In addition to the below article, ThankTheBear has also produced the fourth volume of their comedic series of shorts, “If Magic Cards could talk.”
Duels of the Planeswalkers has been a method used by Wizards to attract new players to its card game and related products for a few years now. Since I, and I’m guessing many other Magic players, learned the game from experienced friends, I never had much need for it, and yet, I found myself going through DotP 2015 (or Magic 2015 or any number of other titles it has). And judging the game as both a form of entertainment and instruction has been a tad bit … displeasing.
My friends Skye and Ramzal, with whom I make the “If Magic Cards Could Talk” videos, are semi-aficionados of Duels of the Planeswalkers, having been regular consumers of the annually-released franchise. They tell me tales of AI-controlled planeswalkers making the most baffling misplays, and how the decks they both come up with, despite the introductory-level play standards, can end up fairly powerful.
We have been making videos of our playthrough of this year’s Duels for a little over a month now. During this time, it’s come to my attention that this particular game does not at all seem fit for high-quality Let’s Play videos. Or any videos. In my opinion.
However, stopping a Let’s Play in the middle of the game is a frustrating choice I am not willing to make. Fortunately, not much has happened in the game and it should only take a few minutes to fill someone in.
These are the reasons for switching from a video Let’s Play into a written review/impressions/a regular game-based Magic article. (I could be called a Screenshot Let’s Play as well, which were actually the root of the now-YouTube-dominated genre. Long ago, somebody sat down and said “Hey, what if I played a game and said what I felt about it all the way through and posted in online so that people could talk about it?” It was popular on forums and entertainment sites.)
Instead of lengthy videos of not-always-exciting gameplay, we’ll have screenshots and game summaries, but be able to “cover” Duels of the Planeswalkers all the same, and if anything, more in-depth. Sweet! I guess!
Skye and Ramzal will be playing the game, and I’ll be sitting next to them. Let us trudge!
…but I should briefly describe what we’ve seen so far.
Last Time(s) on Duels of the Planeswalkers
The Plot: DotP 2015 has a small plot based around Garruk’s exploits in Innistrad, and the aftermath of Liliana (of the Veil) Vess cursing him with the Chain Veil. It’s also the storyline of the Magic 2015 Core Set.
The opening cutscene, as spoken by an unknown man (who I’m assuming is Jace Beleren), tells of the Chain Veil’s actual utility, which I never knew back when Innistrad was out.
Garruk is now almost totally infected (not by Phyrexians) by black mana/magic. His newest planeswalker card shows this, and so does its first +1 ability — in his attempt for revenge on Liliana, he’s gone insane and is now killing other planeswalkers left-and-right.
And it would appear, as the players of this game, we are de facto homicide detectives specializing in planeswalker-on-planeswalker crimes. We report to the scene of a murder, but Garruk’s fled the area.
Like well-meaning gumshoes, we trailed him through Innistrad, where we met Avacyn, Angel of Hope. She played a Mono-White deck with at least three copies of Staff of the Sun Magus. She gave us something Garruk dropped (why she had it is unknown) — it’s a coin from the area of Meletis in Theros, and that is where we currently are.
The Games: Each game in DotP is supposed to teach new players about everything, from cards types and phases to the color pie and deckbuilding. The opponents are playing with crappy cards and they make mistakes.
Each area/plane (including the tutorial) has a boss fight against a deck that is supposedly better than the ones before it. After winning these and any of the other games, players receive a Booster Pack with fifteen cards.
Our Deck: In DotP 2015, from what Skye and Ramzal tell me, they made a change from mono-colored Starter decks to two-colored Starter decks. This would be great, aside from the issue that in previous games, players could switch between those Starter decks whenever they wanted. From what we can tell, we’re kind of stuck with the one we have, a Green-White deck they called “Heed the Call.” It’s pretty similar to a decent GW convoke deck in M15 draft.
But after blasting through Innistrad and getting a handful of packs, we’ve made some improvements to it.
What? by Skye
It told us to give it a name in the previous episode (we named it “What?”), but I may have to call it “Elder of Little Dudes” or “Wuffy and the Smokin’ Tokens”.
Not a whole lot here, but for casual/beginner Magic, it actually has a few things going for it. Mentor of the Meek has been great (he almost single-handedly won us the Avacyn game), we have double Advocate of the Beast to pair with two Primal Huntbeasts, and there’s a fine mixture of beef and shrimp, including Selfless Cathar. It seems like we can win in several different ways.
