Home Editorial Magic 2015 quick review: Wizard’s Turning Point

Magic 2015 is at once the best and worst thing to happen to Wizard’s arcadey take on its popular trading card franchise. It has no doubt gained a lot, most obviously the first ever fully customizable deckbuilding experience. But much has been lost as well, and not just the “Duels of the Planeswalkers” nomenclature. Fan-favorite modes have disappeared, while long-time bugs persist. It’s truly a mixed bag.

What that means for the user will depend on personal taste. What it means for Wizards of the Coast, however, is another thing entirely. More on that later.

Jump Into the Deep End

More than any other iteration in the series, Magic 2015 replicates the real-life experience of learning the cardboard version of Magic: the Gathering. You start out with a mediocre set of beginner cards, then build laughable decks out of whatever you can cobble together out of booster packs. Over the course of many matches (or many dollars), players unlock full sets of cards to choose from.

For a 15-year veteran of Magic, it’s honestly refreshing. I had long forgotten what it was like to build in such an environment, and I was instantly flooded with nostalgia for my horrible early piles that relied on singleton card combos and/or ramping up to 7-mana spells that didn’t even do much. As I progressed through the game’s story mode, I cobbled together a blue/red agro deck that was at best marginal, but definitely really fun to play.

There are, however some restrictions. Unlike previous versions of Magic/DOTP, cards are unlocked in a random order, making deck planning all but impossible. If you have a specific archetype in mind, you’ll have to grind out time or cash to make it happen. Cards are also limited by rarity, with a 4/3/2/1 cap for commons/uncommons/rares/mythics respectively. This certainly balances some aspects of grind/card power, but it also greatly reduces deck diversity and archetype viability.

Then there are the premium packs, cards that can only be unlocked via microtransactions. Not all these cards are particularly good, though their mere existence has stirred gamers into an anti pay-to-win frenzy. And while I personally enjoy winning with underpowered concoctions, I sympathize with players who don’t have a lot of disposable income or a strong stomach for money-grubbing. Power arguments aside, it opens a Door to Nothingness for many players who specifically chose Duels of the Planeswalkers because they didn’t want to buy boosters as is required in real life or MTGO.

User inexperience

Minor DLC-related gripes might have been overlooked by the majority if Magic 2015 was an otherwise spotless experience. However, the game abounds with UI/UX problems that make the experience cumbersome. Lavish backgrounds and animations are great and all, but they result in long load times and needless delays in user action, even on my stupidly overpowered gaming PC.

I guess you get to watch a couple “cool” cinematics, but I’d honestly prefer the money spent on virtualizing Garruk to be instead put towards code optimization. For instance, automatic land tapping is somehow worse than any iteration of Magic, ever. While early titles got your plays wrong half the time, Magic 2015 will color screw you nearly every time. Yes, you can manually choose mana sources, but this whole series was supposed to be for casuals who didn’t have time/brains to count lands. Besides, this system worked great in Magic 2014… what happened?

Menu navigation is hampered by what is clearly a touch-centric interface, requiring prodigious amounts of swiping in order to access options that could have been 8 to 9 times more efficient in traditional lists or tables. Buttons are gigantic, making single-item selection easy but bulky by gaming standards.

Some of this has carried over from previous DOTP games, but that kind of makes the problem worse. Stainless has had many opportunities to streamline and improve the base Magic client, but have instead chosen to ride what is clearly a suboptimal code base for several years in a row. First time planeswalkers may therefore overlook these problems, but series fans will be (and are) let down.

Your Favorite Mode is Gone

You might be wondering how I can guess that your favorite mode has been removed from Magic 2015. Well, that’s easy: nearly every mode was removed from Magic 2015. Two-headed giant got a double-bladed axe. Truly custom matches were neutered. Purist preconstructed and sealed deck play went the way of the dodo, and there are no “special” modes like Planechase, Archenemy, or the original game’s Mentorship mode. No matter what your fantasy fetish is, it’s been eliminated. Your options are basically play against a computer, or play against a person.

Is Good Enough Good Enough?

I’m not as doom and gloom as many gamers. I have truly enjoyed playing Magic 2015, including unlocking cards, building decks, and playing against human and CPU opponents. Unfortunately for Wizards of the Coast, that’s not good enough.

It’s not good enough because this is their umpteenth take at this formula, and users expect improvements across the board over previous versions. If gamers bought Madden 2020 and found out it was demonstrably worse than Madden 2008, they’d be pissed, and rightfully so.

It’s not good enough because nobody wants a pay-to-win setup in the DOTP series, or even the suggestion of a future pay-to-win model. Gamers have specifically chosen these casual takes on their favorite card game so they can avoid the high costs of paper Magic and MTGO. Previous installments offered DLC as a time-saving or aesthetic boost, but didn’t lock out content (expansions excluded).

But really, it’s not good enough because Hearthstone. It’s not good enough because Hex. It’s not good enough because Might and Magic. Because Cockatrice. It’s not good enough because Wizards of the Coast no longer has the option of writing all the rules and dictating what a digital trading card game experience is.  Hell, I don’t even like half the games I just listed, but the fact that they are all pretty popular is proof that gamers are willing to go with relatively new franchises if it means less grind, less cost, better UX, ore more fun.

