After a great deal of traveling and regretting the absence of our Magic: The Gathering decks, my husband and I came across an oasis: a LCBS (local comic book store) with cathedral high ceilings.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much space left in our suitcases–but we had enough room for some Magic cards and comic books. Among our purchases were the new duel decks: Nicol Bolas vs. Ajani Goldmane.

These new duel decks come bundled. I was at first frustrated because I couldn’t tell the colors of the decks due to the packaging (I mainly play green, white, or green and white decks).

My husband checked out the description and had a feeling I’d like playing the Ajani deck, so we made the purchase.

Magic is our go-to game when traveling by train or plane. Though I was initially frustrated at not knowing the colors of the decks, I soon found that the Ajani deck was white, red, and green. The Bolas deck is blue, black, and red, which suits my husband’s playing style.

As you can guess by the colors, the Ajani deck is primarily a life gain (white) and abundant (green) deck. It moves quickly, and the low-level creatures in the deck have a decent amount of power. To win against the Bolas deck, you really need to attack quickly. Failing to do so will result in a quick loss, or a drawn-out battle, usually resulting in a loss.

The Bolas deck almost always takes a while to unleash. It’s a slow and steady deck. It mainly blocks and penalizes the other player and her cards; there are also some cards in the deck that allow the player to take control of the other player’s creatures. This works well against the Ajani deck, which includes creatures that bulk up depending upon how many other creatures are in play.

Once the Bolas deck gets rolling, the Ajani deck is a challenge to play. Unless you can play creatures, bulk up creatures, and add life to your own pool each turn, you’ll eventually lose.

The unknown in the game is the presence of the planeswalkers. Though we’ve played the duel decks several times, we have not drawn or played planeswalkers yet. These are expensive to cast and require multiple types of mana. Each deck comes with one, but if you have one in play, you may only play another planeswalker of the same subtype.

I’ll use the Ajani Vengeant card as an example (pictured).
Cost: 2 (any type), 1 mountain, 1 plains
Foil card
Loyalty points: 3

Ajani starts with 3 loyalty points (lower right hand corner). When you use its first ability, you get +1 to Ajani’s loyalty. Ajani and other planeswalkers essentially act as avatars or mini-players on the field.

Once you bulk up Ajani’s loyalty, you can use powers that subtract from it, such as “Destroy all lands target player controls” at a -7 cost. Ajani and other planeswalkers cannot go into negative loyalty, even if you are willing to sacrifice the creature.

Usually, I want to modify pre-made decks immediately, but I’m going to stick with this one. It’s balanced, works pretty fast, and wins about half of the time. I might consider including a second planeswalker of the same subtype, but would alter the Bolas deck in a matching fashion to keep it even.

Have you played the new duel decks? What do you think?

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