Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 1: Mind of Void Review (Part 1 of 2)
June of 2009 saw the release of the original Duels of the Planeswalkers on the XBox 360. It wouldn’t be for another 12-18 months until it was rolled out to the computer and PS3 platforms, but it had already proven itself to be a successful launch in an area Wizards had long struggled with- the entry-level bridge from the gaming world to the world of Magic. Although it would take some time for Wizards to realise that they’d finally found an avenue that broke through the “barrier to entry,” Duels’ early success gave it the encouragement it needed to release an expansion pack in October of that year.
Entitled Duel the Dragon, the new content pitted players against Nicol Bolas, the villainous draconic planeswalker featured in Shards of Alara block (after originally appearing in Legends). The expansion added new campaigns, more challenges, and most importantly- for our purposes, at least- three new decks.
The first of these is Jace Beleren’s Mind of Void. Although milling itself is one of Blue’s most characteristic paths to victory, we saw little of this in Jace’s first deck, Thoughts of the Wind. Like infect and other alternate-route win conditions, milling requires substantial support to make it reliably work. Thoughts of the Wind looked to go over the top with aerial beaters while establishing some control of the battlefield below. This time around, Jace is going directly for the mind of the opponent.
Milling is a strategy that has its origin in a single card, Millstone, from 1994’s Antiquities expansion. Ever a fan of alternate win conditions, designer Mark Rosewater pushed the archetype from its humble beginnings once he started drawing paychecks from Wizards of the Coast. Mind of Void, in that light, might well be seen as the culmination of a long and winding path through the history of the game (and for those wanting a history of milling, there’s an excellent one here).
What’s particularly interesting about Mind of Void is the rare card content- an even dozen (plus some uncommons that at one time were rares). While on first blush it might be tempting to conclude that this gives it a high power level when compared to other decks in the series, in fact this is more a reflection of where solid mill cards often end up. Unike, say, Event Decks, where the number of rares adheres to a strict quota, the Duels of the Planeswalker decks tend to be more balanced on overall deck compostion and strategy rather than any formal card allotments.
Trickery and Misdirection
The creature complement of Mind of Void is both stripped down to the barest of essentials, as well as being highly focused. A pair of Walls of Air comprise the entirety of your options until you get to the very top of the mana curve (5+ cost), at which point the deck gives you an array of closers. This deck is a deck desperate for time, and can punish any opponent that gives you the luxury of too much of it. It’s important to note here that creatures are only one of the deck’s paths to victory- indeed, if all goes to plan, you’ll only need enough on the board to hold off your opponent.
The Walls of Air are excellent at this, being able to stop a 4/x creature dead in its tracks. Once you’ve developed your resources for the end-game, you begin finding your closers at five mana in a full playset of Air Elementals. Straightforward 4/4 fliers that have been around since the dawn of the game, they appeared in every Core Set release until Magic 2011, when they were placed on hiatus.
Almost as reprinted as the Elemental is the Mahamoti Djinn, Blue’s big bad presence in the air in Alpha. For a single mana more (as well as an additional rarity class), the Djinn offers a massive body in the air that can come out triumphant against even most Dragons. It’s also an immediate four-turn clock if you need to go aggressive against your opponent’s life total. If that’s not quite fast enough, however, there’s also two Denizens of the Deep– massive 11/11 Serpents whose drawback is largely mitigated in a deck that doesn’t field many creatures.
Specify the Consequences
The noncreature suite for Mind of Void consists of three primary components: mill, countermagic, and removal. The main feature of the removal suite is a playset of Condemns. This card, originally from Dissension, is an interesting trade-off, giving two drawbacks in exchange for a single very large positive- the ability to answer almost any creature-based threat on the board at instant speed for only one mana. The downside is that it sets back both of your win conditions by both giving your opponent life as well as adding another card to their deck. Still, if you’re removing their bomb with a cheap Condemn, you’ll often be putting yourself essentially up a turn if they spent all turn bringing their bomb on-line.
Another solid offering is found here in a pair of Persuasions. Later reskinned as Mind Control in Magic 2010, these not only deny your opponent their best creature, but also put you up one in the process. On the downside, it is an “answer with an answer,” meaning your opponent can undo your good work if they carry any enchantment removal. You’ve got a dose of your own here in a pair of cards from Shards of Alara, the Dispeller’s Capsule. Part of a cycle of five cards, the White version is essentially a packaged Disenchant.
As mentioned above, the other main strategy of the deck is milling, and here Mind of Void really shines- every one of the deck’s six mill cards is a rare. In Jace’s first deck, Thoughts of the Wind, we roundly criticised the list for carrying an unsupported single copy of Memory Erosion. This time, Jace isn’t playing around- you get a full playset. What was before a nuisance now becomes a very real threat. On top of that, you also get a pair of Traumatizes. This card, originally from Odyssey, appeared in four straight Core Sets (from Ninth Edition to Magic 2011), chunks away half of your opponent’s library in one fell swoop- just the ticket to help you deck them out for the win.
The deck’s final pillar is a soid core of countermagic, helping you protect your vital infrastructure of creatures and enchantments. First up is the workhorse Cancel, which appears here with three copies. For a little more variety, you also get a trio of Dream Fractures. These offer the same effect as a Cancel, while letting you and your opponent draw a card. That seems like a drawback, but remember that milling decks are often quite happy to let opponent’s draw extra cards (see: Howling Mine). You never like seeing them with more options, but it keep things moving in the right direction. In that same vein we also find a pair of Counterbores, rares from Shadowmoor. These not only counter a spell, but go hunting everywhere else for any other copies of the countered card and exiles them from the game. At worst it’s an overpriced Cancel, but counter the right spell at the right time and you can hit their hand and library all in one stroke.
The last card in the deck is Kiss of the Amesha, a rather pricey lifegain/card draw spell from Shards of Alara. Although expensive, it does at least offer you a bit of flexibility. You can use it on yourself for the life and cards, or you can target your opponent and make them draw two more cards from what you hope is a rapidly dwindling library.
Overall, this is a deck that offers a very new focus and level of composition over what we saw previously in the original eight Duels of the Planeswalker decks, and we’re excited to see what it has to offer. We’ll return in two days with a final verdict!