Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel vs Magic Arena
Time to have a big whinge
Let’s get this started right off the bat: there is no way in hell I would ever compare Yu-Gi-Oh! to Magic: The Gathering. Two impossibly different games within the same genre, it’d be like telling you that Counter-Strike is better than DOOM 2016. It’s impossible.
I can, however, after a number of years with Magic Arena and some time with Master Duel, compare them as video game conversions of games that are exceptionally dense with rules, variations and formats.
Magic: The Gathering has always had a video game companion wherever it went, even when it was the only real Trading Card Game back in the 90s, there was a game simply referred to Magic: The Gathering and has since been given a nickname of Shandalar, due to its setting. Converting Magic back then into a game wasn’t too difficult, but as it has exploded in size and popularity since its inception in 1993, it now must account for things so esoteric that Wizards of the Coast – the developers – have to still account for things like Banding and Horsemanship, even though these mechanics have long since been retired.
Magic Online was the premiere place to play the game against other people, even when more modern editions like the Planeswalker Duels and yearly iterations on a base concept were around on things like Xbox Live Arcade.
It was a clunky, utility first, design second sort of deal. It still is, as it has maintained its audience with its complete package mentality, but still looks like it dropped out at the latter end of 1999. Yes, even in 2003 when it launched, this game was not particularly well-liked for its user interface.
It does however manage to convert the game of Magic, along with all its many rules and esoteric design that works well on paper, but not so much in a video game. But you can’t rely on a program that is so severely outdated – even with new updates – to bring in the audiences. So, Magic Arena was conceived, bringing a new fresh coat of paint to the video game world of Magic, while also attempting to regain some footing lost due to the direct competition with games like Hearthstone or Shadowverse swooping in and dominating the newly revitalised space of TCG video games. (Video card games?)
Hell, even Pokemon has been at it for a long while – but we’ll come back to that.
Magic Arena is not a very well made video game. The core functionality of the game’s mechanics all work and games often go the same way that they would on paper, but Hasbro and Wizards seem determined to undermine any progress made in the space and also, more importantly, the players’ enjoyment.
I understand that video game development is hard, especially when designing around a game adaptation that is literally Turing Complete and also so complex it could be used as its own computer in certain cases. But Magic Arena is oftentimes utterly broken in multiple ways.
Crashes, missing art, bugs and various other issues – namely design choices – are all part of the experience.
This is where the comparison with Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel comes in, a newer title, but one with also a history of video game adaptations. It also helps to have Konami behind the scenes, for as much as we all detest them, they know how to make a video game to sucker you in. Just look at all the pachinko machines they make!
In the brief time, I’ve spent with Master Duel, I can absolutely say that it is a better video game. The game of YGO! aside, the overall feel and personality thrown into it is just much more inviting. It’s not that it is a video game first, card game second like the other single-player entries from years past, but it is an excellent recreation of the card game in video game form. Everything you want as a new player or even veteran is there, along with constant reminders of what’s happening and clear user interfaces that aim to make playing YGO a sublime experience.
Konami has been smart with Yu-Gi-Oh! in the past too, splitting the game’s many variations into different games. If you weren’t so much as interested in Duel Links, which used the ‘Speed Duels’ method of play for mobile phones, then you never had to participate in it. If you wanted the full-bodied experience, that too was on offer in multiple different ways and frequently refreshed with new concepts being brought to the video games.
Magic Arena has forgotten this, with its new additions being a detriment to the overall experience of a collectable card game in a free-to-play form. Magic Arena was originally meant to be a more approachable version of the game to all players, but it is now a convoluted mess of experiments that directly impact the game.
Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh! differ in that MTG regularly rotates out its card pool for ‘Standard’, to freshen up the game each year. YGO however is more akin to MTG’s eternal formats, which use a ban list instead. This means players who are interested in using their more powerful, older cards in MTG have room to play how they want and those who keep up to date with the standard metagame can co-exist.
Master Duel is actually using a ban list too, to avoid any confusion, but Magic Arena has adopted to morph their version of the game’s classic ‘Modern’ format – which allows people to use any card post-8th edition as long as it isn’t on a ban list – and turn the ‘Historic’ format (which uses particular cards from Magic’s history as well as allowing non-banned cards from around 2016’s set Kaladesh to be used) into this sandbox for them to alter cards that are particularly broken and ‘patch them’.
This forces players into a corner. Either they deal with this new ‘Alchemy’ mode that has been integrated into Historic or go back to Magic Online for a more traditional experience. There’s no option for ‘Alchemy’ or no ‘Alchemy’, rendering a lot of the goodwill built up with the expansion of Historic to be completely lost.
While Master Duel has only really just launched, you can already see that there is a clear plan of attack for how to handle the core crooks of the game and that isn’t to touch the core concept. Sure, it needs less reliance on me grabbing the mouse to use the interface and I do wish I could press the space bar for confirmation, but it’s early days.
However, even with it being early days, I know from previous experiences that Master Duel will stay the course. Duel Links didn’t start to drip in regular Yu-Gi-Oh! style games as it went on and the other entries in its video game franchise have always pretty much routinely and exceptionally recreated the game.
While Master Duel absolutely needs less focus on a ranked play and to smooth the edges, I know it’ll get there. It happened with Duel Links, it’ll happen with this.
Magic Arena, I don’t know. I have no idea what it is doing. The battle passes are cruelly reduced, while still charging the same amount and the hard limits on what you can do each week as to not progress too much is a grotesque piece of manipulation.
I mentioned the Pokemon TCG above, which to be perfectly honest, I haven’t touched since 2017 when I swapped over to MTG. However, the difference between the friendliness of their game and these two? It’s an astronomical difference. If you wanted to build both collections – physical and digital – you could simply purchase the things you would anyway and be given a code for an in-game pack or recreation of the packaged product you just bought.
Neither MTG nor YGO does this, forcing a divide between the collections that I and you own. It is absurd that no one else has caught on to do this, it’s basically free money.
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