Magic; The Gathering video game rankings are tricky for me. Magic: The Gathering is my favorite game of all time. I’ve been playing off and on for 25 years.
I remember as a kid being able to buy booster packs of Mirage in a CD store. Sadly, the collection I had as a child is long gone; otherwise, I’d be typing up this list on a yacht instead of inside my apartment.
Anyway, instead of recalling the small fortune I could have had, let’s discuss the history of every Magic: The Gathering video game.
In a nutshell, they’re…not always great. Saying that the digital versions of Magic are a mixed bag is putting it lightly. While digital versions of the tabletop card game have greatly differed in quality, attempts to try something new with the IP have mostly ended in complete disaster.
Thankfully, I’m here to deal with the worst of the worst so we can talk about the best of the best when it comes to MTG video games.
This ranked list is compiled with a mix of critical reception (as best as we can, a lot of these games are very old), personal opinion, and examining if they can properly adapt the game of Magic.
Magic: The Gathering: BattleMage is the worst Magic: The Gathering video game and it’s not even close
Released in 1997 for PlayStation and PC, Battlemage is a real-time strategy game inspired by the card game.
Oh, and for full disclosure: the word “inspired” is doing a lot of heavy lifting.
In reality, this is a bad game that isn’t just a poor adaptation of the Magic IP, but also just a crappy game. It pales in comparison to the Warcraft and Age of Empire franchises and there’s no reason to even give this game your attention.
The less said about BattleMage, the better.
Magic: The Gathering: Armageddon
According to Wikipedia, Magic: The Gathering: Armageddon is so rare, that only four arcade cabinets were made.
Armageddon offers a more exciting premise than BattleMage, using the concept of summoning creatures and casting spells to attack your opponents on a digital battleground.
Players could be represented by one of the five colors of magic with their abilities sticking with the color identity that is established in the card game.
It’s a great idea in theory that fell apart when it comes to execution. The game isn’t as fun as it sounds and is incredibly difficult to control.
Armageddon deserves some credit at least for using the mechanics of the actual game of Magic.
Magic: The Gathering – Tactics
While technically a collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering is a tactical and strategy game. You’d figure that it would be a simple transition to the turn-based strategy genre.
That’s 2011’s Magic: The Gathering Tactics. It seems like a match made in heaven to break the “curse” of poor Magic: The Gathering video games. Sadly, that’s not quite the case.
The game’s biggest undoing is the game’s UI and economy. It’s confusing and unintuitive to properly utilize; the necessity to integrate deck building with gameplay leads to frustration more often than not.
Equally as frustrating is the game’s economy, which doesn’t just nickel and dime you to death; it loves to encourage the player to spend dollars constantly to progress through the game and collect.
A lot of the main critiques about Magic as a whole is that the core game is “pay to win.”
The best decks are generally seen as the most expensive. While this isn’t always the case, Tactics doesn’t do much of anything to sway this notion. As a result, it’s yet another good idea that doesn’t follow through.
Magic: The Gathering (Sega)
Released exclusively in Japan for the Sega Dreamcast, Magic: The Gathering is, well, Magic: The Gathering. Literally.
It’s the tabletop card game built for a home console, featuring cards from the Sixth Edition, Alliances, and Tempest expansion sets. It also included a handful of cards unique to the game!
Conversely, this is as no-thrills as you can possibly get. Magic can be an incredibly complex game; the best MTG video games still have bugs, issues, and hiccups even today in 2022. Imagine what it was like over 20 years ago.
While it’s better than the games ranked below, it only gets that nod because. again, it’s literally Magic: The Gathering.
This was supposed to be the Magic: The Gathering MMORPG. The first sign of trouble for the game is the fact that it was announced in 2017, well after the MMO bubble had burst. While games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV still thrive, they’re the exception, not the norm.
When it was finally released in early access beta, Magic: Legends had morphed into an action RPG with deck building. On paper, it’s a great way to incorporate Magic theme’s in the genre.
The problem, however, was two-fold. First, it didn’t do anything special with the gameplay. The action was good, but not exactly revolutionary.
Second, it featured some of the worst greed seen in a free-to-play game.
Magic: Legends was so unsuccessful that it never made it to a proper release. The game shut down seven months after its launch and honestly, we’re much better off without it.
Magic: The Gathering – Battlegrounds
Like many games thus far on this list, Battlegrounds is inspired by the mechanics of Magic.
Players duke it out on a battleground (get it? Get it?!) and attempt to eliminate their opponent. Each player starts with 20 HP (just like the card game) and can use the mana they generate (also like the card game!) to cast spells and use abilities.
