Magic: The Gathering (MicroProse)

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Magic: The Gathering is a computer game published by MicroProse in April 1997 based on the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. It is often referred to as Shandalar after the plane of Shandalar, where the game takes place. The player must travel the land and fight random enemies to gain cards, and defeat five wizards representing the five colors. The player must prevent one color from gaining too much power, and defeat the planeswalker Arzakon, who has a deck of all five colors. Adventure game and role-playing game elements are present, including inventory, gold, towns, dungeons, random battles, and character progression in the form of new abilities and a higher life point total. An oversized version of Aswan Jaguar was included in the game box.

Two related products were released, the expansion pack Spells of the Ancients and Duels of the Planeswalkers. Duels of the Planeswalkers was an improved version of the main game that didn't require the original to be installed.

Game mechanics[edit]

The game is playable in several modes: a single-player campaign, a duel or tournament against computer-controlled opponents, and later a multiplayer experience added by the Manalink add-on. All three share the same dueling interface, which is based on the mechanics of the real-life Magic: The Gathering card game. In Duel and Multiplayer modes, the game allowed a player to construct his or her own deck (using a specialized Deck Editor), or to play with a randomly generated deck (simulating a "fresh pack of cards" as was the custom in various tournaments at the time). The single-player campaign however required the player to participate in a large-scale quest, during which he or she would endeavor to gather cards and thus be able to construct more powerful playing decks, hopefully powerful enough to defeat the campaign's chief antagonists.

Card duel[edit]

This mode of the game attempts to simulate the experience of playing with actual Magic: The Gathering cards. The player is shown a tableaux that is divided into two halves - the lower half for the player's cards, and the upper half for the opponent's cards. Both players draw randomly from their own available cards (their personal "deck"), then proceed to play a standard game of Magic: The Gathering, based as closely as possible on Magic: The Gathering official rules.

The match progresses in phases and turns, corresponding with the M:TG rule-set, with the program automatically skipping over certain phases when no action is possible and/or required. The player can set break-points to allow him or her to execute "fast-acting" spells or card abilities in case the program is not smart enough to automatically spot such possibilities. Each player's life-counter is displayed on their side of the playing field and will either rise or drop according to the progression of the game. The player can also rearrange his or her played cards to allow better visibility when the playing field becomes crowded, often during prolonged matches.

When the card duel is initiated as part of the Single-Player Campaign, special rules may apply. Often this includes a higher (or lower) life counter for one or both players, a card that appears at the start of the match for one or both players, or a global effect that influences both players (either beneficial or detrimental, often depending on the composition of either player's deck).

Single-player campaign[edit]

The single-player campaign is played mainly on an isometric representation of the game world, consisting of a randomly generated landscape dotted with terrain features and places of interest. The player initially selects a difficulty level (determines starting gold, cards, amulets and the life totals of "boss" enemies) and a preferred magical "color", and subsequently is given a predetermined deck, according to difficulty level and color chosen. The character is then transported to the world map, initiating the game.

Travel across the world map is in real-time. The player moves the character across the landscape using simple mouse clicks, evading or intercepting enemies who themselves are predominantly interested in intercepting the player-character. Upon a successful interception, the game transitions into "duel" mode, wherein the player competes against the encountered enemy using the Magic: The Gathering card game system. A card or set of cards is often wagered, with particularly powerful enemies sometimes offering additional rewards beyond the waged cards. Some enemies have unique abilities that allow them to gain a specific advantage for the duration of the battle, while some enemies can summon up a surprise substitution to play in their stead (e.g., a more powerful enemy).

The landscape is composed of patches of different types of terrain, corresponding with the five colors of the game world. Different terrain might offer benefits or hindrance to movement, including roads through all terrain types which allow rapid movement. Terrain also dictates the boundaries across which enemies may travel, as they have to adhere to terrain matching their own color(s). More importantly, each type of terrain offers a chance for special encounters to appear, often unique to one terrain type or another. Such encounters yield anything from combat to instant rewards, and often include riddles that require some knowledge of the various game cards.

The world map contains a large number of cities which can be visited, and these form the backbone for the game's underlying role-playing mechanics. Each city offers some cards for sale of a color matching the terrain around the city; the purchase of food (required to prevent slow-downs on the world map due to hunger); and often quests that usually involve reaching another city, acquiring a specific card, or defeating an enemy in the nearby area. Cities also buy cards from the player, allowing him or her to make money for the purchase of food, better cards and spend them in certain special areas (for example, to buy amulets from a Gem Bazaar). Some cities also offer special items that enhance player performance or allow the player to create special effects such as instant teleportation. Some of these effects, depend on the consumption of colored amulets that can be collected in various encounters, earned upon completion of quests, or purchased These gems can also be traded for rarer cards (generally those of the same color of the amulet) at various towns.

The landscape also contains a handful of dungeons whose locations can be discerned through various means, particularly the completion of quests and the defeat of powerful enemies. Within a dungeon, life lost in each duel carries over to all others, and other special rules will apply which could hinder or enhance a player's abilities. For example, a particular card could be permanently in effect. The dungeon interface is made up of a randomly generated series of perpendicular tunnels, with enemies placed in various locations and intersections. The player has freedom of movement within the tunnels while enemies remain stationary, but the player cannot pass through a spot taken by an enemy without initiating combat with that enemy. The tunnels also contain bonuses that can be picked up which provide a random effect, often bestowing extra life points or a free creature at the start of the next duel. Dungeons are important because of the special, valuable and powerful cards contained within that can be found no where else, frequently offering one of the Power Nine.

