Should Magic: The Gathering Take A Closer Look At Hearthstone?

By Adam Ma on November 24, 2013, 3:56PM EDT
PC

The world of trading/collectable card games is like a kingdom, ruled by a few powerful lords that are paid fealty to by lesser serfs. Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokémon are likely the best known of the genre and each of them boast their own slew of tie-ins. Comics, television shows, movies, and of course video games are all often used to draw players into the physical card portion of the franchise, and it's incredibly difficult for newcomers to break in without the weight of a serious dedicated fanbase backing the release. Blizzard managed to do so with some success, and now seven years later they've announced the cancellation of their reasonably successful trading card game.

Why? Well because they've developed an entirely different beast likely designed to be its replacement: Hearthstone. For the uninitiated it's a digital Collectable Card Game that grabs iconic elements of the Warcraft franchise and slams them all together in a fairly quick paced game oriented around building and collecting all kinds of decks. It's quick to play, has an impressive level of depth, and just about any computer (and soon tablet) will be able to enjoy the game with minimum of fuss. It's also free, with some pay-to-win elements that don't immediately interfere with the more competitive portions of the game.

Response to Hearthstone has been overwhelmingly positive, enough so that Blizzard has decided to scrap their paper game in favor of the digital powerhouse. It's easy to see why given Blizzard's history as a game developer first and foremost, and with tablets becoming an increasingly dominant (and affordable) force on the tech market gamers are able to move and share their digital CCG experience with greater ease than they once could. Whether or not this move to digital will make Blizzard more money than their physical Trading Card Game is yet to be seen, but the promise of untold fortune is there.

The lesson here isn't necessarily that one format is superior to the other, but that there are thousands upon thousands of gamers that will gladly support both. Looking at the "˜big three' only Magic the Gathering has kept itself fairly limited on the digital front, with Pokémon boasting a ridiculously popular franchise in just about every entertainment medium and Yu-Gi-Oh holding a long time running television show to help with promotion. Wizards of the Coast has kept their approach to console gaming fairly light by comparison, though exactly why is uncertain.

Duals of the Planeswalkers has been met with a lot of critical success, with many newer players enjoying the simplistic angle that the game approaches Magic from. It's proven to be a fantastic stepping stone into the core game, far more enjoyable and intuitive than Magic Online and being available on consoles it's much easier to access. But there is a lot of room for improvement.

Players are still limited in how they can build decks and some of the most fun elements of Magic are heavily oriented around customization and deck personality. Wizards has taken a small step into it with the Sealed Draft feature in their 2014 iteration, but with every year creating an entirely new version of the game any of the hard earned progress that players make are lost from one cycle to the next. Not to mention a lot of the stranger casual formats (Archenemy, Commander, and Planechase) are entirely abandoned for no discernible reason.

Magic is a game that only gets better as the collection grows, and given that Wizards has thoroughly mastered teaching new players how to get into the game why waste that opportunity by pushing a virtual reset button each year? The logistics behind a system like Hearthstone's is fairly straightforward, and though it would still be nice to have a core set represented in a every year it would be even better if we could tie in all of the features that make Magic such a diverse and rich game through a single portal.

What we're describing here is an easier to understand, more user friendly, more casual format inclusive version of Magic Online; one that wouldn't harm the actual TCG because there would never be any risk of printing cards. The option simply wouldn't exist. Instead we would have a fun venue to do just about everything available in the physical copy of the game, only via consoles/Steam instead.

Of course there's nothing really wrong with the way Wizards of the Coast is handling their franchise now, both on or offline. The game is a constant success, each set draws in new and existing players and competitive Magic is one of the most dominant tournament scenes out there. But there's room for improvement, and options that were never available before are becoming viable on a large scale. Hearthstone is a great example of everything done right, and they would be smart to take a look at Blizzard's example.

After all, if Blizzard ever decides to enter the TCG field with their current franchise they'll be doing so with an entirely new angle, backed by an audience that's grown accustomed to their complex card game they learned to play for free. Whoo, you can almost feel the pressure.

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