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Review by: Jim Brumbaugh
Published: November 4, 1997
In the land of Dominia, things have changed. There are new Lands. There are additional Spells. There are more enemies looking to battle one-on-one. Furthermore, there are new tools available to the Human Wizard which will assist him in achieving his nefarious goals. For owners of the original Magic: The Gathering for the PC, the expansion set Spells of The Ancients is spawned for your amusement.
As with any Magic expansion, the first items of interest to be examined are the “new” cards. There are 144 additional cards in Spells of The Ancients, consisting of offerings from the Unlimited, Antiquities and Arabian Nights sets. Experienced Magic players will find some of their old creature favorites in this expansion, including the Atog from Antiquities, the War Elephant from Arabian Nights, and the Sedge Troll from Unlimited. A number of strong, game-altering cards are also included, such as the Urza’s quintet (Chalice, Mine, Miter, Tower and Power Plant), the Rukh Egg, and my new, personal favorite, the Icy Manipulator.
However, most appreciated in this new expansion are the Unlimited’s ten “Dual Land” cards, like Badlands, Plateau, Savannah, Taiga, Tundra and Tropical Island. Magic is a game which can be won and lost according to the number of options a player’s deck will provide, and when used properly, I have found that these cards allow me to economize my use of Mana and provide a multitude of play options that were not previously available to me with “Single” Land cards alone.
If this were a package that only added some new cards, there is a real possibility that there is little need for anyone other than the collector to purchase this product. Wisely, MicroProse decided to make important game-related changes for their Spells of The Ancients expansion. To begin with, the program interface has been completely redesigned. The Main Menu now contains five different options: Duel, Tools, World, Help and Player. Further, there are a total of 91 pre-made decks included in the package which the player can choose to play — or play against. The AI has been upgraded, and program updates to the original Magic: The Gathering that had been written prior to the release of Spells of The Ancients are included as well.
In the Duel section of the product, the player will find some options with which he is already familiar. The Solo Duel and The Gauntlet are present under this option, and except for moving the Create Deck facility to the Tools option, these activities are basically the same as those in the original game. In creating this new Duel section, MicroProse has added an important, new feature which will be familiar to most players of Magic tournaments: that of the Sealed Deck tournament. This is a popular form of Magic play, in which each player is given a set number of Magic Starter Decks and Booster Packs of various types. Using only the cards the player receives in these Starters and Boosters, the player must create a deck that will take him through the entire tournament. After each game, the player (and the AI) has an opportunity to adjust his play by editing his/her deck, and there is no limit to the amount of changes that can be made, other than being limited to only those cards that were included in the Starters and Boosters allocated to the player at the beginning of the tournament.
In setting up Sealed Deck play, the player can choose that each tournament challenger receive either one Starter and two to four Boosters, or two Starters and zero to four Boosters. In addition to specifying the number of Starters and Boosters, the player can also decide which types of Starters and Boosters will be used. Starters can be of the Unlimited, Revised or Fourth Edition varieties, and Boosters can be chosen from any of those three, as well as from Arabian Nights and Antiquities. There are a number of additional options which can be specified, including from zero to ten Free Lands that each player can add to his deck before the Tournament begins, a minimum deck size of either 40 or 60 cards, and whether ante cards will be offered by each player before every game. Tournaments are organized in Rounds, and the player can specify the number of Rounds in the tournament. A 3-round Tournament will pit the player against 8 AI competitors, 4 rounds will have the player vie against 16 opponents, and a 5-round Tournament Matches can be configured as a single Duel, the best two of three, or the best three of five.
The Deck Builder is now accessed from the Tools menu option. The Deck Builder essentially remains the same, except that there are a number of new Filter buttons that the player can use to control the cards displayed at the bottom of the screen. All the cards from the original Magic: The Gathering game are available here, as well as all the new cards in the Spells of The Ancients expansion. From this utility, players can create any deck of their choice, and save it with their name and E-mail address attached. Decks constructed in this manner can then be used in the Duel portion of the game, in which the player tests his Magic against any that of the AI decks.
Yet another addition is accessed from the Tools sphere, and that would be the Face Builder utility. Previously, when the player entered Shandalar for the first time in a new game, he was asked to pick from a rather limited set of pre-constructed images to represent himself in this magical realm. Now, upon entering Shandalar or before starting a Tournament, the player can create an image of his “character” which he can then take with him into either of these realms. There are quite a few basic Portraits that are available, and each has customizable portions of his/her image that the player can change. For example, some images have different hair colors or headpieces, some have various colors of skin and types of clothing or armor, and “accent pieces” like lightning bolts, serpents and swords can also be added. Not every option is available for every character, but with somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight categories of Variations that can made to each Wizard Portrait, the player should have no difficulty creating a persona reflective of his own, distinctive style. Of course, there are some pre-made images which can be used, in the event that the player does not wish to create a unique visage for himself.
The World option allows access to the Shandalar portion of the game, in which the player seeks to defeat the minions of five opposing Wizards. This portion of the game is basically unchanged, except that the new cards added in the Spells of The Ancients expansion are available, too. These same spells have also been made available to the enemy, so knowledge of the use of the new spells is essential to obtaining a victory in Shandalar.
The Help sphere is the place where the player will find any assistance that he needs to play Magic. The Tutorial from the original game can be accessed from this point, as well as the Help files themselves and the game Credits.
Finally, the Player option contains a utility for the player to create a Screen Name for his journeys. In addition to creating a name, the player can attach a character image of his choice (one created in the Face Builder utility, for example), and he can also input a Quote that can be used to taunt the other AI characters. In addition, the Hall Of Fame is included within the Player sphere, which is the place where all statistics related to each of the player’s Screen Names will be recorded for posterity.
Of particular interest to most Magic players is any news regarding the multiplayer aspects of Magic: The Gathering for the PC. Well, multiplayer options are not available in Spells of The Ancients — at least, not as of the time of this writing. However, multiplayer support is soon to be made available, and it will first be made available to registered owners of Spells of The Ancients. Inside each copy of the expansion product, a special ManaLink coupon is enclosed which contains a ManaLink Code. By connecting to the GatheringNet site, players can enter their ManaLink Code and register their purchase of SoTA. Registered owners will be placed on a list to be informed, via E-mail, that a special ManaLink module is available for free download. This version of the multiplayer module will function only on PC’s which have Spells of The Ancients installed. Notification to registered SoTA owners is expected to be sent out in November, while the ManaLink module compatible with the original game alone will not be available for two weeks after that time. So, to be on the front line of the multiplayer wave, Spells of The Ancients is a necessity.
Later this year, MicroProse plans to release Duels of the Planeswalkers, billed as “a compilation of everything a player needs to compete in Magic play on the Internet.” This package will include the original Magic: The Gathering for the PC, the ManaLink module, and a card expansion containing over 50 new cards and The Dark and Legends expansion sets. However, according to MicroProse, the cards contained in Spells of The Ancients will not be included in this compilation. Therefore, unless these cards are included in some future compilation, the 144 cards in Spells of The Ancients can only be secured by purchasing this product.
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