The Duels of the Planeswalkers series of games is kind of the middle child when it comes to Magic: The Gathering. It doesn’t receive the same kind of attention that the online version of the game does, nor does it get the love and care put into the actual card game—which makes sense given that both the online version and Duels use cards designed for the regular card game. The virtual versions sort of layer themselves on top, and said regular card game is generally aces.
Which is why it’s unfortunate that the layer presented by Magic 2015—Duels of the Planeswalkers isn’t better than it is. The game presents a perfectly decent adaptation of the base card game that’s arguably better than its predecessors. The AI is much more willing to completely demolish you than before, for example, and it even has a significantly better understanding of how certain combinations of cards work. But it also provides a reworked method of acquiring cards that’s both hard to work around and greedy.
The game’s campaign offers up a single deck of cards when the tutorial area’s been completed. The choice is permanent, and this fact is made clear to the player multiple times. The game even allows for a swap before moving on completely—a final “Are you sure about this?” before bumbling along to the next thing. Depending on the opponent, the chosen deck may simply not be equipped to handle whatever’s being thrown down. Restarting a duel became increasingly common for me, and I’d chosen a deck I thought could handle most anything. I eventually shifted to a new deck comprised of winnings so as to move on. That’s where the greed comes in.
Magic 2015—Duels of the Planeswalkers offers massive freedom in deck customization, but it comes with a price. Players can either grind to unlock boosters filled with random cards, or they can drop some cash for “premium boosters” that might include a certain number of cards that are otherwise unobtainable. Previous iterations required a grind to unlock all the cards, and included an overall limited deck customization feature, but all of them were available within the game itself without plunking down extra cash.
Gone too are the extra modes from previous installments. Used to be the game would include challenges specifically designed to test a player, and multiplayer no longer includes the two-headed giant format. Two-headed giant, consisting of two teams of two with a shared life total, adds a completely distinct style of play to the game—one that’s proven popular in the past. Missing these when they’ve been present in the past give a distinct feel of an incomplete experience despite the gameplay being solid.
It’s honestly a bit baffling. Why remove features like that when trying to get people to pay more money? Wouldn’t the design philosophy indicate that you’d want even more options to coax people into parting with their cash? The Campaign and Multiplayer still exist, but that’s the gist of it. Maybe other people really want to explore the plane of Ravnica over and over again. I know I don’t.
If they’d only added the customization and AI improvements to an earlier installment of the franchise, I’d have been completely satisfied. Both of those are features that have been constantly requested since the series began, and it’s great to finally be able to see them in action. The unfortunate part is that they’re attached to Magic 2015—Duels of the Planeswalkers.
Rollin Bishop is a writer and tinkerer who tweets too much about anime and terrible jokes @rollinbishop. He is also bad at briefly describing himself.