A few months ago I talked about Duel Decks. They’re a cheap way to play good Magic. The next step up came out: Duels of the Planeswalkers, out on Xbox 360. You get eight theme decks for the price of one, for $10, and it’s packed with features and modes.
The first run at the campaign doesn’t impress: the starting deck is a green stompy deck without much in the way of instants or strategy. If you draw Blanchwood Armor, you’ll probably win.
Once decks start getting unlocked, though, the real fun starts. Like Street-Fighter-Every-Matchup-Is-Different-Fun. As the wins roll in and cards start unlocking, each deck morphs into something new. The white deck starts as a weenie deck and adds huge air threats. The black deck starts as a discard and bleed, then adds strong control. The Jund (Black Red Green) deck starts as an almost tournament-style removal deck and adds huge burning dragons. Matchups change as new cards are unlocked and each deck is analyzed in detail.
Unlocked cards can be added but the base cards can’t be removed, meaning new power cards also the deck fatter. Each card asks the question “Is it better to draw this than another card in the deck?” Deckbuilding isn’t a process of picking the best 10-12 cards in a set, adding 3-4x of each of them, and ignoring the rest.
Online and Cooperative modes work great, which, given the rarity of good online and coop, must be harder to pull off than I’d think. The AI is also better than expected and can make optimal attacking, blocking, and removal decisions, though it can’t bluff and it blows counterspells early. Anything involving the current turn is accurately judged, but the AI will never go into desperation mode and line itself up for a game-winning topdeck.
Now the developers need to milk the hell out of the game. I’m dying to give them more of my money. If I could pick the way to have my money leeched from me, here is what it would be:
- $2 decks (standard 60 card decks with 15 unlocks)
- Each deck adds one new unlock to each of the other decks
- Seamless integration with campaign
- No “Gain 1 life each time a black spell is cast” cards
Wishlist aside, Duels of the Planeswalkers is a perfect bite-size game to play once or twice a day. Now my Gamefly subscription, on the other hand… that’s just addiction.