The metallic and stone buildings cast long shadows on the crowded street, darkening the multicolored garb of the trotters, go-abouters, and hoodlums as they conducted business both legitimate and surreptitious. They seemed to have not even a pretense of interest in me or the object of my search, but in Ravnica, privacy is tied very tightly to personal safety and suspicion is but locking one’s door. I can’t blame them for not caring.
I held the carved stone in my hand, trying to remember what the oracle had told me. “A lone mage staring over a city stretching as far as one can gaze,” or some sort of babble to similar effect. Theros had been nothing but a gateway to here, the city of guilds and the city of guildgates, but as people like me tend to understand, a gateway can lead to many places — almost any place, really.
But I didn’t know if any of them would lead to Garruk.
Last Time on Duels of the Planeswalkers
The Games: The Theros boss duel was against Tymaret, the Murder King and his high number of arguably terrible-for-Constructed zombie creatures. This opened up the way to Ravnica, where in a metaphor about xenophobia, they played Maze’s End. We are supposed to talk with Jace, the Living Guildpact.
Our Deck: GW Tokens, and the game has refused to give us anything else. I know, because the Internet told me, this game allows people to play with the other nine Starter decks, but they have to be “unlocked” at “random” and that kind of “stinks.”
I have nothing more to say about this for right now.
For this week, I’d like to see just how many games I can handle doing all at once. Mostly, in the previous episodes/articles, I’m done after two or three. Today, we’ll try for more.
An Article Regarding Duels of the Planeswalkers #3: Tokens on Display
Ravnica is all about two colors — I’ve always looked at two-colored decks (especially the “enemy colors”) as not necessarily two separate styles doing their normal stuff, but two colors that bring out the more unusual elements of the other, or they find something on which they can agree. For WB, it can be white weenies with removal, the meanest form of control deck, or midrange with mucho life gain.
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts sits on her ornate chair, uncooperative. For this Orzhov match, they went with the Return to Ravnica mechanic of extort, which simulates blackmail by draining life from opponents with every spell, for the price of a black or white mana.
They must know a very dark secret about us…
Ravnica, Game 2: “Orzhov’s Demand”
There wasn’t much in terms of extort creatures getting played in THS/RTR Standard from what I could tell, meaning most of these commonplace cards featuring the ability were unfamiliar to me — Syndic of Tithes and Tithe Drinker for the ground game, Basilica Screecher because cheap 1/2 flyers always seem a lot better than they really are.
But Teysa only wanted to leave it at that, choosing to ignore better cards like Blind Obedience and Gift of Orzhova, instead going with the mundane and DotP-preferred life gain vessels of Staff of the Death Magus and Staff of the Sun Magus, perhaps to ensure that she’ll gain from any land drop.
Except for that one nonbasic called Orzhov Guildgate, which they, being Orzhov, were playing.
Despite the absence of tougher cards, the game was sort of a nailbiter, or it was for me… losing to these A.I.s, when they’re on “Level 1″, would be very dishonorable.
We win, 4 to (-3).
A game feature became an issue for the first time in this match, and it was the automatic land-tapping for which the DotP games are somewhat known. With nine lands, Jade Mage, and no cards in hand, I wanted to activate her ability three times.
However, the “recommended” tapping for the first activation was all three of the Forests, which would prevent any more for the turn. It claims there is a “mana tapping key” and yet there’s no obvious way to look this up with a game in progress.
The Internet lead me to the definition of the mana tapping key — the left control key — and it actually shows all the possibilities for the player to choose, by highlighting, instead of making it possible for someone to click on them (probably because this game is also available on console).
Just a weird little snafu, really. This was the only time it was relevant.
The first lady of the ghost house gives us information — Jace has been known to talk with Emarra Tandris of the Selesnya guild, or as I know her, the woman from the options menu.
Ms. Tandris and Jace seem to have some kind of professional relationship, though it has Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice as the deck’s avatar, and her congregation wants only to keep us away.
Speaking of which, Selesnya and GW Tokens would be a…
Ravnica, Game 3: Selesnya’s Power
Only this mirror was covered in dirt, because not much came from their enviable 1-drop Dryad Militant (there is at least one card with flashback in this game). Stuck on two lands, our Hunt the Weak took out Centaur’s Herald before they could make centaurs, and that’s all they could really do in the time it took for us to wipe them clean off the board.
We win, 16 to (-6).
Feeling a bit sorry for our same-color counterparts, I must believe their deck-plan was similar to ours in terms of token-putting, but using the previous Orzhov game as a guide, they probably employed the RTR guild mechanic, populate. While it’s very unlikely they were packing Voice of Resurgence or anything, I’m sure the have more cards than they showed besides Chorus of Might — Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage seems like a good one for them.
