Another Magic the Gathering game, you ask? This time with an even longer name? What’s different about this one, except for the date on the end of the title? While Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 (henceforth DotP 2012) certainly has much in common with its predecessor, Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP), some noteworthy additions and improvements have also been made to this version. Let’s jump in and explore some of those similarities and differences.
Single-player campaign mode
Like the first DotP game, both single-player and multi-player options are available in DotP 2012. This time around, only the single-player mode possesses a campaign. While you can unlock cards for your decks in both single-player and multi-player, you must play the campaign to unlock the decks themselves. You start off with only two decks available to play - a white weapon deck and a green creature-based deck - but as you beat the different planeswalkers in the campaign, you can unlock up to 8 more, so 10 available decks in all (this is up from the 8 available to play in the core DotP game). You also unlock challenges along the way. Two other modes are available in the single-player (which you also must unlock to play): Archenemy (more on this mode later) and Revenge. In the single-player they’re set up campaign-style as well, so you must beat certain planeswalkers in order to duel other ones.
In the multi-player three modes are available: Free-for-All, which is a competitive mode with up to 4 players facing off, and the two co-op modes Two-headed Giant and Archenemy. Two-headed Giant makes its return from DotP with two players teaming up against two AI. Hitpoints are a shared pool for the teams, so you win or lose together with your teammate. While everyone has their own respective mana pools and decks, attacking and blocking is done as a team (i.e. you aren’t playing two simultaneous 1v1 games where you can only attack or block the opponent across from you). There are two major changes to Two-headed Giant. The first is that you can finally play this co-operative mode online (it was previously only a local feature). Rejoice, online co-opers. The second major change is that there is no longer a specific Two-headed Giant campaign where players must face specific duos of AI players. Instead, the host simply chooses two planeswalkers to duel.
Two-headed Giant Mode
Archenemy is the new co-op mode for DotP 2012. Up to three players face one AI planeswalker (again, in the co-op mode, the host chooses which planeswalker). I was pleased to see that you can put an AI team member in if you’re only playing with one other friend. Unlike Two-headed Giant, all players have their own separate pools of hitpoints. The decks of the chosen Archenemy are the same as always, but he or she also gets access to a “Schemes” deck. Some of the schemes appear to be common to all Archenemies and some appear to be specific to particular planeswalkers. At the beginning of the Archenemy’s turn, he draws and plays one scheme card. These cards can be absolutely brutal, and I assure you that some of them will make you rage. Schemes allow the Archenemy to do such things as steal three life from every opponent, or place any card from her hand on the table, or prevent all but one opponent from playing cards that turn, or kill X amount of creatures on the table. The list goes on.
I certainly appreciate that Wizards of the Coast added in another co-op mode to the game, and while it can be a good amount of fun some times, at other times Archenemy mode becomes down-right frustrating. Luck becomes a huge factor in this game mode due to the schemes to the point where it feels like it’s impossible to win when certain schemes come into play at certain times in the game. For example, one time I was playing a game against Garruk’s green deck. He drew a scheme that allowed him to put several 0/1 plant tokens on the table, then the next turn a scheme that allowed him to put several 1/1 plant tokens down. The next turn he prompty used Overrun and decimated us. Another frustrating tendency is the AI’s desire to target one of the players over and over. The Archenemy can only attack one player at a time and only that player can block him. It’s not very fun at times to find yourself repeatedly on the end of a stompfest with your friends helpless to do much to aid you. I forsee many games of Archenemy ending with one player being eliminated early on with only the ability to watch her other two teammates struggle onward. Frankly, I’m bewildered as to why the hitpoints of players aren’t shared like they are in Two-headed Giant. This simple alteration would do much to address this flaw of the game mode. I’m certainly going to keep trying at Archenemy, because the idea of the game mode is very appealing to me, but I may wait until I, and the people I’ll play the mode with, have unlocked more cards for our chosen decks so as to give us as much of an edge as possible.
The lobby system (Archenemy lobby)
As far as decks and deck-building go, the decks are reasonably varied in color and playstyle. Some decks make a return from the first game with a reasonable amount of card changes to make it feel somewhat different (e.g. Sorin’s vampire deck and Gideon’s weapon deck), but the overall theme is preserved. Some decks are radically altered from the first game in both cards and theme (e.g. Jace has an illusion creature deck now instead of focusing on interrupts), and some decks are completely new to DotP 2012 (e.g. there’s now a mixed blue and green deck). A couple of decks and planeswalkers are noticeably absent from DotP 2012, such as Elspeth’s pure white deck with fliers and Liliana’s pure black deck with discards, but hopefully there’s enough variety with the ten decks in the game that you can find a couple decks you like. Though I heard rumors that the deck-building would be a little more free in DotP 2012, as far as I can tell it’s the same as in the first game. You can take cards out of the preset decks (but your deck must be at least 60 cards), but that appears to be as far as customization goes.
DotP 2012 was about what I was expecting from the game. It looks a shade prettier than the first game, offers a couple new modes, and allows online co-op, but in most other areas it feels pretty similar. If you’re like me and played the heck out of DotP and its three expansions, you’ll most likely enjoy DotP 2012 just as much due to its expanded content and new or altered decks. If you didn’t like DotP, then its likely that not enough has changed in DotP 2012 to get you to like it any more. And if you’re new to the series and wondering if this installment would be a good time to jump in, I’d say this is a great starting place. With the aforementioned expanded features and 10 decks as opposed to 8, there’s probably no real reason to go back and get the first game before this one.