Magic the Gathering (MtG) vs Android Netrunner (ANR)
There has been a lot of discussion and comparisons made between these two outstanding games. I’ve decided to write a few thoughts to contribute to this dialogue.
A. Barrier to Entry
Wizards of the Coast has made a significant effort in decreasing the barrier of entry for new players to Magic the Gathering. They have been very successful in this goal in the last few years as a direct consequence to two successful actions.
(1) Duels of the Planeswalker is a program available on various platforms. Over the last few years, this program has become more polished and has been a great tool to teach the basics of MtG and introduce new players to the game and the extensive card pool.
(2) New World Order, coined by Mark Rosewater (lead designer to Magic the Gathering), is the strategy and priority to make sure that MtG common cards were simpler to read and play with. Cards that require more complexity were reserved to the rare and mythic rare cards. This has also decreased the barrier to entry compared to where the game was 5+ years ago.
Fantasy Flight Games has created a great video series to explain the rules of the game. The rule book is well written. However, overall, with MtG’s intro deck packs, their similar video tutorial, Duels of the Planeswalker program and simpler text on their common cards, I think the barrier of entry for Magic the Gathering is slightly lower than Android Netrunner for the average new gamer.
Edge: Magic the Gathering
B. Collectible Card Game vs. Living Card Game Model
One big difference between the two games is the distribution model.
(1) LCG Model: Android Netrunner is committed to having their entire card pool stay in publication. Also, all cards packs include a set of known cards. So a new or experienced player looking for cards can fairly easily obtain these cards at a fixed price. Usually three sets of 20 cards are available for 10-15 dollars.
(2) CCG Model: Magic the Gathering distributes their new cards in booster packs. There are several types of rarities. In each booster pack, there are about 10-11 common cards, and usually 1 rare card. It is nearly impossible to get a full set of a rare cards by purchasing booster packs. You usually need to obtain single cards in the secondary market.
Because of the high popularity of Magic the Gathering, the secondary market is very robust. So usually, a player can purchase all the necessary cards in the secondary market. However, very desirable and popular rare cards and mythic rare cards will cost a lot. A single printed in the last 2 years can easily can cost $15-40 dollars.
At first, you might think the LCG is universally superior. However, the LCG model is only superior when a card pool is small, or when the popularity of a game is small. If there is a large card pool, a CCG has some advantages over an LCG model.
Because Magic the Gathering has a card pool of over 10000 cards, and the community is so large, the disadvantages of an CCG are not as significant. But for the consumer, I would personally still prefer an LCG model.
Edge: Android Netrunner
C. Cost to Play the Game
This discussion is not that straight forward.
If you were to compare competitive Android Netrunner vs Magic the Gathering in 2013, the answer is simple. It is must less expensive to play Android Netrunner competitively in tournament play. You can buy a full set of the entire card pool for under $300 dollars. You might be not be able to buy your preferred competitive MtG Standard deck for $300 dollars. It’s not even close.
(1) New players. One Android Netrunner core set (contains about 200 cards) will cost between 30-40 dollars - and you can play with two players. New players will be encouraged to buy at two Intro Deck to start in Magic the Gathering. You can buy two intro decks for 25-30 dollars. Each intro deck includes 90 cards.
(2) New deck builder. In Android Netrunner, many new deck builders will want to purchase a second core set and at least the first data pack. So your total investment will be between 60-95 dollars. In Magic the Gathering, you can purchase 5 intro decks, an Event Deck and a deck builder toolset for under 100 dollars.
Edge: Android Netrunner
D. Strategic and Tactical Play of the Hand
The elegance of the Android Netrunner resource system allows the strategic play of the hand to flourish in depth and variety. Players have 3 or 4 clicks each turn. The clicks can be used to draw cards, gain credits (money), complete actions. There are usually 5-10 choices of how to use each click. Also, you can decide on what order you want to take the actions.
The credits also allow you to save your resources to plan the game. You can save cards and money to be used on future turns.
There are more unknown and hidden pieces of information in Android Netrunner by virtue of the corporation’s face down cards.
Magic the Gathering has a lot of tactical decisions in the play of the hand. The decisions usually are more varied and interesting in the mid and late game. However, the strong edge goes to Android Netrunner in this category. Android Netrunner simply has a more depth in the play of the hand.
