Magic 2015: Wizards plays one card, discards the rest

July 24, 2014


Is a better digital replication of the physical Magic: the Gathering experience a better digital Magic: the Gathering experience? That’s the quandary facing the newest installment of Wizards of the Coast’s Duels of the Planeswalkers standalone game series, as it comes closer and closer to feeling like Magic Online under heavy competition and pressure from games like Hearthstone.

This would usually be the part where I’d refer you to previous yearsgames to get a better sense of the game’s basic features and format, but that’s the problem with Magic 2015: it drops all of the franchise’s hallmarks, like preset (but expandable) decks, puzzle-like battles and special modes like Archenemy or Planechase. Last year’s game introduced the popular sealed play option, allowing players to build and augment a deck from scratch, and it seems that Stainless Games and Wizards went all-in on that idea.

You’ll start out in Magic 2015 by choosing one of a fairly generous selection of starter decks, each built around a particular theme. You’ll then spend the rest of the time gathering cards to modify (or completely rebuild) it. There’s a robust pool of cards to collect and build from here, making it feel much more like the process of building your own real deck and finding strategies to exploit. Since unlocking cards is really your only form of progression, it’s a bit unfortunate to find set unlock DLC as a key part of the game’s setup. Want to pay an extra $20 and have everything? You… can, though we wouldn’t recommend it, since it sucks out the fun of playing.


Where Magic 2015 really falters is in its interface and presentation. Aiming for a feel of monochromatic mystery, the black-and-white approach feels bland and unfinished, and lacks the lush mysticism of previous entries. The menus are particularly unresponsive, to boot, with each transition taking eight-second fades to white and much of what you need hidden from view despite very little of the screen actually being used for anything. When you get in the matches themselves, that’s when everything largely defaults to the usual Duels setup, though you’ll have to deal with the less-than-ideal new aesthetic there too.

If you can get through these problems, though, the experience of building and shaping your Magic deck is definitely deeper than in previous games, and just like you would in real life, you’ll find yourself seeking out specific cards (and full play sets of them) to build exactly the deck you want to use. The two dozen or so battles in the campaign serve1 as a sort of window shopping, allowing you to see what cards you want to use yourself from each of the five featured planes. Once you find some, it’s just a matter of playing against those particular decks until you claim the cards you want as prizes.


If there’s one part of Magic 2015 that seems truly helpful for newcomers to the game, it’s the deck-building tool. While expert players will bemoan the lack of some useful features, it’s designed for novices to understand things like balancing lands and spells, managing the “mana curve” to have playable cards on most turns and keeping up with just how creature-heavy your deck is at any given moment. Unfortunately, the part that’s difficult comes when you want to build a second deck, possibly using all those other-color cards you’ve accumulated along the way. The game doesn’t have the best deck selection system, hidden away in a menu that would be much more usable if it were replaced with a quick, prominent deck selector before each match. It’s unfortunate, and a definite step back from previous entries.

Once you’re happy with your deck and you’ve exhausted the single-player campaign, your focus will likely turn to online play, which continues to be as functional as in previous entries, but even still, the increased emphasis on the mode further exposes the ways in which the card game isn’t natively designed for swift online multiplayer. There’s a lot of waiting for players to remember to hit the buttons to pass priority every time something gets played, and the disadvantage of the complex deck-building is that higher-level, complex cards with lots of interactions that slow things down appear with much higher frequency.


While previous years’ releases sought to pack a bit of something for everyone, Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers very specifically relies on the player buying in on the “refine and tweak one particular deck” approach. It won’t be without its fans, but we can’t help but miss the full-featured offerings of yesteryear. (Especially those local co-op modes like Two-Headed Giant and Archenemy.) It isn’t a robust competitor to Hearthstone; those seeking something with that sort of staying power will need to continue to rest their hopes on a revitalized Magic Online. But if you have the patience to deal with myriad frustrating elements and just want more Magic, this game will deliver just that.

Pros: Robust deck-building mechanic, large card pool
Cons: Pared-down modes, frustrating interface

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.