Interview with designers of Duels series: design, balance, and more!

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Hey everyone, I interviewed the designers of the Duels series at Wizards of the Coast. We got in a lot of questions and I think you will find many of the answers interesting. We covered topics like deck balance, upcoming features, and deck design:

www.toptiertactics.com/15974/the-making-...

Thanks to Sean for helping us set this up.

WiNGSPANTT is the 4th best commentator on YouTube and editor in chief of Top Tier Tactics.

Hey everyone, I interviewed the designers of the Duels series at Wizards of the Coast. We got in a lot of questions and I think you will find many of the answers interesting. We covered topics like deck balance, upcoming features, and deck design: www.toptiertactics.com/15974/the-making-... Thanks to Sean for helping us set this up.


That was interesting. I can guess one question everyone will ask, (though I've no problem with it personally), Why didn't you ask why they make izzet so terrible... Or something like that.

Btw I like most of your videos.
Avenger of Zendikar is not game... Got a question as to whether a card without shroud or hexproof is good? Answer is, dies to removal. "Control Slivers"
That was pretty interesting.
Thanks for sharing but I honestly found that to be uninteresting and a complete waste of time. Pat questions and pat answers -- A completely superficial and trite interview on both sides.
Thanks, Wingspan!  Good read. 
All right killab, what kind of questions would you have asked?

WiNGSPANTT is the 4th best commentator on YouTube and editor in chief of Top Tier Tactics.

Awesome article! I just got done reading it. I'm happy Ken was able to answer most of your questions. I found the question on Titans to be especially interesting. I remember playing Guile a little bit when it was in Standard rotation (and of course the Titans are all amazing cards) but I think the R&D team did a good job of finding equally powerful blue cards that keep the game fascinating. It was cool to read Ken's perspective on designing decks that would interest new players while keeping things fresh for those who were more experienced.

All right killab, what kind of questions would you have asked?




It wasn't in the interview, so I might be able to find out what Ken's favorite band is. I'll also ask for his favorite flavor of pie. No guarantees, though.


Sean Gibbons

Associate Community Manager

Official MTG Twitter: @Wizards_Magic Official MTGO Twitter: @MagicOnline

All right killab, what kind of questions would you have asked?



Maybe I am in the wrong department but for starters, I would have asked him about the random "shuffling mechanic of the game". A question about future dlc for hahas even though a non-answer will be imminent...Even as tripp said, I would have asked about Izzet. This is probably the wrong people to ask but I would have asked for leaderboard information across platforms, how it works, how its implemented, why boosters remain on top, why so many people are losing progress, will chat functionality every be implemented on the ipad, will we ever get random deck lobbies or is that also too difficult of a game mode for noobs *rolleyes*

When he said they did extensive testing of the game, is this via computer simulation? Live play? Both? Live play is there to test the fun but surely running simulations on a computer tells you a lot more about deck "balance".... How did those simulations fare? Any decks come out ahead of the curve? And if there was a lot of live testing, how come no one spotted issues with Yeva's touchness and so on? Or a ton of other bugs?

Its not the the interview was bad, its just after reading it all, I feel as if I didn't learn anything aside from the fact that I share the same favorite deck with Ken Troop. Even when you ask him how many people are involved in the design, look at his answer? I have no idea. Is it 10 people or 300. He didn't answer the question in a way that really tells me anything. Also, when you asked a good question about open deck building that I think all of us would have at least asked... we get a vague non-answer...as expected of course.

Quite a few of your questions I would have included myself, but most of the answers were vague and uniformitive. What did we really learn after that?

Seriously, I mean you ask him what he felt about promo codes being released early. What did you really expect him to say? Its a cliched qeustion and it expectedly drew a trite response. Of course they aren't happy about it. And of course, I didn't need to know his favorite color, even though, admittedly, its a cordial question.

I have to agree with Killa.  That was the standard answers you would get from any game company.  Nothing inspiring there.

I would have contested his answer that most ppl want aggro centered decks.  Thoughts of Wind 2.0 would be nice.

Second and i wish you would have brought this up...  This is the 3rd Duels game.  How many times are we gonna have to hear "Duels is focused on new players" crap?  Are we going to be on the 10th Duels game in the future and still here that same thing?

If they wanna continue this "We gotta be gentle to the new player" crap then make a Training mode/campaign in the game for those new players so they can learn and then have the actual game for those that know how the game works.

