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Finally! Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers feels like the real card game (review)

Above: A Magic 2015 Black and Green deck demonstrating the meaning of overkill.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Brandin Tyrrel

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Any minute now, I’m going to be murdered.

My inevitable death will either come from the blood-soaked hook-mitts of Griselbrand, the legendary demon of the broken Helvault, or a giant sea-swallowing lobster. Secretly, I’m hoping for the lobster.

Magic 2015 on mobile

This review does not reflect the free-to-play versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire. The monetization strategy is different on these platforms.

These soul-cleaving monstrosities gazing across my now-empty battlefield have already gorged themselves on what can only be described as a death march of sacrificial lambs in a desperately mounted defense. Now, I imagine they’re ready for the final course. So with two remaining life points, zero options in-hand, and a graveyard approaching the population of a small island-nation, I hope for the best and draw one last card.

I wish I could recount the near-impossible series of events that followed, leading to an agonizing, tense, eventual come-from-behind win in the face of certain annihilation. But like a punch-drunk fighter at the end of a long bout, everything after the ninth round is a blur. I assume I did well.

In these moments, Wizards of the Coast’s digital gateway into the world of Magic: The Gathering is at its very best: when tables turn and sparks from one card ignite the next, building a brush fire from an unlikely ember. In my time with Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox 360, I reveled in the chance to finally take up my own fully customized arsenal and dredge Magic’s deep pool of strategy and synergy in order to pull off the impossible, enabling for such blazes to burn as personally constructed victories — that long sought missing piece of the digital series.

Magic2015 Griselbrand

Above: The rare Griselbrand is a powerhouse in Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Brandin Tyrrel

What You’ll Like

Weapon of choice

For the first time in the Duels of the Planeswalkers franchise, Magic 2015 incorporates completely customizable decks. It’s the marquee addition to this year’s entry and the biggest change to come to the series, instilling that feeling of ownership and meticulous tinkering that’s afforded to players of its paper-based sibling. After a lengthy tutorial introducing the basics and each color’s theme, you choose a primary and secondary color as the basis for your deck, freely enabling you to cater to your playstyle right from the very beginning. This personalization ripples throughout Magic 2015, making campaign wins more meaningful and multiplayer more difficult, as rival players heft purpose-built decks that could contain anything.

To facilitate the building of your own deck, Wizards of the Coast has introduced an extensive deck editor. Every card in your collection is on display, and you can filter it by every possible category: color, type, cost, rarity, and even by plane (that’s the set to which each card belongs). Here again, Wizards thankfully holds your hand through what would be an intimidating process, adding useful functionality for newcomers like the feature to suggest complementary cards for your current creation, or autocomplete an entire deck based around a single card (or many). The system is both flexible and powerful once you’ve gotten the hang of it, and thanks to the 30 available deck slots, you can build every deck you could want, naming each one and assigning it a custom image.

Magic 2015 Deck Editor

Above: Magic 2015 — Duels of the Planeswalkers’ deck editor allows for precision customization.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Brandin Tyrrel

Pillage the multiverse

To that regard, Magic 2015 has also shifted the means by which you unlock cards. In the past, players were tied to a limited number of specifically themed decks that you wrested from the hands of defeated A.I. opponents. Notching wins with a particular deck rewarded you a predetermined card that you could swap in, but that limited customization was all that was available. Wizards has again looked to the physical version for inspiration: awarding booster packs filled with random cards for each victory. It’s the best possible move for the series, as the boosters you can earn revitalize those feelings of anticipation, luck, and the possibility for anything to pop up — even the rarest cards.

Though victories against campaign opponents only provide a booster pack for the first win, each of the five Magic planes you’ll battle across in the story come with a random encounter node, pitting you against opponents in that plane’s theme. You can revisit these random encounters infinitely and as often as you like for booster rewards to fill out your collection, which admittedly harks back to the grinding inherent in the franchise. These also add a level of variety as each opponent uses wildly different tactics. Furthermore, booster packs earned in these encounters only contain cards from that plane, meaning you’ll need to travel everywhere and see everything in order to complete the collection.

Magic 2015 Spider Trap

Above: One of the many random encounters you’ll come across in Magic 201: Duels of the Planeswalkers.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Brandin Tyrrel

What You Won’t Like

Simple mistakes

Despite the excellent new feature additions and dramatic style, Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers suffers from seemingly obvious oversights. In some rare instances, losing a duel whisks you away to a failure screen with three callouts: Play Again, Continue, and View Battlefield. But pressing Continue moves you forward to another screen with only a Continue prompt … that doesn’t actually do anything.

At this point, you’re stranded and forced to quit. And though this is the most glaring issue, it’s not the only one: noticeable stuttering and framerate drops appear during prerendered videos that dot the campaign, and images pop in late when speeding through menus. Nothing herein detracts from the great gameplay experience, but these blemishes instill an overall feeling that Magic 2015, at least the Xbox 360 version, needed a bit more time and polish.

