Nice Cards, Shame About The Transactions – Magic Duels: Shadows Over Innistrad Review (PC)

Nice Cards, Shame About The Transactions – Magic Duels: Shadows Over Innistrad Review (PC)

While the likes of Hearthstone may sitting upon the throne of video game card combat games, Magic The Gathering still dominates the physical realm. It’s has been around for decades, becoming a culture within itself. The video game equivalents have been something of a mixed bag, especially in its latest formart.

Magic Duels was a noticeable departure from the Duels of the Planewalkers series. In an attempt to fit into the growing market, Duels launched as a free-to-play title with microtransactions. The new format, and indeed version of the game, was met with mostly mixed reviews.

After various patches and updates, Duels has welcomed in the Shadows Over Innistrad update. The new story-mode acts as both a solid single player experience and tutorial for new players. All of the basics are covered in a manner which eases in the player in. There’s no overwhelming feeling of being drowned in information and card effects. Each tutorial rewards the player with coins, which in turn can be spent on packs of cards.

At the heart of the game, as you’d expect, is collecting cards in order to build a deck. Each story-mode match gives glimpses at the cards on offer, acting as the primary motivation to push on. The storyline won’t mean much to new players. Veterans will nod towards various name drops and cameos, but it’s nothing too thrilling.


As always, card art is fantastic.

Initially players are forced to use pre-made decks. The choice of cards is limited, but works well at teaching the core elements of Magic. The real joys of the game is when players can craft their own decks. All of the new cards provide a solid basis to build intricate decks, packed full of creativity and flexibility. Deploying a Vampire or Werewolf themed deck opens so many methods and strategies, making each play session feel unique.

Options and depth is the best way to describe most of the new cards. Across all the different types, each card either feeds or sets up synergy. The key issue is, and always has been, the cards take a rather long time to obtain. Grinding out the required amount of coins needed to buy a single pack is tiresome. Coins can be earned through beating story-mode or players online, or you can straight up buy them.

CdC8TB3UAAE5TqV All of the big named ‘Free-to-play’ combat card games suffer from this problem. There’s nothing stopping someone from buying every card in the game. Throwing cash at multiple packs is a shortcut to success, even if the player isn’t all that good. Duels offer two ways to build a deck, themed and custom. Themed decks supply players with options but maintains key principles such as a large amount of low cost monsters or stacking items. Custom decks give players freedom in their choice, perfect for veterans.

Themed decks are a great method of ushering in new players while giving them some choice. It’s only a problem when linked before mentioned ability to buy as many packs as the wallet desires. Pay-to-win might be a bit of a strong term, but the advantage is certainly stacked in the favour of those willing to pay.

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Investing money into digital cards produces a strange problem, mainly in relation to the Magic fanbase. Most ‘hardcore’ players would rather spend their money on the physical cards, rather than digital counter-parts. It begs the question of who this game is aimed at.

Perhaps that’s still the key problem with Magic Duels. It does a fantastic job of teaching new players the rope, but veterans are mostly left in the cold. Having the ability to build completely custom decks is nice, but packs require too much grind. It’s easy to see the game as a tool more than the best Magic experience on the market.


A tool to teach new players, a tool to let veterans checkout the latest cards. Shadows Over Innistrad adds great cards to the game, but the surrounding issues hinder Magic Duels as an overall game.



Sean Halliday


  1. Honze
    April 22, 2016, 12:55 pm

    Let me say, that I have issues with this article.
    It is, beyond doubt, quite partial and misinformed.

    I’m specifically talking about Magic Duels in-game economy, expecially so when HS is cited inside the very same article, depicting Duels as a grindy and broderline pay-to-win experience.

    To clarify, it is possible to feel that way, but it is also required to provide factual information and a comparative analysis of the games’ economies.

    Magic Duels’ booster system is structured in a way that cards are taken out from the boosters’ pool every time one card has reached the maximum number of copies allowed by rarity restriction rules.
    In paper MtG, normally, a player would have access to 4 copies of each card; Magic Duels has a rarity restriction system in place, and the maximum number of copies allowed for each card differs depending on the card’s rarity.

    Therefore, in Duels, a player will have maximum 4 copies of common cards, 3 of uncommons, 2 of rares, and only 1 copy for Mythic rarity cards.

