Magic: The Gathering is a mainstay in both geek and gaming culture circuits, having spawned several successful video games and other spinoffs over the years. The vast collection of cards available for players range from powerful artifacts and prodigal sorcerers to huge expanses of land rife with magical resources and formidable creatures. It’s been the go-to tournament game and bane of card collectors’ existences for years, and it shows no signs of slowing.

When the game came to the Xbox Live Arcade with Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, it opened up an entirely new can of worms: online play in a whole new venue. This time around Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 swoops in to smooth over the jagged edges of 2012 and offer brand new additional content as well as new cards and ways to annihilate opponents.

Developed by: Stainless Games
Published by: Wizards of the Coast
Genre: Collectible card game
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
What works: Addition of Planechase mode, customizable decks, challenges for veterans
What doesn’t: Annotated tutorial, simple campaign mode

Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 offers plenty of venues for new and old players to challenge others, complete puzzles, or work toward improving their skills online and off. Unfortunately, it can be a bit daunting when it comes to getting started. New players both to the card game and the digital version can access a fairly enlightening tutorial that encompasses the basic building blocks needed for a rudimentary understanding of the game’s concepts, but anything beyond Magic’s simplistic hows and whys are glossed over completely. For anyone whose main exposure to the game has been entirely secondhand or via friends, getting started may seem a little overwhelming, and might be better left to a friend or live mentor to explain the intricacies seasoned players will already be familiar with.

With basic setup and getting started out of the way, a wide world of several cards and deck options open up. However, players are not given the choice, strangely enough, of creating their own decks. Cards may be swapped in and out of the deck configurations as players progress through the ranks, but there is no option to create from scratch. With that said, there are plenty of viable options for different types of players no  matter the style you’re accustomed to. So while there is less room for customization, there’s still enough to give veteran players breathing room for implementing their own strategies. The amount of time and care that goes into creating a personalized deck can be astronomical, so it makes sense that Stainless Games chose to limit the choices available to the player, even if the alteration isn’t immediately savory.

Ater you’ve waded through the tutorial and have perused available decks, it’s time to jump right into the actual “duels” as referred to in the title. These battles are accessed via campaign mode, with quick interstitials of story (an admittedly throwaway one) weaving a background tale to accompany the various hands presented through each duel. Each hand is completed after you fell your various foes with your own crafty techniques, and there are plenty of ways to best the AI. With that said, the campaign battles can be waged and completed rather quickly, especially for seasoned vets.

Veterans will find plenty to love about Challenge mode, which sets up many difficult hands that may be solved via certain in-game actions, offering a different flavor for players who find themselves bored with vanilla games or other human opponents. Planechase mode is another new addition that spices things up considerably, with four-player free-for-all and a plane-changing interface that augments properties for each individual’s deck, ending up in what could eventually become a tide-turner for players running up the back of the pack. Planechase may well become your go-to multiplayer endeavor, especially if you rely on luck more than skill to move ahead in Magic.

Of course, you’re still able to engage in multiplayer online duels as well as track your progress. Stat-obsessed players can view their most-used type of mana and other pieces of information, and there’s plenty of factoids that may be viewed to perhaps better analyze your style of play.

The Blast Factor: This is a very polished offering, especially for $10. While there’s less customization and traditional “freedom” as with the previous Magic: The Gathering games, there’s also a new sense of polish attached to this 2013 edition, and much for franchise fans to love. If you’re just starting out, you may be better served by picking up a deck and finding a meetup in real life, but if you’re down to learn as you go along, pick up Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 for a delectable challenge.

This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by the publisher.

About The Author

Brittany Vincent is a Blast Games correspondent

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