NYCC: Magic: The Gathering Has Many Online Options

When most people think of an MMORPG, they picture a character running through a virtual world, slaying monsters for experience and loot. However, those first three letters stand for Massively Multiplayer Online, and that description covers a wide variety of games in this day and age, including Magic: The Gathering. While gamers have been playing Magic: The Gathering Online, the competitive PC version of the popular Wizards of the Coast trading card game, since 2002, we got a first-hand look at the company’s newest online version of the TCG at the New York Comic Con. Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers will be coming exclusively to Xbox Live Arcade this spring and will serve as a perfect starting point for new players, as well as a refresher for old players looking to return.

I played Magic a lot in my early teens, but began to stop playing sometime during the Tempest block in 1998. I casually checked out the new sets after that, but it always seemed like a handful of new rules were added with each expansion, and I honestly didn’t want to take the time to sit down and relearn how to play. After talking with Magic Senior Brand Director Arron Goolsbey at the convention, it would seem that Duels of the Planeswalkers is right up my alley.

“It is probably the single best way to relearn Magic,” Goolsbey said of Duels of the Planeswalkers. Since Xbox Live Arcade has 7 million subscribers, Wizards of the Coast is targeting gamers who probably haven’t played Magic before and would like a quick way to learn the rules. “This is going to walk you through all the turn orders, all the changes to the rules that have happened; it’s going to make it pretty easy for you,” he said. Personally, I think this is a smart business model. I’m always looking for new games for my Xbox 360, and if I can just quickly download Duels of the Planewalkers from the Arcade and play online while relearning the rules, I’m more likely to give it a shot than if I have to go buy brand new physical starter decks and booster packs.

The interface of Duels of the Planeswalkers looks, as Goolsbey put it, “slick.” It’s colorful, crisp and looks like you’re actually sitting at a table so you can understand the placement of the cards. This will help if you decide to give the physical game a try with your friends. You can zoom in on the artwork of the exact cards that have been printed and set the AI to different levels. “This is basically our best digital offering,” Goolsbey said, noting it’s accessible to everyone.

But will hardcore Magic players care? They probably already have Magic: The Gathering Online, which is the direct port of the physical card game and the next obvious step for players after Duels of the Planeswalkers. Goolsbey says advanced Magic players will still enjoy the Xbox Live offering to compete with other users. “This is the first time we’ve had a rules-rendered version of two-headed giant,” he said, which is four players at the same table. You’ll be able to take those rules and use them in your physical games as well.

In addition to learning or relearning the rules, you’ll be able to play numerous challenge zones and puzzles in Duels of the Planeswalkers, as well as work on 15 achievements. The puzzles sound like fun for all Magic players and increase in difficulty as you move forward. “It fast forwards you into this crazy situation where you’ve got a game where you’re like six or seven turns in and have some creatures out and some spells. What do you do?” Goolsbey said.

You can unlock eight 60-card decks that are designed in such a way to have balanced play. There will be no trading and you will not have access to any other cards. While this might sound disappointing to some Magic fans, Goolsbey emphasized they’re trying to build the Magic network with this game. Anyone who buys Duels of the Planeswalkers will be mailed a promo card and be introduced to the Wizards Play Network, which lists worldwide tournament locations so players can unhook from their Xboxes or computers for the night and go make new friends while playing Magic at stores. And for readers who may be worried the game is too short, Goolsbey said he’s been playing Duels of the Planeswalker a lot and hasn’t finished it yet.

Goolsbey then showed us Magic: The Gathering Online, which is the next natural step for Magic players who want to continue playing using their Internet connection. Most Magic players will already be familiar with this game, since it’s been out since 2002. But for those who haven’t seen it, the game is literally a direct port of the tabletop version. You can buy booster packs and manage your cards in a collection manager. Even printed card from 2000’s Invasion set forward is in the game, as well as select cards and sets from the pre-Invasion expansions. You can even have Wizards mail you the physical cards in full sets once you’ve collected the digital versions. There’s an entire secondary market for digital trading. You can play with other players competitively at any time. It is truly an MMO.

Conflux, the newest Magic set in the Shards of Alara block, came out in the paper version on Feb. 6 while we were at the convention, and Magic Online players can begin to collect digital copies in the near future. “There’s no other MMO that has such a clear connection to the paper version of that product,” Goolsbey said, emphasizing it’s much easier to collect cards and create decks in the digital realm for players who may have trouble managing boxes of paper cards.

So while experienced Magic players may not have much reason to pick up Duels of the Planeswalkers besides the ability to play the game with friends on the Xbox 360 and take a look at the rules and interface, it seems like a great way for newer and lapsed Magic players to get back in the game. Those advanced Magic players can always hop on Magic: The Gathering Online, and let’s not forget there’s still something to be said about playing the paper version with friends around a table.

Darryl "Togikagi" Gangloff
News Reporter


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