Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 Review

By Kevin Kelly - Posted Jul 14, 2011

Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 is a solid sequel, if not nearly a complete overhaul, to Stainless Games' original trading card game. This updated version provides much needed deck management, adds the popular Archenemy mode, and incorporates Challenges directly into the Campaign. A definite must for fans of Magic: The Gathering, or those curious to jump in.

The Pros
  • Updated user interface and presentation
  • Much better deck management
  • New Archenemy mode
The Cons
  • Still can't build custom decks
  • AI makes strange decisions at times

Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalker 2012 Review:

As a huge fan of the original Duels of the Planeswalkers that came out back in 2009, this sequel provides some much-needed changes and updates to the game. Although, I hope that title with “2012” in it doesn’t hint at yearly versions of this title. But with much improved deck management and the added Archenemy mode, Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalker 2012 nearly feels like a new title rather than an update, which is much appreciated.

I’d Tap That

For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering is a card game that represents spells that you’re casting against your foe or foes. You’re role-playing the part of a Planeswalker, a very powerful sorcerer in the realms of Magic who can cast a multitude of spells and duels constantly with other Planeswalkers. There’s an actual fiction woven into the fabric of the game, with character names like Garruk Wildspeaker and Nissa Revane, but you can push all that aside and simply boil down Magic down to its mechanics.

The game is powered by five different types of mana: red, white, black, green, and blue, with each represented by a different type of land that the power comes from: mountains, plains, swamps, forests, and islands, respectively. You play these land cards to begin building a mana pool, which is what you “tap” from to play other types of cards, s uch as creatures, enchantments, and so on. Your goal is to drive your opponent’s Life down from 20 to zero, thus winning the duel.

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How Does It Equal A Sequel?

The original release of Duels of the Planeswalkers suffered from some AI and gameplay issues, including many that resulted in frozen games and hard crashes. However, Stainless was quick to update the title with patches, and the game was supported by a wide range of DLC. In fact, if you check online, you’ll not only see DLC for that version, but tons of downloadable tables, pictures, themes, and more. Additionally, the game itself had very busy screens during turn-based play. Sliding turn markers, animations, and more. They went a bit overboard.

This time, Stainless has pared the gameplay down to its basics. Gone are the busy turn animations and the spread-out interface. Now each Planeswalker has a tight GUI showing their life, library, hand size, and turn phase. It’s also a much faster game this time around, with turns not taking nearly as long to resolve. Too many times on the old version I would finish my hand and then leave the room, knowing it would take the AI forever to pass through all of its turn steps. (Thankfully, the game “pauses” at important moments).

The developers have also woven the Challenges into the Campaign mode this time around. In the last version, there was a separate challenge ladder that you had to advance through, but now both the Campaign and the Challenges are located on a left to right field that you unlock as you progress. Later challenges require you to defeat specific Planeswalkers in order to access. In fact, if you’re looking for a guide to get you through the challenges, check out our handy Duels of the Planeswalker 2012 cheat guide.


The Enemy of My Enemy Is… My Archenemy?

In the world of paper Magic: The Gathering, Archenemy is a popular mode pitting three players against one powerful opponent. Not only do they have more health, but they also wield a separate Schemes deck that can bring wild changes to the gameplay. You might find yourself in a good position, only to have one unfortunate scheme wipe you off of the battlefield.  In Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, it works much the same way with you teaming up with two AI planeswalkers, or flesh and blood allies through online multiplayer.

You and your two cohorts will play your hands simultaneously, and as you can buff and enchant your friends, it makes for some very interesting gameplay. Archenemy is extremely fun to play, but sadly there’s no way for you to play the Archenemy itself in this mode, which is a real missed opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to see if they could take on three foes at once and win? Granted, the Schemes give you a slight advantage, but as you’ll see when you play through the Archenemy Campaign, working together will yield victory.

Swab The Decks

The biggest complaint about the original Duels of the Planeswalkers was the fact that you could not fully manage your decks. Yes, you could unlock new cards, but you didn’t have full control over your own deck management, something that the real-world of Magic is all about. Planning, testing, and constantly re-working your decks is the sign of a true Magic addict.

Duels 2012 does have a Deck Management system that allows you to add and subtract cards, and even to unlock full decks by purchasing “Deck Keys”. These can complete a deck, or unlock Foil Cards as well, to the tune of about one dollar per deck key. Of course, you can unlock those same cards through the Campaign, so really you’re just getting a jump on your deck if you purchase early.

Sadly, there’s no true deck customization, allowing you to mix a blue and black deck together on your own. Granted, Duels 2012 takes deck managing a few steps in the right direction, but this remains the one thing that Magic fans will complain about, and rightly so. It seems like there shouldn’t be any reason, once you have the mechanics and the AI down, that players couldn’t construct their own decks.

Booster pack microtransactions would be a welcome addition as well, as would the ability to port your decks and unlocks over from the original Duels, which many players coming to Duels 2012 will have probably already played.


Mana y Mana

With few changes, other than Archenemy (Two-Headed Giant returns, as does three and four player Free-For-All), added to the Multiplayer, the core changes of Duels 2012 come down to the new decks (ten new decks featuring new cards direct from the Magic 2012 set and Campaign and Archenemy unlocks) and the much-improved interface. Is it enough to lure old and new players alike? My current addiction to the game answers that with a resounding “yes.”

But that’s not to say that things are perfect. Besides the aforementioned deck management issues, the AI can also be baffling plenty of times. Many times you’ll be locked in a battle with your computer-controller opponent, facing death, and just when they can strike the deathblow… they don’t. Then on the next hand you come back and win. In fact, I’ve pulled off several mind-boggling victories when I should easily lost.

This is very frustrating because it teaches you bad habits that would translate poorly to actual tabletop gameplay. The game needs to feature expert-level AI opponents that offer as strong a game as real opponents, particularly because Jimbo415 may drop out in the middle of his match with you online, which can be just as annoying.

You’ll Just Plain(swalker) Want This

Despite the grousing, Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers is extremely fun. Fans of Magic will easily take to the turn-based gameplay and probably start playing online immediately, while newcomers will appreciate the How To Play tutorials as well as the tips that can be turned off throughout each match).

The other bonus (or danger) with Duels 2012 is that I’ve had two people watch me play this that then wanted to get into the paper card game, so we started having real-life matches. Which then included trips to the store so they could start building their own decks. What can I say? It’s a gateway drug to Nerdtown. Awesome, fun, exciting Nerdtown.