Magic: The Gathering Tactics (PC) Review

The Gathering
took the gaming
world by storm when it was released in 1993. Having powerful
spellcasters dueling each other by summoning monsters and casting
mystical enchantments led to a great deal of time (not to mention money) spent by
me and literally millions of other people. style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering
– Tactics adds a
tactical element to the original card game. No longer are you playing
on a battlefield pictured in your mind, but on a variety of landscapes
online battling against human and computer foes.

This tactical landscape adds a new layer to the battle between your
planeswalker (your avatar) and either PvE objectives or hostile planeswalkers. Your
creatures roam around the battlefield, jockeying for better position;
obstacles impede your line-of-sight, not allowing you to get off that
crucial Lightning Bolt. How will you adjust your tactics to coincide
with the terrain?

With the game launched a few weeks ago by Sony Online Entertainment,
how does the game stack up? Is its "free-to-play" model a no-lose proposition or
will it serve as a money drain, filling the coffers of the Lord of the
Pit? Read on and find out!

Gameplay - 70 / 100

Like its trading card namesake, MTGT
is deceptively simple to play. A handful of fully narrated tutorials
walk you through the basic steps. The mechanics should be very familiar
to players of the card game, with three exceptions. In MTGT,
you create a planeswalker, who is a spellcaster who travels throughout
the various planes of existence. As you travel and gain knowledge, your
power grows, which is represented by your spellbook (your deck in the
card game). Your spellbook is composed of creatures that you can summon
and spells that you can cast, and there must be a minimum of 40 cards
in your spellbook with no more than four of a specific card. There are
five colors (red, white, black, blue, and green) representing various
universal aspects such as fire, decay, air, etc. With your spellbook,
your planeswalker faces his opponents on a physical battlefield,
complete with obstacles and varying terrain.

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The initiative bar keeps you
up to date on the turn order.

One major differences in style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
from the original card game are that there is no mana in the spellbook.
You automatically generate mana every turn depending upon the color
makeup of your spellbook. As the turns progress, you generate more mana
every turn. The second exception is that your planeswalker is a
physical creature on the battlefield and he has levels. He (or she) can move,
cast, and attack on his own (even though you really don’t
want him attacking unless you're warding off flyers or enjoying one of a handful of planeswalker damage / health buffs). If your planeswalker goes down, the game is over
and you lose. Thus, like the king in chess, you want to protect him at
all cost. The third exception is that style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
introduces skill trees. Once your planeswalker hits level 6, he begins
to accumulate talent points that you can spend on the various skill
trees. There is a skill tree for every color, but you’re not
restricted to which tree you want to use. If you desire, you can
re-spec your skills for a small cost.

The game begins when you choose an avatar to represent your
planeswalker and a primary color for your spellbook. Then,
you’ll be given a starter two-color deck to use. As mentioned
above, there is a fully voiced tutorial to walk you through the
mechanics of the game. After that, you can play in the solo campaign or
face other players.

First, the solo campaign. There is one free solo campaign that consists
of five separate chapters. Every chapter you finish, you are rewarded
with a "card" and experience. Experience is very important; with experience come levels and with levels come more talent points (and talents are gamechangers, literally). There are four campaigns that you can buy
(for $5 each) that also consist of five separate chapters. Once you
finish a campaign, you unlock a daily mission that you can use to gain
gold and experience.

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The Colossus of Sardia is
powerful, but not made for a fast deck.

Overall, I have two opinions of the gameplay. First, the game mechanics
are solid and the game is extremely fun…in the beginning.
The solo campaigns are well designed and there are a number of
different scenarios presented to keep your interest up. It’s
not all face an evil planeswalker….wash, rinse, repeat.
There are objectives to be fulfilled, and there are times where you
won’t face an enemy planeswalker. Controlling your forces is
a blast and the UI is laid out quite well. On the left side of the
screen is a column showing the turn order of the various creatures and
planeswalker on the battlefield. You’re just a mouse click
away from seeing what the enemy’s stats and special abilities
are. Your available mana is shown on the bottom right. All in all,
knowing what is going on is easy to see and navigating is a breeze due
to the clean setup.

However, it soon becomes painfully obvious that your starter deck will only
take you so far. If you want to fully get past the campaigns and do
well against other players, you will have to get your hands on more
cards…lots of them. I will discuss this more fully in the
Value section, but for now, if you don’t have a good
spellbook, you won’t win duels against other players and you
won’t be able to complete the campaigns. These are important
as you gain virtually all your experience from this. The daily quests
only provide 50 experience a pop, while a campaign chapter can give you
20 to 40 times that! If you don’t finish the campaigns and
win against other players, you won’t level and get the
advantage to be had from the skill trees.

I give the game mechanics a pretty high score of B+, but the fact that
you’ll be totally gimped if you don’t spend some
cash and beef up your deck really drags the score down.

Graphics - 82 / 100

Assuming you can get into the game (two Ten Ton Hammer staffers are still unable to play MTGT fullscreen due reported yet unresolved graphics issues), the graphics are smooth, suitably detailed, colorful, and bring the spells and
creatures in your spellbook to life. The battlefields range from icy
vales to deep forests to fiery mountainsides and serve as a colorful
backdrop to the magical battles taking place there. The spells all have
nice visual effects and the summoned creatures are easily recognizable
and well detailed. Each creature has a number of animations (such as
attacking, dying, waiting), and while there isn’t a large
number of them, they do serve to bring the creatures to life. My
favorite is the Embermage Goblin, who has a peg leg and thus hops
around the screen. For some reason, that always brings a smile to my

My one gripe is that sometimes the boundary of the battlefield
isn’t obvious, which can mean that you might make a
move that ends up boxing you into a corner and costing you a game.

