Let’s face it: we all know it’s coming.
Whether Wizards of the Coast announces it or not, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 (or whatever nomenclature they land on) is inevitable and will most likely arrive this summer, in keeping with prior releases.
Stainless and WOTC have now had their hand at three versions of this entry-level Magic title, with incremental improvements along the way. We’ve seen the correction of bugs, the introduction of manual mana tapping, and in general, a much more balanced game with Duels 2013.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and I just so happen to have a list of my personal requests right here. I know not everyone will agree, but I hope someone in charge gets a fresh whiff of these brilliant ideas.
1. Tick tock, tick tock… fix the damn clock!
There’s a good reason Duels of the Planeswalkers has timers, both for each player’s turn and for pause actions. Without it, games could threaten to ponder on eternally. Really good and really poor players alike might simply waste huge amounts of time, milling over decisions that really shouldn’t last 10 seconds. Hell, even FNM tournaments have time limits!
But the timer in Duels 2013 is broken, and it’s been that way since the beginning of the series. Here are just a few of the problems readers are most likely already familiar with:
- The timer for blocking or searching is the same no matter how many choices there are
- If the first main phase takes too long, the timer will sometimes skip directly past combat
- Players can spitefully pause the game for any period of time, over and over
Outright removing the timer would be a disaster, as would greatly shortening or lengthening it. So here’s a better solution, Wizards/Stainless: give each player a time allocation per turn, let’s say 90 seconds. If it’s the active player’s turn, she has 90 seconds to do whatever she wants – she can spend eighteen seconds in the first main, a minute choosing attackers, and the last dozen playing post-combat permanents. If the opponent pauses the clock, the active player’s clock stops until time is resumed, so she can’t get cheated. The active player will no longer run out of time during a particularly difficult phase.
And to prevent abuse, the opponent would only have one half the normal time (in this example, 45 seconds) for total pausing. Once he had stopped the clock for 45 seconds, gameplay would go on uninterrupted. The inactive player could still cast instants, just not stall the game indefinitely. And, just like the active player, the opponent could choose how to use all of his pause time so he could, for instance, spend it all while picking blockers in a tricky scenario.
The end result: players get more control while griefers get punished for clock spam.
2. Game modes that aren’t completely terrible
I’m just gonna say it: nobody liked Archenemy or Planechase. These variant modes take forever to play, are largely reliant on luck (more so than Magic normally is), and are full of counterintuitive mechanics that confuse newbies and bore veterans. Sure, it was great when Stainless unlocked the Archenemy role for players, but by then the community had pretty much given up on getting its collective ass handed to it.
If Wizards is still trying to dream up alternative modes, here are a few options:
Simple Draft: Have players draft from a randomized pool of every card in Duels 2014. Keep things moving along with automatic land addition and no sideboarding. It’d be the perfect way to introduce new players to the format, and could possibly result in big bucks when Duels community members show up to draft cardboard Magic. Draft would also be great for Duels 2014 tournaments.
Commander: In the past, Magic designers told T3 they weren’t interested in EDH/Commander since it could alienate new players. But if there’s one thing new players love, it’s gigantic, face-melting legendary creatures. And with the not-so-competitive singleton format, newbies could stand a chance against pros due to luck alone. It’d be fun, educational, and different!
Custom Decks: I’m well aware that designed-from-scratch decks will never be a mainstay of the Duels series, but why not a side event? If custom play were relegated to a separate category of Magic (as well as unranked), it would protect unskilled players from being stomped whilst giving veterans a playground for testing Duels deck ideas. Please?
Nothing at all: There’s always the option of absolutely nothing. After all, what’s wrong with sticking to 1v1, FFA, 2HG, and the single player campaign? Why waste resources on boring side missions nobody will ever enjoy?
3. Top Tier Tournament Tools
While the Duels of the Planeswalkers community isn’t gigantic by any means, we sure love us some competition. And whether it’s the friendly, let’s-give-out-prizes kind or the let’s-pretend-we’re-giving-out-prizes-LOL kind, it’s not easy for players to face off in any serious manner.
How about a Match Mode, where players could square off in a best of 3/5/7 duel? The loser of each game would get to play first next time (currently, it’s random every game), and both players would get 60 seconds to sideboard between rounds. If a player conceded, they’d both get kicked back to the match lobby (concession currently boots to the home screen, even for player matches) so the next game could start faster. And perhaps the winner of the entire match could even get bonus unlocks for his or her trouble.
Match Mode would be a great addition for serious play, as well as better facilitate grudge matches between planeswalkers of every stripe. Hell, even the campaign mode could benefit. Imagine how much more epic (and less luck prone) the final showdown vs Nicol Bolas would be if it were a hard-fought, three game battle?
4. The balance must be maintained
I gotta hand it to Wizards of the Coast… Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors when it comes to deck balance. Sure, there are still options that have significantly more power than others (compare Peacekeepers to Act of War to see the disparity), but Duels 2013 isn’t dominated by single decks the way that Duels ’09 and Duels 2012 were. So, my request is simple: please keep things reasonable, Wizards!
I’ve seen all kinds of stupid suggestions in the forums and on YouTube:
- Sliver decks
- Affinity decks
- Show and Tell decks
- More goddamn elf decks
Ideas like this are terrible and would absolutely ruin Duels 2014. Instead, Wizards and Stainless should focus on what made the deck balance in DOTP 2013 so good:
- Aggro decks with constant pressure and big card disadvantage
- Control decks with middling stall and huge, game-winning bombs
- Midrange decks that strike a good balance between aggro and control
Yes, some decks were disappointing, largely because of speed problems. Act of War was fast, but not fast enough to pressure control decks or outrace other aggro piles. Mindstorms had huge lategame potential, but almost no plays before turn three, leaving it DOA against goblins or even turbo-mill. Rogue’s Gallery had similar issues getting off the ground.
Regardless, these decks could still win, especially against each other. None of them were the unmitigated catastrophes that Dragon’s Roar or Claws of Vengeance were. And those decks were so bad just thinking about them jinxes your next hand in any Magic game.*
5. I need tech support… I NEED TECH SUPPORT!
If balance has been improving over time, support from Stainless hasn’t gotten a lick better. Sure, some of the most obvious bugs and exploits have been eradicated over time, but lots of issues remain. Players have been able to gain access to NPC-only decks, trolls can lock opponents out of their pause timers, and – oh yeah – the game’s entire save file can be deleted for no reason at all.
While I haven’t encountered most of these bugs myself, they’re at once obvious from visiting the official Duels of the Planeswalkers forum or by performing a casual search for bugs and exploits on YouTube. But the real problem isn’t just bugs… every game has’em. The issue is that there’s been very little response from Stainless or community representatives about if/when any of these issues will ever be addressed.
It’s one thing to let a few problems slip through the cracks, but when the player base is left in the dark, they start to panic. And thousands of panicking nerds is not a pretty sight. If Wizards hopes to convert these casuals into paper Magic players, it’s going to have to do a better job delivering working software and addressing customer concerns. Duels 2014 is the perfect opportunity to start over.
Wizards, I know this has nothing to do with Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014… but I know you’re making Ral Zarek into a Dragon’s Maze mythic rare card. He’s perfectly positioned in the lore to ignite his spark, and his inclusion in so much art and flavor text are overwhelming evidence.
If there’s any Izzet player who deserves a copy, it’s me! So if you’d consider sending me a freebie, I’d be glad to uh, keep playing your wonderful games? Oh yeah, and feel free to take any of my suggestions here, free of charge.**
* Now just watch. I fuckin’ guarantee you get mana flooded in your next duel.
** Read: in exchange for a free Ral Zarek card… pretty please?