(Let’s Play) An Article Regarding Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 #2

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Accepting the fact one is playing Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is an important first step to the actualization of getting something out of it, at least I tell myself this every so often.

The game may be not-exactly-incredibly-enthralling and has even seemed unfit for being a surrogate teacher of Magic, but I have to look at it from a critical point, that of both a critic and a pointer. As it is, of course, I’d rather be playing MTGO, with cards that I actually own and with people that are actually people.

I must also remember Mentor of the Meek is with me.

And because Garruk, Apex Predator, must be apprehended, and for whatever reason, we’re the only ones who can round up the caller of the beasts.

We are in Theros, where Garruk (according to a coin) ran off after he killed some people, and where a seer of some kind, our best shot at tracking him, is currently being held captive by a zombie. You can run, Garruk!

Last Time on Duels of the Planeswalkers


The Games: Minotaurs went on the offensive and Kiora Atua was insistent about us seeing her sea serpents. We beat both of these decks and are now faced with the “Boss Duel” of Theros.

Our Deck: GW Tokens because we haven’t unlocked the other Starter Decks or enough single cards to play anything else.

Convoking and tokening is what it does. Sometimes. I also managed to get a tremendously beneficial second copy of Mentor of the Meek, but I can get to that after we rescue a psychic we don’t really care about.

And before I get too far ahead of myself, I am playing these games by myself for these few rounds, as my friends Ramzal and Skye had other things to worry about. This would, hypothetically, give me a more solid grasp on how Duels of the Planeswalkers actually “plays” rather than how it appears to play, and maybe even simulate its ability to teach without anyone chiming in from elsewhere.

Nothing too wrong could go wrong.

Article Regarding Duels of the Planeswalkers #2: Ghouls, Gates, and More Ghouls


Tymaret, the Murder King, is the only game left in Theros. My guess is he’ll have a RB deck with a heavy sacrificial theme, probably some Act of Treason or if they feel like keeping with the Greek-iness, Portent of Betrayal.


He empathizes with Garruk, doesn’t give a crap about us, and claims we’ll have to hit him upside his golden mask in order to know where the hell to go next (ignoring the visible “Ravnica” icon in the back).

Theros, Game 4/Boss: “Army of the Returned”


Well, whatever…we’ll just win, then.

The Murder King does indeed brandish his own colors. I wonder…I really do…if he’ll play himself.

Our opening hand said two things — if no Forests, then lands and flyers, one of which was Triplicate Spirits. The AI-controlled decks don’t really storm out on the first turn, so if it takes a few turns to get Assault Griffin and three spirits out, no biggie.

Especially if we draw…anything but Plains!

And we drew a Plains.


Tymaret’s opening play was a Turn 2 Fleshmad Steed, a funny little creature card that totally escaped my recollection and has decent flavor.

And we drew more Plains.

The Tymaret deck was, like their leader, Red-Black Zombies. I didn’t see anything but zombies but nothing to really make their common rotting qualities important. Cards like the Steed and Forsaken Drifters just made me believe there would be something, perhaps a Necromancer’s Stockpile…I don’t know, anything!

When the Assault Griffin made it to the board a few turns later, it was met with a Lightning Strike, only the second time we’ve seen an instant-speed removal spell. DotP 2015‘s Lightning Strike is certainly a spectacle, making it look like Sailor Jupiter’s powers were being used by Rainbow Dash, with very colorful bolt effects.


(not shown: colorful bolt effects)

Even the meager attacks from the Theros and Born of the Gods commons posed a problem. The Assault Griffin could have traded with them, at least, but with somewhat effective Magic being played…we were behind.

Behind, I say!

Mentor of the Meek had shown up by now and there was a high-tension turn when I put him on the board with no means of protection. If it paid off, we could bring this all the way back.


Tymaret upped the ante with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and even with only four devotion, the GW Tokens were at the “The next Gray Merchant will end the game” position that comes up somewhat frequently but not so much these days.

However, the Gray Merchant being cast meant the Mentor was still there. Triplicate Spirits suddenly became a sorcery with casting cost 4WW — “Tap target creature you control. Put three 1/1 white spirit creature tokens on the battlefield. Draw a card.”


Pretty good.

The zombie warriors must have been regretting their decision to use their only Lightning Strike on the 3/2 with flying, as the Mentor would go on to draw about five or six cards. Our opponent appeared to have “flooded out” and while making land drops is good, allowing us to put about eight creatures on the board is only good for one thing.

It’s great for us.

But the Gray Merchant clock was ticking. Just how many turns can one get before its trigger drains us of our 4 life, I asked myself. Either we took them down as soon as we could, or a Lone Missionary could grant us an extra attack, or we would lose.

