Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers

8.5 Overall Score
Presentation: 9/10
Story: 7/10
Gameplay: 9/10

Fantastic Game Engine | Great Visual Style | Real Promise in Sealed Play

Text can be hard to read | Icons not always obvious

Written by on August 3, 2013 in [, ]

I’ve been a Magic fan for a long time. I first learned about the game at summer camp in 1994 when Revised (third edition of the core set) was in print. Since then, I’ve been playing off and on. Looking at a calendar, that means Magic has been a part of my life for almost 20 years (ugh, I’m old). The game has had its ups and downs, with some less than spectacular video game releases (the original MicroProse classics Magic: The Gathering and expansions Duels of the Planeswalkers and Spells of the Ancients in 1997/98 – all of which I own) and some downright disasters (Magic: The Gathering Online). Over the last four years however, Wizards of the Coast has struck a key partnership with Stainless Games, developers of the new and improved Magic – Duels of the Planeswalkers series, available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iOS, and Android. These games, in annual installments, have reinvigorated my interest in a game from my youth that has fallen by the wayside in deference to “grown-up” responsibilities like work, family, etc.

Magic 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers

Without dramatic adjustment over the past four years, Stainless continues to impress with its solid implementation of the Magic functionality. In 2014 if I were in the midst of a combat you would have a hard time figuring out which game I was playing unless you had an encyclopedic knowledge of the card sets – the game engines are that similar.

This isn’t to say Stainless mailed it in with this iteration, however. New to Duels of the Planeswalkers is a different single player mode, Sealed Play. While the core point of Magic is to play the game, a huge part of the charm (really for all collectible card games, not just Magic) is sitting on the floor, tearing open booster packs, and marveling at the random cards you’ve received. Over time as Magic grew, this gave birth to sealed deck tournaments, where the playing field was essentially leveled and deck building was the predominant skill at play. In a sealed deck tournament you would receive a certain number of booster packs upon registration and you would need to use these packs to build the deck you will compete with (this is the only way I formally compete in Magic tournaments these days, as I don’t have the library I used to).

Sealed Play is born out of this sealed deck phenomenon. You have two slots for decks when you begin (more are available for purchase, of course) and you are given 5 packs of booster cards. Stainless has emulated the pack opening experience adorably, with the unwrapping of the booster animated and the cards scattered on the screen. You can blow through this part if you want to get down to the brass tacks of deck building, or you can move from card to card, reading, contemplating, and enjoying the art (both drawn and in text). This was always the only way I managed to afford myself time to enjoy the flavor text on the cards, so I really enjoyed this feature.

Magic 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers Booster Packs

Given that the cards are scattered about, I do kind of wish there was a convenient way to move from card to card while zoomed in. The cards are too small to read when not zoomed into them, so it was a little obnoxious to have to bounce out and into each card. Truly, a minor complaint.

As charming and nostalgic as this experience was, it would all fall on the floor if the deck building was a disaster. Fortunately, the team at Stainless delivered here as well. Ample sorting options are available, including cost, rarity, spell type, and more. The pool of available cards can be filtered by one or more of the 6 colors (including colorless). A simple “deck strength” meter measures the strength of the deck based on some preset conceptual criteria of what makes a strong deck (40 cards, 12-17 creatures, no more than 2 colors, etc). Land allocation can be done automatically or tweaked by hand – I tended to let the computer auto-pick and adjust from there. Sealed Play even offers the chance to play-test against a dummy opponent who keeps dumping 1/1 flyers (Suntail Hawk, anyone?) on the board for you to combat.

Magic 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers Deck Building

Once you’ve built your deck and you’re ready to go, Sealed Play has its own dedicated campaign. It isn’t as developed as the regular campaign is, but you do have the opportunity to open three more booster packs as you progress.

Sealed Play is a welcome addition to the stable of features in Duels of the Planeswalkers. I think it has better legs than last year’s addition, Planechase, which could drag on for a very, very long time. This isn’t to say it is flawless, however. Though your Sealed Play decks can be used in multiplayer, it’s not a smooth process – You need to build your deck, back out of Sealed Play, open the multiplayer section, begin a combat with someone, and select your deck in the combat prep lobby. It seems as though it would be a quick and easy jump to go directly from deck building into multiplayer. Stainless has done such a good job of capturing the charm of opening boosters and building decks, it’s a shame they didn’t take the next step in launching you into battle with your friends. I could just see the experience of opening boosters while in chat on XBox Live, trash talking while deck building, and then throwing down for combat, all in one fell swoop. It’s a difficult thing to hit the sweet spot on something like this, and I feel Stainless is close, but not quite there. It’s not as convenient as it could be. Yet.

Some of the features introduced to Duels of the Planeswalkers over the years have cycled out of the games (Planechase from last year, Archenemy from the year before). I’m hopeful Sealed will stay. I think they can further develop the feature into something even better and I look forward to seeing what they do with it.

The game as a whole is incredibly polished. Stainless has been doing this for a long time and it shows. There are still some things that drive me crazy – It’s impossible to read the text sometimes because the size is too small, at least on the Xbox 360 version. There are occasions when I get animation jitters – again, not a deal breaker, but something I feel like should have been worked out by now. I don’t recall seeing Facebook integration last year, but it is present in the 2014 edition – nearly every achievement affords you the opportunity to let your friends know with the tap of the right bumper.

While there are some small tweaks here and there that can and should be made and some other really annoying things like the text issue, this is the best Duels game yet. Every year it keeps getting better, and I look forward to what Stainless can put together for 2015.

A copy of Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers was provided to The Married Gamers for review.


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Author: Andrew Smith View all posts by

5 Comments on "Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers"

  1. Breanne August 5, 2013 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Great review! I’m curious… why is Magic Online a disaster? I’m of the opposite opinion, and would love to know your thoughts.

  2. Andrew August 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    Well, you have to remember, DotP rekindled my love for a game I grew up with. MTG:O has been around for more than ten years. It’s had a long time to grow up. It was alright, then it was bad. Then it was okay, then it was horrible. Then I graduated from college and had to get a real job and stop playing games all day 🙂

    I don’t doubt it’s much improved, but it was definitely a disaster for awhile.

  3. Anitra August 6, 2013 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Does it still have two-headed mode? (AKA same-screen co-op). That’s probably my favorite thing from the DotP games, since I didn’t grow up playing Magic as a kid, and I don’t have time to get into deck-building now.

  4. Loren August 10, 2013 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Nice review! I’ve only played a few games of Magic, but after reading this and playing the demo I might have to get into it.

  5. mtg innistrad fat pack September 9, 2013 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    What is a good Magic: the gathering deck against vampires and wurms?

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