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Review: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 Expansion 1

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 received its first DLC package on September 13, 2011 and is available for only $5 USD on PSN. For more information about the original title, see our review of Duels 2012. This expansion offers three new playable decks, four more unlockable cards for each of the original decks, a new (or expanded) game mode and a new single-player campaign complete with new puzzle challenges for your entertainment. The new decks are fun without being overpowering, and the small tweaks to the old decks that the influx of fresh cards supplies do not imbalance the game too much (some of the less powerful original decks are now slightly stronger contenders, as it happens). In sum, good news for fans of the series: Your five bucks is well-spent on this title.

The major gameplay difference that players will notice is the revamped Archenemy game mode, which pits three players against one super-powerful player. This “Archenemy” player is buttressed against the multi-front assault by higher hit points and special “scheme” cards that are played at random every turn, which benefit the Archenemy in various ways (by giving her more land, by letting her add or remove creatures, etc.). In the original game, the AI always played the Archenemy. Players have been clamoring to don that crown, and Stainless Games has at last allowed us to do so in this DLC. The new single-player campaign is designed around defeating groups of opponents in Archenemy mode, and the last battle is particularly challenging and hence satisfying to overcome. Every deck now has its own set of special scheme cards as well, which interestingly complicates the debate about the best deck for Archenemy, as one must now take into account not only a deck’s creatures and spells, but also its schemes.

The new decks are a lot of fun. I’ll give you my take on them below, and those interested might check out the complete card lists for all of the decks, including the new unlocks and each deck’s scheme cards.

Ajani Goldmane / Auramancer
(green/white, enchantment)

This deck is probably the most powerful of the new decks, and it’s certainly top tier among all the decks in the game. It relies on attaching creature enchantments to your animals, who tend to be rather puny on their own. The deck is similar, then, to Gideon Jura’s Wielding Steel (white) deck in the vanilla game, except that Gideon’s artifacts can be swapped between creatures at will, whereas the creature enchantments are there “till death do ye part,” more or less. So the enchantments have that major disadvantage, but they make up for this by having awesome effects for minimal cost. Plus, the deck has the ability to draw extra cards. The deck’s main weakness is its lack of removal or control spells.
Liliana Vess / Grave Whisperers
(black, discard)

She’s ba-a-ack (from Duels 2009, which we also reviewed)! Thank goodness she’s been toned down, as she was pretty dramatically overpowered when we first met her a few years ago. She has lots of nasty tricks to make opponents discard cards from their hands, and then she is further injurious in her nasty enchantments that do things like make opponents lose life whenever they’re forced to discard! She’s still a headache to play against, but happily, she’s slower off the mark now, and her creatures are relatively weak. In other words, attenuating the power of the 2009 deck has helped shape a much more well-balanced current manifestation.

Ral Zarek / Cloudburst
(blue/red, combo)

This is a strange deck, which is, in my opinion, the weakest of the new decks. It’s an unstable and intriguing deck, though, which makes it unpredictable: when things go right, this deck is just great… but too often it just doesn’t seem to work out at all. The deck’s success relies on having a number of cards working together at the same time. When that happens, well, it’s “Magic.” At any rate, an interesting and radically different new deck, and one that others with a different playing style than my own might well love.

If you have the original game and like it, then by all means skip the Grande Mocha-Choco Latte today and pick up this expansion. (Was that a “Lady Marmalade” allusion? A thousand apologies! Let’s pretend that I was citing Patti LaBelle rather than Aguilera, et al.) One downer worth mentioning, though: The player community has a mighty list of bugs in the original game that the devs have acknowledged as problems, but which they have yet to address in their patches or in the new DLC. Frustrating response from the devs to be sure, but these issues have never broken the game for me, and I enjoy playing in despite them. In fact, I would hazard that the casual player is unlikely to notice the issues.

The expansion adds six trophies: four bronze and two silver.

[review pros=”Great new decks
Fun Archenemy mode extension
New unlockable cards make weaker core decks stronger” cons=”Still some bugs
Devs are largely incommunicado, and they never release patch notes” score=95]

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 provided by Stainless Games.