I first got started playing Magic cards in the summer of 2006 while working at a small gaming store in western Massachusetts. At first I had no idea how my seemingly well-balanced customers could justify spending hundreds of dollars on cardboard pictures of dragons. A year later, as I gleefully tore open a fresh box of the newest expansion set, my wallet a hundred dollars lighter, I realized I was hooked, maybe for life.
This is why Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 is a title I can’t easily recommend. On the one hand, it’s a very well-polished version of the classic card game, an excellent jumping-on point for both new players looking to give Magic a try and former players thinking of revisiting their card gaming past. However, I’ve known many an unsuspecting soul fall prey to the ridiculously addicting game, and I can’t help but compare its relatively cheap cost ($9.99 on Steam) to the street corner drug dealer who offers that first hit for free. Sweet as it is the first time, you might not be able to stop yourself from coming back for more.
If you’ve never played, the basic rules of Magic are quite simple. Both players (AKA “Planeswalkers”) have a standard sized deck of sixty cards or more and start the game with twenty life points and a seven card hand, drawing a new card at the beginning of every turn. The most common way to win the game is to reduce your opponent’s life to zero, a feat accomplished by casting a variety of spells and creature cards to assist you in battle. Perhaps the most important cards, though, are land, which allow you to pay for your spells. You can only play one land card a turn, meaning that seven-cost Dragon in your hand won’t be hitting the board for many more turns. This is likely the most interesting facet of Magic: choosing whether to play a deck and attempt to overwhelm the opponent early with a slew of smaller spells and creatures or whether you set up early defenses in hope of resolving a giant game-ending card somewhere down the line. Though DOTP 2012 doesn’t let you truly build your own decks (lest it compete with the wildly profitable Magic Online client), the ability to play with and customize the various decks offered is an enjoyable alternative.
At the start of the game you’ll have just two decks available to you, but as you progress through the campaign mode, you’ll slowly unlock the decks of the Planeswalkers you defeat, eventually earning a full suite of ten to choose from. This time around the decks seem a lot more focused, with some very interesting interactions. For instance, Garruk’s deck is your standard mono-green beatdown, packed full of giant creatures but offering no way to directly kill off any problems your opponent might drop onto the table. Meanwhile, Tezzeret’s blue-white-black artifact deck is full of interesting mechanical pieces, creatures who are a bit on the small side but make up for it with the help of cards that lower their casting cost or boost their power and toughness. Every player is sure to find a favorite, and as encouragement, each match you win with a certain deck unlocks more cards to be used. Unlike the last game, which in an asinine design decision only allowed you to add cards to your deck, players can now thankfully remove cards as well, keeping the deck to the trim 60-card count—the professional standard.
Potential Magic players are often put off by the game’s apparent complexity, which is what makes Duels of the Planeswalkers an excellent introductory course. In addition to offering a standard tutorial mode, the cards featured within the game are never overly complicated and do well to showcase the game’s various mechanics. Most interestingly, though the cards in the game tend to be from modern sets, a variety of classic cards are included as well, both a great look at the game’s history for new players and excellent nostalgia for us veterans. I did laugh when my opponent Karn (the game’s final boss) had two Mox Sapphires on his side of the board. For those who don’t know, Mox Sapphire is an $800 card, and in the few formats where it’s legal to be played, you’re not allowed more than a single copy in your deck. I somehow surmounted the iron golem’s considerable mana resources, but it was a bit of an uphill battle to be sure.
Besides the standard one vs. one gameplay the campaign offers, there’s a variety of other challenges to be had. The Archenemy mode allows players a taste of one of Magic’s many flavorful variants, wherein a team of three players attempt to take down the titular Archenemy, a player who in addition to the standard 60-card deck brings to the battlefield a doubled life total and a deck of devastating Archenemy cards. These cards carry out random acts of destruction on the opposing team, killing off creatures and crippling resources while the archenemy cackles maniacally. Definitely a fun race uphill. The game also features a small collection of puzzles, putting you in control of a player about to lose the game and forcing you to think creatively in order to escape defeat. Then of course there’s the robust online multiplayer options, allowing players to duel in any of the aforementioned modes, as well as four-player free-for-alls, two-headed giant battles (teams of two), and more.
Though Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 seems a bit rough, with the occasional glitch or AI stumble abound, it’s obviously a giant step forward from its buggy incompetent predecessor. This is a recommended buy for anyone even remotely interested in the world of Magic. Even cooler, the game comes with a promo code allowing players to collect a limited edition foil card by visiting their local game shop, and as someone who spent years selling packs of cards and Monster Manuals to the dwindling game store community, it’s great to see Wizards still supporting local retailers with promotions like this. If you’re looking for a great simulator of a classic game, definitely pick this one up.