Stop thinking of Duels as some stepping stool to the actual card game and start thinking of Duels as an expansion of the card game.  While i understand they cant make the same amount of money as the actual card game, that doesnt mean that us Duels players arent willing to spend money on new decks.  If they actually put the R&D into the game and released more decks (decks that actually work and dont just overpower everything before it) they may find Duels players are willing to pay the money for those decks.

Third how about why the shuffiling program sucks? Just the other day 2 back to back games i pulled nothing but land. First game 13 black land, second game 12 blue land.  Each time i got killed so easily cuz i had nothing to put on the field.
Stop thinking of Duels as some stepping stool to the actual card game and start thinking of Duels as an expansion of the card game.  While i understand they cant make the same amount of money as the actual card game, that doesnt mean that us Duels players arent willing to spend money on new decks.  If they actually put the R&D into the game and released more decks (decks that actually work and dont just overpower everything before it) they may find Duels players are willing to pay the money for those decks.



This exactly.  Couldn't have said it better.  I get it with the first Duels game in 2009, it was a brand new product.  With 2012, Wizards still underestimated the amount of money they could have made compared to how much they did make.  People will pay for more content, more features, more cards, etc.  In addition, we want fewer glitches and bugs.  If there's this many people working on it and this many people playtesting the game as extensively as they do, why do we have all these glitches?  Why would the Silent Arbiter glitch make it through playtesting without any of the design team being aware? 

Or the progress deletion glitch.  This has been a known issue for 3 years now with no fix?  Absolutely ridiculous.  This question should have been part of the interview.  What progress has been made to restore people's content (I don't mean just for Steam either) and fix this problem permanently?
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I thought that was a really good interview. Thanks for posting!
Regarding bugs, what do you think Ken will say? He'll say stainless is working on them.

Regarding balance, he basically said the deck's are designed to be fun first and balanced second. But is balance really such a concern for you all? 2013 is way more balanced than the other two and more balanced than paper Magic. What else do you want?

I personally learned a lot. I learned Commander isn't going to happen. I learned infinite combos probably won't come back. I learned there's no set Duels team. I learned Stainless has more power than I originally guessed.

I think this interview also reflects some thinking behind paper Magic as well.

WiNGSPANTT is the 4th best commentator on YouTube and editor in chief of Top Tier Tactics.

Thanks for putting the time in to coordinate and put this together.. I thought it was fun!
Regarding bugs, what do you think Ken will say? He'll say stainless is working on them. Regarding balance, he basically said the deck's are designed to be fun first and balanced second. But is balance really such a concern for you all? 2013 is way more balanced than the other two and more balanced than paper Magic. What else do you want? I personally learned a lot. I learned Commander isn't going to happen. I learned infinite combos probably won't come back. I learned there's no set Duels team. I learned Stainless has more power than I originally guessed. I think this interview also reflects some thinking behind paper Magic as well.



Did I miss something or are you referencing this:

Finally, while we recognize sometimes it’s fun to do quirky things via Panoptic Mirror, we also recognize that it’s really not fun to be on the other side of, say, Panoptic Mirror and Time Warp.  So we try for a variety of decks, identities, and play styles.



That is a bit of a leap....


Well, I can see infinite combos coming back, but just being limited as to how many decks have infinite combos. If it's just limited to 1-2 decks, I don't see a problem with it.
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 deck builds and analysis: http://megamaster125.angelfire.com/dotp2013/ Another one of my websites: http://megamaster125.angelfire.com/rationalchristianity/ I am Blue/White
This is the 3rd Duels game.  How many times are we gonna have to hear "Duels is focused on new players" crap?  Are we going to be on the 10th Duels game in the future and still here that same thing?


Easy answer: Yes.

Stop thinking of Duels as some stepping stool to the actual card game and start thinking of Duels as an expansion of the card game.  While i understand they cant make the same amount of money as the actual card game, that doesnt mean that us Duels players arent willing to spend money on new decks.  If they actually put the R&D into the game and released more decks (decks that actually work and dont just overpower everything before it) they may find Duels players are willing to pay the money for those decks.


Okay, but the more you add, the more likely it is that you will get decks that stomp everything too hard, or that will be too weak to be competitive.
plus, we know for a fact that there will be a Duels '14 in 8 months. The more decks they throw at us in '13 the more familiar '14 will be. I'm still hoping to be looking at 20+ decks in '13, and with 40 extra cards per deck, how much more do you think is necessary?