But with sitting through about six or seven games with it, I’d really like to try out the other colors — golly, especially if I were a new player! — and while this wouldn’t be a problem in older DotP, it is in 2015. Because they may or may not expect us to make other decks with just the boosters they give us.
I could be wrong and if I am, that’d be great.
In short, Garruk’s killing people, we’re in Theros, and we’re playing GW Tokens.
And to Theros we go, with our GW tokens, to find Garruk.
An Article about Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015: Minotaurs and Octopi
Nothing about Garruk has yet to emerge in our travels to Theros. Perhaps it is a dead-end (or as I am theorizing, a false lead), but it’s not like we can go with another option. In the last episode, we dealt with Akroan Horse and somebody yelled “Hydra Attack!”
And I guess there’s also an oracle who’s been nabbed up by Tymaret, the Murder King. But we are now up against a group of foul-mouthed minotaurs, whose avatar is Minotaur Skullcleaver. Garruk probably won’t be among them, but they’ll probably maim us all the same.
Theros, Game 2: “Minotaur Stampede”
We can never expect them to reason with us if we use words like “stampede.”
I’m not sure if I can make this entirely clear, but I really like the minotaurs from Theros. They were enjoyable in limited and I even play them in Standard. This could become a conflict of interests as we roll for priority.
We are going second. We’ve lost, like, the last four die-rolls and we won the first three. That’s RNG!
In the third episode, the three of us not only brushed up with defeat for the first time, but we also had to talk through our very first conflict, which came during a mulligan decision. They wanted to keep the hand, and we did — three Forests and mostly white cards. Even with the 12/53 chance of getting one, we didn’t draw a Plains until turn eight. Luckily, Mentor of the Meek stood up and said, “Leave this one to me” and we took down Avacyn from 40 life to win.
This hand was way worse than that one. Sound the theme, Ricky, as it is time to play…
With only two of our worst one-drops and a bunch of lands, it was an obvious mull. But we still spent a few minutes fighting about it, but they gave in to my reasoning. More than likely it’s because I gave them the previous one.
DotP has a weird stance on the mulligan rule. For one, it doesn’t even call it a “mulligan” — it simply gives us two options, “Draw new hand” or “Keep hand.” And the first mulligan is a freebie in that it still gives us seven cards, and we only lose cards if we mulligan more than once. So it means if the opener sucks, it doesn’t hurt too much to grab a $5 box from the local US Post Office and ship it.
Back when I was the target audience for this game, I thought the mulligan rule was unofficial, so I always kept the first seven, regardless. It seemed like taking a mulligan was cheating, for some reason, and nobody told me otherwise.
But this is basically cheating. They don’t want new players to get too swept up in the inherent madness that comes with randomness, whatever — but to me, it would be nice to know the actual rules of Magic. They might say it in the tutorial, which we skipped.
The second seven, for the record, was the type of hand that makes questionable keeps into definite keeps. We had to settle for six, which had just a single castable spell, and they both let me hear their distaste and disagreement in regards to the initial decision. Well, then…
We have a 1-drop, Trained Caracal, a card I didn’t really know the name of but I call it “The Cat.”
Here come the Minotaurs.
Deathbellow Raider is a 2-drop minotaur. For some reason, I didn’t think they’d play anything this early. But he’s far from the last 2/3 we’ll see from this hairy onslaught.
As for us…missing a land drop and placing a Selfless Cathar next to the cat.
Our strategy for this game is pretty underwhelming — use Timberland Guide and Nimbus Wings on our cat. Sure, the cat’s got lifelink, and it chump-blocks like any other small creature, but I’ve tried cutting it out of the deck a few times now. However, it’s Skye’s favorite, even if she hasn’t said that. I just know it is. But the game even points this out as our best shot, and for once, we all agreed.
This can’t work out well for us.
The minotaurs got to toss out another Deathbellow, and we’re pretty outmatched in these early turns. We drew the very important Forest, and with their next turn the minotaurs shoved Borderland Minotaur and its acceptable size to the battlefield. Somehow, probably because we only have about six creatures with 3 power, it seemed we were already eating the minotaur pie.
We’re not exactly used to the other guy being on the offensive this early. And missing our third land drop didn’t help, but Timberland Guide helped us make the cat into a 3/4 and the human even blocked the Borderland Minotaur the next turn. He was given proper payment for his services.
And somehow, because of the cat, we were doing damage to them and we weren’t getting blown up.
