Preview: Magic the Gathering Tactics

Greg Tito | 28 Dec 2010 15:30
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Ok, I'm a pretty big fan of Magic. I played back when it was released in 1993, and had a sizeable collection before I sold it to a friend for $200 when I went away to college. This year, after reviewing the PC version of Duels of the Planeswalkers, I took a chance and bought some boosters. I mentioned my new fascination to some people at work, and the addicts came out of the shadows. "Yeah, I have over 1000 cards." We started playing regularly and my Magic habit blossomed into a beautiful Black Lotus.

My story isn't unique. Paul Levy, the Brand Manager at the company that prints money ... er, Magic cards, Wizards of the Coast, told me that he noticed a huge bump in popularity of the card game since Duels of the Planeswalkers was playable. Wizards realized that there must be a huge crossover between fans of videogames and its flagship card game so the initiative came down to foster more development of Magic-themed games.

Enter Sony Online Entertainment. President John Smedley, a tall burly man with a talent for rock and roll karaoke and designing online games, plays a lot of Magic, both face-to-face and on Wizards' Magic the Gathering Online. In addition to the big name MMOs like EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies, SOE also has extensive experience in crafting collectible card games that exist only in the bits of a computer. SOE acquired Worlds Apart Productions (The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game) in 2006, renamed it SOE Denver, and put the collective years of expertise creating card games to work. A few of the games that have come out of Denver are based on the existing IP and licenses and do quite well for SOE; Smedley told me that if the Legends of Norrath computer CCG based on EverQuest were a paper card game, it would be the 4th highest grossing such game in the world.

Big companies always speak to each other about sharing IPs or working together, but talks between SOE and Wizards coalesced into the concept for a game that would blend the collectible virtual economy aspect of Magic, the tropes and story of the Magic universe and a tactical videogame. Wouldn't it be cool if the combat of the Magic card game wasn't the abstraction of creatures dealing damage simultaneously on nether-battlefield, but was actually fought on a grid using three dimensions and tactical rules? Why yes, yes it would. The 40 staff-members at SOE Denver have been spending the last 18 months making it a reality.

I played Magic the Gathering Tactics (MTGT) a couple of times over the past year at various events, but it wasn't until SOE flew me out to Denver that I was able to get my hands on the full game. It plays on a grid similar to games like Final Fantasy Tactics, and uses many of the spells and tropes of the Magic card game, but with a little tweaking. Cards are called spells and decks are spellbooks. There is no land that you use to generate mana in Magic, instead, each turn, you gain a random color of mana based on the color of spells in your deck and auto-draw another spell. Like Magic, though, you can hold a hand of up to 7 spells picked randomly from your spellbook, but it is called a cast bar.

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