    The very moment a players has opened the maximum allowed number of copies of any given card, from boosters, that card won’t appear anymore.
    As an example, if I get 2 copies of the same Rare card, I won’t get any other copy of that card.

    Every booster contains 6 cards, at least 1 Rare.
    That makes quite easier to get Mythic cards, as they take the place of already maxed rares.

    Now; each booster costs 150 gold.

    Magic Duels has a SOFT Daily gold cap of 400, with no cap on the overall amount of gold that players can farm throughout the game and kept for later purchases
    That daily soft cap counts only the gold earned from AI battles (Not the Story mode battles) and normal MP matches. Therefore, we can add to that cap the 40 to 120 gold reward from the daily quest, the 20 gold reward for the first MP win of the day, and the weekly quests’ reward.

    Quests can be refreshed, and we can store up to 3 daily quests total;

    All in all, any player, with a farming plan, can grind between 485 and 565 gold Daily. We are talking about more than 3 boosters each day.
    That equals to a 2 hour daily farming with a fast deck.
    Plenty of which can be seen with detailed decklists and strategies within the Reddit community, Wikia, Unofficial communities and deckhelper websites.

    And we are talking about decks created from the pool cards that the game gives players free of charge, and/or easy to obtain commons rarity cards.

    At this point in time, magic Duels has been updated with 4 card sets: Origins, Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, and Shadows over Innistrad.

    Large sets like ORI, BFZ and SOI cost 12k (12 thousand) gold, equal to the required 80 boosters.
    Small sets like OGW cost 9,6k (9 thousand 6 hundred) gold, equal to the required 64 boosters.
    Every 3 months a new set is added to the game.

    That means, a player that has already farmed all cards can buy a set on its release’s day one, just getting 140 gold each day. That equals to 1 quest and 2 matches against AI decks, or 1 quest and 1 MP match.

    A new player, starting from zero, would be advised to browse the communities, create a fast Rx deck with free cards or cheap commons and start to get some gold.
    Starting from 0, and by capping the gold daily, a player would require 22 days to farm large sets like BfZ; and 18 days for small sets like OGW.

    And that’s without counting the free gold given from story mode and skill quests.

    That means, a new player, downloading the magic duels client today, and playing for 2 hours each day, would require 80 days max to complete every possible set so far. And still having some gold to spare for the new set.

    It also means, that players not much inclined to farm, just by playing 1 hour every day, would be able to get all sets so far released and one new unreleased set, in 4 months.
    Without dropping 1 single dime.

    Even so, someone may call Magic Duels a grindy game.
    But I want to point out, that Magic Duels, is in fact, Extremely less grindy, and extremely more suited for new players than many other ccg games around.
    Expecially so when HS gets called out.

    Anyone that wanted to talk about microtransactions being bad, should’ve done that for Magic 2015, when they delivered a mandatory paywall to purchase the better – premium quality – cards.
    Only after the community bashed them, they took down the paywall and changed it to free to earn MP Battle Boosters containing the old premium cards.
    That won’t happen anymore.

    I sincerely hope the article above will be updated with this math.

    • Sean Halliday
      April 22, 2016, 3:40 pm

      Not sure what you’re getting at about claims of being partial.

      The review was positive as i enjoyed, and still enjoy, the game and new cards. Denying the concept that people willing to buy cards do not get some kind of advantage is wrong. I’m not saying the game is pay-to-win.

      ”But I want to point out, that Magic Duels, is in fact, Extremely less grindy, and extremely more suited for new players than many other ccg games around.”

      While that may be true i’m not reviewing said games in the market as i’ve not played every single TGC around. I appreciate you feel strongly about the game, and the maths you displayed will aid people, but the review was based purely on the game’s own merit.

      • Honze
        April 22, 2016, 4:47 pm

        “Partial” as in providing a statement without providing comparison.
        One thing is to say it’s grindy compared to other similar stuff, another thing is to say it’s grindy for me, when “me” does already state to prefer buying paper cards instead of digital ones.

        It’s a digital game that you are reviewing after all.

        That said, by all means, the game has multiple issues, but being Grindy or “Transactions” are not one of them at the moment.

        • Sean Halliday
          April 22, 2016, 5:35 pm

          I never said i prefer to buy physical cards, i said -

          ”Most ‘hardcore’ players would rather spend their money on the physical cards, rather than digital counter-parts. ”

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