Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Expansion Gazes Fondly at Ravnica of Old

The first expansion for the 2013 edition of Duels of the Planeswalkers came out this week. It adds five new decks and a ton of cards from the original Ravnica block to the casual video game version of Magic: the Gathering.

The expansion is available on all the usual platforms (Xbox, Playstation, Steam, iPad). It doesn’t significantly change gameplay, it just adds new stuff. There’s a new campaign that lets you fight your way through five of the Ravnica guilds, then do it again. You also unlock a deck for each guild, with 30 unlockable cards per deck. The original decks are unchanged, as far as I can tell. There are also new achievements and puzzle challenges.

Since the upcoming Magic set Return to Ravnica doesn;t come out for a few weeks yet, they couldn’t include actual RtR cards in this expansion. So they did the next best thing, using a ton of cards from the first Ravnica block. That means there’s a heavy emphasis on multi-color cards, and all the decks fit the five guilds (perhaps we’ll get the other five in an upcoming expansion). Lots of hybrid mana and gold cards, things that always delight the fans.

I definitely enjoyed playing through the campaign, and the guild decks are a lot of fun to play both with and against. I took of the Rakdos banner for a change, and playing Rakdos vs. Golgari can be completely insane. Each deck is throwing out great creatures, but then you’ll get these cascading chains of forced sacrifices that practically clear the board. The challenge level is pretty high, too. I actually had to take the Rakdos deck back to play the weaker original decks before I could make it through the expansion’s “Revenge” campaign, because I needed to add some better cards to be effective.

One of the big features of DotP 2013 is the increased ability to customize your deck. This takes on a lot more importance with this expansion, because the decks can get really unweildy and poorly built if you just dump all the unlocked cards in. For instance, the Rakdos is filled with battlecruisers — 6, 7, 8, even 9-drop creatures. Those might be ok if you’re playing the multiplayer Planechase mode, but in focusing on 1-on-1 battles, I had to cut a lot of them. You’ll also find cards that don’t pull their weight — no matter how hard I tried, I could not get [card]Bloodchief Ascension[/card] in the Rakdos deck.

This deck building aspect is a huge part of the game, and it’s awesome that DotP now gives new players a taste of that. I do wish there was some kind of tutorial to give them advice on how to do it effectively, though. The deck management screen shows tons of cool info, like mana curve at a glance, percentage of creatures/non-creatures, etc. I think newer players could use some guidance to put that information to use.

I noticed a few bugs — every now and then an ability will just not do what it’s supposed to, like [card]Transluminant[/card] not making a token, or [card]Lyzolda, the Blood Witch[/card] sometimes not granting a card draw when you sac a creature that’s both red and black. But they’re pretty minor. If you had fun playing Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 for hours and hours (my preferred play mode is wearing headphones and listening to music), then this expansion makes the game quite a bit better, with powerful cards drawn from one of Magic’s best sets.