Magic: The Gathering 2013 – Review

Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, PC, iOS | June 20, 2012
Developed by Stainless Games
Published by Wizards of the Coast

The Pitch:

Face a greater challenge in the latest version of this hit franchise. Play with friends or the AI, take on new encounters and opponents, and face up to three other players in the Planechase multiplayer format. Featuring ten customizable decks, Magic 2013 offers new game items to unlock and introduces the option to choose what lands to tap when you cast your spells.

In the ‘new’ lore of Magic: The Gathering, powerful Planeswalker characters replace the generic concept of a Wizard avatar.* These people have their destiny determined not by midi-chlorians but by a “spark” that signifies their ability to draw power and cast spells.

This spark ignited when I played Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers in 2009. I hadn’t played much since middle school since some bastard stole my rare cards binder, but a $10 XBLA title seemed simple enough. It was not nearly as intimidating as the other options I had investigated over the years. I had always wanted to try Magic Online, but could not bring myself to buy fully priced, ethereal booster packs. I couldn’t summon the courage (or the money) to play competitive Magic. However, the original XBLA title offered bite-sized play, inclusive pre-build decks, and quick matchmaking against the AI or friends. This would allow me to play a nostalgic, geeky (or hip) version of Solitaire when I had a few minutes to spare between real games.

I have now logged over a hundred hours into Magic on XBLA, but it was not enough. I began to buy the cards; I knew I had fallen into their trap. They never wanted to provide me with a bite-sized chunk of Magic, they just wanted to give me a taste. I’d buy a box of boosters, summer Event Decks, and Duel Decks, invite friends over to draft the night away. I even bought all of the DLC for the XBLA titles, and re-purchased Magic 2012 for PC when the full bundle was on Steam Sale.

I am the target audience of Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013, picking up both the XBLA and iPad versions of Magic 2013 to play concurrently since release.

It’s difficult to pin down why, but this latest entry ignites nothing in me. I don’t dislike it, but I’m not drawn to it as I was before. The initial release of Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers offered a fantastic value: near a hundred hours of unlocking cards, challenging puzzles, and multiplayer. Magic 2012 made some minor improvements here and there, added re-vamped online support, a 3v1 mode, and even a “Campaign Co-op”. It felt like a decent sized update rather than a full fledged sequel, but given the previous year’s excellent package this was polishing a fine gem. Magic 2013 feels like even less of an improvement and they even removed the 3v1 Archenemy co-op mode. The replacement mode, Planechase, is a fun curiosity but not strong enough to be a selling point due to the random nature of its mechanic. Watching the die spin is much like watching a Mario Party game-changing effect; definitely enjoyable as a party game but you feel in even less control than facing the Archenemy boss cards.

Duels of the Planeswalkers is falling into the same trap as many yearly sequels: minor iterative improvements causing stagnation, but lacks the hobbyist audience to maintain enthusiasm. Despite my deep investment, my Xbox is not a “Magic XBLA” box; if I were that involved I would likely play more with the real cards or Magic Online. I am unimpressed with the very minor interface improvements, such as highlighting which lands will be used by a spell with advanced selection options. I am also disappointed with the new set of decks. While balancing is a concern, the lack of some old standbys, styles, or entire modes, means you and your friends must keep each Magic XBLA installed, depending on what you are in the mood for. Each yearly release does not even adequately replace the old. Despite Magic’s complexity, I liked the title as a casual game I could throw in and play when I had only a few minutes or needed a quick break, by myself or with friends.

Speaking of casual, it is clear the development resources went towards the iPad version rather than enhancing the core experience, and it is a very good port. It’s a perfect Duels of the Planeswalkers experience on your iPad and is probably the best way to play the game, despite lacking 4 player matchmaking. It supports 2 humans through Apple’s Game Center with options to play 4 player games with AI. The touch interface of the iPad allows for smooth, drag and drop play and quick target selection, all without a hint of slowdown. It’s quite fun to play on the iPad, and if you aren’t going to miss playing multiplayer with specific friends on specific platforms, I’d recommend it. The iPad version is also available for “free” with In-App Purchases to unlock decks and modes; essentially a demo you can try before you buy. Note that this isn’t a Universal app, and is not supported on the iPhone’s small screen.

While I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with 2013, the magic is gone. As a 2011 and 2012 player, I cannot recommend Magic 2013 to all but the most hardcore Magic fans, or for those that this would be their first point of entry. If you have an iPad and would like to play Magic easily in bed, on the go, or in the toilet, the iOS port is an excellent product. I’m hopeful either DLC or next year’s release will offer a more robust upgrade, now that the development of the iOS port is complete. I’m hungry and want another bite, but this dish needs more spice.

*Technically, they can also be in your deck as a powerful ally, but in the recent games, Planeswalker starter decks, and Duel Deck products, players take the role of the Planeswalker themselves.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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