Fantasy/Card Game/Video Game


Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers

Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Genre: Card Games - Strategy and Sims

Console: Xbox 360 Live Arcade
Cost: 800 points ($10)

Rated: T for Teens

Reviewed by Jon Minners


            Down to 1 life, it appears your Teeth of the Predator (Green) Deck may be no match for Ajani Goldmane’s Claws of Vengeance (Green, Red and White) Deck.  While you have fended off an army of 1/1 creatures with only one 5/4 Spined Wurm, Ajani’s 4/4 Brion Stoutarm has sacrificed his own comrades in battle to deal damage and whittle you down to almost certain death.  While you suffer, Ajani reaps the rewards of his strategy, gaining 12 life and standing tall with an overwhelming 32 – 1 lead. 

            But suddenly, the tide has turned. Brion Stoutarm is the only creature left in Ajani’s arsenal and with 0 cards in his hand, the lands he is drawing are doing little to claim the win he rightfully deserved.  But the luck of the draw is on your side now.  You play Wurm’s Tooth, an artifact creature that grants you 1 life whenever a green spell is played.  Desperate for a win, Ajani attacks with Brion Stoutarm, but you have the advantage.  You block with your Wurm and then play Giant Growth, an instant that gives your creature an additional 3/3, making the Wurm an 8/7 creature.  The Wurm lives, Brion Stoutarm dies, and because you played a green spell, you now have 2 life. 

            As Ajani struggles, green spells bring your life total up to 6.  Small attacks bring Ajani down to 29 life points.  Ajani finally brings creatures in play, but it only serves to defend him from your growing army.  And then you draw Howl of the Night Pack, a sorcery that provides you with a 2/2 green wolf creature token for each forest you control.  Late in the game, you have 14 forests and now 14 2/2 creatures to join the battle.  On the next turn, you play Overrun, a sorcery that provides all of your creatures with 3/3 and trample.  You attack and destroy your opponent, turning certain defeat into a decisive victory. 

            Ajani had a 36-1 advantage at one point and loses the game with a score of -69.  This is the reason why you play Magic, but this time, you pulled out an amazing win – attack-by-attack, spell-by-spell, and did it right from your Xbox 360

            Wizards of the Coast has taken the next step in the evolution of the popular trading card game, Magic: The Gathering, with the newly released Duels of the Planeswalkers game for the Xbox 360’s Live Arcade

            Similar to the old Microprose PC version of Magic: The Gathering, the new Duels of the Planeswalkers game allows you to take the role of a Planeswalker and choose a pre-constructed deck for battle against other Planeswalkers.  Each win unlocks a new card to add to your deck.  Other wins unlock new decks to choose from.  The decks range from one color decks to more complex decks utilizing two or three colors for more interesting combinations.  These decks may help you in your Campaign to win 16 battles and master the game of Magic. 

            However, simply winning 16 battles is not enough.  The way you pull off a victory (bringing your life total up to 30 in the game or causing massive damage on one attack) will earn you Xbox Live Achievement points.  In addition, you will need to replay opponents, who become tougher on the second run through, to unlock other cards and complete each deck. 

            And when beating your computer opponent one-on-one is not enough, go online and play other opponents who have also mastered their decks.  There is also an opportunity to team up with a friend and take on the challenge of a Co-op Campaign or play another team of Planeswalkers online.  You can also custom your battles and challenge specific decks with one of your own choosing. 

            But perhaps one of the most exciting and unexpected additions to the game is a Challenge Mode that actually places you in a situation where you must win the game in one turn.  This puzzle mode is all about strategy.  Your opponent has creatures in play.  You have creatures in play.  You also have a hand with several cards to choose from.  Should you play an Overrun or two Giant Growths?  What can you do to win the game on this turn?  Be sure about each move you make, because one mistake is all you need to lose the challenge.  In total, there are 9 challenges that will certainly test your skills, but here’s hoping Wizards of the Coast will release more challenges to download in the future.  Mastering each challenge will make you a better player online and in real play. 

