[MtG] Duels: Origins – Pain and Gain

There’s a new Stainless produced Magic the Gathering game out on Steam and Xbone after having started earlier in July on fancy i-Things. It no longer follows the earlier naming conventions of Duels 201X, and now it is simply called Magic Duels. Even watching hipster Magic players get to romp around a few weeks before me, there has been a lot of salt that has hampered a really good trajectory that Stainless is taking the game.

The Free-est MtG

Magic Duels is free-to-play. Of course you are instantly wondering where’s the catch or paywall. In Magic Duels, which slightly mirrors the paper card game, the gaining of new cards is in the form of boosters. 150 gold per booster, and each booster gets 3 commons, two uncommons, and a rare+.

Playing the story (more on that), playing random matches, and doing daily quests all net you more gold. The limit is 400 gold gain / day, which is more than 20-25 games / day. You can of course spend some cash to get more gold. Very Hearthstone-y.

However, the place where it one-ups Hearthstone (besides the actual game mechanics) is that boosters pick from a diminishing pool of cards. You can only ever own 1 copy of a mythic rare. You can only own 2 copies of a rare. 3 of an uncommon and then 4 (deck limit) of a common. Have you pulled a common you hate 4 times in a row? Well it will never be pulled again. I read somewhere that it will take exactly 80 boosters to get every single card.

Magic Lite

You can already see that there won’t be powerful decks where you slot 4x some mythic rare. If you play a single color deck the max mythics you can have in the deck is 2. The power level is a little lower.

Each player starts with a basic card pool of close to 100 cards that are from various past sets. Then the newest Magic set Magic Origins fills in the rest gained via boosters. The plan is that Magic Duels will get around 80% of each new set from now on. That means years from now, hopefully, Magic Duels will have a large card pool to choose from having gained multiple sets worth of cards.

Regardless, Magic Duels is still going to be a lighter version of Magic the Gathering Online and paper Magic the Gathering.  I’ve heard it’s free because it is as much a F2P game as a gateway towards real Magic.

It also has a fun story mode where you use pre-made decks that journey through 5 of the planeswalker’s origin stories. They are nicely designed encounters, and I enjoy seeing the deck “level up”. You also get a decent amount of gold for doing them.

I mostly use the game for a quick match against AI. There is a player-vs.-player feature including the 2-headed giant match. But, if I want to play with other people I’d rather play MtGO or paper MtG with friends. Perhaps if they added a draft mode or other modes I’d be game to “barbrawl” with other players. Right now I’m happy just to scratch that Magic itch whenever and however I want. AI is good for that.

Temporarily Problematic

Magic Duels has had an incredibly rocky start. It relies on the player being online to allow for the server to dole out gold, and said server has been mostly down. Quests have been buggy. For instance a quest to win 2 times with a Red-Green deck relies on a deck built by the deck wizard and not from scratch. (They intend to fix this.)

I am even having trouble with the Easy AI opponents, which have a ridiculous amount of removal and “bomb” cards far above anything I have. I’ve seen and heard that once I build up my Origins card pool the power level is much, much easier. Right now with mostly “core” cards, things are rough. For instance if I play green, my only green bomb is an Axebane Stag (6/7 vanilla costing 7 mana!)! That’s a horrible card for a color that relies on bombs. Land ramp is pitiful. Black removal is pitiful. The colors feel seriously diminished in the core.

The server appears to be getting more and more stable, and as my card pool opens up so do my deck troubles. I intend to drop $10 or so because the game feels worth at least that.


Magic Duels is out now on Steam. It is well worth checking out being a free, well-designed game. Except for the server problems and initial difficulty check, the game is very well polished and has a bright future once more sets start dropping.


6 thoughts on “[MtG] Duels: Origins – Pain and Gain”

  1. This is of course dependent on luck, but i got enough good cards in the boosters i was able to buy after the story missions, that i was able to build a RW aggro deck that could handily beat most of even the Hard AI opponents.

    Also, the 400 gold/day is ONLY from matches (whether AI or multiplayer). Quests or story mode does not count towards that total.

  2. The problem with ALL MtG video games (all the way back to MicroProse days) is that they ALL feel like Magic:Lite, and they all feel like a way to introduce you to the paper game (which they really want you to get addicted to). The beauty of Hearthstone is that it IS the whole game, and they can truly exercise the power of the digital medium since there never was and never will be a paper one. Unless Magic makes some hard decisions about this, I can’t see it lasting another 20 years.

  3. Starting on the story mode. It’s a painful start. There are tutorials within tutorials, and the decks are stacked so that I would need to try pretty hard to lose. I played for about an hour and made no non-obvious decisions.

    1. And then, after an hour of playing decks stacked on my side so I can’t lose, it puts me in a battle mode where I draw almost no land and cannot win. Way to teach the players their decisions are meaningless and they might as well play Hearthstone if they want to have no influence on whether they win or lose.

      1. Hey now! What’s with the Hearthstone dig? I played Magic since third edition, owned tens of thousands of cards, and was the best player in my high-school (chicks did NOT dig that, FYI). I eventually sold all my cards two years ago, still having a great love for the game, but never having an opportunity to play. When Hearthstone came along, I was immediately hooked. So much of what they did there was in answer to a lot of frustrations with Magic. And you’d never lack someone to play against! The game is extraordinarily well-designed, they seem truly committed to it for the very long haul, and I don’t know anyone other than completely green noobs that would say that you have no influence on whether you win or lose. As a long long time Magic fan, Hearthstone has made a complete convert out of me.

        Maybe you should give it another try? It’s certainly more fun than the new Duels: Origins.

  4. @Corey: I loved Microprose’s Shandalaar back in the day – for me it worked great as a computer game. The only killer flaw (it stopped me playing in the end) was that the AI would think for minutes on end when there were too many cards in play. They should have built in a short-circuit mode that would make quicker decisions in such cases.

    For the P2P purist, of course, the computer games will always be pale imitations.

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