After a few turns, the minotaurs were still all over the board in their growly splendor, but we got out our Stomper Cub, another card I never knew the name of. With the beast and its Advocate, we made ourselves a 6/4 to block any of the attacks-this-turn-if-ablers. We sent in the cat to put them at 9 and us at 18. All we needed was some more fodder and the victory would win by itself.
They cast Kragma Warcaller and the humid pits of the planetary crusts nearly seeped from the floor below.
What took place during this turn caused no shortage of controversy between myself, Skye, and Ramzal. I’m more familiar with minotaur cards and I know that without Kragma Warcaller, they’re not too scary. But here he was, they were all attacking, they all got the bonus, we were screwed, totally screwed help!
However, they were looking at the score. Somehow — and I really have to check on exactly how — we had gotten them down to 9 life, and we were at 18, and they were attacking for 26 but we could chump-block 10 of it and still have enough bodies to win with the counterattack.
This “conversation” lasted for approximately five long minutes and can be thoroughly described with only the numbers above. I, very afraid of Sir Warcaller the Bearded, figured the best move was to block him with the only creature big enough under our control, the Stomper Cub, trading the two. That was the only way we could have any way of surviving their next attack step, because doing so through two barrages with that many Warcaller triggers is not easily done or possible.
But I was very stupid for those five minutes and forgot that winning the game is usually the best way to not lose it. Or that they were at 9 life and we could untap and attack for 11. Skye and Ramzal somehow elucidated their altogether plainly evident plan, and we enacted it and won, surprisingly without much of a murmur.
We win, 9 to (-2).
And we get a Theros Booster, with some decent cards that’d really work well in other decks! Arbor Colossus was the rare, and that giant seems leagues above anything the AIs have shown us. I could even teach Skye about Monstrosity. But 3 green…
They also gave us an achievement for gaining 20 life in a single duel, which was again because of the cat. I’ll give her this one… that thing dealt most of the damage and also upped our life by the same amount.
Before this game, I mentioned to the others that we were going to play against minotaurs. Ramzal got a funny look and his face, thinking of the minotaurs from Greek mythology, where they sunk around in labyrinths and did really, really bad things. But in Theros, they’re either a black/red subtype with an emphasis on grouping, or they’re Klingons.
The Minotaur Stampede deck brings up an issue I find with playing the minotaurs in constructed, and that is the type of deck they should be. With low-cost hitters like Deathbellow and Skullcleaver, most see them as aggro. But like I said, the guys just aren’t the same without Kragma Warcaller, and his cost doesn’t fit well into that strategy, even with Ragemonger.
No, the minotaurs excel at big attacks, not frequent attacks. Had they played Rageblood Shaman instead of Pensive Minotaur, we lose that game by large, but to me, it looks like they’re just playing them wrong. However, that is another topic…
With our little hiccup against the minotaurs, our record is now 8-0. “Elder of Tokens” (neither tokens nor Elder of Laurels were featured in the previous game) had held stalwart during the first confrontation with another aggressive deck.
Up next is a picture of a merfolk.
Except that it’s not just any merfolk, it’s Kiora! Hi, Kiora. There is absolutely no plot development in this duel’s description except for the information that Kiora is there and she has sea serpents.
I don’t know much about Kiora. I don’t really know why or what Kiora is doing in Theros aside from rummaging around for giant aquatic behemoths. After Ral Zarek, Kiora is actually the second Planeswalker to be introduced in Duels of the Planeswalkers to get her very own Magic card, and with her, each of the enemy-color pairs had a corresponding Planeswalker get printed.
That’s pretty much all I can say about her. And I learned it from a video with Mark Rosewater.
However, this collector of fine krakens is ostensibly upset with us, and I can’t say I recognize the artwork.
Theros, Game 3: “Ocean’s Might”
I’m guessing if we decline, we would still accept…
The hand is acceptable, which is a relief. No need to quarrel or quip.
Kiora goes first, bringing our die-losing streak to five.
The UG planeswalker puts out an Island and Kraken Hatchling, which is apparently delectable. With the non-wall 0/4 that blocks most of our guys, we put out Spire Tracer, the single-mana elf that doesn’t tap for mana. But she can jump across trees and above the other non-flying or reach creatures, including crabs.
On the second turn, Kiora played a playable card — Spreading Seas, turning our Forest into an Island, or rather a Forest with an aura on it that says it’s an Island. In one of the very few games of paper Magic I played against Skye, she was using her UW Merfolk deck, so we had to laugh at little bit when this card showed up.
Kiora didn’t play anything for a while except for another Kraken Hatchling. Then came the draw of our favorite 3/3 with Hexproof, Primal Huntbeast, but we collectively refer to him only as “Wuffallow.” Nothing gets in his way.
