The Duels of the Planeswalkers games have always been a bit of a gateway drug for Magic: The Gathering. They're an economically-responsible way to get a taste of the card game, but they've always strayed far and away from being a form that actually captures the magic of creating and testing decks. With the addition of sealed play, Magic 2014 is finally trying to be more than just a noob-friendly introduction to M:TG.
Sealed Play is really the only major gameplay difference between Magic 2013 and 2014. The mode has you crack open six boosters to make a 60 card deck that you use throughout a campaign. You'll face off against six Planeswalkers in what's essentially a test run for your deck, unlocking three additional boosters along the way. You can take your Sealed Play deck online to challenge other players, but unfortunately Magic 2014 only allows you to make two decks unless you pay for more ($2 for a single slot or $9 for a bundle of five). And troublingly, you can't delete your created decks or share boosters between them. So while the introduction of Sealed Play is welcome, it doesn't work the way that you'd expect it to. Many players enjoy Magic because it lets them have full control over how they create and wield their decks. Magic 2014 lets you do that, but only until you run out of money or deck slots. This is an unwelcome and unnecessary way to monetize a game that already costs $10.
On the bright side, most of the good things about Magic 2013 have carried over into the latest iteration. There's still a standard campaign that makes use of pre-made decks. Defeating bosses within each segment of the game unlocks new decks and using a deck gives you the opportunity to unlock individual cards. Most importantly, the game still handles exceptionally well. Cards that you can play are highlighted and the game even goes so far as to make specific suggestions, prompting you whenever you have the option of playing a card or activating an ability.
Unfortunately, many of the problems that plagued Magic 2013 have returned. You'll still be battling themed decks across different parts of the campaign that sometimes feel like attempts to show off a specific deck mechanic in a way that should be interesting, but ends up being incredibly annoying. The duel against Zorislav is a perfect example of where things break down. His blue-black deck is filled with cards like Thought Scour and Ravenous Rats—cards that force you to discard. It may be fun to use a deck that revolves around removing your enemy's cards, but it's not so fun from the other side of the table. It's especially easy to lose any interest when your AI opponent always seems to draw the exact card that they need right when they need it, forcing you to throw away the only land that you've managed to draw in the past three turns. It doesn't happen with every match, but it happened frequently enough to make me think that some of the AI's opening moves are predetermined in at least a few of the campaign duels.
I do however love the new interface. Stainless has made some huge changes to the UI with everything now clad in varying shades of blue. Now you can actually use your mouse to click on various menu options without having to scroll through a horizontal list (at least in the main menu). Many elements that were once cluttered and uncomfortable make much better use of the space available on screen.
Aside from the addition of Sealed Play, multiplayer is still exactly the same. Without a leaderboard system that actually ranks players in a relevant way, playing multiplayer matches is purely for fun unless you're interested in reaching the top of a leaderboard that doesn't even bother to explain how players are ranked—arbitrary points don't mean anything if you don't know how to earn them.
Magic 2014 is a step in the right direction for the franchise and at $10, it's a game that anyone with even a passing interest in Magic will enjoy. It still doesn't feel like a fully featured Magic game and isn't able to capture the sense of meaningful deck construction and testing, but it's a big enough improvement over Magic 2013 to warrant another try. As much as Sealed Play is needlessly restricted, it's still a satisfying part of the game that could very well mark a bright future for any sequels.
Another incremental upgrade, Magic 2014 is still just the bastard child of Magic Online and the physical card game.