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Magic the Gathering Tactics Review

Greg Tito | 3 Mar 2011 16:00
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It may be artificial to use a grid or hex system to represent a virtual battlefield, but seeing those squares receding into the distance really gets my dice rolling. Strategy games that force you to think fast like StarCraft II are great and all, but I love to think about my moves before I make a terrible mistake. It's the Bobby Fischer in me, I suppose. I'm the guy who spends way too much time considering words in Scrabble - the guy you end up pelting with letter tiles to just get on with it already.

I've been known to tap some lands for mana every once in a while, so I freely admit that I really, really wanted to like Magic the Gathering Tactics. Thankfully, the actual battles that are the bread-and-butter gameplay are great fun. There is so much exception-based chrome - that's game designer speak for the fiddily bits that make one unit better or worse than another in a given situation - to make every move or attack meaningful, and that's a sign of an excellent tactical game. Unfortunately, the rest of the game, such as the tools to build your own custom spellbook and the way the economy is handled, could still use a lot of work.

MTGT is both similar to the Magic card game and completely freaking different. Yes, you play the role of a Planeswalker, able to use different colors of mana (Red, Black, White, Blue, Green) to cast spells and summon creatures to defeat your enemies, but in MTGT your avatar actually appears on the game board with his or her own statistics, attacks and counterattacks. Being a tactical game, the focus is on combat, but MTGT preserves the ability to manipulate the situation with clever use of enchantments and sorceries. When you download the free game and boot it up, you're given a few options for customizing how your planeswalker appears and which color of mana appeals the most to you. The customization is nothing akin to an MMO, so don't get your hopes up, but it's a fairly effective way to introduce you to the game.

The biggest concept to grasp, and a possible hurdle for many Magic players, is that, instead of specific lands yielding different colors, each turn you generate mana based on the color percentage of cards in your spellbook. So with a spellbook that's half white spells and half red, you have a 50 percent chance of generating either one red or white mana on your first turn. On your second turn, you'll generate two mana with the same chances, and so on. It's a simple way to get around the lack of lands, while ingeniously creating the same increasing resource pool of the card game. This way, you can't be mana-starved like you can in Magic, but you can still sometimes get screwed in the early game if the right color mana doesn't pop up.

The goal of each match is to drop the opposing Planeswalker's health to 0 from 200. You can summon creatures who run up and attack your foe, or use spells to buff up your creatures or do damage directly - Yes, I love me some Lava Axe. Each creature causes damage equal to its attack power, and can only take so much damage before it's killed forever. If an attack doesn't kill a creature outright, the target is allowed one counterattack for its full attack power so the game forces you to make sure to attack only when you mean it. I can't list all of the special properties of each creature or clue you in on all of the combinations - the discovery is part of the enjoyment - but I will say that I get an extra squee when I move my Goblin Piker to flank the opposing Planeswalker and deal an auto-crit, even though the counterattack will kill him, just so I can Zombify the corpse the next turn. I'm so dastardly, sometimes it hurts.

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