versions in 2012 and 2013 and that annual trend of a yearly Duels versions continued in 2014 and 2015.   Each bringing a couple more features and continuing to nudge MtG into the digital realm further and further.  Duels was very much a quick to play version of the game that limited deck building so the focus was on playing the game.

After 2015 a shift was made to Magic Duels which was as close to paper magic as it seemed that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) was willing to get (remember, MtGO has been in existence since 2002!).  It featured its own unique rules (differing it from paper MtG) and there are over a thousand cards, deck construction, in-game purchases of cards, multiplayer modes, and a slew of single-player modes to play decks against the computer.  It seemed like Magic Duels was the go forward strategy for the casual player (specifically mobile gamers) in place of annual DotP releases.  It was the happy middle ground between MtGO and paper. 

Then up comes MtG Arena, a new digital offering that is 1-for-1 with the paper game rules and a plan to have simultaneous releases for new card sets going forward (cards will be limited to sets in the current Standard block as to avoid the idea that Arena is replacing MtGO which supports almost the entire MtG library).  Arena features a slick new user interface, speedy games rules engine, and a slew of bonuses for streamers to stream games via platforms such as Twitch.  Players can buy booster packs, play in sealed/draft events, construct decks the same as they would in paper, and there are discussions of opening the door for non-Standard game types (such as Singleton).

All of this to say; I am playing MtG Arena and I have some thoughts on it from the Open Beta.

The first thing that struck me about MtG Arena was the ease at which a new player can get into a game.  In fact; the game drops the player in a series of tutorial games before they ever see an options menu.  This feels like the right move as once a player is on the main menu they are on to playing competitive games against real players or dropping into a Deck Editing screen for a fairly complex game.  The current Standard block for MtG is no slouch when it comes to variety of mechanics and card interactions (heck there are keywords and card types I wasn't even aware of)!

The second feature that jumped out was how smoothly the game plays.  The games rules engine (being called GRE in the community) is a work of art and is supposedly built to read and interpret card keywords and rules and thus be able to adapt to any new cards added to it without having to program how each individual card should work.  The end result is a very quick to play game that handles one or a hundred token creatures with ease.

With that efficiency comes a problem though.  There is no way for a new player with no MtG experience to have any chance to understand what the heck is going on during some of the more nuanced parts of MtG.  The "stack" is fully and faithfully represented and players will spend time going card by card, effect by effect through it.  In many cases a new player will barely have the time to be able to read the rules text on some of the more common cards before they are overwhelmed with a "stack" of card effects waiting to be resolved.  Throw an Enchantment - Saga or a Planeswalker at them and good night my dear new player.  One of the things DotP did well was to limit some of the more complicated combos making it into the game and thus ensuring a new player didn't have to fret over some of MtG's more nuanced possibilities.

With that said, MtG Arena is clearly aimed at the serious MtG player.  While the game has cleaned up many of the laborious parts of MtG to make it bearable on a stream it has done nothing to eliminate the high complexity that is current state MtG.  MtG has 20+ years of development behind it and every new set digs into that backlog to bring forward bits and pieces.  This what makes much of the current MtG scene so exciting, but is also what can make it really, really hard to get into.  What is good for the veteran is not always good for the new player.  In paper MtG this is mitigated a bit by any number of custom play variants so I am hoping that Arena is able to execute on some more play modes to help step new players into the game (for example; a mode similar to Magic Duels where mythics, rares, uncommons are limited in a deck).

Now for the experienced MtG player; Arena is the dream digital representation of the game.  I cannot emphasize enough how well it handles the "stack" and walks the player through it.  Its not perfect (I would love to have a bulk resolve option for big stacks where no action is being taken), but it is light years ahead of any other digital version I have played (and from what I can remember of MtGO it puts it to shame).  Arena also does a great job of reflecting chains of effects; where they came from, what they are targeting, and if they tie into the stack somewhere. 

Anyone that has read my "Why Artifact has me excited" article will note that I was excited by the Richard Garfield statement about Artifact supporting any number of cards on the digital table at once.  I reaffirm my statement here.  Arena is great at handling any number of cards on the table at once.  I have played games with 30+ token creatures out at one time and it was easy to manage and didn't bog the game down; that is unless you get into effects that add an item to the stack for every card (see next paragraph).

Resolving large quantities of effects/cards in the "stack" can be a problem as there is no bulk option.  Players have complained of being "timed out" and thus forced to concede a game because it was taking too long to make assignments of blockers (which I can see happening with some of the token creature generating decks that are out there). 

Also having an audit log of cards/effects played would be useful as it is easy to click through whatever may have just been played and it can be hard to reverse engineer (just last night I had an opponent down to 1 life and the next turn they popped back to 16 and I have no idea how or where they did it even after exhausting a time out to read through all cards/token creatures they had in play).

