For a long time, Wizards of the Coast would not release anything official on iOS, even though the biggest collectible card game -- Magic: The Gathering -- seemed perfect for Apple's touchscreen platforms. Then, last year, we finally got Magic 2013 on the iPad, and now Wizards of the Coast is preparing Magic 2014. When the update is released in about a month, it will offer lots of new features and content to the iPad and Android devices.
That second platform may not matter much to us here at TUAW, but it's a sign that Wizards is continuing to rethink its mobile strategy. The company kindly showed us the latest version of Magic: The Gathering running on the iPad this week, and it's very impressive. It runs faster than ever, and while the campaign is similar (you undertake a series of single-player challenges, or can take on other players in multiplayer), Magic 2014 has a definite emphasis on story that the current version doesn't have.
Magic 2014 was designed to attract new players, so the various missions serve as a tour of the game's lore and background, with each section culminating in a battle against a "Planeswalker," one of Magic's big heroes.
In addition to the new campaign structure, there's also new content, including lots of new cards from the past year of Magic. There are even some new cards from the Magic 2014 Core Deck, which isn't set to release until after the iOS app has arrived. That means that playing with this game will be the first time some Magic players can officially sit down and play with the new cards. There will also be more of a newer card type called slivers, so even if you've played Magic 2013 completely, the new version should offer up some more twists and turns.
One of the biggest problems fans have had with these Magic: The Gathering video games is that in the single-player campaign, you don't get to build your own decks. Rather, you get to unlock cards for a certain deck. While there is some choice in which cards you use, all of the cards are basically tied to specific decks, so building a custom deck is out.
Wizards is aware of this concern, and has an answer in Magic 2014. Sort of. The game will introduce a new mode called Sealed Deck play, where players will get six booster packs, featuring random cards from a larger pool, and will then be allowed to build their own deck from those opened cards. It's not complete freedom, because you only get a certain number of booster packs to choose from, and you'll need to make decks from those. But it does allow for a very structured bit of deck-building, and Magic 2014 contains a whole campaign and a PvP option centered just around using these sealed decks. On the game's initial purchase, you can create two total decks in this way, and then you can buy more slots for these built decks via in-app purchase.
If you want to play with a sealed deck, but don't know how to build a Magic deck, the game offers an "autobuild" option. There are plenty of tutorials and difficulty options, so no matter what your level of Magic experience, 2014 has plenty to offer.
The biggest drawback might be that while there are lots of new options and content, the game itself hasn't changed. Stainless Games is the company that makes both the console and the iOS versions, and as a result, both versions use the same pacing, same graphics and same gameplay. There's no iOS-specific touchscreen moves or fun tablet-specific tricks or graphics.
But that's fine. The point of this is to play Magic, and Wizards and Stainless both deserve a lot of credit for producing such a well-made game. Magic 2014 should be available on the iPad in the next few months or so. We'll keep an eye out for it, and let you know when it's finally arrived.