Tobold's Blog
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Magic Duels : Origins

Magic the Gathering, the granddaddy of trading card games, has over the last years been experimenting with how to get the game out to computers and especially mobile platforms. As the card game has new sets of cards every year, they decided on making a new computer game every year. So there is a Magic 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. That started out with you being only able to play premade decks to which you added more cards you gained by playing. But every version had a bit more freedom, and the 2015 Magic had a full deckbuilder for your own decks and the possibility to buy cards. At which point it turned out that a new game every year doesn't mix well with buying virtual cards which you can't transfer to the next game. So Wizards of the Coast changed their strategy and is now making a new game without a year in the name: Magic Duels : Origins. It is already out for iOS, and will come to PC and XBox later.

On the one side Magic Duels : Origins is free. You get the game and the full story mode for free, which gives you the same guided experiences as previous versions: In 5 stories you play an increasingly complex mono-colored deck against premade AI decks to learn the basics of each color. But while doing that you also earn coins. And the game gives you a free starter set for deckbuilding. The coins buy you boosters, and then you can create your own decks to play either against AI opponents of various difficulty or against other people in duels or even two-headed giant mode.

Magic Duels : Origins thus nearly replaces the aging Magic the Gathering : Online, and is a lot closer to playing the card game than the annual version were. And that comes with a big warning: Magic the Gathering is the game that invented the Pay2Win principle. On paper you can get all the cards for free by playing, but a 6-card booster costs 150 gold, and you only gain 5 to 15 gold from a win against the AI and 20 from a win against another player. So there is a strong temptation to buy coins for money. Magic Duels : Origins has the steepest rebate scheme for such purchases that I have ever seen: $20 buys you one booster, 20 times $2 doesn't buy you 20 boosters but 50. Which means you absolutely shouldn't make small purchases in this game. Play for free, then if you decide you have enough fun to justify spending money, spend directly $40 for those 50 boosters. That still doesn't get you every card in the game, but already a much bigger base from which to builds decks from. With the big purchase rebate the virtual cards cost less than the paper version.

Personally I made that $40 purchase, because I love the complexity of Magic and find Hearthstone far too simple for my tastes. But I'd say that for most people the simpler and cheaper Hearthstone is probably the better option, and Magic Duels : Origins is the niche option for the veteran geek. I'll get my fun out of those $40, but that is because I love building decks.

If you dislike paying, consider Scrolls. I didn't find the game terribly compelling, but it seems like you could legitimately expect to pay nothing ever and still catch up with the best decks.
Two problems with that advice. First of all I tried Scrolls and found it to be not a very good game, there are a lot of better alternatives for lane-based card games. And second Mojang shut Scrolls down earlier this summer.
Ok, so your 50 booster packs for 40 bucks (You have a typo in there...) gives you 600 new cards. That's a lot of cards.

Are the cards random or does it give you different ones before repeating the series?

One of my problems with the original game is you are never done buying cards. That and there rapidly became just too many cards... I don't want to have to get a PhD in card management just to play a game.
50 boosters is 300 cards. And they are random, although rarity is fixed. So 50 boosters gives you 50 rares, a higher rare : common ratio than the original 15-card boosters.
As someone far outside, I was curious about the market. It seems to me that the CCG market was MTG's to lose and they have done so. I could be underestimating MTG versus Hearthstone. And some is that there will always be a larger market for (in the gaming vernacular) "filthy casuals" Also my opinion is that a lot of "old school" companies, especially market leaders, are having a hard time adapting to the current digital, mobile, f2p world - e.g. MTG, D&D, GW/WH ...

Heh, I didn't realise it had closed. I thought it wasn't bad as a game, just a bit lacking in synergies, and pretty generous in terms of monetisation as I said. The AI wasn't too terrible and the daily trials were nice. I thought there would be enough interest too keep it going - though I did notice when I logged on a few months ago that the population seemed to have dropped a lot.

Maybe they gold-plated it a bit in terms of personnel, whereas a smaller studio might have eked out a profit.
Can you keep playing against AI's and get coins to expand your deck? Or do you need to compete with other players? Do you get a small reward for losing and a large reward for winning, or does only the winner benefit?
You can keep playing against various AI decks forever, but you only gain coins if you win.
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From my experience playing MtG pretty hardcore, 50 boosters is practically nothing. Getting 4 of the same uncommons will require you spend 3 or 4 times that and you'll still be missing stuff. One thing that Hearthstone did right in that aspect, is limit cards to copies each.
Hey Tobold,

I'm not sure that Wizards are actually moving away from annual game release model.

They released the Magic duels of the planewalkers 2012 through 2015 video games each summer to mirror the summer releases of the paper sets magic 2012 through magic 2015. This year, they decided to call the summer set magic origins instead of magic 2016 and the game is called magic duels origins .

While I agree with you that the annual release strategy is a bad model next to hearthstone, I'm not convinced Wizards wont continue to release stand alone games. Have they officially announced that magic duels: origins will see support for more than a year?
@Fasterfood See here:

"Second—speaking of cards—there are more of them. Lots and lots more. Magic Duels launches with Magic Origins boosters available in the store, and most of the cards in the paper Magic Origins set show up in those digital boosters. Four times a year, Magic: The Gathering releases a block booster set; two sets per block, two blocks a year. For the first time in the history of Duels, four times a year, those block booster sets will push down to Magic Duels as a huge card content update. So when Battle for Zendikar releases this fall, Magic Duels will feature Battle of Zendikar boosters in the store. The Magic Origins boosters won’t go away—there will be two sets for players to choose from. This is true for future block booster releases, too. That implies a third major new change.

Magic Duels is a persistent game. You’ll download the free game client and add more and more cards to your collection. Unlike previous versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers, which were unconnected annual releases, Magic Duels doesn’t get replaced each year. We just keep adding card content, all of which is earnable via gameplay."
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