Magic The Gathering’s 2012 Demo of Planeswalkers 2013

By Alec Meer on June 25th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

I'm no zoologist but I'm pretty sure that's a dog, right?

Even though, as my partner commented with no little disgust the other day, I seem to be becoming ever-more geeky as I age, I’ve managed to pass 33 years of life without ever playing/understanding Magic: The Gathering. So it is that the demo of Stainless’ new Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 has been my first experience of the deathless collectible card game. It didn’t take long for me to develop a profound and frightening understanding of just why so many people are so drawn to and sucked into this cardboard crack and its digital variant.

It’s gambling, isn’t it? Highly strategic gambling. That certain belief that you know best, but the cruel and capricious whims of fate can undo your confidence and your strategy in an instant. To this game’s – or at least its demo’s – great credit I don’t feel the hollow, distracting oddness of playing with pretend cards. The cards are the cards, and even though the slightly clunky interface has a tendency to get in the way, this digital cardboard feels incredibly precious.

I realise I’m probably preaching to the perverted here, but Magic’s rules, which I’ve hitheto feared from afar, seem complicated but quickly sensible, and rigid enough that I immediately decided my AI opponent must be cheating when the tide turned against me (he wasn’t, but getting three dispel cards in a row just wasn’t fair). Could have done without the demo crashing upon my eventual victory and thus denying me my first scalp and associated extra card, but PC games eh?

So, not 100% on the UI but DotP ’13 seems to have nailed the most important element – a sense of real competition, and the attendant utter loathing of one’s opponents.

I’m sorely tempted to pick up the full game now, though I’m genuinely afraid that will entail waving goodbye to the next fortnight of my life and – God forbid – lurking on eBay at silly hours of the morning looking for bargain-priced real-world starter decks. MUST NOT.

The demo can be grabbed from the right-hand side of this Steam page, and comes in at about 1.4 of those gigglebike things.

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66 Comments »

  1. Chris D says:

    I take it there’s still no deck building?

    For me the enjoyment in Magic was in either improvising wildly by the seat of my pants with whatever was to hand, or in fine tuning my own engine of destruction.

    Having to play with someone else’s deck that seemed designed to be played in one particular way fell between the two and just didn’t work for me.

    • Gothnak says:

      Because all these games are really adverts for playing the game for real or on MTGO where you REALLY pay top dollar for the good decks. Alternatively go onto ebay and buy collections of commons for next to nothing and play your friends with those, drafting as you go. It’s great fun.

      • ShineyBlueShoes says:

        There’s even actual literal adverts after you beat the single player matches this time around. For whatever reason it at least feels a little more robust and varied what can be accomplished with each deck even though it’s the same limited set of cards and no control over the land in your deck.

    • Vinraith says:

      Yup, deck construction’s where all the fun is.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        Then why on MTGO do you always see the same deck builds in play?

        I think this gives a nice even playing field. You still get some customisation in terms of removing cards from the deck, so I don’t see why people always moan about this.

        • DK says:

          I know I guy who streams himself playing MTGO Draft Tournaments – if you wanna see unique decks, draft tourneys are where it’s at, because you get x amount of boosters and have to build a sensible deck (+ a few cards “up your sleeve” to switch out between rounds”) with what you get.

          • Vinraith says:

            Sealed deck was always the most entertaining way to play Magic. Anything else tends to descend into “he who spends the most wins.”

      • jrodman says:

        I disagree. I think construction has far more depth, but I liked playing out nonrazorsharp decks against my friends for funsies a lot more than getting serious.

    • Kestrel says:

      I prefer the real deal immensely, but the 90 cards they give you for each deck aren’t a bad start at all. For ten bucks, you’re given quite a lot to play with.

      • NathanH says:

        They’ve done a pretty good job this time round. In 2012 mostly the deck construction was identifying the bad cards and removing them, but this time there aren’t very many bad cards so there are quite a few possible builds for each deck.

    • Screwie says:

      They might expand on deck options, but unfortunately full deck building is never going to happen. It would cannibalise their customer base.

    • Xocrates says:

      They will never ever allow for deck building as long as these games keep costing less than a pre-built deck for the real thing.

      That said, the current implementation works well enough and already provides a good amount of choice for each themed deck.
      It doesn’t replace the real deal, obviously, but it’s great for a quick fix or just as an introduction to the game (which these versions are clearly designed to be).

      • AmateurScience says:

        As a total newb dipping my toe in for the first time it’s pretty great. I can see what makes the ‘real’ game so compelling!