An intriguing creature card popped up in these Return to Ravnica boosters, one I’ve never seen until now. It’s Phantom General, and if I knew more about it, I’d probably say it’d be a great match for our deck — Jade Mage and Raise Alarm would pop out 2/2s and the General itself would draw a card with Mentor of the Meek. Seems like I should try it out, swapping it for an Assault Griffin because they have the same casting cost.
The earthly members of Selesnya did allow us through, and also give some insight as to where Jace is sitting, where he’s probably thinking to himself really hard.
And Jace is the boss of Ravnica, even though he was supposedly going to help us out — the bosses of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 enjoy making players “test their abilities” or in this case, “test their mental fortitudes.”
Ravnica, Game 4/Boss: Jace
We’re just letting him do this, too.
When considering Jace, the only mono-blue planeswalker, the world-renowned mage of minds, and now the very personification of a planetary peace treaty, I can come up with a few ways to form a deck with his name on it — a fistfull of countermagic, maybe a mill deck with a bunch of bounce-spells, or something to do with taking control of our guys.
Since Jace is blue, and blue, as a Magic color, is all about card advantage, disrupting the enemy, annoying the enemy, and possibly making them play “with rage” instead of logic. Not by using straight-up proactivity, but basing their responses from an array of options. Everybody knows what blue can do.
In this game, Jace plays an aggro deck.
Technically, it’s an illusion deck with things like Gossamer Phantasm, AEther Figment, and Illusionary Servant. Ol’ Jace played up his being on the offensive in this match, and he was out of cards long before we were.
Because that seems in-character…
Actually, I almost wonder if Jace was trying to “prepare” us for facing Garruk, who would have a horde of animals and attack a lot — the blue one wouldn’t have access to any genuine mountain lions, so he gave us the next best thing with Phantom Beast.
Or they didn’t want us to play against a control deck. One of the two.
Illusion creatures have very low casting costs for the bodies they have, but their downside comes with their “downside” ability. They cannot be buffed, enchanted, or even equipped, and their opponents can use any card with “target creature” as a removal spell.
Except for we can’t target them with it. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 has an automatic setting to prevent “ill-advised” plays that could result from a misclick, including making oneself lose life, dealing direct damage to one of their creatures — or giving the opponent’s +4/+4.
This is the default setting, and this a boss fight in the main campaign mode where it becomes a huge (a huge) boost to the A.I.-controlled deck. It will almost undoubtedly become an issue for everyone who plays this game. A person can’t change the “simplified targeting option” in-game, either, and are stuck with being semi-helpless with this match if they didn’t know about it prior.
It simply doesn’t permit us to make the play, regardless of the rationale and reality of what cards are involved — we can only remove them with removal spells, making these things basically 3-mana 3/4s with flying.
It took me a few tries to actually win this boss duel. (And I swear it wasn’t because I inadvertently clicked “Skip attack” instead of “Attack with all” when I had a sure, unpreventable victory in hand…no, definitely not…even if the “Continue” arrow and the “Skip Attack” arrow are in the same position and on Magic Online “Attack with all” is on the top of the menu instead of the bottom, that wasn’t what happened at all.)
Jace also has a few Chronozoa for himself, and we can’t beat the card if we’re using Angelic Edict on his earlier plays because we can’t use Nimbus Wings on his creatures when it would force him to sacrifice them! Or Timberland Guide turning into a mini Shriekmaw!
I hate to complain, but I really wanted to scream. Grr!
I suppose in a very meta sort of way, Jace was being himself, finding my inner weaknesses and exploiting them repeatedly. Nice going, Jace of Spades!
We win (after a slight delay).
Jace gives a booster pack and an “enchanted trinket” that serves as an apologetic candy bar.
But better yet, he gives us the game’s second cutscene, which you can watch here.
In the short video, Jace deals up some intelligence about reaching Garruk, but he also tells us things have gotten a tad worse — Garruk, unchecked, could become so delusional and hungry he may, in fact, destroy literally everything.
Now, like in many detective stories, we’re no longer merely cracking a case and have fallen into a much deeper plot. They’ve given us a new objective, which is saving all the worlds.
Garruk is also “hunting” us as well (which they told us upon unlocking Ravnica). Maybe this will be enacted with random boss battles against him, in which he’ll use Green-Black decks that grow in strength over the course of the game. That would not be so bad! Recurring bosses can be interesting.
He’s also in Shandalar, origin of the Chain Veil and the curse afflicting him.
The Next Plane: Shandalar
I know back some years, Shandalar was the place for the Magic Microprose game. They haven’t yet based any complete sets off this plane, but they’ve mentioned it on Magic 2015 cards, too.
The Chain Veil was made by the Onakke, a subsociety of ogres who probably want nothing more than to be supreme rulers, and they can be found here.
These locales seems to spew classic Magic — “a time when men were men, and elves were elves!” — and from the perspective of a relatively green and new player, this should be cool to experience.
Shandalar, Game 1: Storm the Castle
Oh, hey…there’s some people shouting over there.
