A Tactical Choice

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As a gamer of the 90’s I had the immense pleasure of living through the golden resurgence of video games. Nintendo, Sega, and Sony all made massive efforts – some more successful than others – to corner and maintain market share. One of the most surprising of these changes was that of Square moving from exclusivity with Nintendo to Sony, a shift prompted partly by the politics of the era as well as technology changes.

It’s in this era, with that switch, that put Final Fantasy Tactics onto the PlayStation system. What Final Fantasy VII did to put RPGs into the mainstream, FFT did for the tactical strategy genre. I don’t need to state how beloved it still is today for many of your fond memories to bubble back again.

Or, as Geordie Tait so elegantly put it on Twitter:

Magic: The Gathering - Tactics is a game that, until recently, was under the radar and baselessly derided. With a storm of momentum, kicked off by a media blitz to just about every major source of Magic news and discussion, we’re now on the cusp of the public reveal. I had the opportunity to join in the beta period for Tactics and I definitely put some time into the world Sony created.

What I want to share today is how I look at Tactics, through the eyes of someone looking casually at Tactics and what it can offer players like us.

As Good as an Emulator

While there are certainly a few final changes that resulted from the efforts everyone who participated in the beta some features are quite clear and translate well to the release, namely: the game is free.

If it hasn’t been made clear for you yet, the game is free. Well, mostly (more on this later). But for simply downloading and joining in you get the following:

  • The starting campaign and sampling of cards from all colors
  • Access to online play, both of the competitive and just-with-friends varieties
  • Access to the marketplace of cards within the game

What this means is that you don’t have anything stopping you from playing as little, or as much, as you’d like. The initial campaign, from my experience, was fairly interesting with the standard sequencing of scenarios that gradually ramp up in difficulty. While I’m sure a serious player will run it through it short order it comes with the re-playability of starting over and using a complete different set of colors.

Adding to the mix is that even without buying booster packs or playing competitively, you can duel your friends and play around with only those you’d like to. Essentially, you’re getting complete access to the game, even seeing spells and creatures available only through booster packs, by being able to play with anyone - just like the updates for most MMOs on the market.

Auction Kings

Let’s say you have a little money to spend however you see fit. Buying Station Cash allows you the currency of the game. Similar to other freemium type games, by throwing money in you gain significant power to do more:

  • Buy booster packs from the store
  • Buy additional campaigns – the rest of the story you don’t have
  • Bid and pay for auctions for specific cards

While booster packs lend themselves to drafting and cracking a normal, and auctions are self-explanatory, it’s the expanded campaign that has me most interested. While I might grumble a bit about DLC (downloadable content) that feels like it should be part of the game at launch, I do enjoy following up on things when there’s more to the story (and the additional story is a negligible amount more than the cost of one booster pack).

How and what types of competition, and the costs thereof, aren’t something I looked at because that’s not what I do. But for a paltry few bucks I get a “complete” game at launch. This is something I’m fine with.

But, again, the base is free. You can try out a lot of the game (and the tutorial seems to be fixed from the initial preview offered to those who traveled to Denver) through the initial campaign before even considering going for more.

No, I’m Not LFM

One of the early bits of information about Tactics was shared through Penny Arcade in their interview with John Smedley of Sony Online Entertainment:

Smed: Obviously we'll have dueling, and we'll investigate other ways to use your cards, but the single player experience is also very important to us.  Long term, campaigns are a major focus. … [A]bout seventy percent of Legends of Norrath and PoxNora players play it that way.

I got hooked on strategy games playing against the computer. While I have played against others online it was strictly in massive free-for-all StarCraft games at LAN parties (who has those anymore) and a modem-to-modem game of WarCraft: Orcs and Humans well over a decade ago.

I’m not exaggerating.

The campaign is robust and was something I enjoyed playing through. The prospect of more, with the ability to replay through it using different colors, is the biggest draw the game has for me. Picking up a game or three against a few friends will certainly be in order, but focusing on enjoying the tactical pursuits, toying with the intelligence to see how it reacts to different information, and looking for the optimal strategies  given wildly different options for decks is exactly how I’ve enjoyed strategy games of the past.

Why would this change at all now?

While it’s obvious at this point that this won’t be the next generation Final Fantasy Tactics or something that replaces it in my heart, it will be a way to enjoy the themes of Magic in a soundly single-player way. And that concept is nearly completely unique as far as Magic goes.

I encourage you to check out, specifically the forums, to see some of the questions and answers that are already out there. I suspect that Tactics is not going to be a competitive powerhouse like Magic Online but will instead be a place for casuals to gather and flourish, like it is in other online card game equivalents already put out by Sony.

I know I’m going to be there; see you there tomorrow, too!

Adam Styborski

Adam Styborski is a Magic player, marketer, and writer based out of the Washington, D.C. metro area. An acolyte of big events, kitchen tables, and everything inbetween, Adam finds interesting and contemplative subject matter across the entire range of Magic. With his trusty pauper cube, EDH decks, and occasional Constructed favorite you'll find just about everything touched at some point - mainly what you are asking to hear. As an editor for Quiet Speculation, Adam is a resource for your suggestions, submissions, questions, and concerns about anything that doesn't involve tournament decks and financial musings. You can reach out to him at or on Twitter as @the_stybs.

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