    • airtekh says:

      I actually really appreciate the premade decks in DOTP.

      I don’t think I could be bothered to make my own deck even if they did include the option for it.

    • bonjovi says:

      I always thought that they don’t allow building decks because it would be difficult to balance single player campaign.

  2. Cooper says:

    Magic is not totally like gambling; in that bar things like poker, gambling is entirely based upon RNGs.

    The rules about number of types of cards and the need for lands and the changes in needs / use between start-mid-end game make Magic a nightmare / wonderful puzzle for the statistically minded.

    By basically removing deck-creation, the Planeswalker games -have- made MagicTG into gambling. Thus removing pretty much everything interesting about it…

    • Gothnak says:

      Whether you draw a land or not does break any deck into gambling somewhat. getting mana screwed because you shuffled badly is the one rule about magic i’d like to fix.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I’m pretty sure it’s a rule of the game that you can draw again for any reason. A houserule a lot of people play with is that if you have no land on your second draw you can draw a six-card hand, then a five card hand, etc.

        • Eskatos says:

          The house rule that my family always played with was that if you get a starting hand with all lands or no lands, then you can mulligan for no penalty. It worked out pretty well for us.

          • Xocrates says:

            The mulligan rules implemented on DotP (and as such, I assume is to be the official ruling) is that you can mulligan your starting hand for free once (so, redraw 7 cards first time), and draw one card less for each subsequent mulligan (i.e. 6-5-4-3-2-1 for subsequent redraws).

            This is regardless of how many lands you got.

          • Joof says:

            The official rule for one on one is you start with 7, and can mulligan as many times as you wish, drawing one less card every time you mulligan. Most people house rule that a hand with all or no land is a free mulligan, but that’s not an official rule.

            Official multiplayer rules are one free mulligan, and then one less card for each mulligan, since a bad hand in multiplayer is much more crippling than single player. DotP uses the multiplayer mulligan rules for all their games.

          • jrodman says:

            Agree with Joof.

            Out of interest at what duels of the planeswalkers 2012 was getting wrong, I recently read through the tournament official nitty gritty rules from wizard of the coast. It was pretty understandable from a general knowledge of the game, but boy did it ever go on and on.

            Anyway, yes, the rule is multiplayer 7-7-6-5-4… wheras single player is 7-6-5-4… In Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 & 2013, you seem to get the one ‘free’ mulligan of 7-7-6-5..etc.
            I’m presuming this is to make the game more ‘accessible’.

  3. MythArcana says:

    Love the card game, hate the marketing. I’ve spent about $19 million lifetime on MTGO and, without end, you could easily spend yet another $19 million just to stay current. This game is MTG Lite, which is obviously much safer, but a trifle bit limiting.

    I suggest walking away while you can or getting a third job to cover it all.

  4. Gothnak says:

    I love all these games, but one day my dream will come true…

    I pay £15 for the game and to unlock a set of cards. I still only get a small starting selection of those cards. I then play through a story campaign unlocking/trading/building a deck. Once i’ve finished the campaign, i can pay another £5 to unlock another set of cards and another equally long campaign. If i was so inclined, i could also play people online, but i doubt i would.

    It doesn’t have to be magic, just a good CCG.

    The only games that have done it so far are Magic The Gathering from 1995 and Etherlords 1&2 both really old…

    Nowadays we have the MTG ‘You can collect, but you can’t deck build’ and every other ‘You can have new cards but you buy random packs and generally just play against other players’.

    When i win the lottery and start my own company, i’ll do one, i promise…

    (Goes to read the Scrolls article to see if that one works in the way i hope, or whether i have to buy stupid random packs…)

  5. InternetBatman says:

    I would advise pretty much everyone to buy the ultimate edition of 2012, and wait till there’s an ultimate edition in 2014 for 2013. They’re trying to spread the horrendous trading card business model online, and waiting will keep you out of it.

    Also, try the old Marvel Overpower game. It’s pretty good, with a much better deck-building and card finding system.

    • Shortwave says:

      Good advice, thanks Batman!

    • Xocrates says:

      Indeed, while 2013 is probably the best base version so far, it’s too similar to 2012 which currently has a load more content and is more stable.

      The only 2013 feature that I can see justifying getting it over 2012 right now is the fact that you can play two-headed giant locally again (which was absent from 2012).

      Other than that, the only other noteworthy feature of 2013 is that you can pick what lands to tap, which is not only clunky on its implementation, but rendered redundant on account of only one deck not being monocoloured.

      • jrodman says:

        Do you mean play both heads of the two headed giant? Because i certainly played it with an AI partner. (Who sucked).

