In this article:
- Magic: The Gathering (MtG) is a collectible card game with around 40 million players.
- But building a deck can get pricey and playing the game requires living somewhere where other MtG players are.
- These free-to-play (F2P) collectible card games are available on both mobile and PC, and use the same core game mechanic of deck-building.
- For those who don’t usually play games like MtG, you’ll find a list of 4 games that are fun even if you’re not a huge deckbuilding fan.
- Each game is judged for how easy or hard it is to build a deck if you’re completely F2P.
Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering is hands down the most popular collectible card game out there, alongside other giants like Yu-Gi-Oh! In its roughly three decades of publishing cards and holding tournaments, MtG has gained around 40 million players and has a library of over 20,000 cards. It’s a great game! The mechanics are complicated enough to keep you interested for years and the cards are always beautifully made.
But let’s be real, how many people who own Magic: The Gathering cards play them on a frequent basis? As great as the game is, its reliance on a player being able to find another player in real life to be playable is already a barrier to entry for many people, especially if they don’t live near a game store.
Then, there’s the price of building a deck. Common cards, the ones played in the Pauper format, such as Lightning Bolt cost around $2 — an amount that adds up fast depending on the rarity and number of copies of a card that you need. While the average cost of a competitive Pauper deck is $46, you might have to cough up $200-$1,000 if you want to play a deck that isn’t all common cards.
Verily, poor folk like us hath not that kind of money in this economie. Good thing we have F2P games that make for great substitutes. And you don’t even have to leave your house to play!
Collectible Card Games That Are Alternatives to Magic: The Gathering
1. Legends of Runeterra
I played Legends of Runeterra during its open beta back in 2020 and my first impression was that it was one of the sleekest-looking F2P CCGs available on mobile. The UI is clean, the effects are never too much that you have no idea what’s going on in the board, and all the info you need to plot your next move is clearly marked out on the board.
It’s an easy game to start if you plan to be a completely F2P player and/or you’ve never played a CCG before. Legends of Runeterra has one of the most generous reward systems of all the CCGs available on mobile. Plus, the current pool of cards is still small enough that joining now means you’ll be able to catch up to the meta in just a couple of months or so.
Runeterra will be easier for players coming from Hearthstone due to gameplay similarities. You have to protect your health while trying to chip away at your opponent’s and there’s a lot of interactivity between your side of the board and the opponent’s side. Having said that, you might not like Runeterra as much if you hated Hearthstone‘s aggro decks.
Blizzard’s Hearthstone is the easiest collectible card game to learn right now, but that doesn’t make it the easiest to play in.
Hearthstone‘s mechanics are as simple as it gets. You have a hero, a hero power you can use against your opponent, and a mana system that determines how many resources you have. You can play as many cards as you like in a turn as long as you have enough mana for it. Every turn, a new mana crystal is added so you can play your late-game cards.
Your goal is to kill your opponent in order to win. It’s really that simple. What isn’t simple is getting the resources to build a meta deck.
I tend to play a CCG for a few months, stop, switch to a different one, stop, then return to one of my accounts from a different CCG. The only one that’s been impossible to do that with is Hearthstone, which I left around Journey to Un’Goro.
It’s a very stingy game with a brutally fast-paced meta. The set rotations make it possible to play competitively without having to craft or buy older cards, but resources get scarcer for F2P players as the game goes on if you compare it to the dust cost of competitive decks.
So why play it if you’re going to be F2P? Games tend to give you a lot of resources when you’re starting out so if you begin the game as a new player, you’ll have just enough to build your first meta deck. Just don’t stop playing out of the blue.
I’ll say it now: Shadowverse isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The card art sometimes feels inconsistent and the UI, though easy to understand, is giving major PS2 era energy. But if you can look past that, you’ll get to enjoy the most generous CCG out there.
Shadowverse is the CCG gods’ gift to F2P players. When you start the game, you get rewards in what feels like every other second. The Shadowverse team also gives out rewards in the mail like it’s water. Balance patches happen on a regular basis, which is more than Hearthstone and its handling of the Pirate Warrior deck can say. Plus, patches don’t tend to kill entire archetypes.
If you love CCGs but hate having to grind your way to a borderline usable deck as a F2P player, Shadowverse is perfect for you. It has a Story Mode that you can play to learn more about the cards and your Leaders. The Story Mode is a delight to play through because:
- The story is actually good.
- The rewards you get are roughly equivalent to playing in PvP modes.
- The voice acting is great. Yes, even the English dub.
But if anime-style games just aren’t your thing, fret not. There’s another MtG alternative on this list that’s as close as you can get to MtG without playing MtG.
Gwent may be retiring soon, but it’s still a great game to get into considering that there isn’t anything quite like it on the market right now.
