Magic Duels Review

Magic Duels

While I spend most of my free time playing video games, playing Magic: The Gathering takes up the second biggest timeslot. Today I’m going to make a case for why you should (still) be playing Magic Duels in 2017, no matter if you’re new to the game or a long time player.

What is it?

Magic: The Gathering (hence referred to as MTG) is the worlds most played Trading Card Game. The Paper version exists since 1993 and is enjoyed by more than 20 Million players. Magic Duels’ first iteration “Duels of the Planeswalkers” was released in 2009 and was intended as an Arcade approach to the game: a simplified version of paper MTG with a limited cardpool & deckbuilding options as to not overwhelm new players with the 16000+ different cards that exist. It could also be used to teach new players how MTG works as it had instructions and step by step explanations. It has since gone through a yearly update and has been rebranded as Magic Duels in 2015. While first you had to pay a set amount for the game, it’s now a Free to Play title. It’s available on Xbox One, PC and iOS. My review will be based on the Xbox One version.

Should I play it?

Without a doubt, yes! The game offers so much content without charging you a penny. The Single player mode alone has more than 60 missions for you to complete, all available as soon as you download the game. I especially liked that all these missions are story-driven and give you some insights into the game’s characters and worlds.

Magic duels Campaigns

Over 60 Single Player Missions

Each mission hands you a custom made deck that makes sense for the character you’re portraying: if you play one as Chandra, a fire mage, you’ll be handed a red deck with lots of burn spells. Some of them get really creative and even add extra elements not found in the regular game variants. My favourite one, in the Oath of the Gatewatch Campaign, gives you a Planeswalker on the battlefield every few turns, which is one of the most powerful cardtypes in the game.

MD Planeswalkers

Two Planeswalkers face off

You can also play online versus friends or other players and there is even a Two-Headed Giant mode that lets you team up for a 2-vs-2 game.

How is it different from Paper MTG or Magic Online (MTGO)?

First of all it’s completely free to play! I’ve spent over a hundred hours with the game without making a single purchase. MTGO mimics the paper prices for booster packs (15 cards at $4 per pack) which can get expensive quite fast. In Magic Duels you can buy 6 card booster packs at $2 each, but you can also earn coins by completing Daily Quests. (Other than this they also charge for cosmetic changes, but these are 100% optional) I do miss not having any kind of option to purchase a specific card directly though, instead you have to buy a booster of the set it’s in and hope you get lucky.

There’s also the added benefit of being able to play versus the AI. While the computer doesn’t come close to being as smart as a real person, this is without doubt the most advanced intelligence I’ve seen in a digital cardgame so far. Magic is a complicated game and I’ve seen the AI perform some truly clever plays. The opposite is also true: sometimes it seems like it makes a bad attack, usually because it expected a different line of play from you.

I also like how they created attack animations and special effects for big spells/or legendary creatures. It adds some interactivity to the digital game, just don’t expect anything on the level of Hearthstone, as that game still excels in that department. Visually showing flying creatures hovering on the battlefield though: that’s a nice touch that MTGO could also take lessons from.

MD WW

Fly , my pretties, fly!

It can’t all be good right?

No, Because they don’t want this game to directly compete with the Paper version or MTGO, there are some limitations. The game only has Constructed formats, meaning you can only make 60 card decks out of all available cards and play with these whereas Paper or MTGO also has limited formats.

Personally I’ve always been drawn more to the Limited style of play: you don’t bring your own deck to play vs an opponent’s. Instead you either open 6 packs and build a 40 card deck with it (Sealed) or you take turns taking 1 card out of 3 booster packs, passing the rest to the next person (Draft). Compare this to Hearthstone’s Arena, if you will. I really like the addictive aspect of this: the thrill of potentially opening a powerful card you get to keep afterwards keeps you coming back for more.

Even for the Constructed format there are deckbuilding limitations. MTG has 4 card rarities and while you’re normally allowed to play 4 cards of each in a deck, regardless of their rarity, in Magic Duels it’s limited as follows:

Rarity

Number of copies allowed

Common

4

Uncommon

3

Rare

2

Mythic

1

 

This makes it almost impossible to build a deck based on your Rares and Mythics alone as your chances of drawing them are very low. So my goal of building a Planeswalker deck is that much harder (each Planeswalker card is very powerful, but has a Mythic rarity). Luckily you can’t open more than this amount from boosters though, as there is nothing you would be able to do with excess cards (there is no Trade option or way to turn them into Coins).

What also could use improvement is the deckbuilding interface; all the cards in your deck are shown in a row, while on MTGO you can sort them by manacost or type. Even more worrisome is the limited amount of filters to sort through the more than 1000 cards. You have basic filters like colour or cardtype, then manacost, creature types, set etc. But it’s mainly missing a search box where you can freely type a word or phrase, eg: “Destroy target creature”.

Some tips for starting players

Finish all the campaigns first before you even consider getting into the multiplayer modes. For each campaign you finish you’ll be given some cards and coins. Origins has 25 missions total, the other sets each have 5.

While playing the campaign you’ll get some prompts asking you if you wish to learn more about an ability or keyword. ALWAYS do these, even if you’re a veteran player. They only take about a minute to complete and reward you 10 coins. Some are even entertaining in their own right as they act like puzzles to solve. You can access all of these from the main menu as well, in case you missed some.

Open the game once a day to check the daily quests. If you don’t like the one given to you, you can exchange it for a random new one. Try to get 2 or 3 that overlap so you only have to play two games every three days to earn about 240 coins. This should get you at least 2-3 booster packs each week.

MD Quests

We gotta pump those numbers up. Those are rookie numbers!

Build a two or three colour deck when you start out so you can more easily complete the quests that require you to win a game where you have to play a certain colour. Personally I started with a Green/Black/White Elf deck as you can build a basic shell using the Starter cards you’re given and then buy some Origins boosters hoping to get the better Elf cards from them. This leads me to another tip:

Try to buy boosters from the same set with your coins. Each set has its own keywords, mechanics and creature types and you’ll be able to make a better deck if you play into the synergies of your cards.

MD elves 1

Elves, one of Magic’s oldest tribes

Last but not least: if you plan on playing the AI a lot, know that it mostly builds decks out of the most recent card set alone. You can play into this by including cards in your deck that are good against them. In the previous sets, Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, there were a lot of good artifacts so I always included some cards that could destroy these. In the new set, Amonkhet, a lot of creatures can come back from the grave, so use exile effects instead of destroy effects to keep them from entering the graveyard.

Final Word

This is a great game to learn Magic: The Gathering with if you’re new to the game and it’s more than entertaining enough to keep a veteran like myself coming back to it almost every day. While there’s nothing quite like playing with the real cards among friends, this game allows you to scratch that cardgame itch from the comfort of your own couch.

Magic Duels

FREE
Magic Duels
8.5

Overall

9/10

    Pros

    • Over 60 Story Missions
    • Over 1000 cards available
    • Great for learning the game

    Cons

    • No Limited formats (Sealed/Draft)
    • Could use better card filtering (search)
    • Deckbuilding restrictions
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    Robby Bisschop
    Belgian, male, born in 1987
    I love videogames (mostly RPGs), anime, movies and Magic The Gathering.
    About the author

    Robby Bisschop

    Belgian, male, born in 1987 I love videogames (mostly RPGs), anime, movies and Magic The Gathering.