I want to tear out my eyeballs and shove them down this goblin’s grimy esophagus. It’s pretty much the only tactic I haven’t tried in my 34 attempts to beat this campaign foe and his magically reproductive army of green ghouls.
This mind-breaking sense of frustration is quickly becoming the trademark of the Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers series, but this entry at least hesitates its assault on your patience. Like its 2012 predecessor, DotP is an offshoot of Magic: The Gathering proper—the phenomenally popular card battling game that's been around for almost 20 years—where players gain access to pre-picked decks and unlock prescribed cards to add to them, before using them to attack singular foes. It's got less pure choice than meatspace Magic, but it's also slicker and quicker to finish a game.
The first of the four PVE campaigns is a simple lineup of 10 AI bosses, each wielding one of the ten new decks you can unlock by defeating them. In between these bigger fights are mildly clever Events: pre-scripted opponents that follow a theme. In one, I “stumbled into an owl nest” and my opponent played a weak 1/1 flying owl every single turn.
The campaign is simple fun, but I reached the final boss after six hours and only nine losses. The much-hyped dragon baddie crumbled like a wet paper bag in the easiest fight of my entire run—wholly unsatisfying.
But don’t feel bad for the AI: they took their revenge on me a hundred times over in the follow-up campaign. In it, their decks are stacked with crazy powerful cards that have a suspicious habit of showing up exactly when they’re needed.
After twenty rage-inducing losses to my Goblin nemesis, I was ready to punch my monitor. After thirty, I Alt-F4ed the game client. I’ve never rage-quit out of a singleplayer game before.
On the other hand, the one-turn scenario Challenges are rewarding and well-designed to offer multiple solutions that don’t immediately stick out at first glance. Most took me a few attempts and some heavy thinking, but I always felt super smart when I figured it out.
The 10 pre-built decks you’re allowed to customize are all new and diverse enough to support a variety of playstyles, including milling, Sligh (unit swarm), and lifegain.
Slight UI inconveniences still plague the PC version, but a lot of small quality-of-life refinements improve the experience. The new End step made sure I always had an opportunity to play the cards I wanted—a big upgrade from previous editions—and being able to manually select which mana to tap and what order to attack blockers gave me the absolute control I crave.
The new Planeschase mode is a lot of fun, playing more like a light-hearted party game than a serious test of strategies in a four-player free-for-all. The constantly changing rules force you to change your strategy constantly—that’s fun for me, but may confound newer players.
Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers is still the easiest route into the classic card game, and this year’s is the best yet for multiplayer. Easily frustrated players should remain wary of the franchise, but even without the excruciating Revenge campaign, 2013 is worth the measly $10 investment.