With Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers, Wizards’ virtual trading card game takes another big step towards closing the gap between paper and digital products.
Not only has the named been formalized to tie into the physical brand (now Magic 2014: DOTP instead of MTG: DOTP 20XX), it’s also bringing first time players and lapsed players close to the “real” card game than ever before. And while their minds and wallets may not be ready for playing with paper Magic cards, the newest Duels is poised to push them towards their first hit of cardboard crack.
The biggest evidence of that is the inclusion of sealed deck mode for Magic 2014. A long time staple of paper Magic, sealed deck challenges players to create the best (40 card) deck they can out of random draws from booster packs. In the case of DOTP, players will be given six, 15-card packs from which to construct their piles. They can earn three more boosters during the single player campaign… but that’s it. Making a better deck from there out will require either careful tuning, or a looser wallet.
Each player receives two slots for sealed decks, each with its own nine-booster pool. If gamers want to expand their options or bet on lady luck, they can purchase additional sealed deck slots (up to a maximum of 18, 20 total) for $2 each. The representatives at Wizards were certain in saying that slots are account bound, so players wouldn’t be able to delete their sealed decks and start fresh. Whether that’s true or not, I’ll let the hackers decide. Duels has never been a series well known for data security.
Like a planeswalking moth to the flame
While we’re on that point, I should mention that Promo Unlocks (extra cards beyond the base unlockables) will be making a return in Magic 2014. Originally slated to be community-based treats for players who attended paper Magic events, the promo codes for Duels 2013 were leaked in the Wizards forums, essentially ruining Wizards of the Coast’s marketing plan.* While there are no details about when or how Magic 2014 promos will be released, I was assured that “lessons have been learned” and that this year’s promo cards will be distributed as intended.
In addition to sealed deck, there are more story elements than in previous Duels games. Instead of hastily animated card art, cinematics feature fully rendered CGI (see video below), with Chandra Nalaar in the spotlight. The fiery planeswalker is on a quest for revenge, and blah blah blah Zendikar blah blah angry redhead. Is it all a little cliché? Perhaps. But I’m glad to see someone other than Jace the Wallet Sculptor taking the lead of the Magic brand. Whether or not this means Chandra will be a constructed-playable planeswalker in 2014 is yet to be seen.
Also of note: in addition to mini boosters (including foil M14 cards) players will receive for buying any/all versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers, geeky gamers will also receive a starter deck in the color of their choice. It’s probably nothing a veteran would get excited about, but newbies will get a nice head start in their collections for “free.”
The more things change, the more they don’t really change
The base gameplay of Duels fo the Planeswalkers hasn’t really changed. The battlefield is more sparse (probably to increase performance on tablets, but also to reduce clutter and match the M2014 packaging), and UI elements are generally larger and more in-your-face. There’s a new “attack with all” command that should make combat easier on consoles and tablets, but that’s about it. The improvements that were made in Magic 2013 will be carried over… hopefully the bugs won’t.
I was disappointed to learn no other real tweaks were made. Priority is still a first come, first serve affair (in contrast to the real rules of Magic), and timers all seem to be tied to the same default speed. I was really hoping to learn that players would have more time for complicated actions (like assigning blockers) and less time for stupid effects (like Rite of Replicated Soul Wardens). And even though players have complete control over their land counts in Sealed Deck mode, that option is not available with the game’s preconstructed piles.
Despite these minor flaws, I’m excited for Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers. What it lacks in technical substance (in comparison with say, Magic Online) it makes up for in style, speed, and accessibility. These last few years have been huge for the Magic brand, with many thousands of players coming back to the game after years off the teat. DOTP may not be the only source of Magic-infused milk, but boy does it do a body good.
* To be fair, T3 was a big culprit in abetting that leak… but hey, we’re here to give players the edge, not manage DLC code security!