E3 2015: Magic Duels: Origins Impressions

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Going into my appointment with Magic Duels: Origins, I had a lot of questions. Although there have been several yearly Magic games over the past few years, Magic Duels: Origins was seeking to shake up the formula set down by those games. After seeing the game and talking with the developers, it seems that Magic Duels: Origins will make some big changes to the Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP) series and most of them for the better.

The largest change from DotP is that Magic Duels: Origins is a free to play game. I definitely felt some vibes from Hearthstone because similar to that game, Duels allows players to build up coins in game and spend them on packs. Of course those coins can be purchased with real money but the developers assured me that players who played a lot, and well, could earn enough coins in the game to unlock everything. Another key change is that the game will no longer be yearly. Instead, the developers plan to release quarterly updates to the game which coincide with the quarterly paper Magic The Gathering releases. They didn’t specify if the updates would be one to one with the cards in paper Magic but it does seem like they will follow in the same themes.

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One of my big questions was where Duels would fall in terms of player familiarity with the Magic card game. The DotP games seemed very geared towards newer players while Magic Online, on PC, is a full recreation of paper Magic and aimed towards experienced players. Although someone like me, with a decent amount of Magic experience could enjoy the DotP games, the early ones especially catered towards inexperienced players. They were a great learning tool but the inability to, in some of them, create completely custom decks or even tap lands in the way you wanted, made them feel stifled to experienced players.

Duels is taking the middle ground. Although they still offer a lot of tools for new players, they have listened to Magic fans who wanted a game with more customization. Although Magic Online is still the true paper-Magic-to-digital experience, Duels looked to be more enjoyable for longer time Magic fans than DotP games were. The game will not contain all of the older cards available in Magic Online/paper Magic but it will have a variety of modes and ways to play.

That said, if you are new to Magic, Duels seems like a great starting point. The developers showed me some of the new learning tools and they are a lot more intuitive for new players. All of the tutorials, which explain basic Magic concepts like how to attack or block, give coins as an incentive. And the game can recognize a player’s first time encountering a keyword (such as Trample or First Strike) and will offer to pause the game and let that player do a short tutorial about the ability. The tutorial is a full play-while-learning experience, rather than just reading.

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For example, they showed me a tutorial about combat tricks. They put the player in a game state where they needed to use a combat trick to win a pre-setup game state and then let them play. In the event that the player didn’t perform it correctly, the game would detect what they did wrong and give a specialized response giving them hints on their mistakes.

Deckbuilding also has a lot of cool features for experienced players and new players alike. There is a full featured deck builder where players can access their whole collection to pull from. Duels has plenty of filters to help players get through their cards faster and build the decks they want. The deck builder also has an auto-complete function which looks for trends in the cards in the deck and finishes the deck based on the already included cards. Another faster and easier deckbuilder is made for new players. Instead of the full collection, players pick a color pair and are given more specialized picks about which creatures or spells or whatnot to include in the deck. This mode automatically fills in lands (as land bases are often one of the hardest things for new players to grasp) and also features the auto-complete function.

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Duels will have plenty of other modes as well. There is a campaign mode, much like the previous games, as well as online modes. The current multiplayer mode is two-headed giant (which does support couch co-op!) and when I asked if they had plans to add in modes like Archenemy or Planechase again, they said they would listen to the fans and might add highly requested game modes. I asked about drafting or sealed deck formats and they said they would also consider those. There are also timed challenges, which give coins, given through the game’s online service, that might ask players to step outside their comfort zones. Some challenges they showed were things like “deal 15 damage in a game with spells” or “win 2 games with a white-blue deck.” Special community challenges are also in the cards, with things like “deal one million points of damage” and every player who participates gets rewarded.

All in all, it sounds like Magic Duels: Origins is shaping up well. The game should be launching on most platforms next month, around the time that the set Magic Origins is released (Duels is mostly themed around Origins at the moment and many of the cards I saw were from that set). It sounds like the PS4 version might be delayed by a few weeks but they assured me they would have it out as quickly as possible. If they play their cards right, Magic Duels: Origins might be the best console Magic game yet and I’m excited to get my hands on the final game.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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