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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'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.


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."

From The Chatty
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    June 25, 2014 4:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, 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'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.

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      June 25, 2014 4:22 PM

      I mean there is a pretty good reason the DOTP games have a limited card set and limited customizability, it's because they want to suck you into MTG Online or the real card game where they can suck like $5000 out of you a year instead of just $15. Not sure it's even worth comparing DOTP to Hearthstone, makes more sense to compare MTGO to Hearthstone.

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        June 25, 2014 4:30 PM

        DotP is really the competitor. Cheap, easy to get into, multiplatform. Magic Online is for a completely different audience (unfortunately).

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      June 25, 2014 4:23 PM

      unfortunately DotP ultimately has a pretty limited amount of content unlike Hearthstone. The intent would be to move on to Magic Online (a piece of shit program) of the physical card game, which requires a significant leap. Whereas Hearthstone lets you easily transition from casual singleplayer to hardcore competitive multiplayer.

      It's pretty amazing that it's taken this many iterations for DotP to reflect such a core part of Magic (deckbuilding).

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      June 25, 2014 4:35 PM

      Its still surprising how shitty both versions of mtgo are and how much better the duels games are. I know the scope of DotP is so much smaller than mtgo is but they really need to get their shit together.

      if they ever go through with the plans to make modo beta client only they are going to have a lot of unhappy people play a lot less magic than they used to.

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        June 25, 2014 6:28 PM

        yeah if MTGO looked and played like DOTP shit I'd still be playing

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          June 25, 2014 6:33 PM

          the reality is Magic is too complicated for DotP to work at high level play. But Magic Online is still unacceptably bad. While DotP is nice I do find the faux table UX to be just terrible. It makes it unnecessarily difficult to see your opponent's cards and just generally leads to very little of the screen being used to display cards. Hearthstone and Magic Online both have it right by just showing things from a top down perspective, which is also how normal Magic events are broadcast too.

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        June 25, 2014 8:04 PM

        For someone who played a lot, I prefer the MTGO version. The DotP is just too slow and flashy. It takes forever to play a game sometimes.

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      June 25, 2014 6:07 PM

      It must be frustrating for Mark Rosewater & the rest of Wizards R&D to be the absolute best at what they do and yet they will never see the kind of over the top mainstream gaming success that HearthStone currently enjoys.

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        June 25, 2014 6:13 PM

        I really wonder how much pressure the digital teams are getting from R&D and elsewhere. Prior to Hearthstone they could trump up download counts for DotP and point to great overall player growth as proof of how good it is and how well it's working. And they can point at Magic Online and say they're getting great profit from a relatively small set of users interested in a digital CCG. But now they have real proof that their numbers were pretty off. I'm sure the ARPU for Magic Online is way higher than Hearthstone but Hearthstone's player count is so much higher and that ends up generating profit in other ways (lower cost to acquire new players via word of mouth, value of ads on a Twitch stream with 10x as many viewers, etc).

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          June 25, 2014 6:48 PM

          I don't think it's actually that small, last time I read something it was like between MTGO and paper magic they had tens of millions of players actively playing. I'll have to see if I can find any info on it. Also the MTG events run by Wizards and SCG and TCG get a ton of viewers on Twitch. I would be curious to see how HS compares in active users and viewers compared to MTG.

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            June 25, 2014 6:50 PM

            Ok well I just checked their wiki page and it said they had between 2000-4000 accounts logged in at anytime to MTGO in 2007. I have no idea if that's accurate and it was 7 years ago so maybe that's totally worthless info, i dunno.

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              June 25, 2014 6:55 PM

              MtG is the biggest its ever been. I reckon that 2007 number is pretty out of date.

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                June 25, 2014 7:05 PM

                Vintage Masters came out a few weeks ago and MTGO had more concurrent users than ever before for those release events. There were ~7500 people in the tournament rooms. But for perspective, everyone in there is there to pay at least ~$12 per event with the people there for Vintage Masters events paying $25 or $45 per event.

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                June 25, 2014 7:13 PM

                Wow! How do they keep it going? Just seems like too much money and effort required to me?

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                  June 25, 2014 7:15 PM

                  because no other game (digital or otherwise) compares to its quality and depth

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                    June 25, 2014 8:40 PM

                    Yea despite the cost, I still try to find a draft in real life to go to every week if I can at a nearby LGS. When you put it in perspective it's still just $15 for 4 hours entertainment and you get to go home with something. And the game itself is so fucking good and deep, it's crazy. I wouldn't stick with the financial commitment if it wasn't totally worth it.