Sound - 87 / 100

The sound in style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
is serviceable but not exceptional. On the plus side, MTGT nice background music and excellent voiceover work in the campaign interludes.
When you cast a spell, there is an agreeable sound effect accompanying
it. Creatures make suitable roaring sounds when attacking, you hear the
clash of sword against sword, and the dying party makes a satisfying
death rattle.  Just like the graphics, the sound in Tactics is
very well done and helps create the right atmosphere. It’s
not orchestral, epic, and so atmospheric you're swept into
Dominaria, but solid nonetheless.

Multiplayer - 65 / 100

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You will want to maximixe your
skill trees when dueling other players.

Multiplayer in style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
requires the accumulation of both a great deal
of cards and a versatile set of strategies. If you want to face other people, you have
two options: you can choose to do a pick up game or you can enter a
tournament. Pick up games are fast and accessible, but if
you’re working with a glorified starter deck,
prepare to get rolled.

As for tournaments, style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
have 3 different styles: open, constructed, and booster. For each
tournament, there is an entry fee and prizes. Special cards and booster
packs are the normal rewards. However, the costs of entering a
tournament are pretty high (30 gold for constructed, 20 gold and 3
boosters for a draft, and a gold per game for open – which is
up to 16 games), so unless you’re willing to grind daily
quests and get a large amount of gold from selling that rare on the
auction house, you’ll just be doing one-on-one pick up duels.

I would give style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
a high score for multiplayer because it is extremely easy to get a game
going against other people. But I must lower my score because if you
don’t acquire a lot of cards to make some really good decks,
you will be destroyed again and again against other players with highly
tuned decks. There's no getting around it; money matters.

Value - 50 / 100

While the initial game is free-to-play, you will find yourself
endlessly frustrated if you don’t spend money on the game.
Booster packs contain 10 cards and cost 399 points, which is $3.99 (the same price as a printed pack of Magic cards, inexplicably). If you buy in serious bulk, you
get a small (11%) discount if you buy 24 packs at a time. While the
campaigns are a reasonable $5 for the gameplay they give, you still
won’t be able to accomplish much of anything without buying
additional cards.

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The auction house. You'll be
using it.

This might be excusable, except for the fact that trading between players is barred from the game (to discourage the secondary market), and the auction house extracts a 15% fee every time you set up an auction. This makes trusted trading - i.e. posting a card for an outrageous amount of money so that a friend can pick it up and (hopefully) return the money - a losing proposition.

Good cards (rare or better) on the auction house run from 40 to
over a 100 gold. You start the game out with 20 gold and you can grind
out a few gold per day per daily quest. If you're willing to go fairly one-dimensional (sticking with a solid two-color strategy and auctioning off the rest of your purchased deck), it's possible to construct a decent deck with about what you'd spend on a triple-A game at retail.

However, that 20 gold quickly goes
away if you want to play in any kind of tournament. Do badly in a
tournament and you'll end up with nothing to show for it except emptier
pockets. You can buy more gold using station cash at 50 gold per 500
station cash, which equates to ten cents per gold.

In this respect, style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
is just like the original trading card game. If you don’t
spend money to accumulate a lot of cards to make a variety of decks,
then you’ll learn how to lose on a regular basis. If
you’re extremely patient, you can keep the costs down by
grinding and using the auction house. If you’re impatient or
want to have killer spellbooks right away, this game can quickly become a money

Lasting Appeal - 65 / 100

Top-tier talents will reward level-capped players with some nigh win-button skills, but once you hit level cap there is limited lasting appeal for style="font-style: italic;">Tactics. No monthly subscription and a low hard drive footprint mean that you can jump in occasionally to get your Magic fix, then return to your regularly scheduled programming.
But while you keep the cards that you win or buy for your spellbook, the
fact is that unless you're on the bleeding edge competitively or
don’t mind grinding dailies, I personally don’t see the desire
to play MTGT seriously on a regular basis.

Add to that the fact that you have only a single planeswalker for your
account. While you can create different spellbooks and save them,
you’re unable to change your skill trees without re-speccing
them. While the cost is small to do so (2 gold), it’s a big
hassle if you want to switch from a black-favoring planeswalker to a
blue-favoring one. There is talk of adding the ability to save different
specs in the future or perhaps tying skill trees to spellbooks, but for the time being, you’re stuck
with the hassle.

Pros and Cons


  • Basic gameplay is fun
  • Good graphics and sounds
  • Easy-to-use interface


  • One Planeswalker per account - switching colors (especially in terms of talents) is a major hassle.
  • No cost-free mechanism for card trading.
  • When it comes to cash and casual players, MTGT works a swindle that Jace would be proud of.


The Gathering – Tactics

is a mixed bag. The basic gameplay is extremely fun and well designed.
The graphics are vibrant and amusing whilst the sounds add to the game.
The interface is well designed and easy to navigate. However, the fact
that the game requires a good deal of money or a lot of time grinding
to be competitive really hurts the game.

I don’t mind
spending money on good games. Game companies need to
make money to make cool games for me to play. But paying four bucks for 10
virtual cards is a lot, especially when you don't know what you're going to get. You're guaranteed a rare per pack, but the odds are you won't get the color you want. The fact that you’ll have to grind
dailies for at least a week to be able to afford decent cards off the
auction house is a catch-22. You need to finish the campaigns to unlock
the daily quest, and to finish the campaigns, you need a really good
spellbook. If the prices were somewhat lower, that might reduce the
sting a bit. Overall, the amount of money you’ll need to
spend overall to be competitive in this game mirrors the real world
trading card game, and unlike the TCG, you can't even trade cards with friends without a hefty auction fee.

Overall 65/100 - Average


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