Dissenting Opinion: Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers
With all due respect to my colleague Chase Slaton (I love that line...it heralds a forthcoming verbal bitch slap), I have to disagree with his appraisal of the recently released Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers. I contend that not only is this Magic game both fun and satisfying, it's also a hell of a deal.
Like Chase, I too got into Magic and a young age, 9th grade high school. My friends and I would wheel and deal to get better and better cards, with relatively few actual games being played. Though unlike Chase, fond memories for the game brought me back to it about three years ago and I threw even more money (this time my own, not my parents') down a rabbit hole. I don't regret spending the money because unlike most things nostalgic, Magic is undeniably fun, as my girlfriend and friends learned when I taught them the game recently. But the fact remains, Magic is an expensive hobby if you want more than just basic cards.
I saw this game pop up on Steam and thought, "Huh, that might be pretty handy. And for how much? $9.99? That's a little over one starter deck's cost! Sign me up!" For pre-ordering, I also got the first expansion free, which was a great bonus. I had also done my homework. I knew that my cards weren't going to come to life with amazingly rendered battle scenes. I was fully expecting a Magic game that I could just play in front of my PC-wired TV screen against an AI when my friends weren't around and I needed to kill fifteen minutes.
Upon first entering, I found the interface to be very intuitive and clean. Zooming in to see each card's stats was very nice, even more fun than reaching across a physical table to scope out an opponent's recent play. The tutorial was adequate and helpful, though not as robust as a newbie might need. Still, newcomers should be able to pick up the basic strategies very easily. And despite the fact that your cards don't spawn 3D rendered versions of the creatures, they still play little battle animations when they fight, complete with claw marks and stab wounds, as well as appropriate sound effects. Sure it's a small detail, but it means that developer Stainless Games at least thought about the shortcomings of the game and tried to throw the gamer a bone.
I will agree with Chase in one key area, and I think this game is not a “Buy It.” The lack of deck customization is a real let down and should have found its way into this game by now, after all this time on XBox Live. I'm not saying you should have to build your decks, because a newbie playing this would be absolutely lost. But the option for veteran players should exist as the starter cards start to lose their appeal if you stumble across them too often. Every time I play that damn Jayemdae Tome, it reminds me that I would throw the card away if I physically owned it, but here I have to have it in my deck. It's quite annoying.
It's a shame that Chase didn't get to play the game multiplayer, since it's actually a lot of fun. And with extra timers added to make the game flow better, there is a new kind of pressure added as you have to quickly decide, "Crap, who should block whom? Wall of Air vs. Grizzly Bears...no I need the wall to block this damn Elf Warrior over here...shit, time is running out!" Not to mention that a human opponent is always laying traps that the AI never seems to quite master. My recent game with a friend was a flurry of last second Giant Growths and Lightning Bolts, and it was awesome to screw and counter-screw a real person.
The one key aspect of this game that really made me want to rebut Chase was the price. To put things in context, one starter deck runs around $7.99. That's 40 basic and common cards. So to play even a basic game, you would need to spend around $16.00. And those aren't even full 60 card decks. To get that, you would need to buy a bunch of booster packs ($3.99 each), which may or may not have the colors of cards you are looking for. And then if you wanted to create a two or three color deck, you would have to buy more starter decks and more booster packs...when all is said and done, you could easily spend close to $100 just getting started.
Now let's consider the cost of this Steam game. $9.99 for nine complete decks (over 500 cards total), half of which are multicolor. And if you pre-ordered, you got the expansion which includes a few more cards for those first nine decks, plus two more decks. I can't even begin to calculate what these cards would cost you in real life, but it sure as hell wouldn't be $9.99. While the decks aren't fully customizable, there's no denying that they are built extremely well. One deck may focus on mass producing elves while another is built with the sole purpose of winning through library draining. I never had decks as cool as these when I bought my cards, and I easily spent over $150, all told.
Is it a wonderful game? No, it's just a computerized version of the card game and anyone going in expecting more than that is going to be disappointed. But for almost the same amount of fun as playing with physical cards, for a tiny fraction of the price, this game is well worth it for the Magic enthusiast on a budget, or especially, for a newcomer that wants to test the waters before shelling out a fortune on physical cards.