As the television ads for the card-based version of Magic: The Gathering proclaim, "All you need is a brain, a deck, and a friend." Until the release of the multiplayer ManaLink patch in early February, MicroProse had provided plenty of decks but didn't allow players to compete against human opponents. Fans of the series were beginning to think the designers at MicroProse were the ones lacking brains. Duels of the Planeswalkers, the latest installment in MicroProse's Magic series, combines ManaLink, over 480 cards, and the Magic game engine - but the original release of Magic: The Gathering for the PC was over a year ago, and fans may find this add-on to be too little, too late.
In giving credit where credit is due, Duels is not solely an expansion pack. All of the elements found in the original Magic package can be found in Duels: 403 cards from the Fourth Edition set, two modes of gameplay (duel and campaign), a video-enhanced tutorial, faithful card art reproduction, and a plethora of pre-built decks. Duels even includes several interface enhancements and tournament options à la Spells of the Ancients, as well as 80 new cards from Legends and The Dark sets.
All of this makes Duels more of a rerelease than an add-on, but those of you who bought Magic when it hit the streets may be a bit peeved at MicroProse. Duels is the product that should have been released last year: a full-featured Magic engine that allows mano-a-mano duels via the Internet. Even if you own Magic and Spells of the Ancients and you only want the 80 new cards to enhance your decks (ManaLink is available to registered users for free via the Internet), you have to shell out another $30 for Duels ($45 street price with a $15 rebate). This means that dedicated players who have been with the series since the beginning will have to pay approximately $120 to play multiplayer Magic via the Internet with all of the available cards, giving way to the real magic behind both the card and computer-based version of Magic: its ability to mysteriously suck money from your pocket.
Duels is definitely aimed at newbies to Magic and, as a stand-alone product, it's a damn fine translation of the card game. However, for players who have been behind MicroProse's Magic from the beginning, Duels is almost useless and really just serves to piss you off. If you're new to Magic and are interested in the possibility of playing against your friends over the Internet or via a LAN, modem, or direct connection, you may want to check out Duels. But for you old-school Magic players out there, Duels of the Planeswalkers is simply not worth the price.