Gwent came at the perfect time when Hearthstone players were leaving the game in droves and The Witcher: Wild Hunt was at the height of its popularity. When it was released, it basically stole a good chunk of Hearthstone‘s competitive players.
And why wouldn’t it? It’s a beautiful game that actually makes you feel like you’re playing with real cards without looking too bland for a digital game. Like Magic: The Gathering, Gwent has a graveyard mechanic that can be utilized no matter what faction you’re playing, as long as you have the cards for it.
Compared to Hearthstone, there’s a larger variety of decks per faction because you’re able to switch between Leader Abilities, the game’s version of Hero Powers, that support different kinds of decks. You can play mages in Nilfgaard or mages in Northern Realms, Swarm decks in Monsters or Scoia’tael, etc. The possibilities are endless.
If you’re F2P, you’re going to like how Gwent doesn’t have rotations. You can start now, leave for a bit, and pick up a year later like I did and you’ll still find half of your old cards as staples in the current meta. The rewards, while not as frequent as Shadowverse are also generously allocated. You can count on opening a card keg once a day even after you exhaust rewards for new players.
5. Magic: The Gathering Arena
Do you still want to try playing Magic: The Gathering but really wish you could do it for free? There’s Magic: The Gathering Arena.
A few words of warning, though: Magic: The Gathering Arena is the most un-F2P CCG on this list.
It somehow manages to combine both the worst aspects of IRL MtG and Fire Emblem Heroes‘ gacha system into this monstrosity. Along with that, MtG Arena doesn’t give you enough free currency to get Wildcards for a competitive deck, meaning that you’ll always be scrambling to make something playable.
If you make it past the rough start, you can play MtG for years for virtually zero dollars. It’s a great way to learn the game’s mechanics before you commit to buying physical cards and a good alternative to physical MtG if you don’t have the time (or the budget) to play these days.
Deck Building Games You’ll Love Even if You Don’t Usually Play Card Games
1. Shroom and Gloom
Shroom and Gloom is an adorably spooky deck-building game made in just 14 days as part of the 7DFPs Gamejam. It mixes deck-building mechanics with dungeon-crawling to create an adventure like no other.
The goal of Shroom and Gloom is to find the Megashroom hiding in the depths of the dungeon. On your way, you can use key cards to open chests that contain more powerful cards that you can then add to your deck.
So what’s the deck for? Aside from being your tool kit for exploring the dungeon, you’ll need your deck to fight enemies like the Bardshrooms and Pizza Blobs. The game eases you into additional mechanics so it’s never too difficult to understand as long as you can read the cards, keep track of the interactions, and manage your resources. But then again, that’s basically every card game.
2. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Fans of Gwent, the standalone game, and The Witcher: Wild Hunt‘s in-game Gwent are going to have a great time playing Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, an RPG strategy game that takes you on the warpath, fighting alongside Queen Meve, the legendary queen of Lyria and Rivia.
Set during the Second Nilfgaardian War, the game’s events happen years before the main Witcher games series.
You’ll be playing as Queen Meve herself and your deck, obviously a Northern Realms one, serves as your army in the game. Using your siege engines and soldier cards, you’ll be taking down Nilfgaardian armies, bandits, and the occasional Wild Hunt monster.
Just like Wild Hunt, Thronebreaker won’t disappoint you with its rich storyline and breathtaking art.
A horror game that’s a roguelike that’s also a deck-building game? Sign us up, please!
Inscryption is one of the best games of the past year. While the game sounds all over the place on paper, Inscryption pulls together the best aspects of all its genres to create a horror experience like no other.
The first-person perspective in Inscryption and the warped camera helps to make it feel like you’re really sitting in that cabin, hiding your face behind your cards. You build your deck by making decisions on the map screen.
If you die during a match, you have to start the game from the very beginning and re-discover your cards.
This is where Inscryption gets interesting: the horror is built into your deck. As you press on, you discover the truth about what the cards are which makes it even more nerve-wracking to make strategic decisions during your matches against the opponent.
In your typical deck-building game, deciding which cards to destroy to buff another unit or which units you’ll use as bait for the opponent’s counter is a cold, emotionally-detached decision. When you’re playing Inscryption, though? Strategy is betrayal.
4. Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars isn’t your game if you want a deck-builder that will chew you up and spit you out. But if you want a nice story, a relaxing pace, and a realistic board game experience, it’s worth trying.
The game feels like playing Dungeons and Dragons but with a deck. A Game Master narrates the game’s story for you while you make your way through the map. Matches occur at random in the overworld, much like D&D encounters, and dice are rolled during card fights to add some RNG to the game to keep things fresh.
That’s it for our MtG alternatives. Which ones do you play and what decks do you run? Let us know in the comments!