Free To Planeswalk: Magic Duels Released

After the stonking success of Hearthstone and other free-to-play collectible card games, it was inevitable that Magic: The Gathering would follow suit (this pun was unintentional, but I’m leaving it in). Magic may be head honch of the cardboard scene, but its offerings on virtual tabletops have been relatively disappointing. The Duels of the Planeswalkers games only added proper deckbuilding – a huge draw of Magic, for me at least – in its fifth revision, for goodness’ sake.

Magic Duels [official site] continues on from DotP and turns it free-to-play, and… seems to be a good direction for the series? It launched last night, available on Steam.

Wizards of the Coast already have a F2P Magic game – Magic Online [official site] – but Duels is far more friendly and accessible. It’s more limited too, but not concerned about that. It’s not meant to replace MTGO.

We had Ben play Duels shortly before launch, so go read that if you want full impressions. Me, I’ve fired it up and jotted a few notes down of things I’d like to share. Such as: it still has the usual DotP story campaigns, with preset decks.

And: if you’re more into making your own decks, you start out with a ‘starter pack’ of 93 cards. It gives you enough to make a bad deck of any colour, along with a few artifacts and multilands. It’s not great, but it’s a start.

Also: You earn ‘Coins’ by completing campaign missions, beating opponents, and so on. Coins can be spent on booster packs of extra random cards in the microtransaction store, which also sells Coins (and therefore boosters) for real money. Coins are cheaper if you buy in bulk, but at the most expensive it’ll cost you £1.27 in real money for a single pack

Furthermore: Duels has far fewer obnoxious loading screens than DotP 2015.

But: you might find yourself disconnected a lot. Wizards say they’re working on it. It crashed on me once too.

That’s all. I haven’t had time to see much more. Game’s on Steam. Trailer’s here:


  1. Dawngreeter says:

    Putting aside the fact that possibly only Arkham Knight had a worse launch than Duels, I’m quite eager to play it. I’m sure Wizards will, at some point during the next year, try to advertise the fact that people can play this, too, so maybe I’ll have someone to play against. Blimey, what a concept.

    But no, seriously, this game has 2v2. And mechanics which aren’t “roll a die, if you rolled even roll 10 more times, if you rolled odd roll two more times to see how many times you roll; if after all the rolling you have a total of more than 45 and less than your oponent, you win, unless he rolled a double 4 on last two dice”. Which is, I imagine, what Hearthstone is trying to become.

    • jrodman says:

      Two-headed giant is a great format for computer Magic, Gathering, IMO.
      Two vs computers or two peeps vs two peeps are both good.

      Definitely not looking for a return of Planechase, though.

  2. Evil Pancakes says:

    I used to love MtG, right up to the point where I noticed I’d have to spend a small fortune to actually build a good deck to compete with at my local gamestore. And from what I understand, the digital versions of Magic aren’t much better. So thanks but no thanks, I’ll go with something else. So far, Solforge and Infinity Wars manage to scratch that ccg itch quite competently.

    Now, this has nothing to do with this article, but let me complain about your ads for a bit, RPS.
    Just now, I visit this page and get assaulted by three auto playing audio/video ads for Netflix. Autoplaying ads are bad enough, having three play at the same time is internet hell. Now, I realise you have a third party ad company which arranges the ads that get displayed, but it might be a good idea to contact them and make sure ads like this don’t get displayed on your site. I don’t necessarily mind ads on sites I frequent, servers have to stay up somehow and seeing ads in my periferal vision is litterally the least I could do to support a site I like. But ads like this are a great way to get me to use adblock again.

    • LTK says:

      RPS has an ad feedback thread here: link to

      • Evil Pancakes says:

        I was not aware, thank you.

      • Baines says:

        Yes, but nothing ever seemed to happen unless you also complained about the ads elsewhere.

        Which is why I ended up giving up and installed stuff to block the more obnoxious stuff that RPS runs myself.

    • RedViv says:

      Check out Magic Forge over at – it is well worth it, considering your statements about the cost of MTG on the PC.

      • orionite says:

        Been trying to install Shandalar for over an hour now… I guess I should hope I won’t figure it out, otherwise my productivity is going to approach a new low.

    • jrodman says:

      FWIW, the main schtick of past Duels of the Planeswalker games was that they consisted of pre-constructed decks that you could modify only to a limited degree.

      This meant you got to play with a pretty good, workable deck, without any fussing or purchasing beyond the initial outlay (typically 1

    • jrodman says:

      FWIW, the main schtick of past Duels of the Planeswalker games was that they consisted of pre-constructed decks that you could modify only to a limited degree.

      This meant you got to play with a pretty good, workable deck, without any fussing or purchasing beyond the initial outlay (typically 10 to 20 bucks depending upon sales etc). On the downside, if building your own decks was what you liked about the game concept, that was more or less entirely absent.

      They’re sort of trying to introduce the deck building part, and it seems free-to-play monetizing it in some fashion, but the preconstructed decks appear to still be there letting you skip the money roulette if you want.

      That said, I think 2012 was the best version.