The player's primary goal is to destroy the five evil mages who are vying to cast the Spell of Dominion, which will enable them to conquer Shandalar. To accomplish this, the player must seek out and destroy the castle of each and every mage. Castles are played similarly to dungeons, except they contain no special cards but instead house the mage him/herself. If the mage is defeated in a duel, the mage and the castle are permanently destroyed. Until defeated, each mage regularly sends minions to attack cities on the map, which requires the player to react promptly, traveling to this city within the allotted time and defeating the minion in a duel. If the player fails, either by losing to the minion or taking too long to respond, the enemy mage will establish a mana link at the city, leaving the now much more powerful minion to stand guard. If any one mage establishes enough mana links (3 or 5, depending on whether or not the player possesses a certain item) to cast the "Spell of Dominion", which will bring the plane of Shandalar under their control, the game is lost. The player can establish mana links of his own by completing certain quests for the city. Mana links permanently increase the player's life total, conferring a vital long-term advantage, as the game's most powerful enemies have many more life points than the player begins the game with.

After defeating all five mages, the player then has to confront a final enemy who plays with cards of all five colors. This enemy has vastly more life points than any other enemy in the game. The amount of damage the player manages to do to this final boss before the fight ends constitutes the player's final score for the campaign.


The project to make Magic: The Gathering came during turbulent and troubled times at MicroProse, as it had recently lost a large amount of money pursuing unprofitable ventures (such as an arcade game business).[1] A corresponding flight of personnel was happening as well. Sensing trouble with the Magic project, the famous and marquee Sid Meier was assigned to it. This game would be the last that Meier would ever work on with MicroProse, as he went on to found his own studio, Firaxis Games, shortly afterward.


Spells of the Ancients[edit]

This expansion pack was released on September 1, 1997. It included an upgrade of the game engine and interface, improved AI, and a sealed-deck tournament feature. It also added cards from older editions of the base set, the expansion sets Arabian Nights and Antiquities.

Duels of the Planeswalkers[edit]

This was an upgraded version of the original game released on January 14, 1998. Owners of the original game were eligible for a mail-in rebate. It included the original game, all of the upgrades included in Spells of the Ancients, and 80 new cards from the expansion sets Legends and The Dark.

Astral set[edit]

Astral symbol
star with a trail
Released April 1997
Size 12 cards
Mechanics randomness
Development code none
Expansion code none

Twelve unique cards, constituting the Astral set, were exclusive to this computer game and not printed on paper (with the exception of the oversized Aswan Jaguar included in the box) They used completely randomized effects that would be difficult to play in an actual game. Each card had its own associated sound effect (The Goblin Polka Band played a spritely tune when used.):

Card name Casting cost Card type Description Illustration
Aswan Jaguar 1GG Creature - Jaguar When Aswan Jaguar comes into play, choose a random creature type from those in target opponent's library.

GG,T: Destroy target creature of the chosen type. It can't be regenerated. (2/2)

Pat Morrissey
Call from the Grave 2B Sorcery Return target creature card chosen at random in the graveyard to play under your control. Call from the Grave deals to you damage equal to that creature's casting cost. Quinton Hoover
Faerie Dragon 2GG Creature - Dragon Flying

1GG: Play a random effect. (1/3)

NèNè Thomas
Gem Bazaar Land As Gem Bazaar comes into play, choose a color at random.

T: Add one mana to your mana pool of the color last chosen. Choose a color at random.

Liz Danforth
Goblin Polka Band RR Creature - Goblin X2,T: Tap X target creatures chosen at random. Spend only red mana on X. Goblins tapped this way do not untap during their controllers' next untap phases.


Quinton Hoover
Necropolis of Azar 2BB Enchantment Whenever a non-black creature is put into a graveyard from play, put a husk counter on Necropolis of Azar.

5, Remove a husk counter from Necropolis of Azar: Put a black Spawn creature token with swampwalk named Spawn of Azar into play. That token has power from 1 to 3 chosen at random and toughness from 1 to 3 chosen at random.

Rob Alexander
Orcish Catapult XRR Instant Randomly distribute X -0/-1 counters among a random number of random target creatures. Melissa Benson
Pandora's Box 5 Artifact 3,T: Each player reveals his/her library. Choose a random creature card from each library revealed this way. For each player, flip a coin. If heads, put a token into play that is a copy of that player's revealed card. Then each player shuffles his/her library. Amy Weber
Power Struggle 2UUU Enchantment At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player exchanges control of random target artifact, creature or land he or she controls, for control of random target permanent of the same type that a random opponent controls. Mark Tedin
Prismatic Dragon 2WW Creature - Dragon Flying

At the beginning of your upkeep, Prismatic Dragon becomes a random color. 2: Prismatic Dragon becomes a random color. (2/3)

Amy Weber
Rainbow Knights WW Creature - Knight When Rainbow Knights comes into play, it gains protection from a random color permanently.

1: Rainbow Knights gains first strike until end of turn. WW: Rainbow Knights gets +0/+0, +1/+0, or +2/+0 until end of turn, chosen at random. (2/1)

Douglas Shuler
Whimsy XUU Sorcery Play X random fast effects. Anson Maddocks


Magic: The Gathering was released for Microsoft Windows 95. While most games released for Windows required at least Windows 95, a bug in the installer for this game required the user be running precisely Windows 95; users of later versions of Windows had to use a compatibility mode. In subsequent versions, the problem with the installer is fixed. The game runs on Windows 95 and may run on 2000, XP, Vista, and Windows 7, depending on the hardware configuration.


  1. ^ "Magic: The Gathering" article by Al Giovetti