Hello all! Following on from my previous thread I thought i'd make this a series and in this one i'll give a brief overview of each paper based TCG worth looking at. Each card game has their own features, playstyles and quirks so by the end of this thread you'll hopefully find one that you like enough to turn up and play at your local game store, lets get into it. I'll be talking about paper product more often than not in here with a focus on actually turning up to your LGS and interacting with other human beings, online systems i'll go into more depth in individual, more detailed threads about these games.
The Big Three
These three games have all been established since the 90’s and have stood the test of time. They are all worth investing in but all have distinctly different styles of play. Pick your poison.
Magic: The Gathering
Lets kick off with the most prominent TCG of all time, Magic: the gathering. The first real competitive game of its kind Magic created and popularised the genre a way that no other card game has done since. Magic released its first set, Alpha in August of 1993 and was created by Richard Garfield who gave publishing rights to Wizards of the Coast. The game was so popular that the Alpha set ran out incredibly quickly with Beta and Unlimited arriving before the end of the same year. I will write a full history on sets in a Magic beginner's guide at a later date.
Wizards struggled heavily to keep up with demand for the cards during these early days but it was an obvious sign that they had a killer product on their hands. During March of 1994 the second true expansion, Antiquities was released to the public. This was an important milestone for Wizards as they began to build a multiverse storyline into their game. This of course attracted a lot of fantasy role players like D&D fans who craved an interesting game that could be played on the go in short time spans.
Nowadays Magic has grown into a worldwide competitive game. The lore is expansive and complex, sets are carefully balanced up to 5 years in advance of their release and the paper product is wide and varied, catering to many different formats.
But how is Magic played? Well the standard rules depict a 1v1 match roughly 15 - 30 mins in length where each player uses a 60 card deck to cast spells and summon creatures to kill their opponent. You play as a "Planeswalker", a being of incredible power wielding the strength of the 5 colours of mana. Each colour of mana has a different play style and defines you as a character within the game. Magic also depicts all of its cards in a high quality fantasy art style, think more Dungeons and Dragons rather than Pokémon. So if you're looking for something a little more grown up in its approach then this certainly fits into that category.
The best way to start in Magic is to pick up one of their pre-built planeswalker decks. These come with a foil planeswalker card who represents the colours of the deck and 2 booster packs from the set the decks are from.
You can find a local game store online at http://locator.wizards.com/ some places do not have one but you can usually find one very close by.
- Multiple styles of gameplay.
- Many formats.
- Fantastic artwork and lore.
- Has stood the test of time, isn't a fad.
- In depth second hand sales market.
- The largest competitive scene in TCGs.
- Formats other than Standard and Limited have fairly to very high entry costs compared to other games.
- Can attract some unsavoury neckbeard types, like me.
- Reasonably easy to learn but incredibly hard to master (the rulebook is 222 pages long).
- Online services are not up to scratch in comparison to other games.
- Foils are not as common and neither are full art cards.
Pokémon TCG as we all know is something a few of us have picked up recently and it's a product you likely all remember as a kid in school. Originally picked up by Media Factory in Japan it was picked up very quickly. Once again it was published by that company Wizards of the Coast in the US and then again in other regions. This set of cards and rules are the ones we've come to know and love today. The game's mana system and turn structure are of course loosely based on Magic to assist in its rise to popularity but the lore and creature system are heavily influenced by the video game series that blew up in the 90's, of course this game followed the same path in a massive way. Gradually The Pokémon Company took over all production and distribution on behalf of Nintendo.
As we know Pokémon assists its digital version with its paper product but the best way to start with the latter is to pick up a theme deck from the latest set Sun and Moon. Theme decks are simply pre-built decks that will allow you to get into the game and learn the mechanics or just provide a foothold in the paper version of the game.
- Rules have a perfect balance, because the game is structured in a simplistic way it means you will struggle to interpret rules incorrectly.
