The first recorded playing cards were invented way back during the Tang dynasty, and since then, card games have taken on lives and personalities of their own. Cards can embody the spirit of fantastical creatures, mighty warriors, glittering enchantments, and devastating spells, and that’s where the cult-classic Magic: The Gathering comes into play. 

Fans of Magic have been wrapped up in the card game since its initial premiere back in 1993. Since then, the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired franchise has grown two-fold with new lore, elegantly crafted art, diverse characters, and annual events. The game has tackled every platform it could grasp, and now it’s found a new mountain to conquer: the mobile app. Luckily for fans, Netmarble, one of the top mobile game companies in the world, partnered with Magic’s creators to bring the fantastical card game to the mobile sphere with Magic: Mana Strike.

Magic: Mana Strike plays similarly to Fire Emblem Heroes, a player versus player (PvP) strategy role-playing game (RPG) that requires players to take on the role of a summoner and collect various heroes to fight at their side. The game appears to take inspiration from Magic, but it doesn’t play the same way as a traditional round of the physical card game. The app version features famous spells, characters, and creature cards brought to life with beautifully animated 3D sequences.

When you first download the game, you’re greeted by an opening screen that captures the drama of Magic’s character conflicts. The screen is split in two with iconic planeswalker heroes facing off against one another and leaping forward into battle. Players who are unfamiliar with the lore of Magic can easily move past their unfamiliarity to appreciate the artistic care that was taken to render and animate each character. Dramatic music sets the stage of the title screen as an intense space of competition and intrigue — all of which are qualities that drive the spirit of Magic: The Gathering.

The opening sequence is what really pulls you into the game. Nicol Bolas, dragon-god and legendary entity, throws the player into the dynamic world of Magic. Bolas describes how he has ruled the multiverse for millennia. As a god, he has destroyed countless heroes, other gods, and worlds, but there are an arrogant few who stood against his control: the planeswalkers. His main goal is to learn their strengths and weaknesses so he may harness their power for his own — the player takes on the role of a summoner under Bolas’ supervision. As the dramatic opening sequence comes to a close, Bolas manifests a new world through meditation — if that isn’t extra, I don’t know what is — and the gameplay begins. 

The battlefield is a rectangular space that has two god-like figures at each end, plus two large grunts who act as extra defense. Your main goal is to kill the enemy player’s god, but taking out the grunts will also earn you some points. You play by dragging and dropping different creatures and spell cards onto the battlefield. The creature cards go on auto-pilot and charge into battle, attacking whatever enemy comes close. The gameplay was easy to understand since all I had to do was drag and drop cards onto the playing field; the key to winning each round is saving certain spell cards and pairing your planeswalker card with the best creature card. Each round is quick, only lasting about three minutes before going into a sudden-death mode — a countdown mode in which both sides of the playing field rush to take as many points as possible — concludes each round. 

Magic: Mana Strike is not the card game it’s inspired by, and that isn’t a bad thing. You don’t have to know anything about the original game’s lore or rules to enjoy the mobile rendition. It’s a perfect launch point for someone who has wanted to dip their toes into the realm of Magic: The Gathering, but who may not know where to start. Overall, the gameplay isn’t a lot alike, either. The planeswalker, creature, and spell cards are pulled directly from the original card game, but the mobile game lacks the enchantments and land cards that fill important roles in the physical game. One clear similarity, though, is that customizing your card deck is just as exciting as it is with a physical deck. You start off with five planeswalker cards, so you also have five card decks to customize based on your play style and plan of attack. 

The beginner lineup includes Chandra Nalaar, Ajami Goldmane, Nissa Revane, Liliana Vess, and Jace Beleren; each planeswalker has different abilities, combat ranges, elemental effects, and lore surrounding them. Certain planeswalkers pair better with different creature cards on the battlefield; a successful battle all comes down to your deck, so choose wisely. Players who want an extra layer to their decks but don’t want to grind for hours can buy gold coins to purchase deck boosters and planeswalkers, or they can wait for a cooldown to earn gold for free (who doesn’t love free gold?)

Magic: Mana Strike is a quick-paced, enjoyable fighting and creature-collection game that is a lot of fun to master. The rules are easier to understand than the card game itself, and players will be introduced to the colorful world of Magic without the headache of learning about a planeswalker’s loyalty stat, land effects, and what goes into a card graveyard. Whether you’re looking for another phone app that’s based around a fandom you love or for something new, you could say this game is pretty magical

The game is available now from the App Store and Google Play.

Photos: Netmarble