Ultimately, Magic 2015 won’t make or break your wallet, regardless of DLC. But if Wizards of the Coast doesn’t change its digital direction soon, it will certainly break its chances of salvaging a fun online experience for Magic: the Gathering. Players want a robust experience with tons of options, intuitive controls, fun competitive/cooperative modes, and as little stress on pay-to-win as possible. I hope Wizards takes these lessons to heart, because no amount of black mana will be able to resurrect Magic/DOTP if one or more competing franchises buries or exiles the series.

21 replies to this post
  1. My biggest complaint is with the glitches in the deck building screen. Sometimes when adjusting lands the game locks on one land type and you can’t adjust any other colors. Also sometimes when taking cards in and out of your deck. it just starts taking random cards out. Every button push takes another card out of your deck. In both of these instances the only fix is to back out of the deck building screen and go back to the menu, then go back into deck builder. Very annoying considering the loading times. This needs to be patched ASAP.

  2. I think my biggest complaint is that you can’t play with interesting decks. There’s basically two good decks, token aggro with a couple color variations, and black/white lifgain. Everything else just doesn’t have nearly enough support to be playable. How are you supposed to make, say, a mill deck when all you have is hedron crab and millstone? How can you make a control deck when you don’t have any good permission, wraths, or late game card advantage engines? How do you play ramp when your best ramp spell is cultivate and the aggro decks threaten turn 5 wins 80% of the time, and turn 4 wins 10% of the time?

  3. I have this game on my iPad and PC. Works fine on my iPad, but on my PC it’s unplayable. Even though I’ve reinstalled twice my game keeps crashing on the loading screen. The screen resolutions are awful as well, nothing even close to 1980×1080. Purchases aren’t transferable as well. I paid for my PC version and the iPad version still wants money to unlock planes. Wizards hasn’t been very helpful in this regard either.

    Also the game has been released for nearly a month with terrible glitches and there hasn’t been a single patch to fix them. Wizards is going to lose their online fanbase fast if they don’t address these numerous issues with their games fast.

    @Gabe
    I have no idea how you’ve only managed to make 2 viable decks. I have around twenty decks, all of which are different and win consistently (over 50% for all but 2 that I’m still tinkering with). I’m sure there are many more variations out there that other players will discover. Yes a couple deck archetypes will be more powerful overall but that’s how it’s always been in TCGs.

  4. My opinion on the game? Wouldn’t know, haven’t launched it in three weeks (yes, since the day after it came out) and memory suppression is doing its thing.

    But basically, Wing is right as always. (All hail our supreme overlord who does not use mind control rays.) The game would have been borderline acceptable if it was literally the only thing on the market. It is not.

  5. I’m so disappointed that DOTP is taking the same path as Hearthstone. I’m a very casual player who can’t afford to buy the expensive paper cards. Of course some people can spend that money, but spending more than $10 on a single card like Tezzeret isn’t my thing. And now Wizards is adopting the pay-to-win policy, or we can just grind until the end of the world. Not good enough.

    • It’s not really the same path as hearthstone. In hearthstone you can actually acquire all the cards for free. Here you actually have to pay ($15 up front plus however much the premium boosters cost). The grinding is a lot less though, you can grind the entire collection in 2-4 hours if you play fast decks. Unfortunately it’s a lot more stale. Grinding cards in hearthstone usually consists of dailies and arena runs. In dotp you are forced to play against the ai over and over again.

  6. @GooDWiLL
    Your 18 different archetype decks do not have an above 50% win rate against token aggro. No deck does, much less the thinly stretched fringe archetype decks you have to make to have 18 different decks. I assume you’re talking about offline because what you said is so hideously far from true. I’m not talking about offline playing against junky AI decks at all. I’m talking about playing the decks against each other and against humans that make good decisions unlike the DOTP AI. In that situation, there are exactly two viable decks as I’ve already explained.

    • My win rate against aggro is pretty good with this blue-red spell deck.

      Blue:

      3 Dissolve
      2 Talrand Sky Summoner
      4 Archeomancer
      1 Time Warp

      Red:

      4 shock
      3 Volcanic Geyser
      2 Anger of the Gods
      3 Guttersnipe
      2 Charmbreaker Devils

      Artifact

      3 Darksteel Ingot
      3 Meteorite
      2: Bone Sphinx Wand

      Gold:
      4 Goblin Electromancer

      Land

      8 Island
      8 Mountain
      4: Izzet Guildgate
      4: Radiant Fountain

      The trick is to not be shy about burning or countering enemy spells, because the devils and archeomancers mean you can get them back later.

      There is an infinite combo in this, the Devils with Time Warp. You will have enough mana because of the meteorites and ingots.

      The meteorites also double as surprisingly useable removal thanks to the nature of the current meta, but mostly they are there for the mana they give you.

      Anger of the Gods deals with a lot of weenies in a rather permanent manner, otherwise shock and dissolve as needed.