- Beautiful foiling and artwork with different tiers of each and a foil in every pack now I believe even if it’s just a reverse.
- Codes in each pack to support its strong online client, the strongest out of the ones we’ll talk about in this thread.
- The Pokemon company are knocking it out the park set after set with fantastic cards in each block.
- Fast paced and fun, lots of drawing cards and card cycling. Everybody loves drawing cards.
- Booster box products are mapped at the moment meaning you can guess which packs will have the rarest cards in them and which are crap. Be careful buying individual packs.
- All lore is present in the games and doesn’t really fit into the tcg in a deep way, even when applied it can vary.
- Meta cards are very distinct in their power level from the rest of the game, if you don’t have those full art secret rares you won’t be winning tournaments any time soon.
- Second hand market on cards is ok but seems to favour newer sets as this tcg has very high print runs.
Yu-Gi-Oh is a massive card game based on a fictional card game in a manga and is extremely well known throughout the world. The Japanese and International games differ slightly with the prior being known as the "Offical Card Game" or OCG. Cards in this format are generally a little bit more unbalanced and broken then filtered out or changed before they get published in the TCG.
Yu-Gi-Oh has a mixed focus between playing powerful spells and creatures whilst using face down card interaction to create diversity in the form of traps. Traps have to be set for at least a turn and once flipped face up have different effects, but having to set them requires thought and strategy. Infact a perfect example of how Hearthstone’s secret’s should be treated in my opinion.
The easiest way to get into the game is to buy into one of the many structure decks each of these decks has a theme and a set list of cards (pre-built) but unlike Starter decks these are intended to get you playing. Starter decks are intended for learning and only contain single copies of cards to expose the player to variety. Structure decks come in all sorts of styles so do your research on the cards online before buying. If you enjoy the deck you’re playing and are feeling more confident about the game most people will give you the advice of buying the same deck 2 more times so you can compile all of the best cards in them together to create a more consistent and powerful strategy.
Booster packs are a little bit strange for this game, they contain less cards and cost a similar amount to other games plus not every set contains cards that cater to your archetype making the whole process incredibly expensive. Konami do however publish tins which contain nice collections of cards to boost collections. To round it off Konami are very happy to swing the ban hammer on this game, with very minimal balancing if a card dominates the meta it will be shot down in time whether it becomes entirely banned or restricted in some way is up to them.
- Fast paced and a nice balance in gameplay but a more heavy combo focus than magic.
- No resources like other games, cards have a cost and are played in limited ways based on that cost allowing you to focus purely on the good stuff in your deck.
- Many levels of rarity and foiling to match and the cards look excellent.
- Plenty of archetype variety with a an aesthetic that is true to the show.
- High learning curve and games can be blowouts at times, even from a single hand of cards if the stars align.
- A tad more expensive to start than the previous 2 and in terms of booster product a whole set can go by without a single card worthy of your deck.
- Cards are smaller than normal so your accessories will have to be the same size. This can be annoying if you’re unsure what to look for. I will write a guide on card accessories soon enough.
- Pro scene seems shakey but if we have any more regular players here then feel free to correct me but from the outside if feels less accessible than Magic’s pro scene.
These games have been established for long enough to know that they’re sticking around for years to come. If the big three don’t take your fancy then this is usually where you’ll find something different without the risk of the game being discontinued. I won’t do pros and cons for these as I have the least experience in them but they’re different enough to appeal to particular tastes and people who want to buy into these games, will.
Force of Will
This one is for the weebs! A game with full art anime style cards that plays in a 1v1 format similar to the big three. The goal is the same but it plays with a smaller 40 card deck with a sideboard of 15 that uses Resonators to reduce the opponent’s life total to 0. Each deck has one card called a Judgement Resonator which acts as your leader. Resources are kept in a separate 10 - 20 card deck and they are called magic stones. Each turn your Judgement Resonator can fetch a magic stone which is used for the casting costs of other cards.