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                      June 25, 2014 10:42 PM

                      Yeah, its really fun. Just bought a box of Conspiracy that we'll be breaking open pretty soon

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            June 25, 2014 6:54 PM

            If we're just talking about Twitch then it isn't even close. The most I've seen on a MtG tournament stream is about 8k with an average around 4k. Individual Hearthstone streamers like Trump/Amaz/Kripp/Reynad regularly get 10k-20k viewers and I've seen tournaments go as high as 150k.

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              June 25, 2014 7:02 PM

              for Pro Tours I believe Magic gets near a million unique viewers on Twitch over the course of the event (a couple days) but yeah for MTGO specifically Hearthstone just annihilates it on a daily basis with streaming numbers.

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                June 25, 2014 7:53 PM

                The most I've seen concurrent for Pro Tours is about 8k. Maybe its 10k, but the numbers are nowhere close to even a game like SC2 which as declined.

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            June 25, 2014 7:00 PM

            there are ~12 million active MTG players according to Hasbro's recent quarterly reports. The player base has grown ~25% YoY for 4-5 years. DotP has seen ~2 million downloads I believe. Hearthstone currently has ~10k viewers on Twitch. Magic Online has ~1.7k.

            Magic is doing better than ever in spite of their pathetic digital efforts. They've operated under this faulty assumption that CCGs are just too complicated to break out and appeal to a new group of people. Hearthstone is proving how wrong that is.

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              June 25, 2014 7:16 PM

              But magic is far more complicated. Accessibility is an issue

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                June 25, 2014 7:20 PM

                The fact that MtG has so many abilities/keywords to learn and memorize is going to be hard for the beginners.

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                  June 25, 2014 7:35 PM

                  I think you'd be surprised at how many it has relative to Hearthstone.

                  16 -

                  A Magic core set will have 2 keywords + the evergreen abilities (flying, trample, first strike, vigilance, deathtouch, and some lesser used ones). It has more card types than Hearthstone (some of the 16 above are more like card types in Magic, ex Secret), and strictly speaking the phases are more complex but DotP abstracts away a lot of that. Likewise for deck building. There's no doubt Magic is more complex but anyone who can enjoy Hearthstone could easily enjoy Magic in the same timeframe with a similar learning curve if they're taught well with the right cards (which is exactly what DotP does and why it's been fairly successful).

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                  July 3, 2014 10:30 AM

                  Almost all of the keywords are explained right on the card itself, very few actually have to be memorized.
                  Unless you are playing Duels, in which they don't put the full description.

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                June 25, 2014 7:23 PM

                yes, but a lot of that complexity is hidden if you give a new player the right set of cards and the right teaching. This is what Hearthstone nails. DotP does it fairly well too, but then it can't on board you to "real" Magic or just let you keep playing casual multiplayer with friends. Magic had a set like Hearthstone called Portal like 10 years ago where it only had 3 card types, it was just much harder to learn from a printed manual than a guided digital tutorial (and the set itself had some design issues that hurt on boarding to real Magic sets, plus the other Magic sets didn't then teach you the new card types well).

                Magic has 12+ million active players and the vast vast majority are utterly casual, never going to even a local card shop let alone something more competitive. A community designed casual multiplayer format became so popular that Wizards now designs cards with it in mind and does yearly products specifically for the format.

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                June 25, 2014 7:26 PM

                I don't think MtG should worry about that, though. I have no doubt that Hearthstone's playerbase will outpace MtG's, but the worst thing MtG could do is try to imitate Hearthstone. Anyone who has played the two games know the rulesets satisfy two different gameplay experiences.

                The only thing I could see really harming MtG is Hearthston'e polish (which, I suppose could be argued to play a role in its accessibility). Hearthstone's UI is so intuitive and smooth compared to the Planeswaker stuff on Steam that I can't imagine going back.

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                  June 25, 2014 7:31 PM

                  there's no reason Magic can't serve that market though. That's exactly what DotP is doing. It's being vastly cheaper than normal Magic, using vastly simpler card sets than the most complex offerings, and providing a reasonably nice digital UI/tutorial. If it then had a nice UI for online multiplayer you could see plenty of people streaming it, except the hardcore people are going to want to graduate to the highest levels of Magic eventually, and that requires leaving DotP, something that Hearthstone doesn't do.