The price of perfection

Wizards of the Coast has historically offered downloadable content in its Duels of the Planeswalkers series, usually in the form of cosmetic foils and new postlaunch decks. However, this year the company has moved toward piecemeal downloadable purchases, offering the standard foil stickers alongside a set of premium cards that can you can only get through purchasing premium booster packs. It’s a monetization model that’s becoming more prevalent on console, which is completely understandable, but seeing several dozen cards in your collection that will remain grayed out unless you spend additional cash can leave a bittersweet aftertaste on the otherwise fantastic experience that is hunting for cards you don’t own and tracking them down through in-game encounters.

Magic 2015 Premium Cards

Above: Magic 2015 features a set of premium cards that can only be unlocked via purchasing power.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Brandin Tyrrel

Conclusion

The Duels series has always been the easiest way to get into Magic: The Gathering, but the limited nature of the series has only ever provided a taste of the real strategic potential. Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers remedies that to a greater degree than ever before, offering up an experience that’s closer to its physical counterpart than ever before, while maintaining that accessibility and ease of use. This is the digital Magic game that fans have been wanting since 2009; it’s the pinnacle of the series in function, and it’s a welcome new direction.

Score: 82/100

Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers is out now for Xbox 360, PC, iPad, Android, and Kindle Fire. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a digital copy of the Xbox 360 version for the purposes of this review.


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6 comments
Kevin Edwards
Kevin Edwards

The multiplayer version sucks; no more tagteam duels.

You don't have the options of playing with the pre-made decks (Elf, Farie, Zombie, etc.) nor can you unlock the required cards to build such decks.

Although I appreciate the ability to build decks; the cards that are available are not the best. Hopefully, when the expansions become available some of my issues will be addressed.

JC West
JC West

I enjoyed the hell out of it.. and I (like any other game i play) purchased the "Launch" package.. I couldnt see why this game would be like any other game i bought so the idea to try to play it 'Free" never crossed my mind.. For your reference also purchased 10 additional booster packs which is generally how ill start any magic purchase.. Initial starter box and a handful of boosters.. I have to admit in some cases the game did get difficult, there were times i got "Stuck" and had to go back and adjust my deck/decks to accommodate different playing styles of the AI (Which later in game gets fantastic) and isn't that what magic is supposed to be? I build a deck, go up against an opponent then make adjustments to my deck to accommodate the different style and go again? I don't remember loosing more then 5 times to the hardest AI in the game (won on the second round against the final AI, (W,L) (W,W). My complaint is I spent 60 bucks or so on a game that (albeit i did play it 10 hours a day) i beat in 2 days. I hope there is continued expansions to the game and now getting ready to start really enjoying the multiplayer. 

Dustin X
Dustin X

LMAO did you even play this game?

Giovanni Giustiniano
Giovanni Giustiniano

Really? Unless the experience you have had with MTG is that of opponents defeating you will cards you do not and can not own, this game has a few more glaring flaws. The fact that the selection of cards available in the game (even with the paid boosters) is piss poor, is alone enough to damn this game to the pit that M14 currently resides. But wait, there's more, you now unlock cards in 3 or 15 card boosters upon completion of a story event (only the first time) or through the explore option (I have read varying reports on online unlocks). This may seem acceptable until you explore into one of the other Planeswalkers (Liliana and Ajani are the ones I have encountered so far), this is a problem because they have ridiculously amazing decks. While Liliana can be restarted until she starts with no mana, Ajani has his field set by turn 2 or 3, this would not be a problem if you had adequate removal at your disposal, but this game does not. Wait, it gets better, now you are incapable of earning boosters from that plane until you find a way to defeat them, meaning you can become totally locked from earning new cards. Finally, you can tell they gave a lot more attention to some colors over others in this iteration. If you just look through the catalog of unlockable cards you will see old favorites and staples of Red, Green, Blue, and White.............but not Black, they have decided that removal was unnessesary and dropped a lot of the better removal cards. This seems to be fair at first since all colors have been stripped of their better removal (Except Blue, Blue still has counters for days), this would not be an issue if removal was not a major part of Black's plans....


TL;DR Cards available are game-breakingly weak, colors are imbalanced. Go back to M13

Brandin Tyrrel
Brandin Tyrrel

@Giovanni Giustiniano Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate what you're saying and that your experience might have been different from mine. I started with a Black/Blue deck and felt more than capable of completing every duel throughout the first few planes. I did have issues with Jace initially, but I was able to earn booster packs by replaying the exploration encounters, and built a nice black/green deck from the cards I'd earned. I used this new deck primarily for the remainder of the game.


I agree though, I was also disappointed that certain cards used by the AI (Liliana's Ravager - I think it's called) can't be collected, but this has always been the case in Duels. Some cards are too powerful to be out in the wild - especially with customizable decks now - and I can appreciate Wizards' decision.


I never paid for premium cards or to unlock the standard sets, and I was able to complete the campaign on normal fairly handily. It wasn't always easy, but I wouldn't have enjoyed it if it were. The game felt balanced - but maybe that's just deck choice? Thanks again, it's good to hear contradicting opinions.

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