How Gideon Got His Groove Back – Magic The Gathering and Me

Card games are the most widely understood, if not always the most widely played (though it wouldn’t surprise me), form of tabletop gaming most people will ever encounter. Though there exists a constantly shifting market of different games to play, new indie titles being a regular (albeit short-lived) occurrence, one has always and very probably will always stand above the rest: Magic the Gathering. While in-and-of itself MTG isn’t a complicated game to understand or play, there are several deep levels of strategy involved in playing this fantastic game and I found myself immersed in it nigh constantly; with friends, neighbors, and complete strangers alike, Magic was more than just a game to us, it was a way of life.

It’s not that I had anything against video games, exactly, it was just that they were kind of a new and (according to my mother) expensive toy for kids to break and cry about needing to be replaced. Playing cards and books, dice and and pieces of paper; these were expenditures I could rationalize much more easily. While I still spent many a Mountain Dew-fueled night in my blanket-cocoon, rubbing a spot on the carpet bare in front of the television, much more of my time was spent at a friend’s kitchen table throwing dice and adventuring or battling as two magical titans, hurling spell card after spell card in order to crush our puny enemy into dust!

Sadly, as we got older and quickly learned that cash isn’t something your parents magically create solely for you to buy one more booster pack, my fervor for the game evaporated. I simply could no longer justify spending potentially hundreds of dollars every month, simply to be sure I possessed the cards necessary to compete with my tournament-going peers. As my need to allocate my funds to actual needs increased, my time playing such a beloved game decreased rapidly before, after several attempts at less financially destructive placebo games, I simply sold off my monumental collection of cards and walked away.

Fast-forward to present day: I hear vague whispers across shadowy chat rooms across the web “They made a Magic the Gathering video game”, yet I cannot help but scoff. MTG is a game of skill, with intricacies and subtle strategy that would be unlikely to translate into a video game that can offer the same experience as it’s progenitor. So, in my arrogance, I chose to ignore Duels of the Planeswalkers and continue my long hiatus from the game. It wouldn’t be until some serious conversation with a few Duels-playing friends that I was finally convinced that, perhaps, I’d been wrong about a digital version of Magic. With the release of the game’s sequel, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 (which we’ve already quite succinctly reviewed) just around the corner at an affordable $9.99 I decided “Well, why not?”

The real test for this game to win me over, of course, was it’s ability to acknowledge the aspects of the original card game which had driven me from Magic in the first place, overcome those hurdles, and somehow still maintain the spirit of a game I loved. From the beginning this was going to be an uphill battle for Duels2012; not only would it have to stand up to inspection through nostalgia-vision, it would have to fix fundamental flaws with the game’s very nature while being the very same game!

Without basically re-reviewing the game by stating each individual issue I had which would need to be addressed, let me just say I was more than pleasantly surprised; I was outright flabbergasted! I didn’t feel like I was playing a video game based on a card game, I actually felt like I was playing Magic itself! After hours of beating my way through the campaign (with it’s dirty, cheating AI opponents) and a couple of online matches (I did surprisingly well, considering how long it’s been since I played) I felt that familiar itch in my finger; I needed real cards in my hand!

A quick Google search brought me to a shockingly close tabletop game shop with a pronounced slant towards Magic The Gathering, at which it promptly struck me that I hadn’t been in one of these stores in almost three years. Three years! I’ve always been vocal about my love of independently owned game shops, and yet I’d walked away from them and the community they built, all in part by no longer playing the game that had originally brought me there. I met some of the regulars, got to know the owner, and played a few games with the complimentary pre-built decks they keep on hand, for people new to MTG and before I realized it, I was a member of a wonderful community once more.

Honestly, I can’t say I’d recommend Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 to everyone. It’s a great game, but for anyone not interested in Magic The Gathering or card games in general, designed with graphical “improvements” and effects at a minimum (for which I’m grateful, nothing ruins a game more than pandering to the lowest common denominator) and focused almost entirely on the game itself. The only real downside here, and part of the reason I don’t feel it can ever replace it’s card game precursor, is the lack of community feeling within the game. Communication is essentially non-existant between players, doing away with yet another strategic aspect of the game: Playing against your opponent as much as you play against their deck. With that said, I’m happy to say that Duels2012 returned me to a love I’d thought long forgotten.

By Jay Gibbs

Writer/illustrator with a passion for games, film, comics, and cooking currently living in Boston, MA. He can usually be spotted searching for original web content or working diligently on any number of projects.