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Hands on 'Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers' at PAX East

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This past weekend at PAX East in Boston, Mass. we caught up with Wizards of the Coast to get our hands on the upcoming "Magic: The Gathering" video game "Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers." Additionally, we were also invited to a special behind closed doors preview of some of the game's more advanced features which weren't shown on the convention floor with "Magic" brand managers Mark Purvis (@WotcPurv) and Liz Lamb-Ferro (@elambferro).

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As we've seen over the past few years, the game ties into the current core set "Magic 2015," featuring many of the expansion's cards along with myriad of others from the card game's past. This latest installment has an added emphasis on story. Check out the official trailer by clicking the play button to the left. There's also plenty of cut scenes tying things together as we saw (we apologize for the audio, it was recorded with an iPhone).

According to Lamb-Ferro:

Garruk is the featured planewalker this year in "Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers." We've seen him before worshiping nature, however after being cursed by Liliana he's begun a murderous rampage hunting other planeswalkers - including you. Multiplayer is back this year, and we've improved on it with cross platform play. We've listened to our players. They've been asking time and time again "When can I build my deck from the ground up exactly how I want to?" So we delivered on that this year with fully customizable decks.

With a focus on completely customizable deck building, this year's iteration of the "Duels of the Planeswalkers" franchise requires a significant amount of grinding in order to collect all the game's cards and fine tune your brews. Whereas in previous versions of the game players unlocked decks and then deck-specific cards to tweak those decks, you'll only get one starter deck this time around. From there you'll have to build up your collection and then use the deck editor to edit your existing deck or create a new one.

When you begin playing you'll first choose your primary color, then a secondary one for up to ten different starting color combinations (one for each of the game's "Ravnica" guilds). As you progress through the campaign you'll be rewarded with additional cards and booster packs to beef up your collection. "Each booster pack contains one to six cards from a semi-random pool," informed Purvis, and "while you're playing on the "Innistrad" plane, you'll only open cards featured from the "Innistrad" block." "Zendikar" and "Shandalar" are two of several other planes players will be able to unlock cards from. You'll be able to acquire up to four copies of each common, two of each uncommon, and one of each rare from the available card pool for deck building purposes.

Actual deck construction is simplified with a filter which allows players to view cards by color, card type, rarity, and ect. You're also able to sort through the results alphabetically or by casting cost. There's buttons for "suggested cards" to add and "new cards" that you've opened since the last time you've entered the deck builder. Up to 30 decks can be saved, and you're able to individually name each deck and assign unique artwork to front of each deck box.

Previous editions in the "Duels of the Planeswalkers" featured multiplayer formats such as "Two-Headed Giant," "Archenemy," and "Planechase." This year there's a four player free for all mode, which means players aren't forced to attack in any specific direction.

"D15" features a "store" like we've seen in the past, where players can opt to pay for premium foil versions of their collection to impress their friends and opponents while in the online multiplayer or to simply unlock the cards quicker. Additionally, some cards may only be attainable through the store in upcoming DLC. In the past additional decks where available for purchase, so buying a new pool of cards to build custom decks from looks much more attractive. Speaking about DLC, "there may be some content and/or features exclusive to Xbox One users."

"Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers" is the best way to learn "Magic: The Gathering."

Those who pick up a copy of the game will be able to snag one of two promo boosters available this year, with alternate art foils of two "super awesome" cards appearing in "Magic 2015." Last year's promos were reprinted in Standard, one of which was Scavenging Ooze. From the facial reactions and way both Purvis and Lamb-Ferro talked to us, fans of the paper version can expect more fantastic reprints this year in "Magic 2015" with a "pretty cool cycle" returning. Players can find a local card store where they can redeem their voucher and participate in events with the game's built in store locator.

As for playing the game itself, after a quick demo on the show floor we found that play remains just as fluid as last year's. One nice improvement we did noticed was in the UI, with clever redesign of your character's avatar, life points, library, hand size, and graveyard that makes this vital information much easier to see and read at a glance.

"Magic 2015 - Duels of the Planeswalkers" is headed for Xbox One, PC via Steam, iPad via the App Store, Android via Google Play, and Kindle via the Amazon Marketplace later this summer. When we asked why there was no mention of PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 versions of the game this time around, we were told "we never say never."

We're looking forward to making "broken" decks with the new deck builder this summer, are you?

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For more information about the game, visit www.MagicTheGathering.com.

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