Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 : Magic with plot and characters?

, | Game diaries

Jace Beleren is a blue mage. From his picture, you can tell he enjoys both looking mysterious and magical glowy hands. From Duels of the Planeswalkers, I learned that he has fought with Chandra Nalaar, that he worked for something called the Infinite Consortium, and that he has visited the planes of Ravnica and Zendikar. Absolutely none of the above information has helped me in any way in the Duels of the Planeswalkers game, or in Magic in general. Why does Wizards of the Coast consider plot and characters such a selling point for collectible card games?

After the jump, an example of when lore can matter in the play of a game

I really shouldn’t genalize. I am sure there are Magic players in the world who get excited over the fine plot points of the Weatherlight Saga, or who can categorize in detail the differences between Ravnica and Mirrodin. But for me, plot and setting in Magic have mattered only in the way they are used to bring mechanics into the game.

Take Mirrodin, for example. Wizards of the Coast wanted to release a Magic set that features a heavy amount of artifacts. The world of Mirrodin was created to be that world. It was a fun (if broken) set of three magic expansions. Recently, Magic returned to the world of Mirrodin for another set of expansions. But I cant say that I was “looking forward to returning” any more than I could say I was “looking forward to being able to try artifact decks again.”

Not every card game is like this. In fact, I played one of my favorite card games specifically because of the setting and plot. That game was Upper Deck’s VS System.

VS System was Upper Deck’s attempt to bring the world of comics into a CCG. Expansions to the game were based around comic teams and groups, like the Avengers and the Justice League. At the gaming store I hung around at the time, the intersection between CCG players and comic readers was fairly high, so we had an active play group that met weekly for tournaments and matches.

I cant say the VS System is a better game than Magic. If I had to describe it badly, I would say that it is Magic of only creature cards existed. That restriction limited the types of decks you could play, and made strong character cards the dominant play style.

I didn’t care, because I could play the Justice League International. This iteration of the Justice League was the comic that made me a comic fan, and it’s later incarnations (Formerly Known As The Justice League, etc) were the comics that brought me back to the genre. I didn’t care that the Justice League International wasn’t considered a dominant team in VS; mainly because it was built around keeping yourself under 5 resources, a strategy similar to sacrificing your own lands in Magic. I didn’t care because when it did win, it won with style, and came back from improbable odds to surprise opponents. Most of my playgroup felt similarly. My friend, who played the Arkham Inmates team, always played with an 8 resource Emperor Joker, even though it may have been the worst card with a cost of 8 resource points in the game. Why did he do it? In his words, “If you are going to play Arkham, there is only one character who can be king of that deck”.

Unfortunately, as the number of expansions grew, the number of “Team-Up” cards (cards which let you work across multiple team names) grew as well. And given that almost every team had a good card somewhere, the dominant strategy became to simply ignore team names. The more competitive players in the group began to use these dominant decks, and soon those of us who were more casual, and more interested in playing certain teams drifted away from the game. I ended up selling most of my powerful VS cards to another player, though my Justice League International deck remains untouched to this day.

Duels of the Planeswalkers spends all of its loading screens trying to convince me that there is a grand story behind the game of Magic. I learned that Jace chased Chandra to the plane of Zendikar, trying to stop or help the release of the Eldrazi. I am sure they tried to make me care, but what was much more interesting was when Kiora Atua played Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre against me.

Tomorrow, it’s a good game, but is it a good game of Magic?
Click here for the previous Duels 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.