Home Editorial T3 Reviews: Magic 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers

Everyone needs an expensive hobby, I think. For a lot of people, Magic the Gathering fills that niche nicely. And for those initiated, the game’s depth of play and variety of mechanics make it one of the best games on the market. For new players, though, the complexity (and cost) of MTG can be a huge barrier to entry. I’ve not collected in years and I find it difficult to adjust to the mental and financial expense of coming back into the community.

It’s in cases like my own, and those of complete newcomers, that Duels of the Planeswalkers comes in. It has all the depth of play paper Magic and Magic Online have without the sheer volume of cards. More importantly, it serves as a teaching tool for both deck building and moment to moment play in a much more game-feeling setting.

With these points in mind, here’s my Magic-noob review of Duels 2014.

Accessible with a little sacrifice

As WiNG noted in his illuminating Magic Online vs. Duels article, DotP sometimes fluffs the rules either out of a glitch or to ease the process of play. He noted as well that he understood the reasons for that choice. One of them: Magic is fairly complex and for an introduction to the game a few skipped intricacies doesn’t hurt. Duels isn’t meant to be an official Wizards rulebook, nor is it indicative of true tournament play. It looks like a video game, acts like a video game, and plays like a video game.

Of course, all of that is what makes it successful. Duels doesn’t get bogged down in the details and adds a little visual flair to keep people short attention spans interested. As someone who enjoys the casual shooter or three, there’s a part of me that likes all the shiny bits and bobs. Granted, I’ve removed most of the animation for brevity’s sake, but the visual aids for combat, turn length and phase transition are helpful in their own right.

The lack of explanation for all the abilities cards possess is less helpful, though. My first fight against Vampire Nighthawk would’ve been made only slightly less annoying if I’d known what lifelink and deathtouch meant. An option or in-game glossary would certainly be welcome (my bad if there is one and I didn’t see it).

Still, there’s a positive side to that unknown: players learn through failure and implication rather than by having someone tell them. Sure, I wasn’t sure what Nighthawk was capable of, but I learned quickly to get rid of/work around him. The context of each engagement and my assumed definition of the abilities gave me everything I needed to know. I doubt my understanding would be as complete if all I had was a glossary definition. I’d still like one for the sake of reference, mind you.

Decks built but not perfected

Creating a workable deck in Magic is not an easy feat. At the highest levels of play there are innumerable stratagems you have to either account for or hope to never run into. A novice  competing against even a below-average expert will usually lose. Duels tries to mitigate this issue by giving every player a set number of pre-built, mono-color decks. They’re all balanced against the others, and all have additional cards to iron out any kinks players might find.

Microtransactions aside, it’s a work of genius giving players playable but imperfect decks to fiddle with and test. Instead of having a thousand cards and no idea where to start, there are ninety cards and a solid foundation on which to build. As we look at the ratio of creatures to enchantments to sorceries and instants, we as players learn the basics of which setups work and which don’t. Like the glossary mentioned above, there’s a large deck building reference section built into Duels for new Magic players. While the current paper game is all about multicolor decks, new players need a firm understanding of the basics.

Tear open a new one

The introduction of Sealed Play in Duels 2014 is a welcome one. For rusty veterans like myself, it’s nice to have the familiar uncertainty of building a deck from scratch and refining it through play. In keeping with the overall design of the game, Duels limits “sealed play” to just five booster packs to start out with. Again, for someone with some experience, this limitation is a double edged sword. On the one hand, I like spending four hours combing through a thousand cards to build my RUG deck. On the other hand, the limited card count in Duels Sealed puts a stronger emphasis on tight deck construction in sometimes unfamiliar territory.

Indeed, Sealed in Duels 2014 feels much more like a standard, five pack draft than any sort of Standard play. Granted, there’s no time limit on what cards you pick, and you don’t have the pressure of trying to perfect the deck on the fly. But like a draft, you have only the cards you’ve been dealt. If that means building a White/Black, lifesucker deck when you wanted a to make a control, then tough, son. Deal with it.

At its core, Duels Sealed Play is just a natural extension of its more familiar pre-constructed format. Both act as tutorials on deck building and optimization within tight constraints, and both are balanced with ease of use in mind.

I’m predicting here that Sealed multiplayer will be the main source of staying power for Duels players. It comes closer to the unpredictability of paper Magic and Magic Online, and aims to build a bridge between Duels and its peers.

To do that, of course, there need to be more cards in the sealed pool. 250 works for the introductory part of Duels. I’d be more than willing to pay for an additional 250 or ever 500 cards and access to matchmaking with similar devotees. I’m of the mind that there should’ve been more cards to begin with, but we have what we have.

Wrapping up

I’ll be honest, I enjoy Duels 2014 a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a game that fully embraces the limitations placed upon it. Moreover, it tries to build an easily crossed bridge for any not familiar with Magic or those long absent from the game. And it does all this with a fun interface, loose but interesting story and new takes on old mechanics. Some of my shooter-game friends on Steam are getting into Magic, and that makes me happy. If you’re reading this and you’ve not yet paid the entry fee of just $10, then do it nao. The Steam sale is on, you might just get an even better price.

12 replies to this post
  1. Just to note: there is an ingame glossary. Each card, when zoomed in, has a button that expands to define all key terms of that particular card such as lifelink and deathtouch

  2. only problem i seem to be having is the game freezes up. other than some cool card and other animations 2013 ran much smoother and was more visually appealing. but aside from that minor detail the game itself is a bunch of fun, decks are good and im satisfied by it!

