The search for a digital card game
I’ve been a long time fan of Magic the Gathering, which is responsible for creating the whole trading card game genre in 1993. It is still the most popular game of it’s kind today, at least in physical paper form.
The online variant of Magic exists but has always been criticized for technical problems, poor interface and costing the same as the paper variant (i.e. a ton of money). It was still considered a success, until Blizzard came along and redefined what successful online collectible card game ment with Hearthstone. It is one of the most streamed game on Twitch, while, in comparison, MtG mostly attracts viewers with weekend paper events. It is also highly profitable.
Hearthstone is so polished and accessible that a lot of people who weren’t into the genre are now playing it every day. However, having given the game a try for a few weeks at multiple occasions, I missed the intricacies of MtG, especially not being able to interact on your opponent’s turn at all.
Since Magic paper events can be complicated to organize and attend, I was looking for a digital alternative. Hearthstone wasn’t cutting it, but its success inspired a lot of other similar games. I tried almost all of them: Pokemon, Solforge, Magic Duels, The Elder Scrolls Legends (not to be confused with Scrolls, which I also tried), Hex and Faeria. It seemed to me that TES Legends and Faeria showed potential, but not enough to keep me firing the game week after week.
I’d almost given up when someone complaining about Magic Online told word of this game.
The online Magic-like done right
Like many other, Eternal is a mix between Magic and Hearthstone. Unlike the others though, it managed to, in my opinion, keep most of what is great in the two games without much compromise. It essentially plays exactly the same as Magic, almost without any simplification, while being just as streamlined as Hearthstone.
The interface is essentially the same new simple standard introduced by Blizzard’s game. The gameplay however has most of the elements I love about Magic:
One of the greatest thing about Magic is the counter-play that occurs when both players have instant speed actions they are holding on because they fear instant speed answers from the opponent, such as when having Giant Growth against a possible Lightning Bolt.
Fast spells are the equivalent of instants in Eternal. You can even have the exact situation I mentioned, because it seems the developers do not shy away from taking heavy inspiration.
Attacks and block works like in Magic, again. You can even double or triple block. Because of this, a bunch of ground creature will lead to ground stall, but Flying, Overwhelm (trample) or combat tricks will get around that.
I much prefer this system to Hearthstone’s because it allows for small utility creatures that won’t immediately die and adds interaction while choosing blockers.
You can play one Power card a turn which can be exhausted each turn to pay for cards. Power cards can give you Influence in a faction (color) and cards have Influence requirements.
The difference in gameplay this entails is that even if you have a single Fire Influence, you can play many cards in the same turn with a single Fire requirement, not just one as in Magic. It also allows for cards such as Sand Warrior, which costs 0 but requires 3 Time Influence, thus not allowing it to be played on turn 1, kinda like Serra Avenger, but without text.
The use of power cards means that mana screw and mana flood are also a thing in Eternal, which is my main issue with the game right now. This is alleviated by the fact that games are longer and that the single allowed mulligan will always give you at least 2 power cards out of 7. There is also ample mana fixing available but few mana sinks.
Here are a few more differences with MtG:
- Players start with 25 life.
- Decks have a minimum of 75 cards.
- Cards which lose or gain abilities (including stat changes) keep these changes while changing zone.
An accessible first impression
Starting to play Magic has never been so easy. Once you install and start the game, which is free-to-play and available on Steam, you start playing right away, without even creating an account.
The concepts of playing power and unit cards, and attacking with vanilla creatures is introduced in a guided game. Then you play a few more games where abilities such as flying are added, as well as spells. Five games and half an hour later, the Fire deck you’ve been playing has been added to your collection and you are asked to register an account.
A deck from all 5 factions can be earned this way by playing the campaign against AI opponents. You are then invited to face a gauntlet of AI opponents with the deck of your choice. I personally made an army of blue and black flyers backed up by stuns and kill spells.
Deckbuilding was a bit confusing at first because I didn’t understand how many of each card I owned and I couldn’t adjust my Power cards, especially to add these sweet dual faction powers. By default, the game takes care of power card invisibly, but this can be turned off in the options.
Going through the gauntlet is always free and will give you a few rewards each time, about 1000 coins worth in less than an hour if you win all matches, which will also give you a booster pack.
Many rewards are thrown at you as you try all the modes, including cards, decks, boosters, coins and crafting material. From many reports, it seems that the game can be grinded quite fast without paying much, by playing Gauntlet, or being successful in Ranked and Draft modes.
These are about a dollar each if you want to buy some, but you will open a lot of them whether you pay or not.
Each pack contains 8 commons (grey), 3 uncommons (green) and a rare or legendary card. Extra copies beyond the 4 cards allowed in a deck can be automatically turned into Shiftstone.
To obtain particular rare or legendary cards more efficiently than cracking open tons of packs, the game does not allow you to trade, but rather uses Shiftstone to craft the card you want.
After playing for a long day, I’ve already got over 2000 of it, enough to craft 2 rares (800 each) or 20 uncommons (100 each). The game indicates that I’ve got 48% of my common playsets and 29% of my uncommon playsets, so I think you can safely keep the recycling material to craft rare and legends while hoping to obtain the less rare cards soon.
Speaking of rarities, it seems that competitive decks include a lot of cheap cards, not just rares. Staple cards are often uncommons, and legendaries fill very small niches. There are even pretty good budget decks consisting of no rares at all.
The gameplay and cards of Eternal already offer a lot of neat interactions with a single set. The design of the interface is very intuitive and effective. It’s truly the Magic clone with a Hearthstone coat I’ve been waiting for. The game won’t ask for all your money and seems to strike a nice balance by offering people with more free time the chance to play for free and for more busy people the option to buy into competitive decks.
It remains to be seen if the game won’t end up collecting dust on my desktop like TES Scrolls and Faeria, but my history with Magic suggests otherwise.
Card images from Numot, which is one of the greatest Eternal ressource.