30
Jun
unnamed (28)
Last Updated: July 2nd, 2013

Magic 2014 is the new and updated version of the less headline-friendly Magic: The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers, gracing Android for the first time. It's a digital translation of the uber-popular Magic: The Gathering card game, a staple of schoolyards and table gaming for the last two decades. Magic 2014 is a free download (though it needs a massive 1.2GB of space), but requires a $10 in-app purchase to unlock the full game. The free demo features the first 25% or so of the campaign mode.

There are a lot of things wrong with the digital version of Magic: a clunky interface, boring visual effects, downright awful optimization of both space and active system resources. But despite all that, it managed to teach me the basics of the game and engage me in the incredibly varied strategies and play styles of the widespread cards. If you've got a newer, more powerful tablet, you've got nothing to lose by giving Magic 2014 a try. Fans of the trading card game will enjoy having access to a test bed for strategy and deck building, as well as local card battles. An unfortunate pay-to-win scenario may exist thanks to IAP... but then, that goes for the real version of the game as well.

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Overall, Magic 2014 is a much better game than its poor technical merits suggest, at least if you're the type of gamer who can enjoy a turn-based strategy title that's low on pizazz and high on variation. Just watch out for some wicked hardware requirements and in-app purchases.

Sim Sim Sala Bim

I'd never done anything but watch Magic: The Gathering before trying out this game. If you've played before, you won't need much beyond a refresher course for the game rules, but newbies like me get a full tutorial. Here's the gist of Magic: two players duel each other on an elaborately structured (and mostly imaginary) battlefield. Broadly speaking, each player can use three different types of cards: land cards, creatures, and modifiers. Land cards provide manna in five different flavors, which allow you to place creatures or apply modifiers. Most of the "fighting" is done by the creatures, which can directly attack an opposing player's health, or defend your own.

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That sounds simple. It is not. The staggering amount of cards and rules that are applied to each battle will make your head spin, and that's coming from someone who knows his way around both tabletop and collectible card games. Some "real" Magic players spend years building up deck collections and strategies. It's a good thing, then, that Magic 2014 slowly eases you into the game, doing some much-needed hand-holding while it explains the basic structures and recommended moves.

The best part about Magic, at least after playing it for only a few days, is the infinite variety. There's no such thing as an unbeatable deck or a perfect strategy - there's a way to defeat every opponent, even without resorting to super-powered monsters with high manna requirements. Again, this is an element of the trading card game, not the digital game itself, but it makes for some satisfying strategy play nonetheless. The relatively slow pace is great for the touch interface, even if the animations and wait times are occasionally tedious.

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The tutorial campaign isn't perfect. It took me quite a while to understand the flow of battle and the reasoning behind the complex systems of moves, blocks, manna, and counters. But most of the problems stem from the interface (see below) and the obtuse structure of the card game itself, and I can't really blame the developers for the latter. Once you find your feet, you'll start progressing though the story, which may as well not be there. You're a mage who's teamed up with Chandra (the literally fiery redhead who's absolutely plastered all over the game's marketing and menus) for a mix of treasure-hunting and revenge. A few pre-rendered cutscenes and some okay voice acting flesh things out a bit, but this is no Skyrim.

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Multiplayer is included in the game, but unlike the PC, console, and iPad versions of Magic, it's local only (Bluetooth ad-hoc). The Android version of Magic 2014 is the only one without online multiplayer, making it objectively the worst way to play the game. It also means that I had no way to evaluate the the multiplayer component for this review. Dear Stainless Games: that's some bull right there. I've contacted the developers to ask if they plan to add an online play feature - I haven't been able to determine whether it's currently in the cards, if you'll pardon the pun.

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The lengthy campaign mode will open up a handful of themed, pre-built decks, and some (but not all) of the cards within gradually become available for the deck builder feature as you progress. If you want to dive into the subtle art of deck building, you'll have to open the Sealed Play mode, where a handful of digital "booster packs" are combined for a second campaign.

