Thanks to poor timing involving Shadows Over Innistrad’s release and Pro Tour, Wizards was unable to attend PAX East this year. So I got a chance to try out a ton of new card games, some on paper but most in digital form. This week we’ll conclude our look at a wide variety of card games, their competitive scenes, and whether or not there’s anything interesting there for the Magic community.

Card Games at PAX East Part II
Something Different

Last week we took a look at four digital card games that are, at their core, derivative of either Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering. This week we will take a look at some card games that are far more unique in their design and execution, some of you which you may recognize and some you may not. Each of these is very different from Magic and Hearthstone so if you’re looking for something new, these are for you.

A Game of Thrones/Netrunner/Star Wars (Fantasy Flight Games)

We kick things off with one of the hottest card games from a few years ago, and many years before that: Netrunner (plus the other two card games that Fantasy Flight has competitive play for). A living card game is like a collectible card game but it isn’t traded. Every month or so, Fantasy Flight publishes a new expansion pack. For about $15 a month (like an MMO subscription) you get the latest and greatest cards.

Official Site: Fantasy Flight Games Living Card Games
Twitter: Team Covenant
Facebook: Team Covenant
Reddit: /r/agameofthronesLCG /r/Netrunner /r/StarWarsLCG
Status: Live with Sanctioned Competitive Play

Netrunner was originally designed by Magic creator Richard Garfield in the 90’s. It’s a cyberpunk-themed asymmetrical game where one player represents a hacker (the runner) and the other represents an evil corporation. After one game the players switch sides and tally up their scores at the end. Star Wars similarly has slightly asymmetrical play as one player takes on the light side and the other the dark side before switching. In both cases the win conditions on either side are slightly different.

Fantasy Flight sponsors annual regional, national, and world championship tournaments. The prizes include unique art promo cards, tokens, sleeves, deck boxes, and playmats. The world champion gets to design a new card for the game, similar to Magic’s now-defunct invitational. What’s obviously absent is any kind of cash prize which isn’t terribly surprising. There isn’t the constant need to open booster packs like there is in a game like Magic. In fact, part of the allure of FFG’s Living Card Games is the low entry cost.

If you’re looking for a card game to take up with your friends without the massive financial commitment of Magic, these might be the games for you. But more interestingly, the asymmetrical play of Netrunner and Star Wars create different strategic challenges than the game of Magic, or at least they provide more challenges since you are essentially playing two variations of the same game.

Deckbound (EVA Plexus)

Deckbound was definitely the most unique game I saw at PAX East this year. All of the cards in Deckbound’s base set are unique. That is because they are seeded using the unique bitchain algorithm which keeps the bitcoin economic transaction system secure. Basically when you open a pack of Deckbound cards, as I understand it, the game simulates a bitchain transaction. It then uses the unique bitchain to generate a pack of ten unique playing cards featuring the 20 mechanics in Deckbound’s core set.

Official Site: Deckbound Heroes
Twitter: @deckbound
Facebook: Deckbound
Reddit: N/A
Status: Closed Beta

I have to admit that I still don’t really understand how Deckbound cards come into existence but I do understand that it is a very unique process, the game itself is very unique as a result, there will be a thriving secondary market for the more unique cards, and the demo of the game in beta was a lot of fun to play.

The gameplay is actually pretty straightforward. You and your opponent have 15 life and you are trying to bring it down to zero. The battlefield has four outposts which you can fight for control over, which grants you the ability to use the outpost to attack your opponent. Your cards have abilities like dealing damage to an outpost, damage to any target, damage to everything, healing yourself, rebuilding outposts, and so on. The more powerful abilities can only be used once every few turns.

The game is quick and intuitive. The cards are interesting. There is massive secondary market potential.

Keep this game on your radars.

Pokemon TCG Online (Pokemon)

Yes, Pokemon. This is the entirely free-to-play digital version of the incredibly successful children’s card game based on the cartoon series. I don’t have a lot to say about Pokemon because as a game it has been around for almost as long as Magic the Gathering. However, the digital version has been front-and-center lately and it’s worth discussing for one key reason which we’ll discuss in a moment.

Official Site: Pokemon TCGO
Reddit: /r/ptcgo
Status: Live on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android

You either like Pokemon as a game or you don’t. It has a lot of different mechanics than Magic but ultimately there’s probably far too much variance in the game for it to be a true competitor to Magic. However, it looks good in digital format. Something we can’t say for Magic. It also looks good on Mac, iOS, and Android. That’s something else we can’t say about Magic.

Oh and you can play online for free. Another strike against Magic Online.

Because of the variance and perception of Pokemon as a children’s game it will likely never be the kind of competition for Magic that Hearthstone is (even though HS has tons of variance as well). But the digital platform is much more robust for play and has so much more going for it than Magic. If Magic Online doesn’t get its act together, it could have two competitors instead of one.

Epic Card Game (White Wizard)

Our final game comes to us from the design studio of Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame members Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty. This is a game similar to Netrunner in that you don’t have to buy booster packs and it isn’t a trade product. For a low cost it has a lot of variations including Sealed Deck, Draft, Cube, Constructed, and multiplayer variants.

Official Site: Epic Card Game
Twitter: @epiccardgame
Facebook: EpicCardGame
Reddit: /r/epiccardgame
Status: Live with Sanctioned Competitive Play

What else is exciting about Epic is that there’s a $100,000 world championship being held this year. Since the game is designed by Magic players there are obviously a lot of similarities mechanically, so this should be an easy game to pick up if you have a lot of Magic experience. Epic’s expansions, like Netrunner, are non-tradable, as every pack has the same contents. For $35 you could pick up one copy of every single card in the game. You can have up to three copies of any card in your deck, so you’ll need to shell out $105 to play Epic Constructed competitively for a shot at the world championship.

That’s it. $105 spent and you can get on the competition circuit for a $100k pot tournament. Some of you spend that much money drafting on a weekly basis.

Epic is definitely the lowest-cost-barrier game with a competitive scene, though that scene is mostly isolated to New England. Still, you can never get into a game too early, and for $100 and repeatable limited and constructed play, you can’t really go wrong with this one.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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