Another area I would like to see Arena improve is the portion outside of playing the game.  There is no way to go back and see the last card or pack of cards you opened.  A stray click and it is easy to miss the rare/mythic you just received.  A "most recent cards acquired" log would be A+ awesome.

A big gap seems to be the inability to add or play casually with friends (something Valve is advertising as a differentiator for their upcoming digital card game Artifact).  Currently in the open beta for Arena players can only compete in competitive modes (single game ladder, best of 3 matches, special events, or buy-in sealed/draft formats).  Along these lines you cannot talk with other players or send them messages.  While this cuts down on the need to police such transactions it really kills the social aspect of the game.  I would love to be able to ask some of my opponents on how they built their deck, why they played a card in such a way, or to just pass time.

The deck edit screen also needs a lot of love.  It feels like it was built for a mobile user instead of a PC user.  Simple features such as hovering over a symbol to see what it means or "do you really want to remove this card from your deck?" messages are missing (seriously; whoever designed the Edit Deck screen to remove a card from your deck when clicking it should be shot... I click things because I want to see them!!!!).  This goes back a bit to the new player experience with MtG Arena.  I would be so pissed as a new player if I clicked a card to see it in my deck only to have it be removed and not having the knowledge to add it back. There is also ZERO explanation anywhere of what the symbols mean when trying to filter cards (fine for the experienced, terrible for the rest of us).

The jury is still out on other aspects of the game such as card acquisition rates, cost compared to paper, and the ability to stay "free 2 play" as a player.  It will be interesting to see in the long run how players feel about having their monetary investment in the game go to the wayside as card sets cycle out of Standard.  It is also not clear how a player that takes a break can quickly get back into the game at a later date without an expensive buy in (right now you get 10 starter decks through the New Player Experience).  I am hoping they will provide starter decks for new expansions at a discounted (or free) rate for returning players.

In my view; Arena is a natural progression from Magic Duels.  It takes the final step to put MtG into a modern digital format.  The game plays like a dream, the streaming integration is top notch, and all the cards and deck building capability that Duels/DoTP lacked is present.  The hardest of hardcore will continue with MtGO but for the on again/off again player such as me Arena will be the best option.

I have been playing a mono-white deck that I've pieced together from the few booster packs I've earned and the starter decks.  I also cashed in a few wild cards (MtG Arena's way of allowing you to pick a card instead of playing the booster pack lotto forever).  I'll post the deck if time permits.

I am currently playing open beta under "heartlessgamer" (not that you can add me).

And a quick shout out to my favorite card of the week:

Friday, July 02, 2010

June 2010: What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying

June was an interesting month for my gaming.  I came into the month with no set "Game of the Month" and no plans to play anything specifically.  Then Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP) was announced for Steam and shortly released.  Also, a mid-month Steam sale on Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion took a chunk out of my wallet.

I have embedded the new What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying spreadsheet for June below.  The overall spreadsheet (includes previous months) can be found here.

Game of the Month

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers

Cost: $9.99
Played: 20 hours
3-words: casual Magic fun

While I didn't enter the month with a game of the month in mind, I ended the month with a winner in DotP.  My three word description really fits the game.

Casual:  DotP is all about getting in and playing Magic the Gathering.  Some rules are simplified, the decks are pre-constructed, and the game is dead simple to operate.  However, this can be a negative for anyone looking for a more hardcore Magic experience.  I suggest those hardcore players look at the official Magic the Gathering Online.

Magic: any current or past fan of Magic the Gathering will immediately identify with the game.  It is a solid representation of the game mechanics. The only part missing is the collectible aspect as card lists are set and there is no real collecting to be done, but that's OK as its not the focus of DotP.

Fun: this is a subjective term as some players just don't like card games and there is nothing here that will convince them to like them.  But for those players that do enjoy card games, this is probably the best casual PC card game available.  There are no booster packs to buy, decks to construct from scratch, or proxy cards to tape together.  DotP is about getting to the fun of playing.


Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I started my journey in Oblivion as a Wood Elf with the customer Heartless class (yes, I named a class after myself!).  I've spent a few hours wandering around and enjoying the game.  There is quite a bit to do without actually doing anything.  It can be annoying sometimes, such as when you are trying to talk to someone and inadvertently steal the cup in front of them prompting a little run in the with the town guards, but once a player gets used to the game it is a fun game.


