Magic 2015 Review: a friendly duel

Magic 2015 can make a planeswalker out of anyone

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Wizards of the Coast has been attempting to virtualize its long-running card game Magic for years, so it's no surprise that this latest edition improves and iterates on the versions that came before it. What is surprising, however, is how friendly it is to newcomers. While previous games felt aimed squarely at the not-insubstantial crowd of existing Magic enthusiasts, Magic 2015 can make a planeswalker out of just about anyone.

Capturing the Magic

Much of this is due to the progressive ramp and smart tools of the story campaign. A tutorial eased me into the basics, and you can read more on that process here. For the uninitiated, Magic is all about playing Mana cards to support casting spells and summoning creatures, and then using them to attack, block, or strike your opponent. The first player to reach zero health loses.

Once that was finished, I faced 20 or so campaign stages, as each opponent introduced a new twist or strategy. The ramp is almost perfect, offering a steady stream of challenges that constantly made me think differently about how to handle opponents. It was so natural that I barely noticed I was learning important staples like different card effects and the strengths and weaknesses of mana color combinations. I only had severe struggles once or twice--the Sliver battle is quite the pain--and for the most part I finished the experience feeling like I had a good grasp of Magic's complex mechanics.

Previous iterations of Magic had been more limited, likely to keep the process simple for newcomers. The result was unsuccessful, though, as it annoyed hardcore fans who wanted to build their own decks and the presets seemed arbitrary to newcomers like myself. Magic 2015 has found a solution that should please both groups. The deck-building is flexible enough to let you build from scratch, with a host of filters to find just the right card to fit your curve.

Computer, Build My Deck

If you're not as comfortable building from scratch, the deck builder has an "Auto-Complete" function that is shockingly smart. Even after using it several times, I've always been surprised and delighted by the results. Trying out a new color combination is as simple as putting in a representative of each and letting it finish the rest. It pulls the best cards and figures out which should be combined with others for the best synergy, even across colors. Whenever I struggled with a tricky boss, a trip to the deck builder with auto-complete would make a new deck that helped me overcome it. As in the campaign, I was able to learn by doing.

All of that helped prepare me for multiplayer, which is bare-bones but passable. It only has one kind of competition, head-to-head against a friend or through matchmaking, and once a match is finished it frustratingly boots you back to the main menu. The countdown timers feel long in multiplayer, but that may simply be because we can see it crawling by so slowly. For some simple one-on-one, it works well enough.

Tiny Complaints

These tools come together to build a smart framework, but some pieces of the presentation leave something to be desired. On the iPad version, at least, the cards were extremely small, making the text on them even smaller. I constantly had to zoom in on cards to read their effects, and sometimes even check the "More Info" tabs despite all the hours I had put in. I understand that Magic is a complex game, but the visual cues could have been made clearer.

This is especially galling since so much of the play area is plain, unoccupied white space. It's meant to make room for the late-game, during which a board can be absolutely flooded with cards. Still, having a closer view that zooms out progressively as necessary would have made it more user-friendly as well as reduced the wasted space.

The pricing model on iOS is also somewhat confusing. The shop offers all chapter unlocks for $10, all cards for $20, and everything for $35, as well as individual chapters and Premium Booster packs for sale. It's listed as free, but that's really more of a demo since most of the chapters can't be unlocked without payment. Any CCG is bound to nickel-and-dime, as that's the nature of the business, but I'm sure some players are bound to misunderstand what they're getting or fail to see that a better option exists in another menu.

That would be a shame, because the people most likely to be confused are the newbies that Magic 2015 is so perfect for. It's a friendly introduction for people like me, a flexible platform for hardcore players, and all-around the best version of Planeswalkers yet. Wizards of the Coast and developer Stainless Games have made an great showpiece for an enduring classic of a card game.

Final Score: 8 out of 10


This review is based on a iTunes code provided by the publisher. Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2015 is now available for PC, Xbox 360, iPad, Android, and Kindle. The game is rated T.