Hit The Deck

Decks can be created and modified in the Deck Manager. You'll start with a leafy green deck, but simply owning a deck doesn't give you access to all the cards within for the Deck Manager: you'll have to slowly, laboriously unlock them one by one in single-player battles or (sigh) pay a buck to get access to the whole shebang. You can also convert the deck into a more powerful shinier Foil version for a buck. These add-ons aren't all that unreasonable... unless you count the fact that gaining access to the full game (all the campaigns and local multiplayer) costs $10, putting Magic 2014 decidedly into the premium category on Android.

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Pricing complaints aside, the deck builder is incredibly robust. Players can sort cards and decks by manna type, rarity, card type, and creature class, picking and choosing cards with a full dynamic readout of the current build. Of course, building a deck that actually works is beyond newbies like me, so players can throw all their cards into one digital pile and let the computer build the most powerful deck out of them.

One of the best features I saw in the game was the ability to select individual cards from your deck or booster collection, then have the AI automatically build a deck around them. Let's say you really like your giant plant monsters, but want to thrown in a phoenix with a Magma Axe chaser. The A.I. will build a deck catered to your tastes, assuming it can balance the need for creatures, land, and magic among your unlocked/unwrapped cards.

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The Deck Manager is Magic's biggest strength for experienced card game players. New players won't find a lot of use in it, but as their skills progress and they want to customize their battling experience, it becomes a more satisfying alternative to pre-built decks.

Smoke And Mirrors

With an install size of more than a gigabyte, I was expecting a to see digital monsters pop up out of the cards and start fighting each other. Technically, Magic is a 3D game - high-resolution versions of the cards from the real 2014 edition of Magic: The Gathering are textured onto moving cards on a 3D gaming board. There are a few hocus-pocus battle effects, and a handful of powerful cards do some very short animation, but overall it's a pretty static experience. On the other hand, the artwork within is up to Magic's usual high standards of fantasy and horror, and comes with this nice bonus: you won't have to squint to see the sweet hand-drawn and painted designs.

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Hi-res cards aside, I think the whole game could have been done just as well with only sprite graphics. And I wish that the game was 2D - maybe then it wouldn't absolutely kill my Nexus 7, in terms of RAM, processor, and battery life. This is easily the biggest, heaviest game I've ever seen, besting 3D spectacle-fests from Gameloft and Madfinger in terms of hardware-straining bloat. 1GB of RAM is not enough to run Magic 2014 effectively. I had to switch over to my Galaxy Note 8.0 (which isn't even officially supported at the time of writing) to get the game in a playable form. And there's nothing in there, with the possible exception of some hi-res textures, to justify it.

I understand the desire to make it look like the console and PC versions. And it does; see the trailer at the start of this post for proof. But the optimization is so poor that many prospective players simply won't be able to run it. I would burn through about 25% of my tablet battery power per hour playing Magic 2014, which is faster than any app or activity I've ever seen. I sincerely hope that updates are coming to make the game faster, more stable, and easier on system resources.

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Speaking of tablets: use one to play Magic 2014. While it's compatible with at least some phones, the interface is clearly geared toward larger screens. Even on the Nexus 7, some of the buttons and fonts were uncomfortably small, clearly designed for latter iPads. The game interface itself could also use a lot of work: it's not always clear which action is assigned to a particular button, especially when you're starting out. It took me several matches to learn the precise combination of taps to perform an effective block, even after re-doing the tutorial, and I had to restart several battles due to an errant touch.

Nothing Up My Sleeve

The free download of Magic 2014 includes two of the five story campaigns, plus access to part of the Sealed Play mode and basic deck building. A $10 in-app purchase (the same price as the base game on consoles and PCs) opens up the full single-player experience, and grants access to multiplayer and a few extra goodies like a video player and artwork browser. Now, I don't think ten bucks is too much to ask for a AAA game, especially when it's comparable to versions on other platforms (online multiplayer notwithstanding). But that's not all.

