December will mark the two-year anniversary of the release of Magic: the Gathering Puzzle Quest, so I decided to reinstall the app and reacquaint myself with the game. I took some time at HasCon to meet up with Brian Etheridge, senior director of digital operations for D3 Go! and Michael Cerven, senior manager of marketing and communications for D3 Go!

So what qualifies me to review Magic: the Gathering Puzzle Quest? I’ve played Magic on and off since the release of Ice Age in 1995, and I put down the game competitively in favor of writing about it after the release of Dragon’s Maze in 2013. I also play a lot of mobile video games, logging anywhere from 10 to 30 hours weekly on a variety of games.

Puzzle Quest of course isn’t a new concept. The original debuted as a portable console game on the PSP in Japan and the DS in America about a decade ago. A sequel was released in 2010, and things really exploded in 2013 with the release of the wildly popular Marvel Puzzle Quest. Early in 2015 D3 Go! rolled the dice with Adventure Time Puzzle Quest and followed it up with Magic: the Gathering Puzzle Quest, which brings us to this review.

Review Scores

I like to start my reviews with the final scores. I do this for two reasons, first because I want you to understand how I feel about the game before wasting your time reading the next thousand words I wrote about it. Second, because I doubt anyone besides my editor is going to read those thousand words. This way you can get the final conclusion and go read something else.

How this works is I look at ten different aspects of the game and grade them on a score from zero to five where zero means the game is absolutely atrocious and five means it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. The overall score is the sum of all ten, so it’s out of 50 points. Most games are mediocre, to be honest, so if a game scores somewhere around 25 that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, just that it’s exactly what the score suggests: average.

Overall Score: 24.5/50.0—So yeah, Magic: the Gathering Puzzle Quest is pretty average. If you’re familiar with Magic then you’ll understand the vocabulary pretty quickly but you might also be confused. You can collect cards, but not necessarily the ones you want. You can play on the ladder and in events, but they might get repetitive. You’ll be inundated with rewards, but you might not feel rewarded. The game looks good, but nothing to write home about. It’s enjoyable, but your mileage on how long that enjoyment lasts is going to vary.

Fun Factor: 3.0/5.0—I think MTGPQ is fun, but only in short bursts. Your mileage will certainly vary based on the cards you randomly acquire and if they line up with your personal style of play. If you’re looking for splashy combos that require a few different rares, you might not find the game enjoyable. If you’re happy smashing your opponent’s face with whichever creatures RNGesus dealt you, then this could be the game for you.

Complexity: 2.0/5.0—It’s possible that MTGPQ successfully made a version of Magic that’s actually more complicated than paper Magic. The way creatures attack, basic mechanics work, advanced mechanics work, and deck-building works are all somewhat familiar if you’ve played Magic, but different enough that you might be overwhelmed by maintaining a new set of vocabulary definitions for the exact same words. If I had never played Magic before I might have found the game to be less complex, and that’s a problem.

Strategic Depth: 4.0/5.0—On the other hand, the impressive size of the game’s card catalog provides for a lot of strategy options. While some, or many, of these are not available to the free-to-play community, the various deck options are definitely there. Control, Combo, and Aggro variants abound as well as options for tribal decks and well-known strategies like burn and reanimator can be played.

Player vs. AI: 3.5/5.0—There are plenty of story missions with challenging objectives alongside PvE events that will give you a lot of things to do in-game if you aren’t attracted to player vs. player combat. Some of the cooler events involve guild battles to collectively defeat larger opponents. The rewards include in-game currency, and they’re pretty easy to obtain even for entry-level players.

Player vs. Player: 2.5/5.0—There’s a player vs. player mode and that’s basically all there is to say about it. There’s a daily ladder and then occasional multi-day events. They’re not bad, but they’re not terribly exciting. What gives this category a higher score than that description might have implied is the fact that the rewards for the PvP ladder are easy to obtain, similar to PvE events.

