Review: Magic 2014 for the iPad is like poker for nerds
At a Glance
The world's most popular collectable card game is back for its second romp on the iPad. Magic 2014 has you casting spells and summoning terrifying creatures against a colorful cast of adversaries, and you'll need to have your wits about you in order to make it through the main campaign in one piece. The game should feel familiar to anyone who's played previous Magic: The Gathering titles, but there are a number of new features in Magic 2014 that should prove exciting to veterans of the card game.
Back to basics
If you've never picked up a Magic card in your life, don't worry: Magic 2014 has a tutorial that walks you through everything you need to know to play the game (and possibly win). It holds your hand through basic actions, like summoning a creature, and even offers hints if you don't know what card to play next. Experienced players may find the slower-pace of the game trying, but it's great for newbies who've yet to learn all the rules and card types. Should you already know the differences between a triggered ability and an activated one, you can thankfully disable the hints in the options and skip the tutorial.
The game's single-player is broken up into four different modes (Campaign, Sealed Play, Challenges, and Custom Game), with the Campaign making up most of Magic 2014's core experience. There's a flimsy story concerning the planeswalker Chandra Nalaar chasing some wizard across the multiverse, but a bulk of the Campaign is spent playing against decks with specific themes. For instance, there's a deck that only uses zombies and another that only uses spells that deal you direct damage. Playing through the Campaign unlocks new decks for you to use, and winning matches with those decks unlocks new cards.
In terms of depth, the Campaign in Magic 2014 isn't as good as the one in last year's Magic 2013. You can easily power-through most of your opponents using just one deck, and there isn't as much variety in the pre-made decks as there was in the previous game. Cranking up the difficulty level helps make things a bit more challenging, but there are times when you can tell the AI has blatantly stacked the game in its favor by doing things like making you go second or giving you a hand with zero lands. There were several games where I could tell I wasn't going to win just by the first card I drew.
Challenges and drafts
While the campaign is really just there to unlock decks and show new players the ropes, the Challenge and Sealed Play modes are where Magic 2014 really shines. Challenges has you overcome specific obstacles in order to win. Most of them involve figuring out the most effective way to block an opponent's attack to retaliate the next turn, but a number of the advanced challenges present scenarios that'll stump even the most avid Magic fan. There are ten Challenges in all, but they can take a while to complete as you rack your brain for the solution to the problems they present.
Sealed Play is basically Magic 2014's equivalent to drafting. You are given 5 virtual booster packs which contain a mix of cards you use to custom build a deck from scratch and there's an auto-build option that'll build you a well-rounded deck out the cards you pull from the packs. Now before you go thinking that you can build your dream 5-color Sliver tribal deck, you should be aware that the cards you get are usually mediocre and push you to play either a mono or two colored deck. As you defeat opponents in Sealed Play you unlock additional booster packs to add cards to your collection, but you can make it through the Sealed campaign with the same deck you started without too much trouble.
The addition of Sealed Play makes Magic 2014 worth a download, but the game just isn't as good as its predecessor in terms of overall content and the difficulty curve is just all over the place. I get that this is a title aimed at people unfamiliar with the game, but it would be nice to have more content for people who've been playing Magic most of their lives. If you're like me and can't always find someone to play the game with you in real life, Magic 2014 should quench your thirst for planeswalker versus planeswalker action. That is, at least until Wizards of the Coast releases a Magic: The Gathering Online client for the iPad.