Gamestyle have had many positive things to say about the XBLA and PSN releases of Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers. We recently gave the 2014 edition a solid eight out of ten. So when I was given the chance to jump into the real world of this fantastic card game, I jumped at the chance.
Well, I say jumped at the chance, it was done so with a little fear, as going from the digital version, with all its hints, tips and features that stop you making a fool of yourself, to the physical game itself, is like swimming without armbands for the first time, losing the stabalisers on your first bike, skating without the aid of a penguin. All of a sudden it is you, your cards and battle to the death.
The first thing you notice is how well made the cards are. Yes they are just cards, but they share more in common with a good deck of cards you’d find at a casino poker table, rather than a 99p pack from your local 99p store. They slip of each other with ease, never sticking to each other or proving difficult to slide from the deck. It’s not a massive selling point, but when you are used to playing with nice feeling cards, it is good to see that the cheap option hasn’t been taken here.
I started with the M:14 Core Set and specifically the Lightforce version. The set comes with a 60 card deck, an instruction sheet and two all important booster packs. Enough, the makers claim, to get you started in the world of Magic The Gathering. Well not quite it seems. Ideally needing a deck of 60 cards, the core set on its own doesn’t allow you to really sit down and just play, you do need to find someone who also plays, easier said than done for a complete beginner.
The initial idea to get a feel for playing live, was to sit down with a family member and play through a game slowly, making that jump from digital to live. Yet, with just the single deck it wasn’t possible. Well that isn’t strictly true, as a quick internet search brings up that very question. The official rules say no, but if you are playing a casual game at home, then you always could. That however doesn’t really help for someone learning the game.
So the next step was to reach out and find someone who also had a set. Luckily I found a friend who was a fan of the series. They hadn’t played for a while, but wanted an excuse to jump back in. Waiting a few days for their set to arrive and for us to arrange a time we could both sit down and play gave me an excuse to have a good look at the cards.
Land cards, yep I know those, I know exactly how they work, got plenty of those in my deck. Creature cards, along with your land cards, they are the bread and butter of the game. You need these to deal damage and defend yourself. It was looking at the creature cards that it suddenly struck me. The artwork is beautiful, I hadn’t noticed this on the digital version, not really considered the care and attention that goes into creating the cards.
Each creature card, instant, enchantment, etc has an individual bit of art on it. I lost loads of time, just going through the deck and admiring the artwork on the individual cards. Honestly, it is something that really comes through on a physical card, the attention to detail that brings the game to life.
Something then dawned on me, while looking through. I know of cards that affects the attributes on my creature cards, that can add bonus points to attack and defense. When I get one of these cards on the digital version, it updates the attributes on the screen, so I know exactly what I have. I am going to have to work all this out myself, back to the internet to find out how other players do this.
A notepad and a pen, perfect! Whoa, there are rules for this? No outside notes are allowed? What on earth does this mean? So another few hours is lost going through various articles, looking at what is allowed as part of the game, what isn’t. What is considered good gamesmanship, what is frowned upon. It’s not a minefield perhaps, but there is a lot to take in. I have lost a lot of time to this game already and not even played a game. I had been warned and it seems those warnings were right.
I did finally get to play a game, being soundly beaten by my friend as I clumsily felt my way around my first live attempt. I felt good in the opening few exchanges, as I got some land cards down, played a couple of creature cards, got an attack or two in and found myself leading, having knocked around 5 Life Points from my opponent. Playing through those digital games had the desired effect, I can play this live without an issue.
Then it turned around, those 5 Life Points I took were the last I would take. My opponent (no longer my friend, why would a friend destroy another friend in such a manner – I kid of course) started making moves that left me bewildered. “Are you allowed to do that?” A quick explanation later and proof he had played a legitimate move, he went out and destroyed me.
What was nice though, was being taught a few things after our initial game. Failing to use Instants at the right time, not using my Sorcery cards properly, wasting enchantments, focusing too much on attacking and a lot more. It hit me then, the digital versions, whilst fun to play do hold your hand a lot. They show playable cards with a glow around them, so you get reminded about cards you may have forgot about, they then show you how you can use them, but highlighting cards they can be played against. In a physical game, this is all gone, you are relying on your own skills. My real life opponent isn’t going to help me mid-game. They want to win, just as much as I do.
However, my friend (see we are still friends) is kind enough to talk me through how to make notes, how to read the board and try to use things to my advantage. I play chess, I know how to plan ahead. I play Texas Hold-Em Poker, I know how to play the odds, play the people around me and use my playing style to my advantage. There is a lot of that, which I can transfer into a game of Magic.
I have to take time to understand my deck, make sure I know what cards I have, try to keep on top of what I could have drawn next, or at least over the next few rounds. This isn’t a game you can go into blind and I am beginning to understand why the most dedicated players will spend so much time building different types of decks. They know what their strengths are, they will start to understand their opponents weaknesses, so they plan for games in advance.
We played a few more games, I lost all of them, but I felt my understanding of the game was increasing. We agreed to meet again and have some more games. Just for fun… I am coming back with my Deck Builders Toolkit!
Whilst the digital versions of the games were a bit easier to follow, it doesn’t compare to holding the physical cards themselves. The sense of achievement you get when getting some good outcomes is great. If you enjoy the digital version, then we highly recommend this core packs as an entry point.