It’s okay to admit it – Magic: The Gathering is a pretty rad game. If you’re the kind of gamer who’s into elaborate (and competitive) fantasy card games but wouldn’t be caught dead playing in public, Duels of the Planeswalkers has been a safe haven since it first hit XBLA in 2009. Last year’s MtG:DotP 2012 was a big success, pleasing existing fans of the game and introducing waves of curious newcomers to its mechanics – and Wizards of the Coast is looking to repeat that success with Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.
Releasing in relative congruence with the new 2013 Core Set in Magic’s physical version, DotP is more of the same, only better. The interface has been cleaned up, the story’s more ambitious, and there’s content to challenges veterans and noobies alike. The single-player campaign is much more involved this time around: you’ll get an introduction to each color’s iconic Planeswalkers, like the wily Blue mage Jace Beleren, and the righteous White lion Ajani. They’re banding together to take down Nicol Bolas, the dastardly dragon Planeswalker who longtime Magic fans will recognize from way back in the Legends set.
Somewhat to our dismay, the chaotic and unpredictable Archenemy mode from DotP 2012, which attempted to balance a 3-vs-1 multiplayer mode, is gone. Luckily, there’s an equally enticing mode in its place: Planechase, a special set which will be available in digital form for the first time ever with DotP 2013. Like Archenemy, this is a four-player mode; the twist is that the plane, or dimensional environment, that you’re dueling in is constantly changing as you shift between realities.
This is represented by a large card in the middle of the table, and each plane has different global effects. Players also roll a die at the beginning of their turn, and the results can affect the game wildly. If you get the planeswalker symbol, the mages all cross over to another world, with its own effects; conversely, rolling the chaos symbol triggers that plane’s chaos ability, which can do anything from destroying all creatures to giving you an unlimited hand size for the rest of the game. Roll nothing, and the game continues as usual.
You’ll have ten new decks to choose from, and 100 news cards taken straight from the 2013 Core Set. Each Core Set focuses on varying mechanics; this one includes Exalted, a mechanic from Conflux that empowers an attacking creature, as long as they’re the only one charging in. For the first time, this mechanic will be included on Black cards, which sets the stage for some nasty attack steps. As an added flair, the board now illuminates during the attack phase, so it’s much easier to see who’s on the offensive and who needs to block.
New players will appreciate the new hints system, which highlights cards that the AI recommends you play (though this can be turned off at any time). Pro card floppers will appreciate new features like a visible mana curve in the deck editor, being able to alter your deck before a match, and more of the same brain-twisting Puzzle Challenges seen in previous Duels. There are also new challenges called Encounters: you must beat an opponent who has an obvious but infinitely-repeating style of play. We were more than a little intrigued when we were told about the Stampede Encounter – the AI drops bigger and bigger beasts each turn, before sending them in with an Overrun of +3/+3 and trample. Then the whole cycle starts over again.
Just like the 2012 version, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 looks like it’ll bring new players closer to the Magic community, while pleasing longtime fans and closet Magic fanatics at an affordable budget price. You can pick it up next Wednesday, June 20th on XBLA, PSN, Steam, and – by popular demand – iPad.