Remember too, Duels is a commercial. Always has been, probably always will be. The better they make it the less reason we'll have to play real Magic. LIke it or not, that's their MO behind Duels. I don't see that changing.
I don't agree that Duels is a only a stepping stone or a demo of paper Magic.  How many Duels players are  former or current paper/MTGO players?  I play Duels but I'm never going back to paper/MTGO.  For me it's an alternative Magic product rather than an introduction 
Everyone needs to remember that while YOU may have played all 3 Duels games, there are people born every second who have never played Magic. The experienced players are not the majority.

WiNGSPANTT is the 4th best commentator on YouTube and editor in chief of Top Tier Tactics.

Thanks for the interview and insight that we wouldn't otherwise have had. As far as all the other issues everyone is bringing up...isn't that why Sean is a part of these forums to bring those questions and concerns back to the decision makers responsible? Remember also that questions like "why is the Izzet deck so weak" simply a matter of opinion and personal perspective which has been debated enough both ways on threads in this very forum. While getting a firm commitment on something like data erase fixes would be nice, I doubt an interview like this would reveal it since it takes a lot of commitment from a lot of different people/departments/funding to make a promise or statement about specific fixes.
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I don't agree that Duels is a only a stepping stone or a demo of paper Magic.  How many Duels players are  former or current paper/MTGO players?  I play Duels but I'm never going back to paper/MTGO.  For me it's an alternative Magic product rather than an introduction 



For you, yes. For me, it's a way to get my M:TG fix when there aren't people around that I can play face-to-face with. But you and I, and most of the people who care enough about Duels to post on its board, we're not the target audience. The target audience is those people who have never played a game of Magic before in their life. It is an introductory product meant to get those players hooked and wanting more. If Duels continues to be a product people like you and I enjoy and buy, then that's fine, that's awesome even. But that's a periphrial goal. As long as Duels continues to draw in new players, we can quit, and Wizards wouldn't bat an eye.
I don't agree that Duels is a only a stepping stone or a demo of paper Magic.  How many Duels players are  former or current paper/MTGO players?  I play Duels but I'm never going back to paper/MTGO.  For me it's an alternative Magic product rather than an introduction 



For you, yes. For me, it's a way to get my M:TG fix when there aren't people around that I can play face-to-face with. But you and I, and most of the people who care enough about Duels to post on its board, we're not the target audience. The target audience is those people who have never played a game of Magic before in their life. It is an introductory product meant to get those players hooked and wanting more. If Duels continues to be a product people like you and I enjoy and buy, then that's fine, that's awesome even. But that's a periphrial goal. As long as Duels continues to draw in new players, we can quit, and Wizards wouldn't bat an eye.


As well, Duels '12 made, what, 500,000 sales? half a million people bought it and how many of those frequent this DotP message board? 100 or so?

Sevus is right though, Duels is so completely not intended as an alternative to Magic. Wizards doesn't want any game to be an alternative to Magic, much less one that they themselves put out. It's intended purpose is to make people want to play Magic or Magic Online. Nothing more.

They will only ever make DotP so good. They will only give DotP players so much. If you want more, you play Magic. That's their pre-programmed response to any request for more content.
funny thing is playing duels does not make me want to play the card game or magic online it just makes me want more duels  ohh and i never played the card game more then likely i never will but i would gladly spend money on more duels so they must keep improving or they will lose people like me forever. they have three main magic products now its time  for them to face the facts.
funny thing is playing duels does not make me want to play the card game or magic online it just makes me want more duels  ohh and i never played the card game more then likely i never will but i would gladly spend money on more duels so they must keep improving or they will lose people like me forever. they have three main magic products now its time  for them to face the facts.



I agree. My magic life will be pretty much restricted to this.
You missed out on a ripe opportunity to ask him why there is no random deck function in the game.

Maybe I am in the wrong department but for starters, I would have asked him about the random "shuffling mechanic of the game".



Gotta agree with killa for once, on this question and in general, that interview was a complete waste of potential.  I want a definitive answer as to how the decks are shuffled, specifically if "spells" and "lands" are divided in the deck list code and if Evolving Wilds are considered "Spells" in that division.

And the leaderboard thing, for sure.  Right now, the top 100 ranked people on PS3 are obvious cheaters, and I hear it's as bad or worse on other platforms.

Great interview, Wingspan! A thoroughly enjoyable read.