Out of the many tactical combat games that exist in Magic’s history, Battlegrounds is the best one. That’s not really saying much, though. It looks dated even by 2003’s standards and feels like a low-budget cash-in on a popular IP.
The core gameplay is enjoyable enough to keep you entertained. With enough love and backing, this could have been something magical. Instead, it’s another footnote in the history of Magic: The Gathering video games.
Magic: The Gathering / Shandalar
Better known as Shandalar, the 1997 Magic: The Gathering video game is what happens if you take an isometric RPG and mash it together with the actual factual card game.
Combat takes place with duels based on real-life Magic, resulting in a seamless transition from card game to video game. On the surface, it seems like these combat encounters would take a long time, but that’s not the case. Plus, you can always just entirely bypass combat.
Shandalar’s RPG elements do a great job of encouraging exploration to acquire new cards for your deck. The game is definitely limited by its technology; 1997 video games could only go so far. Despite these issues and quirks, Shandalar is easily one of the better MTG video games out there and is still worth trying out even today.
A modern version of the game would be very welcomed if you’re listening, Wizards of the Coast.
Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers Franchise is a great and accessible Magic: The Gathering video game
We’re lumping the Duels of the Planeswalkers franchise together because, at their core, it’s all the same game.
For the longest time, this was the simplest and easiest way to play a game of Magic. It was a great way to entice newer players to try the game out without jumping straight into the deep end.
Because of their constrained nature and lower power level when it comes to cards and deck construction, those looking for a more complex experience were better suited to playing the real deal game in person.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Duels of the Planeswalker franchise. Magic can be a very confusing game at times. Having a simple, no-thrills version was very welcome. It’s just important to be aware that what you see here is what you got.
While technically part of the Duels of the Planeswalker franchise, 2015’s Magic Duels is an expanded version of the popular series.
For the first time, players were able to create their own decks by acquiring cards. This was done through in-game rewards or microtransactions.
It still lacked the complexities of the real deal but offered a more in-depth experience for those looking to scratch the itch.
In terms of our list, it’s definitely in an awkward position; it’s fundamentally the same thing as Duels of the Planeswalkers but does enough new to stand out on its own. As a result, we placed it on the higher end of MTG video games.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
The most recent release, Magic: The Gathering Arena is the most accessible and easiest way to play a traditional game of Magic. It took Wizards of the Coast a while to release a digital client on par with Hearthstone, but with Arena, they’ve done just that.
As great as Arena can be, it comes with a host of problems. The experience is far from perfect in terms of both gameplay and technology. There are the occasional performance hiccups and bugs, including an infamous issue that recently caused people to drop during a major tournament.
Formats available on Arena greatly differ from the traditional experience or even Magic Online. Arena is severely lacking when it comes to the available card pool, meaning that outside of the platform-specific formats, you’re out of luck unless you want to play Standard or Limited.
While Historic, Explorer, and Alchemy offer new and unique ways to play Magic, their popularity pales in comparison to things like Modern.
Not having the current Pro Tour format (Pioneer) available on your most accessible and convenient platform is disappointing as well.
Magic: The Gathering – Puzzle Quest is, surprisingly, a great Magic: The Gathering video game
Somehow, one of the best Magic: The Gathering video games does not involve playing Magic: The Gathering!
Released in 2015 for iOS and Android, the Magic version of Puzzle Quest successfully blends together the best of both worlds. The concept of switching matching-up gems is used to cast cards from your deck. It’s a great way to bring what makes Magic deckbuilding and strategy to a new genre.
One caveat is that, at times, Magic Puzzle Quest incorporates the worst tendencies of the mobile gaming genre. Progress is gated behind waiting in real-time. The best way to get around that? You guessed it: spend money.
Still, the best way to play Magic Puzzle Quest is in short spurts to help get around this annoyance.
With a lot of games on this list being bad to downright atrocious, it’s nice to see one successful game that incorporates the characters and gameplay of Magic. It brings the best of Puzzle Quest and Magic together to create one of the better MTG video games out there.
Despite its flaws, Magic: The Gathering Online is the best Magic: The Gathering video game
Love it or hate it, Magic Online is the best way to play Magic: The Gathering in a digital space. It offers every format throughout the game’s storied history, as well as support for competitive play.
There’s no beating around the bush when it comes to its shortcomings. The UI is beyond dated, the interface is a bit clunky, and some of the cards are bugged and do not work as intended.
Is it possible that Magic is just meant to be played in a physical paper form? Probably. If you’re someone that wants to play Magic digitally, Magic Online is your best bet. Whether you’re playing Modern, Legacy, Commander, or drafting one of the many specialty cubes available, Magic Online has you covered.
At the end of the day, that’s why it’s the best Magic: the Gathering video game available.