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REVIEW

MAGIC: THE GATHERING - DUELS OF THE PLANESWALKERS 2013

We've punched the air for executing last second head shots on the battlefield, or pulled off a save from a lightning-fast goal strike. Yet today we hollered with as much glee in a carefully executed card play onto a virtual tabletop.

Welcome to Magic the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (henceforth referred to as Magic to save your eyes and our fingertips) is one of those gallantly low-key titles that'll have you losing sight over late-night matches, missing stops on public transport and seeing card numbers in your sleep.

You'll likely have heard the name: collectable card game that's longer in the tooth than Warcraft, and has as fanatical following as Star Wars. Yet the game's been built to last because of the years of tinkering and building with different spells, monsters and artefacts all in careful balance. If the makers of Magic didn't get it right, the game wouldn't have lasted the years its been going now.

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As with the physical version you start with a deck of sixty cards, pre-built from a starter pack or, over time, customised based on your own favourites and particular battle strategies. You draw a hand, then continue taking turns in drawing and casting cards, with summoned creatures clashing with each other (and victors decided by a points-based system that each card carries), buffed or neutered by artefacts, while spells cast all sorts of elemental damage or hand-damaging effects.

It gets a lot more complex than that, but Magic does a great job of explaining the basics via a great tutorial then carefully stacking the complexities of elemental-based decks with campaign challenges that set you against an AI repeatedly using the same strategy over and over. You can go from all-conqueror to completely destroyed in a single match, but with an optional pause that stops play at every step during AI games, the pace of learning is kept to whatever you're comfortable with.

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As such, you'll adapt, and gain great joy in doing so. Magic keeps the potential cards at the game's opening low as well, and as a result you'll be surprised at how many you've committed to memory. But the game keeps introducing just enough variety to ward off any repetition. While the title doesn't do anything elaborate beyond replicating the spectacle of cards being dropped on a table, vivd artwork and descriptions will, for the fantasy-minded, be enough to let imagination take over and envisage epic duels over land, sea and air.

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

But the campaign's really precursor for the online mode, which is the real heart of the title. Much like the fighting community, its rough waters to dive into, as our matches saw either the opponent withdrawing once they realised our beginner status - if you've stuck with the easy difficulty in campaign, online will seem blisteringly fast - or us being dominated by players with decks rammed full of powerful cards. Its hard graft, and an option for starter-only lobbies would have been of benefit.

To gain the better cards, you're going to have to put in the time - or alternatively purchase "keys" with real-world cash to unlock better packs. It's the crux of the matter that's dogged online gaming since someone decided to charge for better weapons or vehicles: but then card games, by their very nature, mean extra expense in buying random booster packs for the hope of better cards.

And while the game is paltry with its unlocks, it'd be unfair to label play as a grind - the term suggests hardship, laborious training. It's hard to peg Magic with that label, as the games remain enjoyable to play. Be that on the home console, or the iPad version, which offers a bare-basic version free to download, with the full version unlocked for seven quid, with the PSN/XBLA versions costing you ten. For our money this is one of the finest card games out there and worth the investment. Be you a lapsed player or newcomer, convince some friends to buy and get yourselves back in the game: least you'll save on table and pocket space.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+
+ Addictive play + great tutorial and pitch-perfect learning curve + Good range of play options +
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- you'll be at it a while getting all the cards - small TVs will have trouble reading the card texts.
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