The Decks of Magic: The Duels of the Planeswalkers

Recently, I found this post among the old drafts of my blog. I was trying to write a longer post on the decks of Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers back when I was first playing it. Coincidentally, I recently returned to the game to play the DLC. Even though the post is not complete, it helped me to get back into the game. It offers some good overall advice on the original decks in the game. I don’t have the time / knowledge to complete the post so if you have any card-based advice on the decks I haven’t talked about in detail, feel free to post them in the comments. I think it’s still a useful recourse I’d rather not see get wasted:

I already mentioned how I enjoyed the recent XBLA port of Magic: The Gathering. This time around, I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts I had on the available decks. If you never played the game or are not interested in Magic, you can safely skip this one.

Before we get into the decks, here are two thing I seen done frequently wrong playing with others online:

  • Play your creatures in your second main phase. Lots of people do as the computer AI does which is they play their creatures BEFORE they attack. Except in some rare cases (like when the creature has Haste or in the Elf deck) it doesn’t give you an advantage. On the contrary, they are more reasons to play creatures AFTER your attack. You will have mana free to do tricks during combat and your opponents will have a harder time blocking since they don’t know what kind of creatures they will need to deal with on their turn. Don’t be a noob. Try to get into the habit of playing your creatures after combat.

  • Don’t use the life-giving artifacts. Each deck unlocks a bunch of artifacts that give you a life point when you play a spell of a certain color. They suck! Don’t use them. Remove them from your deck. Life points won’t win the game for you, they just prolong the losing. Yes, there are cases where this can make a difference, especially in mirror matches, but in an overwhelming majority, you would prefer to have any other card from your deck instead. Again, don’t be a noob, don’t use those cards.

The Green Beast Deck

This is the deck you start off with. It’s a good choice. The deck plays almost itself. There are only few choices you need to make when you play. Even then, you can still overwhelm enemies quite easily, especially in 4-player matches when the game goes on long enough for you to bring out the big creatures. But after going through ALL of the decks, I realized that the deck has one big flaw: there are no removal spells what so ever. This can be very annoying, especially against the green/black elf deck when they bring out the Champion and all elves become unblockable with no way for you to surgically remove the culprit. And then, looking at the creatures, they have some excellent ones but for some reason, they mostly lack trample which is such an advantage of green decks. There are some cards to bring trample back into play but they are too rare. I guess it makes sense for a beginner’s deck. This way trample feels much more exclusive and important. So while I enjoyed playing this at beginning, I moved on to other decks later on. If you play this, here are some of the cards you need to watch out for.

  • Giant Growth: The classic. This is your only way to trun the stakes in combat in your favor. And PLEASE don’t waste these to pump up unblocked creatures for extra 3 points of damage to your opponent. I know the AI does that and it’s silly. It’s much wiser to keep them in your hand and wait for an opportunity to get rid of an enemy blocker. Use it for extra damage only if your opponent is SO low on health that it would win you the game. Btw: the proper way to use this is after the blockers have been declared. Don’t use it before your opponent blocked, and CERTAINLY don’t use it before you even attack.

  • Troll Ascetic: It might surprise you but this guy is one of your BEST creatures. Why? Well, for starters, 3/2 for 3 mana is ok. If that creature regenerates for 2 mana, that’s pretty good. It means he won’t die in combat as long as you have 2 mana ready. Makes attacking easier. Makes him a great blocker, too. If that creature can’t be the target of you opponent’s spells, that makes him INDESTRUCTIBLE. Seriously. Well, he can still die from things like Wrath of God but if you are careful, he will stay with you for a long time. Just make sure you always have 2 mana when you go into combat with him. Oh, and the proper way to do regeneration is to use it in the last moment, when blockers have been declared and you are sure that he will die otherwise. Protip: Against a Moonglove Winnower, you need to regenerate TWICE. Once for 2 damage, second time for Deathtouch.

  • Overrun: This is one of your game-winners. If you got this one on your hand, alway keep track of how much damage you would deal in an attack. The mean thing about this card is that it gives each of your creatures Trample. This means that blocking your big guys with small creatures won’t help. This is a very powerful card that can win the game earlier than you think. In some cases it makes sense to use it even if it isn’t quite to kill your opponent. Just the fact that they have to waste creatures to block your guys can be the decisive advantage already.

