CCG Special: By The Numbers

By Nick Vigdahl 03 Oct 2016 26

Welcome to By the Numbers, a (hopefully) ongoing series where I highlight mobile games and some of the interesting numbers behind them. This edition is all about collectable-card and deck-building games.

CCG Market: $1.2 billion dollars per year

Magic once dominated the world of collectable-card games until Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft came right at it with a game built for digital and designed to address some of the main gripes about Magic. The game worked so quickly and so well that the $1.2 billion dollar mobile CCG market was born, with Hearthstone crowned the undisputed king.

Magic Duels: 167 new cards

Magic: The Gathering is the elder statesman of collectable-card games, on paper anyway. Digital products have always been the game's biggest weakness. Magic Online has been around for many years and several versions but only on PC and even there it's still a mess. There are UI issues galore, but the game also doesn't lend itself easily to a digital format.

Magic Duels is Wizards of the Coast's (the makers of Magic) most current attempt to capture a piece of the mobile market. It launched in July 2015 and replaced the Magic <insert-year> series. The latest update, due September 28, will bring 167 new cards (and various quests) from Magic's latest set, the steampunkish Kaladesh.

Magic Duels

Worth trying?: I'm a big Magic fan so it pains me to say no. The bottom line is that there are much better mobile CCG games out there. If you really want to play Magic on a mobile device it is your only real option however. Download it on iOS. For some reason it isn’t available on Android.

Ascension Online: 379 total cards

Magic once owned the world of CCGs and it was some time before anybody took a shot at it on its own turf. Some card-based games began to borrow the deck-building mechanic and victory-point win condition from Dominion to differentiate themselves. Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ascension Online was one such game and may have been the first to make the leap to mobile devices. Rather than sell packs of cards, Ascension offers expansion packs, each with a new set of cards to incorporate into the game. Expansion sets cost from $2 to $4 and for $9 you can get a bundle of six different sets.

Worth trying?: Yes, if you enjoy deck-building games Ascension is for you. For a very reasonable cost you can have access to every card in the game. Grab it now on iOS or Android.

Clash Royale: #3 on the top-grossing list

Supercell, the makers of freemium heavyweight Clash of Clans, took their own shot at the CCG market in early 2016 with Clash Royale. Clash is no clone and takes a much different path than Hearthstone. It is a head-to-head tower defense game where each player creates a deck of collectable cards with which to attack and defend. Think Tiny Heroes but PVP. As you might imagine, there are a ton of cards to collect and upgrade and of course, in-app purchases. Things seem to be going well for Supercell. On 9/27 the game was the #3 top-grossing game on iPhone, #7 on iPad, and #1 on Android.

Worth trying?: It's kind of fun but there isn't nearly as much strategy here as with other CCGs. If you really like the idea of PVP tower defense this is the way to go. Free to play on iOS or Android.

Cards and Castles: 5 factions

Cards and Castles is a deck-building game where your goal is to destroy your opponent's castle. While this sounds like another tower-defense game it is actually quite different. Cards and Castles combines deck building with turn-based strategy. Your cards dictate what characters you can place and you control all of their actions directly. Gameplay is similar to Warbits (but with a deck of cards to determine your units) and Loot & Legends (without the D&D theme). There are five different factions: Vikings, crusaders, pirates, warlocks, and ninjas and you can either specialize with one for the sake of synergy or combine cards from multiple and form your own strategy. It is quite fun and quickly had me considering decks to brew and tactics to deploy to smash my opponent’s castle.

Cards and Castles

Worth trying?: Yes. There's a lot of strategy and tactics crammed into this game and I very much like the feel of it. Cards and Castles is certainly worth a look for anybody looking for something different than Hearthstone. Give it a try on iOS or Android.

Mavenfall: $.60 per rare

Mavenfall is another CCG that offers a big change of pace from Hearthstone and a much different overall experience. You collect mavens which each come with a deck of collectable power cards. Going into combat you pick your mavens and build their decks. On each turn you draw three cards from any of those decks for use in battle.

An excellent twist in Mavenfall is battlefield positions: tanks are in front, spell-casters tend to populate the middle position, with ranged attackers and sneaky-types stand in back. You have to get through the tank before you can beat on the squishies, except where power cards allow you to do otherwise. It's very cool. There's also a preview feature that lets you see the effect of any card before you play it.


I noticed a lot of criticism that Mavenfall is more expensive and pay-to-win than other CCGs so I ran some numbers. A pile of 800 gems (the game's premium currency) is $5. A single random rare or legendary card goes for 96 gems, so about $.60. By way of comparison Hearthstone packs go for $1.50. That gets you five cards, one of which is guaranteed to be a rare or better. Based on this alone, and bearing in mind each Maven deck contains ten cards and there are fewer cards overall, this seems at least reasonable. There are daily challenges to earn in-game currency similar to Hearthstone but Mavenfall also uses the dreaded energy system to limit battle, which is suspicious.

Worth trying?: Maybe. The game itself is fun and a good mix of CCG and turn-based combat. I haven't felt like it is too heavy on pay-to-win mechanics, but that could change deeper into the game and higher up the ranked ladder and the use of an energy system is troubling. Give it a shot on iOS or Android.

Duelyst: 16-bit graphics

In the coming-soon-to-mobile camp we have Duelyst, a turn-based CCG where combat takes place on a grid. You play as a general who summons minions and casts spells. Casting and combat are similar to Magic, but with the tactical-game twist of moving units around the grid. You gain mana bonuses for occupying certain squares, which encourages movement.

The graphics are a bit bi-polar. You have a modern UI and setting with 16-bit hex-like generals and minions populating it.

Duelyst Art

Duelyst is fun on PC and certainly holds promise on mobile. It should be coming this year.

Worth trying?: Likely. The game is good, but a lot will depend on the mobile implementation and the freemium mechanics. 

Whether you prefer old-school Magic, are hooked on Hearthstone, or are looking for something a little different, the CCG market has a game for you. If it doesn’t, more are on the way to mobile and the flood isn’t receding anytime soon. Stay tuned.



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