Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers Review

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Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Stainless Games and Wizards of the Coast

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Magic: The Gathering, the long-running collectible card game, has reached a variety of platforms, from early PC implementations to a strangely action-oriented game to Magic: The Gathering Online. In Duels of the Planeswalkers, Wizards of the Coast (part of Hasbro) is bringing the latest version of Magic: The Gathering to Xbox Live Arcade (and later to the PC).

Kyle Ackerman

If you've never played Magic: The Gathering, Duels of the Planeswalkers is probably the best way to learn and get into the game. For $10, around the same price as a starter deck, you'll get a tutorial and a chance to play with a variety of pre-constructed decks against both AI and online opponents. That's a far better deal than dropping $10 to $20 to have some guy with poor hygiene try to explain the rules in a comic book shop.

Newer Rules Than You Expect

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the PlaneswalkersIf you have played Magic: The Gathering and are looking for yet another outlet to indulge your compulsion, Duels of the Planeswalkers is one of the best electronic implementations of Magic: The Gathering I've seen. But as polished as the game looks and feels, there are quite a few tweaks to the game that have the potential to anger experienced players. The biggest issue is that Duels of the Planeswalkers is a slightly simplified version of Magic: The Gathering that feels a lot like the rules changes that are planned for the next core set of the game.

These changes simplify the way in which spells and actions resolve, making the game simpler for novices and less rich and flexible for veterans. Magic is fundamentally a game with a simple rule set, and then a slew of cards that alter those rules, creating such a tangled interplay of rules that it can be difficult to keep track of how everything works. If you've played Magic: The Gathering Online, there are a lot of places in the sequence of play where the game needs to pause and give everyone a chance to act or react. Duels of the Planeswalkers really streamlines things, and once you learn when to use instant spells and how to regenerate a creature who is about to die, it moves much faster, if with less flexibility to surprise an opponent.

The Decks Are Built For You

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the PlaneswalkersDuels of the Planeswalkers starts you with access to two decks – one red, with damage-dealing spells, and one green, with large creatures. Play unlocks more decks, including one strong deck from each of the five colors, and several multi-color decks. All are good examples of pre-constructed decks. If you're a novice, it's great to have strong decks available for play, and everyone playing online has access to the same pool of decks. Each deck has a pool of additional cards that can be unlocked by winning matches, adding those cards to the deck.

My problem with Duels of the Planeswalkers' deck system is that it removes deck construction from Magic: The Gathering, and to me, that's half the game. Playing a match is fun, but playing a match with a well-constructed deck that I built is the real pleasure. Furthermore, when you unlock cards in Duels of the Planeswalkers, you can only add (or not add) them to the deck. You can't take out the crappy cards that started in the deck. And in Magic: The Gathering, the best decks are exactly the regulation 60 cards. A larger deck, even if it has better cards, is often simply less consistent rather than more powerful.

Don't Try to Bluff

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the PlaneswalkersFundamentally, the game is strong, but there are a few more glitches and irritations. Duels of the Planeswalkers froze on me several times, and once only showed black frames instead of cards. The game is complex, so it's not surprising the AI screwed up sometimes, but it's frustrating when the game gets delayed so that the computer can regenerate its Drudge Skeletons five or six times, exhausting its mana, when the skeletons aren't even threatened.

Also, in an effort to speed play, the game automatically moves along when there's nothing you can do. That's nice, in that even multiplayer games move quickly. It's unfortunate in that there's no way to pretend that forest you are holding in your hand is actually a "Giant Growth" card. So it's hard to bluff and easy to tell when your opponent doesn't really have anything. It also begins to grate after a while that every time you start the game (and on plenty of loading screens) there is an extended advertisement for Magic: The Gathering.

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the PlaneswalkersIf you are new to the game, or can get past its minor issues, Duels of the Planeswalkers is an affordable and solid way to play Magic: The Gathering. With players available online for two-player matches, "Two-Headed Giant" games, and three- and four-player free-for-alls, you can keep playing for as long as the decks you unlock seem interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 29, 2009 10:20 PM.

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