August 5, 1993 -- Magic: The Gathering launches with over 300 unique cards to collect, trade, and use to crush your friends in epic tabletop warfare. Each card has its own identity, offering glimpses into the savage but breathtaking planes of the Magic Multiverse.
Those 300 cards proved to be the undisputed catalyst of the Trading Card Game (TCG) genre. As of early 2020, there have been more than 20,000 unique Magic: The Gathering cards released across all their expansions.
Who would've thought this tabletop game would inspire digital creations and influence an entirely new breed of blockchain-based collecting nearly 30 years later?
Though digital games have become increasingly popular, there are some key disadvantages of the format that crop up when comparing digital card games with their physical forebears, specifically those of ownership and value.
In digital card games, you don't actually own your cards—you're just given access to them from a central server via a license.
If you lose your account or decide to change to a different game, those cards are lost to you forever.
Digital cards have no real rarity or uniqueness—millions are crafted out of thin air, a common problem currently faced by digital economies.
If you want new cards, you're locked into getting them directly from the game. Gray market sites are prone to fraud and typically violate the EULA/TOS agreement set forth by the games themselves.
There's no way for real value to be established; there's a monopoly over card supply, so price can only ever be what the developers directly tell you it is.
In an ideal world, TCGs and CCGs should have all the benefits of the digital format, with none of the drawbacks.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) make this concept a reality.
Blockchain technology has the potential to unlock real value in digital assets, and that includes gaming assets like cards in a TCG.
Creating cards as NFTs on the blockchain imbues them with several key properties that other forms of digital assets can't replicate:
Gods Unchained was the first major collectible NFT card game to bring the benefits of blockchain to the public eye, running a successful presale that raised more than $4M, as well as selling special one-off Mythic cards for a lot of money.
Some of the game's cards are standard off-chain digital cards available to anyone—but unlike their blockchain-based cards, these items can't be traded.
In the rapidly-developing field of blockchain, several TCGs have adopted the Enjin Platform, along with the optimized ERC-1155 token standard.
One such project benefiting from the ERC-1155 standard is Spirit Clash. Every card you see above is an ERC-1155 token created on JumpNet, a new network that enables fee-free NFT minting and distribution. As the token owner, you fully control these items via your own personal blockchain address.
Additionally, each card is backed with Enjin Coin (ENJ). This infuses real-world value into every card, while also preventing the unchecked creation of new assets that can cause hyperinflation in digital economies.
Like Gods Unchained, Spirit Clash hosted a presale of limited-run cards and packs, delivering items straight to their backers' wallets. All presale cards had a special border, marking them out as exclusive first editions compared to any later issuances.
Thanks to blockchain explorers like EnjinX, it's possible to monitor the supply and distribution of each card, and smart contracts on decentralized marketplaces ensure players are protected from item fraud.
Blockchain protects all parties involved in trading—you can't list something you don't own for sale or deny payment if you received it, and every purchase can be verified.
Game developers can even assign transfer or trading fees to items they create, effectively earning commission on secondary market trades. No longer is digital asset trading a gray market—it's a new potential revenue stream for creators.
Blockchain TCGs also remove a common issue suffered by their physical counterpart: too much product sitting on store shelves. Studios can completely eliminate the possibility of over-supplying the demand by minting NFT cards on an as-needed basis.
Imagine watching the tournament finals of your favorite digital TCG.
As soon as the champion smacks down their opponent with a finishing blow, a #1/1 card personalized to commemorate their victory is minted directly to their wallet.
A QR is also dropped to the audience, allowing viewers to scan and receive an NFT that celebrates the win and serves as proof of their attendance at the match.
Achievements are publicly visible, so fans could conceivably buy such rare assets directly from the player, safe in the knowledge that blockchain prevents item fraud.
Tokenizing cards provides all the hallmarks of physical ownership in a digital format. It also prevents hacking, with no single point of failure on decentralized networks like Ethereum.
But do scarcity and security go hand-in-hand with engaging gameplay?
Like their NFT items, blockchain TCGs are unique and varied, with gameplay ranging from Gods Unchained and Crystals of Fate's Hearthstone-esque format, to Spirit Clash's core-based approach.
Games like Ether Legends merge the digital and physical realms, while Kingdom Karnage offers side-scrolling, upgrade-centric execution.
Playing with cards has been a beloved part of human recreation for over 1,000 years. For the majority of those years, card games were almost exclusively games of chance.
Then, Magic: The Gathering came along and introduced the concept of deckbuilding, bringing in player strategy to create a revolution in gameplay—and giving each individual card real value for the first time.
When gameplay moved online, the convenience of instant anytime matchups and the appeal of massive card generation and moments of RNG madness meant some of the hallmarks of the physical format—actual card ownership —had to be sacrificed.
Now, with the possibility of tokenizing cards on blockchain, games are empowering their players with NFTs, infusing their game economies with value—and opening up new revenue streams at the same time.
Just as Wizards of the Coast innovated in the early 90s, studios today are using the magic of blockchain technology to bring physical benefits into digital formats; putting the power of whatever card you draw right back where it should be—in your hands.