Splinterlands vs Magic the Gathering: Arena (The Card Battler Showdown)

in #splinterlands9 months ago

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Since I was little, I've been a pretty hardcore gamer. I prize depth and narrative above all things, and so I'm often quite attracted to tactical/strategic simulations and in depth 80-hour long RPGs.... needless to say, this means that the PC is the ONLY platform for this sort of heavy gaming!

However, I often need something to play on my commutes or when I'm just killing time waiting for the kids to fall asleep... this means I'm often relegated to a phone platform or if I'm lucky, the Switch. Mobile phone gaming has really taken off in the last half decade or so... however, the quality and depth of the gaming available on phones is pretty poor at best. More insidiously, it has given rise to the free-to-play model of development and monetisation.... this is really a cancer that has infected all parts of the gaming industry, which has led to compromises being made in the actual gaming mechanics.

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There have been some old franchises that have resisted this idea, in particular the card battler genre which already had a sort of offline equivalent of this idea in place before the digitalisation of gaming. This meant that they already had solid game mechanics in place before the concept of building a "game" around nickel and dimeing the players became popular! One of the greatest of the old schol card-battlers is Magic the Gathering, and recently, Epic Games offered 15 free pack codes for players who would try out the latest Magic: Arena on the PC.

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Lining up against this venerable behemoth is Splinterlands, an upstart card battler based on the STEEM blockchain. It's a bit of a David vs Goliath battle from the start in terms of reach, age and player base... however, it does appear that Splinterlands might have some hefty tricks up it's sleeve (hidden in it deck?).

The Setup

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Magic the Gathering starts off as the favourite... it has been around since 1993 with a player base before digitalisation of over 20 million players in 2015 with over 20 physical BILLION cards having been produced. It has a hard-core and rabidly loyal player base which has contributed to it's long survival against all newcomers and upstarts... and it has a tightly balanced game mechanic evolved over time and constant playtesting. In fact, there are many gamers that would argue that it is THE ultimate card battler.

It is also a game that has e-sports support and also the support of digital gaming storefronts such as Epic Games...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the card table is Splinterlands... a game that is barely two years old, begun on the STEEM blockchain (but now also accepting payments in fiat and multiple other cryptocurrencies...) with a playerbase that is optimistically measured in the the thousands. This should be a short fight.....

The Battle

Round 1: The Cards

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Okay... this seems to be more of a matter of taste here. It is clear that MtG: Arena takes it's art direction cues from the original physical cards. The art styling is similar and the layout is pretty much identical. There is no debating that these are beautiful looking cards and artworks...

... meanwhile, Splinterlands has a much more cartoony and low-fi art direction... partly due to the fact that much of it's assets were community sourced. Meanwhile, it removes the detailed descriptions of skills in favour of icons that will pop up a skill description upon hovering or clicking on a card. To me, this is much cleaner design... and personally, I am quite partial to the warmer feeling of the artwork!

Round 2: The Battle Visuals

Ouch... this is a double edged sword here. MtG:Arena just blows away Splinterlands in terms of production values, animations and sound effects. However, in doing that... it is a game that requires the resources of a PC platform to run. It isn't a mobile platform game which sort of defeats the purpose of the card-battling genre for my own use case! If I have access to a PC for gaming, I'm not playing a card battler... I'm going to be playing Witcher 3 or something that is much more satisfying!

On the other hand, the browser based Splinterlands is friendly for phone use... perfect for travelling on public transport or sitting the in the dark waiting for the kids to conk out! There isn't a native mobile app yet, but I hear that it is in the works...

Round 3: The Gameplay

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Although MtG:Arena and Splinterlands are both examples of the card battling genre, they are quite different in some very fundamental ways.

First and foremost of these differences is the synchronicity of each game, in Splinterlands the gameplay is asynchronous, in that each player has submits a team and the game plays out afterwards. There is just the single player interaction in the choosing of the cards for the battle. MtG:Arena is turn based, in that one player takes and turn and then the other... until the game is completed. These are different approaches that highlight the differences in gameplay, with Splinterlands all the strategy and tactics are defined by positioning... meanwhile, MtG is a game of reacting and countering your opponent over rounds, with the tactics and strategy constantly evolving over the game.

Needless to say, the MtG model is the more tactically engaging... however, it is also the game that requires the greater attention. Splinterlands requires a quick setup, which then can be allowed to run it's course afterwards. Both models have their merits, but again, Splinterlands is the model that is best suited for short commuter trips and bursts of gaming... MtG requires that you devote a significant amount of concentration and time, and again, if I have that in spades then I'm going to be playing a different more involved game than a card battler!