And surprisingly enough, we didn’t need to gain any sort of life at all.

We drew Selfless Cathar, who said every one his prayers and by activating his noble ability, he made our attack increase to the point where we had risen well above the disastrous denizens of the deadlands.


We win, 4-0.

Theros is ours! Or at least we can leave now. To my disdain, in the four Theros games, they only showed us two RB decks and the two others were both based on giant creatures.


This “oracle”…um, takes her medicine and the resulting vision from beyond her temporal surroundings shows us Ravnica, and a slab of rock with a blue encryption on it.

Now, in order to stop Garruk, we have to find Jace. To make gains, one must make other gains first, I suppose.

More about this duel…

When someone does a Google search for Tymaret, the first auto-suggestion is “Tymaret the Burger King.” I’m disappointed I had never heard of that until “researching” his card.

While Tymaret only played four cards against us, due to the “browse graveyard” button and Forsaken Drifters, I got to look at bit more at his deck.


Burn and zombies…

Maybe there was a point to all these, like, it could have been weakly trying to be midrange and wear us down with the Gray Merchant life-swings, which could be deemed “too strong” for these lowly matches. Fortunately, their deck eventually hit a wall and couldn’t close us out, so it would appear…


Nothing amazing in the Booster Pack we get, though Reprisal number two could become necessary at some point. But Theros is over, and surely the Bluest of the Beleren will catch us up on his shaggy, vengeful colleague.

Before moving on to the urbs, I really wanted to find out if we could play a new deck of cards. The possibility standing out to me most was Red-Black with some Heroic and some direct damage, but trying to get sixty (or thirty-six) cards together just from the Booster Packs they gave out would have forced me to play multiple Asphodel Wanderer. I think that one is not quite ready to be used.

I don’t really want to try the green or the white with a different color, either. The change would be very similar to our current lineup, and would probably be a tad bit worse.


But I’ll say this as quickly as I can. Duels of the Planeswalkers doesn’t handle too poorly as a video game.


Players are given everything they need to play a somewhat realistic game of Magic. Non-main phases and some instances of the stack are based on a timer (the purple bars) of about two or three seconds. However, when a card is first shown, it is actually not on the stack yet (it is merely being declared) — only when it floats above the center of the board is it able to be responded to, and while all of it may seem cumbersome, it gives one enough opportunity to think about their next move before the timer begins.

The timer can also be paused whenever one chooses. There is a very gratifying “Attack with All” feature and also “Withdraw with All.” To activate an ability, the card is given a super closeup and it is a simple matter of pressing “Activate Ability.”


Gracias, mi amigo.

The newer games in the series are famed for allowing players to manually tap their mana as they wish. I haven’t run into much trouble just having the game decide for me, but they do give the option when it’s relevant.

Similarly practical is the blatant truth that when someone doesn’t have any cards or abilities they can do (such as when all their land is tapped), the game moves on without having to ask them if it’s “OK”. This is probably the biggest difference when the game is pitted against Magic Online.

Even with having never played a Duels of the Planeswalkers game, I was able to do everything right away and didn’t run into the problem of taking too much time. That was their intent, and for me, someone who knows the rules and whatnot, it succeeded as such.

Whether it could show the complexities and basics of the Magic to someone with no prior experience, that’s another inquiry.


The Next Plane: Ravnica
I’ll be honest… whatever has happened in Ravnica, over all the sets that took place there, is very much entirely new for me. Sure, I do understand a little about all the Guilds and their identifying marks, but there’s no way I understand the reasons they are fighting or who that Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is (but I could reasonably guess he owns a maze) or anything about the storylines or why Desecration Demon wasn’t scrapped in the early stages of development.


In fact, most everything I could say about Ravnica was almost solely deduced from Spell Snare and Abrupt Decay.

But, perhaps, I will find out more as we scour the alleyways and Guildgates for any hint we can use to keep on Garruk’s tail. However, having taken so long… he’s probably not even here anymore, but Jace, the Living Guildpact (referred by name, no less!) can give us a hand. We just have figure out where he is first.


Ravnica, Game 1: “Search the City”


“So, uh, you guys know where Jace is?” said the wimpy investigator.

The first game of the new section seems like a big challenge — due to their dislike of all non-natural-born Ravnicans, we need to fight the whole City of Guilds. And it surely must involve all five colors and each of the ten guilds will find a cause for unification, but that cause is beating us up! We’ll try our luck, even if the numbers say we haven’t a chance.


And… it’s a Maze’s End deck… I guess when they said we have to defeat all of Ravnica they actually meant it. And the Maze’s End, for whatever reason, doesn’t sit in the land pool, but rather slightly off to the side (where they tend to put enchantments).

