Over the past several years, many tabletop card games have found a new home in online formats. Online card games offer all the fun of playing physical card games, while also allowing you to socially distance from your opponents. Even before the pandemic, online card games like Hearthstone, MTG Arena, and others had already gained massive popularity.
For all of you card duelists and deck builders out there, here is a list of some of the top card games that were available to play on PC in 2020.
Magic the Gathering: Online and Arena
Magic: The Gathering is widely considered to be the grandfather of modern card-based duel games. Wizards of the Coast invented the iconic MTG competitive format which has captivated the imagination and strategic sensibilities of millions of players since it first hit the shelves all the way back in 1993.
The basic concept behind MTG is that you are engaged in a wizard’s duel with your opponent. Players will build decks of cards which includes spells, lands, and creatures of various power levels. Whoever uses their deck to deplete the enemy health pool first wins the game. It is one of the most strategically rich games ever invented and its popularity spawned the creation of many of the other card games on this list.
In 2002, Wizard of the Coast released an official online version of the game called Magic: The Gathering Online. This faithful recreation of the tabletop game allows players to purchase and sell their cards in a similar fashion to the physical version of the game, and of course players can also play the game itself against opponents online. Although MTGO features a relatively outdated UI, it still works well and has an active player base.
Magic: The Gathering Arena was released in 2018. It is technically a different game than MTGO but fundamentally the experience of actually playing the card game is similar. The biggest differences between MTGO and MTGA is that MTGA features a more modern interface, you can’t trade cards in it, and the cards themselves are more affordable. MTGA also only supports standard, limited, and historic formats, whereas MTGO supports all formats, including legacy, vintage, and more.
If you are a casual player, looking to get into the standard version of MTGA is probably the way to go, since you will have to spend less money overall. But MTGO is better for people who want to make long-term investments in the game and compete within proper tournament structures. You can even earn an invite to the Mythic championship through some MTGO tournaments. You can also, technically, grab an invite via MTGA, but it’s based on player rank instead of tournament wins, and moving up the ladder is an experience which is fundamentally different from the traditional tournament structures available in MTGO.
Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
Gwent is a card game that started as a simple minigame in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The card game, which is first named in The Witcher novels written by Andrej Sapkowski, gained immediate popularity, eventually getting its own standalone release in 2018.
Gwent places the players into the shoes of a commander of an army. Your goal is to overwhelm your opponent by recruiting powerful units for your army which come in the form of cards. Gwent takes place across three rounds. Players must win two of those three rounds to claim the victory. Players win rounds by playing cards and spells to accrue power points. Unlike many PC card games, Gwent does not use a mana system, so card advantage is a crucial aspect to winning considering you don’t have to wait until the late game to play your most powerful cards.
Each round, players will take turns drawing cards from their decks. Every deck is themed to a faction, which features unique cards and privileges varying playstyles. Your deck will also feature a leader card, who is not playable but gives you a unique ability and determines how many mulligans you can play during the match. A round ends when both players pass their turn, or there are no cards left to play.
Although Gwent got off to a bit of a rough start, the developers continue to actively update and support the game. The Homecoming update introduced a number of changes to the game which fundamentally altered the rules of the game. So whether you have never played Gwent or haven’t played since this massive update, it might be a good card game to check out if you are looking for a new deck-building game to play.
Legends of Runeterra
Legends of Runeterra is a free-to-play one-vs-one card game developed by Riot Games and released in April 2020. It is primarily played on mobile devices, but it is also available on PC. The game itself is very similar to games like MTG or Hearthstone. Every match starts with a mulligan phase, cards cost mana to play, and whoever depletes the enemy health pool by using their cards will win the match.
There are some distinctions that make this game unique from other games like it. For example, there is no summoning sickness, so you can immediately attack with a card you play. This leads to an emphasis on aggression, which can be fun. Another unique mechanic is that every time attackers play a card, their opponent will have a chance to counter-move, leading to a quicker-paced match overall when compared to similar games.
The mana pool also works a little bit differently from other games, allowing you to save up to three unused mana which can then be used on spells, but not on minions. The spell system features three speeds of spells: fast, slow, and burst. Burst spells are this game’s equivalent to instant spells in MTG, fast spells can only be countered by a burst spell, and slow spells can’t be used to counter any other type of spell.
If you are a fan of the world of League of Legends and enjoy games like MTG or Hearthstone, then Legends of Runeterra will probably be right in your wheelhouse. Although it doesn’t bring huge innovation to the genre, it still brings its own unique flavor to dueling card games.
Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire is a single player roguelike deck-building game created by Megacrit and originally published by Humble Bundle in 2019 after spending two years in early access. Unlike the other games on this list, Slay the Spire is a single-player adventure, which has no multiplayer components. The goal of this game is to win a series of procedurally generated boss battles by building an effective deck-building strategy to overcome your enemies.
At the start of each run, you can choose between four characters: the Ironclad, the Silent, the Defect, and the Watcher. At the start of the game, however, you will only have access to the Ironclad and you will have to unlock the other three by playing the game. Each character has access to a slightly different health pool, gold stash, ability, and set of initial cards.
The core gameplay loop of Slay the Spire is made up of a series of enemy and boss fights. These fights take the form of a card game. While in combat, each turn players will draw a new hand of cards and receive three energy points. The different types of cards include attack cards, defense, and special cards which apply buffs to you and debuffs to your enemies. The different cards in the game require different amounts of energy to play.
Every attack in the game is telegraphed, so you know if the enemies will attack you and how much damage they will do. You can use this information to make your combat decisions. As you ascend the spire, you will find new cards to add to your deck, slowly building your deck as you win more encounters.
One of the things that makes Slay the Spire unique is its diverse levels of difficulty. At the start of the game, it is a reasonably difficult challenge but nothing that strategy and wit can’t overcome with a little effort. Once you have won your first run, you will have access to ascension mode, which is a more difficult version of the game. This mode can be played from level one to 20, with level 20 being the hardest possible version of the game.
If you are looking for a unique, single-player card game which will challenge you, Slay the Spire was one of the best options out there in 2020.
Hearthstone is a MTG-style dueling card game which is available to play on mobile devices and PC. It was developed by Blizzard Entertainment and released back in 2014. Although Hearthstone made some moves in 2020 which upset many free-to-play players, it remains one of the most popular card games available to play on PC.
Hearthstone is played in a similar fashion to MTG or Legends of Runeterra, with players drawing cards from a prebuilt deck and playing those cards using a mana pool which increases as the game goes on. The first player to exhaust the enemy health pool wins the match.
Hearthstone brings even less originality to the table in regards to gaming mechanics than Legends of Runeterra did. But what it lacks in uniqueness, it makes up for in style and flash. The game itself is beautiful, from the card art, to the arena styling, to animations themselves—everything is really well put together. Overall, the game is fun to play.
Unfortunately for fans, in 2020 Blizzard introduced a battle pass which gives players less gold for time they spend playing on the ladder, which is the game’s primary mode. The Hearthstone community criticized the move as bad for free-to-play players. Hearthstone content creators like Kripp and J Alexander even took to Twitter in mid November to criticize the new system.
The move came as particularly frustrating to many players, given Blizzard’s promise that the new system would not take away from gold that players could earn. So be aware that the latest version of Hearthstone is a pretty grindy experience if you don’t want to spend extra money.