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Then comes the upsell. You can pay a buck to unlock full decks in the deck builder, instead of grinding hours in single player. You can pay to upgrade them to foil editions. You'll have to pay two bucks for each additional deck slot. And that's before the inevitable upgraded content that's coming in later months. This is pretty egregious by mobile standards - ten bucks plus IAP makes Magic one of the most expensive games in the Play Store.

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That being said, the IAP is also in line with the full-sized versions (although console and PC gamers know it as "downloadable content"). And considering that you can play with the entire 2014 Magic card set, assuming that you either unlock or buy everything, it's not that bad - the real-world cards would cost twenty bucks for the basic set, then $5 a pop for booster packs to hunt down rare cards. When you think about it, collectible card games are the original IAP/DLC model... complete with the pay-to-win caveat.

Conclusion

There's a lot wrong with Magic 2014. It's expensive once you get past the demo stages, it's pretty lackluster from a technical standpoint, the controls are a long way from intuitive, and the game is downright awful when it comes to hardware optimization and interface. It's clear that the developer needs to put a lot more work into the Android version relative to other platforms, starting with an online multiplayer mode... the absence of which borders on insulting.

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That said, the core card game is excellent, especially for players who crave deep and complex strategy. It goes without saying that regular Magic fans will be satisfied, though the constraints of the digital platform and a lack of back-catalog cards mean it's no substitute for the real thing. If you've been craving some challenging turn-based gameplay (and you've got powerful hardware with space to spare) you might as well try out the free version.

Once you've made it through the tutorial and few campaign enemies, you'll know whether or not the game is worth your time and money. I'd still hold off on paying the full price until the developers add online multiplayer.

Update: A representative from Wizards of the Coast got back to me on the online multiplayer issue. Here's what they have to say (emphasis added):

...we appreciate your inquiry about multiplayer game play on Android for Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers.

Since our first announcement of the game at PAX East this year, we have remained upfront with press and consumers regarding this industry-wide challenge. While the Android tablet version of the game released with Ad-hoc multiplayer, we are continuing to examine an online multiplayer solution for a future update.

We don’t have anything additional to announce at this time.

Again, we appreciate the inquiry and opportunity to comment.

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • Alarion

    Just to throw this in there: the Foil Unlocks (that cost a dollar) don't actually do anything other than make (some) cards shiny.
    So you can't really pay to win, you only can skip grinding and unlock cards faster, and you can have useless visual effects.

    Still overall a good review, pointing out the technical faults saves me from having to download the android version to test it.

    • Jeremiah Rice

      Good grief. I didn't actually pay for a foil unlock. I assumed there had to be some kind of strategic benefit, maybe a 1/0 or a 0/1 advantage over the standard card.

      Thanks for the information, I'll update the review.

      • Sky

        We don't blame you for not testing that out ... its a pretty bogus IAP

      • GOB

        Also you only really get to play one campaign in the free version. the tutorial campaign isn't part of the actual campaigns. there's also the "duel with planeswalker" section in the campaign menu where you get to fight extra planeswalker (just one planeswalker for the free version).

      • h_f_m

        I'm going to go out on a limb and say if you're going to be critical you better know what you are talking about. No review should be done without investigating full facts.

      • Lalythil

        Foils in this software version are exactly the same as foils in the real life game. A collectors item, though in software it's definitely not really worth the money. irl though it's really fun to get a foil out of a boosterpack ;)

  • Andrew Hime

    You guys hiring a copy editor?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      We could be. Are you offering to be one? Or did Jeremiah miss something in the article?

      • Andrew Hime

        I am. There were several errors at the time I posted the comment. However, I'm looking for gainful employment as opposed to some sort of volunteer opportunity.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          Feel free to send in an intro email via the Contact page and I'll take it from there.

          • Andrew Hime

            Artem: I have sent an email just now with some brief information about myself and a copy of my resume. It'll be a hoot!

          • Anthony Pizarro

            Did you happen to find employment with them, inquiring minds want to know?

