Hey everyone, welcome to part two of my review of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015, played on the Xbox 360 and the iPad 2. The first half of the review is rather scathing, and focused primarily on all the ways the program feels slow or unresponsive. Today’s article is going to focus on the ways in which their design choices make the UI significantly more confusing than need be. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.


To start, when you open each Campaign plane for the first time, it sends you to the second mission on that plane. This confused me, and it took me a while to understand what they were doing: the first mission, Explore X, is actually a prompt to play against one of an unknown number of random decks specific to each plane. It’s not at all made clear that this is the case by the UI, and I have no idea how to get it to spit out a specific deck if there’s one you want to play against. If you really wanted to play your tokens deck against the Boros one, for example, but you have a different deck equipped when you’re exploring Ravnica, you are out of luck.

That Boros deck is annoying. Against a solid 90% of the decks it makes no sense to run maindeck artifact or enchantment hate. So it’s usually worth shaving those pieces. Then you run into something like this, and it’s just a feel-bad situation all around.


There’s even a sliver deck to play against, although I am not sure if you ever get the opportunity to play it yourself; I’m hours into this game and there’s still plenty in the unfriendly menu system that I haven’t wanted to puzzle out.

I think there may have been some Bayous as well. I really find this to be a confusing decision.

I think there may have been some Bayous as well. I really find this to be a confusing decision.

Speaking of unfriendly things, for some reason this product included dual lands. I have no idea why they would do this. Yes, past iterations included the Moxen and such, but that was also inexplicable. Putting in cards that are a) only played in complex and expensive formats like Vintage and Legacy, b) will likely never be reprinted, and c) are unplayable in the game itself, just seems like it’s highlighting the worst parts of Magic. Who is it even for? New players will likely be confused by these sorts of inclusions, particularly when the Ravnica shocklands are also in the mix and could have been a reasonable substitute, and old players are going to be annoyed with something so powerful in a game that is otherwise not. Absolutely inexplicable.


It says “opponent loses life” on the card!

There are achievements for doing weird stuff. One of the ones that appears to be glitched is the Ingenuity achievement. That was awarded to me for winning a game without my opponent losing life. Problem was my opponent ended that game at zero life. I killed my opponent entirely with Sanguine Bond triggers, because I was bored and it was there. What the game was trying to say was that I had won without damaging my opponent, which is still a pretty neat trick, but somehow that wasn’t the achievement wording that made it through the testing process. Which means if you’re learning Magic through this video game, you might end up with a loose understanding of the difference between life loss and damage.


So, let's talk a little bit about the big, bad Garruk. Because oy, is this schtick unappealing. Please tell me he's done after this set, because the dude is all played out now.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the big, bad Garruk. Because oy, is this schtick unappealing. Please tell me he’s done after this set, because the dude is all played out now.

Quite frustratingly, the boss fight was glitched for me. See, the story behind this iteration is all about how Garruk got murderous. As part of it, they do this weird retcon to Ob Nixilis, who was hinted to be Garruk when he was first introduced. Now Ob Nixilis is still a fallen planeswalker, but the sigil on his forehead, instead of being a symbol of Garruk’s corruption from the Chain Veil, is actually a hedron someone shoved into his head to lock him down on Zendikar. This raises some issues. First, this entire game seems to ignore that Rise of the Eldrazi ever happened. If the entire point of the hedrons are to keep stuff locked down on Zendikar, and Zendikar is no more, I don’t really see how shoving the thing into Garruk’s head is going to make sense. Second, if Ob Nixilis is no longer having his power dampened, why is Ob Nixilis, Unshackled not a planeswalker? Black could seriously have used a new, one off, planeswalker. They need a Tamiyo, stat!


But wait, now it’s the hedron! That’s perfectly compatible with our past flavor, right? Right?

Anyway, you shove this hedron into Garruk’s head and he monsters out and you have to fight him again in some war form. Deckwise, this means going up against the most irritating GB deck ever, with Obstinate Baloth and Thragtusk holding off your assault while he ramps up and repeatedly casts In Garruk’s Wake. That card is no fun. Sometimes, just to change it up, he’ll do the double Putrid Leech beatdown, which is also no fun. I beat this deck several times, and each time it showed the same animation (sans sound, since for some reason this animation, unlike all the others, is tied to the music volume and not the sound effects volume), before spitting me back into the duel. I think there’s something wrong there, but I am honestly not sure it’s not just some terrible design choice to show how indestructible their Apex Predator really is.


This is not to say the game is utterly without merit. It’s still Magic on demand against computerized opponents I can be sure won’t be assholes to me, and I find it tolerable to play when I have something else on in the background to pay attention to during the inevitable lags in the game.


It’s almost if they realized this art isn’t really appropriate for… well, anyone! At least, anyone outside a safe and consensual kink environment, but there’s not much use for Magic in those spaces.

There are also occasionally interesting flourishes here and there, like how they replaced the super-rapey art of Triumph of Ferocity with a version in which it’s just Garruk standing on a pile of corpses with a severed head in one hand. Still gruesome, just a lot more friendly to people who aren’t a fan of big dudes raping powerful women. There’s a bunch of other cards with new art too, like Vengevine, but the why behind those decisions is less clear.


I wonder why this needed new art? I’d like to see it reprinted, don’t get me wrong, but not nearly as much as I’d like to see it relevant in Modern.

In short, it’s the worst iteration in the franchise, built on the bones of a fun and successful game. It feels slower than its previous versions, which is ridiculous since they’ve had more time to work on the engine. It should absolutely be faster, and even if it is it doesn’t feel that way to the user. Buried in the updates are some interesting choices, but you have to dig to find them, and the game doesn’t give you much in the way of incentive to do that dig. The game feels rushed to market, and hopefully in a month or two there will be a patch to fix everything, just after any interest in the game has evaporated. But hey, not their problem, right? They already have this sucker’s money!

I think this may be my favorite side product they ever released. Of course, the reprint policy prevents us from getting such nice things ever again.


Ugh. Wizards of the Coast has this irritating habit of letting their product lines go to hell. When they launch a new product line (say, the M15 Clash Decks), they seem to put some really solid people on the development team. New products are rarely bad, and they’re usually amazing. Look at the first Premium Deck Series, or the first two Duel Decks, or the initial Commander decks. Every one of those was a home run! But, inevitably, once they’ve made their initial splash the second outing is worse than the first. Commander 2013 had fewer new generals (it was missing a two-color cycle), the PDS went from fun, to competitive, to neither, and the most recent couple of Duel Decks have basically been trash.


With Keith David as Vice President Keith David!

Fourth in the franchise, and it’s way better than the previous two. And this is a game that clawed its way back from being a crappy GTA clone, to the amazing Matrix-y super hero story of the last chapter.

You would think it would be the other way. After all, it seems like it would be easier to learn from your mistakes and get better over time, like video game franchises as varied as Diablo 3 to Saints Row 4, but that is not the arc of the Wizards side products. And in that sense, the failure of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is no real surprise. But it is a shame. I like these games, and I wanted to like this one as well.


If you like these types of games, give it a shot. But if you can go without purchasing Duels 2015, that would be my recommendation. Don’t deny yourself a pleasure over the shitty design decisions they’ve made this time around, but if you’re on the fence about it, don’t reward their bad behavior.


Jess Stirba really, really liked Shandalar.

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