*** Strong Edge: Android Netrunner
There is tremendous variety in both games with deckbuilding. However, the variety and complexity of deckbuilding in Magic the Gathering far surpasses Android Netrunner. There are a number of reasons for this.
Magic the Gathering has a much larger card pool by virtue of its longer history. But even for Standard (2 years’ worth of cards), MtG has a larger card pool than all the cards of Android Netrunner combined.
(2) The balancing of the cards and the mechanics of synergy and card value is just better right now in Magic the Gathering. Wizards of the Coast has over 10x more resources than Fantasy Flight Games when designing and developing these two games. I believe MtG has really nailed this in the last few years. There is just so many archetypes that are viable to play in MtG’s various formats. That’s not to say that Android Netrunner is not balanced, and there isn’t a good variety of deck types. It is superior to most card games, but it is still inferior to MtG.
(3) Identities vs. Planeswalkers. I believe having a fixed identity will ultimately make balancing and game design more difficult. I love the theme of having a specific runner or corporation. But the special abilities of a fixed identity will limit design space in the long term. Planeswalkers can be numerous and added to any deck. Commander (EDH) leverages one legendary creature with a unique ability, so it’s a great design. But it will ultimately limit game design space for deckbuilding.
(4) Factions vs Colors. I see some advantages of having the faction and influence system of Android Netrunner. I also see a lot of advantages to having the color wheel in Magic the Gathering. But the colors and mana system do allow for more variety and decisions in deck building.
*** Strong Edge: Magic the Gathering
F. Bluffing and “Poker Element”
There is a lot of discussion on the bluffing and slow play element of Android Netrunner. This is a very integral part of the gameplay of ANR. Because of the face down cards of the corporation (Ice, remote and central servers), there is a lot of opportunity for newer players to appreciate the opportunities for slow play and bluffing.
In Magic the Gathering, there is a lot of opportunities to do the same time, but this can only be appreciated in high level Magic. For new players, there is no easy way to seeing bluffing. Most new players don’t even know what the probable deck list the opponent is playing. Newer players don’t know what are the possible instants that can be played if there are 3 mana left untapped. The situations for bluffing are numerous in MtG, but it can only be appreciated at the high level.
So for new players that like bluffing, they will quickly appreciate this mechanic in ANR. But it takes a players who is very familiar with the card pool and gameplay to appreciate it in MtG.
Edge: Android Netrunner
G. Casual Formats
Magic the Gathering has so many casual formats that are fun. This is great for kids and great for games at the kitchen table.
You have multi player formats that are a lot of fun with Commander and Two Headed Giant. You have lots of casual drafting possibilities.
Although I believe thematically, the asymmetric format of Netrunner is a tremendous strength, this really limits the design space for multiplayer formats and casual formats. The faction system also really hinders the viability of a good limited (draft) format - booster drafts, sealed decks, Winston drafts, Solomon drafts, etc.
*** Strong Edge: Magic the Gathering
H. Game Length/Playing Time
According to statistics from Magic Online, the average Standard constructed game in Magic the Gathering is about 8 turns. Most games of MtG can be played in 10-20 minutes. So if both players have a deck preconstructed, they can get 2-3 games in 60 minutes.
According to the statistics on OCTGN, the average game of Android Netrunner is about 14-16 turns. Most games of Android Netrunner can be played in 25-45 minutes. So if both players have a reconstructed deck, they can get 1 long game in or 2 short games in 60 minutes.
Because of the increased game length of Android Netrunner, you can have more epic games. But the shorter game length of Magic the Gathering provides more flexibility.
Edge: Magic the Gathering
I. Asymmetry vs Mirror Matches
There is a lot to be said about the asymmetry design of Android Netrunner. Playing the corporation and playing the runner are two completely different games. A good analogy would be American Football. Playing offense and playing defense are two completely different games with different skill sets.
There are some that also love the opportunity to have a mirror match. It is a true test to see who can skillfully play the same decktype better.
The asymmetry of the game makes tournament play more challenging to implement. But for casuals, the asymmetry adds a lot of variety. I give a slight edge to the asymmetry because of the added variety of gameplay that it provides.