        • Xocrates says:

          Sort of. You need a controller since it’s supposed to be two player (so one would play with mouse+keyboard/controller and the other with a controller).

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        Obviously they’re planning to release quite a bit of dlc if DotP2012 is any indication. Most of that dlc will probably feature new decks. There’s a really small chance (like close to zero) there will be no multicoloured decks among those.

        • Xocrates says:

          The point being there is no reason to get 2013 NOW. Once all the DLC is released 2013 will very likely be the superior version.

  6. sonofsanta says:

    They’ll still never top the original from 15 years ago. That was brilliant.

    • Toberoth says:

      Still is brilliant, surely? Can’t you play all those cards alongside the new ones? (Only been playing for a year so correct me if I’m wrong.)

      • Xocrates says:

        I believe he’s talking about the 1997 microprose game, not MTGO.

        • Toberoth says:

          Ahhhhhhhh yes of course. I remember playing that (at the ripe old age of 12) and being intensely confused and excited.

        • sonofsanta says:

          Aye, the “amble around a very surreal isometric world at a strangely hurried pace hoping you’ll get the cards you need to keep building the deck you’re after instead of just another artifact” original that successfully combined deck-building and a gradual power curve with an oddly compulsive map. Brilliant stuff.

      • jon_hill987 says:

        The Paper cards? No, they rotate out of standard after two years and you can’t win a legacy game without spending huge amounts of money or the best cards.

  7. Commander Gun says:

    Magic is not gambling, it is a strategic game with a factor of luck in it.
    The comparison with poker made by a previous poster is not far from the mark, which explains why quite some (previous) top magic players are now among the top pokerplayers.
    The previous Pro Tour season is a good example, as almost all of these have been members of a very solid team (Channel Fireball).
    That being said, if those top players draw very bad in a few matches (or even one match), they will still finish bad of course.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Most decks are fine tuned to the point where it’s fairly hard to draw a bad hand. When you have four copies of every card in the deck, you only have nine cards to choose from and you’re likely to get one you can use almost every time.

      Getting those cards does take a lot of money though.

      • Kestrel says:

        Fine tuned/predictable decks are also much less Fun. I like surprises and diversity, so long as the mana curve is properly smoothed.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Wait, it’s not like gambling it’s like Poker? But Poker is gambling.

      And a strategic game with a factor of luck. That is a description of gambling.

  8. Themadcow says:

    I too have avoided Trading Card Games up until my 36th year, and now have an unquenchable thirst to buy this game after spending my last week addicted to Rage of Bahamut on my Android phone. Fingers crossed this doesn’t go the same way as my WoW addiction eh? Not that a year off work and a house deposit worth of savings wasn’t worth blowing on, erm, a PvP armour set.

    • Toberoth says:

      If you just buy the computerised version of MtG you should be pretty safe. It’s once you get into the CCG that you start spending big money, if you’re so inclined. Although it’s perfectly possible to play with a group, have fun, and only spend about £20 every few months for some new cards to draft.

  9. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    This plays extremely well on the ipad as well. There’s no Mac version which is a pity.

    That said, I much prefer this to “regular” magic, it just seems a lot purer. Also the challenges are a great deal of fun (apart from the second one).

    • InternetBatman says:

      I haven’t played 2013, but the challenges in 2012 were very flawed. They all had extremely limited win conditions that would say you lost even if you had a better or more efficient strategy. There were two or three that I beat in different ways than they wanted and it automatically went to the fail condition.

      • jon_hill987 says:

        Yes I found that, I am more for wining in two turns safely than the all out strategy these challenges required but I found it would not let me.

  10. b0rsuk says:

    There’s a number of unofficial programs to play Magic: The Gathering for free, multiplayer or not. For single player I recommend Magarena (free, GPLv3 licence, works on Linux, OSX, Windows, from 2012). Magarena has card pictures, over 2000 cards (and growing), *great* AI. Actually a selection of AI algorithms and difficulty level actually means something (how many turns ahead AI will look).

    http://code.google.com/p/magarena/

    New version is expected next week. New cards and effects are still being added, but it already has deck construction and a number of custom decks, very customizable random deck generator, and more. Cards are easy to understand scripts, and as long as the card doesn’t use any fancy mechanics you can add it yourself. Typically several dozens of cards are added in each version.

    • beikul says:

      This looks great, thanks for the link. I’ve just played my first game and was pleasantly surprised by the AI.

  11. Jackablade says:

    I think more games need to feature baluchitherium.

