Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 review

Nicol Bolas – the super-intelligent, interdimensional dragon – is back to his evil-plotting ways and he can get away with it too if not for you and those pesky planeswalkers.

The card game, Magic: The Gathering, is back with its annual downloadable offering, Duels of the Planeswalkers, brandishing new cards, a new gameplay mode and the snazzy 2013 subtitle. This is the third installment of the game in so many years, and it boasts a few more tricks up its magical sleeves.

For those unfamiliar with Magic: the Gathering, players take on the role of powerful wizards known as planeswalkers, who have the ability to jump between different planes of existence. These mages participate in duels, casting creature and spell cards in order to attack their opponents.

If you’ve yet to play Magic (either online or with physical cards), then this game is a great entry point. It’s very newbie friendly with good tips and tutorials to get you up to speed and playing Magic within a relatively short time. Duel is a good, cheap way to learn how to play the game in a low-pressure environment. Just don’t be surprised if you start craving some tougher Magic after this initial taste. There’s a reason players refer to the game as “cardboard crack.”

For those familiar with Magic and who’ve played previous iterations of Duel of the Planeswalkers, not much has changed. The game still provides a fair bit of challenge, even to those who have been in the game for years. The biggest difference from the 2012 version is the removal of the Archenemy Mode and the addition of Planechase gameplay. Here you’ll face off against three other planeswalkers, shifting dimensions thanks to the Planechase deck in the middle of the field.

Every turn, players have the chance to reveal a new Planechase card, each of which has various effects on the battlefield. One card might destroy all creatures, one may make creatures more powerful, and others supercharge the spells you cast. It’s a welcome change from the old Archenemy mode and much more interesting, fast-paced and fun to play. It gives you a better sense of agency than it did when you teamed up with two other players to take on a much more powerful opponent.

The game is also comes with 10 new decks. Each has its own distinct strategies; whether you like flying creatures, mono-black control decks, or overwhelming opponents with red goblin, there’s a deck for you. The decks themselves are a lot of fun to play with and will please amateurs and veterans alike. They also employ some new cards from Innistrad and the upcoming 2013 core set, and give you some pretty interesting and powerful cards to mess around with.

There is also a new deck rating system, which shows players how big creatures are in a deck, the decks’ flexibility to deal with opposing strategies, and how much synergy the cards have with one another. The deck manager also shows you how many creatures a given deck has versus other cards. It’s a great way to get a sense of how each deck works at a glance; the more information you have about your decks the better you can play them.

But overall the game hasn’t changed much. There is one minor tweak that makes a huge difference, however. The game taps your mana automatically and most of the time does a pretty good job of it. In the past, though, it could make some pretty terrible decisions and screw you out of playing a game-winning card by tapping the wrong land. Now at critical junctions the game will allow you to choose what mana you would like to keep open, which makes a huge difference. It’s a welcome change since this was one of our biggest gripes with previous games.

Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013 is, at its core, an update on an established, popular series and shares in the problems of previous versions. Veteran players will still feel a bit constricted by the relatively limited deck customization options compared to real-life Magic. Also it’s sometimes tough to know when you can cast a spell or use a card’s ability, especially during combat phases. So it is difficult to plan out super-tricky tactics that require great timing.

Still, veteran Magic players will enjoy the new decks and challenging puzzles here, and the game is a great way for potential planeswalkers to learn the ropes of this classic geek gaming staple.

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