It's been years since I actively played collectible card games. Even back when I was into them, I never was a competitive player. My minimal spending money in high school and college meant buying a couple of packs once in a while, not boxes full of cards to build several perfect decks, like many of my friends. Like a lot of things, at some point I had to decide if I was going to double down and renew my focus to reach the next level or move on to other things, and I chose the latter.
In that sense, playing Magic 2015 is a trip down memory lane, while effectively illustrating the changes and evolutions the game has had over the years. For those of you who haven't played, the basic objective of Magic is to whittle down your opponent's life via summoned creatures or magic spells. It's an intuitive concept, and there is a tutorial included in Magic 2015 that does an effective job of teaching you the fundamentals of the game. If you are new to Magic altogether or simply need a refresher and an understanding of the new mechanics like myself, it will get you up to speed quickly, and Magic veterans can skip it easily.
The matches play out exactly as you would expect. Your play area and your hand are presented at the bottom of the screen, with your opponent on the top half. Deck and hand counts and remaining life for each player are presented in the corners, leaving most of the play field uncluttered. Whenever a card is played, it is presented to both players so they have a chance to look it over, and a handy “More Info” button is available if you need an explanation for one of the card's abilities. The game also keeps track of any buffs or other effects cast on creatures, with different symbols for status effects, or updating the strength and toughness of each creature so you don't have to track any of the math yourself.
Unfortunately, that's really all there is to it – digital representations of cards. The cards themselves appear to be exact copies of their physical versions, including the artwork and flavor text, but that's all there is. A fight between two summoned creatures consists of a sound effect and watching the health on the card tick down. There are no interesting animations or models of these various creatures. I was hoping for some BattleChess-style combats between the different creatures – or at least some interesting visual effects for when you cast a spell. In this sense, the game does not take advantage of the medium at all.
It's also rather shameless in its efforts to get money out of you. The original $10 asking price is reasonable enough, but then the game offers several card packs to purchase. The most expensive include all the cards you unlock via completing the story, which questions why you purchased the game at all. Even if you want to play multiplayer, the main story is not long, and asking people to pay an additional $20 to skip the single player content is absurd. Alternatively, you can spend money to buy small booster packs, a model that mimics the traditional CCG experience. Again, however, if I am already purchasing the game, asking me to pay additional money for more cards is unreasonable.
There's also no real progress made if you lose a match. If you win, you can get cards, but lose and you get nothing. The game would benefit from a system where you can collect gold or some other currency, then use that to purchase additional card packs, rather than the all-or-nothing system it uses.
In the end, Magic 2015 does a reasonable job of simulating a tabletop session of Magic: the Gathering. However, in the face of other competitors like Hearthstone, it needs to be more than “reasonable” to justify its asking price.