Review - Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers

As far as collectible card games go, Magic: The Gathering from Wizards of the Coast has endured. To this day, it still commands a loyal following and legions of players making decks and dueling one another. The game has spent most of its lifetime as a physical card game, until a few years ago when the game was taking to the PC. Fast forward a few more years when Duels of the Planeswalkers was released for XBLA and PSN, starting an annual trend of Magic on the consoles.

Now, Stainless Games has released Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers, maintaining the tradition of annual incarnations of the game. All the requisite bells and whistles are there, only this time they've incorporated something people have been clamoring for to be included for a while: sealed deck play.

For the most part, Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers offers the same game as the previous versions. There's the Campaign mode, which has been tweaked to offer a series of Encounters prior to a Duel. Each series of Encounters/Duels takes place on one of five planes, with each plane playing host to a different duelist. The Encounters are slightly more mature than in previous versions of the game, as they're more sophisticated than just seeing the same 1/1 for 1W deployed over and over again. That sophistication does come with a cost though.

Every Encounter seems to play out exactly the same way. The AI casts the exact same spell on the exact same turn every single time you play, doing little to adapt to your moves. After the third or fourth Encounter, you've got a pretty good handle on how the first few turns will play out, allowing you the opportunity to specifically plan for those turns to gain the upper hand. This doesn't guarantee a win and it doesn't mean the Encounters are easy, but it does detract slightly from the enjoyment of playing them.

The Duels are more of what you've come to expect when playing Magic. These pit your deck against that of another Planeswalker and many times their desk is quite intense. Duels require you to put your Magic thinking cap on and really work your way through the match, adapting on the fly and being ready for anything. It's one of the most pure aspects of the game on display and it's still quite enjoyable. There are some decks you'll have difficulty beating for whatever reason (your deck color, cards unlocked, etc.), but persistence and patience will net you the win.

Fans of story may get more out of the Campaign though, as Stainless Games has imbued the Campaign with a grander, over-arching story. The tale taps into the lore of Magic: The Gathering and provides more of a backbone to the seemingly monotonous task of Encounter, Encounter, Duel. It also offers the player more of an insight into what ties all the cards together, something that may not be so readily obvious to those who play with the physical cards. There's also the flashier presentation, with more cut-scenes, animated cards and grander music to help drive the story along as well.

Challenges return as well, offering gamers the opportunity to dig their way out of seemingly insurmountable odds with a Rube Goldbergian order of playing cards. These challenges require you to think and aren't as readily accessible to the less experienced players, primarily because they require thinking that isn't isolated solely by reading what each card does. When you do solve the Challenge though, the payoff is extremely rewarding, as you feel like a true champion of the game. There's also the return of Multiplayer, allowing you to venture online and try out your skills on opponents who do, occasionally, move the back row.

Likely the most significant addition to Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers is the Sealed Deck play, long a staple of the game itself and something that many feel was needed to make the game feel more like Magic. Each successive iteration of the game has "introduced" a characteristic of the game itself. The second iteration gave players Archenemy, pitting three players against one. The third version unveiled Planechase, sending combatants to random worlds during play that affected their decision making.

To this point, all versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers gave players extremely limited access to the customization of the decks. Sure, you could unlock cards by playing through the game and add them to your deck, but you could never touch the core deck itself. This meant that the only way you could actually use the spiffy new cards you unlocked, you had to add them in, making the deck unwieldy in size and destroying the synergy of the existing cards. Now, there's a specific Sealed Deck campaign where you're given random booster packs to open and create a deck from. As you proceed through the Sealed Deck campaign, you unlock more packs and more cards.

At its core, Magic has always been about the deck creation and the Sealed Deck finally gives you greater control for all your deck tinkering desires. The interface is intuitive and familiar, allowing you to sort cards by color, name or whatever. You can then add or subtract whichever cards from your deck you'd like. There's even an Autobuild option, which automatically scans all your available cards and creates the best possible deck from them. It's a great way to build a deck very quickly to get started and tweak as you go along. From the start, you get two deck slots with the option to purchase more.

Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers has always seemed sort of like an intro to the game of Magic. That's not to say that longtime veterans won't enjoy it, but it does a very good job of helping newbies deal with the massive learning curve in playing it. The curve isn't so much in the basics of the game, but in the complexity of spell casting and combat. Fortunately, both pros and rooks will get something out of Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers. There's a more robust (albeit somewhat cheesy) story, familiar Campaign, Challenge and Multiplayer options and the addition of Sealed Deck play as well. It's worth the pick up if you're a fan of the game.

Magic 2014 is available on a slew of platforms for ~$10, including PlayStation® Network, iPad, Android Google Play, Amazon App Store, Xbox LIVE® Arcade and PC via Steam®.