Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers is a digital video game version of the world’s first and best-known trading card game, Magic: the Gathering. It is specifically designed to help introduce new players to the game, but it also offers a range of features and modes that will appeal to the more experienced Magic player as well. This is the fourth such game in the series and in many people’s opinion the best of the bunch in terms of gameplay, features, artificial intelligence of the computer and just a generally impressive user interface and graphics overall.
So exactly why is this the best Duels yet? Read on to find out…
If you’re unfamiliar with Magic: the Gathering, or just need a quick refresher, the game plays like this: two players take turns playing spell cards which can be Creatures, Sorceries, Artifacts, Enchantments and so on. These enter play onto a shared battlefield where cards exist as Permanents (until they are destroyed) or are played once, affect the board somehow, and are then discarded. Creatures attack and block attacks using their Power and Toughness values: Power determines how much damage they will deal to a blocking creature while their Toughness dictates how much damage they can take in a single turn before being destroyed. Creatures will return to their full Toughness at the start of each turn, so you must overwhelm them in a single turn somehow in order to kill them.
Artifacts will stay on the board and give players positive or negative effects, depending on which side they were played. Sometimes these can be equipped to Creatures, such as weapons or armor to increase their stats, or give them a special ability such as Flying (only creatures with Flying or Reach can block Flying creatures) or Deathtouch (when this creature deals any amount of damage to another creature, that creature automatically dies). There are also Sorcery spells which work at different speeds to allow playing on an opponent’s turn or not, so you can surprise them with a trick and ruin their plans.
The strategy of Magic depends on being able to manage the board so that you have control over it, know when to attack and when to play defensively, and ultimately to attempt to reduce your opponent’s life points to zero (from a starting number of 20) or win by an alternate victory condition such as emptying their deck of cards so they lose when they attempt to draw a card but cannot.
Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers keeps the same rule set of the paper version of Magic, but tends to use slightly less powerful decks and cards in general to ease the complexity that often comes with the paper game. This is not a bad thing however as it really boils Magic down to its essence and makes for a fast, fun, stripped back style of play that gets to the core of what is enjoyable about Magic in the first place.
Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers is still widely considered to be the best version of the ‘Duels’ series of games given that it is the smoothest experience with the best range of game modes. The single-player campaign provides a well-written story experience with impressive CGI cut-scenes to tell the tale as you explore each of the Magic Multiverse’s most famous Planes: Innistrad, Zendikar, Shandalar, Alara and Ravnica (Theros and Tarkir had yet to come along at this point!). The campaign provides a range of distinct match types against different decks so you’ll have to be flexible with how you play the game in order to try and beat them all.
A new Sealed mode has been introduced which really brings the game closer to its paper version and gives more experienced Magic players a taste of the Limited style play that they really enjoy. You are given a limited pool of cards from a number of boosters which you must then attempt to craft a functional deck out of, forcing you to think creatively and work with limited resources that may not be entirely ideal. Since everyone is on the same playing field, working with less than perfect card pools, you can be sure that skill will really become important at this stage.
However, even though it is a slightly more advanced way to play Magic, the Sealed mode in Duels of the Planeswalkers provides a perfectly safe, educational environment in which to learn this mode for new players. You won’t feel the pressure of having to play in a room full of experienced players who know what they’re doing when they play a Sealed tournament, so you can be free to make as many mistakes as you like as you go along.
There’s also the Challenge mode which provides some artificially created scenarios of current play states in a game of Magic which you have to work out how to “beat” within a move or two. It’s a little bit like a chess puzzle, and though the game states they present are often ludicrously unlikely to occur in a real game of Magic, it forces you to think about what you know about the game in order to try and defeat the puzzles. It’s really a lot of fun and one of the best things about the game.
There is also online multiplayer which sees you going head-to-head with one other player, Free-For-All with a group of people, or playing the fan-favorite Two-Headed Giant where 4 people play a tag team duel using a shared amount of life points. The games can get pretty crazy here so it’s really worth checking out these alternate ways of playing the game apart from the usual 2-player game.
Deck Building and Strategies
There is no full deck building implemented in the series at this point, and it took Magic 2015 to introduce it. However one of the enjoyable things about Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers is that they have built a range of really interesting, varied decks for you to play with and unlock new cards for. The way it works is that you start with the deck’s basic build of cards and you can unlock more for it as you play with it, until you own all the possible cards for that particular deck. As these have all been hand-picked for the deck, you’ll find that they work really well with all the other cards in the deck. This is a halfway point between an unalterable predetermined deck and full deck creation from a blank slate. It’s good for beginners as it helps them learn the process of how to tinker with a deck without completing throwing them in the deep end and making them feel overwhelmed.
The strategies available in the game are mostly determined by the deck types available. However, the developers have done a good job of including a variety of play styles for you to experiment with and see which you like best. My favorite deck is the “Chant of Mul Daya”. In my opinion, it’s just one of the most fun decks to play in all of Magic, ever. The idea is based on summoning huge, colorless creatures called Eldrazi, just terribly huge and powerful creatures that cost very high amounts of mana to play. If they’re so expensive, how are you supposed to get them onto the field in time to win? This is where the deck’s power really comes in – its ability to play lots of Land each turn, searching out Land, playing Land directly from the top of your deck, and just in general ramping up the amount of mana you’re able to use each turn faster than the opponent can keep up. Then you’re able to drop some huge beasts which they’re really going to have trouble dealing with.
Then you have the Sliver Hive, either a player’s best dream or worst nightmare depending on who you ask. Slivers work through a tribal style of boosting other Slivers with increases to Power, Toughness, or adding special keywords. On their own, they are easy enough to deal with but since they are cheap and can flood the field quite quickly the result is more than the sum of its parts, and you suddenly have a whole hive of the nasty critters charging down your opponent’s field. The added value from Sliver cards really is the core of the deck, so if you enjoy this kind of play style than the Sliver deck is the one to go for.
Lastly, a really fun and frustrating (for your opponent) deck to play is Jace’s Mind Maze. Being a pure Blue deck, you can expect a whole bag of tricks and illusions. The deck is full of cheap creatures that are more powerful than they should be for the mana cost, but they come with an important weakness – any time they get targeted by a spell or ability, they will disappear in a puff of smoke, being the illusions that they are. However Jace has a lot of tricks up his sleeve to deal with this, from countering opponents’ spells to bouncing creatures back to the hand or forcing them to exhaust for two turns. If you enjoy the control play style, this deck is really the best to go with and you’ll have so much fun laughing like an evil genius as you foil every single move your opponent attempts to make.
Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers really stands out as the best in the series so far, given that there is just so much “fun factor” to be had here. It really seems to boil Magic down to the essence of what makes it addictive: fast, fun, strategic gameplay with deepening levels of complexity the more you want to go looking for it.
It has a mixture of modes for you to explore, so whether you enjoy Sealed play, single-player campaign or online multiplayer, this edition of the ‘Duels’ series is the one most worth checking out, in my opinion. Add in some amazing art, CGI videos, music and audio work, and you’ve got a really polished digital Magic experience that is the most enjoyable to play. I highly recommend checking this one out if you haven’t yet played it.
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