Different approaches to using an IP and Magic the Gathering

I just read over at Contains Moderate Peril that Magic: Legends is to close on 31 October 2021, so before it even comes out of beta testing. The official website has the article and FAQ to spell out the details of this.

As a purely anecdotal observation, this game should have been of interest to many of my closer gaming circle. I played Magic the Gathering heavily in the late 1990s, early 2000s, but kept an interest in the game because younger family members continued to be invested in the hobby. I also played the Playstation Duel of the Planeswalkers game series circa 2012-2014 and thoroughly enjoyed the campaign and online coop modes.

This game by Cryptic had my interest initially, but then it was announced it was pivoting to be a Diablo-like Online Action RPG and that it had lost the original plan to be Massively Multiplayer Online scope. It is of course understandable that the original ambitious plans of launching the game as a MMO(A)RPG was ambitious in the current climate: we’re not seeing many ‘AAA’ MMORPGs launching nowadays. Nevertheless the Magic IP has a lot of reach beyond the usual MMO audience, if the game had been good it could maybe have attracted a substantial audience.

I suppose the game is competing against existing Magic online gaming properties for the attention of its wider, IP-based audience. If a player wants the purest MtG experience then they can go to Magic the Gathering Online and just play that (or MtG Arena another online offering). The value-add of Legends would have been the combination of the card gameplay with the more persistent avatar or character progression common in the computer RPG space. In MtG you are nominally the planeswalker, a powerful wizard who uses spells to fight battles. You have no persistent character attributes or progression in the card game, so marrying the cards with RPG systems does add a lot of potential gameplay that is missing from analogue or digital versions of the original.

Such a combination has been done before as an offline / solo RPG – the fantastic PC computer game MtG: Shandalar. This game, from the late 1990s, was a fantastic simulation of the card game’s rules from that era with the added layer of a typical sandbox-style RPG where you wandered around gathering power, treasure and allies as you followed the overarching storyline. When I first heard of the Cryptic game I immediately thought back to Shandalar and thought – wow a multiplayer game like that would have so much potential!

Creating an action RPG out of a turn-based card game, as the Cryptic game tried, just seemed like a case of “square peg and round hole”. The button mashing, ability-synergy focused character progression of most ARPGs doesn’t marry up to the deeply tactical gameplay of the card game. The randomisation of ability draws may mimic the deck of cards drawing mechanic of the analogue game, but how can that be a good fit in a fast paced action game where time to think out your next move (and the ones to follow) is limited?

In contrast to all this, Wizards of the Coast is ramping up cross-promotions between Magic the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. Perhaps this is an easier fit as there is more in common with tabletop roleplay and card games. Although the recently announced Strixhaven doesn’t sound like my ‘cup of tea’ thematically, and the D&D themed set for Magic isn’t enough of a draw to bring me back into playing the analogue card game, I suspect at some point a cross-over product will come along that will grab my attention. I’m rather fond of the Ravnica setting, for example, although not quite enough to start a new D&D campaign there: I have more campaigns on the go, or on pause, than I have time to run. However, I would very happily play a CRPG set in that fantasy-city as world setting, maybe a gritty gumshoe-style investigative game or a Thief style stealth game?

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2 Responses to Different approaches to using an IP and Magic the Gathering

  1. Nogamara says:

    Maybe I’m not a purist enough but I don’t think ARPG or any genre is particularly bad for the MtG IP. Sure, you probably won’t match the card game feeling, but I don’t think you need to. I forgot the name of the Warhammer FPS game, I think that was pretty much ok, just taking the setting. I acutally wouldn’t have tried it out without the Magic IP, I think. Maybe I would have, as it was a free beta, and I like ARPGs. But I’ve not bought a lot of them because they weren’t enticing enough to put down money on the table, without a demo…

    No, Legends’ problem was exactly the IP and how they got the boneheaded idea to try to make the card game gameplay a realtime thing. I dunno, speed chess exists, does speed MtG exist where you only have 2 seconds per turn? Maybe it could’ve been salvageable if they made you choose 5-10 spells and you’d have to stack up to 4 cards to reduce the cooldown, and otherwise have it play just like Diablo, unlocking more spells when you “get” a card.

    • Telwyn says:

      Good point, an ARPG in a MtG setting would be fine, I’d prefer that to Diablo as I’m no fan of the latter’s lore, but random card mechanics on speed isn’t my idea of fun.

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