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Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers

For: iPad   Also on: Android

Losing just a little sparkle

Product: Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers | Developer: Stainless Games | Publisher: Wizards of the Coast | Format: iPad | Genre: Card/ board game, Multiplayer, Strategy | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers iPad, thumbnail 1
Magic: The Gathering will always be remembered as the game that launched a hobby. A thousand copycat collectible card games trail pathetically in its magnificent wake.

But that launch was over twenty years ago, and there are some new kids on the block that look capable of giving old man Garfield a run for his money. Especially when it comes to playing on mobile platforms.

So this 2015 iteration of the now-annual Duels of the Planeswalkers really needs to pull out all the stops to impress us.

Unmagical Interface

It's regrettable then that the initial experience, although looking lush on a retina screen, chugs along like a decrepit steam engine. It's all thanks to some sluggish performance and a clumsy, confusing interface. 

You might well have played Magic: The Gathering before. If you haven't, it's a pretty complex game. Either way, giving you a rules rundown would take up far too much space.

Suffice to say two players go head to head with decks of cards. The cards represent territory you control, a monster you can summon, or a spell you can cast.

20 years of nigh-constant updates, improvements, and expansions have bloated the game way beyond the point I first played it.

So if you want to learn from scratch with this app you'll need to sit through six - yes, six - separate interactive tutorials.

The last one, where you play a full game on your own for the first time, is particularly frustrating. While you're given a wide choice of starting decks, most of them are dreadful, stacked with weak cards whose effects don't synergise well together.

But if you can make it past the frustration of repeated restarts, it's as a good a way to learn the modern game as any.

Magic for yourself

After the tutorial you've got to make it through the first stage of the single-player campaign. This is just a series of opponents with nice thematic decks, linked together with some bland flavour text.

After that you can pay to unlock further campaign chapters or try the slick multiplayer adaptation.

IAPs Explained
Magic 2015 is free to play, but unlike its peers, it's more of a light version than a true free game. If you hope you get more than a couple of hours out of the game, you'll have to pay something.

If you want to spend longer, at the very least you'll want to pay to unlock the second chapter of the single player campaign and the multiplayer mode.

However you can get all the single and multi-player content with a full unlock for £6.99/$9.99. That's probably the best value way to enjoy the game.

Beyond that are a plethora of options, from single card premium boosters to a complete bundle (which actually isn't). But see how you get on with the rest of the game before investing.
By this time you'll have likely spotted a regrettable and unavoidable problem. Magic was designed as a tabletop game, not a mobile game, and it's really starting to show.

Much of the strategy here, aside from deck-building, comes from understanding and leveraging the turn structure. This means the game has to be full of brief timers, pauses, and continue buttons to work properly.

That makes it feel slow, quite unlike the snappy multiplayer experiences we've come to expect from top-tier mobile titles.

But it does give you time to stop and think. And in those little pockets of peace amidst the magical maelstrom, when you're considering your hand, the field, and your opponent, you begin to remember why this game transformed the hobby landscape two decades ago.

Magical memories

However leaden the interface that it's been saddled with, however annoying the nags for a five star rating, and however disappointing the relatively limited card pool in the app might be, these flaws just can't disguise the truly magnificent game that pulsates beneath.

It's an incredibly deep, diverse, and rewarding experience. The sedate pace goes hand in hand with the level of strategy on offer. You need that time to plan your play.

Each time you win a campaign game you get a selection of cards to swap in and out of your deck. Slowly, with a little grinding, you'll tune the feeble instrument you started with into a singing instrument of death. The grind is usually pretty absorbing, and the end result supremely satisfying.

Magic 2015 feels like an old friend. He might appear shabby and slow-witted amongst a crowd of young upstarts, but when questioned, he reveals his value and his wisdom like a flash of forgotten colour in the dark.

There's plenty of life in this old dog yet.
Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers
Reviewer photo
Matt Thrower | 15 July 2014
A weak interface and limited card selection can't disguise that Magic is still a great game
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