Wizard’s of the Coast’s Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers came out about a month back, and that prompted me to take a look on it on Steam (as well as a longer look on it on the Xbox platform). Let me preface this with a few disclaimers. Yes, I’ve played Magic. No, I’ve not played regularly since more than a decade ago (just after the Urza cycle). I am also MUCH more of a PC player than an Xbox one.
I’ve long since abandoned my card flopping days, because the hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars spent on Magic left a bad (somewhat cardboardey) taste in my mouth. But I have to admit I’ve longed wanted to try out Magic again, at least casually. And when I saw it on Steam, I was pretty hopeful, because a $9.99 price point made it seem like a pretty cheap and easy way to scratch that itch. After a few looks at it though, I’m not so certain.
The 2013 iteration of Duels of the Planeswalkers does much to streamline the game and make it a good gateway to the game proper. First up, the three difficulty levels seem well tuned to the respective gamers they’re meant to encompass. The easiest walks you through a every phase and combat, which makes it easy to pick up for non-Magic players. The middle difficulty is good for beginning Magic players and most of the time, the hardest Planeswalker level allows gives most regular players at least a decent run for their money. More importantly, you can pause and zoom in on the cards whenever you like, and you can even pull up a glossary or explanation of the cards if you don’t know what specific keywords mean (and as an old Magic player I had no idea what vigilance, landfall, reach or countless other things meant). That, coupled with the turn marked and split into recognizable phases, as well as tutorial reminders means that Duels of the Planeswalkers serves as a very good tutoring mechanism for those casually interested in starting Magic.
On the other hand, this level of streamlining cuts the other way with a more adept or experienced player. You are given various themed decks, and the campaign mode has you fighting AI opponents in order to unlock new decks or cards for said decks. But what it stops short of is full customization of decks, or even the number of lands in your deck (a basic sort of tweak). That means you’re reduced to playing variations of the themes they provide, unable to build something of your very own.
Gameplay is similarly dissatisfying, with the campaign mode pitting your against a linear lineup of opponents. Win a certain number and that unlocks another new challenge or mode of game, and you then face more opponents to unlock more (not necessarily good) cards. Rinse and repeat. And while the 1v1 AI is ok, multiplayer with modes like Planechase is kind of silly. The planes (inherent in each Planechase game) are rife with random and often gamebreaking mechanics, and the AIs act more like random buffoons than players with any sort of tactical acumen, so your winning or losing is more due to chance than to any sort of skill, combo, or act on your part.
I think a quote from a forumite sums it up the best. ‘Duel of the Planeswalkers is a $10 advert for Magic.’ And it’s a GREAT advertisement! The ease of gameplay is really good for anyone curious about the system. If you want any sort of serious customization or complexity though? Be prepared to shell out a WHOLE lot more as you embark on the card-floppers addiction known as Magic the Gathering.
I guess it’s understandable. If you want the full rush of a Magic game, WOTC is naturally going to want you to pay the full price point (of a lot more money). But if you (like me) want to scratch your card flopping itch at a reasonable price point and complexity? Join me by the sidelines as we wait for something that WOTC will likely never make.
Or look for another game. Might I suggest Netrunner? 😉