Review – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 Expansion

The first expansion for Wizards of the Coast’s Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 hit PSN and the XBLA in September with, one would presume, a Steam release to follow. The first expansion is, like the full game, available only via download, and costs about $5. The Duels 2012 expansion basically adds three elements to the existing game (1) you can now play as the archenemy in Archenemy mode; (2) you get three new decks; and (3) you get new cards for the existing decks. There are also “features” such as new splash screens but, well, I don’t really care about that.

The ability to play as the archenemy is a welcome addition. The expansion includes a full campaign board as the archenemy, including new Magic puzzles. I found playing Archenemy as the archenemy to be fun, and since I grabbed the expansion I’ve mostly been playing in that mode (not that it’s particularly better than the other modes, but the extra novelty factor pushes it over the edge). Note that the triple Jace battle at the end of the Expansion campaign was the roughest match yet, with hordes of Krovikan Mists generally crushing anything you could draw or flip off of your scheme deck. It was the first time I actually turned the difficulty down from the highest setting, which mysteriously resulted in the Jaces not getting perfect draws every single match.

The three new decks are:

– Grave Whispers (Liliana Vess): To me the best of the expansion decks, Liliana basically packs an enhanced version of her usual mono-black, discard-focused deck. Although I still pulled it out of the deck relatively quickly, the replacement of Megrim (a fan favorite among some, but usually a terrible card) with Liliana’s Caress (Megrim but cheaper) is an exemplar of this upgrade. In addition to the usual suspects of The Rack, Underworld Dreams, and Mind Rot, Liliana’s deck is heavy on the specters and includes a couple of nice high-mana finishers.

– Auramancer (Ajani Goldmane): This time around Ajani sports a green/white deck with lots of Enchant Creature spells. It’s a bit underwhelming, especially in comparison to Gideon’s Equipment-focused deck from the base game. Not only are Auras at a natural disadvantage compared to equipment, but the Creature’s in Ajani’s deck don’t get you excited, even after upgrades. Gideon’s deck started with some guys who were nifty with equipment and some vanilla folk, but by the time you were done most of those vanilla guys were gone. Ajani’s deck never graduates from a heavy slate of vanilla weenies. Other than the “draw a card for playing an enchantment” types, Ajani’s deck too often went with a “play vanilla weenie, enchant it, two turns later have enough mana for a bigger guy who cares about having enchantments, but you don’t have any left in your hand.”

– Cloudburst (Ral Zarek): If the name Ral Zarek doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry, he’s a brand new planeswalker. Ral is from Ravnica’s Izzet guild, and is deck is, therefore, red and blue. It features red creatures who sacrifice themselves at the end of the turn, some blue flyers, a few red burn spells, some bounce, and a few cards that are designed to synergize with your creatures going away each turn (things that have sacrificing or bouncing your creature as a cost). Ral’s deck is, unfortunately, kind of a mess. It doesn’t really synergize, and isn’t nearly aggressive or focused enough to take advantage of the one-shot red creatures. Instead of leading with weenies and then finishing with cards like Ball Lightning, it leads with the one-shots and then goes on to a cast of mostly lousy flyers.

As you could probably tell from that, I was not so impressed with the decks added in the Duels 2012 expansion – Ral and Ajani were basically “unlock everything and then put away” decks for me. I thought that one of the upgrades from the original Duels of the Planeswalkers to Duels 2012 was that the decks tended to be much more exciting, and the Duels 2012 expansion decks fail to live up to that.

Finally, each of the decks now has 20 cards available to unlock, up from 16 in the base game. For the existing decks, most of the new cards were chosen to be effective when playing as the archenemy, with a variety of effects that apply to all opponents or that apply a negative effect to all players. This brings up a new potential quibble in that, with the increasing number of play modes – and in particular the drastic difference in effectiveness of some of the cards depending on which side of an archenemy game you’re in – it would be nice to be able to maintain different tweaks of each deck for the different modes. So, for example, if you wanted to play with Garruk’s deck as part of the team in archenemy, your deck would include things like Hunted Wumpus, but then those cards would get switched out when you grabbed Garruk off the shelf to play as the archenemy.

In sum, Duels 2012’s best feature is the addition of the ability to play as the archenemy, including new cards for existing decks that work best in that role. Unfortunately, two of the three new decks were somewhat lacking, and didn’t add as much replayability for me as I would have liked.

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