Editor-In-Chief

From The Chatty

  • reply
    July 17, 2014 3:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Magic 2015 Review: a friendly duel.

    Magic 2015 can make a planeswalker out of anyone

    • reply
      July 17, 2014 3:08 PM

      hope some Hearthstone people try graduating to Magic :P

      • reply
        July 18, 2014 8:48 AM

        I hope you try graduating to someone a little less condescending.

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      July 17, 2014 3:33 PM

      I'm surprised to see such a high score here after most Magic fans and DotP fans I've seen have been pretty down on it. I thought they took a direction last year that didn't really work, and all reports I've seen indicate they've continued down the road of trying to be more than these games originally were without having the card selection or solid UI the game needs to expand.

      Throw in the premium booster nonsense, and you've got a game I'm skipping this year, despite my love of the card game.

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        July 17, 2014 3:45 PM

        Same. Sounds like a massive downgrade: http://www.reddit.com/r/Games/comments/2ax9dy/dont_buy_magic_2015/

        Bad timing considering how polished Hearthstone is

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          July 17, 2014 3:51 PM

          I've posted numbers of times with my opinion on M15 for the iPad. I really despise it, it's a downgrade in every way from the previous versions, and they are bilking you for more money on top of that.

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            July 17, 2014 5:26 PM

            For what it's worth, I disagree. I think it's way better than Magic 14 or any of the earlier Duels of the Planewalkers products. It's closer to a full Magic Online product, but they're not there yet.

            I also have a beefy new iPad, so I don't see the perf or stability issues that others have.

            • reply
              July 18, 2014 8:09 AM

              I have an iPad Air. I restarted the iPad to make sure *nothing* was running except M15. Launch the deck editor. There is no reason why that should take 20 seconds, especially considering previous versions were not nearly as slow.

    • reply
      July 17, 2014 3:53 PM

      I think an 8/10 is a *VERY* generous score. I wouldn't rate it that highly just based on the technical issues, never mind the lack of features compared to previous iterations.

      • reply
        July 17, 2014 5:35 PM

        Have you tried it yet? I put a few hours into the iPad version and I'm so disappointed. Will give it more time before hating on it too much, but it's not looking good so far.

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          July 18, 2014 8:08 AM

          Yes I have put about 4 hours into it. Please understand that I've put in like hundreds of hours on the previous iterations. This is a massive step down from previous years.

    • reply
      July 18, 2014 7:53 AM

      This review is confusing. I want to be clear: If I spend $35 do I get everything? Access to every card available? Or are there premium booster pack cards above the $35?

      • reply
        July 18, 2014 7:59 AM

        If I understand the pricing right, $35 gets you everything.

        At least on PC, I know it's something like an extra $28 on top of the base price to get all the premium boosters, but you still have to manually unlock all the cards that are part of the non-premium set. I think there's separate DLC that can do that for you.

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          July 18, 2014 8:22 AM

          So the PC pricing is different than the iPad?

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            July 18, 2014 8:47 AM

            Maybe? It's hard to tell.

            There's the $9.99 for the base game. This has 300 cards to unlock. You can pay $4.99 for each "collection" from the five planes, instead of unlocking them through gameplay.

            For an extra $10, you can get the special edition, which has whatever bonus shit that doesn't matter.

            For $34.99, you get the 300 cards already unlocked as "foil" cards, plus the special edition stuff.

            No matter what version you buy, the game itself has premium booster packs for sale, which contain a random assortment of cards otherwise unavailable, but they can only drop up to a certain amount per rarity, so you can collect all of them by spending an extra $28.

            So for $38 total, you can have the full game with all the cards, and you'll work to unlock the 300 base cards.

            But for $63, you can get everything unlocked immediately.

    • reply
      July 18, 2014 8:41 AM

      This thread makes me think it'd be kind of neat to have a 2nd score on these reviews that is like a community/chatty score or something.

      • reply
        July 18, 2014 11:18 AM

        That's a pretty rad idea, actually.