Graphics: 2.5/5.0—There’s nothing to write home about here. The game offers very little in the way of animations. The match-three board is pretty standard with licensed mana symbols. “Void” mana generated by Eldrazi is just a black crystal, which was a bit disappointing. What was most disappointing though was the lack of any sort of animations for some of the cooler game effects. There’s just some sparkling lines that go from one place to another.

Economic Value: 2.0/5.0—Ultimately Magic is a collectible game and MTGPQ tries to capture that. Unfortunately you basically have to spend money if you want to collect rare, mythic rare, or masterpiece cards. I haven’t gotten to the higher rungs of the PvP ladders but I imagine they are full of these pay-to-win cards. That said, there’s plenty of replay value for free-to-play players, just no real option of breaking through the next tier’s ceiling without money or a lot of luck when opening your free packs. That said, free packs are fairly abundant, so may the odds be ever in your favor.

In-Game Events: 3.0/5.0—There are in-game events and they give out plenty of rewards, so that’s nice. However, there isn’t a lot of interesting design behind the events. Sometimes they have flavor, such as having to play vehicles to get better prizes in a Kaladesh event, but otherwise you’re playing the same game. I do like that the events a) encourage you to experiment with deck builds you wouldn’t use for normal competitive play, and b) give you an extra deck slot to build your experimental event deck.

Replay Value: 2.0/5.0—Again, your mileage here may vary depending on how much of a completionist you are and how much patience you have for RNGesus. If you’re able to build decks that suit your play style, you could easily be logging in every day. If the game doesn’t click for you then you’ll likely put it down. I suspect most players either pick the game up for a week and decide it isn’t for them, or they play it for months or longer.

More Words on This Game

When I met with the folks from D3 Go! at HasCon I asked them who their biggest audience is: Magic players or non-Magic players. The answer was more surprising than I thought—the largest audience of MTGPQ players is lapsed/former Magic players. Folks who no longer have the time and/or money to play Magic: the Gathering but still want a Magic experience have been attracted to MTGPQ.

That’s not surprising. The game is fun, if not as fun as Magic. The game is collectible, though not as collectible as Magic—or Hearthstone for that matter. All of the elements of Magic: the Gathering including the story and expansions are there in MTGPQ, but it’s more of a lightweight experience.

You may have seen in the news that the development studio that had been working on MTGPQ, Hibernium, closed their doors and was replaced with Oktagon. This has resulted in the delay of the release of Ixalan to MTGPQ as well as a delay in the long-promised feature to allow players to craft packs with the abundant amounts of otherwise useless currency they get in-game.

It remains to be seen if Oktagon can breathe new life into MTGPQ for its two-year anniversary. As I said above, the game is fun and there are events and collectible cards but the whole thing feels a bit too repetitive and grindy without much of a payoff coming at the end. Unless you’re really in need of a mobile MTG experience you might not get a lot out of MTGPQ.

And none of that considers what will happen to MTGPQ when Magic: the Gathering Arena is released (theoretically some time next year). The two games will be targeting a similar niche on mobile platforms and it’s possible players from MTGPQ will be siphoned off to play MTG Arena. Without some new features, MTGPQ may struggle to maintain its player base.

While MTG Puzzle Quest is an average game at best today, it has potential for more which is thanks to the strength of the brand as well as the depth of the mechanics available to the match-three genre. That said, there’s also a lot of competition within the genre with Marvel and Final Fantasy flavors of match-three games available.

If you’re a die-hard Magic fan, I recommend giving MTG Puzzle Quest a try, especially if you haven’t played Magic in a while and are looking for a compact version you can play on the go. If you’re into match-three games, but not necessarily into Magic, then you’ll probably get tired of the pack-opening grind pretty quickly.

We’ll update this review if Oktagon makes any drastic changes in the future.

Rich enjoys playing mobile games of all shapes and sizes and is currently regularly playing Shop Hero, Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, Magic the Gathering Puzzle Quest, and Marvel Future Fight. Hit him up on Twitter @RichStein13 if you’re looking to get into any or all of these or want to suggest other mobile games for him to review!

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