  • Blanchwood Armor: This is your second game-winner. Put this on any of your creatures to turn it into the the game-winning killer machine. It’s very cheap and your creature will grow as you gain more forests. A super good target for this one is the Troll Ascetic but against flying decks, a Giant Spider is a good choice as well. Don’t hesitate to use this one early. Using it on heavy hitters later in the game may be too late and the heavy hitters are strong enough already.

  • Giant Spider: This one is not bad at all! It’s a good blocker for once. But even more importantly, it’s your ONLY way to deal with flying creatures. So against White and ESPECIALLY blue, take good care of this one!

The Red Removal Deck

One word: Pathetic. Red spells are good for dealing direct damage to various targets. Red creatures are known to be cheap and fast. In combination you can construct decks that win even before the opponent even started playing. However, this deck has just way to little direct damage cards and some disappointingly weak creatures. It needs to be played properly and even then you still need a lot of luck. There is also a considerable lack of “game winners”, cards that can totally change the situation. I advice to stay away from this one. If you do try it, here are the cards you probably want to pay attention to.

  • Lava Axe, Blaze: Ok, these can be game-winners. But you need to use them to do just that: win the game. Don’t use them if you can’t kill your opponent. You want to make them believe they can afford to loose a few life points and then get a surprise victory them by playing one of these. On the other hand, given how little removal this deck has, don’t be afraid to use Blaze on pesky creatures.

  • Prodigal Pyromancer: Hands down, one of the best creatures you have. A red deck should be full of those guys. They can do everything. They will kill small pesky Elves (and especially Youthful Knights). They can singlehandedly kill a 2er creature (block and use ability before damage begins). In worst case, they will eat away at your opponents life points. Here is the proper way to use them: Play the ability AFTER your opponent attacked. So wait until the very last moment with this ability. This gives you the best possible choice. You will see the new creatures you opponent played on their turn, you can finish off creatures damaged in combat. You can even use the Pyromancer himself to block (and shoot at something for the last time), even though this would be a last-resort situation. Oh, and if this guy bites the dust via a removal spell, always remember to counter that by using the ability to shoot one last time before he goes!

  • Incinerate, Shock: These are your standard direct damage spells. In most cases, you will want to use them to remove the opponent’s creatures in order to pave the way for your guys. Don’t waste these to damage your opponent directly, UNLESS you see a way to kill him off. Sadly, you don’t have too many of them so make them count!

  • Lightning Elemental: One guy told me once that it is a good idea to think of this creature as a disposable direct-damage. Keep him in your hand until your enemy has nothing to block. Get him out and attack at the same turn. Bam, 4 life points gone just like that. Afterwards, he can still kill a creature in an attack or block something huge. Pretty useful fellow. This one is the reason why I prefer to leave behind at least one blocker when attacking against red.

  • Gobblin Sky Rider, Gobblin Spiker, Raging Gobblin: A few words on your creatures. They suck! Don’t hold on to them. They won’t win the game in the long run. Be super-aggressive. Try to attack each turn, if possbile. Go for 1:1 creature trades. Chances are that your creatures are worse so a trade is often a better deal for you. The idea is to keep the opponent from establishing an army by removing everything he puts into play.

The White Weenie Deck

The idea of “white weenies” is to make a deck full of small cheap creatures and lots of cards to buff them up. Ideally, the creatures would have some abilities that would make them especially good targets for buffing up. This particular deck is a very satisfying execution of that formula and one of my favorites from the game. And I don’t even like white. For a change, the choice of creatures is good! There are also a lot of nice responses for various game situations and even quite a lot of “you win the game” setups. Here are some cards to watch out for.

  • Youthful Knight: He may not look like much but this guy is one of the workhorses of your deck. And he is not too shabby! 2/1 first strike means your opponent need at least a creature with */3 to do something against him. That will buy you some time. And he gets even better when he blocks with other Youthful Knights or get some stat boosts.

  • Glorious Anthem: Maybe not a game-winner by itself but close. +1/+1 can mean serious business. Turns Suntail Hawks into Phantom Warriors for decks with poor flying defense. Turns Youthful Knights into… BETTER Youthful Knights. If you get several of those out, it may mean goodbye for your opponent.

