Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Second opinion: Magic Duels

I was reading Ravious' opinion about Magic Duels on Kill Ten Rats, and found it far more negative than my own experience with the game. I still think it is one of the better incarnations of Magic the Gathering in a virtual format. So I'd like to address his points of concern and give my differing opinion on them:

"Easy AI has ridiculous answers to the deck I am forced to build.": There is a lot of complexity to this complaint. Magic Duels has quests, most of which require you to use the deckbuilding wizard, which doesn't give you full freedom to build decks, and thus often ends up with sub-optimal builds. And Magic the Gathering is, and has always been in all forms, a game with certain rock-paper-scissors elements: Certain decks work extremely well against certain other decks, but get crushed by yet another type of deck. So all together that means that yes, you can build a deck with deckbuilding wizard to do a quest, and then lose against the AI on easy difficulty because the opponents deck was just built with plenty of answers to the threats you put into your deck. But you can just as well play on medium and have an easy victory, because it just happens that your deck is the rock and the AI has the scissors. Note that Magic also has a certain degree of randomness, so you can always win or lose just because of what lands you or your opponent drew. Personally I find it good that I don't have a 100% win chance against the AI on easy. But I'm winning far more games than I lose at that difficulty level, so for me there isn't really a problem here. Furthermore I would like to point out that of course you can build a deck freely without the deckbuilding wizard and earn gold outside the quests. The game becomes a lot less limited if you don't limit yourself to doing quests.

"The “curated” meta where someone decided not all cards from the Origins set should go in to the game allows for cards like Nimbus Wings (1W aura for creature to gain flying and +1/+2) to become monsters.": Magic the Gathering in physical card form or as MtG:Online allows the player to put 4 cards of the same name in a deck. Magic Duels allows 4 if the card is common, 3 if uncommon, 2 if rare, and just 1 if legendary. That has consequences: Combinations of rares into a complicated engine work a lot less well, because you can't put 4 of each rare you want for the engine in your deck. With complicated engines being out, creatures (and creature enchantments) become the main way to win a game. Magic Duels in its current form is easier than real Magic, but also considerably cheaper, as you don't need to buy so many cards to get all those rares. Personally I think that is of more advantage than disadvantage. You don't copy "net decks" for Magic Duels, it is a separate format in which different cards are strong, and you need to account for that when building your own decks.

"The daily quests aren’t really daily because of server issues, and players roll for craps with the server anyway on seeing if they will get the gold from the completed quest.": Actually it says nowhere that the quests are daily. As far as I know it is intended that you get a new quest only every second day. On the plus side the quests accumulate, so after 6 days you have 3 quests waiting for you, which is nice for weekend players. Magic Duels does have server issues, but those depend a *lot* on the platform on which you are playing. On the iPad, once I am connected, I never had the problem of winning a game and then not getting it counted because of connection loss to the server. There appear to be far bigger server problems on the PC version of the game.

"I hope that there is a Hail Mary patch for this game, and I am looking forward to when Battle for Zendikar gets added.": The server issues especially of the PC version need to be fixed for this game to get anywhere, obviously. I don't expect a patch to change much on the gameplay side of things. I am looking forward to the Zendikar expansion, and it will be interesting to see how they are going to handle the format: Will the new quests require you to build Zendikar-only decks, or can you mix cards from different expansion, which opens up a lot more possibilities?

Overall I think that Magic Duels (not regarding the PC server issues) is pretty close to the best we could have hoped for as a virtual version of Magic the Gathering which is accessible to a broader audience than the card game or the much more cut-throat MtGO version. You can reasonably play for free, and even if you decide to buy cards, that doesn't break your bank like the other versions do. You can't build every deck you can build with the other versions, but that removes some layers of complexity which would be rather daunting for new players. In order to compete with a much simpler game like Hearthstone, Magic Duels is rather well done attempt.

Tobold: "Actually it says nowhere that the quests are daily."

Magic Duels: "This quest slot is empty. Come back tomorrow to receive a new quest."

Otherwise, I mostly disagree. If I have to build a deck where my removal, a key component to almost every deck (unless you are playing powerful aggro), is tricking my enemies in to blocking me so I can pump the creature... while their deck has proper removal, I find it dumb. That's not even rock, paper, scissors (which Magic doesn't have because aggro, midrange, control is not rock-paper-scissors)... that's a horrible deck template. I mean when Perilous Myr is meta to get some removal.... yeah.

If I have to build a deck ...

I disagree with the "have to". You don't "have to". There is a quest which offers you an additional reward if you do, but you could get the same gold by building whatever deck you want and winning 4 games on medium. For me the basic principle of "accept an additional constraint to earn an additional reward" is quite sound. I like it better than the bizarre MMORPG convention that a quest gives you a better reward *and* the path of least resistance.
Liking Magic Duels a lot.

I'm attempting to become a competitive MtG or MtGO player again after a lengthy lull. What I'm working on now is playing lots of games to get practice and accustomed to the meta and work past the point of making routine play errors.

Magic Duels is much more enjoyable than non-competitive Mtgo games because there's the progression of my collection. I haven't actually spent any money on Duels (I've spent quite a lot on MTGO) because I haven't needed to. I think it's more fun to have a weak collection and to be excited about opening a booster than to just buy your way to maxxed out on day 1. I saw that some people did this, raced to rank 40 then bitched on reddit about how there's nothing to do.

I'm a little over halfway to completing my collection, I should be nearly done when the next set comes out.

It's a great way to test intricate cards that I don't own in MTGO. I can get used to Jace and Chandra and so on.

I do think it's correctly positioned as a gateway game to MTG/MTGO. They have cut some of the cards out because many of those cards are horrible for newbies - Starfield of Nyx is a mythic that only works when you build a very specific deck around it. It's not a bad thing that Duels players will get a Kytheon or an Angel of Tithes instead of a Starfield when they get a white mythic.

As for the AI I think it's about right in the context of this being a gateway game. It's competent but makes some mistakes - the main one I've noticed is a tendency to chump block when behind on board when imo it would be better to conserve those creatures until they can form part of an exchange.

As for auras, no, they're not good. You cast an aura on your 2/2, I respond with a Twin Bolt, your 2/2 dies before the aura resolves, I've 2 for 1ed you. The only one I like is that red one that draws itself again because it has inbuilt defence against the natural card disadvantage that comes from using auras. My favourite deck runs Reprisals and Celestial Flares and Twin Bolts so I get a lot of 2 for 1s against aura decks.

Regarding combo decks I'm seeing a lot of Black/Red creature steal/sacrifice decks which is a pretty nice archtype.
I play on Xbox One. I get a new quest everyday consistently. I'm not sure how any one is having an issue beating the AI. Since I got to about 50% of cards unlocked I can win on hard dif 70% of the time no problem, even with the janky deck builder. I just wish it wouldn't force me to use 3 colorless lands in every deck no matter how much colored mana the deck requires.
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