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                    June 25, 2014 7:59 PM

                    I hate to say it but the rules are actually getting in the way of it being as big as Hearthstone. The nice thing about Hearthstone is that the games are very very short. Pick up and play is a big advantage. I can even do a quick game over LTE on my iPad against a real player and its no big deal. Waiting rooms, hotel/airport lobbies, jury duty, I've played it in all kinds of places when I have a few minutes to kill. Even Arenas work since the draft doesn't rely on a pod of other players, I can just do it on my own time.

                    MtG, as awesome as the game is, is inherently not as good for quick sessions. That's fine though, they're both different games are are fun for their own reasons. I suppose the main difference is that MtG was designed for human interaction while Hearthstone's game design is expressly digital.

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                      June 25, 2014 8:00 PM

                      "I hate to say it but the rules are actually getting in the way of it being as big as Hearthstone."

                      To be clear, I'm specifically talking about it being as popular for digital and mobile.

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                        June 26, 2014 12:25 AM

                        I'm just not sure that's true. The game was originally designed to be a quick experience for DnD players while they were waiting for setup or between sessions or whatever. If you don't play best of 3 then it really shouldn't take much longer than Hearthstone depending the decks. I have plenty of Hearthstone games that can take 10-15min. A match of 3 games on Magic Online must take < 50min, which means on average games would have to be taking 15min or less to reliably finish 3 game matches. If Wizards wants the format to be faster they are fully in control of that, especially for something like DotP that only uses a single set.

                        Magic Online had leagues for sealed and draft formats that give you similar ability as Hearthstone's Arena. Draft you still need to commit ~30min to drafting but then you can play games whenever. Sealed is even easier since you just build your deck from the pool at your own pace then play later. But Magic Online removed that feature with the v3 switch and promised to bring it back... that was like 5 years ago now.

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                          June 26, 2014 1:23 AM

                          Quicker than DnD in the early 90s is still longer than a videogame in the 2010s. Length of a game would be completely dictated by the deck. Unfortunately not everyone plays aggro or midrange. If you have two players doing Esper control or something like that then the games will take way longer. The hardest control style in Hearthstone is capped by a much smaller deck size, even when you put something like Thoughsteal and Ysera into the mix.

                          As you said, Wizards certainly can make a faster format if they want to.

                          As for drafting, committing 30 minutes to drafting is still committing 30 minutes. They could change the format to be more like the Hearthstone arena, but that would ruin drafting since passing around cards inside your pod has strategy all its own. They could just straight copy arena and have it a a new mode that is separate from a normal draft. People may embrace that. I know that the quicker nature of Hearthstone is seen as a positive among other Magic players that I know.

                          Anyway, a deviation from traditional MtG that's somewhere in between that and DOTP may be what Wizards needs to compete with Hearthstone. DOTP is way too casual and regular MtG is potentially very time consuming. Somewhere in between could work.

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                June 25, 2014 7:37 PM

                It's an issue, but not as big of an obstacle as their pricing/business model and the terrible MTGO client.

                Again, I'm speaking with regard to competing with HearthStone in the digital realm. Wizards is certainly making money.

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      June 25, 2014 9:36 PM

      DOTP was garbage this last revision, the ones before that were pretty good. I loathed the pay to play aspect of the sealed deck in 2014. Plus 2014 was slow, and horribly buggy for months until they grudgingly patched it. MTGO is such an antiquated boat anchor. If the phrase "sunk cost" isn't apparent by now I have no idea what it will take to make them realize a revamp is in order. Their latest beta is *worse* than the existing client! not even sure how that is possible.

      Hasbro should get stronger leadership of the digital aspects of magic and start competing if they want to survive. Hearthstone has been nothing but amazing, and I have basically quit playing magic because of it. Wake me up if they ever decide to pull their heads out of their asses.

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      June 25, 2014 10:10 PM

      I'm confused, how did the game work at all without deck building?

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        June 25, 2014 10:19 PM

        Premade decks, you could swap a few cards around, but not much.

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          June 25, 2014 10:20 PM

          The first release, all you could do was add unlocked cards to the premade deck.

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      June 26, 2014 1:33 AM

      I want a version of DotP where they take out all the terrible animation and stuff that means it's impossible to fire it up and play a quick game.

      None of that shit adds to the experience, it just puts me off playing it because it makes the whole thing take so long.

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      June 26, 2014 4:59 AM

      I just want to know when it will be released.

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