This is going to be a terrific year for Magic: The Gathering fans. As if the great Magic: The Gathering Arena wasn’t enough of a time sink, at least two more exciting games based on the popular trading card game will release during 2020. Magic: Legends from Cryptic Studios is the franchise’s take on Diablo, while Magic: ManaStrike mixes elements from tower defense and collectible card games. In a nutshell, it can be described as Clash Royale but set in the MTG universe.
But the more observant among you will surely compare it to another strategy game, the outstanding Minion Masters. As soon as you set foot into the arena of Magic: ManaStrike, the similarities jump right at your face. It’s a borrowed concept that isn’t trying to win any awards for originality, but it’s impossible to shake off this sense of familiarity. You’ve played this several times before, but this time it draws from a legacy brimming with stunning artwork, years and years of rich lore, and the knowledge that there’s an established fanbase willing to give it a go.
Magic: the Battle Arena | Magic: ManaStrike Review
As any fan of MTG knows, five unique colors of mana play an essential role in the game: white, blue, black, red, and green. Each Planeswalker embodies a specific color and sometimes a pair of colors, allowing you to use the respective cards. There is an overall player rank tracking your progress, but each Planeswalker levels up independently as well, going from beginner to mythic masteries. This is a great incentive to try the various Planeswalkers and experiment with different strategies, unlocking several dozens of cards in the process. You begin with a handful of Planeswalkers, but there is a vast selection to unlock or purchase from the shop with in-game currency.
As you level up your rank, you unlock various types of rewards. Winning a match earns you a few points to climb the rank, but losing a battle also shaves some points from your overall score. The Magic Pass is the Battle Pass of Magic: ManaStrike, with a free common reward path, and a paid magic path providing the best loot.
Before you step into the arena, which is your traditional battlefield with two lanes, you must choose a Planeswalker and a deck of seven cards comprised of units and spells. Each card summon requires a set amount of mana, and you only have four to choose from, with the next random card replacing the spot left vacant from the last used card. You can upgrade the cards by using in-game gold and identical cards, a mechanic that is recurring in this type of arena battlers.
Seeing how the Planeswalker cards were translated into game characters in Magic: ManaStrike is delightful. Heroes such as Chandra Nalaar, Nissa Revane, and Rowan and Will Kenrith, among several others, are brought to life thanks to detailed character models and a faithful recreation of their abilities in the battlefield. Choosing one Planeswalker to main isn’t an easy task, due to the appealing artwork and the multiplicity of cards at your disposal.
The Planeswalkers bring their intricate special ability into battle. Chandra, for example, can use a devastating leap that drains a substantial part of the enemy’s health. On the other hand, Nissa is able to increase the attack power of nearby allies for a set duration, and Jace can summon two illusions with the same attack power, but only one health point each. Finding the best way to use these skills in the arena takes you one step closer to victory. Here is one crucial Magic: Manastrike tip for beginners: summon a couple of strong minions to lead the way, and then deploy your Planeswalker to keep him protected and dealing heavy damage to the incoming creatures.
There is one additional advantage that the Planeswalker hero brings to your team, which is the ability to summon minions on the opponent’s half. Normally, you’re restricted to deploying creatures on your half of the arena, but the Planeswalker comes with his or her own little summoning area, something that is of utmost importance – for example, this allows you to unleash a barrage of creatures right in the face of the rival’s boss, eventually turning a doomed battle on its head.
Playing Magic: ManaStrike is extremely simple and intuitive, thanks to a superb UI and clean design. It’s not the most complex strategy game that you’re going to find, but it achieves its purpose and entertains, while being fairly challenging.
Each battle has a time limit of three minutes, a duration that can be slightly extended if there is a draw when the timer ends. You get an instant win by destroying the rival boss, or you can win by scoring more points than your rival through the elimination of one or two guardians. When there’s only one minute to go, ManaStrike activates, providing faster mana regeneration and subsequently a larger number of units in the battlefield.
Magic: ManaStrike is a fun game and it can be challenging as well, as you experiment with new decks and Planeswalkers. Combining units and discovering a winning deck is always a great moment, and those close-call wins are going to fill you with joy. The downside of this is that the game sometimes feels streamlined or slightly unbalanced, as you stick to the three or four cards that seem capable of taking down the opposition without much thought or strategy.
If you find yourself on a winning streak, don’t jump to conclusions about your extraordinary tactical expertise – apparently, Magic: ManaStrike uses bots to ease players in, just as Mario Kart Tour and Call of Duty Mobile do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, apart from the feeling that this should be clearly disclosed to avoid giving players a false sense of accomplishment.
There is nothing remarkably innovative about Magic: ManaStrike. However, that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of the game; instead, it aims to create an engaging arena battler inspired by the lore and characters of MTG, and it clearly achieves the goal.
Magic: ManaStrike is a multiplayer-only game, so you’re expected to face other players as you climb the season ranks. Except for the occasional bot, you must put on your best strategist cap in order to defeat some of the challengers. The game plays nearly flawlessly and there were no big delays when joining a match.
Graphics / Sound: 8/10
The Planeswalkers art that you see on the game menu are stunning, and the whole game has a pretty much flawless presentation. Seeing the card units come to life for the first time is an exciting moment, especially for diehard MTG fans, and while the models may be a bit small for comfort, there’s enough detail to differentiate them during the most heated clashes.
There’s some tense music to get your blood pumping during the main screen, while the battles are punctuated by unit cries and occasional voice overs of good quality. However, it gets a bit tiring hearing the same “I’m not done here yet” line over and over again.
Value for Money: 8/10
Any fan of MTG should give this a go, since this digital game is heavily focused in the card collecting aspect as well. Besides, the Magic: ManaStrike download is free and you can purchase additional Planeswalkers with in-game currency, so it’s not like it is forcing your hand into the cash shop. Naturally, it takes some time to collect all the heroes, but you can enjoy the game all the same with the ones that are available right from the start.
Far from bringing anything new to the table, Magic: ManaStrike sticks to the tried-and-tested standards of the genre to deliver a solid and compelling effort. It’s a skillfully designed game that is both fun and challenging, offers a decent amount of free rewards, and ties in neatly with the MTG legacy. You should give it a go if you’re a fan of the IP, but even if you’re a simple enthusiast of competitive strategy games, you can’t go wrong with this one either.
Fun gameplay with enough depth
Nice selection of Planeswalkers
Superb UI design
Good artwork and 3D models
The formula becomes repetitive
Difficult to tell if you are facing a bot or a human