Edge: Android Netrunner
There are some who love the theme of Android Netrunner. The cyperpunk flavor texts and art decorating the card mechanics that clearly support the innate theme of running into corporation servers is dripping with theme.
However, there are others that love the fantasy theme and the opportunity to introduce various genres in card design that can only be present in Magic the Gathering.
I think ultimately the preference in game themes is a subjective decision, and I would call this a draw between the two card games.
K. High Skill with Medium Luck
Both games require high skill in deck building and gameplay. Both games accommodate a medium amount of luck. This is important and elegant game design. However, there is one important distinction to make between these two games.
In Android Netrunner, if you have very poor luck with the draw of your hand, you still can make decisions that are meaningful. They may still change the outcome of the state of the game. For example, if a corporation draws 4 agendas in their hand, they can decide on where to place the agendas. If a runner has no icebreakers, they can still run on servers to force the corporation to rez their ice and deplete their credit pool.
In Magic the Gathering, there is a higher frequency that when there is a very poor draw, you have no meaningful choice. If you are mana screwed, you cannot play any spells. If you are mana flooded, you have no spells in your hand to play.
I don’t believe there is a significant difference in amount of luck when comparing the two games. The key difference is that there are still a lot of gameplay decisions a player in ANR has, regardless of the card draw. In Magic the Gathering, you can still make some decisions, but sometimes, there is no action you can take. And that can be extremely frustrating.
Edge: Android Netrunner
I think most true gamers in BoardGameGeek should learn to play both games. They are both great card games. But if you needed to decide on which game is superior…
If you plan to play this game at the kitchen table with newer gamers, you probably should try Magic the Gathering.
If you are a serious gamer that loves strategic gameplay and enjoys the idea of deck building also, you should find at least one other person and together try Android Netrunner.
If you are a person who wants to play the ultimate collectable card game with organized play and tournament play both in person and online, try Magic the Gathering.
Virre Linwendil Annergård
... and still sober
I play both, but the real limit of Netrunner is that it basicly only have a constructed format.
Not any real limited, although there is trys to make cubes etc, the game is not designed with limited play as part of the idea.
You bring up some good, fair points here, but I just have a few quibbles. I admit to not being too familiar with Netrunner.
I don't understand how you can give Netrunner a "strong edge" on point D, especially citing the early game as being more tactically interesting. In MTG, the line of play from a full hand to empty is crucial. In mid or late game you probably already have all your cards out, so there may not be as many decisions in MTG.
Also, on point K, in MTG a big decision that you have right from the start it about taking a mulligan. This is, I would say, one of the most overlooked strategic decisions in MTG, and is super-effective in reducing the number of games where you are mana flooded or mana screwed. Of course, good deck design also reduces the number of games where you are screwed.
But anyway, I liked your analysis. I'm interested in Netrunner, but have too much money invested in MTG to try it.
Glass Bead Board Games
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Great review. I love both games equally, but I can see myself liking A:NR more in the future, because I love the LCG model.
I think that M:TG has superior strategic gameplay. But just my opinion.
I also find that Warhammer: Invasion has just as excellent strategic gameplay.
Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God
I love Netrunner along with a few other TCGs, but nothing can compare to Magic. There are just so many ways you can play MTG.
- Last edited Fri Nov 1, 2013 5:30 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Nov 1, 2013 5:29 am
This was a good read. As a MtG player I have been thinking of trying A:NR for a while.
One thing I'd say about the comparisons: To me, the LCG model in general inherently has less of an entry barrier as you know that you can buy a base set, try it out and see if you like it. If not, sell it on and that's that.
With a CCG you need to invest a little before being able to build a half decent deck. I see your point about Intro/event decks, but if you purchase one of those (2 assuming you want to play against someone else just starting out) and decide it isn't for you, there isn't much re-sale value in the already opened cards. The risk of purchase with MtG is a little higher for this reason.
So personally, I would have given the edge to A:NR on the entry barrier.
- Last edited Fri Nov 1, 2013 2:18 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Fri Nov 1, 2013 2:17 pm
If you love Magic but you're looking for an alternative, I don't think you'll be as good served trying Netrunner - it's too different and imho a bit over-convoluted, rules-wise.
Your best bet is Warhammer: Invasion, which is still going strong and which feels like a better version of Magic without Mana Flood or Mana Screw.