Delving headfirst into Magic: The Gathering can be a daunting task, and the the physical card game is limited by the lack of any true single player option. That lack of a practice mode is precisely why the Magic iPad and XBox Live Arcade games have been so poplar: they are simply one of the best ways for new players to get their feet underneath them, establishing the confidence to challenge their more experienced peers.
Of course that's not to say that they're useless for more experienced players. I for one enjoy these apps immensely because they introduce cards and playing styles that I'm unfamiliar with and the difficulty can be ramped up to the point where the slightest miscalculation can mean the sudden conclusion of a match that just moments before had been under my total control.
Because of the frustration and complexity of these battles, we here at 148Apps decided to create a fairly thorough walkthrough of not simply basic Magic strategy, but how it specifically applies to the single player campaign in Magic 2015.
Assuming you've completed the tutorial, the first world you come across is Innistrad: the dark and seedy plane in which this journey begins. I played with a red and white mixed deck, which is one of the default configurations from the end of the tutorial, because it's one of the more solid and flexible configurations as it doesn’t necessarily depend on specific combinations or a large amount of luck to win a match. Unless you're really knowledgeable about Magic I'd highly recommend choosing one of the pre-built decks.
The first battle is against a black zombie deck that starts fairly slow but does become quite large late-game, and by “large” I am referring to the power of the creatures. The general rule for large, slow decks is to deal as much damage as early as you can - because if they can get their most powerful creatures out the game can be over in a matter of a few turns.
This Living Death deck contains little to no spells and just one flying creature, which means that if you can get a creature with flying on the field they basically become unblockable and can deal consistent damage each turn. A good tactic, if you can manage it, is to get a flying creature out early and try and add to its attack while using ground forces as sacrificial walls. The Living Death deck can get out of hand very quickly thanks to it’s enormous amount of lands, ability to resurrect defeated zombies, and Maalfeld Twins creature, which brings in two 2/2 zombie tokens upon death.
Nevertheless, you should be able to fairly easily navigate through this with a good start, and this is mostly predicated on the starting hand. The biggest tip for choosing a good starting hand is to pay attention to which player is starting off. If you're the first to play you can get by with having 4 lands in your hand, because you get the first play and do not get a draw initially. Whoever plays second gets to draw a card first, and because of this it is common for these players to choose a starting hand with 3 or even 2 lands. Be careful of being too picky, however, as you only get one mulligan before your hand size decreases by one card on each consecutive re-draw.
Moving past the zombie hoard is a unique deck that amazingly contains no creatures at all. Cursed Existence is a Blue, Black, and Red deck that utilizes the versatile Evolving Wilds as it’s vehicle for obtaining lands. The main card is Curse of the Pierced Heart, which causes the opposing player (you) to lose a point of health every turn. The deck’s strategy is to constantly put one of these out every turn and linearly increases the amount of damage done.
Obviously then, this battle turns into a race to inflict as much damage as possible. For small decks it is imperative that low cost creatures are in the opening hand because Cursed Existence can win fairly quickly if too many Curse of the Pierced Heart cards get out onto the field.
Feast of Flesh
Representing a needed change of pace from the previous deck, Feast of Flesh is a Red and Black Vampire deck that will prove to be quite the challenge. Necromancer decks have always been tough and this one is no exception; most of the creatures will get a permanent +1/+1 buff every time they do direct damage to a player. This deck contains an unholy amount of Bloodcrazed Neonates, which are 2/1 vampires that must attack every turn and have the +1/+1 buff mentioned above. Their defense is initially low, but they become much less manageable once they score a direct hit or two. If possible, the best form of defense is a wall of sacrificial tokens or small creatures as it is best practice to rid the field of these creatures quickly.
Like most of the decks up to this point, Feast of Flesh has a dearth of flying both in attack or defense, and this again gives a big advantage to those with flying creatures. It makes up for this, however, by suddenly being very large with fairly cheap 3/2 and 4/3 creatures Barony Vampire and Stromkrik Patrol, respectively. If your deck contains a sorcery or instant card that deals direct damage to a creature I would highly recommend saving it until late game because, in addition to their high attack power, they also contain the same +1/+1 direct hit buff as the Bloodcrazed Neonates.