It must be there as a reminder.

The Maze’s End deck, of course, tries to win games by collecting each of the Guildgate lands from the Return to Ravnica sets. In the previous Standard, most incarnations of this archetype bring along a fistfull of Fog effects to make it so the opponent and their large number of creatures basically do not matter after a while.

I swear if this deck plays Fog on me I’ll toss something out the window.

But, this Maze’s End deck decided to play creatures for itself, ones that have some interaction or extra effect that dealt with the gate subtype. Gatecreeper Vine is the one I was most familiar with, but with all ten colors they probably had a whole bunch of those things. Gateway Shade maybe, Greenside Watcher could be in there, and there’s even the possibility of Hold the Gates or Crackling Perimeter.


The only ones I came across were Sunspire Gatekeepers and Saruli Gatekeepers. Nevertheless, our GW deck has a good matchup when it comes to control-ish strategies relying on a small number of blocking creatures.

…unfortunately, even when I had enough creatures and a big Assault Griffin (from the efforts of Timberland Guide), I held back for a second and actually considered if attacking was really correct. They could play a Fog or two and we might actually not be able to get them down quickly enough…they even had the telling single untapped land.


It was an Orzhov Guildgate. No alternative wins today, I reckon.

We win, 20-0.

I don’t even think they activated the Maze’s End fetch-a-land ability once (I don’t even remember if they tapped it for mana). There could be a weird thing because Duels of the Planeswalkers wanted players to know about this odd, little special land, so they just had it sitting there.

Maybe I should’ve played around the (questionable pun that is) Congregate. Giving them that much life all at once could have really hampered us. But a win is a Booster Pack in DotP, and we etched another fifteen cards of victory for ourselves.


Our first Ravnica Booster. (And my very first Ravnica booster of any kind, actually.)


They gave us four copies of the same common — a land. It’s also a Guildgate. It’s also Selesnya Guildgate, and we’re playing GW…and that means this Booster Pack has given us a full set of on-color nonbasics.

I don’t care if they enter the battlefield double-tapped, I’m cool with that.


The rare was Monomania and I wanted to giggle.

After two more games, we have accumulated four new cards, and they’re all Selesnya Guildgates which went right into our mana base. The GW Token deck has 10 Planes, 10 Forests, and 4 Selesnya Guildgates and when I say that, now it sounds worse than it is.

But it sort of works out, for us. All we need is one of a few green or white strategies to be drawn and evidently nothing can really beat us.

The opponents’ decks are kind of (“kind of”) showing us a few things that can be done in Magic, but they’re more worried about making new players win at the same time.

I have now tried out Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 the way a newbie probably would, sitting by myself and playing all these AIs in the Campaign Mode. It doesn’t feel like paper Magic or Magic Online, really, as there’s less freedom and less appreciation from and for the other side — and for some reason I actually feel a small amount of pity for them, the opponents in this game, because they’re bridled and leashed, unpermitted to play as well as they actually can.

Even having no one to talk with in-game got me down. I can’t type “good game, man” after taking down Tymaret, or send the opponent accommodation for attempting to pull off Maze’s End. I don’t care if Magic is inherently hostile, or designed to cause some manner of strife among two to four people, the game is best when played with others, of any level of skill or any size of collection.

Compared to this game, I’d much rather play with someone else. I’m not sure if Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 really can simulate the same social aspect the other forms of the game have, because even with the awful conversations I have had over a game of Magic, I was still doing something with another person. Playing a game, having an okay time, talking about whatever.

The quality of cards is a precaution to refrain from overwhelming the new guys, but I’ve seen people learn the rules of Magic by playing with tournament-style decks, and against them as well. Not saying that’s good or bad, but it’s possible. There’s just something about being with another person to help one figure out this frustrating and magnificent game called MTG, leaving me wanting for at least some interaction of any sort. Whatever plot this game may have isn’t improving the experience, either.

Maybe the only way to do this is to have Duels of the Planeswalkers give the player a “partner,” a guy or girl who can sit beside them as they play, provide the voice-acted tutorials and also act as their advisor when appropriate. Or just say “Nice hit!” or “Bummer, dude!” or “Hey, listen!” Or have the opponents actually say things (like that other online card game that’s really popular). It’d take some work to pull off, but it’d be better than this, and if it were bad and embarrassing and terribly done, it’d still be better than this.

That’d said, were such sounds in this game, I probably would have turned them off.

Ahem! The probability of Garruk being in Ravnica may be slim, at best, but I can imagine Jace will be willing to assist in our inexplicable mission to bring justice to the rogue (druid) planeswalker. And if we don’t, well, we can still get some better cards.

