July 4, 2012


Lasting First Impressions of Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 FROM Wizards of the Coast

Magic 2013 boxartMy first experience with Magic: the Gathering was with the original collectible card game format, played with band mates while our demo tape was getting mixed in the studio instead of studying for my fourth year university final exams. I didn’t really get a chance to play Magic (as it is usually referred to) again until 2009’s Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers hit XBLA. Today, I spent an hour with this 2013 edition on XBLA, developed by Stainless Games, to see if this latest iteration is worth your time, whether you’re a Magic veteran or a complete newbie.

For the uninitiated, Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game, created by Richard Garfield, that typically involves two players building their mana pools by accruing lands and using that mana to cast spells such as creatures, enchantments and direct damage attacks in an effort to deplete one another’s life force. Mana comes in five flavours: green, red, blue, white, and black and each colour is produced by a corresponding and appropriate land type (e.g. forests produce green mana, swamps produce black). Each colour also represents a specific magical style that will appeal to each player’s individual tastes. Players who enjoy fighting with massive, powerful creatures will enjoy playing with a green deck while players who prefer manipulation and counterattacks will appreciate a blue deck. While the card game has grown wildly in popularity with new rules and cards being added at a staggering pace that might intimidate new players, Stainless Games has developed a video game adaptation that provides neophytes with an accessible introduction and an opportunity to return for players who haven’t picked up their Magic decks in a while.

Magic 2013 screen 1True to its name, Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 features a robust single player campaign that pits you in duels against a series of Planeswalkers (think of them as powerful wizards), each with their own unique deck. Defeating a Planeswalker unlocks a new deck for you to use anywhere in the game and each victory throughout the campaign unlocks a new card for use in your currently selected deck. Strewn throughout the campaign are several game types including:

  • Encounters: a brand new mode where your opponent always starts with the same hand of cards and plays those cards in the same order, compelling you to devise a winning strategy using any deck.
  • Challenge: this mode makes a return and consists of very specific mid-battle puzzle scenarios requiring you to beat your opponent, sometimes against seemingly impossible odds, and usually a single turn. These challenges serve to expose the player to highly advanced tactics that make use of a specific combination of spells and abilities and can lead to some terrific ‘aha!’ moments.
  • Planechase: another new mode and features Phenomenon cards that affect the rules of play as players shift through the various planes through a single battle.
  • Revenge: A campaign that is unlocked after you have defeated all Planeswalkers and sees your opponents return with more advanced strategies and using the same cards you have been unlocking throughout campaign play. Sadly one hour was not enough to unlock this mode.
  • Multiplayer: A complete multiplayer system is available, comprising multiple competitive modes over Xbox Live, Steam, or PSN and the option for local players to participate where co-op modes are offered.

Magic 2013 Deck Manager

For returning Duels of the Planeswalkers players, the Deck Manager has certainly seen some improvements that allow for easier customization of decks but the strict minimum deck size limits the use of this feature for players who enjoy building a deck from scratch. Also, the creation of custom decks using a mixture of cards of various colours across all decks is still conspicuously absent. Despite ‘Planeswalker’ featuring prominently in the title, the powerful and complex cards of the same name are also still not supported in this version. Perhaps these restrictions and omissions serve to keep the game more accessible for novice players or perhaps there are technical limitations that may be worked out in inevitable sequels. Players who lack patience have the option to buy ‘unlock keys’ that may be used to unlock entire decks, bypassing the painfully slow pace in which they are doled out in the campaign. It would have been nice to have all of the decks I had unlocked in previous Duels of the Planeswalkers titles available to me in Duels 2013, but, regardless, the core game is a terrific value, even for veterans of the series, and a few extra bucks to unlock some decks would still make for an excellent value proposition. There are also some in-game ads between duels but these can be easily skipped.

Overall, avid Magic card players may balk at some of the technical limitations but new players or players returning to the franchise will have an excellent time with Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. Also, the game features some of the most beautiful loading screens I have ever seen.

Wizards of the Coast, I gave you an hour and I am IMPRESSED.

Fun fact: Richard Garfield also created The Great Dalmuti, a card game Sean and I got to enjoy at PAX East 2012 with our good buddy Dan Amrich, his lovely wife, Kat, and some great friends!


About the Author

is an avid gamer on all platforms, unapologetic graphics whore and peripheral junkie. He is also a drummer both electronic and acoustic, a loving husband, and adoring father to two lovely girls. Follow Craig on Twitter as @Talus as he eats sandwiches and posits on the latest inconsequential happenings in the games industry.



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