Duel Masters Playtest Report

March 1st, 2004: Mike Sugarbaker says...
Duel Masters Playtest Report

It’s high time I wrote about the that WotC was kind enough to send us; it’s a good game. I’d be very heartened about its advent if I didn’t know that 80% of the kids who buy it are going to make up their own rules or fail to play at all. But it is indeed what it was advertised as – a stripped-down Magic that works like a well-oiled one-stroke motor – and it’s a reminder of how strong a game Magic is, even (maybe especially) before you pile on ten years of exceptions.

Some nitty gritty if you’re unfamiliar: the basic concept of DM is that you’re summoning monsters to 0wnZ0r the competition with, and you’re casting spells now and again. Those are indeed the only two card types in the game. No instants, no enchantments, and no (gasp) land. You can play any card in the game as a mana provider if you play it upside down; you can do this once a turn. The casting cost of a card is a single number; to cast it, you tap at least one mana of the card’s color, and enough other mana sources to total up to the cost. (There are still five colors.)

On your turn, you untap, draw, play land, summon stuff or play spells, and then do your attacks. Monsters attack players, or they attack tapped monsters – that’s the only time that monsters ever really battle each other, unless they have the Blocker special ability, which means they can jump into the path of an attack declared elsewhere. Players have five shield cards, which they pull off the top of their deck at the start of the game (no, this is not a card type; it’s just the top five cards of your regular deck) and lay out face down. When a monster attacks a player and is unblocked, it pops one of these shield cards back into the player’s hand. Pop a player when he’s out of shields, and he’s out of the game.

That’s more or less it for the rules. Monsters have one number on them instead of two; it is effectively both power and toughness. When they want to boost power, they do it with a special ability. The card set in the starters (and in the rest of the first set, if the boosters we got are any sign) is pretty low on abilities, and indeed on any exception text at all. I mean, you get some. But overall, the game here is the core of Magic: do you put your blocker out now, or later? When do you use it, how long do you press your luck? Do you see the right opportunities for attack? And, yes, do you get a lucky shuffle?

If those are the reasons you hate Magic, you will hate Duel Masters as well. If you hate Magic because it’s just gotten too damn big, DM is most definitely worth a look. I have friends who draft Magic every week and have an amazing time, but to jump in and not get used as a Swiffer by the regulars, I would have to do a couple months of devoted study of the last two years’ card sets, as well as the current base edition. Not my idea of fun. Even the most complex cards in DM keep it simple by comparison.

So, do check this one out. It kicks Harry’s pansy little ass.


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