  3. Harlander says:

    There should be a game mode where this builds decks consisting exclusively of cards created by the MTG-card-generating neural network

  4. MrModeste says:

    I’ve played a little bit of MtG:DotP 2013 with a mod that included dozens of additional complete decks and rules. It is pretty fun, especially if like me you’re a beginner to MtG, don’t really know how to build a deck with synergies, and don’t have anyone to play with. There are so many different playstyles, right now I’m playing one that gives my creature cards additional powers when I play instant spells, so I can inflict tons of damage in a single turn if I play it right. I remember playing a cascade deck too, that was tons of fun!

    I don’t know what experienced players think about the game A.I, but I am really impressed by its level. It’s a computer, so they always make the optimal decision based on what they have in their hand, and I often found myself going from feeling like a god to getting my ass handed over to me in a single turn. I am also impressed that they managed to program an A.I that is able to handle so many different rules and exceptions at once. I don’t know shit about coding, so maybe there’s that, but given how complex the rules are already in real life, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the computer is able to understand them and create strategies on several turns vased on that.

    • MrModeste says:

      *based on that.

      I’m sorry to clutter the comment space, but is it possible to edit one’s own comment ? I think I had been able to do so, once. I can’t remember how, though. Any help appreciated!

      • Alice O'Connor says:

        Commenting editing was disabled because it was making our server pull sad faces. “QQ” would scroll across its little LED display.

        • jrodman says:

          The stupid part of me wants to rant about how there’s nothing about editing text blobs on a website that’s expensive for servers to handle, and can’t you implement a proper web app?

          The slightly less stupid part of me remembers that Rock Paper Shotgun is not a guild of web developers.

    • Frostbeard says:

      If you want to play Magic find your nearest local game store (LGS) and join on a Friday Night Magic event. You will find a store locator on Wizards’ Magic webpage. It might be a little intimidating, but my experience is that the regular crowds usually are pretty tolerant for newbes.

      You will find that Duels or any of the other Duel-games is pretty limited in scope regarding what goes on in real competitive Magic (both in the number of cards and the complexity of the rules.) But its a great way to learn the basic rules in ones own tempo

      If you really wan to hurt your self esteem try Magic the Gathering Online (Full game with all the cards and all the rules). No guides, no EZ start, a confusing interface and a usually the most competitive Magic grinders.

  5. MrModeste says:

    It seems (for me at least) that the game isn’t referenced in the desktop application’s store. It is referenced in the website’s store, though. I managed to install it this way, and it launched. First time I encounter such a thing.

  6. RuySan says:

    Magic Online is as much F2P as the paper version, which i suppose it’s apt because you don’t have to pay every time you start a game.

  7. Smoky_the_Bear says:

    “It’s more limited too, but not concerned about that. It’s not meant to replace MTGO.”

    Why not though? MTGO has a client that looks like a first year college project from ten plus years ago. I don’t understand why they don’t overhaul it completely to be honest. I’d play it if it weren’t the gaming equivalent of vomit in the eyes.

    • Zorak says:

      Magic Online’s current UI was also done by the Duels team.

      The reason why Duels cannot and will never replace Magic Online is that Duels technically uses a simplified form of the game’s rule-set, and deliberately excludes cards that challenge that rule set to an onerous degrees. Magic Online having to have the code to support every possible card has made it a nightmare, whereas Duels’ has such a relatively limited scope that it’s fundamentally much simpler to get working (this is also why Hearthstone’s works so well).

      Magic Online’s big issue is WOTC not using competitive pay rates for software engineer hires in the Washington area compared to competition, relying on “passion hires” to fulfill its roles. As a result, Magic Online is understaffed and bleeds talent.

      • Smoof says:

        What kind of rules does it exclude?

        • Zorak says:

          The “stack” and individual instant-based responses are somewhat simplified with how paper Magic handles responses and passing of priority, you’re unable to “stop” and act during Upkeep, Draw Steps, the combat steps are slightly simpler in sequencing.

          Plus, Duels doesn’t include any of the older cards from older sets that have really peculiar rule text and execution that have to be coded for one-by-one and include various rules exceptions in the rules engine in order to accommodate. That kind of thing is why Magic Online has the issue of “we added cards but somehow broke this one single card from 30 years ago and didn’t notice because wtf right”.

          One of Hearthstone’s biggest assets is that it was designed ONLY for digital play, and they don’t have “instant” speed cards. Instants are of course a big appeal to Magic (countermagic, etc) but it’s also a huge source of why Magic games can be slow and requires a ton of rules baggage (what if you cast this spell then other player casts THIS spell??)

          • BleedSilver says:

            Alright so I made an account here to actually explain to you there is a stack in what I call “poor man’s magic”
            I have played Mono-blue control in everyone of these games consistently since M12, and it only gives you triggers to activate on your untap/upkeep/draw steps if you have one to play, so you don’t waste any time, in the interest in keeping triple A gamers happy and what not.
            The only reason they haven’t updated MTGO is because there is a very professional, very nervous community that play it.
            Basically when it game out, everyone was incredibly scared about what would happen. “What happens if the entire game is updated and changed and i dont like it?”
            So as a sign of good faith, wizards has never and will never update the MTGO interface entirely, but have done small patches, like art and what not.

      • jrodman says:

        I thought all games programmer pay was effectively below market rate for similar reasons. Is WOTC even lower than that?