Force of Will has been going through some ups and downs in terms of product recently from what i’ve heard so be careful when investing. Start with some starter decks and learn to play with a friend to play it safe.
Android: Netrunner is the most successful product from Fantasy Flight’s “Living Card Game” range. Living Card Games are intended to be different and have no blind buy products. Netrunner has a core set to get you going and has fixed expansion packs in the form of monthly released data packs and every so often deluxe box sets.
Created as a sequel to the original Netrunner (created by, you guessed it, Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast) Android is an asymmetric card game set in a cyber punk dystopian future which pitches runners (hackers) vs megacorporations. The goal of the game is to either hack the megacorp and steal 7+ agenda cards or gain 7+ agenda cards as the megacorp with a couple of other default win conditions.
A big twist on the usual format, an incredibly cheap entry price and maintenance cost it’s no wonder this game has blown up and has a strong competitive following.
On to the strangest game on this list. Vanguard sits in a space whereby it has a strong second hand market, a solid cult following but never seems to be able to break through into the mainstream like the big 3. This is probably down to how strict / tight the rules seem to be from the outside in comparison to the big 3 where a lot of freedom is allowed.
To start the game each player begins by selecting a grade 0 card from their decks and placing it face down, this is called the first vanguard. Each player has 3 decks the main deck, the G deck and the flash deck. After shuffling both players place their main and G decks into the relevant zones. Each player then draws 5 into their hand and when both are ready they flip their first vanguards up shouting “Stand up, Vanguard!”. There are many many more rules and a more complex turn structure and card layout than Magic which you can read more about here.
A Challenger Approaches, The Newcomers.
The big question on everyone’s lips in the TCG scene is always, “what’s the next big thing?”. People want to know what is going to topple Magic or at the very least compete with it. It’s a very similar situation to MMOs and WoW. In my opinion there’s a couple that fit very nicely into this section released in the last couple of years but what’s the big one that i’d recommend to people here that want to get onto a game early that is exploding in popularity and is actually quite relatable to a video game community? Well that would be…
Square Enix has released what seems to be a huge contender in the scene in the west finally. Released in 2011 in Japan and October 2016 in EU and US Final Fantasy brings the beloved video game series to the paper world.
To play the game each player wields three different types of cards; backups, forwards and summons.
- Backups generate crystals to pay for other cards by being tapped and also have special abilities that support your forwards, they are support cards in every sense of the word. When a backup is played they enter the field tapped.
- Forwards are the cards that win you the game and are essentially your creatures on the battlefield. When a forward is played they enter the field untapped but must wait a turn to attack.
- Summons are essentially spells, they are paid for, used and discarded all in one play.
Cards are broken up into colours and crystal point cost to be played. Tapping a backup will provide 1 crystal point of the colour of the backup and discarding any card (from your hand) will give you 2 crystal points of that colour. For a card to be played the exact amount of crystal points must be spent and at least one of those crystal points must be of the same colour as the card that you wish to play.
The battlefield is broken up into 4 zones.
* Deck zone is of course where your deck is placed.
* Break zone is where discarded, used or dead cards go, it’s essentially the graveyard.
* Battle zone is split up by a horizontal line the upper half being your forwards and the bottom half being your backups. This is where combat and abilities occur.
* Damage zone is where you place cards that are flipped from the top of your deck after you have taken a damage point. If you have 7 cards in your damage zone, you lose.
Decks consist of precisely 50 cards, no more, no less. Each card has a serial number and the rules dictate you cannot have more than 3 of the same serial numbers in a deck meaning no more than 3 copies of a card.
To begin a game the first player draws one card and from then on each player draws two cards at the start of their turn. All tapped cards are then untapped and the active player then moves to the main phase where they can play any type of card.
The active player then moves to the attack phase where the active player taps forwards to indicate they are attacking and the defending player chooses forwards to block incoming attacks with. This is nearly identical to the Magic method of attacking, the difference being that you can resolve fights individually rather than having to do them all at the same time. If a forward hits a defending forward they deal damage to each other with either dying if they take too much damage. If a forward is unblocked they will hit the defending player giving them 1 damage point and forcing them to flip the top card of their deck into the damage zone.
