Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012: Summon your credit card.

In hindsight, I did him a favor.

I love Magic: The Gathering.  The very concept of summoning minions to wreak havoc upon mine enemies while flailing indiscriminately with arcane destruction has resonated so strongly with me to reflect in my character choice in near every MMO I’ve played.  I clearly recall trips to the hobby shop in Utica to stock up on booster packs and say goodbye to my hard earned allowance.  Hot summer days spent sheltered in basements and garages, hoping that the cards fall just right so I can snag that rare my opponent was unlucky enough to wager.  Good memories, one and all…except that one time I thought Dave was going to attack me after I won the Phantasmal Forces that he had just acquired…but mostly good overall.

So when Duels of the Planeswalkers dropped on XBL I took just short of a New York minute to buy that sucker and get back in it.  For a brief while I was flying high on nostalgia and the thrill of battle.  Being a sucker for straight-color decks I didn’t pick up on one tiny detail right away, something which would’ve stopped my euphoria dead.  Now, I figured being locked in to near-static decks was just part of the campaign, so being a good little Planeswalker I knuckled down and got to business; those cards weren’t going to unlock themselves.  So after clearing the campaign I went with no small amount of anticipation to begin the task, nay, holy ritual, of creating the deck I would wield in the online battlefields!  Except it wouldn’t let me.  I could mess with the unlocked cards  for each individual deck, but that was the extent of the “customization” offered.

Making a custom deck: you're doing it wrong.

Now, gentle reader, we will pause for a moment.  Stainless Games did a great job building the first Duels of the Planeswalkers.  Random game-breaking bugs aside, they did perhaps the best job, arguably ever, making Magic: The Gathering accessible to the masses.  I respect their work.  A slick and streamlined interface made DotP pick up and go.  The attention to detail allows new players to get acquainted with the deep well that is M:TG.

And locking out of the ability to create custom decks could easily be seen as nothing but a naked cash grab by Hasbro and/or Wizards and/or Stainless forcing people to buy DLC to get new decks.  So perhaps they didn’t get quite everything right.

From this article by the CEO of Stainless Games, we see the following quote:

“I’ve been playing Magic for nearly ten years and have 30,000 cards, all catalogued and filed like the obsessive person I am. So when the opportunity to develop a Magic-based Xbox 360 Live Arcade game came up, I bit both of Wizards’ arms off up to the elbows.”

In light of this comment, logic dictates Mr. Buckland has a keen appreciation of the sense of accomplishment brought by building one’s own deck.  I would like to think when word came down from on high to nerf the editor to near-irrelevance his reaction was something profane and insulting to the publishers and that the idea to strip out a core element of the Magic experience didn’t originate with a guy who should know better.  But maybe it was a once-around thing.  Hey, Bethesda gave us horse armor, right?  And we all forgave them (mostly).

So having been occupied elsewhere and not closely following development of the latest iteration, I jumped on the official site to read up and see what’s new…

“Featuring ten unique decks, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 also lets you customize those decks. As you progress in the game, you can enhance your deck by swapping in new, unlockable cards!”

Ummmm, this is not a promising start, but maybe in the FAQ…

“Q. Can I create new decks or modify my deck?

A. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 allows players to customize their deck once additional cards have been unlocked by defeating opponents. Players can then choose which cards from of the original deck pool and all unlocked cards they want to play in their deck. Land cards are added automatically by the AI.”

This bus has rounded the final curve on the Incredulousness Turnpike and has stopped just before the toll booth to the Realm of the Elementally Enraged.  The rational, dispassionate side of me says it’s a balancing issue.  Last year’s version had balanced decks which gave even semi-skilled players a reasonable chance to win out the gate, so OF COURSE they’ll keep what works, right?  It’s to keep those unable or unwilling to read any of the many, many articles on deck construction from rage-quitting and walking away from a fun, rewarding experience.

The player side of me sees his beloved green deck so hopelessly nerfed so as to be near useless and exploring the other unlocked decks to have similar card combinations to make “WTF” a common exclamation while researching for this post.  By preventing players from constructing their own decks, the player must rely on the people at Wizards to balance them properly, and unlike last year’s offering they missed the mark in a lot of spots.  So now we have to wait (and pay) for the DLC decks and hope they get things right in the second verse.


At least I have the memories...

Oh, and did you think I missed the microtransaction system built in here?  Tsk, tsk.  Here’s the deal: Now you can skip the grind of unlocking new cards and just buy a “deck key” to unlock them all!  Well, all for that deck.  80 MSP buys you a fully unlocked deck, and for another 80 you can get a foil effect on your rares.  I give credit where it’s due.  Someone, probably at Wizards, has some stones to introduce a microtransactional model on a console.  That this model can tip the scales by granting cash-based shortcuts in what is typically a PVP game is a whole other issue.  People, you forced canned-decks on us BECAUSE of balance…supposedly.  Double standard at work here?  Just maybe?

We can pay money for new decks, and we can pay money to unlock those decks, and we can pay money to make said decks shiny.  Where the hell do I pay to make my own deck?  Put the damned option back in.  You want to release DLC?  Make booster packs of 25 cards, charge a few bucks per pack and watch people gobble them up.  Oh yes, I would be in the vanguard, no hypocrisy here.  They could release 3 boosters per month for the next year at $2.50 a pop and watch the money flow in.  Plug for the Magic:The Gathering forums for tips on deck building and watch traffic pick up.  I really don’t see how this could become a 3 hour tour on the S.S. Failboat, but I’m not a publisher.

Just my two cents, you can get change at the counter.

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