Well, if telling you my origin story in Issue #0 wasn’t letting my geek flag fly, hold on to your hats.
A month or two from now will be the ten year anniversary of my employment at one of my favourite jobs that I have ever had the pleasure of working at. Ten years ago, I was still the new kid in Yarmouth, NS after moving from Halifax earlier that year and I was out looking for a job. I knew that I didn’t want to work in fast food so I littered the town with resumes. My greatest hope was at the local hobby store, The Hobby Stop. After talking to the owner I arrived home to a phone call saying that they wanted to hire me, even though I’d been told they didn’t have an opening. There were two conditions on my employment there, the first was that I look after the model trains section. The second was that I was to work on Friday nights and had to learn how to play Magic: The Gathering and run Friday Night Magic(FNM).
To facilitate this, my boss gave me a copy of the eighth edition starter set which included a copy of Magic: The Gathering Online. Now, I had played off and on casually here or there but I never really tried to get into the intricacies of the game before. Since I was new in town and I worked during FNM I didn’t really get to play with others so this gave me a chance to play others and practice my game.
Fast forward four more years and I was back in Halifax attending university and finally got back into paper magic, and now Magic Online once again gave me the chance to practice and improve my game but then again, my time for it waned.
Fast forward four more years and I tried to get back into paper magic however, the nearest FNM and other tournaments were an hour and 40 minutes(plus a ferry ride) away. So, how do you practice your game and work on your deck building? Enter Magic: The Gathering Online(MTGO).
For the uninitiated, Magic is the collectible card game that started the collectible card game craze way back in 1993. Players take on the role of Planeswalkers, powerful sorcerers doing battle with one another by lobbing spells and summoning creatures to do battle on their behalf. This is done by creating a deck of ~60 cards from your collection that forms your library of spells from which to draw. MTGO is the most literal translation of the card game to an electronic form, so much so that you can actually qualify to play on the Magic Pro Tour by playing MTGO.
Wizards of the Coast are in the process of running a long term beta for a new MTGO client so, let’s have a look:
Let’s start at the beginning, in order to sling some spells, we need a deck. This is done using the deck building interface.
Here, we can browse and search our collection, or even all of the cards that we can possibly obtain (top of the screen) and use them to build our deck (bottom of the screen) The great thing about this is that we can choose how we want to view our selections. We can view our cards either spread out, in piles, or in a list format. In my opinion, this is a great improvement over the last version with one problem. The preview window that shows a blown up image of the card is no longer part of the main window, which means that it quite often gets in the way and I have yet to find a great spot for it and quite frankly it spends most of the time minimized.
Now that we’ve got a deck, odds are we need some cards to round it out. For this we have two options, buy product from the store, or trade for them.
Option number one is to buy ‘sealed’ product from the Wizards of the Coast store. Here we can buy pre-constructed decks (so we can jump right into the action) or seal product that acts just like boosters you buy at the store (1 Rare/Mythic Rare, 3 Uncommons, 10 Commons, 1 Land or foil card). You can also buy tournament tickets (referred to simply as tickets or TIX) that can be used to buy in to tournaments to win prizes, or as they have become more commonly used now as a form of currency in the game.
Option number two is to trade with other players, or ‘bots’ that represent large MTGO ‘stores’. These bots can either buy your cards for tickets, or sell you cards for tickets and if your sale or purchase doesn’t come out to an even number, they will remember how much credit you have with the store. This has become the preferred way of buying needed cards. So much so, that many players who have ‘gone infinite’ (the sale of their prizes earn them enough tickets to keep playing and buying cards indefinitely) only buy cards this way.
Once we have our deck ready, it’s time to test our mettle in combat.
When it comes time to do combat, we have many options, from Premium 200+ player tournaments to simple pickup games between two players.
Once we find our match, we can hit the table and get ready to sling some spells.
Once we hit the table, everything plays out as if we were playing at the kitchen table, except that we are provided with a play by play log and we don’t need to track our own life totals. This is the smoothest transition into the new version. Things all have their place and the windows can adjust themselves when more space is needed. We are also provided with a visual representation of the stack for spells and effects to resolve.
The only problem that I have really run into with this version of MTGO, is that because of having to rely on mouse clicks and having to select options from menus, some slower style decks can run into issues with running out of time for their match when presented with complicated card interactions.
All in all, MTGO is a great experience that faithfully translates the game mechanics even if it can’t fully recreate that feel of slinging around cardboard at the local gaming store. If you are someone who has been away from the game for a while, or if you’ve tried ‘Duels of the Planeswalkers’ on console or iPad this is a great step up. The other benefit of MTGO is that because it is so easy for cards to be moved around the globe, the price of cards is often only a fifth to a tenth of the price of their cardboard counterparts. Best of all though, when you get that competitive urge, it just takes minutes to get into a game to get your fix.
Until next time, be sure to keep looking for your competitive edge.
Jeff “Raider” Raine