It’s surprising to me that Magic: The Gathering hasn’t gotten more video game adaptations, as nearly three decades have passed since the original collectible card game was released. Most games bearing the name have been digital card games, which is perfectly understandable albeit slightly disappointing for those who want to see its vast universe explored in greater detail. Fortunately, the next game bearing the Magic moniker is taking a different yet promising approach to that universe, albeit one that focuses squarely on its card game roots.
Magic: Legends is a free-to-play action-RPG in the vein of Diablo and Path of Exile, wherein you explore big maps and slaughter countless enemies while using a host of powerful abilities while gathering a lot of loot. Dubbed a hack’n’cast by developer Cryptic Studios, you assume the role of a Planeswalker (Someone who can traverse between different planes in the Magic universe) as they travel the multiverse seeking to stop an unnamed threat. You can journey to different planes, where there are both open worlds to traverse as well as self-contained missions on their own maps.
My time with the preview build featured two missions; One set on Tazeem, a jungle area in the Zendikar plane where I interacted with a tribe of mermen, and another set in Gavony, a region of the gothic horror Innistrad plane that saw me take part in a defense mission against waves of undead monsters. Playing Magic: Legends feels good, as the game has a sharp aesthetic brought about by its source material as well as rock solid gameplay that feels right at home for those who have played too much Diablo. For a game that has yet to hit open beta, it felt good to play.
But more than just being good to play, Magic: Legends sets itself apart via its customization by focusing on what players of the Magic: The Gathering card game know and love: deckbuilding.
Those familiar with the card game know that decks are constructed using a combination of one of five magic colours: Black, Blue, Green, Red, and White. It follows that of the five character classes present in the game currently, there is one for each colour: The Necromancer (Black), The Mind Mage (Blue), The Beastcaller (Green), The Geomancer (Red), and The Sanctifier (White). Each class has their own set of abilities that is unique to them. For example, the Necromancer can summon skeletal minions, sacrifice those minions to gain power, and unleash a soul-sucking vortex as an ultimate.
Importantly, however, is that each class is not restricted to the colour it is associated with when constructing decks. During my time with Magic: Legends, I played a Necromancer with a Red/White deck, as well as a Sanctifier with a Green/Black deck. Because each of the classes have their own abilities, traits, and equipment, each deck can be used by each class in different ways. For example, as a Sanctifier I was able to heal the Green creatures I was summoning thanks to class abilities, which would not have been possible if I had used the deck with, say, a Geomancer.
This combination of class and decks opens the door for numerous builds and styles of play, particularly since deck building appears to be very deep. A deck can be made of up to two colours and consists of 12 spells. Four spells are randomly slotted into one of four ability keys, and when one is cast, it is taken out and replaced by one of the unused cards. When all 12 spells are cast, the used ones are reshuffled and can be cast again.
And much like the card game it’s based on, decks in Magic: Legends can feature some exciting combinations for those willing to experiment. The Red/White deck I used was primarily based around summoning Goblins as creatures while backing them up with powerful direct target spells. One spell called ‘Goblin Rush’ causes a Goblin to be summoned every time a sorcery is cast in a 30 second period. Of the 12 spells in the deck, seven are sorceries. You’d be surprised how many Goblins can be summoned in that timespan, and watching them tear apart mermen as I roamed the jungles of Tazeem was delightful.
Similarly, the Green/Black deck proved to be a potent force in the defence mission I used it in. It was more focused on creating powerful creatures, such as the towering Green Warden, and either keeping them alive or upgrading them with support spells. One such spell is ‘Cloak of Seeds’, which causes your creature with the highest toughness to create a 1/1 Sapling token every time it is attacked. Toss in a few Black spells that resurrect that dead and deal damage over time, and you have a deck that keeps creatures on the battlefield for far longer than they naturally should.
It’s that ability to make crazy or otherwise dumb combinations into decks that has me most excited. I love experimentation, and the prospect of delving into the decks and experimenting with the dozens of cards available is enticing. Yet that option wasn’t available to me in my time with the game, so while I can say the deckbuilding looks promising, I can’t be truly sure it actually is until I try it out for myself.
Furthermore, I wanted to see more of how these spells are upgraded. As it was explained to me by Magic: Legends Principal Lead Designer Adam Hetenyi, spells are improved by gathering scrolls that drop from enemies or are rewarded for completing missions. While there are equipment and artifacts that upgrade characters, they’re not as big of a focus in terms of the gameplay as spells are. My preview build came equipped with a practically infinite amount of scrolls for each ability, and seeing how difficult or easy it is to gather these scrolls in the game itself will be important to its long term balance.
The Magic: Legends beta is set to launch on March 23rd, and Hetenyi says that the team is excited for players to “break open the game” so that they can begin listening to community suggestions and balance aspects of the game. But there is a deadline for adjusting the game; Cryptic Studios is planning for a full release in 2021 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
If you’re interested in checking Magic: Legends out for yourself, you can sign up for the beta here.