  12. Oasx says:

    I wish there was a way to pick the rules in MTG video games (I assume there isn’t), it would be nice if you could for example take out all cards after fifth edition, i kinda feel like that is around the time they should have introduced a new colour instead of putting in 500 new rules and effects in each new edition

    • Xocrates says:

      Hmm? Most of the changes in the core editions past 5th were either to simplify the rules or giving keywords to already established effects. About the only real addition I can think of is equipment.

      • jrodman says:

        Consider:
        Exalted
        Cascade
        Cycling
        bicolor costs
        there are more!

  13. Grayvern says:

    For all the comments on the price of individual cards it’s not that bad If you play pauper instead. The problem with MTGO is the crashing and poor interface.

    As to duels 2013 it’s good but some of the decks sem a little disappointing/ generally unfocused. It would be nice if they expanded on the concept past the core set, which since MTGO is 5th onwards they could do without stepping on toes.

    It would also be nice if there was a no timer mode with simple button press advance instead.

  14. jrodman says:

    2012 is the better game.

    Archenemy is great, planechase sucks.
    The 2013 decks are too samey overall.

    • justicarphaeton says:

      Could you be more specific? I felt 2012 was a noticeable step up from 2011 — enough to justify the price tag, at least. Archenemy was just frustrating with its heavy variance, always leading to landslide victories an easy to game the system with certain decks.

      Are there more puzzles at least?

      • jrodman says:

        Sorry, I was on the train and the wireless was about to cut.

        So far, 2013 seems less buggy than 2012, but already some nonsense bugs have appeared. I can’t remember the details sorry.

        The challenges in 2013 (i’ve only done 2) are much better presented. So far there was no “I killed him but I lost anyway?” experiences. You can also just do the 10 challenges in a row without doing anything else if that floats your boat.

        The ‘encounters’ are an interesting idea. You play against a completely stacked deck. This can mean just playing until you get an opening hand that actually counters it when it’s failing (your deck is not stacked). But it definitely encourages learning to play a particular style to deal with it.

        There’s a mill deck, which is nice for variety.

        But the decks, overall, have become more just “make a lot of creatures”. They seem to almost all have “this artifact costs 2 mana and saves you 1 colorless on spells of color x”. Many have an equipment that’s 2 mana to cast, 1 to equip, 2 to make the equipped creature hexproof, and on upkeep adds +1/+1 to the creature if it’s the right color (your color).

        There are other similarities. Overall they just have a lot of thematic and mechanical similarlities which makes them feel far too samey.

        There’s some definite variation in the pricey cards, but having the decks feel different when you can afford to cast 7-mana spells just isn’t enough, imo.

        As for archenemy, it was definitely a heavy variance, but it was interesting conceptually and felt like a good idea implemented in a warty way. The archenemy cards were mostly too strong and sometimes defectively too weak. But I could while away some time a bit mindlessly as the archenemy, which was fun in its own way.

        Planechase is WAY more variation than archenemy. All the time the rules are changing for everyone, and mostly you’re just watching a bad dice roll animation hoping your foes roll badly and you roll well. It also takes forever. Imagine a 40 minute game where the victor is chosen almost entirely by luck. Versus computer opponents.

        I guess I stretch that a bit. It seems like Ajani’s deck which has some kind of insane life gains is the default winner in planechase, because he can hardly ever die with people losing creatures all the time, and the AI preferring low-health targts. But I don’t think that really makes it more interesting.

        • jrodman says:

          Okay, just had Relentless Assault completely fail.
          Again.
          Just as buggy as in 2012.

          They’ve had a year to fix that one card (well, 2) and no fix.
          WHY KEEP INCLUDING IT?

  15. Jarenth says:

    I think I’m going to spend the rest of the day mourning that ‘gigglebikes’ isn’t the actual technical term.

    It will always be the actual technical term in my heart.

  16. Kuraudo says:

    It really, really irks me that they released a far superior product developed by microprose back in the day and now, when things are supposed to be better, release a castrated version. The one from the 90′s allowed you the full gamut of deckbuilding and even a neat little, tacked-on adventure mode – it’s superior in every way to these versions. I’m lucky enough to have multiple copies and can still play it to this day with the aid of community patches – I look on in dismay at the poor masses who have no idea what they missed.

    Am I wrong for feeling this situation is… wrong?

    • beikul says:

      +1 for the Microprose version. I bought it when it came out and now run it inside a VM with Windows 98 to get round compatibility problems.

      Not tried the ‘community patches’ you mention – do they add/change any content or is purely for compatibility?