Magic 2015 is the latest installment in the Duels of the Planeswalkers series of games which act as a gateway for new players into the world of Magic: the Gathering, which is undoubtedly the grandfather of all trading card games, period. Magic 2015 sees you battling your way through the story campaign, traveling to various Planes in the Multiverse and fighting famous Planeswalkers along the way as you unlock new cards to add into your collection. For the first time in the series, you can also build new decks out of any cards you like rather than unlocking cards for pre-made decks, offering more customization options.
There has been some controversy about how well implemented this year’s edition is, giving rise to criticism about Wizards of the Coast’s ability to offer digital versions of their flagship game. So what do I think about all of this? Read on to find out…
For anyone not familiar with Magic: the Gathering, two players cast a deck full of spells of different types, such as Creatures, Sorceries, Enchantments and so on, to gain control of the battlefield and win by either reducing their opponent’s life points to zero or forcing them to run out of cards in the deck. Some cards have unique victory condition all of their own, but these are rare to come by in the game these days. It’s a formula which has spawned a thousand clones, yet this is the original and still most widely played game of its kind.
Players must use Land cards which produce the resource Mana, of 5 different colors and sometimes a 6th type which is colorless Mana. Creatures and other Spells have a Mana cost, and so you “tap” (turn sideways) the required amount of lands of the necessary color(s) in order to play that card. Creatures have Power and Toughness. Power is how much damage they will deal when attacking or blocking, and Toughness is how much damage they can take until the end of the turn before dying. If they survive to the end of the round they will go back to their total amount of Toughness for the next round. This means Creatures have to be killed outright rather than reducing their Toughness over a few turns with smaller attacks.
When a player declares and attack, they choose which Creatures are attacking and tap them. They then wait for the opponent to declare if they will block and if so, which Creatures will block which, since it is the Defender who chooses this. This is a big part of the strategy of Magic, assessing the current state of the board and whether it is worth attacking or not because it is your opponent who determines what is blocked and how.
There are many other kinds of Spells which have a wide range of effects, from dealing damage to searching for cards in the deck or bouncing opponents’ cards back to their hand or deck. Some cards even work with the Graveyard, the place where cards are placed after being discarded or destroyed on the battlefield.
This year’s edition of the annual series of games, Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers takes on a more minimalist color palette in accordance with the Magic 2015 Base Set’s style of marketing, using monochromatic images with a splash of one or two colors at most for dramatic effect. Some argue that this creates an ominous atmosphere of tension, while other suggest its flat and somewhat boring. I find it an interesting aesthetic choice, bring the colorful card art more attention by really standing out on the screen.
The game has the usual multiplayer fare, although the Two-Headed Giant mode has been taken away. The focus here is on the large single-player campaign, with its range of famous locations called “Planes” to traverse. The story is engaging, being about a Planeswalker who has been corrupted and may be murdering other Planeswalkers, so you’re following his trail and trying to find out what the deal is. The best thing about the campaign is that each challenge presents a different deck with a unique angle to it that you need to navigate around in order to beat it. For example, early on, one deck focuses heavily on searching out and playing Curses on you to drain your deck and life points.
In Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers, deck building has got an overhaul for the better in this edition, now allowing you to completely control the contents of the deck and mix colors as freely as you like, whereas in past editions you had set decks with a limited range of cards that you could “unlock” for them by playing with them. Being able to construct a new deck from scratch with your available cards is something that fans had been asking for for a long time, so it’s great to finally see this implemented.
Building or editing a deck is quick and simple thanks to the effective filtering tools at the top of the screen, allowing you to sort by rarity, set, color and cost. Also for the first time you have complete control over the number of lands in the deck, whereas before this was also pre-selected for you.
There is also a smart “auto-complete” feature which lets you pick a few cards that you want to have in a deck and then complete it with one click as the game intelligently fills it out according to the appropriate Mana costs so that the deck will “curve” nicely as you play with it (balances the cost of cards with the restriction of playing only one Land card each turn). This is a great feature for those who are still learning the fine art of Magic deck construction which is almost a delicate science in and of itself sometimes. You’ll be up and playing with your new build in no time.
Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers is focusing on two-color combination decks this year, showing off the unique shared identity that each color pair produces. For example, in the image above, the Red/Green deck is built around both Red and Green’s core identities. Green helps to add more Mana to the pool quicker than usual and brings some very large Creatures to the field, whereas Red focuses on rushing with smaller Creatures and dealing damage through Instant spells. Together, they help the player quickly establish a presence on the battlefield and keep it, using a combination of damage spells and smaller Creatures to deal with any threats the opponent attempts to come up with.
Another such two-color combination is the Black/Blue starter deck. Black loves to focus around Graveyard plays, such as killing Creatures with instant death spells or reviving them out of the Graveyard. Black also likes to look at the opponent’s hand and force them to discard cards, or just discarding cards in general. This goes well with one of Blue’s favorite things to do, which is “milling” – forcing the opponent to lose cards from the top of their deck into the Graveyard. Blue also loves to bounce cards back to the opponent’s hand, forcing them to waste Mana and turns replaying cards that they have already played, while clearing the field for you to be able to attack your opponent directly with no Creatures to get in the way. Black and Blue are a really good combination together and one of my favorites to play.
White pairs pretty well with nearly any color – it focuses on gaining life, spawning lots of small Creatures and gaining tribal boosts among units with shared traits such as Humans. It also likes to cast Enchantments such as Auras which can boost Power and Toughness or give other abilities such as Flying. White and Blue like to focus on controlling the opponent’s ability to play cards, exiling Creatures they’ve played or playing combat tricks destroying attacking troops.
There is such a wide range of strategies you can follow in the game. It’s really up to personal preference as to which colors you like. Experimenting is always a good idea as you’ll find new interactions that work in interesting ways to give you an advantage over the opponent.
There has been some criticism that this game somehow feels less polished than its predecessor, Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers. While I agree this game has problems of its own, particularly the somewhat inefficient and clunky menu system, overall this is quite a solid release that contains a large card pool and a lot of flexibility in how you choose to build your decks and play the game. The game does have an upfront cost, and somewhat of a continuing cost in the form of Premium boosters if you wish to purchase them, but this is typical for the series since they are offering a fully complete, premium gaming experience from the start rather than lots of micro-payments inside the app. The game is perfectly playable without ever buying a single Booster since you unlock so many cards through the campaign.
The AI of the computer has got remarkably smarter in this game, making some of the matches more challenging than the last. This is a great improvement and really important since the core of the game here really is the single-player campaign where you need to play a lot of matches against the AI. Some more experienced players might find it a bit frustrating to be slowly unlocking cards that are typically not as powerful as the current meta-game, but Duels of the Planeswalkers has always been more of an entry-level game seeking wider appeal to casual gamers as well.
Overall, is a strong entry in the series, and although it lacks certain features of the previous games, it introduces much more flexibility into the deck building system which was the biggest improvement that the series desperately needed. If you can look past the clunky and somewhat confusing menu systems, here you’ll find a game that you can literally sink hundreds of hours into. It’s incredibly addictive and I highly recommend trying it out.
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