PREVIEW: Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers

“Trading card game” has been synonymous with one title for nearly 20 years. Magic: The Gathering has always been top of the heap, in schoolyards and break rooms alike. That said, it’s been a while since I played Magic. This is mainly because, and let’s not pull any punches, the game is an expensive hobby. Starting decks, boosters, and tournament packs will all set you back in the quest of building a great deck.

And I am a seasoned player, getting insight into the community for a newcomer must be terrifying. Not to mention finding the time to face the intimidation of walking into a new game shop. If only there was some cheap way to learn how to play literally anywhere…

Enter Magic: The Gathering – Duels of The Planeswalkers 2014, the fourth yearly release from Wizards of the Coast. Normally limited to home consoles and pcs, this one is being released for Android tablets at the same time. This removes a huge limitation on the physical game, and for around $10 it’s also a cheap way to get started.

The safe, judgment free environment is perfect for learning Magic‘s deceptively simple mix of different colours and play styles, thematically linking all the cards of that colour to create a massive world of fantasy and danger. Naturally, it also has online play (via bluetooth for the tabs as well!) so there’s something for those overly competitive types to enjoy. While it is a little bit more restricted than a tabletop free-for-all, several features make it a lot of fun.

The campaign mode sets you up on an adventure. As a “planeswalker”, you help a magical being who has been betrayed by a wizard get her revenge. The game is structured into several matches across four planes with various opponents, each with a differently structured deck. As you advance, new cards are unlocked for your own quite powerful collection.

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The mechanics of the game are explained as they come up, and the cards are all viewable on the field with a handy “stop timer” button, should you need to explore the rules on something. The stunning artwork from the physical cards has been retained, so the game looks fantastic.

As well as being playable on Android devices for the first time, a brand new feature called “Sealed Play” has been implemented. Being that my original interest in Magic was finding the best cards and building decks around them, this is a very welcome feature. It allows you to bust open some boosters and build a custom deck for online play.

This is a brand new feature and really does add an extra level of depth for someone who still isn’t quite ready to hit the competitive scene. While I would love to have a pool of all of the available cards in this set, it does go against the very TCG nature of the game. If you are a little worried about building your own deck, you can always just select a card from your pool of boosters that you like and have the system build a deck around that for you. There are several slots available to save your custom decks and additional slots can be purchased.

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Gamers have needs, and different types of gamers have different types of needs. One of the reasons Magic is so enduring is because as a game, it meets so many of these gamer essentials.

If you have fun exploring a big world filled with interesting characters, Magic is set in one of the most flavourful universes around. If you’re more interested in seeing how different mechanics work together in the confines of the game? Magic can do that too.

The team at Wizards of the Coast even wrote an article about this phenomenon, outlining how the studio acknowledges some wildly varying player types (and nearly all of them are catered for in this game!).

Planeswalkers 2014 is the most complete way to learn how to play one of the world’s most popular games for a fraction of the price, with the added bonus of a coherent plot and being able to do it anywhere. Highly recommended.

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