Total spent this Month: $18.49
My Value Rating: Excellent

For $18.49 I purchased two great games which are aiming to give me a couple hundred hours of playtime.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Guide for Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalker

As I mentioned on my twitter stream a while ago, there is a great guide for Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalker available over at

This guide is aimed at anyone who wants to get better at playing Magic, and specifically on Duel of the Planeswalkers (DOTP). This guide will also be a reference point for all other guides I write for this game. Beginners and casual players will probably benefit the most from this. Advanced players may find much of what I say obvious to them, but may pick up a useful tip here and there. I will cover a lot of the mistakes that are often made by beginners, not to poke fun at them, but to help them understand how they can improve. I will also cover more advanced techniques that can be used to gain small advantages here and there. Magic is all about making the most out of every single card that you draw, and every little thing matters.

I have been playing Magic for about 15 years and feel that my experience in both constructing and playing decks can be of value to others.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Debunked: 10 Reasons not to buy Duels of the Planeswalkers

I love forum posts like this.  First, the list is only 7 items long (as of this posting).  Secondly, half the mentioned issues listed are non-issues.  Breaking it down one by one.

1. No online CO-OP 

Alright, I concede this point.  Everyone was disapointed that the co-op mode was local only and not Internet-enabled.

2. No Text chat

The Steam community is available in all Steam games and includes text chat.  As Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP) is built on Steamworks, it is easy enough to start up a chat with another player based on their Steam username. 

 3. Game is currently unplayable for several users, especially some users with ATI video cards. <-- upgrade your video card drivers and try the demo first.

This can be said about every PC game.  PC is a hostile and varied platform to play on.  So far, I have had no issues and I know no one who has had any (out of three friends playing).

4. No deck building <-- I knew this going in but still its a negative in my book and even more so now that we have discovered reasons # 1 - 3.

If the original poster knew this, then they are dumb for including it.  If they expected differently, they are playing the wrong game.  MtG: Online is over here.  And for clarity's sake, there is minor customization as additional cards can be unlocked for each deck and added or removed before each game.

5. Music / Sound. its horrible and very annoying.

It can be disabled.  Plus, its a fucking card game, what was expected for sound?  Turn the damn radio on.

6. the game auto taps your land cards for you.

Finally, a second point I can agree on.  This is annoying and borderline game-breaking for multi-color decks.

7. You cant mute the other player online. <-- which sucks because some times you just dont want to know what they are doing with their other hand.

OK, I'll give in on this one as well, but I maintain there is still the ability to turn off the sound on your PC.


Buy the game, but don't expect a hardcore experience.  It's fun, casual MtG. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Magic: The Gathering, Planeswalkers,Tactics

Magic: The Gathering (MtG) Duels of the Planeswalkers has launched today on the PC via Steam.  Duels of the Planeswalkers is a simplified version of MtG where players play with set preconstructed decks and modified rules.  It is meant as an introduction to MtG as there is already a true MtG Online that is faithful to the hard copy CCG.

I've downloaded my copy (plus expansion pack 1) and will have some comments up later this week.

Secondly, we have new information out of E3 about SOE's MtG: Tactics,  a 3D strategy game based on the MtG world and lore.  Watch the video below:

It's an interesting take on MtG, but I'm not sure I'm sold on it after watching the video. Also, we know little to nothing about how it plays. It does fit into SOE's current stable of games, as they continue the move away from traditional MMOGs (such as Everquest) and focus on niche strategy games (Pox Nora) and casual social games (Free Realms).

Here's another pic of Tactics:

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Duels of the Planeswalkers to release on PC via Steam June 15th

Just a quick note.  Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers appears to be hitting Steam on June 15th according to this tweet from Elaine Chase

It can be pre-ordered here.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thank You Posts On Developer Boards Are Rare and to be Commended

While sifting through dozens of complaints and suggestion threads at the official forums for Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers I came across a rare find on any game developers forums: a thank you post. Not only was the poster saying thanks, but also providing valuable feedback. For this, I commend the poster. Below is a sample of what was posted:
First of all, thank you for making M:TG Duels of the Planeswalkers. This game really brought back the joy of M:TG for me and my friends.

What we love about it:
  • (Xbox specific) The friend chatter while playing the game (even being 1800 miles apart)
  • Being able to play again, without investing a lot of money and time rebuilding digital collections
  • Ease of logging in, picking a deck and getting playing
  • The smoothness of the game; in my opinion overall it runs very well
  • The decks being relatively balanced against each other
  • Every player, for the most part, has access to the exact same pool of cards

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers coming to PC via Steam

From Tobold's blog:
... Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers will be released via Steam to the PC. While DOTP is in a way a "Magic light" game, I am nevertheless highly interested in this.
Like Tobold, I am a long time MtG fan and former hardcore player. However, the days where I have the time to build and maintain competitive decks are gone. What I've needed to spark my interest in MtG again is a more casual approach that is PC based.  That is exactly what DotP delivers. I plan on giving it a try in June.