It was school lunch time, and for some off reason I was taking solitude in the library. As I descended the stairs, I noticed that there were actually a lot of people milling around. ‘Strange’, I thought, ‘Shouldn’t they be outside playing footy?’ I sat myself down on a huge bean bag, directly underneath the air conditioner, and observed. They were pale in colour, with serious expressions on their faces. They all hunched over the tables in pairs, facing each other. I noticed cards in front of them, but not your usual decks. These cards were colourful, with amazing creatures on them. I didn’t realise it then, but that was my introduction to the world of Magic: The Gathering.
Now I’m older, and proud to be a geek. Of course, there are various degrees of Geekdom, with participation in DnD and 40k taking you closer to the Higher Echelons. Magic: The Gathering is another one. It’s a deep, balanced Trading Card Game, and last year a digital version was released. Called Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers, it was a cheaper alternative to the physical version. Or so I thought. In the end it seems like a much more insidious conspiracy, one designed to sap the very last bit of funds from our bank accounts. And I can’t say that I’m free of it yet.
I’ll Raise You Two Land
Duels of the Planeswalkers is essentially a translation of the physical game into the digital medium. What it adds is typical computer game tropes we’re used to – coop modes, campaigns, and, dare I say it, DLC. There is an in-depth tutorial that teaches you everything you need to know as a beginner, though Magic veterans can get straight into the action.
Leaderboards and ranked games are in there too. One of the biggest benefits is the way that the computer handles all the annoying things one must remember, such as how much life you have left and the order that cards must be played. It’s certainly not lacking in terms of being a digital game, but as expected there’s a catch.
The problems arise when you look at it as a replication of the TCG. Sure, the same rules apply, and the same cards are all there, but it doesn’t hold the same joys. There is no way to customise a deck. You are stuck with predetermined sets, and can’t even swap cards out. In the physical version, decks are limited to sixty cards, but on PC decks will often expand to eighty or more with all the unlocks. This leads to imbalances, and the lack of customisable decks is definitely something PC players are unused to. The whole point of the Magic: The Gathering is to be able to make your Epic Deck of Doom, and the joy of winning with it is second to none. This is where my cynicism steps in.
You see, Duels of the Planeswalkers doesn’t cost much (seven pounds), but it’s all too tempting to pay money for access to every card. It’s far too much of a slog to get them all, even though there’s plenty of value if you do try to unlock them the noble way. But even if you do, they’re still locked away in set decks, and you can’t do anything about it. The second phase of advertising propaganda begins. The digital game hooks you; you see how the game works, and you love it. But wouldn’t it be great to own the actual cards? Wouldn’t it be great to make your own decks? Of course it would. And so you go out and spend more money. The cycle is complete.
A Royal Flush
That’s what happened to me, but I don’t regret it for a second. Duels is a great way of introducing new players to Magic. It’s cheap, allows you to play the game with the proper rules, and even has extra game modes. If one likes it enough, they go out and buy the real version.This is more than likely given the annoyances that do come with Duels. The audio becomes grating, with only two songs on repeat, and the full tactics of the game can’t be explored. However, it is very helpful for new players with all the in-game hints, and the UI is great for understanding what is happening. If you’ve always wondered about Magic: The Gathering, but felt self-conscious about trying it, then play it on PC first. I guarantee you’ll be at your local hobby shop in no time.
- Great system for newbies, including a tutorial, in-game help and a nicely laid out UI
- Plenty for veterans: tough challenges and Double-headed Dragon modes await
- Bang for your buck
- No customisation leads to a serious lack of depth
- The audio is basic, and gets annoying
- Will have you spending copious amounts on the real deal