On paper, Magic: the Gathering is undeniably a true cultural juggernaut. Being both the world’s oldest and most popular trading card game, MTG is in a league of its own. Digitally, however, Magic: the Gathering has often lagged behind its TCG counterparts. Unlike Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, most of Magic’s digital offerings have been somewhat lacking, to put it politely. For instance, the once hugely anticipated Magic: Legends, for instance, only lasted seven months before being completely shut down. Thankfully, both Magic Online and MTG Arena are compelling clients that allow players to play MTG digitally. As good as these games are, however, neither of them has a claim to being the most beloved digital title. Popular, yes, but nothing beats the love for the oldest MTG video game, Shandalar.
Magic: the Gathering Shandalar
First released all the way back in 1997, Magic: the Gathering (also known as Shandalar) is the oldest and arguably best MTG game ever released. This is despite the fact that, when it launched, Shandalar didn’t take the world by storm. Was the game a lot of fun? Absolutely yes, but it’s hardly comparable to titles like Goldeneye 007 and Final Fantasy 7. Nevertheless, within the realm of MTG, Shandalar was absolutely beloved for its unique gameplay. Rather than solely focusing on MTG’s Type 1 (Vintage) and Type 2 (Standard) formats, Shandalar had its very own single-player campaign.
Within this single-player campaign, MTG players were tasked with building up their decks in order to defeat five evil mages across the plane of Shandalar. To do just that, players could purchase cards from within cities, earn them from quests, or find them in dungeons. Through this process, MTG players would slowly build a deck that’s unabashedly theirs across the course of the campaign. Alongside the deck-building and card-playing centric gameplay, Shandalar also featured a smattering of RPG elements to delight players. Food, for instance, was required to traverse the isometric overworld at peak efficiency, and the forces of evil could even attack cities.
Unfortunately, Shandalar didn’t win over every critic when it launched due to the game’s lack of online multiplayer. Despite this, however, those who focused on the campaign lauded the game for its technical prowess and deeply enjoyable gameplay. Twenty-five years later, MTG players and fans still can’t get enough of the game. Just last month, PC Gamer even commended Shandalar for having a huge impact on the gaming industry as a whole. Despite the game being widely adored, however, Shandalar’s iconic campaign hasn’t been repeated since.
Shandalar 2: Electric Boogaloo
As you can imagine, considering the love for Shandalar, it’s not uncommon for MTG players to take to social media to request a sequel. Most recently, this suggestion was popularized on Reddit by u/MorningNapalm, who stated, “the fact that there is no modern equivalent to MTG Shandalar makes me genuinely sad.” Recounting their journey from finding an old CD to putting in a disproportionate amount of effort to get the game working, u/MorningNapalm shared their love for the decades-old game. Similarly, within the comments, many players, such as u/Reasonable-Leave7140, shared their adoration for Shandlar and want for a sequel.
Unfortunately for these hopeful players, however, outside of an expansion in 1997 and 1998 rerelease, Wizards has practically abandoned Shandalar. Despite this rather damning detail, all hope is not lost. Not only is MTG technically returning to the plane of Shandalar in March of the Machine, but thanks to dedicated fans, the game lives on. While not officially supported by Wizards, savvy MTG players have nevertheless managed to significantly increase the scope of the game. Creating Shandalar Modern, modders have been able to update the game to include thousands of new MTG cards.
Thanks to this passion project, there’s undeniably a demand for a true, up-to-date MTG video game. Disappointingly, however, it seems Wizards of the Coast have practically abandoned this concept. Earlier this year, in January, Bloomberg reported that Wizards canceled not just one but “at least five video game projects.” Scaling back its presence in the video game industry, it appears Shandalar won’t be getting a sequel any time soon. Technically, Bloomberg’s report didn’t name any MTG games being canceled. However, we dare not get our hopes up that much.
Arena or Bust
With future WotC video games seemingly dead in the water, it appears Magic Online and MTG Arena are all digital players are getting. Thankfully, both of these games are still thoroughly enjoyable, offering compelling digital counterparts to paper Magic. Throughout 2023, MTG Arena, at least, is set to be getting even better. As, at long last, the game is finally getting an overhauled new player experience. Currently, there’s no telling exactly what this overhauled player experience will actually entail. However, it should be a great boon to the game’s popularity. Especially since the feature’s launch will coincide with MTG Arena’s launch on Steam in Q3 of 2023.
For now, the future of MTG Arena following its Steam launch and improved onboarding is unknown. Should the game be popular enough to demand more development resources, it’s entirely possible single-player campaigns could return to MTG. Offering a thoroughly enjoyable way to tell a set’s story, structured campaigns undeniably have a lot of merits. Whether or not Wizards will ever introduce them to MTG Arena, however, remains to be seen.