    • I find Sealed frustrating, if you didn’t draft a BW deck you seem to be at a disadvantage. They need to work on the balancing o the colours here. I suppose it could just be that I am a sub-par deck builder, but my two decks (RG & Mono Black) seem to be quite competitive until I meet a BW player, then it’s an uphill battle to say the least.

      • Aye. My Flap Flap Fap (Azorius flier/Vigilance) deck can deal with literally anything, except for BW removal spam. Attack with Charging Griffin, you ta- Doom Blade. Well, at least Griffin Sentinel now has an Angelic Destiny, 5/7 First Strike vigilant flier coming your way next – Pacifism. Haha, Windreader – ANOTHER FUCKING DOOMBLADE!

        Why does that little piece of 1B even exist. 2B for removal is perfectly fine, as is 3 mana for a counter. Why do they keep reprinting it, even?

        Perhaps that Sentinel Sliver would rather be a War Priest of Thune… wait, adjusting to battle your deck’s weaknesses? What is this, competitive? At least you can’t keep redrafting until you get a decent set of cards and build an insurmountable deck, right?

      • No, it’s not in there. However, Murder and its like are happy to help out. I just never leave out an opportunity to complain about how stupidly broken Doom Blade, Lightning Bolt, and likewise cards that reach 4 or higher rating on Gatherer are.

      • I don`t think you can call Doomblade and Lightning Bolt Broken. They are staples of their colour and representatives of what those colours stand for. Not every colour can do everything as well as the others, they all have their specialties, that`s what makes MTG so interesting. Those cards have been around forever and there is a reason they are seen on almost every deck featuring their colour. Llanowar Elf and Counterspell are the U&G staples in my opinion.

      • Searing spear, cancel, murder, o ring, and rampant growth are staples for their respective colors. Most are great in all situations and aren’t overcosted. One mana for three damage to creature OR player? Broken. TWO mana to counter any spell? Broken. One mana to exile any creature at the cost of giving them a LAND? Broken. Two mana to kill almost 80% of creatures in the whole stinking game. Broken. Two mana for a land on the battlefield UNTAPPED. Broken. In standard when those cards were in rotation you wouldn’t leave home on a friday night playing a mono colored deck without a playset of one of these most times. They are just too powerful and undercosted to not run as many as you can. All of those cards do represent their colors well, but they are just a little too good for what they cost to not be broken.

      • Exactly what I meant, Mister Mister Snake. They do what their colours do, but they do it so well that you don’t need anything else, most of which is strictly worse than it. Perhaps broken isn’t the right word, but they definitely are overpowered.

        Take your random red deck. Now add four Lightning Bolts to it. Now it’s a better red deck. It’s not Power 9, but there’s about literally no deck that couldn’t be improved with at least some of such cards.

        If a card has several strictly worse cards below it which do not suck monkey balls, see case in point Searing Spear and basically every other burn spell ever, the first card should not exist. In an ideal world, tournament decks we see would be (within reason) completely random, not all splashing white and/or red if they don’t have it yet just to run a playset of that card as we see today.

  3. To get back to the point, I appreciate Sealed, but I feel like it could’ve been done much better. For instance, a simple “Duplicate card pool” button could have so improved the mode. See, I love my Flap Flap Fap deck and I’ll never dismantle it, but in the same pool, I pulled something like three Murders, some Fog, Giant Growths, two Grim Returns, and a Protean Hydra, just to name the very best. I can definitely envision a very pretty G/B deck with it, but to play it, I’d have to overwrite Flap Flap Fap.

    Just one or two slots to which you can transfer a copy of whatever pool you think could form another deck. Would that have killed them to implement? Even if they don’t want to give us more than two fucking slots without demanding microtransactions for it?

    Notably, I also pulled a Door to Nothingness in that pool… though sadly no fixing support for it. Too bad. Perhaps I could make-do with what I have and build a janky Door deck which wins every tenth game it plays in style. You know, if that slot wasn’t already taken by the Azorius deck I built in it!

    Oh, well, and maybe allowing us to use Revenge AI decks in custom games would be nice. When testing a build, Revenge AI is the only one even slightly challenging, but to play against it you have to specifically select it rather than being able to use the random function.

    While I’m already making unholdable demands, could we scrap the fucking angels please? Alright, that’s enough.

    • Oh how I wish you could do that, maybe in 2015 hopefully with enough shouts.

      Like in my first sealed slot I also drew Door to Nothingness with some of the best cards to go with it. However, I only got 1 ramp card so I decided to make it a black/blue and haven’t reassembled it to make a Door deck which I’d really like to try out. It would be nice if you could do that with the main decks too like in 2013 I had to change my Jace deck every single time I played it because if you watched that video I sent that build cannot beat anybody in 1v1 and sucks with different partners for 2HG.

      How do some of these cards sound to stall with in my pool:
      1 x Elixir of Immortality
      2 x Safe Passage
      2 x Pacifism
      2 x Mighty Leap if you really need it
      2 x Stave off
      1 x Condemn
      1 x Day of Judgement
      3 x Sleep
      1 x Fog Bank
      4 x Unsummon
      1 x Essence Scatter
      2 x Frost Breath
      1 x Diabolic Tutor
      3 x Black Knight
      1 x Vampire Nighthawk
      2 x Murder
      2 x Assassinate
      1 x Grave Titan
      1 x Rune-Scarred Demon yay can get that land! :P
      2 x Tectonic Rift
      2 x Shock pretty much all red has for it
      2 x Fog
      1 x Plummet
      3 x Hunt the Weak
      1 x Giant Growth
      1 x Rampant Growth NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I need 4 :(

      And a few other cards not mentioned. How’s that sound for stalling for the Door? I really want to try it but it’s such a pain to keep swapping cards I wish they would add multiple pool slots or something.

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