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Review: Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers

Edge Staff's picture

By Edge Staff

June 19, 2009

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Magic the Gathering is the definitive CCG series and this digital incarnation offers more than a shadow of its inspiration, one that has benefited from years of fine-tuning through its life as a tabletop game.

Format: 360
Release: Out now
Publisher:  Wizards of the Coast

Developer:  Stainless Games

Thanks to competent digital versions of heavyweight board games such as Settlers Of Catan and Carcassone, Microsoft has proven its commitment to diversity on XBLA reaches beyond re-releases of vintage videogames. Nevertheless, the collectable card game genre has remained curiously unrepresented on the service, allowing Wizards of the Coast’s Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers to fill a niche that could prove popular.

In part that’s because the game represents one of the best ways for newcomers to learn the modern (M10) rules of the tabletop game. Its learn-as-you-play tutorials are clear and logical, its difficulty curve sensibly pitched to draw players through the accessible first few tussles towards the complexities of mid–to-high level play, and building a deck with each win is compelling. But also it’s because Magic the Gathering is the definitive CCG series and this digital incarnation offers more than a shadow of its inspiration, one that has benefitted from years of fine-tuning through its life as a tabletop game.

Primarily a one-on-one competition, the object of the game is to reduce your opponent player’s health points to zero by tactically playing offensive cards, while defending your own HP with defensive ones. Play cycles through four distinct phases, clearly delineated to make absolutely clear what’s going on. To attack your opponent with monsters or spells you need to ‘tap’ mana from the land cards that you put in play, each offensive card in your hand requiring a certain amount before it can enter play. Attacks can be blocked by monster cards, which are used as a shield to protect your HP. Success, then, comes from a mixture of balancing offensive and defensive play, making tactically sound decisions and, of course, benefitting from the luck of the draw.

With two views on the playing table and the opportunity to switch to assume your rival’s viewpoint at any point, all of the relevant information is clearly presented and easy to read. Likewise, playable cards are highlighted at every phase so learning the basics through matches, rather than tutorials, is straightforward. Even though veterans may wish they could increase the pace of play from the ponderous default, the challenging difficulty ensures the chance to take one’s time over decisions is always welcome.

The game’s depth is matched by a generous breadth of modes and options. The campaign presents 16 Planeswalker opponents, each victory adding new cards to your decks. Challenges, by contrast, place you midway through a game, charged with winning the game within a single turn. These challenges are not only fascinating but are also useful in building your skill and understanding of tactics for more advanced scenarios in competitive play. Player and raked matches online are complemented by a mentoring scheme to allow you to learn from more experienced players or, alternatively, help out a newcomer, features that lend a warm sense of community to the package.

Stainless Games has always stated its intention to balance depth with accessibility and its workings in how to best streamline the experience to XBLA are well reasoned. The result is an experience just close enough to the tabletop game to please serious players, for a fraction of the cost. If the game develops a strong community, and Wizards of the Coast offer additional cards and decks via downloadable content, 360’s CCG gap could be covered for years to come. [8]

Pedro A. Tavares's picture

Having not played Magic since my teen years, this somehow brought back some memories of playing with a couple of friends. The game seemed very well thought-out and I was just hoping to see some review of the full product before I would commit (thanks Edge). Hopefully the game will have a large enough community to warrant further support in the form of DLC down the road.

PikaPies's picture

I used to play the game years ago, and this looks like a great way to get back into it.
I think I'll hold out for a PC release though, I won't pay for XBox Live just to play it.

StealthBadger's picture

Taking a leaf from dreamhunk's book, here's a link;
http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Digital/DuelsOfThePlaneswalkers.aspx?x=mtg/...
It contains FACTS and TRUTH. Or something. Anyway, the game will not feature microtransactions. There will be expansions, which I guess will feature new sets of cards.

Also, they originally announced it as 360 and PC, but the FAQ there says not currently planned for any other platforms, so apparently i was mistaken above. apologies. Also, note that it can handle 4 players.

A quick perusal of the mtgsalvation.com forums informs me that a lot of people aren't happy because apparently when it says you can modify your deck, you can't actually subtract cards from it, so you're left with the original deck, plus whatever you want to add. If this is the case, I'd expect a lot of complaints, followed by a patch...

StealthBadger's picture

If I had Live, I would definitely be getting hold of this. I occasionally dabble with the card game, and have always enjoyed the ability to just build a deck of whatever I want, and then tweak it as i feel it needs more lands/better defence against fliers/another colour, or whatever. It's a great game, with far more tactical depth than yu-gi-oh, or pokemon cards, or whatever.

For anybody who hasn't played MTG and has an xbox, I will wholeheartedly recommend either getting hold of this game (I believe it's selling at 800 MS points, but I dunno what that equates to in pounds or pence), or getting some friends together and buying some of the real cards.

MilesMayhem's picture

I never played the original card game but am always interested in any kind of strategy. With edges positive review and your recommendation just now Im gonna keep plugging away at the free trial version, the tutorial is owning me quite hard atm tho their is a mentoring system of some sort it seems, which is a really nice touch imo.

Jack_'s picture

Wish this was on PC or PSN. It's about time we got to play digital Magic in some fun way that wasn't the low-spec freeware Magic Workstation.

StealthBadger's picture

Well, you can play "Magic Online", but it can be a bit pricey if you want lots of rares, and you often end up getting wrecked by actual tournament decks, rather than the random experiments I tend to invent. According to the WOTC website, this will be coming to PC "during 2009", i think. It's not coming to PSN though. Shame.

Jack_'s picture

Yeah, and I'm not going to mess with that pay-to-get-a-decent-deck bullshit. I might as well just use physical cards if I have to go through that.

(This doesn't have microtransactions right?)