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Same Old Tricks



WHY SHOULD A VIDEOGAME based on a geeky card game get annual updates like EA's Madden NFL? Developer Stainless Games claims that Microsoft's Xbox Live restrictions prohibit the necessary ways to update the game via downloadable content—hence, we get brand-new Magic: The Gathering—Duels of the Planeswalkers sequels every year.

On the one hand, this is great news: Magic 2012 was a nearly perfect adaptation of the original card game, and the 2013 edition includes a handful of new additions designed to increase the game's scope and polish, while leaving the perfectly functional card game mechanics intact. On the other hand, this is appalling. With the release of Magic 2013, its predecessor instantly becomes obsolete, and one could easily argue that the admittedly minor changes to the latest game, even with its swath of new cards to unlock, hardly warrant the purchase of an entirely new $10 title.

I won't argue either side—I don't have that kind of space—but I will impress upon you that despite the controversy over its very existence, Magic 2013 is the finest virtual card game in existence. Like I said, it does little to improve the core mechanics of Magic 2012—but that's only because they were essentially perfect last year. Instead, 2013 adds new cards and gameplay modes (albeit nothing terribly revolutionary) and streamlines all the annoying parts of its predecessor. In sum, it's almost everything I wanted in the sequel.

I say "almost" because Magic 2013 still lacks one crucial element: You can't build a deck from scratch. You can still customize the game's existing decks, and the new cards make this process more robust than ever, but that simply isn't the same as toppling opponents with a stack of cards you've carefully selected. Anyone who has played the analog version of Magic will know what I'm talking about—and since those people are this game's core demographic, it makes no sense for Stainless to forego the option.


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