The active player can then move to a second main phase to play more cards and then finish their turn with an end phase. End of turn effects resolve here and with the hand limit being 5 cards the active player must discard until they reach 5 if they have more in hand.
As you can tell this game is easy to understand, shares similarities with Magic but has enough differences and depth to allow it stand on its own, so where do you start with product? Well starter decks can be bought for a similar price to other TCGs at around £12 each. Booster product can be bought for around 3.50 - 4 quid a pack with boxes around the £100 mark with each pack containing 12 cards with one card being foil. There are currently 2 sets out Opus 1 and 2. Opus 2 is available for pre-order and it’s likely you can still invest in Opus 1 if you look around. It could be an incredibly valuable investment if you want to take the risk in the hopes that card game sees huge growth but we have no idea what Square Enix’s reprint structure will be like in the future.
This game is easily my pick for the next big TCG and you can read more about it on the FF wiki and on the official site which contains video tutorials and other resources for the game.
A different take on card games in terms of the look, feel and playstyle. Arkham Horror is another living card game like Android: Netrunner that is based on H.P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and draws upon similar horror themes to give it a gritty and intense feeling when played.
The game is played with friends in more of a campaign style similarly to Dungeons and Dragons but without the lengthy character creations and development.
Above is a brief synopsis and the easiest place to buy this game is either a local game store or Amazon
A Game of Thrones
A third living card game on the list, the quality of these sets are so high and the entry cost is so low they of course attract lots of tabletop players. A Game of Thrones is based, of course, on the popular A Song of Fire and Ice books. In this game the players become the leader of a house in Westeros and the goal is to take the Iron Throne. A product well worth playing with if the books interest you and it even sees competitive play. In terms of buying product with all Fantasy Flight LCG’s you can check out your local game store or look at their Amazon shop.
Honorable Mentions and The Graveyard
Some TCGs don’t stand the test of time or are overshadowed by some of the more popular games out on the market. Some of these games can still hold value today however as they’re out of print so for you nostalgic collectors and / or investors this could be the list for you.
World of Warcraft TCG
I personally used to collect this when it first came out and I still hold some product today. Published by Upper Deck in 2006 the first set Heroes of Azeroth brought the idea of loot cards to the table introducing rare items from the analogue world into the WoW universe. Sets were created all the way up until 2013 with 22 expansion sets being created, 8 raid sets, 3 dunegon sets and 6 special sets. There is a still a tonne of value in these cards and the first set held the epic mount of the spectral tiger which now fetches around 1 - 2 THOUSAND FUCKING DOLLARS. It was also designed by the Magic legend Brian Kibler before it all collapsed into what we now know as Hearthstone.
Dragon Ball Z
Originally published by Bandai, killed off and then brought back by Panini the DBZ TCG has a niche following and a reasonably low entry price because of it. If you’re actually looking to play then find people to play with first before you commit to buying product. Speaking of which your best bet is to pick these up on amazon
Still going today and released all the way back in 2005, published by Wizards of the Coast and discontinued in the west due to poor sales in 2006 it was then brought back in 2012 under the name “Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters”. Not my personal choice of game and if I enjoyed this style i’d never pick it up over Force of Will but it is still popular enough to survive nonetheless.
Warhammer & Warhammer 40k: Conquest
Another living card game from Fantasy Flight if the Games Workshop Warhammer products don’t take your fancy then these TCG incarnations
may very well do so.
Lord of the Rings
Again an LCG from Fantasy Flight Lord of the Rings
puts the players in Middle Earth fighting to defeat Sauron.
I hope this helps people here to figure out what they want to play. There is a lot of bad collectible games out there so pick and choose wisely. Next up from me will be a thread regarding accessories and how to protect your investment.