Some say the deck is mere cardboard, but such people are simply short-sighted.
For one, what you are actually purchasing in Magic: The Gathering booster packs are palm sized fantasyscapes and emotive portraits by dozens of different fantasy illustrators. Said cardboard is embossed with vivid colours, poetic flavor text, and a few are emblazoned with a glistening metallic finish.
Roughly 13,000 unique Magic cards provide the building blocks for near limitless numbers of unique decks. Dog-eared stacks of cellulose track around the world in the pockets of their crafters, forever imprinted with the identity of those players.
Keeping all that in mind, whatever this most recent digital version lacks in physicality, it makes up for in literally ever other way.
Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers is based on the two-decade old card game of the same name. The great-grandfather of all trading card games, Magic: The Gathering pits one player-plus-deck against another, with the goal of whittling away your opponent’s 20 life-points by summoning monsters and casting spells.
The core rules are wonderfully unintimidating. Many thousands of unique cards, however, allow one to shatter those rules in thousands of endlessly creative ways. This allows for rich, thick, deep strategy in both deck construction and turn-to-turn play and renders any attempt to capture the gameplay mechanics in prose utterly hopeless. Magic has amassed a player base of at least 10 million despite its advanced age, and this is a case in which one might just have to take the game’s quality at face value.
Duels of the Planeswalkers is an excellent preparation for this addictive game, both for tournament veterans and aspiring cardwizards. Right at the outset you are greeted with a screen that asks if you have played no Magic, a little, or a whole bunch. New players are treated with a wonderful tutorial guiding them through simplified versions of the game. This is a luxury that is not afforded to cardboard purists.
The singleplayer game then sets you off on an adventure with fiery Planeswalker Chandra Nalaar. Essentially, it boils down to a vast number of battles against a vast of number of unique, computer-controlled decks. New decks and cards are unlocked as the game progresses. Who among us can boast a circle of friends who not only play Magic, but also have such variety in the way that they play it? If the goal is to experience much of what Magic: The Gathering has to offer the casual player or the merely inquisitive, then this is the most efficient way to do so.
At lower difficulty levels in the campaign, the game volunteers tips as to which cards to play next. These can also nourish a player's understanding of different simple Magic strategies and concepts.
A new addition to the 2014 version of Duel of the Planeswalkers are “sealed” decks – a separate shorter campaign that has you building a deck from scratch out of several virtual “booster packs”. Built in is an algorithm that grades the quality of the deck, even building it for the player if they would prefer. These features, along with the tips in singleplayer, are what make the game so terrific for newcomers. It is a superb teacher.
Despite its popularity, most of us might be lucky to know one or two regular Magic players. Other interests and preoccupations can make meeting up a chore, and Planeswalkers’ effortless matchmaking and fluent, intuitive interface remove one of the largest barriers to regular competitive play. There is no better way new player to get a fairly comprehensive experience. And it costs about $12.
Putting tactile sensation aside, this iteration of Magic: The Gathering is a great representation of the physical card-game. It is, in fact, superior in many ways. As an educator and a facilitator of friendly competition, Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers is a near essential purchase for anyone interested in trading cards.