          • Andrew Hime

            Anthony: I was offered the job, but had a lot going on at my day job and in my personal life at the time, and the radio silence that resulted (on my part) screwed up the opportunity for me. Maybe something for me to revisit at a later point in my life. Artem let me know later that they retained the services of someone else.

  • kyrios

    I downloaded it played the free version. Then plonked down the 9.99 for full. I used to play the game a long time ago (long enough ago that I'd be willing to be I have a few collector's item type cards). I've quite enjoyed trying to get back up to speed with this one. I had forgotten a lot!

    I think it's worth it for what it is. And, for the record, it works beautifully on my Nexus 7. No lag or anything like that at all. I have not one complaint on that score other than battery; a result of the fancy graphics. I'd have enjoyed flat 2D gameplay, since my main interest is in strategy, not eye candy, but that's not what thrills the kiddies.

  • GOB

    I agree with the article about the game being a memory-hog and the bogus multiplayer without online functionality. I bought the game for the pc version a few days ago.

    I don't think the graphics and animation are bad. I believe the game appeals more to actual Magic: The Gathering players. I myself played magic before for a few years. I think the object of the developers was to recreate the experience of playing the physical cards, and build upon it to make it better, through the use of software. How many of the players were frustrated with the descriptions "..then shuffle your library" or "look for a [creature, land, spell] card from the [library, graveyard].." or "add a +X/+X counter on.." or simply the keeping track of life? Not to mention keeping track of the rules and the definition of abilities like "Bloodlust 2" or "Devastator 3".

    I quit playing magic before because most of my friends who played it got tired of it, and I got tired of it too with all the "laziness" of having to keep track of things. But after playing this game as a software, I actually began enjoying the game a lot more than I used to, being able to understand most of every ability and the game keeping track of the numbers FOR you. Plus the animations and the gameplay give a nostalgic experience of literally "playing cards", which was the original form of magic.

    In short, I like the game because it makes you FEEL like your playing magic, but with the added benefits of being software.

  • James Evans

    I tried this game on my Asus Transformer (TF101). Whilst the tutorial worked fine, it crashes every time I tried to play the free campaign (Innistrad). I am certainly not about to drop $10 on a game that won't work properly. It's a real shame as I was really enjoying it.

    • Ratac

      Ever find a fix for the game on your tf101? Played through several unlocked planes on mine with no problems, then one day it just started crashing every time I start the app. Odd because the tablet seemed to have the specs to handle the game okay before the glitch. Reinstalling hasn't helped. Frustrating for it to work well for such a long time and then just start crashing. Fortunately I have a Nexus 7 which handles the app fine, but the larger screen of the tf101 was nice.

    • Ratac

      Ever find a fix for the game on your tf101? Played through several unlocked planes on mine with no problems, then one day it just started crashing every time I start the app. Odd because the tablet seemed to have the specs to handle the game okay before the glitch. Reinstalling hasn't helped. Frustrating for it to work well for such a long time and then just start crashing. Fortunately I have a Nexus 7 which handles the app fine, but the larger screen of the tf101 was nice.

  • fredric

    I've said it before and I'm saying it again, Yu-Gi-Oh! with online and local multiplayer or no l nothing!

  • A

    Batten down the hatches! Incoming fanboys!

  • Dan

    search: 2013
    replace: 2014

  • Wayne C

    If it wasn't for Android users getting short changed (no online multi player) I would have paid the 10$ for this game. I'm actually quite tired of developers who treat Android users like second rate citizens. Why should we be expected to pay the same for less?

    • Sven Viking

      I paid for the full game assuming it would have online multiplayer as on the other platforms. Finished the SP campaign to get a feel for the game since I'd never played Magic before, opened the Multiplayer menu, and.... Highly disappointed. Even if I buy the game on another platform now, presumably I'd have to unlock everything again. If the CPU takes as long to make its decisions there as it does on Android, that could take a very long time.

  • missinginput

    While it does push the limits it runs fine on my tf201 and because of the turn based system having a ton of cards and effects out doesn't affect performance.

    The battery issue though is huge it will kill my phone from a full charge in such a small amount of time if I play this on the go I can count on my phone powering off before I make it home.