  7. @Gabe
    Not all my games online are against token aggro, so I can’t say if all my decks have over 50% winrate against that particular archetype. That wasn’t the point though. My decks win over 50% in online matches, where, believe me, people don’t make good decisions. I found the AI to be much better than the average online player in both deck building and decision making.

    This game is very new, and because of the ridiculously small fanbase (thank you Wizards…), it has not been thoroughly explored. Believe me though, those are not the only two viable decks out there. I’m willing to be anything more will be discovered.

    Finally, if you’ve ever played in any FNMs, you’ll realize that this game (no matter what block) has certain dominant deck archetypes, but it’s not impossible or even that hard to create decks that stray from the norm but still can perform. I’ve found that those decks are the most fun to play.

  8. I unlocked all the cards, played about 5 games online, then went back to Hearthstone. I only played this game for 2HG. WotC f***ed up bad.

  9. I’m running into a new glitch that is the worst of all. Ravnica is holding on to 4 guild gates even though game is showing all cards unlocked. WotC seems to be aware of the issue and supposedly a patch is coming. When is another matter. Other than no 2HG, I’ve got no complaints with the game design. Very disappointed with all the glitches. If the patch is not released soon, I’m done with Magic.

  10. I actually made a very fun and high win rate wall deck (blue and white) which has win conditions in seraph of the masses, baneslayer, kozilek (due to wall stall) and milling from hedron, pyxis of pandemoneum, and the 2 drop blue wall that mills based on number of walls in play. in sounds sloppy and casual but the milling in this game actually messes up any deck without the elixer of immortality artifact or kozilek. the walls provide card draw, along with mentor of the meek. removal I use the write two drop insta-kill 4 power or greater and the banisher priests. It stalls out any agro token and can remove big green of black behemoths–stretching the game out to turns 7-8 where they’ll have 30 cards in graveyard, 6-7 in your pyxis, and you’ll have 14 creatures on the board…possibly 2 guard gomozas and a few massive angels. white removal and blue mill with walls to stretch it out. Never activate pyxis to open it, never…unless you’re about to lose

  11. Videos please? Seriously you’ve made the most entertaining Duels videos in the past, please don’t end them, they are comedy gold. And they’re a lot more interesting to watch than Eve or Assassin’s Creed.

    I love Magic 2015 – I find it odd that you criticize grind and micro-transactions but make it appear like MMDOC and Hearthstone are better alternatives. Magic 2015 has far less grind than both, and has a cap on microtransactions, which those alternatives lack. Sure, you can play MMDOC and Hearthstone without buying extra cards, but you can do the same with Magic and be more competitive there than you would in Hearthstone and MMDOC.

    In any case, this version of the game is far superior to previous versions in my opinion – it’s far more balanced, the online meta is constantly evolving, and it allows genuine innovation in deck design. It has fewer features but effectively far more decks than any prior game – so the actual online gameplay is vastly improved (though you are correct that they took a few big steps backwards as well).

    • In Hearthstone grinding is an alternative to buying cards. You can get pretty much a booster a day, it is slow but it is an option.

      With Duels these cards can only be gotten as premium packs.

      The one thing Duels could have had over the Blizzard product is game modes – unfortunately those have been cut back to the point with Hearthstone actually has more going for it.

      Duels 2015 – you have a single player campaign and free-for-all.

      Hearthstone – you have a single player campaign (Naxxramas), and two multiplayer modes (preconstructed and a sort of sealed type analogue).

      Duels does still allow you to play more than one opponent at a time – but it needs that 2HG gameplay.

      • Grinding in Hearthstone is extremely slow. A booster a day won’t get you a competitive deck unless you’re willing to grind for months on end.

        In Duels, your decks can be competitive online as soon as you complete the single-player campaign, without premiums. It makes it a much better game by far in my opinion. The overall cost to get a competitive deck in Duels – even with premiums – is substantially less than Hearthstone if you’re looking to play competitively. I don’t think the microtransactions criticism is valid if Hearthstone or MMDOC are offered as the alternatives.

        Hearthstone does have the arena mode, which is awesome though. Duels could use something along those lines. And it was stupid to cut 2HG but the 1v1 gameplay this year is substantially better than prior years.

        I also don’t think the gameplay in Hearthstone is really comparable; it seems like substantially dumbed down Magic to me.

  12. A lot of haters… For all that complain about the pay to win …. I forgot that COD , AC , WOW don’t cost 60 bucks off the bat then have pay outs every few months for map packs or what have you. So who cares ? At the end of all DOTP including all the expansions how much did you end up paying at the end of it ? Pretty close to the original price of a new Xbox game with out the additions.

    • People actually pay for cut-from-release-advertised-as-new content?

      The point being, for the price of this, I can go be awesome at Draft. With actual people and no neutered card pool. Then I win cards which have resale value. So on a good night, I did not technically spend any money.

      Compare to losing all of your money by default, with no way of getting it back.

      The only redeeming quality of this is the free Soul of Zendikar you get.

Leave a Reply

Newest Articles

Disciple of the Ring
8 2144

Since I began playing Magic: the Gathering nearly 20 years ago, I've been drawn to blue/red decks. Maybe it's just that I've always favored instants...