Publisher: Wizards of the Coast LLC / Developer: Stainless Games, Ltd. / Platform: PC, PSN, XBLA

I once joked to a friend that the Duels of the Planeswalkers series was shaping up to be a geeky version of Madden, releasing each year with a few new changes.  Well, here we are once again with the next version of the popular trading card game, simplified and put up for digital download for $10 (a little less than the price of an actual Magic: The Gathering intro deck).  Are these new changes enough to buy the game, especially if you’ve already invested your time (and money, due to the bonus DLC decks released later) in DOTP ’12?

When DOTP ’11 and ’12 came out, I barely had an interest in Magic.  I owned a few cards due to freebies given away at conventions, or promotional cards back when GameStop used to sell Magic, but I didn’t really have any interest in playing.  DOTP did, however, seem like a nice way to ease into Magic without buying all the cards.  A few months ago, some friends and I actually dove headfirst into the Magic universe, quickly gaining an interest in the popular trading card game.  We now all own quite a decent collection of cards, and have a good understanding on how to play (and build decks) at a relatively high skill level.  Some of us owned DOTP ’12, and while it was a fun way to play Magic against the computer, we didn’t really see it as an alternative to the real game.

Do the changes made in DOTP ’13 make it more worthwhile to dedicated players?  In short, no.  DOTP is still a good distraction for fans of Magic, but the amount of simplification the game went through still isn’t enough to feel like a good replacement for a real thing.  This probably isn’t what the developers were going for, however.  The game does a decent job of acting as an introduction to Magic, but some of the decisions made within the game are baffling, even if the game is attempting to act as a simpler, more easy-to-digest version of Magic.

The main problem I had with the game – and this will probably only apply to similar fans of the game – is the inability to control how much mana is in a deck.  DOTP has a set of premade decks to choose from, and as you play these decks you’ll unlock new cards to  switch out in your decks, which allows a good level of customization and flexibility to the deckbuilding process.  As you add and remove cards, the game will automatically change the amount of mana in your deck to supplement these cards (you utilize mana to cast spells, sort of like money).  However, certian kinds of decks actually work better with less mana in the deck, so running a low-cost deck with 25 lands (lands produce mana) isn’t just unnecessary, it’s suicidal.  Just adding the ability to manually change the amount of mana in a deck would vastly improve the customization options in deckbuilding for veteran Magic players, while people new to the game would be fine ignoring the feature.  Really, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be in the game.

Other than that rant, I’ve run into a few problems, especially when playing multiplayer.  The new Planechase gametype – which allows players to draw Plane cards that have an effect over the entire game – is a bit glitchy, with some Planes not acting the way they should, and certain cards will flash by your screen and disappear without allowing you to look at what the hell just happened.  Additionally, while this hasn’t happened again yet, the game froze on my friend and I in the middle of a 45-minute long game, which really killed the mood for awhile.

Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is good if you’ve never played a Magic game before and are looking to get into it, or want to get a friend into it (there is still couch multiplayer, but the co-op campaign from the previous game is confusingly absent).  If you’re a fan of Magic and never played any of the DOTP titles before, I’d say give it a try.  If you have played any of the previous titles however, especially if you’ve bought any of the extra DLC, I’d think twice.  The new Planechase mode and the slight changes to gameplay are neat, but the fact that any DLC you’ve bought in previous games doesn’t carry over at all (and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t) is disappointing.  They could have improved so much over the already-great 2012 edition, but DOTP 2013 seems like more of a cheap re-hash than a new version.