Magic The Gathering 2014: Expansive Overview

For those unaware of the nerd/neck beard combo, Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game where two or more players duel against each other by summoning powerful creatures or casting rigorous sorcery spells to burn their enemies. (Of course, there are many other ways to win other than battering your opponent with giant Wurms…)

In 2010, Wizards of the Coast and Stainless Games launched Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers for PC. Every year since, Wizards and Stainless have released a new game, each with different stories of Planeswalkers with different decks and special cards to unlock. This year is no different, and so, without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to Magic 2014.

Magic 2014 is designed to try and draw new players in to the Magic: The Gathering physical card game. As someone who played the original Duels of the Planeswalkers game back in 2010, I can say that after three years it worked, and earlier this year I finally started investing in the physical game itself.

Unlike many other yearly released games, Magic 2014 has something new to offer every year. Previously we saw Planechase, a new way to play by rolling die and walking different planes that influence the game itself. This year Magic 2014 introduces Sealed Mode. With two slots available after purchasing the game, players receive 6 Magic 2014 digital booster packs each containing 16 cards to build a 40 card deck (down from the Standard 60).

Magic 2014 is openly targeted at new players.  As soon as you start the game, you can view a tutorial which gives you a basic oversight of how to play the game (if you’re interested further, have a read of my Intro guide). The tutorial is as comprehensive as it can be and explains game mechanics thoroughly. With a wave of hints and tips, you can see that Wizards really are going all out trying to introduce new players to Magic. There is even a feature in Mage and Archmage (beginner + easy) to give you hints if you are stuck playing the game.

There are a number of differences between Magic 2014 and its predecessors; not just the visual effects or the cards themselves, but the audio. The theme tune was orchestrated by American rock band I Fight Dragons and is definitely something different. One thing that threw me from background audio in the previous games was the lack of beat. Everything was slow and almost dreary. Not so here.

Magic: The Gathering is complicated. There is no denying that. I have had many spectators ask how I make sense of it all, and the Duels series of games really helps that. Not only do the tips during the tutorials tell you what’s going on, they explain how such events go on. Combat damage assignment, for example, can be described in a few short sentences opposed to paragraphs on why creatures all deal damage to each other at the same time. Such information isn’t necessary for new players (or anyone) to understand. The very first tutorial you play demonstrates how high in importance playing just one creature can be. At the bottom of the article you can see a quick Sealed game I recently played.

Once you have completed the Tutorials you are introduced to the single player campaign, complete with its own storyline. You follow and ally yourself with Chandra Nalaar, a red-magic aligned Planeswalker. Chandra is looking for a guy named Ramaz and has asked you for help .

Chandra and the player Planeswalk to five different Planes of the multiverse; Innistrad, Zendikar, Shandalar, Alara and Ravnica. On each plane there are 3 encounters which tie in to the story and offer the flavor of a real adventure. Encounters are basically scripted decks which play the same way each time, attempting to fulfil their own win condition (i.e. destroying your mana base which is very annoying.)

After conquering the three encounters, you are then tasked with defeating a real opponent using a real deck. This AI opponent plays just like a normal human player would and can be pretty tricky at times. Beating AI encounters unlocks you a completely new deck to play. Each deck available in the game is completely different, so players are spoiled for choice on how to defeat their opponents. Being able to customize your decks with 30 strong unlocked cards makes each deck extremely unique. Every time you conquer a plane you may unlock one of the famous five Planeswalkers to duel and unlock their deck too! By the famous five, I refer to the Planeswalkers most commonly seen in the Core Set of Magic, they are Liliana (Black), Garruk (Green), Ajani (White), Jace (blue) and of course Chandra (Red). Each Planeswalker controls a powerful deck, so be prepared to really think about how to defeat them!

For new and experienced players alike, this game is hard. Even on the easiest difficulty your match-ups in single player can really frustrate you, but that is exactly what Magic is about – playing to beat your opponent’s cards.  The best advice  is not to give up and concede because all hope looks lost. While writing this, I played a quick game with the basic Sliver Hive deck in the Ravnica chapter and was close to conceding twice, but I stuck in there and the cards eventually fell my way.

The Magic 2014 Deck Manager allows you to edit your deck entirely. You start with 60 cards per deck and have 30 which can be unlocked by playing the game (single player unlocks and multiplayer games against other players online). A new feature this year is being able to edit your mana base. Changing the number of basic lands in your deck is a huge advantage if you’re running larger creatures for the late game or you feel that your deck is slightly mana starved.

Then there’s Sealed play. Sealed play digitalises the Limited format (playing with a limited number of cards) in the form of 6 digital booster packs. Each booster pack contains 15 cards of assorted rarities (IRL boosters contain 10 commons, 3 uncommons, 1 rare and foil/token/marketing card). Since tokens and marketing cards are not required for digital play they are replaced with other cards.  Players must construct a minimum deck of 40 cards (so you want to build a 40 card deck of about 16 creatures, 16 land and a few other spells ideally).

The -20 cards down from the standard 60 helps you bring out “bomb” cards which are effectively game winners. They also allows you to boycott “filter” cards which you may not necessarily want in your deck but are used to bump up numbers. These are usually referred to as Dregs. If you are struggling to build a deck in Sealed, you can add a few cards to the deck and click the “auto complete” button to make your deck awesome!

Sealed play is just as challenging as the single player campaign, as you conquer Planeswalkers one by one. Overtime, you start to unlock new additional boosters to try and make your deck even stronger. Your opponents also play with 40 card decks, so remember that when building, and that you may have to rethink your strategy a few times before you finally steamroll Ajani’s ridiculous lifegain deck. Seriously, it’s just crazy.

The other advantage that Sealed has over the standard decks is that all of these cards are current in standard, as they were released as part of the Magic 2014 Core Set. So if you do opt in to play the physical card game, all of the latest cards will be slightly familiar!

Matchmaking online is quick and easy. Players can create a lobby and just wait for people online to automatically join it, Or you could just quick search for a game of your choice. Note that you cannot cross format online, i.e you cannot play with a sealed deck against a standard 60 card deck (it’s immoral and unfair!).

I won’t pretend to act like a seasoned Magic player. I have played the physical game since February this year; I was introduced to the game back in 2010 with the original Duels of the Planeswalkers. But each time I play this game I learn something new, digital or physical. All I can say is that Magic 2014 has improved from previous instalments simply because the developers listen to their audience. There are less bugs, more new fun features and the game engine itself runs fluidly. My only complaint is that unlocked cards are automatically added to your decks!

Last year, around the late autumn, we were treated to a multitude of new decks inspired by the new card block released in September. I’m very much looking forward to Theros, the next M:TG card expansion and have my fingers crossed that we see some preview cards or decks as DLC for Magic 2014.

How does a single card affect the game?

In my hand I hold a Sengir Vampire, a 4/4with flying. Right now, Jace seems to be in the better position with his 2/5 flier. He can afford to block anything I attack with (killing everything but my tormented souls). What makes him in the stronger position is his Void Stalker. If I try and play my Sengir Vampire (what should really win me the game) he will just use its ability.

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Sengir Vampire acts as my bomb. If Jace removes it with Void Stalker, I have no sure way to keep back his 2/5 flier safely.

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Fortunately, I tricked him. He used his Void Stalker ability on a Trained Condor, allowing me to safely play my Sengir Vampire.

4 turns later, this is the board position as I win.

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One card is all it took to scare me from playing a big creature. One trick is all it took to kill him.