Report to Avacyn
Finally leaving the land of the dead and into a new color is the final battle of Innistrad. Here you'll encounter a new all-White deck that is a good representation of the strengths of the color. The first thing you will notice is the incredible ability for this deck to regenerate health. It does this in a variety of manners, and this deck focuses on summoning Cathedral Sanctifier as well as sorcery cards like Angel’s Mercy, which immediately grants 7 life to the player. Report to Avacyn also possesses Emancipation Angel, which is a 3/3 flying creature that immediately returns a card to a player’s hand. This allows Cathedral Sanctifier, which only costs one white land to summon, to be recast giving 3 life again.
Be careful initially about attacking as this deck has an instant, Zealous Strike, which adds +2/+2 to any of it’s creatures. This means that the 1/1 Cathedral Sanctifier that was initially no match for your 2/2 attacker suddenly becomes a 3/3 for that one battle. Report to Avacyn also has Rebuke in its arsenal, which instantly kills any attacking creature. Because of all this, and a handful of flying creatures, it is imperative to get as many creatures out on the battlefield as possible. Luckily, because of all the spell cards this deck doesn't contain too many creatures, so as long as you're able to withstand the initial surge moving on shouldn't be too complicated.
Venturing into Theros brings a much less black and white view on everything, and here you will encounter more Green, Blue, and Red decks than previously. Green and Blue are incredibly different, and both present a unique challenge.
The first battle in the Theros realm is against a hydra deck, and moreso than any pervious encounter this requires speed or plenty of cards that kill or deal direct damage to opposing creatures. Hydras are frightening because they become stronger at an alarming rate, and sacrificing creatures to avoid taking large amounts of damage is a solid strategy here for sure.
Going into this game, minotaurs were one of the cards that I had the least amount of experience with - but I definitely have a good appreciation for them now. This Red and Black deck is as unique as it is powerful, possessing a brutal combination of above average speed and size. Luckily there's no flying, but the high defensive stats mean that breaking through will prove to be tricky. I recommend playing defensively and trying to get at least one flying creature on the field or work on dealing direct damage through sorcery or instant cards.
This is a Blue deck that also has a handful of Green cards thrown in. It'll be by far the largest deck you'll face up to this point, and it's full of quirks that make it deceptively tough. This is another deck that has a weakness for flying, and in my playthrough I was lucky enough to get one out early. Ocean’s Might packs a big punch with relatively cheap cards such as Godhunter Octopus (5/5) and Serpent of the Endless Sea, which has a power/toughness equal to the number of islands controlled. The latter cannot attack a player unless they have an island, which initially keeps you safe, but the Spreading Seas enchantment converts one of your lands into an enchanted island. This, along with allowing Serpent of the Endless Sea to attack, also fulfills Godhunter Octopus’ attack provision of only being able to attack players with an enchanted land.
Try to utilize a card that destroys enchantments to remove Spreading Seas as soon as it's played. This can and will save you a lot of pain when dealing with the two cards mentioned above. To make things worse, summoning one of this deck’s base creature, Man-O-War, can return opposing cards back into their owner’s hand. This makes getting creatures onto the battlefield tough when every other turn you have to return that same card back into your hand and summon it again at the start of the next. The final thing to worry about are the Kraken Hatchlings, which are essentially 0/4 walls, even though they aren't classified as such. These are incredibly frustrating to remove and will stall much of your ground attack.
Hopefully this is enough to get you on the right path to becoming a master Planeswalker, and the rest of Magic 2015 will be enjoyably challenging. My final tip would be to make the most of every card. Magic is foremost a game about optimization: how can you, as the caster, optimize the most devastating outcome from the hand you are dealt? Don't panic early and use Smite to destroy a 2/2 token just because it might bring you down to 18 health. Save it and use it to destroy that vicious 6/6 monstrosity later on to allow a game clinching counter attack.
Only then will you fully appreciate the true thrill of Magic: the Gathering.