I Love the Magic Duel Decks, but the New MTG Challenger Decks Will Be Exactly What We All Need, and Here’s Why
This week WOTC announced a change to the type of products that will line our game store shelves in 2018. Firstly, on April 6th, ten years after they were first released, the Magic Duel Decks will make an appearance for the last time. This is of course sad news for anyone, like me, who loved the series.
Secondly, we won’t be waiting for pre-constructed goodness for long. Coinciding with the retirement of Duel Decks, WOTC will release the new Challenger Decks. These 75-card Standard decks are intended to be playable at an FNM level, and to differentiate them from the old Event Decks, WOTC have changed their design process to try to make them reflect the current Standard set more accurately.
I’m pretty excited about this announcement for a few reasons. Firstly…
I GET TO PLAY MORE ELVES!
At risk of building suspicion that I’m moonlighting as a Llanowar Tourism Officer, I just love playing this faction so much.
The first Duel Decks released were Elves vs Goblins, which I encountered in a Duel Decks Anthology years after their debut. Now the Elf makes a return to the Shelf* in the final Duel Decks, this time battling the Artificers.
*Sorry (Editor’s note: She’s not sorry)
I like to imagine that the sole reason for the existence of Duel Decks was for Elves to quietly trample through every faction on the Planes, that they have been getting on with this in some hidden Duel Decks universe, and that the series can only retire once the Elves have faced their final nemeses.
We don’t have a deck list for these yet, but as long as it’s 50% Green and Tramply, I’m likely up for giving the Duel Deck series a send-off by exploring this product.
It’s a chance to celebrate the existence of Duel Decks
I’m sad about the discontinuation of Duel Decks, but glad for the opportunity to enthuse about them. They made great one-off purchases to jam some games with friends, and often granted you a mixture of sweet cards from Old Magic mixed with new tools. To me, they were the luxury that you would buy for someone at Christmas and play on Boxing Day*, and made great gifts for people who were fairly new to the game.
*You gain 10 life for each family member who asks what you are playing.
I discovered the joy of Duel Decks a few years ago, when my boyfriend had a column on a content site and was sent a copy of Elspeth vs Kiora to review. We played a load of games, switching control of the decks occasionally. We concluded that there was an imbalance – while the Elspeth deck could more consistently win games, Kiora’s army of (mostly) aquatic monsters was more fun.
But that’s not where we left it. Deciding to boost the power level of Kiora’s masses and increase the spiciness of Elspeth’s army, we looked to our collections. As a new player at the time, the process of trying to balance two very different decks in terms of power and hilarity level was valuable, and I remember being surprised by how difficult it was. Duel Decks actually provided a great exercise in game design if we used them in this way.
So thank you, Duel Decks, for helping me to understand my first, tiny two-person meta-game. And also for initiating my love of Kraken creatures.
Duel Decks also inspired my deck building for teaching new players. Starting with two distinct or flavourful archetypes and building them up to counter one another in equal measure has been a useful thought process when pulling cards together for people who are interested in the game. Good for my own understanding, good for the recipient of a pair of (hopefully) balanced decks. I will certainly continue to use them as inspiration when constructing casual decks in the future.
A load of the cards from my Duel Decks seem to have later been sleeved up for my other constructed formats, rather than sitting unused in my Magic collection. Long after we have stopped playing Nissa vs Ob Nixilis, it’s great to remember that they contained a [c]Wood Elves[/c] and a [c]Cloudthresher[/c] for a new Canadian Highlander deck.
I secretly hope that Duel Decks will make a comeback some day (maybe when the Elves get halfway home and realise they forgot to take a swing at the Merfolk), but there is, of course, no reason to suspect this. I look forward to the last instalment in April!
Challenger Decks could be a bridge to Standard at the right time
I have been floating through an “I Will Play Standard” void for about a year now. So many half-finished decks have been left aside and then filtered their way into my trade binder. I just never found the time to put something together, and ended up skipping the FNMs devoted to the format.
It’s not that I want to go particularly deep or competitive in Standard, I’m devoting the Magic allocation of my brainpower to Modern and studying for an L1 Judge exam right now, but I would love to be able to turn up to Standard Showdown or FNM with a big box of pre-prepared Pirates and/or Dinosaurs and/or Zombies.
We haven’t had new MTG Event Decks since they were discontinued in 2015, and I am glad that this type of product appears to be making a comeback. I am cautiously optimistic that Challenger Decks will solve a lingering problem of Not Having a Standard Deck.
For someone who, like me, who doesn’t want to go all in on Standard but would like to explore the format a little, Challenger Decks seem promising. While my deck brewing time can be devoted to Modern, I can pick up a Standard pre-con with relevant mechanics and at least get involved at FNM.
Will Challenger Decks be powerful?
For these pre-cons, WOTC seem to be pulling out all the stops to make these as powerful as possible for an affordable price.
Notably, the announcement article reveals that unlike traditional pre-constructed products, these are intentionally compiled very close to the release date. This means that the most excellent R&D team at WOTC can closely monitor what’s bring played at the tournament level and release something that reflects successful Pro Tour and Grand Prix strategies. The decks will utilise the same powerful mechanics within Standard, while of course sticking to a modest budget. This all means that they should reflect the current Standard environment more closely than the old Event Decks did, which I think is a pretty sweet turnaround.
For an RRP of $29.99 each I can’t imagine these will ever break your local metagame, but that’s certainly not a criticism of them. For someone who doesn’t want to invest a lot in the format but wants to have the option of playing, that seems like a good compromise. I would love a good starting point from which to evolve a Standard deck, and it seems like they will be just that.
We have had Planeswalker decks for a while, filling a role of Standard-legal pre-constructed products. These have been pitched at new players, and seem to serve a good role in introducing players to their casual and FNM scene. Challenger Decks appear to be marketed more at slightly more experienced players, who might want a convenient starting point to evolve from and have fun with, similar to the Event Decks. This shouldn’t diminish the ability of new players to pick them up, so it seems like good news all round.
So what will Challenger Decks be like? Of course, that’s currently unknown. We don’t know when exactly the lists are compiled, but we do know to expect lists in February. As this falls comfortably after Rivals of Ixalan will enter the Standard environment, and we don’t have much information on what the set will entail, it will remain a mystery for a while.
I’m looking forward to the deck lists, and hopefully picking one of these up so that I can turn up to 100% of FNMs with something to play!
Out with the old, in with the new
There’s some similarities between Duel Decks and Challenger Decks. Both are neat little packages that allow you to play instantly and have the option to tune later, which is exactly how I like to play Magic when I am too busy to trade and brew.
Having pre-constructed products more geared towards a competitive format is useful, if I use the relatively small amount of time that I would have spent playing a Duel Deck exploring Standard instead, this is certainly useful for being more engaged with the format. A lot of the time, I find myself wanting to play Standard not so much for the desire to play a Tier 1 deck, but because I want to understand what sort of decks people are playing in my community. For me, I would be happy to pick up a pre-constructed list and get stuck into some games.
With the recent emphasis on Standard Showdown giving us even more opportunities to explore the format on a local level, it seems like a great time for Wizards of the Coast to bring back pre-constructed decks. This seems to tie nicely with Standard Showdown boosters as prizes for these tournaments, giving players small ways to enhance a strategy during the season.
While I will miss Duel Decks, I thank them for teaching me some valuable lessons within the game of Magic: the Gathering, and I am looking forward to the existence of Challenger Decks.
If you are celebrating this festive season, Happy Holidays, play lots of Magic, and see you in 2018!