One of the first games I ever bought on the App Store was Solitaire City [$2.99], and I remember thinking all the way back in mid-2008 that card games work amazing on touch screens and how unfortunate it was that (at the time) the most complicated offering available was the same game of Solitaire I'd spent most of my educational career playing on Windows computers. Since then, there have been a number of collectable card games available on the App Store, but they all pale in comparison to the nearly 20 years of refinement and evolution that Magic the Gathering has experienced since the physical game was originally release in 1993. Of course, two decades of complexity, rulings, and card releases can be a double edged sword in that getting involved as a new player is potentially very intimidating.

This is exactly where Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 [Free (HD)] comes in. I've often described the previous installments (only available on PC and consoles) as a "gateway drug" to the Magic universe, and really, I still can't come up with a better way to put it. Previously, getting into M:TG required buying (potentially lots) of physical cards, and either finding someone to play with or attending an actual event like Friday Night Magic. Even then, you'd still deal with the fact that it's a complicated game that (despite Wizards of the Coast's best efforts) is fairly difficult to learn without someone teaching you all the little nuances.

Enter Magic 13. If you own an iPad, it's totally free to download and try out. In fact, there's so much free content included that if your goal with the game is to learn it to the point that you can go play the physical edition of the game, you could totally do that. Taking it one step farther, in the not too distant future you'll even be able to buy pre-packaged decks at card shops that are very similar to the ones found in game. The tutorial is fantastic. Keywords on cards are fully explained with "More Info" buttons everywhere and informational pop-ups filling the gaps in between.

If you decide you're enjoying yourself, a single $9.99 in-app purchase unlocks the rest of the game. With that, you'll eventually get access to 7 more decks, over 250 additional cards, a full single player campaign, 10 puzzle challenges, full online play, and much more. If you want to kick things up further, for 99¢ a pop you can immediately unlock decks you'd unlock via completing challenges in-game, and there's even an option to convert your favorite deck(s) to fancy "foil" cards for 99¢ a deck. These two things are totally optional, and even a little silly to consider.

I've played the two previous Duels of the Planeswalkers games an embarrassing amount, and in the time I've spent on both the iPad and Xbox 360 versions of the 2013 iteration, this is the absolute definitive version of the game. Controlling the game by tapping to target and dragging cards from your hand feels incredibly natural, and the experience is almost on par with the physical game on the Retina Display of the 3rd generation iPad. The game is high resolution enough that you can read card text, which makes everything flow so much better. Comparatively, playing on consoles involves moving a cursor around and continually zooming in to read text. This is so much better.

The only thing the iPad game is missing that its console brethren has is four player online multiplayer. The version you'll find on the App Store is limited to two person multiplayer battles. Thankfully, it all works over Game Center and (currently) even waiting for a random battle with someone online rarely takes more than a few seconds. It'd be nice if you had a way to communicate with your opponent, but, whatever- It might almost be better to not have people screaming at you Xbox Live style.

You can still play in four player battles, it's just against AI opponents. Additionally, both two headed giant and Planechase modes are available for these games- Another massive benefit, as even if you play a lot of physical magic, getting people to break out of the standard format can be a little challenging. In a nutshell, two headed giant is a 2v2 battle where you and your teammate share a life total. Planechase is a recently introduced game mode where larger central cards have constant effects on the game field. Both are a lot of fun, and all the complications of tracking persistent effects and counters are beautifully handled by the game.

My criticisms of Magic 2013 are shared with previous iterations of the game in that the pacing is a little slow. It'd be nice if there were a button you can push for when you don't have any viable responses to anything your opponent is capable of doing and you just want to fast forward to your turn instead of waiting through all the step timers. Additionally, targeting the effects of some of the cards can be tricky the first time you do it, and without an undo button it can be frustrating when you make a mistake in trying to tell the game what you want it to do.

It'd also be nice to have more deck customization, but it seems clear that as a Magic gateway drug, as soon as you're ready to step up to the "good stuff" of building your own deck you should explore either getting involved in the real game, or try out Magic Online. As someone who has played Magic most of my life, either are great choices.

Something to keep in mind, is that even though Magic 2013 breaks the game down into easily digestible chunks, it still can be tricky. Our forum thread is home to a few people who think they're experiencing "bugs," when in reality, they're just running into rule nuances they don't understand. For instance, you can play a card like Nature's Lore and hit a button to complete the casting of the card without playing a land. Initially you might think this is a problem with the game, when in reality, the "Search" keyword makes playing a land totally optional, and the game is letting you choose not to play the land. But, again, I feel like once you reach this point that you're looking into these things, you might have outgrown Magic 2013, and eventually getting you to that step almost seems to be the point of the game.

Regardless of whether you've been vaguely curious about Magic the Gathering or an experienced player, you need to try Magic 2013 on the iPad. For us veterans of the game, it'll also serve as a cruel tease and horrid reminder of how badly Magic Online needs an iPad port. But, by the time you hit the point that you need to fork out some cash for the $9.99 unlock, you'll already know whether or not you're into it, which is a payment model that I find really easy to get behind.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Klas Segeljakt

    If only it was available on the iPhone..