  • Angelic Blessing: Contrary to popular belief, not as great. It’s theoratically Gian Growth with flying but the problem here is that it is a Sorcery. This means that you have to use it before you attack. You also can’t use it for blocking. Using it on a large creature would be cool but all your large creatures have flying anyway. It can be great in a Double-Headed Giant game, though. Otherwise, you still can use it for an extra 3 damage but it shouldn’t have high priority if you have alternatives. Better get some more dudes out. Protip: Try with Skyhunter Skirmsher. Doublestrike means twice the effect. Outch!

  • Pacifism: Your standard removal. Nice and strong! Just keep in mind that it doesn’t work against the special abilities of creatures. So sadly, it won’t work against a Elvish Champion. Also, it can be reversed by a simple Boomerang or Naturalize in a most infortunate moment. Still, it’s a valuable spell you should keep for a nasty creature.

  • Holy Day: Sadly, it’s the only real surprise you have. Play it and it’s like combat never happened. Can be used either to block without blocking (great to rescue yourself from an Overrun) or as a undo-button if an attack goes wrong (”were did that Giant Growth come from?!”). In any case, don’t waste this and keep it for a good occasion. Saving one mana should be easy. Remember to use it AFTER blockers have been declared. You want the enemy to spend as much mana and spells as possible before you break up the party. Protip: Cool combo with Goldenglow Moth. Block and Holy Day. You will recieve life points but the Moth survives.

  • Holy Strenght: Not as good as unholy strength but can still cause some serious Trouble. Put it on a Suntail Hawk to build yourself a Phantom Warrior against decks with weak flyer defense. Or buff up that Youthful Knight to make him a SERIOUS creature for little mana.

The Blue Counter Deck

I was never really into blue but this deck made me change my mind. Which I think is also because of the easy pickup-and-play nature of the XBLA game. It’s the deck to chose if you enjoy long, complicated games. You aren’t guaranteed to win but if using your brain is your thing, you will have a great time anyway. The deal is to hold of your enemy off with counters and other mean tricks while you build up an army of flying or unblockable creatures that pick away into victory. In oder to pull this off, you have a few means to draw some extra cards. Because to play this deck right, you want to make sure to have a counter in you hand when the enemy’s game winner comes into play. Here are the most important cards.

  • Cancel, Remove Soul, Negate: Ok, these are your tools. Learn them. The cheaper ones are spell-specific. The more expensive one is more universal but more expensive. Important: As soon as you have enough mana, try to always leave at least two (or three) lands untapped in order to be able to respond to threats. Opponents will see if you tapped out and will play nasty spells exactly when you can’t do jack. As long as you do more damage per turn than your opponent, there is no reason to tap out. Also, don’t just blindly counter everything. Always ask yourself if you think you will regret it if you let that spell play out.

The Black Deck

I saw a lot of people play this deck online. I don’t get why. I think it’s pretty weak. It seems to lack focus. There are a couple of ways to make your enemy discard. There are also a couple of ways to slowly eat away at their life points. The idea seems to be to set up a “discard and lose live points”-combo but the cards to pull that off are too expensive and rarely work out. So you will set up small life-point nibblers and hope that all the card discarding stalls your enemy enough them to die before they can do something against you. Your creatures are ok but almost no real game winners.

The Green/Black Elf Deck

The idea of Elves is that they often get extra advantages if other Elves are in play. Elves decks are full of such Elves. This is a decent elf deck. It is full of “you win the game” cards, has plenty of removal and descent creatures. Might be the best deck in the game. The only problem is that it can be a bit slow. And if you don’t draw that killer combo, you will be stranded with a bunch useless weenies.

The White/Red/Green Deck

I have no idea what this deck is supposed to do. It does win in single player sometimes but it’s mostly by accident. There are a couple of very nice beasts inside, some removal. But nothing really stands out. Meh.

The Red/Green/Black Deck

The final deck is a dragon deck. How fitting. The idea is to produce lots of cheap creatures that will hold your enemy off until you bring out the big, flying dragons which will win the game instantly. It’s good! There are even some smaller dragons – less powerful but still nasty. The only problem is that you are screwed if something happens to your dragons: Blue counters, white Pacifism, black removals… You put all your hope on the dragon, if it comes out and is somehow destroyed, there is not much you can do. Also, you will struggle with having the right amount of each of your 3 Mana to summon that dragon. Sometimes, you will even run into troubles with the game’s automatic tapping. But the weaknesses are not as severe. You actually have some nice creatures and good spells to hold off your enemies. Plus it has the flavor advantage – so if winning with a bad-ass dragon sound cool to you, it’s certainly a good deck to go for.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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