The Magic 2015 core set release is looming, and with it comes some big things for the game of Magic and its fans. New cards, new chances to build better decks for standard, and of course, the first ever Core Set Pro Tour. But for Wizards, it is also a chance for them to continue to grow their ever growing player base. Magic itself has a very long and rich history. Just last year, Hasbro (the Parent company of Wizards of the Coast) reported that Magic the Gathering was its highest selling game of all time, overtaking even Monopoly. The game boasts 20 million worldwide players from 70 different countries, and cards in 11 different languages. The game features 13,000+ cards spanning over 80+ sets (for those of you who are unaware of how trading card games work, that’s roughly the equivalent of 80+ DLCs for a video game) meaning that the possible combinations of cards and decks to be built is astronomically high.
The rise in popularity of the Magic over the past few years also seems to have coincided with the release of the first Duels of the Planeswalkers game, despite Wizards’ original fears. That success spawned a series of Duels of the Planeswalkers games, released each year to coincide with the Core Set. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is the latest in that series. Just yesterday I got to sit down and have a play with an early version of the game, and I can say that without a doubt it is the best in the series.
Those who have played during the Innistrad block will remember that Garruk was cursed with the chain veil by Liliana. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 follows on with the story from there, and we learn that this curse is progressively taking over and Garruk is becoming more and more evil. In his warped mind he has decided that beasts are no longer the ultimate quarry in the multiverse. He is now hunting Planeswalkers:
This year, Wizards of the Coast encourages you to “Hunt Bigger Game”
From the very get go, the controls feel much more smooth. Swiping along the main menu is easy and it looks great. The menu itself holds some interesting elements. Scrolling along, I can see the tutorial, the campaign, multiplayer, the deck manager, store, and a store finder. There’s some interesting things going on here, so lets cover everything as best as we can.
Wizards is touting Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 as “the best way for gamers to start playing the world’s best strategy game,” and just a quick look at the tutorial explains why. Every element of the magic experience is covered here, from playing your very first land and spell, all the way up to mastering the stack. Those helpful popups from the previous games make a return, explaining everything from some general advice such as “It’s a good idea to play a land every turn” to displaying keyword and mechanics rules. Those who aren’t new to the game may want to turn these off, but for the newer players everything is explained in short and concise detail aiming to help you start playing as quickly as possible. At the end of the tutorial, you’re tasked with beating one last foe before you can continue on to the campaign. The AI has received an incredible update from previous versions of the game. No longer does the opponent just randomly attack in with all their creatures whether it is a good idea or not. Board stalls become real board stalls, and combat tricks are played in combat. It feels like you are actually playing against a competent opponent.
The game has also received a bit of a face-lift. The background is now a nice soft white, which brings the actual cards to the forefront. In the image below you will see a red line along the centre of the battlefield. DotP2015 has introduced the “red zone,” a visual cue to point out that the game state is now in combat, and cards push up into that zone when they are attacking.
Combat in Action
For those who have been playing Magic for a while, don’t fret. The campaign has changed significantly too, and it’s gotten a lot harder! Instead of a large series of challenges, there are now only a few. However, as you go through each of the planes, the first thing you need to do is explore. Through exploring, you’ll be matched up with completely random opponents from that plane, and as you win games you’ll be able to unlock cards for you decks. The Campaign challenges aren’t designed to be easy, and bar maybe an incredibly good god hand AND series of draws from the basic deck, you won’t be able to beat it – you’ll need to explore. One of the cooler elements of the game is boosters. As you win, you’ll be presented with boosters which mimic real life boosters. From the visual crumbling of the packet, to the fanning out of the cards, and even the composition of the pack (1 rare, 3 uncommons etc) everything is there. The only thing missing is that new card smell.
Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers will feature a wide variety of 1, 3, 5 and 7-card boosters. You start the game unlocking these smaller packs but eventually begin earning full 14-card Booster Packs as you progress. Players earn these boosters through game play or there are Premium Boosters available for purchase in-game.
The Innistrad Campaign Menu
Opening the booster allows you to instantly select a card from the pack and go to your deck manager to put it into one of your decks. Yes, you read that right. Any card. Players have been begging for it, and Wizards has finally implemented it. Deck building has been upgraded and expanded! Wizards found that new players learnt a lot from the game in terms of how to play, but none of them really knew what it meant to build a deck. For this reason, deck building on Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is now completely open ended. You can build decks from scratch using any cards you have unlocked during the course of the game, as well as modify the land base. And because we have access to the plane of Ravnica, we get to play with some dual coloured lands as well. This deviation from the confines of the pre-constructed decks from previous games is probably the most exciting element for all players. Looking at your collection can be filtered into colour, type, rarity, and set. Cards in full colour are ones that you’ve unlocked, and each of those cards has a number attached to it at the bottom showing how many copies of it you have access to. Cards that are still to be unlocked are greyed out, and a progress bar down the bottom of the screen shows how much of the full collection you have access to. One of the other cool elements of the deck-building experience is that the game can auto-complete a deck for you, from as little as one card, by drawing on the in-built power and synergy ratings for each of the cards. It’s not perfect off such a low count of cards (my first example was an attempted auto-complete off just 2 Nighthowler, and what resulted was a black control deck with a white splash for a single white card with only 42% of the entire card collection unlocked) but as you unlock more of the collection, the algorithm will be able to do a much better job.
The Deck Builder
The also features 4-player multiplayer, as well as the store where you can purchase upgrades for the game such as pimping out your deck in full foil in order to show off to other players. The multiplayer element of the game can be played against other on the same platform as you are. The lack of cross-platform capability might be a bit of a let down, but with the amount of platforms that this game is hitting this year, we can understand why it may be difficult. In order to complete the full transition from video game to card game, the main menu has a Store Finder, and I can assume that, with previous versions of the game, those with a code will be able to present it to their Local Game Store to redeem a Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 booster pack. The way in which this game is able to guide you from playing your first ever spell all the way up to building your first deck from scratch and being able to find a local game store to test your newly learnt skills at a Friday Night Magic really is amazing. This game is the full package, and I definitely can’t wait to get it in my hands again!
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 will be released on the next-generation Xbox One, as well as Xbox LIVE® Arcade, iPad® via the App Store, PC via Steam®, Android™ via GooglePlay, and Kindle™ via Amazon Marketplace.