Spellweaver TCG is a fantasy online collectible card game featuring six unique factions, daily and campaign quests and a strong focus on PvP (player versus player) combat. It is currently in Closed Beta, with a projected Open Beta arriving in April of 2015. We’ve been given access in order to bring to you an inside look as to how the TCG is developing, what it looks like, how well it plays and to give you our own personal opinion on the game so far.
So let’s jump right in and see what’s going down in Spellweaver. Does it have what it takes to be the ever-elusive “Magic killer”? Read on to find out…
Before we get to what features the game has, let’s look at the core gameplay. If you are at all familiar with how Magic: the Gathering plays, you’ll be well equipped here to have an idea of how Spellweaver plays, but hold your horses. This is no craven “fly-by-night” Magic clone that has been done to dust already – this is the purest evolution of the Magic-style of gameplay currently in existence, in my opinion, based on including all the modern design elements that we have come to expect from more recent games such as Hearthstone.
If Cryptozoic’s HEX: Shards of Fate feels a bit like “Magic 2.0”, Spellweaver would be light-years ahead at “Magic 3.0” – such is the innovation shown here in updating and evolving so many of Magic’s dated design flaws. With that said, assuming you’re familiar with the fundamentals of Magic: the Gathering, what makes Spellweaver so different and such an improvement over and above Magic?
Spellweaver has all the essentials, if by different names: Creatures are the same, Sorceries are simply called Spells (and even Instants are called Instant Spells), Artifacts are the same, but Lands are completely different, called “Shrines” and one of the game’s best selling points (I’ll come to those later). While Creatures look familiar at the outset, there is a whole new level to which they operate that reinvigorates the Magic-style of combat.
Creatures have the usual attack and health stats, equivalent to Magic’s Power and Toughness, and health works here like Magic’s Toughness rather than Hearthstone’s “sticky damage”. However, there’s an added dimension here – Speed. Speed can be from 0 to 4 and works as a kind of combat initiative value – Creatures can only block and be blocked by Creatures who have the same or higher Speed value.
This makes the board state a bit more complex to work out at times, especially since attack targets can actually be chosen by the attacker (but the defender can sub in defenders of their own if they’re not exhausted and have the right Speed). Even with this added layer of complexity, it makes Creature combat refreshing and exciting again and now I don’t know how I could ever go back to seeing Power and Toughness alone as sufficient for interesting combat.
There is also notably more of a spacial dimension here than Magic’s battlefield, with a front line and support line at the back. Creatures in the support line are protected from attacks, but can’t attack from there unless they have an ability that lets them do that. Some damage Spells only target a whole line rather than the whole field, so there’s more strategy here to where Creatures are positioned than just being all clumped together on your side of the battlefield.
Shrines, or “How I Learned to Love Resource Cards Again”
Shrines work as your resource cards, but they’re much, much more useful than Magic’s Lands. Firstly, each Shrine is inherently multi-purpose: it provides either 1 permanent threshold of its color to your Spellweaver (your in-game Hero) called a “Level”, or you can choose instead to have it give your Spellweaver +1 permanent Mana and +1 card draw right there and then. Once you have your Mana, it’s all colorless, and you just need to have the requisite Levels to play the colored cards you want to play.
The +1 card draw is really useful as well, making the flow of games and hand management a lot swifter. There is also a free use ability, once per turn, to discard any card in your hand, look at the top 4 cards of your deck and take a Shrine if there is one among them (either way, you’ll still lose the card you chose to discard, so there’s a small element of risk here). This helps stop the infamous “mana screw” problem of Magic and I don’t know how I could do without it now. It even functions as a “deck thinning” mechanic once you’ve got your Shrine requirements and want to reduce the possibility of drawing more. It’s a spark of brilliance that I can’t praise highly enough.
Shrines sometimes even have an additional ability instead of the +1 card draw, bestowing an extra permanent ability to your Spellweaver Hero. These have different effects such as buffing troops or even alternate win conditions such as ‘The Triangelica’ which will win you the game instantly if you control 3 Angels, but the Level and Mana cost to trigger it is quite high.
All of this makes Shrines feel so much more useful than Magic’s Lands and the developers have clearly designed this resource system to have maximum efficiency, flexibility and usefulness while reducing the randomness that often screws up an otherwise perfectly constructed deck. This is modern game design at its absolute best and I really love the way Shrines work, making resources exciting again instead of a drag to deal with.