And to everyone giving him a hard time, I strongly encourage you to do better. At best, the community has a second, completely different article to read. At worst, you learn that a good interview takes practice and skill.
Great interview, Wingspan! A thoroughly enjoyable read.

And to everyone giving him a hard time, I strongly encourage you to do better. At best, the community has a second, completely different article to read. At worst, you learn that a good interview takes practice and skill.



That interview was competent at best, "good" interviews ask hard questions rather than lobbing softballs to let someone knock out of the park with corporate non-answers.

Then by all means, please show us how it's done!

I mean this completely sincerely. We all want a hard-hitting interview with answers to our many questions. If you think you can get it, please do.
Then by all means, please show us how it's done!

I mean this completely sincerely. We all want a hard-hitting interview with answers to our many questions. If you think you can get it, please do.



How do you suggest I get anyone at Wizards to let me interview them, let alone answer questions like that?

Then by all means, please show us how it's done!

I mean this completely sincerely. We all want a hard-hitting interview with answers to our many questions. If you think you can get it, please do.



How do you suggest I get anyone at Wizards to let me interview them, let alone answer questions like that?



Say please? Tongue Out


Sorry I'm just being fesetious...
Avenger of Zendikar is not game... Got a question as to whether a card without shroud or hexproof is good? Answer is, dies to removal. "Control Slivers"
Ahh crap. You of course see by the answers that Wing was up a corperate brick wall to begin with.
We got a bit of insight, a bit of obsequiness and a lot od corperate face. With that I with Wing would have went ''Dan Rather'' on his ass.
What's the frequency Kenneth?

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. - Mark Twain

Mastergear_Owen's take on Magic 2014 Campaign.

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You know what I've got more issues. Whats up with the story in this game? The adverts said I was going to team up with Chandra and we were going to kick butt and chew bubblegum across the planes on a revenge campaign against some... guy she knew I guess? Who's Ramaz anyway? What do I get instead? I beat Chandra like 2 minutes in with a mono-green stompy thing Garruk gave me (why does he keep giving all these new planeswalkers his deck) and then I spent like 5 hours jumping from plane to plane picking up random nicknacks for her mantlepiece while she sits back back doing her nails or something. I was thrown in jail! I got hit by a Roil Storm twice! Do you know how many rats are on Ravnica, Chandra? All of them! All of the rats! All of the rats eating me!

Then we go kick her Ex's bearded-screaming-butt and what does she do to help? Nothing! She throws of the occasional fire ball and spends her time trying not to freeze to death. You should have worn pants Chandra. While we're on the subject what happened to your shoes? You had like Steelies on. Steelies are cool. Now your running around with stupid boots with like 5-inch heels? Thats not appropriate footware for Planeswalking! That's not appropriate footware for normal walking! At least Liliana is doing it for the whole 'evil is sexy' thing and can summon undead to carry her when she breaks her ankle. What are you going to do ride a Phoenix? Its made of fire! You'll fall right through! Man I should have gone Planeswalking with Liliana - yeah she'd crack my head open with a rock 5 minutes in and raise my corpse to serve her but at least we could have gone dancing!

http://www.nogoblinsallowed.com/viewforum.php?f=38

I liked the interview, thanks Wingspan.  Of course there are still questions I wish were asked and answered, but at the same time, I think it's smart for Wingspan to have a good relationship with Wizards.  It seems like they recognize his value and hopefully they'll do more in the future.  After all, Wingspan was the only real source for video previews of 2013 - for some reason Wizards hasn't done a great job promoting their product but if they see TTT as an avenue to do that in the future, then great.
I'm sure Wing's got his own reputation to think about as a "personality" in the gaming community and he's obviously not going to put the Wizards rep on blast with questions about all the flaws in Duels.

Now, I'm not a coder or anything, but that whole explanation on Frost Titan not making the cut because it would have been "too hard to implement" or whatever he said is total BS. You already have a somewhat similar effect in Crippling Chill, which is in the game. How difficult can it actually be to have the effect affect any permanent, while dropping the "draw a card" part.

Wing could have asked him about the leaderboards, sure, but he probably would have got the same response I got from Wizards_Sean (regarding the Xbox's insistence on using Tru"Skill")..."no plans to change it".

But yeah, sorry man, pretty tame interview. So we got "confirmation" Commander isn't going to be a thing in Duels. Okay. That's as revelatory as "confirming" we're not going to get current IRL-set booster draft.
Now, I'm not a coder or anything, but that whole explanation on Frost Titan not making the cut because it would have been "too hard to implement" or whatever he said is total BS. You already have a somewhat similar effect in Crippling Chill, which is in the game. How difficult can it actually be to have the effect affect any permanent, while dropping the "draw a card" part.



