Magic: The Gathering – Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012 is the newest version of M:TG for consoles. I actually passed on the 2011 version after playing the demo many months ago as I really hated the interface. However, since getting it for free via Playstation Plus, I have spent some time with it, shredding the Puzzle section in about an hour and fiddling with the occasional battle in between reviews. I have to admit I started playing Magic: The Gathering in Alpha when no one had ever heard of it. I still remember my first rare was the Force of Nature. Unfortunately only one other friend picked up a starter back then and it became boring quite quickly because of that so we put them away and didn’t give the game a second thought. Then down the road, Revised hit, the trading card game became a phenomenon and we pulled out the few cards we purchased back then on a lark and gave it a try once more. I never invested too much money into Magic as I preferred pen and paper games or things like Mythos or Illuminati. Still, Magic was the most popular and I’d dabble it in here and there. I stopped playing the card game back somewhere between 98-00. I want to say Homelands or the set after that was the last set I picked up money for. However, I instead picked up the original PC version of the game as it was much cheaper than buying cards and it gave you a wide selection to boot. I even dabbled with Magic: The Gathering Online in the early 00s and found it to be a better (and cheaper) experience to buying cards and the randomness of what you might get.
So with my Magic: The Gathering pedigree, both paper and electronic, now displayed to all, I thought I’d write up a quick ten thoughts on the 2012 edition of the game. Be warned, half are complementary and half are complaints. Take it as food for thought.
1. You know what I would have liked to have seen? A retro option featuring classic cards of yesteryear. Like the option to go with say Ice Age or maybe Revised cards and rules. Unfortunately, that’ll never come to pass and the closest I will ever have to that is the PSX real time strategy game bearing the M:TG title or the old late 90s games for the PC. It would be nice to see an old White/Black Pestilence/Knight deck, a Vice/Rack deck or even a jabroni Thrull deck for nostalgia’s sake.
2. The interface looks and feels quite different from 2011’s version, which makes me happy. I was afraid this would be a Madden-esque roster change. It’s shinier, prettier and it feels more like an actual tabletop game of M:TG. The Interface is far better as well. It’s mostly the same, but the controls aren’t as sluggish or as unresponsive as the 2011 version. I remember I’d be hitting my D-Pad or analog stick (depending on the action) just trying to get the game to respond with the previous version and it drove me nuts. I’m really glad to see the controls are tightened up. It’s still nowhere near a fluid or enjoyable experience as the old games from over a decade ago. Maybe it’s just being a crusty old gamer, or perhaps it is the switch from PC to a console, but the late 90s PC titles were far more fluid and provided a better overall M:TG experience. Yay for the last Sid Meier Microprose title. Maybe I’ll have to try this on PC to see how it handles over there.
3. The tutorial drives me nuts with how it wants you to have your attack phase first and your draw/mana/cast phases afterwards. Who has ever played like that? Well, maybe the official rules have changed since ’99/’00 which was the last time I played the actual TCG form of the game. If they have, it’s a horrible idea, but then again it may be because I’m used to a more set in stone ruleset from way back when.
4. The decks in this game are horrible. I’ve seen single digit aged children make better and more balanced decks than what you are given here. The “Wielding Steel” deck, for example, is just terrible and it revolves solely around if you are lucky enough to get equipment cards or not. The decks in 2011 were far better balanced and more believable in terms of decks you’d actually see people willingly make. The default decks on the demo alone are so bad they will entice people to stick with 2011.
5. However, my bitch above is balanced out by the fact we can MODIFY OUR OWN DECKS NOW. Sure the card selection isn’t as good, but instead of having to play with the poorly constructed starter decks you are given, you can modify them to better suit your play style. This means you can (somewhat) improve the decks. I’d still not sure why you can’t just make a deck from the ground up. This was possible with the Microprose M:TG as well as 2002’s Magic The Gathering: Online. I think I’d happily pay an extra five bucks for this ability and so would most gamers. Seriously – give us a massive backend card catalog to choose from, couple it with the ability to make your own decks from scratch and people would happily pay full retail price for this and then one could just do yearly expansion add-ons of full card sets. This is a winning formula and it’s worked big time for M:TG game in the past. Let’s see it happen.
6. I do love that the game is only $9.99, or $7.99 for Playstation Plus customers. As many issues as I have with the interface, the price is perfect. A starter deck is about the same cost as the PS+ price tag and that’s for only forty to sixty cards. Here you’re getting hundreds and online play. That alone is worth the price tag. You’re getting an incredible deal without all the space being taken up by TCG cards, many of which you’ll never use. For all that’s wrong with both versions of Duel of the Planeswalkers – this is fabulous and why I play the games in spite of my bitchings. Getting 2011 for free via PS+ helps too…
7. One thing I’ve noticed is the inability to call a mulligan. I had one hand of six forests and a Nature’s Lore…but no Mulligan. Insane. This was in 2011, so why not here? As well, I’ve played the first battle multiple times now and each time Koth has drawn the same exact cards and played them in the same exact order. That’s pretty bad. Is there no randomness to the computer controlled decks? If not, that is a bad sign for the overall quality of the game. If there is, I just had one weird experience.
8. I wish to god there was a way to move up the game’s pacing. It’s about a third of the speed of a regular M:TG game. It drives me nuts. The loading times between things don’t help either. I always wonder if it drives the person on the other end of internet nuts with the crawling speeds as well.
9. I LOVE Archenemy. We used to do a version of this as kids and it works great in video game format. I enjoyed seeing multiple versions of how to play Magic: The Gathering in the 2011 version and it’s great to see new modes being added on here.
10. I also really enjoyed the new puzzles. The difficulty range was a nice surprise. I used to enjoy those puzzles back when Inquest magazine was around. I also loved co-op multiplayer. I always thought M:TG was at its best in a battle royal or tag team situation as some decks (Remember Necropotence back in the day?) were extremely insane in single player, but could be torn apart in multiplayer. It was a lot kinder of those without a lot of disposable income and it really changed the tone of the game. Great to see that in 2012’s version of Duel of the Planeswalkers.
So, five positives and five negatives. Magic: The Gathering – Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012 is one step forward and one step back. The interface is smoother, but it’s still clunky. You have the ability to modify decks, but the decks all suck to begin with. There are a lot of nice new options to play in, but the game still moves at a snail’s pace. However the key is that you’re getting the game for eight to ten dollars based on if you have PS+ or not and if you are a M:TG fan at all, this is a bargain when compared to the cost of the actual TCG game. At the end of the day though, it’s probably worth waiting until all the expansions are out and you can get the bundle at a massively reduced price. Stick with 2011 until then unless you have a lot of friends that want to buy this game NOW. That way you get the slightly improved game, hopefully better decks, and all for less money.