Tapped out of mana.
Before we delve into Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers, let the massive community outrage be known. A quick glance at either the Metacritic or Steam page for the title and you'll be swarmed by negative recommendations and user reviews. Having explored Magic 2015 for several days, I can regrettably confirm the majority of their complaints, which hits hard since I'm a stalwart fan of Magic 2014 and the series as a whole. Though the new deck-building feature hits my nostalgic nerve squarely at the root, Stainless Games and Wizards of the Coast toy so much with Magic 2015's microtransaction model that it tears at the heart of the Duels of the Planeswalkers series.
Building off the Sealed Play mode from Magic 2014, this year's installment gives you a true-to-life single-player experience where you must build a lowly starter deck into a formidable beast by expanding your library of cards with booster packs. Defeating an AI opponent on one of the five planes and exploring those planes for more battles will eventually net you enough cards to complete the five card sets that have been edited together to form the full collection in Magic 2015. It's a grind for sure, but not one that's overtly challenging or boring, and taken at face value, the campaign mode will feel largely familiar to DotP veterans.
After messing around with a blue and black deck filled with flying creatures, several counterspells, and creature destruction instants for about ten matches, I aptly switched to a white and black deck that centered around life-gain, efficient and low-cost creatures, and plenty of creature-removal spells. (I find direct-damage red decks and creature-filled green decks to be too straightforward for my taste.) Specifically, it centers around the Sanguine Bond enchantment and the Vizkopa Guildmage summon which both damage an opponent whenever I gain life. As a last ditch effort, I can cast Resolute Archangel which restores my health back to 20 and can inflict up to 19 damage to the opponent if either Sanguine Bond or Vizkopa Guildmage is in play. (Sneaky ninja that I am.)
That said, the number of obstacles, restrictions, and handicaps you'll need to grapple with just to make a solid deck is overwhelming. The starter deck, no matter which one you select, is packed with commons and you have no ability to preview what's in each starter deck until you try it out against the mandatory tutorial boss. Then once you choose your starter deck, you're locked in and you don't have access to any other starter deck (unless you re-install the game). Worse, you'll likely need to play on the easiest Mage difficulty at the start because the AI opponent usually has game-changing uncommons and rares that your puny deck can't counter to save your life.
The severe lack of deck strength, I gather, is meant to entice you to purchase the DLC collection sets, but that's a lose-lose situation. If you don't, you're forced to grind away for several days on the easier difficulty settings to assemble a competitive deck for online play. If you purchase all five sets for a total of about $25, then you're paying far more than the $9.99 asking price and it fully negates the concept of earning booster packs to build your deck in the first place.
Either way, 43 cards are locked behind the paywall of Premium Booster Packs, which you must purchase separately and can't earn in-game, with all 14 packs costing $1.99 each. That's $27.86, or almost three times what the initial price of the game costs. For a MTG game that only has 300 unique cards, that's a tough pill to swallow. In fact, it's surprising that the card count is this low considering that AI opponents frequently pull out cards that you don't have access to. What, is there not enough hard drive space for you to use them too?
Making matters worse, Magic 2015 cuts content inexplicably from prior DotP installments: no Two-Headed Giant (a fan favorite), no Plane Chase, no Revenge or Archenemy campaigns, no Sealed Play, no puzzle Challenges, and no two-versus-two multiplayer. Despite the cool, unusual aesthetic, the new user interface makes menu selection more of a chore and the four-second fog animation that appears between menus and restarts becomes irritating by the fifth time it appears.
Wizards of the Coast needs to learn about loss aversion and the concept of not fixing something that ain't broken. The mobile design model nauseatingly and frustratingly deteriorates this installment so corrosively that the next installment of Duels of the Planewalkers will need a formal reboot to win back its core audience. If you're a player who burrows into the single-player modes, you'll still find a challenging experience here, somewhere past all the hurdles and disappointments. For everyone else interested in the series, just get the full version of Magic 2014 or wait until Magic 2015 drops drastically in price.