I don't think that's the problem with coding Frost Titan, but rather his other effect that counters stuff if you don't pay 2. You would have to have all new, complex coding for this. For example, say I targeted the Titan with Onyx Mage's ability, and couldn't pay the 2 mana. Now the programs have to worry about countering the ability, but not mis programming it so that the countering of the ability kills the Onyx Mage. You're now talking about not just countering spells, but programming into the game the ability to counter other abilities, which hasn't been done in DotP to my knowledge.
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 deck builds and analysis: http://megamaster125.angelfire.com/dotp2013/ Another one of my websites: http://megamaster125.angelfire.com/rationalchristianity/ I am Blue/White
How do you suggest I get anyone at Wizards to let me interview them, let alone answer questions like that?



No clue. In fact, I'd say getting answers like the ones you're expecting would be very, very difficult. Almost impossible for an interviewer, even.
Now, I'm not a coder or anything, but that whole explanation on Frost Titan not making the cut because it would have been "too hard to implement" or whatever he said is total BS. You already have a somewhat similar effect in Crippling Chill, which is in the game. How difficult can it actually be to have the effect affect any permanent, while dropping the "draw a card" part.



Is it just me who thinks that, if coding is such a big deal, then how does MtG Online even exist?
Now, I'm not a coder or anything, but that whole explanation on Frost Titan not making the cut because it would have been "too hard to implement" or whatever he said is total BS. You already have a somewhat similar effect in Crippling Chill, which is in the game. How difficult can it actually be to have the effect affect any permanent, while dropping the "draw a card" part.



Is it just me who thinks that, if coding is such a big deal, then how does MtG Online even exist?



I've wondered that too, not to mention that they're good a keeping it bug free despite having thousands more cards than DotP. The best explaination I can think of is it has something to do with MTGO focusing more on making the cards work properly, whereas DotP you have more visuals, AI opponents, encounters, planechase (not sure if MTGO has this format or not), and DotP is therefore running on a different engine entirely, and they needed a new team of programers that were capable of handling those things.
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 deck builds and analysis: http://megamaster125.angelfire.com/dotp2013/ Another one of my websites: http://megamaster125.angelfire.com/rationalchristianity/ I am Blue/White

Maybe I am in the wrong department but for starters, I would have asked him about the random "shuffling mechanic of the game".



Gotta agree with killa for once, on this question and in general, that interview was a complete waste of potential.  I want a definitive answer as to how the decks are shuffled, specifically if "spells" and "lands" are divided in the deck list code and if Evolving Wilds are considered "Spells" in that division.

And the leaderboard thing, for sure.  Right now, the top 100 ranked people on PS3 are obvious cheaters, and I hear it's as bad or worse on other platforms.


im ranked in the top 100 on ps3 and im no cheater.
That was a good read. That guy thinks Yeva's is the most fun deck so he's A Ok in my book. You didn't ask him about a random deck option.
Now, I'm not a coder or anything, but that whole explanation on Frost Titan not making the cut because it would have been "too hard to implement" or whatever he said is total BS. You already have a somewhat similar effect in Crippling Chill, which is in the game. How difficult can it actually be to have the effect affect any permanent, while dropping the "draw a card" part.



I don't think that's the problem with coding Frost Titan, but rather his other effect that counters stuff if you don't pay 2. You would have to have all new, complex coding for this. For example, say I targeted the Titan with Onyx Mage's ability, and couldn't pay the 2 mana. Now the programs have to worry about countering the ability, but not mis programming it so that the countering of the ability kills the Onyx Mage. You're now talking about not just countering spells, but programming into the game the ability to counter other abilities, which hasn't been done in DotP to my knowledge.


This.

Essentially they would have to add a pop-up menu to every card** in the game that targets, just to accomodate Frost Titan. Nevermind the coding difficulties that always pop up with stuff like Bribery and Rise From the Grave. As much as I'd have loved to see Frost Titan, completely not worth the headaches. You'd probably have a hundred page bug thread just for that card alone...

**Not just Instants/Sorceries, not just creatures, but EVERY card that targets. Anyone care to make a list? I'll wait. ;)
thank you for the link to the interview and reall big fan of toptiertactics love the deck sets practically use it most of them and really helped me in pvp games.