PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Games

The Trap of 'Magic 2015'

Some players think it’s the worst yet. Lead designer Nick Davidson thinks quite the opposite. In a strange way, they are both right.

In a recent interview with Polygon, Magic 2015’s lead designer Nick Davidson called the latest entry in the Duels of the Planeswalkers franchise, “the best Magic experience that you’re going to get at that price point pretty much in history.” Hundreds of fans on Steam, Metacritic, and a variety of forums might have something to say about that grandiose statement. Since its launch earlier this month, the game has received a heavy dose of criticism. Some players think it’s the worst yet. Davidson thinks quite the opposite. In a strange way, they are both right.

Let’s take a step back. For those unfamiliar with Magic the Gathering, it is a tabletop card game that has stayed alive for more than twenty years. Even today, the game has a massive audience, young and old alike, thanks in no small part to a fantastically designed system that has withstood the test of time. This beautiful system, the artful construction of decks and ingenious play, is still the glistening diamond at the head of Magic 2015. Despite its transition into the digital space, when you put your deck together, planning and imagining all the card combinations and synergies together and then take it for a glorious spin, you can see it. This is, hands down, a great game.

For ten dollars, Magic 2015 is a steal. If you were to buy individual real world booster packs, you would be draining a huge sum of money into random luck draws until you had access to all the cards that you can earn in the game. For those with less commitment to the collection and purchases necessary to such an expensive hobby, Duels of the Planeswalkers scratches the Magic itch. This is one of the reasons Davidson calls the series a yearly franchise akin to Madden or FIFA. And with this latest release, the development team even gave players for the first time in the series the ability to create their own custom decks from scratch. This is as close to the tabletop Magic experience that you can get and definitely at the low ten dollar price point. Davidson is right.

The problem is one of expectations and demand. The latest Duels of the Planeswalker succumbs to the self-made trap of trying to please too many with too little. In fact, Davidson himself offers the best example for any of us who remember being a child when he describes the game as “Magic with the corners cut off, kind of like the corners on your peanut butter sandwich.” I don’t know about you, but I like the crust on my PB&J.

What is the crust in this analogy? Easy access to customizable play. Davidson, seeing the game as an introduction to those new to the game, could absolutely be right in trimming (or at least heavily limiting) the intensity of customization. Magic 2015 forces players to pick a single deck and work their way through an extensive tutorial, walking new players through core and advanced concepts. With a single deck to master and build upon, new players grow accustomed to the game with a basic play style in mind without opening up a world of possibilities too suddenly.

On the other hand, those familiar with the game find themselves burdened with a tedious wall that prevents them from accessing what they really want: varied play experiences and deck construction. With access to just one starter deck, those who are used to experimenting with various deck types are forced to slog through a single player campaign that never gives them the variability they desire. Likewise, fans of the series expecting the popular 2 Headed Giant gameplay mode, a variant on multiplayer combat, are disappointed when they find the option completely removed from the game (Davidson hints that the team may patch it in at a later date). What this group of players hears is this experience wasn’t meant for them.

These frustrations for experienced players on the PC are doubly aggravating with Magic 2015’s awkward user interface. The menus are layered tiles, making options difficult to read before you too hastily swipe over the one that you want. Switching decks during multiplayer is impossible without first backing out, navigating the disastrously slow menu, and reinitiating a match, which is especially painful for those who just want to play a quick game with a friend. In game, the interface decisions continue to mire the experience. Land selection defaults consistently to the worst combination, but changing manually is tedious. Likewise, after selecting a card to use, the game makes it painful to cancel out of your action. It’s as though across the table from you is the most hostile player ever who demands “you touch the card, you play it.”

Play Magic 2015 on PC, and it becomes blatantly clear that the entire experience was developed for tablet players. In fact, one of the most anger-inducing features of the game is directly tied to mobile game norms. While PC players can pay ten dollars for the game, tablet players can download the game for free and increase their card pool with in-app purchases. These microtransactions have proven profitable enough to see them rolled up into the ten dollar experience as well. A significant number of cards in the game’s collection are only accessible by purchasing premium packs in addition to the initial ten dollar price tag, pushing total access to roughly forty dollars.

Microtransactions like those in Magic 2015 are not alien concepts. Mobile players, I expect, are perfectly comfortable with both the interface and the monetization model for Magic 2015. Again, the problem is in expectation and demand. Stainless Games and Wizards of the Coast are aiming to create what Davidson calls an “on-ramp for new Magic players.” But I suspect Duels of the Planeswalkers is consumed by a significant group of players like myself, those eager to recapture the joy of Magic without investing so much time and money into building a collection.

I would be tempted to say the goal of satisfying the fair weather fan of Magic is impossible. But as Phil Kollar rightly points out in his interview, games like Hearthstone and Netrunner offer very different takes on the traditional CCG model. Even if Davidson does succeed at bringing in new players, he only digs a deeper hole. The audience who demand more than a paywalled introduction to a digital card will find much better homes elsewhere.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.