Magic the Gathering and I go back a long way. I remember when I had several, now ridiculously valuable Black Lotuses. Moxes? I traded all sorts of junk cards for them, because in the early days, many players thought they were useless. I still have a bunch of Alpha cards that have different-shaped corners to the subsequent thousands of cards released since that first set. Yeah. I’m one of those old-school Magic bores who’s been playing the game since Beta, and has spent stupid amounts of money on endless boxes of cards so I could make decks competitive enough to win tournaments.
If truth be told, I think Magic the Gathering is the greatest game ever designed. I’m sure others might disagree – chess certainly runs it very close – but I think Magic’s unique combination of strategy, skill, timing, bluffing and sometimes even blind luck makes it a simply phenomenal one-on-one game. If you don’t know much about the game – it’s a combination of poker, numerical combat and trickery that enables you to do things with cards you never thought possible. And it’s simply brilliant.
I gave up playing the card game regularly about 12 years ago, but still buy cards on and off to keep my classic decks up-to-date, so when I see old friends – or make new ones who play the game – I’m primed and ready to go. I spent a good few years, and indeed a good amount of money, on Magic the Gathering Online, which despite being a frankly miserable and clunky product for almost a decade, at least enabled me to continue to play against humans and keep my skills sharp. The third generation of Wizards of the Coast’s online service is currently in Beta, and I’m happy to say that it’s far faster and more usable than prior versions. It’s certainly re-piqued my interest in the online version of the game, but more for classic play using my existing cards than the rather expensive continual online tournaments.
The version of Magic that I’ve had a much steadier relationship with of late is Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers. Now in its fourth generation, these limited, encapsulated renditions of the game have been steadily tweaked and improved over time to provide a really enjoyable, very nicely presented version of the game. While some might disagree with me about its price and unlockables, I think its $9.99 price point is very likely the cheapest way of enjoying the game.
This year, MTG: DOTP has again been subtly fettled and tweaked to improve its experience, and features ten new decks constructed from cards drawn from this year’s core physical set. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into their design, since they represent an interesting and varied selection of deck types. There’s a great sliver horde, a very fun zombie-recursion, a fairly effective control deck, several themed around big critter types, and my current favorite – a really, really annoying deck that lets you mess with your opponent’s cards. I’m also quite impressed with each deck’s array of 30 unlockable rare and mythic cards, which enable you to further customize your favorites to ensure they perfectly suit your playstyle.
This year’s big headline feature comes in the form of a sealed deck option. For those who don’t know what this is, it’s a tournament format where each player is given several random packs of cards, which they then open and use to construct a deck for versus play. It’s a fun format, combining a bit of luck (perhaps you’ll pull some powerful cards) and deck-building skills (make sure you balance offensive power with defensive capabilities, and choose cards with synergy).
What makes this particular version of Magic a winner is the fact that it’s designed to cater to all levels of play. If you’re an absolute beginner, the newly improved training mode is quite likely the best way to get up to speed on the game, bar none. It takes you through the rules, turn procedures and card types in well presented and easy-to-understand practical lessons that quickly help you learn the gist of the game, so you can jump into easy mode with a simple deck and start playing.
For experts, the game’s adjustable AI continues to present a decent, but not overwhelming challenge. But then again, if you have any complaints, you should really be in the game’s multiplayer mode battling it out with fellow humans – and seeing how you stack up on the game’s global leaderboards.
Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2014 is available on PC via steam, PS3 and Xbox 360 as digital downloads, and on iOS and Android. All versions are pretty much identical – although my favored format is iOS, whose touch-screen interface gives the game a slightly more authentic feel in terms of the way you interact with it. Plus, I just love having a mobile set of Magic decks that I can take and play anywhere.
I’m thoroughly impressed with this latest generation of the DOTP series. It looks terrific, is beautifully presented, and is slick and intuitive to play. It caters to players of all levels, has a rok solid online mode, and ultimately represents a cheap and convenient way to play the greatest game ever made.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Very well presented and laid out. The cards look terrific, and the game has clever visual cues that enable the player to keep track of the action.
- Music: Didn’t really expect much from a card-based game, but the BGM is surprisingly good, and atmospheric.
- Interface: It’s clear plenty of thought has gone into the overall design, and the game has very well structured tutorials. On touch screens, the game very closely resembles its physical counterpart in the way you interact with it.
- Lasting Appeal: The single-player experience is surprisingly deep, and offers a decent challenge for most Magic players. But the sealed deck and PvP options are where significant long-term interest lies.