How Magic 2015 is taking on Hearthstone

Wizards of the Coast certainly hasn't been sitting on its laurels in the wake of Hearthstone's burst of popularity. The latest version of Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers is bringing on one major feature it had previously been lacking: deck building. While that may seem old hat since Hearthstone has had it from the beginning, it's found some ways to capitalize on the strengths of Magic that may even improve on aspects of Blizzard's baby.

Primarily, this comes from tools that appear much more robust than anything in Heroes of Warcraft. Rather than simply show the mana curve, the decks are ranked by factors like speed or synergy. If you're clueless about where to start, you can use a powerful deck-building tool that looks for synergies between cards, instead than simply suggesting cards that fit into a certain curve.

As an example, I was shown a deck built around a single card: the Resolute Archangel. Using that one card, the building tool crafted an entire deck from the cards in the collection. It picked a Shadowcloak Vampire, with the apparent rationale that you could sacrifice some life with it to get a flying ability, and then use the Archangel to restore that life.

It was an impressive display, and I was told the builder could even work without any cards at all, simply by looking through the collection and finding a synergistic set. I asked what would happen if you tried to build a deck around a bad combination, like including several different mana colors with no rhyme or reason between them. "It is ultimately a genie," a representative said. "If you ask for a bad wish it will give you the best version of that bad wish."

This iteration will also include cards designed by those within the games industry, like Markus "Notch" Persson and Richard Garriot of Ultima. It's a small way of taking the traditionally paper-to-digital approach of the Magic games and letting the video game world feed back into it.

Unlike a digital game, though, Planeswalkers is kept honest by its paper equivalent. While Blizzard can buff or nerf a card at will in response to play data it receives after release, the Magic team is adamant that it needs to get cards right the first time.

"We don't nerf cards," the rep said. "We do more and better playtesting than just about anyone on the planet. A lot of those people are ex-pro players, people who are truly at the top of the game when it comes to finding the best cards and making the most of them. And they're the best people to look at a set and say, 'oh, this needs to cost 4 instead of 3 or it's going to break standard wide open.' So we do all that work up front, and we have the benefit of that in Duels of the Planeswalkers because we're drawing from the physical magic cards."

As for Hearthstone's success, the team doesn't seem to mind. Magic has longevity on its side, and being the collectible card game with a long legacy has its benefits. "Eventually, if somebody's coming to the trading card genre, however they get there, they'll come to Magic," another rep said. "If they want that depth of strategy and of gameplay, they'll eventually find their way to Magic."