Modes and Features
Currently, since the game is in Open Beta, most of the emphasis is on the PvP game modes (Friendly and Ranked matches), but there are a number of quests on the world map that pertain to these modes as well as some PvE (player versus environment) matches against AI opponents. Daily quests appear on the map and it’s relatively easy to complete them, either playing a total amount of games or winning a few games online and you’ll earn currency, packs, or both.
Some of the more niche quests will be a bit more difficult to achieve, such as acquiring all of the different Heroes, but since the currency is easy enough to grind out you can purchase all of the pre-made decks to get the Heroes you need, which unfortunately are really needed to build decks of the relevant Aspect (color).
Apart from this, there isn’t any story or single-player campaign to report on just yet. I have a feeling we’ll see something in this area eventually though since they’ve already scripted some great thematic AI decks to fight against (and they can be really quite difficult!). Trials are also projected for release later, as well as an apparent Fame Mechanic and Fame Leaderboards but what these are is still unclear.
Deckbuilding and Strategy
The colors of Magic are all here, except there’s 6 of them and they’re called Aspects – Order (White), Wisdom (Blue), Nature (Green), Rage (Red), and Magic’s Black seems to get a lot of love because it’s been split into two Aspects, Corruption and Dominion (and as an avid Black player, I can totally deal with this). Most of the play styles of these colors have been preserved, at least in the base set we’ve got to play with so far, but pushes them to their extremes by involving more of the unique mechanics of the Spellweaver system.
Nature has a lot of tough Creatures, but also fast, smaller Elves that have tribal abilities. Order has a lot of weenies, as well as some truly terrible awesome Angels, with some bounce and pacify-type spells to frustrate the opponents’ attacks. Red has speedy small Goblins in spades as well as lots of great damage spells. Wisdom has a lot of control-type creatures and spells, but there is more of an emphasis on the way charges are used on cards to make them more powerful or as an alternate cost of upkeep.
Black has lots of zombies, graveyard play and removal, as you’d expect. Purple, the sort-of Black color, has some interesting ideas around using Implant Artifacts which make Creatures more powerful, but they’ll start to decay in strength and vitality each turn after that. They also seem to have some board-wipe and control-type abilities open to them as well as poison effects. If you leave all the demon and undead stuff to Black, Purple has taken all the aristocratic vampires and assassins, and thrown in some scientific experimental freakish stuff to boot.
Hero abilities are something we’ve come to accept as normal in digital TCGs now, so much so that we forget Magic doesn’t actually have them. Well, not only are there two Heroes for each Aspect so far, but they start with a different base ability, with two empty slots that can be augmented by new abilities bestowed by those awesome special Shrine cards. This means the Heroes end up feeling a bit more fleshed out than even Hearthstone’s Class Heroes do, because there is a greater potential for multi-color deckbuilding. For example, your Hero might start out with a Green power but gain a Red one later on.
This is exactly the kind of strategy that is needed to push the envelope forward in digital TCG design: while thanking games like Hearthstone for what they’ve done in terms of moving the genre forward in terms of design principles, presentation and accessibility, Spellweaver helps return more to the deep strategy roots that Magic undoubtedly still possesses over and above games like Hearthstone.
Spellweaver is incredibly impressive, even in its rough, slightly buggy, incomplete state. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see how powerful this experience will be once the final version is ready for release. It has the potential to completely blow all other Magic-like TCGs out of the water and even become the go-to online experience for those wanting to scratch that Magic: the Gathering itch with a bit more flair and excitement than official Magic Online client can provide. It remains to be seen whether this could eclipse Magic in the online world, but I think it’s already looking very promising at being able to do just that.
In it’s current state, there are a lot of errors and crashes, but that’s to be expected in the early days of a Closed Beta. The team are working around the clock to deal with these as they arise and it’s clear a lot of love and development has gone into this game for a very long time before it’s even been revealed to us, the general public. The artwork is simply astounding as well, completely exceeding all reasonable expectations for a TCG.
The base set of cards is very well designed and balanced, although card balancing is still on-going and I greatly appreciate that the team has not “locked in” any of the card stats and abilities as I think a flexible, on-going balancing approach will be healthy for the game as its own unique meta-game becomes evident.
If you’re already fatigued by this style of card game, you might find enough here to rope you back in and see you re-connecting to everything you fell in love with in the genre to begin with. I’ll be watching Spellweaver with anticipation and baited breath, as it’s already got off to such a strong start that it will be amazing to see how much better it gets as we get closer to an Alpha release.
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