Mage Wars Domination was just pre-released two months ago at Origins and now we already have another being released, Mage Wars Academy (just Academy from here on out)!
Truthfully, I don't know what to call this. It isn't really an expansion. Mage Wars Academy is its own standalone game. However, every single card in Academy can be used in Mage Wars Arena. So it kind of is like an expansion but you can play it on its own and never have to touch Arena.
Academy is the culmination of your training at the school for Mages in Sortiledge. It is your "final exam" before you are recognized as a fully fledged Mage.
We're going to take a look at three different things; 1) The components, 2) The gameplay/rules and 3) All the different cards that come in this set.
This review is very long and is therefore going to be broken up into multiple parts. In part 1, we will take a look at the components, the rules, the Mages, the attack spells, and all the equipment that comes in this set.
Let's dive right in.
Let's take a quick look at everything you get in Academy.
- A new rulebook
- 2 spellbooks
- 2 status trackers
- 2 Mage cards and their ability cards
- 2 quickcast markers
- 6 attack dice and one d12
- A bunch of other markers and tokens
- And finally, 131 spell cards. All of which are brand new, never before seen spells. There are no reprints.
Now that we've talked about what you get, let's take a look at how to play Academy.
How To Play
I'm still going to take the time to type out how to play for those of you who prefer reading rather than watching videos. So here we go.
The rules for Academy are designed to be simpler than the rules for Mage Wars Arena while still giving the same epic feel that Mage Wars brings. Is it more streamlined, has less keywords, and has FAR less status conditions (at least to start).
Anybody who has played the full Mage Wars game will have an extremely easy time learning how to play Academy. But that was not the point of Academy. The point of Academy was to help bring in the gamers and non-gamers that had looked at Mage Wars Arena and either didn't want to, or couldn't, invest the time and effort it takes to learn how to play without having to look at the rulebook every turn.
I think it does a fantastic job of just that.
To play Academy, each player will need to select a Mage. In this core set, it will be either the Beastmaster or the Wizard. More Mages will be released over time, in "Mage Packs". If anybody reading this has played Netrunner, it will be very siimilar to the data packs. Basically, in a Mage pack, you will get a brand new Mage, their ability card, their suggested starting spellbook, and a bunch of other cards that will augment that Mage's spellbook, as well as the other schools of magic.
The players will also need their respective Mage's spellbooks. The rulebook of Academy provides a starting spellbook that I highly recommend both players using the first few times they play, regardless of whether they have played Arena or not.
There is no board in Academy. There is only one zone in the game, the space between yourself and the other player. Each player places their Mage card in front of them along with their Mage's ability card. The ability card contains all the important information that makes up your Mage, including health, channeling, their training, their ability, and other things.
Once that is done, each player gets a status tracker and resets it. There are two dials, one for Mana and one for Damage. Both players rotate the damage dial to zero. The Beastmaster rotates his mana dial to zero as well, while the Wizard actually sets it at 3 mana. Each Mage then places a quickcast marker on their Mage.
Finally, each player rolls the d12 to determine who will get initiative. The first two rounds of the game are considered "setup" rounds. Neither player can attack with any creatures or cast any attack spells during either of the first two rounds of a match.
Congratulations! Once you have all that set up, you are ready for your first duel in Mage Wars Academy!
There are 3 phases to a duel in Academy. They are the Reset Phase, the Upkeep Phase, and the Action phase.
During the Reset phase, the initiative marker is passed to the player who does not currently have it (except for in the first round). All creatures are then turned so they are "Active". When a creature has used its action, they are turned sideways. In addition, all quickcast markers are flipped back over to the ready side. Finally, each Mage channels mana equal to their channeling.
During the Upkeep phase, some abilities or effects might be activated, such as Regenerate.
The Action phase is where most of the excitement occurs. Each creature may only take one action during a round. There are 3 types of actions. Attack, Guard, and Cast a spell. Only Mages can cast spells, so most creatures can simply decide between Attacking and Guarding.
Melee attacks work in almost the exact same way as Arena. As always, a creature making a melee attack must attack a guarding creature the enemy controls if they have any. That guarding creature then makes a counterstrike if it does not get killed.
Ranged attacks do not have to attack guards and do not trigger counterstrikes.
One change in Academy is how Mages cast their spells. Instead of a planning phase where a Mage must choose 2 cards to last the entire round, like in Arena, a Mage simply looks through their spellbook to choose a spell once they choose the "cast spell" action. The quickcast marker works the exact same way as in Arena.
There are 5 types of spells in this core set. There are creatures, enchantments, incantations, equipment, and attack spells.
