Magic Duels Origins Preview

Mulligan!

In short, they've listened. Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalker was not what fans wanted, with starter deck issues, DLC collection packs, a small selection of cards, loss of many side modes, and a cumbersome user interface. Given a 2.5-star rating by yours truly, it tarnished what was a fairly successful video game adaptation of the reputable card-based game by Wizard of the Coast. But Magic Duels: Origins, the new entry in the series, will undo much of the damage, or so the developers swear.

First and foremost, Magic Duels: Origins will be absolutely free-to-play, not only allowing the game to cast a much wider net on gamers (and maybe making them real-life MTG players, which is the point, really), but it also means that the series will not see yearly updates anymore. Instead, every upcoming set of the Magic: The Gathering card game will see a digital update for Magic: Duels Origins, giving players the ability to unlock all the cards through booster packs and practice using the cards before purchasing the cards in real life. This time around, you may find Planeswalkers cards in booster packs too.

While you can purchase in-game gold using real-world currency and purchase booster packs that way, you can also earn gold through basic gameplay and be challenged by being forced to play with a weaker deck. You can earn small amounts of gold by going through the tutorial levels as well, so it's to your benefit to go through a recap of the rules even if you know the game backwards and forwards. Just for starting the game, you will be gifted many of the common cards in the Magic Origins set which will release in July.

On that note, the other major upgrade is the contextual tutorial system, which makes an appearance during gameplay if it figures that you don't understand a certain part of the system or make a frequent mistake. So if it finds that you could have prevented an enemy attack by blocking appropriately or haven't encountered a card with double-strike, a pop-up on their respective subjects will slide in like a Microsoft Word tooltip. Zooming in on a card during play will also bring up reminders of what certain abilities mean in case you don't remember. Given the new free-to-play model, you can expect that this adaptive tutorial will help introduce many new players into the fold.

Moreover, the full deck-building feature will be bolstered by a handy guide that can make decks for you in case making a workable deck is too exhausting or if you want a quick deck that has the properties you want before customizing it with other cards in your possession. For instance, if you wish to build a rush deck (normally, white and red cards), the game can automatically filter through the cards you need, with high-power, low-cost creatures and direct damage spells to clear a path for your creature cards. In fact, this is the same system that the AI will use if you choose to battle an AI who has a randomized deck.

The demo featured at the ID@Xbox event during GDC 2015 didn't have too much on hand to experience, but the developer on hand emphasized that 1-on-1 multiplayer and the fan-favorite Two-Headed Giant mode will return. The story-driven main campaign will feature the origin stories of five planeswalkers—Gideon, Jace, Nissa, Chandra, and Liliana—and provided a thread for the lore behind the familiar characters.

What's exciting about Magic Duels: Origins is that it lays the groundwork for future updates seamlessly. Even if it may not have every feature that we might want right at the start, like a mode for Limited Play based on booster packs, there's no reason the developers couldn't add that feature in later. Every new MTG set from here on out won't need a fixed Duels version, and perhaps we can see many more cards from the past and use the likes of Black Lotus. (One can only hope.) The release of Magic Duels: Origins will coincide with the release of the Magic Origins set in mid-July and will be on Xbox One, PC, and iPad with a PS4 version arriving later.

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