            For those that may be scared off, there is an extensive tutorial that will help you learn everything you need to know to enjoy the game.  By the time you are finished, you will be ready to challenge a computer opponent, which includes hints that you can turn off, but may also be helpful as you play.  And by the time you have defeated each Planeswalker, you will be ready to play smarter human opponents online.  Hours of fun await and at the low price of $10, it is well worth the money.   

Pros: The graphics are amazing.  Each card looks like its real life counterpart.  While the cards may look small on the battlefield, you can easily zoom in on each card to read its text, special abilities and other pertinent information.  The more you play, the more familiar you will be with each card and zooming in will no longer be necessary.   

         The price is definitely a selling-point for this game.  For only $10 (you also get a free card when you purchase the game), anyone can enjoy Magic.  Unlike the physical game or Magic Online, there is no need to buy additional packs that can become costly in the long run.  For $10, you get pre-constructed decks and a set number of cards you can add to those decks.  You no longer have to challenge someone with disposable money that allows them to build impossible decks to defeat.  The Xbox version of Magic levels the playing field for Magic fans who are sometimes turned off to the game because of the advantage those with money have when it comes to constructing decks.  The best thing about this game is that you can play two of the exact same decks against one another with amazingly different results.  The heart of the game – luck of the draw and skill level – determines the winner. 

         The game is a perfect introduction to Magic.  The gameplay is amazingly similar to the real card game.  If you enjoy the Xbox 360 version of Magic, you may want to try your hand at other versions of the game.  Warning, Magic is extremely addictive…in a good way.

Cons: The controls are difficult to master at first.  You want to scroll through your cards, but you accidentally switch views instead.  It was also difficult to figure out how to zoom in on each card in play.  However, this is one of those cons that is quickly remedied through consistent play.  Once you figure out all the controls, those small difficulties should disappear and never be an impediment to the enjoyment of the game.   

            The lack of deck construction is also a negative.  One may understand that having a Magic game on the Xbox that is entirely similar to Magic Online is counterproductive to Wizards of the Coast’s business model.  Why buy the Xbox version if you already have the PC version?  However, one does not need to purchase individual cards to construct a deck.  It would be nice to construct a deck or two from the cards included in the game.  Doing so does not take away from the other versions of Magic, and instead gives a player a taste of what they could enjoy on the more complex, and costlier, albeit even more exciting versions of the game.   

         The gameplay can be difficult at times to master.  If you block with a creature that can regenerate with a tap of two lands, the game should pause and allow you to do so, but the timer moves too quickly and you end up losing your creature and at times, the game as a result.  The same can be said with the casting of instants.  At the same time, the timer can be annoying when you do not want to wait for the next phase to start.  But that is just nitpicking. 

         Tapping lands for mana can also be annoying.  When playing with a two-color deck, you may want to play more than one creature.  However, because the computer taps the land for you, that casting strategy may not work out in your favor.  You have three mountains and two forests.  You want to play a creature that costs two mountains and one mana of any color and another creature that costs one mountain and one forest.  But when you play the creature that costs three mana, the computer taps three mountains, not two mountains and one forest, therefore stopping you from playing the additional creature.  This needs to be fixed and may be fixed with future updates.   

         The same thing can be said for some of the choices your AI opponent makes when playing.  In several games, the AI opponent would spend mana to equip, un-equip, and re-equip a creature to the point where it was tapped out and nothing really happened.  There was no element of surprise, since the AI opponent no longer had mana to spend on instants.  This made it easier to fend off an attack.  Future updates will probably fix this small, but noticeable issue. 

Overall: Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers is an amazing game well worth the $10 one would have to spend on the game.  It is almost a completely faithful adaptation of the original card game, while also serving as a great jump off for those straddling the fence of whether or not to play the game.  For those who already enjoy Magic, Duels of the Planeswalkers does stand on its own, as a fun arcade game perfectly suited for the Xbox Live Arcade.  Future downloads will add new dimensions to the game and will offer up hours of fun for some time to come.  Knowing the endless possibilities represented in Magic: The Gathering, Duels of the Planeswalkers is a lot of fun with a whole lot of potential to just keep getting better.   

For feedback, visit our message board or e-mail the author at