  • Travis Hernandez

    Great review. My only issue with this port is that any card that gives you the ability to choose something from your library makes you clumsily scrub through your library with swipes. It's horribly inaccurate in practice and makes it really difficult for me to find and select the card that I want. Other than that, the game seems to be implemented  excellently. 

  • UnSurreal

    Addicted to this game... which is tough for games like Le Havre and Summoner Wars, which I won't be picking up (for now) with Magic taking all my time.

  • Geoff Amey

    I'd love to see a review from someone who's never played Magic before, just as a counterpoint.  A friend tried to get me into the physical version about 15 years ago in middle school, but it was never something I wanted to spend my money on, so my interest fizzled.

    I'll certainly give this a try, as I like the pricing model (I wish it was a $5 IAP, but that's just because the App Store has warped my sense of value).  

    • wim

      I am that person dude and i have one question if inwin a match online the leaderbords dont change ?? Howe do the work!??

    • René de Groot

      Alright. I never played Magic before, just vaguely heard about it in the past (never played any rpg card games for that matter). I really love this game on the iPad. Though it's a bit hard to grasp the game, this one will get you up and running pretty fast. The rest comes with experience I assume. The game doesn't feel slow to me, it's actually too fast at times, lol. reading up on the cards, memorizing what they do, etc. Great game and it really got me curious about the "real deal".

    • Mary

      Gosh, a year ago you posted...oh well. I am a new player to magic and was shown the physical game somewhat. No one ever explained properly, but playing the game with the "?" option to find out what the ipad would do, that really made the difference so I could understand. Didn't have to buy the game to do that however, really do like the game and bought the app. Well worth it.

  • Dannyz2000

    Make it for the iPhone!!

  • Wai Kin Law

    any news if this is going to be released for the iphone?

  • farnsworth_pro

    I can't believe they hate money enough to skip an iphone/touch version... 

    • Cat Astrophy

      No they just can't think of a way to make it fit well. I know I can't.

      • farnsworth_pro

        Pan the screen? Pinch Zoom? There are tons of card games with similar layout on the iphone.

        They are literally rejecting money with this move.

      • Cat Astrophy

        Screen pan and pinch zoom constantly are horribly tedious and create a sub-par user experience. Not the standard I'm sure Wizards wants to live up to.

        Your approach to making money reminds me of EA.

  • zergslayer69

    While I sympathize with those wanting an iPhone version, it's easy to say you want a version for your device but I'm trying to figure out how it would work in terms of interface. I'm sure it can work but seems super cramped or clunky.

    • Eli Hodapp

      Yeah, there's times (especially in multiplayer games) where the interface feels cluttered on the iPad, I can't imagine it on the iPhone.

    • tops2

      Yeah..not sure how its going to work..and I don't have experience with Magic..  But Ascension seems to work pretty well.  I actually prefer it on the ipod than on ipad.  In Magic 2013..there does seem to be enough "wasted" space to me dedicated to the center board/playfield.

  • Quickmix

    Great Game!
    5 Stars:)

  • Mike

    Pogs 4 lyfe

    • Mike

      Pogs With Friends?

    • Eli Hodapp

      I can only imagine what it's like being this cool.

  • Plynx

    The pacing is a little slow is an understatement.

    Most computer adaptions of card/board games make them a lot faster to play; this goes a lot slower than the real thing.

    The interface could be a lot better. Animations block taps, so you can't tap again until the previous animations done. If you want to attack with 20 creatures, you have to tap each one and wait for its slow tap animation to finish before tapping another one. You can't skip the 3 second wait between every phase change and action, even against the AI. And even with that, it's hard to know exactly in which level of Magic sandwich you're in, so you can hit the stop button to best play effects. A simple visual layout of the decision points with the ability to confirm or "advance to here" (if nothing changes) would have been much better.

    Blocks are done with confusing crisscrossing arrows instead of lining up the creatures like you would in normal play. You can't zoom in on the battlefield except with a bunch of useless camera angles, leaving you constantly verifying card identities before committing to action.

    All that and it's still a very good game. I only want my complaints to be recorded so that they might be helpful to the developers or others.

  • MrSpud

    I don't understand why everybody is so concerned about the pacing when you consider how many different instants and abilities could be played at almost any moment.

    I used to play an older version of Planeswalkers where you could setup and skip any phase that you wish, for the most part it was nice but I always regretted doing so because sooner or later a specific card would pop up that I could not play at the right time, often bitting me in the butt.

    I think the setup should stay the same but it would be nice to have a fastforward button.

  • elianel alifonso

    If they make super street fighter 4 .infinity blade 2 . gtf 3 .order and chaos . Death space . How come this developer can't do this game for iPhone lol lazy people >:cl

    • farnsworth_pro

       People are saying "it would be cramped"

      I can't wait for the day when we can have content on our phones which is larger than the screen resolution.. perhaps they could work on some way to "pan" the screen with a finger swipe. Or better yet, they could devise a way for people to "pinch" at the screen to zoom in and out. What a wonderful world that would be!

  • heretikeen

    Hope they adress the bugs soon ... KI double-sacrificing, localisation mistakes (German) galore, some effects doing things they're clearly not intended to do.

