The updated Deck Manager UI is a solid improvement.
Deck customization has always been a sticking point for critics of the series. There are 10 decks to unlock through playing the campaign (or dropping some microtransactions), and you unlock 30 extra cards per deck to shake things up a bit. Each match you win in standard modes unlocks a single card for the deck you’re using, though you can circumvent this by paying 99 cents to unlock all the cards in a deck. You’re still stuck with 24 lands per deck, which is way too many. You still can’t create a custom deck from scratch, but that’s not what the Duels series is about.
While customizing your deck you now have a display of the mana curve and spells/creatures spread, which helps visualize its flow, and is a nice touch for players of the physical game. A pre-match screen also rates each deck in several categories, such as speed, card synergy and creature size, giving you a bit of advance warning of what you’re facing. Thankfully, you can directly enter the deck manager from this screen if you want to make adjustments.
Naturally, the game offers multiplayer modes for everything that makes sense. You can play Duels, Free-for-All and Planechase online, with options for matchmaking or hosting a custom game. This is where the game shines, as playing against human opponents is always more entertaining than the uneven AI.
Sadly, with the removal of the original game’s Two-Headed Giant campaign and Archenemy, the only option for co-op this time around is hosting a Two-Headed Giant game from the multiplayer menu. Two-Headed Giant is a variant with two teams of two players, who have a shared life pool and take their turns at the same time.
You can set this up to play online and locally vs. the AI, or if you’re in a more competitive mood, you can open up the enemy slots to human players. Since we’re focused on co-op, I can tell you that though the AI can offer up a stiff challenge in this mode, it’s very easy to give yourselves an advantage by selecting decks you know are strong vs. your opponents, and the difficulty appears to be locked to the medium setting. Sadly, there’s not much more to say - the matchmaking is a breeze and I never found a shortage of people to play with or against, and everything works just as well as it has in years past. I just wish there were more options available - the lack of Archenemy really hurts.
I should also mention that though I ran through all of the multiplayer offerings on the PC side of things, the bulk of this review is based on my experience with the iPad version, which is fantastic. Touch interfaces and board/card games are a natural fit, and though there’s a little bit of UI wonkiness, having a version of Duels on the go is a huge plus. Unfortunately, there’s no option to play Two-Headed Giant in co-op in this version.
So here we are - an annual release of a successful game that mostly offers refinements and a change of content. All of the criticisms from last year’s game apply to Duels 2013 as well, but whether you’re a veteran of the physical game or someone looking to see just what the heck Magic is all about, this is about as good (and inexpensive) experience as you can currently get.
The Co-Op Experience: Two players can team up to play a Two-Headed Giant match versus the AI, either locally or online.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.