I’ve been thinking a lot about Magic: The Gathering lately. Blame some of it on the impromptu return of The Ring Has Chosen, a podcast dedicated to the dearly departed VS System. Cliff, one of the two hosts, has taken up Magic and been talking about it quite a bit. In addition, Duels of the Planeswalkers, an Xbox 360 arcade title, has been something I’ve played quite a lot recently, and I just picked up the expansion that adds a couple decks.
Here’s the thing about Duels of the Planeswalkers. It’s a very well designed video game rendition of the card game itself. There are a few things that took a while to get used to, and I had to go into the options menu to turn off simple targeting to allow the ability to target myself with negative spells (I understand why they did this, but any seasoned card player knows the importance of sometimes nuking your own creatures for beneficial effects). It has one glaring issue, which is the fact that all of the decks are preconstructed, and they cannot really be altered. This is a problem in many ways, but it’s not a game breaker. So when you have your solo black deck that’s focused on a mix of discard, creature destruction, regenerating blockers and flying creatures/vampires, it gets a little watered down. This is not to say it or any of the other decks are bad. In fact, they’re all quite good, really, for the sort of bare bones deck construction you have available. The biggest issue is twofold: firstly, you have no control over the lands in the deck. Each deck comes with a predetermined amount of lands, and while they’re pretty well balanced, the second issue also creates more problems from this perspective. You see, all of the decks have a sort of base deck you use at the start that is 60 cards. When you win matches in the single player campaign mode, you unlock a new card. Most of these are pretty powerful; this is where the rares usually come from, your Shivan Dragon or Sengir Vampire or Serra Angel, for example. But, you cannot alter or remove any of the cards from the base deck. So if you want to use all of the cards you unlocked (and you usually do with a few exceptions like some of the artifacts that heal based on spell color, like Demon’s Horn, which is mostly designed to let you survive until you get the good stuff), you’re walking around with a 70-80 card deck. Anyone who plays card games knows that you don’t EVER go above 61 at the most, or you’re diluting your options.
As a for instance, Royal Assassin is a fantastic tool for black decks to control decks based primarily on attacking (Green decks, for example). If you’ve got a few regenerators and a Royal Assassin on the field, no one is ever going to attack you unless they’re stupid. And the computer AI is pretty good at recognizing this. However, there is one Royal Assassin in the black deck as an unlockable card. You’re not going to see him very much. Can’t exactly consider it a mulligan condition. Would I rather take out those Unholy Strengths and Raise Deads to make sure I had playsets of Royal Assassin and Nekretaal in the deck? Sure. Does not having this completely kill its playability? No. And that’s why I’m going to continue to play the game. The decks are fun, if not perfect, and they’re actually surprisingly up to date, with some of the multicolor decks having quite a few cards from the Alara block that came out prior to M-10’s release (BLIGHTNING!!!!). It’s a lot of fun, and it’s making me want to play the actual physical card game again.
Some time this weekend, I’m going to take all my cards and sort the hell out of them. We’re talking alphabetical by color by set. I’ll be picking up some 5,000 count boxes at some point to really make this go. Once everything’s sorted, I’m going to really delve into this and see what I can do. Of course, I can’t exactly go to hobby leagues with my current cards; nobody plays Vintage, and I have about 50 cards from the Alara block, which isn’t exactly enough to make a standard format deck. Maybe I should sell some old stuff. Likely, it’s not worth a goddamned thing these days (Who needs Fallen Empires uncommons? No one? Fair enough!). I’m going to have to scrape some money together for some boxes of Alara, M-10, and Zendikar. Which is, admittedly, a lot of money. But I’ve got the itch. That much is undeniable. It’s coming.
This post was written to the tune of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band