These spell cards work the same way as the cards in Arena. They are either a full cast spell or a quick cast spell. They all cost a certain amount of mana. They are all from one of the various schools of magic. Basically, almost everything is the same on the cards. So Arena players will be able to look at a card and instantly know everything on it.
As always, play lasts until one Mage takes damage equal to or greater than their life total. That Mage is then destroyed and the surviving Mage is declared the victor.
Academy also comes with rules for multiplayer gameplay. There are two forms of multiplayer, either team battles, or free-for-all.
In the team battles, initiative passes between the two teams instead of between individual Mages. Each team also activates one creature at a time, then the other team activates one, and so on. Also, both quickcast markers on the same team cannot be used back-to-back after one creature's activation. Guarding creatures protect both Mages on a team instead of just the controlling Mage. If your teammate dies, their Mage is removed from the board along with any cards attached to them. However, the remaining Mage retains control of the rest of the cards in play that were previously controlled by the destroyed teammate.
During free-for-all games, initiative is passed to the left. Activations also occur in a clockwise manner. Guarding creatures only protect their controlling Mage. A Mage can choose to attack an unguarded Mage even if another opponent has a guarding creature.
Building Your Own Spellbook
Making your own spellbook is half of the fun in Mage Wars. This is true for both Academy and Arena.
Academy spellbook building is very similar to Arena. Each Mage in this core set has 40 spellbook points to build their book with. Each Mage is trained in a specific school of magic. Cards from the schools your Mage is trained in cost spellbook points equal to their level. Spells from outside schools your Mage is NOT trained in cost spellbook points equal to double their level. And spells from opposite schools of magic (ie the Beastmaster and Fire spells) cost spellbook points equal to TRIPLE their level.
In addition, each Mage may only have 3 copies of a level 1 spell in their spellbook and 2 copies of any spell of a higher level.
Now that you know how to play Academy, let's get to what everybody is here for, the cards that come in this set. In part 1, we will take a look at the two Mages, their attack spells, and their equipment spells.
The Beastmaster is focused on using his creatures. He has a wide variety of them, including some powerful ones and some cheap, weak ones. So he can swarm or he could try doing a solo buddy build. He also has access to many enchantments designed to make him or his creatures better.
As you can see from the image above, he has 40 spellbook points to build his book with, 24 life, no armor,7 channeling, and 0 starting mana. The starting mana of the Academy Mages is another slight change from Arena. In Arena, every Mage started with 10 mana. In Academy, it varies. Different Mages might have different amounts of mana they start with. The Beastmaster starts with none.
The Beastmaster is trained in the Nature school of magic and fire spells cost him triple when building his spellbook. Another important thing to note is the level of the Mages themselves in Academy. In Arena, all Mages were considered to be level 6 creatures. In Academy, they are level 4 creatures.
His ability, Stir the Beast, allows him to pay 1 mana once a round to have a level 1 animal creature he just summoned come into play active. This is a GREAT ability. In fact, it's one of the best abilities in the game, Academy or Arena. It's like a permanent Rouse the Beast except it only works on level 1 animal creatures. To make full use of this ability, players will want to use the Beastmaster as a swarming Mage with lots of level 1, weak creatures.
The Beastmaster also has a basic melee attack of 2 dice.
Now that we've looked at the Beastmaster, let's take a look at the Wizard.
The Wizard has the standard Academy spellbook points of 40. He has 24 life, 1 less than the Beastmaster. He also has a channeling of 7 but he starts the game with 3 mana.
The Wizard is trained in the Arcane and Air schools of magic. He has no school of magic that he is opposed to, so he pays a maximum of double for any spell he puts in his spellbook.
The Wizard's ability, Extend Magic, allows him to add an extra Dissipate token to enchantments by paying an additional mana cost equal to that spell's level.
There are 5 spells in Academy with the Dissipate trait, 4 of them being enchantments. In case you all don't remember, the Dissipate trait was introduced in Forged in Fire on the Rolling Fog conjuration card. What it does is gives cards a certain number of rounds that they remain in play before they get destroyed. So if a card has the Dissipate X trait, it stays in play for X amount of turns. Once X amount of turns is over, it is automatically destroyed.
Many of these enchantments with the Dissipate trait are meant for "control" style of play, so this ability allows him to play that way even more efficiently.
Just like the Beastmaster, the Wizard also has a basic melee attack of 2 dice.
Now that we've seen the Mages, let's move on to the other cards.
First up we have the Emerald Elk Stave.