  • DaveF

    Actually, I could do with LESS visual effects. And a speedier version of the game. Have this version for new players, and a faster one for the old-timers like me. Why do I have to wait through a timer while the ai casts a spell, when I obviously don't have a counterspell? Trust me, I know whats going on. Cards get tapped, creatures die. I dont need them to pop up in front of my face and get slashed.

    • http://jamesgecko.com/ James

      The speedier version of the game for hardcore players is Magic Online on PC. Build full decks from scratch! Compete in tournaments! Pay full price for virtual cards!

  • LazyLemming

    I have to disagree that it's unplayable on the Nexus 7. It does eat the hell out of the battery, but it's completely playable with only a few slow downs here and there. Most of them occur when the computer is thinking about it's play and there is a large number of cards on the table. Still I don't think I've ever had to wait more than 10 seconds or so at the most.

    What really irks me most is how stupid sealed deck play turns out. Each "Deck" has it's own separate card pool. Meaning if I earn a pack with one deck, I can't use those cards in my other deck. Since the sealed deck campaign is only 3 booster packs, it gives only a very small selection from which to create a deck from.

    Plus multiplayer turning out to be local bluetooth only, that crap sucks balls.

    • ROB TOUR

      I would agree with this - On My nexus 7 the game works just fine (although as you said the battery life becomes awful). I haven't really even seen any slowdowns or anything on my nexus ...

      I agree completely on multiplayer and I hope they are planning on adding that to the game.

      I disagree on the sealed mode and I think it's fine. They are not giving you full access to the set to build a deck - sealed mode is all about the challenge of building a deck out of a limited card pool you recieve. It's a common tournament practice and I feel that the game emulates this pretty well. Recieving extra packs was added in just for playability and normally you'd work with the 6 packs you start with and that's it.

      • LazyLemming

        I haven't played the actual TCG in years and even then never tournaments. I didn't know they did that. Good to know.

  • MILD

    Why isn't this compatible with my Note 8.0?

  • Dany Bouffard

    Its not even compatible with Galaxy Note 2.

    • MILD

      So other than Nexus, what is it compatible with?

    • filmost

      As in the play store won't let you install it? I couldn't even find it in the play store, but I'd available and installable from amazon app store. Works great on my Japanese galaxy s3!

    • dominic

      hi dany,

      try installing "market helper". it's not available on the google play store but you can download it here: http://codekiem.com/2013/02/13/market-helper/

  • OroMatoko

    Seems a useful bit of info has been left out, the £6.50/$10.00 for full game also gives you a promo code to go to your local MTG dealer/store and pick up a foil promo and mini pack. The foil promo is worth around $13.00 at the moment so it's a really good deal for paper magic players, I've already put mine in a deck.

    Also the IAP is for the impatient to unlock decks and cards you unlock via campaigns and foils are only for the magpies, there is no pay to win mechanism.

  • pan2

    Psst, mana not manna...

  • Riko Gonzalez

    Game Runs Fine on Both my Nexus 7 and my GF's Tab2 7.0 IMHO 1GB RAMS is Enough.

  • Excog

    I have to say, the lack of online multiplayer is the one thing that is keeping me from purchasing the full game. I am enjoying it, but if I'm physically with friends I will just play with the good ol fashioned cards... Not play local MTG on our devices. Cmon devs...

  • Eric Hayes

    This game is crap on my Transformer Prime. Weird graphic anomalies and artifacts. I'm not paying for it.

  • Christopher Praolini

    Downloaded a few days ago. I'm running an Acer A500, a few hiccups every now and again, but it runs fine 95% of the time. I do have a lot of kids games for my daughter, so that might cause the hiccups.

  • antipickle

    MTG 2014 is complete poo. The first MTG game made had an adventure mode where you walk around and fight enemies you encounter, online multiplayer battles, and the ability to build any deck you want. Here you can only use premade decks.

    Next one was MTG encyclopedia I believe. Also had online play, premade decks, and the ability to make your own.