What both games do have, is the fact that the teams (splinters) and cards have been well balanced. This is a place where many other games of this genre fall over, as it becomes all too apparent that the free-to-play model rapidly becomes a pay-to-win model. It's great that both these games avoid this pitfall as it is something that players rapidly notice as a way to milk them for money...

The Killer Trump Card

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So, all of this seems to lead to an easy win for the MtG juggernaut. However, when you start to look into how you aquire cards... you can pay with in game currency... so a lock-in that is basically worthless anywhere outside of the MtG economy! Likewise, with the card packs that you open up... well, they are useful for the game... but they have no intrinsic worth to anyone else because you can't transfer ownership! Thus, they have no worth to anyone else unless you actually sell your entire account!

If we just stop to think about this... however great the game is, you are sinking money (fiat) into an in game currency (that is worthless outside the game) to exchange for packs/cards that are intrinsically worthless because you can't sell/buy them to other players who are the only people that are actually interested in the cards! Hmmmm.....

When I opened up card packs.. I was a bit ho-hum after playing Splinterlands... got a good card that I can't use... well, it just sits there... got too many of a single type of card, well... tough, it just sits there... this is quite strange seeing as the physical versions of MtG cards have a really healthy trading marketplace!

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Compared to this MtG model of non-ownership... Splinterlands has each card represented as a unique NFT on the STEEM blockchain. This means that it can be traded and sold for cryptocurrencies (STEEM/SBD, DEC, ETH, TRX and more)... which gives them intrinsic value to other players, as you can actually exchange them for other cards or tokens/coins of value!

This is a really novel concept to the world of gaming (and to the internet at large), the idea that you have full ownership of your digital assets, and can sell/buy/trade/rent them as you wish... there is no going back after this! When you open a pack, or claim your rewards... when you get that great card, you get a rush... do you keep it, do you sell it to bolster the rest of your deck (or to purchase something else in a different game or in real life?)... if you get a crap card, then you can also sell it off... buy something that you actually want, in game or in real life! The possibilities are endless... had enough of the game and want to rage quit... no problem, you can sell your cards and extract something of value still!

In essence, this is the knockout combo for Splinterlands. Digital ownership of your cards... and the ability to trade them. The games are aimed at slightly different audiences, Splinterlands is a more casual game with balanced but simpler game mechanics whilst Magic the Gathering is the for the hardcore card battler. For my particular gaming use case (for card battlers...), this means that Splinterlands wins hands down... I feel no connection to the cards that I turn over in Magic the Gathering, I just don't own them... they are just digital artwork with no substance. With Splinterlands, these are MY cards...

Conclusion

In doing this comparison review, I thought it would be best to compare two similar games in the same genre. After all, if I had to compare Splinterlands against some of my hardcore PC games... well, I'm afraid that there can only be one winner there...

... however, even when comparing against one of the biggest franchises in the card battling genre, Splinterlands is the game that grabs me more than the existing champion. The reason behind this unexpected win is the simple premise... the ownership and marketplace for digital assets.

... which leads me to question why I play these sorts of games. In my particular use case (and I know that others view these things differently), card battlers are a time-waster and something for casual gaming. If have access to a decent PC, then I'm going to be opting to do something else.

When playing most free to play games, you are killing time and dumping money into a Skinner box that doesn't actually return anything back to aside from pretty lights, nice sounds and an online "reputation and ranking". In contrast, Splinterlands (and other blockchain games, but Splinterlands is the best example of this new genre) returns you cards for playing... which actually have value outside of the game. Have excess cards, or ones that you don't want... sell them for fiat or crypto... exchange them, rent then... buy new ones! Or just cash out and stop playing!

The idea of owning your cards and being able to extract value from them is such a profound concept when you first come across it... and once you experience it, you will wonder why the HELL are you playing other games with similar game experiences but with a single cash flow direction away from your pocket! This is a model that was prevalent in trading cards and card battlers such as Magic the Gathering in their physical representations, but it is not an idea that has transferred over to their digital equivalents. In time maybe it will come, but until then... games like Splinterlnads are the future!

Steem-Monsters (aka the best blockchain game out there!)


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Great analysis and comparison.
I never have time for more than 3 min games so Splinterlands is great for me.
I'm lucky if I can get even 3 minutes without being interrupted by someone.

Yeah... I get that feeling too... so, Splinterlands is the perfect match for my type of gaming when I don't have the time to spare for a half hour or so!