This is a 2 cost equipment spell. It is a level 1 Nature spell and can only be used by a Beastmaster. It takes up the shield slot.
It allows the Beastmaster to heal 2 animal creatures in his zone 1 damage each during the Upkeep phase by paying 1 mana for each creature healed this way.
This is a pretty good card in Academy. Many of the Beastmaster's creatures are level 1 and pretty weak. We'll see them later on. This helps allow him to keep them alive. The healing doesn't cost an action to use.
The card itself costs 2 mana to cast and the healing costs 1 mana, so it isn't expensive to use either.
The thing is, the creatures have to be in the Beastmaster's zone, so that means he will likely have to venture into the fray of battle, which is obviously dangerous.
Johktari Hunting Knife
Next we have the Johktari Hunting Knife.
This is a 4 cost equipment spell taking up the weapon slot. It is also a level 1 nature spell.
It gives the controlling Mage a better attack; one that rolls 3 dice. Additionally, it has a special effect. Once a Mage attacks with this weapon, a friendly Animal creature gains melee +1 until the end of the round.
Also, if the Mage is level 5 or higher, the weapon rolls an additional attack die. This is the first of a couple of cards that have certain things happen depending on what level the creature it affects is.
For 4 mana, this is a really good weapon in Academy. It works well with the Beastmaster's many animal creatures.
Johktari Beastmasters rejoice! There is finally an equipment spell with a quick action ranged attack!
Kajarah is a 3 cost equipment spell from the Nature school. It is level 1 and takes up the Weapon slot.
It gives your Mage a quick action ranged attack of 0-1 zones that rolls 2 dice of damage.
In addition, if one of your animal creatures has already damaged the target this round, it rolls 3 dice instead.
This is a pretty good weapon in Academy. The ranged attack allows your Mage to get around guards and not be worried about Counterstrikes.
Leather Chausses is a very simple card, but groundbreaking at the same time.
It introduces a new equipment slot, the breeches. It only costs 2 mana, is a novice level 1 spell, and gives the Mage Armor +1, like Leather Gloves and Boots.
This card will see tons of use in both Academy and Arena.
It's that simple.
Packleader's Cowl is another Beastmaster only card. It costs 3 mana and is nature level 2.
It takes up both the helmet and cloak equipment slots. Normally this would be a bad thing but currently the Beastmaster doesn't have any other equipment he can wear in the helmet slot. So it doesn't really affect it.
It gives the Beastmaster Armor +1 and in addition, allows him to pay mana equal to the level of a friendly minor Animal creature in his zone to give it a guard marker once per round during his activation.
Minor and major spells are something newly introduced in Academy and are incredibly important to how the game plays. All spells level 1 or 2 are considered Minor spells. Any spells level 3 or higher are considered to be Major.
This card will see lots of play in both Arena and Academy. The only downside is that many Minor creatures are fragile and might be killed if attacked. So I think it may be better used on level 2 creatures who are a bit more durable.
Repulsion Cloak is a Wizard only equipment spell. It costs 4 mana, is a level 1 Arcane spell and takes up the Cloak equipment slot.
It is essentially a weaker/cheaper version of the Suppression Cloak. When the wearer gets attacked by a melee attack, the attacker must pay 1 mana. If they don't, the attack is cancelled.
This is an excellent defensive spell in Academy. The Mages generate more mana, making a single mana more valuable. Combining this with the other mana denial spells in his spellbook, the Wizard can completely drain his enemies of their mana. Every Wizard will play this in Academy.
In Arena, I don't see it being played as often. Wizards will play Suppression Cloak instead.
Rod of the Arcanum
Rod of the Arcanum gives its wielder a better attack. It costs 4 mana and is a level 1 Arcane spell. It isn't Wizard only, so the Beastmaster can use it too.
It gives an attack of 3 dice. In Arena, it's 4 dice.
In addition, when the attack from this weapon hits a Non-Mage creature, the controller of said creature loses a mana.
This is another tool in the Wizard's mana drain arsenal. The issue is that the effect only works when hitting a creature that isn't a Mage, which isn't usually the best option.
This is a fine card in Academy and most Wizards will likely carry it, but I do not see it being used much in Arena. There are simply better options for Wizards, like Mage Staff.
Lastly we have the Sistarran Robes, a chestpiece for the Wizard.
It costs 4 mana and is a level 1 Arcane Spell. It isn't Wizard only but 95% of Mages who use it probably will be.
It gives Armor +1. In addition, if an opposing Mage loses a mana because of an effect you control while wearing this, you then gain a mana. This can happen once a round.