Both they and we were playing Raise the Alarm, and only one of us had a way to get rid of the other’s anthem effects.
We win, 5 to (-3).
A Shandalar booster pack isn’t really a thing.
But what it means is “Magic 201X Core Set.” It’s looking like Phantom General is going to need to be a 2-of, at least, with the third Raise the Alarms here. I was beginning to believe we were never going to find more copies of it or Triplicate Spirits!
We put both in our deck, getting rid of Nimbus Wings because it doesn’t trigger Mentor of the Meek twice.
The map of this area should show the road to the ogre hideout, and that’ll make us one step ahead of Garruk.
Shandalar, Game 2: Slivers
Okay, guess not! It’s great when games do that…
The newest Slivers deck may not get/have gotten a lot of exposure in big tournaments or been considered anything more than Tier 2 or 3, but in the casual rooms of Magic Online, it was a well-established archetype, pre-rotation at least. I have played many games against these collective sons-of-Hive Queens, to where my excitement for the matchup is basically nil.
They got Sentinel Sliver and Striking Sliver to go with Belligerent Sliver and Predatory Sliver. They all give each other what they have and eventually only their base power and toughness set them apart.
For once, what the GW Tokens were doing was very much more important.
After adding the extra copies of Raise the Alarm and Phantom General, I figured the deck would be a little more focused and a little less unpredictable (which I mean as a con in this case). I didn’t expect it to do this.
With the Slivers having no removal, and despite each of them having the “Can only be blocked by two or more creatures” ability (several times over), they just kind of sat there and stared at us, because both Phantom General made it out and Mentor of the Meek drew cards from all but one of the Raise the Alarm (because, by then, the soldiers were 3/3s), and suddenly, they stood in two long rows, and the multicolored creature type was outnumbered, outclassed, and outmanned. In almost every sense…
Selfless Cathar ensured an inevitable alpha strike was in-play, and when he entered the battlefield, triggering the Mentor’s nurturing ability, he drew us Triplicate Spirits, which was cast for no mana whatsoever.
It was almost as though I was playing a practice game with only myself, and the deck showed me this unfeasible situation in which everything, every rip, every play, made the next one more impactful and the previous ones stand truer than before. Without interruption, they could do this, and that meant a lot — a full lot, to be exact. They called out to me… the stacked house was entirely able to be done.
It was a party, a curtain-call. The Mentor sent out the invitations and everyone showed up. I had to smile at it.
Elder of Laurels‘s ability gave +16/+16 that game.
We win, 20 to (we’ll just say 0).
This was the farewell face-smash of the GW Tokens deck initially called “Heed the Call.” It only seems joyfully fit to see all of them make it out for one last match, and for it to be such a victory only shows it was improving all the while.
Because by means of playing through the Ravnica and Theros “Explore” games, we mysteriously unlocked not just one, but three of the additional starter decks, and we’ll have to play with one of them now.
I’m pretty sure we did so by simply having all the single cards that go in those decks, the ones that would have been granted had we selected them in beginning of the game — meaning that we are, in fact, creating decks out of Boosters, and I’m not against that so much.
And checking out the wide number of decent cards we’ve (ahem) gathered up along the Campaign, they’ll even be prime for positive changes.
However, the new decks definitely have a high bar to hurdle.
Thank you, old friend. Until our next match!
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015, when Magic Online is available, is probably just a feeble gateway into real Magic, and I’m not exactly sure if it’s better for new players or players who stopped playing a decade or so ago. I’ve heard of super-old-school Magic players getting back into the swing of things after downloading DotP on their XBox 360, fueled by memories of dinner tables and after-hour sessions during middle school.
That makes more sense than the game being the sole instructor for someone entirely unaware of the rules. I don’t know how many times I can express this.
It’d be nice if the plot was more involved, and maybe they could branch it off, giving players different routes through the campaign. Side quests granting a complete set of high-value rares that could only be earned by those means… more special challenge games that would utilize untold strategies…a tournament one could enter that would be different every time.
Like Magic itself, this series almost has limitless possibilities. All I’ve been doing is playing mundane matches against intentionally sub-optimal A.I.s.
But (and this is an attribute of games of below-average quality, in general) it is more acceptable when a person plays it for longer stretches, such as the few hours I did before writing this article. Before this week, I would do, at most, an hour at a time, and it only seemed less entertaining when I wasn’t playing it, which actually made it more a drag.
For this one, I sort of enjoyed it, which only makes my criticisms more firm. Duels of the Planeswalkers isn’t a bad idea, basis, or concept — it’s only failing to meet its potential.
Bonus: Camera Angles
I just want to mention this as well — Duels of the Planeswalkers has a button where a person can switch the camera to the opponent’s side, and the animation is sort of sweet.
But not really that practical!
It also has a farther-away top-down angle that makes it look like playing Magic Online from another room, and I have no idea why.