Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 : the enemy of my archenemy

, | Game diaries

Chandra Nalaar saved my life yesterday, and I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was my first game of Archenemy mode, and I was going in blind. Chandra and Sorin Markov were my partners, and we were facing off against a powerful Koth. The first few events were mana and board sweepers, and my team was having trouble putting our defenses together. I took the brunt of the attacks, and my life total was falling fast. I was prepared to restart the match, when Chandra suddenly began picking off creatures that were attacking me. That help gave me the space I needed, and my team roared back and took down Koth’s 40 life.

After the jump, is Archenemy mode a great group game?

Given Magic requires two people, let’s define multiplayer Magic as any mode which requires more than two participants. Magic has a lot of these: two headed giant, free for all, emperor; but the newest is Archenemy mode. In Archenemy, three normal players act simultaneously (with shared game phases) against another player with a doubled life total and a set of event cards. Event cards can include powerful creatures that join the archenemy’s team, mana acceleration to help speed up the game, or damage cards that hurt creatures and players.

The most interesting thing about Archenemy mode is the way it encourages you to choose your team of attackers around roles. After the first game with Chandra and Sorin Markov, I went into the deck editor, and tuned Jace’s blue deck, removing as many creatures as I could and replacing them with every counter and bounce spell that was available to me. For the rest of the games in Archenemy mode, I played a support character, keeping the archenemy’s biggest creatures and most powerful spells off the table while my allies took care of the damage. It was a style of play that I had never experienced in Magic before.

Unfortunately, Magic can only be twisted so far. While Archenemy mode does support team based strategies, it is still a game of dropping creatures, playing spells, and doing damage. And the largest affect of Archenemy mode was to make me miss what I consider to be the greatest multiplayer collectible card game ever created: Babylon 5.

The Babylon 5 Collectible Card Game was marketed and sold like any other. My first exposure to it was through the Minbari Vs. Humans boxed set, which I purchased, tried, wasn’t impressed with, and soon stored away. When played with two, the game encouraged players to play around each other, rather than engage and interact. The game ended up being discontinued in 2001.

It was two years later, at the encouragement of a fan of the game, that I picked it up again and soon a group of us were playing the game weekly. With four or more players, each representing a race and faction from the Babylon 5 universe, the game’s mechanics; which seemed so unfocused at the two player level; suddenly became clear. Babylon 5 was a game of diplomacy, agreements, backstabbing, deals, and betrayals that was played on top of the card game.

My favorite deck exploited one of these mechanics. I played as the Non-Aligned Worlds, a group of smaller powers in the Babylon 5 universe, and I stuffed my deck with cards that let me alter the racial tensions in the game. In the Babylon 5 card game, players represent a faction of their total race, but the races themselves also matter. While I might want to attack another player, if our two races were friendly, I would suffer negative consequences of going against my race’s preferences. My deck not only protected my interests (by ensuring that my race was friendly with all races at the table), but also allowed me to make deals to encourage or discourage wars that other players wanted.

It’s this type of metagame that Magic multiplayer lacks. In Magic, free for all tends to a simplistic game of “attack the leader”, rather than a game which encourages players to negotiate and ally in the interest of common goals. Archenemy mode is a step in the right direction, but it still exists within the overall paradigm that drives traditional Magic. It would be interesting to see what Wizards of the Coast could do if they put their hand to pushing multiplayer in a more strategic direction.

Tomorrow, can a game like this really have a final boss?
Click here for the previous Duel of the Planeswalkers entry.

Before his last move, Wader had starter decks for 15 different collectible card games hidden in a box in his closet. After that move, the number is down to 3. He currently lives with his wife and sons in Washington, DC; and is pursuing a doctoral degree in Economics.