Title: Magic Duels
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Developer: Stainless Games
Console: Steam, Android, Xbox one, Xbox 360
Release Date: 7/9/2014
The Magic: The Gathering Trading Card Game is not new to the video game scene, with yearly forays of The Duels of the Planeswalkers, enjoying steady release dates over the past few years it’s become an expectation that every summer a new title will make its way onto Steam and consoles with the new card collection from the past year. The Duels of the Planeswalkers titles have always been the fun-size and priced version of the behemoth physical card game and the over decade-old Magic: The Gathering Online, but this year Wizards of the Coast are changing up the model of the Duels series.
Magic Duels follows the same rules as the physical trading card game. Players use a variety of the five elemental colors to summon monsters, cast spells, and enchantments. Use a variety of tactics all with the goal of reducing their opponents life points to zero and claim victory. Each color has their strengths, such as blue mana excelling at counter-spells and draw and black excelling at creature removal. Theory-crafters can spend hours mixing and matching the colors to come up with different strategies to claim victory over opponents.
Upon starting up Magic Duels, the player is introduced to the world of Magic: The Gathering by playing through some short storylines of the iconic planeswalker characters in the Magic universe. Each of these storylines gives the player a chance to learn some the basics of each elemental color as the stories progress the decks grows more complicated. In between story, duels players are also given puzzle challenges to teach the various mechanics of the trading card game.
What sets Magic Duels apart from the previous releases of Duels of the Planeswalkers is how players add cards to their digital collection. Currently, the cards in Magic Duels all came from the most recent physical Magic: The Gathering card set to be released: Magic Origins. When players win duels, complete stories, or overcome skill challenges they are rewarded with gold they can use to buy booster packs. Duelers are also presented with a new quest every day with challenges such as forcing a player to discard a number of cards, winning a number of duels with certain colors, or other specific goals to be rewarded with gold.
The meat of why someone would play Magic Duels; however is the ability to have a quick pick-up game with anyone in the world at any time. Gamers are free to test the mettle of their constructed decks against others through the matchmaking system. Currently, Magic Duels supports normal one-on-one duels and the two-headed giant game mode, a two on two duels where teammates share life totals. While two headed giant games grant no gold for wins, online matchmaking duels grant a small amount of gold per victory. More lavish gamers that don’t want to grind endlessly for their cards have the option of forking over real money for digital boosters.
Personally, I like the new system Magic Origins uses for gaining new cards through booster packs and being able to create decks with full freedom from scratch. Previous renditions of the title forced players to use premade decks that only gave the options of adding or removing cards. This total freedom felt nice for when I wanted to experiment with color combinations or tactic.
When playing the physical Magic: the Gathering trading card game the biggest turn-off I have is when you’re faced in a one-sided matchup. Nothing ruins a night like being stomped because your opponent invested hundreds of dollars into their collection while you casually buy a booster every now and again. Magic Duels combats this by limiting the number of copies of a card you can have in your deck by the rarity of the card. Commons can have up to four copies, uncommon three, rares two, and mythic rares may only have one copy per deck. This levels the playing field somewhat so that new players have at least a chance at winning against someone who has invested into the game.
Magic Duels is plagued by several bugs that annoy players immensely. Connection issues made for a shake launch, and while improved currently disconnects are a continuous annoyance. Players have reported many cards or mechanics working incorrectly or not at all. During one of my duels, I was faced with a bug that wouldn’t allow me to end my turn even after my turn timer ran out, forcing me to concede the match. I also faced a long delay every time I had received gold before it appeared in my wallet to spend on new boosters. The digital cash always appeared, but it was still a turn-off after spending several hours finishing a quest and not being sure if I had just wasted my time.
While not bugs, there were several questionable design choices for the digital trading card game. A common daily quest is to win a certain number of victories using particular combinations of card colors. However, the game only counts victories towards the quest if the deck was created using the deck wizard tool rather than building the deck from scratch. While not game breaking, it was still questionable as to why it wouldn’t count. However far more annoying is the multiplayer matchmaking having no punishments or incentives for abandoning a game. If a match is looking like you are probably going to lose, there is no punishment for conceding the duel. Unfortunately for the remaining player, your deck is taken over by an AI and for them to receive their victory gold they must finish the game. It would have been nice for players to get some pity gold for sticking it out, so every game doesn’t end with someone playing an AI.
The matchmaking system left a bit to be desired as well, with many matches being completely one-sided. After finishing the story and piecing together what I thought was a pretty decent deck I ventured into the matchmaking play only to slapped around. One game had an opponent drop two planeswalkers on the field in a single turn, something I couldn’t hope to respond to. While unclear if these one sided match ups were due to a poor matchmaking algorithm or just because of a low amount of players, it was enough to force me to walk away in annoyance.
Also, while it was a nice change to give total freedom for deck drafting, Magic Duels lacks many game modes from prior installments and the general physical card game. Team games, commander, draft modes and planechase are painfully absent. It would have been nice to have those modes included, as the basic one on one and two-headed giant tend to get boring quickly.
Final Judgement: 7.5
All in all I enjoyed Magic Duels. I’m a longtime fan of the physical card game, and the new system of card acquisition was a nice change from previous systems of predetermined grind. I also enjoyed the total freedom in making decks rather than unlocking cards on a deck-by-deck basis. However, I can’t help but wish there was more to the game. I wish there were more game modes to play the bugs are annoying, and the basic design makes me feel like it was a rushed project rather than a labor of love. Magic Duels appears to set the stage for continued updates and new card set releases that will set for a wonderful adaptation of the trading card game, but in it’s current state Magic Duels leaves a lot to be desired. Fans and newcomers of the series will be entertained for a time, but will be left wanting a bit more.
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