Now that collectible card gaming has become a big fixture of the App Store, it feels bizarre that the grandfather of the genre, Magic, hasn't made the leap in full.

At its best Magic is an absorbing dance. An ebb and flow of beatdown from one side to the other. The players summon minions and artifacts onto the board, vying to be first to gain an edge in power.

It's unpredictable, because you can interrupt another player's turn or play instant cards to boost your attacks. Yet still full of strategy.

There have been recent annual releases of Duels of the Planeswalkers which gave fans the chance to play online. But none have managed to capture that Magic magic. Those reasons why the card game became a juggernaut in its own right.


Partly that's because the designers of Magic made it for face-to-face tabletop play. Shifting it online just makes this screamingly obvious.

To make all those instants and interrupts work, the game needs short wait timers through the turn. If you're accustomed to the fast and furious action of Hearthstone, they seem positively prehistoric.

Wizards of the Coast hasn't helped itself with the models they've chosen for their online games. Last year's Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 had all the brilliant mechanics that power the game.

However, it also had a regrettable free to play model that made it feel like a demo game with a weak selection of cards.

In terms of touchscreen play, it just couldn't match up to its most obvious competitor. So Wizards went back to the drawing board and took the most obvious route to success. They flattered Hearthstone by imitating it.

Free but fair

Gone are the insipid cards, overwhelmed by a selection that represents about 80% of the current line. The publisher promises regular expansions to this initial set too.

Gone are the upfront fees, in favour of a fair free to play model where you buy boosters with real money or in-game gold to add to your collection.

The interface remains a bit clunky, especially for experienced Magic players. They still have to complete the initial solo campaign before they're allowed online.

Once there, however, treats await.

For solo play there's a choice of difficulty levels. Each offers an opponent with a randomly generated deck to ensure a different challenge every time.

That could have been a train wreck waiting to happen, but smart card selection algorithms have made it a smooth, fun ride.

And you can get a match against another human with equal ease. As an extra delight there's also a multi-player mode called Two Headed Giant.

In it, you're teamed up with another player and pitted against another couplet, each side sharing a pool of life points. It's immense fun, and a unique experience among current online collectible card games.

Welcome to the dance

Due to decades of mechanical evolution and, again, its tabletop roots, Magic has become quite complex. Rather too complex for a quickfire touchscreen game.

Wizards understands this, and has gone out of its way to make this version as newcomer-friendly as possible.

Every rule in the game gets illustrated with a Skill Quest, a short interactive tutorial. You'll even get bonus gold for completing them. Go through them all and you'll soon grasp the intricacies of the rules, although perhaps not the strategy.

For that, you can make a starting point with the excellent Deck Wizard tool. Pick a deck archetype from a small list and the Wizard will narrow down the cards in your collection that fit.

It's a fast, simple and effective way to get started without learning all the cards.

And there are a lot of cards. And a lot more effects to put on those cards. That makes for some breathtaking games, some creative strategy and some vast replay value.

But it also makes it a right pain to build decks. The expert deck builder features some filters to screen your cards. But without a free text search, it's not all that helpful.

Indeed the interface is generally where this version of the game falls down. It demands a lot of system resources, but doesn't do much with them.

Things that should be skippable are not. Worst of all there's no cross-device account. So you can't use the cards you've collected on iOS when the PC version comes out.

Yet these are minor issues in what's otherwise the definitive digital version of Magic. The best computer offering of the game since Shandalar in 1997.

That's been a long time to keep fans on hold. But it finally looks like it was worth the wait.

Want more? Check out our growing collection of Magic Duels: Origins articles!