Review – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Duels 2013 is the latest installment of the playing-digital-Magic series. Duels 2013 is available on PSN, XLA, Steam, and (for the first time) iOS. I have a PS3, and this review is based on the PSN version. The game is $10, with demo versions of various sorts available for free.

Duels 2013 is at its core still the same game as Duels 2012. So I’ll just link to my Duels 2012 review, and then talk about what’s different (although I’ll also note that the more I played Duels 2012/2013, the more annoying the long load times have become – on the bright side, Duels 2013 now lets you just straight from a game to the deck manager, without a trip through the main menu, and lets you just click to replay the same match, and both of those features mean loading less often). Like my Duels 2012 review, this review assumes the reader is familiar with Magic.

There are four main differences between Duels 2012 and Duels 2013: (1) different decks; (2) Planechase replaced Archenemy; (3) it’s more of a pain to improve your deck; and (4) encounters.

Wizards has decided to really push Duels of the Planeswalkers as a big Magic gateway, and so Duels 2013 is heavily tied into the Magic 2013 core set release (and also ties into the 2012 multiplayer boutique product Planechase). So the ten bosses of the ten decks in Duels 2013 are the five (normal) Planeswalkers from Magic 2013, plus five “generals” who got Legend cards in Magic 2013 (the wagging of dogs and tails seems to go both ways here – the Planeswalkers were probably determined by what needed to be in Magic 2013, but the generals were added into Magic 2013 in order to tie in with Duels 2013). Nine of the ten decks are mono-colored, with which I’m rather disappointed. And this makes the one multi-color deck a real oddity (note: although they have not been officially announced, folks have found the five Expansion 1 DLC decks in the game’s code, and all are multi-colored, seeming to tie in with five of the Ravnica guilds that will presumably feature again in this fall’s Return to Ravnica big set for MtG). The lack of multi-color also removes the importance of one of the new features for Duels 2013: the ability to choose which of your lands to tap to pay for something (this is worked in well, so there’s no additional clicking or slowdown if you aren’t going to change the default land selection). The ten decks/bosses are:

–          Celestial Light/Ajani (W): You gain a lot of life.

–          Born of Flame/Chandra (R): “Burn” is the primary work to keep in mind for this deck. Everything is fire-themed. There’s lots of direct damage, of course, and also hasty guys and “firebreathers” (creatures that let you pay to pump power). The fire theme also brings a reasonable number of flyers, as the deck includes Phoenix and small Dragons.

–          Pack Instinct/Garruk (G): Large green guys. What else would it be? Gets a little bit of removal in the form of Prey Upon, which lets one of your fatties directly fight an enemy creature.

–          Dream Puppets/Jace (U): Jace is back to his milling (deck depletion) ways. There’s also a 1-mana flyer that is 5/5 after an opponent has 10 cards in the graveyard, so some beatdown wins are possible.

–          Obedient Dead/Liliana (B): Liliana is no longer discard-focused like she once was (although discard is still in there), instead changing to match up better with her new Planeswalker version in Magic 2013. So you get to fetch Swamps and then play spells that fuel off of Swamps. There’s reanimation, spot removal, and the usual stuff you’d expect from black.

–          Crosswinds/Talrand (U): The blue general likes to deploy a few land-based blockers, summon flyers, and cast lots of sorceries.

–          Ancient Wilds/Yeva (G): The green general packs something of a combo deck, with lots of comes-into-play triggers to go along with effects that bounce your own guys. It’s very focused on Roaring Primadox, a creature that returns one of your creatures to hand every upkeep. Very much designed to develop card advantage, which isn’t usually what you think of for mono-green.

–          Peacekeepers/Odric (W): The white general is a soldiers deck, with an emphasis on tokens and a decent number of creatures whose power/toughness are equal to the number of creatures you have. Odric also gets white’s “remove your permanent while my permanent remains in play” cards (e.g., Oblivion Ring). Note: this is not an equipment deck (unlike the Soldier deck in Duels 2012).

–          Goblin Gangland/Krenko (R): The red general’s deck boasts goblins, goblins, and more goblins. Oh, and a couple of copies of Clickslither. This deck is very focused on the weenie rush, and not so much on disruption to back it up, with removal spells topping out at Shock and the goblin that cycles to deal damage.

–          Exalted Darkness/Nefarox (B/W): Nefarox is the black general, but needs white help here. Nefarox is themed on the exalted mechanic, which is making a brief appearance in Magic 2013. Presumably this needed to be multi-color because exalted has never appeared in black before Magic 2013, and there simply weren’t enough cards to build the deck mono-color. As an exalted-focused deck Nefarox unsurprisingly packs a bunch of guys with exalted to hang back and then some evasion creatures to swing in.

The second big change in Duels 2013 is that Archenemy is out and Planechase is in (both in the campaign and as a multiplayer and custom game option). Planechase is a free-for-all multiplayer variant (although you can play custom games as head-to-head duels using the Planechase rules). Planechase is a standard free-for-all, except that there’s a deck of giant cards in the middle of the table. The face-up card of this deck represents the plane on which the duel is currently taking place, and flipping up the next card represents moving to another duel. Typically, each plane has a global effect and a chaos effect. Global effects might do something while the plane is in play (like preventing some attacks, creating copies of attacking creatures, or boosting flyers), when the plane comes into play/on upkeep (like flipping cards until hitting a creature and putting it into play), or when the plane leaves play (destroy all non-lands, put all creatures in graveyards into play).

Chaos effects happen when the chaos symbol is rolled on the planar die. Did I mention there’s a die? You can roll it on your turn, and rolling it costs 1 mana for each prior time you rolled it. So the first time is free, the second costs 1, and so forth. Four sides are blank. One side has the chaos symbol and triggers whatever the chaos effect of the plane is (destroy target creature, get a card back from the bin, etc.). The sixth side is the planechase icon, and that means you discard the current plane and go on to the next one.

In addition to planes, there are also a small number of one-shot effects in the deck that represent things happening en route between planes. These are generally big, such as drawing cards, destroying all creatures, or shuffling everything in play back into decks and dishing out random new stuff.

Planechase is fine for what it is, making free-for-all more interesting. It also helps duels stay interesting, since you now have to grind out more of them. Unfortunately, it’s still just free-for-all, which is a pretty lousy Magic format that gets played way too much because what else do you do when you and your seven buddies all want to play one game? Well, this is a digital game, not the kitchen table, so I’d much rather have Archenemy back instead of or in addition to Planechase.

The third difference is that you now get 30 additional cards you can unlock for each deck (so you almost double the number of available choices, given that the 60-card initial deck has 24 lands). Unfortunately, you’re back to unlocking those cards at the ridiculously slow pace of one per game. That’s 300 games to unlock everything, for those of you counting at home. Or, of course, you can pay Wizards a small fee to just unlock all of them at once. Which is probably the point. Sigh.

The fourth difference is the addition of encounters. Encounters add a new way to break up the campaign (challenges are still around). Encounters are played like a “real” game, except that the enemy deck has a fixed draw that usually consists of casting the same spell over and over again. These include getting peck by Suntail Hawks, a deck that generates vast amounts of mana to power an insta-win card, and a deck that combines repeated Wrath of God effects with creatures that come back into play for free.

So, I still like Magic, and that means I still like Duels 2013, but I liked Duels 2012 better. Archenemy is better than Planechase. The decks are less exciting in Duels 2013. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to unlock all the cards (I don’t actually have time to play 300 games of Magic, and I already paid for the game so I really don’t want to be nickled and dimed with in-game purchases).

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