Battlegrounds is really at its best as a multiplayer game, but you'll have to jump through some single-player hoops to get the most out of the multiplayer offering. The game has a lengthy quest mode that takes you through all of the different spell disciplines. You'll unlock spells as you play, and you can take that quest character online. The game also has a single-player arcade mode that lets you choose from a number of preset characters and spell books. Beating this mode unlocks more characters to choose from. You can use these characters online as well, so you'll still have some online options available if you decide to skip out on the quest mode, though these options aren't quite as customizable as those of your own personal duelist. The quest mode also doubles as a tutorial, and it does a reasonably good job of showing you the ropes as it ramps up in difficulty.
The AI opponents in the game tend to become a little predictable over time, but, thankfully, the game has a two-player mode as well as online support via Xbox Live. The two options are essentially identical in practice, as lag never had any impact on any of the games we played over a standard DSL connection. Though we weren't always readily able to find an Xbox Live opponent, the game does appear to have a small but dedicated base of competitors to square off against. The game keeps track of rankings in several different categories, so you can see who the best overall players are, as well as the best players for each spell discipline. Additionally, the game provides the option to download content, which the in-game message states is used to acquire new duelists, spells, and arenas. (No content is available as of this writing.)
Battlegrounds may bear the Magic: The Gathering name, but anyone can figure it out with a little practice.
The game renders spell effects well, but the models used for the creatures and duelists are fair, at best. The movement animation for the creatures looks especially jittery and underdeveloped. Still, the game does manage to keep up a smooth frame rate, even when both sides of the arena are full of battling creatures and fiery spell effects, which is nice. The sound department holds up its end of the bargain about as well as you would expect, but it doesn't really stand out. The voices used to call out spell names as they're cast are solid, and the various other effects are good too.
Magic: The Gathering - Battlegrounds could have benefited from a better interface, but at its core, Battlegrounds is still a good game. People who are slightly familiar with the basics of the card game will take to the action a little faster, but, with a little practice and help from the quest mode's hints, even someone completely unfamiliar with the source material can understand the spells. If you're looking for something a little more strategic to play on Xbox Live, Battlegrounds is a good choice.