  • BulkSlash

    I'm mostly really enjoying this game, a friend used to play this back when I was at school and he built myself and another friend a deck so we could play against him. I think half the fun back then was arguing over the wording on cards and what effect they should have! 😉

    I do find this game a bit slow paced, particularly in the early phases where you're mostly limited to just playing land cards.

    Did anyone else hit a really frustrating difficulty wall with Odric in the campaign mode? I was doing well until that point and then suddenly it took me about 15-20 games to beat him! He has so many low cost cards he's usually got some creatures out on the first round... It felt like they were trying to push me to use the IAP to unlock a deck...

    Also I did have the game lock up on me after finishing a round of Planechase. Luckily it did save before it locked up so I didn't lose any progress. All in all, pretty good fun, although I think I'd like to see a few less adverts and IAPs in it.

    • Tim Lord Gek Jordan

      The beauty of this, and almost all of these video game adaptations of these CCGs, is that your opponent's decks in a given duel are fixed (not stacked, but will always be that same set of cards) and you are free to pick just the right deck or deck modifications JUST to deal with his tricks. 

  • Tim Lord Gek Jordan

    I'm sure more decks are on the way via expansions as they did in Magic 2012, but it seems a bit silly that in the version where they allow the player an option to manually tap land for multi-colored decks...they only have ONE multi-colored deck.

  • emosberger

    I used the red deck and used direct damage and the pumpable flying creatures to defeat him. He was the first challenging AI opponent though, brought back found memories of my "white weenie" deck waaay back in the day.

    • Shyeah RIght

      Having a hard time figuring out how to pump up said creatures.  Never seems to be a phase where I can add mana to do so...  🙁

  • Yong Kune Cho

    I always wanted to play TCG on the ipad so i dot hav to get people to play it with me when ever i wanted. Magic is pretty challenging compare to what i used to play and the illustrations are wonderfull...

    Only thing i dont like aboutthe game and wish the developers to change it is dat we could customize oir decks freely.
    Theres no option to buy booster packs in-app is there???

    I wanted to play Magic but because its very confusing for beginers i wasnt able to try it, but this app does help out alot to people like me. I wish the company will keep this app long as possible...

    • A. Murmann

      I completely agree that it would be great to edit decks freely. I hadn't plaid Magic in years, but building my own deck always was the fun part. I enjoyed that better than actually playing the game. So I am pretty disappointed by the lack of that function. I feel like I was sold half a game.

  • LCB12321

    Being an IPod only owner I always hear people with both conmplaining about the game not being universal Etc... And while the few games that are only iPhone only I'm pretty sure u can play them on iPad in a smaller way yet as an iPhone/iPod only user we have too miss out on Aquaria,Incoboto,Kingdom rush,Manchurian,Avadon to nname a few and now Magic on iOS. Looking at screen shots it looks like there's a bunch of extraspace in between that could be made to fit closer or just make it scale-able, if they can do a game like shadow era which is almost the same kind of thing then they cAn make this just take away a 4 player mode, ESP since online is only 2 vs. 2 any ways then with that added space make it fit.

    I'm sorry but there's not reason for the board to be that big, I think they were just lazy and didn't feel like scaling it down, or just have the center viewable with the back part and deck open and closable with menus.

    I don't know the ratio of iPad to iPod/phone only is but why miss out on all the opportunity for more money when it could have easily been done?

    Please tell me there is something that would make it impossible for it to fit like the card interaction animation or something, because if not it's just a waste of an entire group of people their missing..

  • Cdizzle

    I agree with the ideas regarding porting this to the ipod/iphone.  Shadow era was mentioned and is a great game that functions well.  Don't know the cards abilities by sight? you tap it and it zooms it up into the foreground.  No different than if you were playing against someone and you had to read what their enchantment just did by picking up the card.

    I've been waiting for this for a long time and am very saddened by the fact that it is not for ipod/iphone.  Maybe if enough people ask they will see the free money they could have? Is there a forum on their site we could voice our opinions on?

    Also I think customization is something that will make its way into this in the future.  Again, Shadow Era does a great job of this even with random booster packs and the ability to sell cards for ingame credits that can be saved to purchase specific cards for your deck

  • fellowsbj

    I'm not a big game player, but I'm going to try this one based on your review. I'm downloading it as I type this.

  • Zephram

    This is a beautiful fit on the iPad, and it still looks gorgeous on an iPad 2. With all the content and game modes, 9.99 is a fair price point, and the gorgeous artwork and animated shorts are icing on a well polished cake.

    This is the most exciting iPad event since the release of RealMyst way back in....
    wait, that was in the previous week! Good Times!

    Now, where is Star Command?

  • worldcitizen1919

    I'm a complete newbie to card games like this. I bought this over 6 months ago. I did the tutorial many times. I just can't get into the game and never play it. Way too complicated. The tutorial is very poorly done making me more confused and not explaining enough.

    I have no trouble with Talisman Spellcraft etc but this one is very unintuitive.

    One day maybe I hope I will learn it but for now I don't even open it. Can't enjoy it. Can't play it. Can't figure it out.

Magic 2013 Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 5