Holy crap!
This is what I've been looking for! This is an excellent comparison!
I never play MTG but have a ton of friends who did/do.
I'm excited for the potential of Splinterlands because we seem to be doing a lot of things right in regards to 'bringing battle card games to the future'. I know it's over-used and literally EVERYTHING uses it... but we ARE kinda 'revolutionary'. 😎
Thanks again for taking the time to create this!
😍@carrieallen


Woohoo!

You have been manually curated by the @splinterlands / @steemmonsters team!

Thank you for SHARING your Splinterlands content with the world! The more the merrier!

Enjoy your juicy upvote and keep creating excellent Splinterlands content!

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! The best thing that you guys are doing are keeping the game balanced for players of all levels and investments... plus, not sinking the economy of the game as well! It's something that too many blockchain based games (and projects in general...) have done... shoot themselves by printing too much "magical internet money" and killing the sustainability aspect of the economy!

Beautiful comparison and analysis! It really spells out the pros and cons.

I think it’s become more and more prevalent for players to want a mobile gaming experience that allows for quick 5 minute sessions. It’s challenging to squeeze in up to a 30 minute undisturbed break to play a single session of the typical card game.

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Thanks! Yes, mobile gaming isn't really suited to hardcore gaming... partly because the device needs to actually function as a communication device as well! I prefer these low demand games for the phone on the go... and then do real gaming at home!

Nice review @bengy, being a Magic player since 1994 I have seen all of it.

Splinterlands is much simpler, and has the potential to gain more of a market due to this.

I don't play MtG these days, but do miss it. It's best played with the physical cards with people you know well.

Thanks... I find that these involved card battlers (MtG) are really much better in person as well... there is something about the experience that isn't just about the game... but the getting together of friends and the copious amounts of crap food and beer to go with it!

I heard Riot is also working on a car battler to be launched this year(?).

I heard that as well! I hope they launch with a blockchain market or something like that... I used to love LoL, but then lost patience with the community and in the end, found that my gaming schedule didn't leave time for a full hour game with no interruptions!

Great long post about the two games. You really did some effort here. That shall be rewarded!

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Thanks, it was fun to write! Thank you for the support!

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Thank you for the feature and the support!

Excellent post. I have taken a quick look at the more "polished" games like "Magic The Gathering", and totally agree with you that @splinterlands is more "crisp" and "funky". Also, the concept of "gaming bursts" is likely more profound than most people realize. Take for example the Splinterlands TOURNAMENTS versus regular ranked play. There you can see the "time" issue at play. I mean, how many tournament matches have we all won or lost because the other person got a phone call while picking their team, or was stuck in traffic, etc? This is especially important for mobile. You make an excellent point in mentioning this. I think the mobile app will really take this game to the next level, and the aesthetics and "timing" elements of the game make will make it a MAJOR competitor once it hits the market. The future is looking bright. Now is the time to increase our experience and deck power so that when the mobile app is released we are "ahead of the game"...

Yeah, I keep folding out of tournaments because of this very reason... I start them (if I remember...), and then after a few matches the real-life comes knocking and I find myself unable to finish! They have really done a good job with this game... they haven't fallen into the pitfalls that have beset other blockchain based games...

A vote of support from me!
!Trdo
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Thank you for the support!

I only hope he stops soon!

This is an awesome comparison. I didn't know MTG had an online version. That's awesome, but I'll have to agree that being able to own your cards gives Splinterlands a huge leg up. Maybe MTG will, at some point, adopt a blockchain-based digital playing arena and tokenize the cards. Maybe?

Thanks... MtG has had a digital version for a while now... but it hasn't really caught on as much as you would have thought given the popularity of the physical card version. I suspect that MtG will have to start thinking down that route... or just be left behind.

Next comparison: Splinterlands vs Gods Unchained?
Would like to see two blockchain card games compared.

These two are much more interesting to compare as card battlers in general will probably have to start thinking about this model... I did play a bit of Gods Unchained... I didn't really like it so much, it is much more like Hearthstone and MtG in terms of depth, equipment and attention... which is why I didn't like it, I would prefer to play a better PC game if I had access to a laptop/desktop!

Also, the ETH chain (transaction fees and speed) is a bit of a drag on the GU model...

Very good point. As a long long time MTG player, I'd rather just play MTG. Granted I play paper, so having other digital card games is fun as well.

The cool thing about the ETH transactions is that at least you don't HAVE to claim all your cards. Like if you have a bunch of worthless jank, you don't need to spend the time claiming it. (IIRC they were working on a way or already implemented a way to claim all your cards in bulk.)

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