Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers review for XBLA, PSN

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Also On: PSN, PC
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Developer: Stainless Games
Medium: Digital
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

Magic: The Gathering is back on game consoles for the fourth consecutive year and the series continues to be well received by the public. It’s always been an excellent recreation of the paper game, but the critics have always lamented the lack of true deck building. The big addition in Magic 2014 is a new sealed play mode that gives you booster packs to create your own deck. It’s a great addition but is still just another teaser to get you into the paper game.

If you’ve played any of the three previous Duels of the Planeswalkers games, everything other than the sealed play mode is going to feel nearly identical. There are still 10 pre-made 60 card decks to unlock and duel with. Game rules are exactly the same as the paper game. You battle against AI opponents that are using progressively better decks. Each battle throughout the story unlocks either a new card for your current deck or a new complete deck to play with.

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The new mode, which is the big selling point this year, is sealed play. This mode lets you unwrap six virtual booster packs, complete with the standard number of cards, uncommons, and rares. From that, you construct a minimum 40 card deck out of whatever cards you want, with as many colors as you want. This is analogous to booster drafts in the paper game, except you don’t pass the cards to the left after you pick one.

Finally, real deck construction, right? That’s a big step, even if it is four iterations later, but it’s still very limited. One, I think the card pool in the boosters is overly limited. I see the same cards in each of the packs I open. Two, there is no option for an actual multiplayer booster draft. Three, you only get two shots at this. There are two sealed deck slots, and each start with a set of six boosters. Once you open those, you are stuck with those cards. You can reset a deck, but you can’t ever delete it and start with a fresh set of boosters. You can, of course, buy more sealed deck slots for like $2 a piece.

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The other 10 pre-made decks are very similar to the previous game. So much so, that this felt like a Madden upgrade. Mind you, it’s only a $10 game, but you still have to decide if it’s worth another dip in the pool. You still collect new cards for your pre-made decks, one win at a time, 30 in all. This time around you can micromanage the number and type of land in your pre-made deck, which was a much needed improvement.

This Magic series is a bit of a quandary for me. I love deep and polished card games, especially virtual, where I don’t have to have a friend that plays. Yu-Gi-Oh and Marvel Trading Card Game were two of my absolute favorites and cards in those games are unlocked through progress in the single player game. There are entire sets of cards from the paper versions of the games, and they allow for unlimited deck building. Magic: The Gathering is a fantastic card game, long standing and one of the best. But these games are little more than a enjoyable advertisement for the paper game or Magic Online. So much so that there are obtrusive ads in the game about buying boxes of paper cards and joining the local Magic community.

Grade: B