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Digital Life

Play your cards right

Magic The Gathering used to be the only gig in town, but with the arrival of new rivals, it needs to innovate to stay at the top of the game. Digital Life checks out the best three strategy card games for the Apple iPad

Published on May 16, 2014 6:00 AM

Magic 2014

Free to play

($12.98 to unlock all cards in the main game, $5.98 for expansion, $3.98 for each of the three addon Deck Packs)

Celebrating its 21st birthday in August, Magic The Gathering has long been the king of strategy card games.

In Magic, two players face off like in a chess game, but instead of pawns and queens, each player has a deck of cards which he has put together with cunning and strategy.

The cards contain lands, creatures and spells which players can put into play on the tabletop. The aim is simple: reduce your opponent’s hit points to zero before he does the same to you.

In 2009, an “arcade” version of the game was launched for the Xbox 360 and was named Magic The Gathering - Duels Of The Planeswalkers, to differentiate it from the main game.

Unlike the physical card version, which allows the rich to amass an overpowered deck, the digital “lite” version offers all players access to the same set, levelling the playing field.

Which explains why I have bought every edition and expansion since the series was launched.

The fourth version, launched last year, is now simply called Magic 2014. In addition to the PC and consoles, the game is also available now on the Apple iPad and on Android tablets.

Magic 2014 on the iPad is free to play but lets you unlock only three of the possible 21 decks. Fans like me will happily fork out extra to unlock all the cards.

To play spells and creature cards from your hand, you need mana. There are five different colours of mana - red, green, blue, white and black - which you gain only from having land cards of the corresponding colour.

Choosing a single colour deck offers less versatility but you are less likely to be caught in a position where you do not have enough mana to play your creatures and spells.

Each colour has its own unique characteristic:

Until last year, Magic had no serious contenders on the iPad. Now it has Hearthstone and Duel Of Champions.

Where Magic fares poorly is in its failure to sync across different device platforms. So, to play on your PC and your iPad, you must buy two versions of the same game.

While the cards here are quite different from those of the earlier versions, the general strategy of each deck borrows heavily from its predecessors.

The allwhite Avacyn deck resembles the Peacekeepers deck in Magic 2013, while those who miss the bluegreen Ancient Depths deck from Magic 2012 will be pleased with the allgreen Chant Of The Mul Daya deck.

Both new decks have many strategies to quickly build up their mana and unleash the most powerful Eldrazi creatures.

In a few months, Magic 2015 will launch but, this time, it will have to work a lot harder to win hearts and wallets, because of the competition.

Hearthstone is more accessible and less complex, yet still requires deep strategy to win.

This article was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on May 14, 2014.

Background story


  • Deep strategic play
  • Wellbalanced decks
  • Triedandtested brand name
  • Level playing field


  • You will not go far without buying at least the main game’s deck unlocks
  • The game is not synced across different device platforms
  • There has been little innovation over the years

DL rating