For those out of the loop, Duels of the Planeswalkers is a video game translation of Magic available on XBox Live and teasingly promised for the PC on Steam [update: it’s showing available]. I’ve heard it described as “Magic Lite,” something generally easy and accessible for the non-Magic player to enjoy, and these new Duels-inspired paper decks seem like the next step to lure the unwary into a cardboard addiction.
So how do they fare? To find out, Jimi and I sat down at the table and cracked two of them open. I claimed “Eyes of Shadow,” the mono-Black Liliana Vess-inspired deck. For her part, Jimi eased behind “Thoughts of the Wind,” the Jace Beleren mono-Blue deck.
Sleeving up the deck (60 cards, now that the 41-card “Intro Pack” model has been retired by Wizards), I had a chance to get a feel for it, and the theme immediately apparent was that one most dear to my heart:
4 Mind Rot
1 The Rack
Wait… The Rack?! Now that did bring a smile, as I had not seen one in many’s the year (they were in Time Spiral, while I was out of the game… I recall them from Antiquities). But the amount of discard in the deck immediately presaged the joy to come against my hapless, mono-Blue opponent.
One minor but admittedly sour note was the inclusion of this offending piece of offal:
I don’t know what it is about these that so compels Wizards to stick them in their preconstructed decks. With rare exception (see: sideboarding against mono-Red), they’re dreadful, but maintain an ooh, lifegain shiny! effect on the newer player. And they’re Uncommons, no less. They may be a step up from the old Throne of Bone, but I’m not fooled!
Once we got down to it, the game went by at a brisk clip. Winning the die roll, she began with a wee Cloud Sprite as her one-drop, I played a land and the lowly Demon’s Horn, followed soon after by a Severed Legion and Abyssal Specter while she grew her mana base. Playing Blue, I knew her relative silence didn’t necessarily reflect the strength of her draw, and was not surprised when she Canceled my Mind Shatter, then Unsummoned the Specter and Canceled the recast.
For my part, I kept whittling away with the Legion for two at a time, as she dropped a Snapping Drake and Air Elemental in successive turns. A Terror made quick work of the 4/4 flyer, and a Consume Spirit made quick work of Jimi.
In a virtual repeat of our previous start, Jimi dropped two Cloud Sprites on successive turns, while I responded on turn 3 with the Severed Legion. I attempted to beef up the Legion with an Unholy Strength (another card I’d rather see the back of but seems to be the Aura-of-choice for Black in these precons), but Jimi Negated it.
With turnabout being fair play, Jimi drops a Snapping Drake and begins going to work on my life total. It gets in a couple bites before being Terrored, and my Mind Shatter hits paydirt this time as an Air Elemental and a Control Magic drop into her graveyard. No cards in hand for the Blue mage!
My relentless land drops rewarded me with a turn 6 Ascendant Evincar, which snuffed out both her Sprites with its -1/-1 to non-Black creatures. She topdecks a worthless Phantom Warrior, I responded with the Mortivore and it’s straight beats for the win.
Bit of a nut draw for me personally, with The Rack, Ravenous Rats and Megrim staring back at me from my opening hand. I’m punished for overconfidence, however, when she Cancels my turn 3 Megrim leaving me with just the mangy Rats for an off discard. I play them next turn, and she drops Boomerang into her graveyard. Much better art on it now than the Legends card I remember.
She follows up with the ol’ standby, Snapping Drake. I drop Sengir Vampire, she Unsummons. Playing around countermagic, I tease out a Negate with my Mind Rot. She plays Wall of Spears and swings with the Drake.
I lay the Vampire back down and the Drake starts to tremble. She deploys a Phantom Warrior, I match with the Severed Legion and start the beats with Sengir. She returns fire with the Warrior, I play a Dusk Imp and terror the Drake. Right before conceding she Counterbores my gamewinning Consuming Spirit, and that’s all she wrote.
Deck in Review
A great deck for the beginning Magic player, there are just enough tricks in Eyes of Shadow to entertain and amuse without confusing its pilot, which as mentioned above seems to be the general idea of these decks. With a good mix of creatures and a full discard suite, this is easily one of the better mono-Black casual decks Wizards has released (I’m lookin’ at you, Zombie Empire).
The deck has little to offer the standard or competitive player, which I daresay it has little ambition to do. This is a good investment if you have occasional pick-up games with friends or family. If that’s you, great… if not, unless (like me) you’re a collector, your money is probably better off elsewhere.
FINAL GRADE: 4/5