Magic Duels is a digital implementation of the popular card game Magic: The Gathering. Duels is effectively a successor to the Duels of the Planeswalkers series of games but has moved away from the old model of releasing a new game every year or so in favour of one, expanding game. On one level, Magic video games like this serve as an accessible avenue for new players to experience and learn the basics of the card game. Duels additionally is structured for ongoing play using the typical free-to-play model used by major digital card games. All though clearly meant to, Magic Duels fails to compete with other digital card game options.
New Duels players start with a predefined collection of cards sufficient to build basic decks. New cards can be collected through buying booster packs - each new set release of Magic has a corresponding release in Duels when new packs containing cards from that set becomes available. Each set has a short story based campaign played against the computer with preconstructed decks although most play is with player built decks against each other or AI. Duels deck construction is slightly different to regular Magic; firstly only a select subset of cards are available from each set and secondly the number of copies of a card permitted in each deck is not 4 as normal but is limited based on the card's rarity - the rarer the card, the less copies are permitted in a deck.
Without even starting to play there are a number of reasons players might want to avoid this game or maybe even don't have access to the game. Duels has been plagued by external issues: the initial release was a mess, lengthy delays in new content releases and no support for Playstation 4 or Android devices. Anyone with an interest and access to Google won't have any trouble finding plenty of information about the deficiencies of Wizards of the Coast regarding anything outside of making paper games. Without going on a lengthy tangent about the missed opportunities for digital Magic, I am not surprised that this game is yet another product surrounded by massive, ongoing issues. The game is also quite buggy, a problem accentuated by the fact that many players have exact expectations of how the rules and cards should work - while most video games will have bugs, glitches and weird interactions, most do not have a public standard for exactly how the game should behave in every situation.
Like many free to play games, Magic Duels has daily quests encouraging frequent play
So why would anyone play Magic Duels? It all comes down to the fact Magic is truly a great game. However both the physical game and the comprehensive digital version (MTGO) can be expensive. Remove some of the interface issues and bugs and Duels is a decent way to play Magic without needing to spend a lot. It doesn't cater to everyone; the reduced card pool and modified deck construction rules mean it is not useful for competitive players looking for practice.
When I've had friends interested in learning Magic, Duels (like the older Duels of the Planeswalkers games) has served as a good learning resource for new players. Learning in a video game allows someone to learn at their own pace which eliminates the uncomfortable feeling of ignorance if they struggle to grasp some aspect of the game. It also helps in cases where there isn't a person capable of teaching available.
Much of the changes introduced into Magic Duels that weren't really present in the Duels of the Planswalkers games seem to push this game towards more of a game that people play regularly for a long time - things like regular releases of new cards, the ability to build up an extensive collection of cards and more open deckbuilding. The problem here is that there are far better digital card games in the market. Bringing Magic to digital platforms will never result in such a smooth product as a game like Hearthstone because fundamental components of the game are awkward to present to the audience digitally. Conversely designed-for-digital games like Hearthstone would make incredibly poor paper games. As a result I cannot recommend Magic Duels to anyone not directly interested in or very new to playing "real" Magic.
The biggest problem with Duels is the basic turn by turn flow of the game. Magic's system of priority essentially gives players the chance to do something in response to most game actions and this means constantly giving players the windows of time to make decisions and take actions. The ability to act in your opponents turn is something most digital card games severely restrict or remove entirely for the very reason that most of the time this slows the game to an unbearable crawl. A lot of time is wasted watching the little timer in the corner when you know full well you don't have anything to do and there is no way to intentionally skip this and move through the turn at at faster pace when that's what the player wants.
Taking a closer look at cards is awkward, taking the player away from the game
I can excuse a slightly slower pace than I personally would prefer but the same timing system is also too fast in some situations, its is not always clear what part of the turn you are in and if you can currently do something. This is really inexcusable - as a long time Magic player with a good grasp of the rules, I shouldn't have difficulty taking legal actions. Even worse, some cards can only be played during certain segments of the turn and it is often unclear when these can be used resulting in missing that window. Because of this, the game borders on unplayably frustrating at times. Timing and priority are a major difficulty in designing a digital version of Magic. These are concepts where most players take a lot of shortcuts which can't be replicated digitally. Magic Duels is impossibly distant from where it should be but absolutely needs improvement.
A lot can be going on at once which is exciting but difficult to see and control
The free-to-play digital card game space is already over-saturated with options and many of these are simply superior products than Magic Duels. It'll teach you Magic but after that I can't recommend ongoing play of Magic Duels. Magic is better suited to face to face play and games designed to be played digitally are, oddly enough, more suited to that purpose.