Many moons ago (circa 1996) while in the throes of junior high, I was frequenting a store in upstate New York that specialized in baseball cards (Bo Jackson was my dude!) and comic books (Jim Lee era X-Men, Batman, etc). The shop was slowly allowing table top games and their supplements into its crowded shelf space and I had enough naivete to consider myself a well-versed nerd to start investigating. When a collectible trading card game called Magic: The Gathering came onto the scene, kids all over town were trading in the their Jose Consecos and Ken Griffey Jrs for Shivan Dragons and Serra Angels. I wasn’t an early adopter, but I started dropping my allowance on Magic right around the time the “Revised” edition was circulating. This easily became the funnel that I poured most of my teenage income into until early high school, when things like gas money, sneaking into R-rated movies and parties in the woods took more precedence.
There are few games or IPs in the nerd-o-verse that carry the weight and devotion that Magic: The Gathering does. The bell-weather for the stereotypical basement dwelling man-child is still probably Dungeons and Dragons but I would surmise that Magic has made a very strong case to be a contender in the past decade or so. With both franchises making a more profound effort to digitize their games into sleek video game versions, their presence has garnered more credibility and an even wider fan base. Comic and collectible stores host weekly gatherings on Friday nights, as well as scheduled tournaments when new expansion sets are released. My wife has fond memories of playing in sealed-deck tourneys at her local hobby shop in Brooklyn, NY growing up. Even now, high schools and colleges are often a breeding ground for gaming kids to duke it out with their meticulously assembled decks. Official teaser video below…
Nowadays, I tend to leave the mana-slinging to younger, more capable hands, but M:TG has become something of a guilty pleasure as I traverse my 30’s. Its been hard for me not to associate trading card games like Magic and the soon to follow Pokemon with my awkward early teens, and therefore as an adult I certainly associated a bit of guilt and reticence when Magic came back into my life. Full disclosure: after moving to Seattle, my wife and I both attempted to get back into the game, and this lasted about a month. Perhaps the great genius/diabolical nature of Magic is that it can empty your wallet faster than a pickpocket on speed (“Four dollar booster packs?! I’ll take the whole box!”). This flirtation and nostalgia faded fairly quickly but when Wizards of the Coast (with the help of Microsoft Studios) started releasing the Duels of the Planeswalkers series in digital formats, my wife and I now had a way to play while keeping the clutter of cards to a minimum. Not to mention, it’s WAY more affordable. This past weekend I downloaded Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 from XBLA, hit the hop shop for some Lost Coast Double Trouble Double IPA and shuffled up. After making my way through the main campaign and the new sealed-deck mode, I jumped online with Muffin Express team member, Chris Morris (who’s recovering from surgery, so hit him up @Azereki to send your well wishes) to give the Two-Headed Monster mode a whirl (Double Trouble IPA, Two-Headed Monster… you get the idea). For the record, we got our asses kicked. A lot. Regardless, we had a good time revisiting a game that’s got great balance, well-tuned mechanics and for my money some of the best fantasy art in the world.
The newest game plays much like its earlier incarnations and with a re-vamped tutorial makes it super easy for a newcomers to pick it up. Duels of the Planeswalkers added story elements in its first paper editions to give players threads to follow and this game builds on a story line about Chandra Nalaar, a fiery-haired, red-deck inclined planeswalker. Multiple game modes and more decks than you can shake a 20-sided die at give the player hours of playability. For roughly the cost of a real-life booster pack, you can get to mana-tapping and spell-casting in the same time it takes to pour a round of pints. The sealed-deck mode is a great addition to the digital series. It scratches that itch of opening new packs when foes are defeated to bolster your deck, but undercuts itself a bit by adding an “auto-build” feature. There are a few pay-to-play elements like the deck keys. For a dollar you can buy a key to unlock a deck you otherwise would’ve had to unlock by beating an in-game opponent. Chris and I had a feeling there was a lot of money getting spent on decks in the online mode by our online opponents who just wanted to dominate. Seriously, if you play Eldrazi decks you’re not even trying (until I unlock one anyway).
As for the beer? I’m always on the lookout for new IPA’s. They are hands-down my favorite style of ale, the more IBU’s the better (International Bittering Units scale). Lost Coast Brewery, based out of Eureka, CA, has a great Indica IPA but I was feeling a bit more adventurous on a lazy Sunday so when I strolled into my local beer shop I decided to fill my growler with their Double Trouble Double IPA. At 7.6% ABV it carries a very forward bitterness that gives way to a grassy, citrus-y flavor — perfect for a Sunday afternoon on the couch. Seeing as how Chris was recovering from his adventures on the operating table, I figured I’d have to drink his share as well, so Double Trouble IPA fit the bill nicely.
MAGIC: THE GATHERING, DUELS OF THE PLANESWALKERS 2014 — For the veterans and newcomers out there, it behooves you to give this game a try. The matches are routinely fast paced and the plethora of decks and options keep the game fresh for hours. I’m not normally a multiplayer sort of guy but I had a blast playing with Chris despite our inability to win a single match together. The story line is negligible but adds something for those that need a deeper universe. The sealed-deck play is fun, but take the time to construct your own decks, you’ll get more satisfaction when you win. Plus, the price is most certainly right, I spent more on the beer than I did the game (this almost never happens).
LOST COAST DOUBLE TROUBLE DOUBLE IPA — A beer that goes great for washing down the guilt that comes when you’re playing a game you are pretty sure is best left to the younger set (I’ll get over it). Deceptive in its smoothness versus ABV. It definitely tastes more like an IPA as opposed to a 2x IPA or Imperial IPA. Not much in the nose, but a healthy dose of hops lets it shine through on flavor alone. I enjoyed a growler full, straight from the tap and I recommend you do the same.
Tapping some mana? Get some tap beer (yay, lazy puns!). Specifically, Lost Coast’s delightful Double IPA. All reluctance aside, the folks at Wizards of the Coast have one of the best table top card games EVER on their hands and have succeeded in providing an equally enjoyable digital experience. If you consider yourself a gamer and haven’t played some version of Magic: The Gathering, I’m revoking your gamer card. Tried and true balance and mechanics play just as well with a controller as they do in real life. As long as they keep putting out Duels of The Planeswalkers installments and subsequent DLC, I’ll be there, beer in hand. Special thanks to my long suffering wife and Chris Morris for pushing me to write about the game and playing it with me.
Cheers dear reader, and please play responsibly!
– J. Erskine July, 2013