Magic: the Gathering is a fantastic game. It’s longevity is a testament to the way that it has captured the minds and imaginations of innumerable players. Not only does the game create some of the most innovative mechanics and deck types (who doesn’t love slivers?), but the system is great and the artwork top notch. And there are few feelings as great as opening that random booster and finding the rare card you’ve been hoping for.
But most Magic players, myself very much included, tend to drift in and out of the game. Sometimes you’re hot for the deck construction and underlying combat. While other times you burn out of the constant influx of new cards and rebuilding with each block. If you’re in that in-between time, or if you’re taking a more permanent break but still miss your favorite parts of the gameplay, here are three titles that come close to scratching that same Magic itch.
Mage Wars: Academy
The premise of Mage Wars: Academy will seem very familiar to Magic players. Two mages (each with 20 life points) do battle by summoning creatures and casting spells. The goal is to drop the other guy to zero life points. Thematically, then, the game is on point.
But there are no random booster packs. Instead, you can buy particular wizards. Each comes with a fully functional starter deck as well as a bunch of extra cards that you can use to customize your spellbook. And your spellbook isn’t a deck of shuffled cards. Instead, it’s a small notebook. So you don’t have to worry about top-decking the perfect card or getting only land when you desperately need a creature. You simply flip through and then cast whatever spell is right for the situation. This avoids some of the frustration that can occur when you feel like you lost due to a bad shuffle rather than to a superior opponent.
Mage Wars: Academy can play in about thirty minutes, allows you to construct a spellbook beforehand, and certainly encourages you to theme your deck around particular spells. It’s big brother, Mage Wars: Arena also adds in a ton of new abilities and even a spatial element where your creatures and your mage run around the board. That’s a much heftier game, but it’s definitely an option if you fall in love with Mage Wars.
One of the most popular formats for Magic is the draft tournament. Everyone opens up a few packs, then you take a card and pass the trash. Eventually, you have enough cards for a full deck and hopefully you grabbed creatures and spells that synergize well together. And that’s the central concept behind Seasons.
Every play of Seasons begins with a similar card draft. Each player gets a hand of nine cards and then has to pick one and pass the rest along. Only after the draft is complete does the main game begin. And in the main game, it’s all about playing those cards. You’ll need to manage mana, play out items, and use special abilities to gain the most points over your fellow players.
But to be truly successful, you need to play cards that combine well together and drop those combos on your opponents. And that means not only grabbing a set of cards that you can actually play, but thinking about potential attacks in the draft. Snagging a nice set of early, mid, and late game cards is great. But doing so and finding ones that combine for greater power is key to victory. Seasons does a fantastic job of taking the draft format and recreating it in board game form.
For me, some of the most fun I had playing Magic was when my friends and I would buy packs, go to someone’s house, open them up, and each make a deck. Not only is deck construction an integral part of the game, but it’s also highly entertaining. I know I’ve made more than one deck just for the joy of making it – without ever expecting to play it. And if that’s what you love, then Android: Netrunner certainly provides it.
Created by the designer of Magic, Netrunner is an asymmetrical game pitting the “corporation,” an evil or amoral entity, against the “runner,” a hacker breaking into their systems for fun and profit. Both Corp and Runner bring their own deck of cards. The Corp tries to draw and complete objectives while the Runner attempts to raid the Corp and steal those same objectives for himself.
Netrunner allows you to finely tune your deck and promotes highly engaging play. This keeps the random draw intact if you enjoy that aspect of Magic. You get the same sense of it being a bigger world while also engaging in feints and bluffs. Best yet, this is a “Living Card Game.” So while expansions do come out with regularity, there are no random boosters. If you buy a particular “datapack” it will contain the same sixty cards as every other “datapack” with that name. The result is that you needn’t worry about rares, aftermarket value, or playing the trading game. Instead, you can focus on the fun of the game itself.
What board or card games scratch the Magic itch for you? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: Arcane Wonders, Asmodee, and Fantasy Flight Games
Featured Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast