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05 June, 2014

Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers Hands-On

Update: It's time to start building your deck - Magic 2015 is out now. Grab it here.

Original Story: Card Collecting Games (CCGs) are so hot right now. From the mega successes of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft and the Armello Kickstarter, through to promising ports like Infinity Wars and crazy offshoots like the Street Fighter inspired Yomi, a new generation is reconnecting with the addictive thrills of card-based strategy experiences. Time then for the series that started it all, Magic the Gathering, to make a statement of intent.

Already huge, Magic’s growth through the start of this decade has been meteoric – 66% in just three years - and Wizards of the Coast claim it’s no coincidence that the rise is consistent with the arrival of the digital video game series. I managed to get some pre-E3 touch time with the latest instalment and I can see fans spending far more time on their deck than actually playing the game itself.

What separates Magic 2015 from likeminded games is the sheer depth of strategy involved: this is 500, not Snap. New to this instalment is the ability to completely organise your deck from your collected cards as you see fit. Where previous versions restricted your selection of cards, it’s now a free-for-all, allowing you to spend countless hours refining and building a selection of game decks available for battle. A wisely included tutorial mode allows you to test your decks against a pretty sharp AI, too – so you don’t have to go out and get smoked by a few humans to find out your land-to-rare ratio is out.

I was concerned by how the interface on a relatively small iPad screen could handle throwing such a huge number of cards at you. Wizards of the Coast has tried hard to provide a sleek, minimalist interface that is easy to manipulate and has filters galore so you can burrow into your deck with easy looking for the right card to fulfil your devious plot. I really appreciated the data supplied for each card and the deck in general, with systems like auto-complete and stats like mana curves and colour distribution (see image above) giving you a good overview in an instant, as well as the ability to best complete a deck already half-filled with your chosen favourites.  

Speaking of plot, story is also a key component of Magic 2015 and veteran fans will be excited to know it deals with lifting the curse off brutal warrior Garruk. The trailer below paints the atmosphere as the cursed one puts a Planeswalker in their place, and the full story arc will unfold over a number of chapters themed to fit against the actual physical card sets of Innistrad, Theros, Ravnica, Shandalar and Zendicar. I can’t tell you much about the value of that story, although Wizards of the Coast understand if it’s going to lure casual players past the initial F2P entry and deeper into the experience then that story needs to be compelling.

Booster packs can be unlocked through play – you don’t have to buy them. Once received, the way you open them in-game recalls the satisfaction of ripping off the foil and slowly sliding each card into view so you can really taste the flavour of that experience. Sadly, trading with other players remains off the feature-list – as does another cloud-driven desire in cross-platform play - although you will be incentivised to go into your local hobby retailer, where a unique code will get you access to a rare physical card. A nice treat for the series’ rusted-on aficionados!

Note: Magic 2015's representatives just sent through the following clarification on in-game booster packs: "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."

Magic 2015 doesn’t have the bright dancing colours of Hearthstone, but its minimalist design facilitates considerable depth. Wizards of the Coast has clearly listened to fan feedback and has delivered on some challenging features without crippling the interface to the point of it being overwhelming or fiddly. Whether aspects like the auto-complete and the deeper focus on story hold-up over extended play remains to be seen, but from what I have experienced thus far, I’d be surprised if it didn’t deliver. The CCG’s growth is set to continue.

Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers will launch on July 18.

   - Magic 2013
   - Magic 2014
   - Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
   - Yomi

While You're Over At The App Store - Have You Collected All The Grab It Episodes?
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