PAX 2008 hands-on: Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers

Wizards of the Coast has been very busy talking about the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, which came out this year, as well as its Star Wars and D&D miniatures and the online version of Magic: The Gathering. So, we were really caught off guard when we stopped by the Wizards booth at PAX and happened across this new version of Magic for the Xbox Live Arcade. We did a double take, tapped our mana, and found out more. Find out about the long-titled Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers after the break.

At Comic-Con this year, WotC representative were handing out trimmed down versions of Magic decks as a gateway drug to get people into the game. "You are a Planeswalker!" they cried, "You are one of the most powerful spellcasters in the Multiverse." Inside were a brief set of rules, and 30 cards in a colored deck, red, green, etc. The idea was that you'd meet up with other people decks at the Con, and then get your game on. This XBLA title appears to be roughly the same thing, but it looks a hell of a lot snazzier.

You can face off with your deck, which you can manage visually with the Deck Manager, against an online opponent, or the computer AI. The AI is scalable and can ramp up to fairly difficult playability. You can also choose to play cooperatively, although that wasn't being shown off and we're not quite sure how it would work. Magic has always been about decimating your opponent. The developers also promise online multiplayer and custom games, as well as puzzles and challenges that might come in the form of minigames.

The gameplay all takes place on a simple playing field, although it has impressive graphics that feature 3D versions of the cards, and animated events when you cast spells, attack, defend, etc. There's a tutorial mode for newcomers to the game, and as you play you can unlock new content, including new cards, new gamefield skins, new avatars, custom decks, and more. It obviously doesn't include the entire range of Magic cards (of which there must be thousands by now), but it's easy to imagine them releasing booster packs through XBL so you can customize your deck however you want.

The game isn't finished yet, and isn't scheduled to come out until March 2009, but we were impressed with the ease of play and the graphics. You can't have a Magic game without doing a good job of making it feel like you're still playing the card game, and they've done that here in spades. Get it? Yuk, yuk, yuk.