As you can see from some of the other Arcane equipment shown already, this pairs nicely with a few of the Wizard's other cards.
If attacking a non-mage creature with the Rod of Arcanum while wearing this, it will cause a swing of 2 mana, something that is can be a big deal in Academy.
Here we have the first amulet in Academy, the Wispwillow Amulet.
This is a 3 cost spell from the Arcane School. It is a level 1 spell.
This amulet his the Dissipate 6 trait, meaning that it will be in play 6 turns. It comes into play with 6 Dissipate tokens on it and one gets removed every Upkeep phase.
What this amulet does is give the Mage wearing it a mana whenever one of those Dissipate tokens is removed. So you pay 3 mana to eventually gain 6.
This works great in Academy because matches generally last around 6-8 rounds. In Arena, with longer matches, this card won't be as useful. Use a Moonglow Amulet instead in Arena.
For the last equipment spell in this set, we have the Wychwood Ironvine.
It is a 5 cost equipment spell taking up the belt slot. It is Nature level 1.
This belt gives its wearer Armor +1 and the Regenerate 1 trait.
This is a very good card. It is currently the only belt that gives armor plus it gives regenerate 1. This makes it slightly better than Regrowth Belt, depending on how much armor you already have equipped.
It will be used constantly in Academy and probably very often in Arena as well.
Next up we'll take a look at the attack spells of Academy.
Arcane Missiles is the first attack spell of this set and it is one of my favorites.
It is a 6 mana Arcane Level 2 spell. It is a full action to cast and targets 1-3 creatures or conjurations.
It rolls 2 attack dice and the attack is Ethereal and Unavoidable. The damage is also critical.
The reason I like this spell so much is because it is Unavoidable. The Beastmaster has quite a few creatures that have really good defenses but low life.
This spell helps take them out easily. If I was building my own Wizard spellbook, I would try to put 2 of this spell in there.
Forked Lightning is another good attack spell in Academy. Every attack spell in this set is pretty good actually. They're good in Academy, at least.
This one is a 6 mana level 2 Air spell. It's a full action, just like Arcane Missiles, and targets a creature or conjuration.
It rolls 3 attack dice of lightning, Ethereal, damage and also inflicts a Stagger condition on a 7+.
The nicest thing about this card, though, is the Sweeping trait. This means that the attack hits 2 different targets.
This is a really useful way to possibly kill or Stagger two creatures with just one action.
This is a spell that is good at both doing damage and removing guards.
In Arena, it has the same problem Arcane Missiles does. It's a full action and better attack spells can be cast instead.
Lightning Jolt is an attack spell that I think will definitely see use in Arena. It is a 4 mana Level 1 Air spell.
It is a quick action with range 0-1 and targets a creature or conjuration.
It rolls 3 dice of Ethereal lightning damage with a chance to Stagger on a 5+ effect die roll.
The most basic of Lightning spells, this card is fantastic. 4 mana for 3 dice is pretty good and it has a very high chance to Stagger.
In Arena, I think this will be used quite a bit by Wizards or any future air Mages. It's a quick action so it can go on Wizard's Tower but it is only range 0-1 so it isn't overpowered.
I honestly think they both have their uses but since Lightning Jolt is newer, I'll probably try it more xD
Piercing Thunderstrike is possibly the best attack spell for Arena that is in Academy.
It is a 6 mana, quick action spell with range 0-1. It targets a Creature or Conjuration and is a level 2 Air spell.
Piercing Thunderstrike rolls 4 dice of lightning damage with the Ethereal Trait. It has a possibility to Stagger on a 7+ effect die roll.
The unique thing about this card, however, is that it has the Piercing +2 trait. The only other attack spell with Piercing is Devil's Trident.
This is a great card to use on lightly armored creatures or Mages. In Academy, the Piercing +2 will cut through most creatures armor and the Stagger is just icing on the cake.
The very last card in this set is Voltaic Discharge. It is a 6 mana, full action, zone attack. It is an Air Level 2 spell.
When you cast it, it attacks every creature in the zone, including yours and even your Mage.
It rolls 3 dice of lightning damage and inflicts a Stagger condition on a roll of 7+ on the effect die. The attack has the Ethereal trait as well.
So yeah. This is kind of like a last resort spell when your opponent has a bunch of creatures out and you have like 1 or 2.
This spell is just a chance to try to even the playing field by taking out, or at least Staggering, a good number of their creatures.
So those are all the cards for part 1 of this review. Check out Arcane Duels' fantastic analysis of these same cards in the video below and I will see you in part 2!