Just below, there is more of this article that details some of the extra matches that can be had, in which I lose a game. But it is time for some direct questions.

Duels of the Planeswalkers is in need of a few adjustments, it seems to me. What sorts of things can be done to improve it? If the gameplay is okay enough, what can they do to make it more enjoyable and engaging? It’d be cool to hear what others have to say about it.

Did I mention they gave me an achievement for drawing three cards off Mentor of the Meek in a game? Because they sure did.

Bonus: “Explore Innistrad”

After looking something up, it turns out Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 has more games for us to play, and by “us” I mean me when nobody else is around. The “Explore” section of each plane is not just a single game unnecessary for advancement, but it offers more decks to win against and more packs to receive upon beating them.


In Innistrad, there were four other decks.


- Flights of Fear (UW Spirits) With Geist of Saint Traft as its avatar, it played only spirit creatures such as Geist of the Moore and Niblis of the Mist, clearing their way with irritating cards like Crippling Chill.


- Spider Tangle (Gb Spiders) Reach was all around in cards such as Grappler Spider and, as expected, Giant Spider (this gives them a good matchup with the previous spirits deck). It seems to be two colors due to Spider Spawning, but I saw Forests almost exclusively whenever they played Mulch.


- Undying Hordes (GB Undying) It probably doesn’t really have Geralf’s Messenger, just Manor Skeleton to block and regenerate; Sightless Ghoul was there as well. Didn’t catch much (or any green cards) from this deck, but they did have a Woodland Cemetery, the second time we’ve seen a two-color land from the opponent.


- Mad Science (UB Mill-Yourself) Laboratory Maniac serves as its logo and its win-condition. Thought Scour seemed like its means of getting cards into the graveyard, and it also had Counterlash, the first AI-controlled countermagic we’ve come across, perhaps to keep the Maniac in the game.

It also had a boss deck.


- Liliana (Mono-Black Discard) Ms. Vess was the boss of the Explore Innistrad section, and her deck had a bunch of cards with her namesake — Liliana’s Caress, Liliana’s Specter — and cards with her quotes, like Unmake the Graves (which she used to get my discarded Arbor Colossus on her side). With only Swamps, she had some Corrupt to make the game longer, a neat variety of control.


The point of these games is earning extra Booster Packs and thereby extra cards. After getting two Séance in a row and seemingly making these games all the more needless, this is how I got the second Mentor of Meek, which made it all better. By beating Liliana, they also gave us a “totally special” Booster Pack that had four bonus rares (two of which were Creepy Doll and the other two were Nightmare, amusingly enough).

The “Explore” games are DotP‘s style of extended leveling-up — usually just called grinding — and personally, that doesn’t bother me too much. Some of my favorite video games are older RPGs, where it’s entirely required to spend a few hours walking in a circle, fighting countless enemies to gain more experience points — perhaps that has gotten me used to seemingly monotonous combat for the sake of eventually being tough enough to stomp over the next boss.

As this game has no official level scale or EXP, they dish out the next best thing with the Boosters, but cannot really ensure an improved deck by doing so. But still, I kind of liked being able to go through those games however many times I wanted, with the above decks rotating around after I successfully beat each of them.

It was here that we (or rather, just I) lost our first game, against the UW Spirit deck that took advantage of my land-heavy draw by using Spectral Prison and Spectral Possession (somehow) to totally blank me, 20-0. This defeat was after I got by Liliana’s deck, and apparently the AI turned up the hate, probably quadrupling the challenge.

The “Lose” screen is the same as the “Win” screen but it turns grey.


The definition of “challenge” in DotP is evidently a number of the various aspects within the game of Magic. The “harder” AIs have tighter decision-making abilities and their speed quickens, indeed, but there’s another thing, as well…

They draw better.

This was quite obvious when Saint Traft’s ghost was tapping down and flying over me without even the slightest of hesitation. Every turn he either played another beater-down from the sky or made it so I could neither attack nor block, and he even had cards left over. This never happened in any previous duel, not even close.


I mean, I don’t mind it. There’s no enjoyment in a win if there’s no resistance.

Even the UB Mill deck gave me a hard time, nearly getting rid of all its cards (somehow) and only allowed the GW Tokens just a single turn to finish the game before they did. (For the record, nothing seems quite indicative of madness than playing three Laboratory Maniacs at the same time.)


Everyone enjoys opening Boosters, even if they’re fake. Whether or not these are crucial to making one’s deck as good as possible is unknown, at least it’s unknown to me, but this little optional session wasn’t really that dull of an hour and was certainly better than paying the $5 or whatever to purchase the whole set of individual cards.


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