A Review of Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014
I played Magic: The Gathering around 1994 when it first became popular. Then I quit when Visions came out, after I realized that my family was poor. But I always appreciated the underlying genius behind the game, both from a mechanical and a marketing point of view. The constant battle between lands for resources and the spells you use them on made for an interesting dynamic. The never-ending rampage of new expansions was great for making Wizard of the Coast more money but it also ensured the game never got stale. Intricate new decks became possible, dedicated players found great uses for overlooked cards (InQuest magazine famously gave an initial one-out-of-five rating to Necropotence, which went on to brutally dominate tournaments before being officially added to the banned cards list), and a steady stream of cash kept the game alive.
So while I mostly stopped playing Magic: The Gathering, I always kept interest in it and the constant parade of revisions and new sets. And an electronic versions would appeal to me as long as they didn’t ask for more money for in-game cards (yes they have done this) and some of them (such as the atrocious BattleMage) soured me on the idea for some time. But this new one looks competent and functional.
I played the Android and the PC versions of Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014. The touchscreen controls of the former are well-adapted to the nature of card games, fortunately. If you’ve never played this money sink of a card game before, the 2014 version is a good way to start. Everything about the game is clearly explained with simple tutorials, and your available decks start out basic and gradually become more complex, as do your opponents. Variety is plentiful but not overwhelming. You’ll learn how to play the game, but you won’t be insulted if you already knew.
The first thing I noticed after playing a fresh new game: Over the years, Magic creatures have become more and more powerful while the usefulness of other spells has decreased. Power cards from two decades ago have weaker modern equivalents, but this is not needed for creatures as they have increased in strength steadily. This one card here let me curb stomp every computer opponent in the game. As someone old enough to remember when the clunky Colossus of Sardia was considered an uber-strong game winner, it’s flabbergasting to compare more recent cards of similar type and casting cost and marvel at how objectively superior they are. I doubt that creatureless decks centered around stuff like Stasis can work anymore; creatures are the name of the game.
Compared to the last official Magic: The Gathering electronic game I’ve played (The 1997 one from Atari), the single-player mode is awfully sparse. Yes, that game had some serious balance problems and was almost as buggy as Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager, but it was quite an adventure with big areas to explore, loot to acquire, and a pretty rad final boss who had a five-color deck and 100 life. This version has very few frills but it does offer an experience commensurate with playing the physical version of Magic, though it is awfully short and crammed with ads. The core brilliance of Magic can still be found, and that by itself would make this worth your time.
One great aspect of Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 that should have been expanded upon (but was probably neglected due to budget concerns) is the challenge mode in which you enter a pre-constructed game requiring you to puzzle out how to defeat your opponent under strenuous circumstances. This means that luck is entirely eliminated and your brainpower is the only factor. Unfortunately, all of these challenges except the last one (which gives you a gargantuan variety of deck-manipulating cards to mess with, with only one possible solution that I know of) are quite easy. The potential was there, but Wizards of the Coast would rather have you play online and pour more money into the physical version to get those new overpowered creatures than to exercise your gray matter.
If you already play the normal card-based edition of Magic, then this video game is probably useless for you. You’re already hooked, and nothing but bankruptcy can stop you. For everyone else, though? Play through the campaign in two hours, screw around with online play for a bit, and realize that you’re still being cajoled into buying more. Magic, based on its own merits, is a wonderful game that has potentially unlimited depth, and millions of people already know this. But it’s also a bottomless pit that you have to keep throwing money into. Hence my ambivalence. Enjoy it in short spurts like this game here, but don’t let yourself be manipulated. Run while you still can.