Kiora, by this time, had her second color of mana and used it to cast Peregrination, which not only has some great italic words which are sadly absent from this version, but it’s the first time we’ve encountered that ramp spell. She gets two more Islands, and the way the game handles card revealing is odd.
Better not miss it.
As one could expect, Kiora is building up mana to play a big creature, which I’m guessing will have islandwalk, suggested by the Spreading Seas. But looking at our hand, Angelic Edict will take care of it, and we’ll just attack enough times with Elder of Laurels available to pump.
But I have to question why Kiora went to get more Islands when she only has one green source. I mean, we could play our own Spreading Seas…
The answer is Serpent of the Endless Sea, another in a long line of high-costing blue creatures that can’t attack unless (something or other). Kiora’s Island-centricity is not without rationale, but it’s still something we can Edict all the way out of the game.
A Godhunter Octopus from our opponent. We get it, Ms. Atua. I guess Kiora’s deck in the first Duels of the Planeswalkers game was about ramping into more potent stuff, such as Simic Sky Swallower, AEther Mutation, and freaking Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. But all we’re seeing is commons from her this time around…
And now, one of our better win conditions shows up. Nimbus Wings isn’t really that grand of an aura, but damn, does it fit rightly on a Primal Huntbeast. When Wuffallow attacks in the air, and as long as Elder of Laurels can give him +4/+4, Kiora can play all the Simic Sky Swallowers she wants. It’s all right, but at this point I’ve gotten used to everything this deck can do, and only care about what the other guys are trying to pull.
Kiora played Man-o’-War (probably meant to “slow down” rather than “push back”) and returned the Elder to our hand. We recast the human advisor and at the end of our turn, she played Living Destiny, revealing another Godhunter Octopus to net her a whole 6 life.
She played the Godhunter on the following turn and actually attacked us for 7, but we had the necessary chumps with no islandwalk in the equation to keep it from getting too fishy. Wuffallow did as he does, attacking each turn with the Spire Tracer, and we even had a third aerial threat in Assault Griffin. Kiora couldn’t deal with our flyers. We stared into her eyes and said, “Your move.”
Her response was Downpour, tapping two of our blockers and the Spire Tracer, who was tapped from attacking. It isn’t the first time the AI has cast a spell to tap a tapped creature against us, and when it happened before they did it twice in the same turn. Even if she chose the targets properly, we stick with it and she doesn’t win.
Enough of this…we have a dinner party to catch at Wuffallow Wild Wings.
Jade Mage even made a Saproling token, and by doing so we messed up because it was after activating the ability of the Elder of Laurels, missing out on a critical point of needless damage.
We win, 4 to (-5). They gave us an achievement for doing 20 damage with flying creatures, but more than half of that damage was from the last turn. It also shows us a nasty-looking parrot…
I guess Kiora’s deck might actually win if she’s playing somebody who was hurting for lands or had a similar ramp approach into monsters that aren’t really that good. And in regards to the story, I don’t see how this was important… we must’ve walked up to Kiora to ask if she’s seen Garruk around, and then a water-dragon popped out of a lake.
We are 9-0. DotP 2015 offered a camaraderie test by means of a mediocre take on minotaurs, and Kiora had an off-day or forgot her real deck at home. But it got us some new cards…
The second Booster Pack of the day is alarmingly the same as the one prior to it. A few of the same commons, most of the uncommons, and even the rare are all identical. But receiving another Arbor Colossus makes me reconsider its inclusion into our deck. To make room, we got rid of Seraph of the Masses, whose mana-mass was too bulky and we never actually cast it.
Cool, our deck is the same as it was, but now we have a single Arbor Colossus at the five slot.
Up until now Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 was really missing out on one key element of teaching, and that is exemplifying proper play. They want us to win, and we do, but I have to wonder, if the three of us didn’t understand Magic, what we would actually get out of this Campaign Mode. It seems like opposing decks always run out of cards in hand, and they don’t exactly play too many things that require attention. It’s for beginning players, but one of the best ways to learn involves seeing others play the game well, and there has been nothing resembling that yet.
Heck, I would probably believe this GW deck is unbeatable.
But Garruk is still unaccounted for, and I would be have to believe he hasn’t settled down or sought any psychological assistance, and is definitely using his axe on anybody in his way. It also appears we’re nearly to the boss of this Theros section of the game. We’ll have to find some more (and better) witnesses if we’re going to crack the case!