You’ll be forgiven if you happened to forget that two years ago Wizards of the Coast and mobile game developer Netmarble announced “Project M,” an upcoming mobile title which would be designed with the Magic: the Gathering brand. We now know that Project M is in fact called ManaStrike, and this weekend I had the opportunity to give it a spin on my own.

ManaStrike is what’s known as a tower rush game, popularized by the highly successful Clash Royale. Players build a deck with creatures, buildings, and spells as well as a planeswalker commander. Each card has a mana cost and your mana builds up over time. You spend mana to play cards which puts your creatures or buildings on the board or casts spells.

Each player has three towers, two small towers that each defend a single lane (top or bottom) and a third tower which can only be accessed by destroying one of the smaller towers. You get a point for destroying a small tower, and if you destroy the large tower in the back you win 3 points automatically.

Netmarble has expanded on Clash Royale’s design by adding the planeswalker leaders as well as by creating color-specific units and spells which can only go in a deck with a planeswalker of the same color. Over the weekend I was able to build and play decks featuring Nissa Revane, Chandra Nalaar, and Gideon Jura.

The game currently also features Ajani Goldmane, Jace Beleren, and Liliana Vess as starter characters that you begin with for free, and a long list of premium planeswalkers including Garruk, Tamiyo, Kiora, Sorin, Will and Rowan, Dovin Baan, Tezzeret, Domri Rade, Vraska, and Nahiri. I was not able to progress far enough to unlock any of the multi-colored planeswalkers.

ManaStrike is definitely fun to play in short bursts. Games only last a few minutes. I mostly was paired, I believe, against an AI that wasn’t all that spectacular, and likely inflated my ego of how good I actually am at Clash Royale games. I’m sure if I load up the genre’s namesake, I’ll quickly have my opinion of my self brought back down to its rightful place.

Where ManaStrike really was genuinely fun though was in how frequently it gave out prize packs. I was basically adding more cards to my collection constantly, and with a ton of options across all five colors as well as colorless there is a lot of opportunity for experimentation and looking for the most effective combos and strategies. I had a lot of success with a Nissa deck running all large creatures (very on-flavor for green) and a Chandra deck running a lot of burn effects. I had very little success with the equivalent of a white weenie deck, so Netmarble has really figured out how to make this game feel like Magic: the Gathering.

Lastly, ManaStrike has a few special events including a Draft mode where players go back and forth picking cards from the same pool. Whatever you don’t pick can be picked by your opponent. I didn’t have a ton of time to explore that mode because the queue was very long, likely because it couldn’t pair me against an AI. When the game exits its closed beta—no date known at this time—I really look forward to giving that a try and seeing if it can breath life into the genre.

It’s worth noting that earlier in 2019 Netmarble shut down Star Wars: Force Arena, which was very similar in design to ManaStrike, including units that could only be used in one faction. One of the largest user complaints about Force Arena when it shut down after two years was making the game too expensive to grind when it came to acquiring leaders. The fact that ManaStrike has put the leaders, that is Planeswalkers, available in a static way instead of behind random packs bodes well for ManaStrike.

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