Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers Review

Now in its fourth iteration, the latest Duels of the Planeswalkers continues to push the series forward, and offers one of the cheapest and most enjoyable ways to get into this classic collectible card game.

Review by Jaz Rignall, .

Jaz Rignall Editorial Director

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.

While it's not exactly a visually visceral game, players nevertheless kick the seven shades of crap out of each other. Melting faces with cards? Yep. That's what Magic is all about.

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.

Magic enables an astonishingly diverse array of tactics, from smashing someone's head in with giant creatures to annoying them to death by stealing, copying and denying them their cards.

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).

This year, Duel of the Planeswalkers introduces sealed deck mode, which lets you construct your own decks from random packs of cards. A brilliant addition, it must be said.

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.

Whether you're a newbie, or an old-school expert, Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers delivers. The new sealed deck option is a terrific addition, and the online multiplayer mode offers a great way to enjoy the game without the expense of buying tons of cards.

5 /5

Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers Review Jaz Rignall Now in its fourth iteration, the latest Duels of the Planeswalkers continues to push the series forward, and offers one of the cheapest and most enjoyable ways to get into this classic collectible card game. 2013-06-28T00:14:00-04:00 5 5

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Comments 13

  • Avatar for Mindwater #1 Mindwater 4 years ago
    I get discouraged every time there's a date in a game title. I see it as an expiration date, reminding me that next year there will be a better version. I would sooner store my gaming dollars like body fat, than run the economic treadmill that is yearly obsolescence. Why do I buy every Mario Kart? Because I'm confident in it's quality, and there's only one per console/generation.
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #2 Jaz_Rignall 4 years ago
    @Mindwater That's an interesting take on things. But it's probably worth considering that Magic is a constantly changing game. New cards come out regularly that update and evolve the game – and as a player, I want to play with those new cards. Magic 2014 features decks and cards that won’t be the same as the ones in the next version – meaning I can still enjoy this one because it offers its own, unique experience. In that sense these games don't really become obsolete - they just change and evolve like the physical game does. Whether or not that's worth $10 a year is certainly debatable - but I think that's not too much of a price to pay considering how expensive the physical game can be! ;)
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  • Avatar for Mindwater #3 Mindwater 4 years ago
    @Jaz_Rignall Thank you for clarifying that for me. I honestly had no idea that the games changed that much between iterations. I actually bought "Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers," but avoided the others for the reasons previously stated. I'll have to check them out. Again, thanks.
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #4 Jaz_Rignall 4 years ago
    Sure thing! These constant changes make the physical game awesome - but very, very expensive to play competitively. Hundreds of new cards are released every year, and the key rare ones immediately skyrocket in value on the secondary market the moment they're released. Sometimes you get lucky and get one in a pack, but usually it means spending wads of cash to get the ones you need to make your decks kick-ass. Fortunately you don't have to deal with that sort of thing in this game - it's a closed environment, so everything is fairly balanced and it's not a case of he who spends most, wins.
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  • Avatar for Mindwater #5 Mindwater 4 years ago
    @Jaz_Rignall Yeah, I would definitely prefer the flat fee & closed environment of the game.

    Sorry, this probably isn't the time or place to pose this question, but how do you feel about the Culdcept games? I've been dying for a new one to come stateside. Personally, I found the 360 version disappointing, but I have extremely fond memories of the PS2 version from years ago. I'd love to see it come to iOS or one of the many console/handheld downloadable services.
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  • Avatar for IndianaGamer #6 IndianaGamer 4 years ago
    I've never played Magic before, but I've been told it's something I would enjoy. I think I'm going to have to check this out on the 360.
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  • Avatar for meme #7 meme 4 years ago
    I still don't feel like they've really topped the quest-based Microprose version of the game from the late 90s. If it wasn't such a hassle to run on newer machines (and almost impossible to find), I'd recommend that to any ardent Magic fan. Maybe someone should have a word with GOG.
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #8 Jaz_Rignall 4 years ago
    @Mindwater I remember playing the... um... Saturn version was it? It was eons ago. Really enjoyed it. Funny - not really thought about it until you just mentioned it. But yeah. iOS version. Now that's a really good idea!
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  • Avatar for JimmyDanger #9 JimmyDanger 4 years ago
    Have bought every version so far, and have put literally hundreds of hours into each. Certainly healthier than the hundreds of dollars I'd put into MTGO (sometimes weekly, especially during release weeks) which being tighter on money, post child arriving - has been a godsend.

    Interesting Culdcept was raised, I became addicted after an issue of (pal) OXM had a demo, but it's never been released on 360 in PAL territories. You'd think it's the sort of niche title perfect for Games On Demand. Somebody? Anybody?
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #10 Jaz_Rignall 4 years ago
    @JimmyDanger Funny you're talking about Culdcept too. So with USG, one of the things we want to do is sort of merge community and editorial... so I'm thinking perhaps now that three of us are sitting here thinking this old game is a classic, perhaps I should put together a feature based on what we're saying here - along the lines of "How about a new version of re-release of this classic". I'll have a ponder and see what I can do!
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  • Avatar for salvatoreorrico38 #11 salvatoreorrico38 4 years ago
    i wish this would come to PSVita
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  • Avatar for JimmyDanger #12 JimmyDanger 4 years ago
    @Jaz_Rignall - I think there's a very interesting article to one day be written about the evolution/inception of the customisable/collectable/expandable card game alongside Video Games. It's one of the rare "physical mediums" that was conceived 20 years or so after The Video Game - where traditional "physical games" (ie.board, card, dice) had had a long evolution before the creation of video games. The way the two mediums evolutions have played into each other - from MTG PC, through Culdcept, Pokemon, Metal Gear Ac!d (just to use some random examples)- to the point where deck customisation can be a standard format for even a non-card focused RPG - there's much to think about. I would love to read that article - or novel.
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #13 Jaz_Rignall 4 years ago
    @JimmyDanger I think you're right. I've put that on my to-do list, but methinks it'll likely be an epic task to be done in steps over a period of time. But damn, it'll be fun to write!
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